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Our Double Solar Home Our Double Solar Home

Donna Wildearth

©1997 Donna Wildearth


that uses the sun for both heat and power. I want to share some aspects of our house design. But first, some history and a brief overview of passive solar principles.

My husband, Chris Reardon, and I

This vision became a reality two years ago. While we loved the idea of building our own house, Chris had a full-time job, and neither of us had any significant construction skills. In the end we opted to hire professionals to build the house. Construction began in April 1995, and we moved into the house in January 1996. After experiencing over seven years of profound thermal discomfort in our trailer, what bliss!

Passive Solar Design

The basic principle of passive solar design is that the house structure itself collects and stores heat by non- mechanical means. (This is in contrast to active solar systems which collect and store heat by means of separate collectors and mechanical equipment such as fans and pumps.) All passive solar structures include a certain amount of south-facing glazing (glass or plastic) that collects heat from sunlight, and thermal mass— material that absorbs and stores the collected heat. Thermal mass typically consists of concrete, brick, adobe, tile, or water.

There are three major approaches to passive solar design, which can be used alone or in combination: direct gain, sunspace/greenhouse, and thermal storage wall (also known as Trombe wall). Our house is a direct gain system, the simplest and most commonly used passive solar strategy in residential applications. Direct gain means that the actual living space is directly heated by sunlight.

To optimize passive solar design, a number of factors must be taken into consideration: the orientation of the house, layout of living spaces, window size and location, size of roof overhangs, and, very important,

live in what I like to think of as a

“double solar” house: a house

We live in a mountain valley in far northern California (around 3,000 feet elevation) on land we purchased in 1988. The land was undeveloped except for a well that had been drilled several years earlier. We labored for months putting in a driveway, laying out the water and septic systems, and moving an older mobile home onto the property. We were already philosophically committed to solar energy, so when the local utility company quoted approximately $35,000 to bring in a power line, it was easy for us to decide to go solar. Richard Perez and John Pryor installed our original solar system—two Kyocera photovoltaic panels, four Trojan L-16 batteries, a Trace 2012 inverter, and a Honda 3500 watt generator for backup.

We moved into the trailer in the fall of 1988, exhausted from our efforts but exhilarated by our new surroundings, and dreaming of the house we hoped to build one day. We envisioned a house that was modestly-sized, comfortable, energy efficient, environmentally friendly, and low maintenance. In Chris’s words, “a house that takes care of us, not the other way around.”

6 Home Power #60 • August / September 1997

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