Solar Power and Architectural Design

Solar power has been around just about as long as people have. It wasn’t the solar panel that was the first conductor of solar energy, you know — there have been devices that magnified the rays of the sun to produce energy, either through the refraction of light or through the reflection of rays into a concentrated space. When you are designing a building to take advantage of the solar power that naturally occurs in the area, there are several considerations to bear in mind.

There are some materials that collect heat from the sun more easily than others. Stone buildings do not collect heat; rather, they tend to collect it and keep it, which is why the pueblos in the American Southwest stay so temperate. However, metals will conduct heat more easily. If you want to use solar power to provide heat in the short term, use more metal in your design.

On the other hand, if you want your building to collect heat during the day and then keep it inside when the temperature goes down and night, then consider a stone design. The stone will gather heat all day, without getting hot to the touch (at least from the inside), and then it will stay warmer through the night, even though the sun is not around anymore. Use brick and natural stone to design a building that will be more stingy with getting rid of the heat from the day.

Over the course of the year, the angle of the sun’s rays on your home will change. If you don’t believe me, watch that part of “Lost” where Tom Hanks draws that solar calendar in his cave. During the summer, the sun will be overhead more of the day; in the winter, the sun will stay at more of an angle. Use your design to make a building that scatters the heat more during the hot months, facing your roof so that it will absorb the more angular rays directly, making the home stay a bit warmer during the winter months.

During the warmer months, design your home so that more of it is in the shade. In the cooler months, you want the angles to be set up so that more of it is in the sunlight.

Windows can be helpful when it comes to providing both natural light and heat for the environment of a home. However, if you have large windows close to the ground, it will be easy for the heat to leach out through those panes during the winter. Make your windows higher up the wall, and the rays will come in and provide light and heat for the entire space. Even though heat rises, the fact that there are solid walls around it nearer the ground, instead of windows, will keep your living spaces more temperate.

Using the principles of passive solar design into your home will make your environmental footprint smaller and make the world a cleaner, greener place for you and your children.