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Publication Title | Solar Architecture Basic Principles of Solar Architecture

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Solar Architecture

Basic Principles of Solar Architecture

ur shelters are made in nature, from natural materials, and they are subject to the rigors of nature- Ofrom January blizzards to July furnaces. Built on and from the earth, subject to the forces of earth, they become part of earth's ever changing habitat. Our shelters should be designed to adapt to the changes of the earth, to use what nature offers: the sun, wind and earth, instead of guzzling energy, to maintain a stable environment. The basics of solar architecture - techniques for creating a comfortable environment working with nature - are straight forward. While reading these ideas, refer to

the Ariesun drawings for an example of how they are implemented in an actual building.


Become familiar with the energy flows of your surroundings. Investigate the nature & relationship of the lay of the land, water courses, vegetation, soil types, wind directions, and exposure to the sun. A site suitable for solar design should balance & complement these elements. It must have unobstructed exposure to the sun from 9 am to 3 pm during the heating season. Obtain a Solar Chart for your latitude. This simple tool is a plastic sheet showing the sun's trajectory. With it you can accurately estimate shading through the day and year.


Insolation is solar radiation hitting walls, windows, roofs and collector surfaces. Insolation comes in three forms: direct from the sun, diffuse from the sky, and reflected from terrain and vegetation. Some of this radiation is adsorbed by the building and is stored in thermal mass. This stored heat is then radiated to the interior of the building. Thermal mass in a solar heating system performs the same function as batteries in a solar electric system. Both store solar energy, when available, for later use.


The rate of heat flow is based on the temperature difference between heat source and the object to which the heat flows. Heat flows in three ways: conduction- heat transfer through solid materials, convection- heat transfer through the movement of liquids or gasses, and radiation- heat transfer without a material medium. All surfaces of a building lose heat via these three modes. Consult building handbooks for the conduction properties of various building materials. Good solar design works to minimize heat loss and maximize efficient heat distribution.



Orient due south the main solar insolating spaces, i.e. greenhouse,

and/or main daytime activity areas. Provide glass that is open to

the sun patterns during the winter. Maximize solar insolation by

facing about 80% of the windows to the south, and virtually none to the north. Use multiple pane glass in all windows.

Provide thermal mass including masonry floors, walls and water storage to absorb ambient heat during the day and release it at night. Size the mass to provide at least 2 to 3 days of heat storage for the building. Insulate the building to minimize heat loss through windows, walls and roof.

34 Home Power #11 • June/July 1989

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