Take Advantage of Passive Solar Energy

Home Improvement

Take Advantage of Passive Solar Energy

Energy costs have continued to rise. Maybe it’s time to investigate some alternative sources of energy, some that you can utilize in your current home without breaking the bank. In addition to saving you up to 50% of your current energy costs, alternative energy sources such as solar power are the most environmentally friendly compared with nuclear power, coal and gas.

Did you know that you don’t have to buy solar panels in order to capitalize on solar energy? Homeowners can design their homes in such a way to help heat their homes through solar energy utilization.

Passive solar design, as it is referred to, includes such techniques as installing large, insulated windows on the south side of your home. These windows maximize winter sunlight but absorb no direct sunlight in the summertime. Putting in a heat-absorbing wall or concrete slab floor next to the windows locates thermal mass. Obviously, these types of techniques can only be used when the house is initially designed, or in the course of a major home remodeling.

But if you have these features, a few tips will help you maximize the benefits of solar heating. Regularly clean the south-facing windows because accumulated dirt reduces the amount of energy the windows can absorb. Ensure that nothing is blocking sunlight from the concrete slab floors or heat-absorbing walls. This includes landscaping, furniture and decorative items. Use insulating draperies on those south-facing windows in order to reduce heat loss during the night and during cloudy weather.

Other things you can do to effectively employ sunlight include meticulous energy conservation. Make sure that your insulation is adequate. Use weather-stripping around windows and doors. Removable insulation is available for use on doors and windows at night and during cloudy weather to hold onto the heat.

You might consider building an attached solar greenhouse onto your home. These are usually inexpensive to build and provide the added benefits of growing food, adding beauty, and creating additional living space.  Consider turning your solar greenhouse into a lovely breakfast nook or sitting area where you can enjoy the beauty of the plants and the warm sunshine while cozying up with a good book or chatting with friends over coffee.

Thoughtful placing of landscaping vegetation is a must for utilizing solar energy in your home. Plant deciduous trees, shrubs and vines on the east and west sides of your house for cooling purposes. Place evergreen foliage on the north side to block winter winds.

A properly designed, installed, and maintained solar water heater can be added to existing structures to meet half to nearly all of a home's hot water demand. Solar hot water heaters have two features—a collector and a storage tank. The various system designs can be classified as passive or active and as direct (open loop) or indirect (closed loop). The passive design operates without pumps or controls.  This system is typically more reliable, durable, easier to maintain, longer lasting, and less expensive to operate than active systems.

Both active and passive solar water heating systems often require "conventional" water heaters as backups. They can also be used as pre-heaters for the conventional units. A direct solar water heating system circulates household water through collectors.  Because of this, direct systems are not appropriate in climates where freezing temperatures occur. Indirect systems can be used in freezing climates since their systems use antifreeze.

Before investing in a solar water heater, be sure to compare products from different manufacturers. The Solar Rating & Certification Corporation (SRCC) publishes performance ratings of both types of solar water heating systems. These ratings are the results of independent, third party laboratory testing of these products. All systems and collectors that have been certified by the SRCC will bear the SRCC label, but this does not guarantee that the product is superior. Be sure to comparison shop. Install the heater properly and perform proper maintenance procedures to assure maximum system performance.

Remember that while the initial cost of solar water heaters is much higher than conventional units, lower operating costs help them to pay for themselves within a few years of use.

Passive solar design not only helps heat homes, but it also aids in summer cooling. Thermal mass resists overheating, direct earth contact through slab-on-grade, and earth sheltering all contribute to cooling in hot weather. A radiant barrier placed in the attic or roof system can reflect up to 97 percent of radiant heat, keeping excess heat out of the house in summertime. Light colored roofing also reflects away excess heat.

During the hottest months, some homeowners add soaker hoses along the ridge of their roofs. The water evaporates before reaching the eaves, which produces an evaporative cooling effect.

If you're having a house built, consider incorporating more passive solar energy techniques into the design. It will lower your energy bills, make use of a limitless energy source, and the environment will benefit too!