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Solar Passive Design

How A Solar Passive Design Can Make Your House Comfortable and Energy Efficient

To achieve the best solar passive design for your new house you need to consider carefully your block orientation.

If you are in the process of buying a block of land to build a house I hope this article will assist you in picking the right block orientation for your project. With an appropriate block it will be less complicated for you to design and build a more sustainable home.

Australia happens to be located in the Southern Hemisphere. If you plan to build a new house in a temperate climate region like Canberra, Tasmania or Victoria that are cold in winter and hot in summer you’ll want to get as much sun as possible into the house in winter. In a solar passive design the winter sun is supposed to provide natural heating for your house.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

In new Australian estates most blocks have a rectangular shape. My order of preference for block orientation is:

1. Block facing East

This is the orientation where the frontage of your house is facing East. The sun rises on the right and sets on the left. During the day you have plenty of sun on the northern side of the house. You’ll want to take advantage of this natural light and heat by placing living areas with windows facing north.

With this orientation it's very easy to design a house to take advantage of natural, and free, heating and lighting provided by the sun

We were lucky enough to select a block like this in a ballot for our house. We have the family, meal, lounge and kitchen facing north. In winter this common area is naturally warm. And interestingly it is also the coolest area in the house during Canberra hot summer days.

Inside temperature is 24 degrees C whereas outside temperature is 32 during a hot day in Canberra. In our previous house it was actually hotter inside than outside!

In our house the kids bedrooms, bathroom, toilet and laundry are located south which is fine.

2. Block facing West

In this configuration the house facade is on the West side where the street is. The sun still runs along the long side of the building. However because of the garage you may lose a bit of sun in the afternoon

The room located at the front of the house gets a lot of heat during summer. Big trees planted at the front or double glazed windows may help reduce undesirable heat

If the master bedroom is also at the front of the house it can become quite hot in summer as it takes all the heat from the afternoon sun. To limit this unnecessary heat you might want to have double glazed windows installed for the master bedroom.

3. Block facing South

The frontage of the house is facing south where the main entrance from the street is.

Blocks facing south present interesting opportunities to design a passive solar house that gets the most of the sun

Most of new estates in Canberra require that new houses to be built to have what is called a “Private Open Space”. This POS is normally situated at the back of the house.

With a block facing South there are interesting options to design a passive solar house. The southern area will lack natural light in this orientation therefore it seems adapted to place a bedroom here.

4. Block facing North

In my opinion block oriented like this is the least desirable from a passive solar design perspective.

It can be challenging to design a house on block facing north as a large garage would block most of the sun out during the day

With this configuration the garage situated north will obstruct most of daily sun.

Also if your block is between two other ones it can be challenging to get the sun into the house to provide a comfortable level of natural lighting. Your house interior might seem dark and requires lights to be switched on earlier. I’ve seen houses built on these blocks that had to have very high ceiling with a sloped roof and high windows built just underneath the eaves as to let the sun in.

Sloped roof and high windows designed to let the sun in

This type of construction looks great from an architectural point of view but is quite expensive.

Would you consider a solar passive design for you new home?

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9 comments

  1. is your website supported on safari browser.because i tried using it through safari but the sidebar goes out of the page.

    • Hi Anissa,

      Thanks for your comment. Can you please try again with Safari. It seems working well for me (Safari 5.0.4 Windows)

      Cheers,

  2. I have a block facing west – the back of the house is to the east, with an older house. The driveway runs along the northern side, which works well for getting sun into the now re-arranged living areas, however with the 10m (long) x 2.7m (wide) x 2.7m (high) garage on the northern fenceline in the backyard, it mean that about 50% of the backyard is currently shaded (being winter time)… I guess I’m just saying that placement of secondary buildings is also worth consideration…

  3. Hi Vince
    We have a west facing block and as far as keeping the summer sun out of the master bedroom a highly reflective tint works better than double glazing.

    Brian

    • Hi Brian,
      That’s a helpful info there. I’m thinking to have the windows in the master bedroom tinted to provide more privacy. Summer heat is not too much an issue here as our block faces east.

  4. Tints are great for providing privacy during the day

    A word of warning -They provide no privacy once it starts to get dark and you put an internal light on!

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