Design Questions About Passive Solar Energy

Our Passive Solar Home Designer Answers Common Questions

How do passive solar designs work?

Passive solar design definitely works, but it isn’t a process or a device. In fact, there are rarely machines, wires, or motors. Passive solar design is a definable methodology that relies on specific known physical facts about natural phenomena such as climate, geography, properties of building materials, and tons of human factors.

How much does passive solar energy cost?

It costs no more than what is the workable budget for the average dwelling in a given location. If you’re remodeling or looking to make inexpensive energy-saving modifications, passive solar can cost in the hundreds rather than the thousands of dollars.

How much money does passive solar save, on average?

The savings is in terms of future utility expenses – heating/cooling – and the enhanced livability of the home.

Do passive solar houses look ugly? Do they look different from regular homes?

Passive solar homes look no different. The aesthetic quality can vary with the designers’ expertise. There are many stunning passive solar homes that look no different from any other house.

My house is already built. How do I implement passive solar ideas to save energy?

By eliminating those features and conditions that are counter to passive solar design principles, and implementing design improvements within your desired budget.

Is passive solar better than regular solar energy?

Although it sounds like passive solar is the opposite of “regular” solar panels, the truth is quite the opposite. The two techniques can be used together to great effect.

Solar panels generate electricity from sunlight. The panels do absorb some heat energy, but they do little to affect directly the comfort of the house on which they’re installed.

Passive solar design, in contrast, is targeted at building, arranging, and coloring the solar home to keep it cool in summer and warm in winter.

In combination, the passive solar home with solar panels will naturally stay comfortable and generate electricity from sunlight.

Do I have to live in a hot or cold area to use passive solar?

No, even in a mild Mediterranean-style climate, one can still enhance using passive solar concepts. The basic scientific principles behind passive solar mean that passive solar design will always make your home more comfortable than it would be if you did nothing.

What is passive solar heating? Can it be used to heat water for household use?

Passive solar heating can be accomplished in several forms, depending on your home’s location (or potential location) and cost factors. Heating water is simple and quite cost-effective.

What is passive solar cooling? Can I build a passive solar house that doesn’t need air conditioning?

To arrive at the optimal human comfort index, one needs normal warm/cool conditions with a tolerable humidity level. Passive solar design can make your house much cooler, but in Texas it’s very difficult to cool it to the point where you don’t need air conditioning.

(In fact, at times even air conditioning is insufficient, since air conditioning works by moving heat from inside to outside, and when the ambient air outside is in the 90s or 100s, many residential air conditioning systems are unable to sustain anything more than a 20-degree differential.)

Passive solar design is not intended to replace air conditioning, but rather to help you build or modify your house intelligently so it naturally wants to dissipate heat and move that heat to unoccupied spaces.

We believe that, if you’re already going to pay to move earth, pour concrete, and place walls and roofs, you should pay a little more for the expertise to do it wisely so those components give you a comfortable, efficient home.

How do I get passive solar plans?

There are some ‘canned’ passive solar designs that you can buy on the Internet and from architects. However, using such designs is dangerous. Real passive solar design is customised for your location, your budget, and physical factors like the typical angle of sun for your latitude and the grade of your land.

Are there any home builders who build passive solar plan subdivisions?

Not aware of it. I’m sure there are a few on the West Coast.

I’m a home builder. How can passive solar designs help my business?

Obviously, with fuel costs skyrocketing and customer environmental concerns, independence from utility costs is a top priority for both custom home and subdivision builders.  Please feel free to contact us about how we can help you.

Can these designs be modified to construct a passive solar building, like an office building?

Of course.

Can passive solar use recycled materials? What kinds?

Definitely. All kinds. Making do with what’s on hand is the ultimate design challenge.

Tell me a little about your passive solar design background.

I’ve designed many individual custom passive solar houses and a master plan for 160 passive solar townhouses for US Homes. I obtained an honours Product Design/Engineering degree from The Central School of Design, London, and I taught design for several years at the University of Houston’s College of Architecture. My press mentions include ID Magazine, Design, and Houston City Magazine.

In the early ’70s I was involved in designing passive solar homes for Texans in and around Houston. It was most exciting; at that time I was also doing passive solar design research at the University of Houston’s College of Architecture.

how do passive solar designs work?
PS “designs” – there actually is no such thingies; it’s more a definable methodology with specific known physical facts about natural phenomena such as climate, geography and tons of human factors.

how much does passive solar energy cost?

In essence, it costs no more than what is workable budget for the average dwelling in a given location, subject to all the desired outcome.

how much money does passive solar save, on average?
The savings is in terms of future cost of utility expences – heating/cooling, etc. and the enhanced livability of the place.

do passive solar houses look ugly? do they look different from regular homes?
NO. No different. The aesthetic quality can vary by the designers’ expertice.

my house is already built. how do I implement passive solar ideas to save energy?
By eliminating those features/conditions that are negative to PS principles; and implementing potentials for positve PS ones @ desired budget.

is passive solar better than regular solar energy?
‘REGULAR’ – if u mean acquired ‘energy’ thru heardware, it all has to do with added costs.

do I have to live in a hot or cold area to use passive solar?
NO. Even in Meditarean climatic zone, one can still enhance by PS concepts. (It’s a hard science “fongsui” .)

is Austin a good place for passive solar?

Ok

can I use passive solar and regular solar energy together?
Added advantage.

what is passive solar heating? can it be used to heat water for household use?
In several forms, depends on locality and cost factors. Heating water is simplest and cost-effective.

what is passive solar cooling? can I build a passive solar house that doesn’t need air conditioning?
To arrive at optimal human comfort index one needs normal warm/cool condition with tolerable humidity level; u can achieve such a state with PS or technically/hardware implemented means. PS cooling as such is hard to come by, except in Meditarenean zones/ high altitude levels.

how do I get passive solar plans? is it difficult to get a builder to build a passive solar plan?
There are some typical PS oriented ‘canned’ plans – off the shelves. PS for real needs customising.( i did a “PS” master plan for some 160 “PS” townhomes for US Homes.)

are there any home builders who build passive solar plan subdivisions?
Not aware of it. i’m sure there are a few on the West Coast.

I’m a home builder. how can passive solar designs help my business?
In this big serious Obama push u can figure out the potential in this context.

are there any government or local incentives to build passive solar designs?
They have sexed up with “green architecture” – which is PS plus a whole lot of dough+ fangles.

can these designs be modified to construct a passive solar building, like an office building?

OF COURSE.

what’s your training and experience with passive solar?
Not mean, at all.

can passive solar use recycled materials? what kinds?

Definitely. All kinds. Make do with what’s on hand – is the ultimate design challenge.