Passive Solar

By Dion Seminara, Dion Seminara Architecture

Ok, so what is Passive Solar' you ask? Well let me explain what it is, the benefits of it and how YOU can take advantage of it.

Passive Solar Explained

Passive Solar is simply using technologies and building design to naturally warm your home in winter, or cool it in summer. Factors such as the orientation of your home, to take advantage of the warming sun in winter and cooling breezes in summer, are a major component of passive solar designs. It's all about using what nature provides to warm your home in winter and cool it in summer.

In recent times more home owners have started to install reverse cycle air-conditioners to artificially warm and cool their homes. And in fairness, poorly designed homes with less than ideal orientation need some sort of artificial assistance to keep their occupants comfortable, and not all architects fully understand passive solar building design principles.

But you should not be limited by poor building design. Unless you are building on a very unusual block of land, there is no excuse for new homes not taking advantage of passive solar opportunities. But even when renovating it's possible to improve the passive solar capabilities of your home through well thought out designs.

The Benefits

Because passive solar design principles take advantage of natural forms of heating and cooling, your home will be completely comfortable without the need to run your heater all winter long, not to mention your air conditioner in summer.

Because you are using less power you are paying less for power bills and there is every indication that power prices are going to jump dramatically in the coming years. In fact, energy prices could increase to the point where any passive solar style renovation you make now will have paid itself off very quickly in energy savings alone.

And of course there is the impact on the environment to consider. Using less energy is just as important for the planet as it is for your hip pocket. Passive solar can dramatically reduce your dependency on electricity, which therefore lowers your carbon footprint without any adverse impact on the overall liveability of your home.

Taking Advantage of Passive Solar Opportunities

Ok, so you now know what it is and why you need it, so let's get into the nitty gritty of how to take advantage of what the sun has to offer.

Orientation is one of the most important factors. Orientation simply means the direction that your home faces. Ideally living areas should face to the north with shading that blocks direct sunlight in summer, but allows the lower winter sun to strike walls and windows. Verandahs are ideal for this, but large eaves can also be just as effective.

Large northward pointing windows that receive direct sunlight in winter will help to naturally warm your home. Ideally these windows will not receive direct sunlight in summer, which can be controlled by screens and/or awnings, the design and orientation of which need to allow for the winter sun to access the glass directly.

Certain materials, such as concrete and bricks are ideal for warming homes in winter, because they retain and redistribute heat. Having brick walls exposed to sun will help naturally warm your home.

Of course there is little point in taking advantage of passive solar warming of your home if heat is allowed to escape through gaps and/or holes in window or door trimmings, or through the ceiling of your home. Filling in all gaps to stop heat escaping and cold drafts entering is all part of the natural heating solution.

Appropriate ceiling and wall insulation also has a big part to play in lowering the cost of heating or cooling your home. Insulation traps heat in and blocks the cold in winter, whilst doing the opposite in summer. This means that even on the coldest days where artificial heating is required you won't need to run it for as long because much of the heat will be retained in your living spaces.

Getting It Right

Achieving effective passive solar building design requires the integration of a variety of principles and factors. The site that your home sits on, the amount of natural shading on your home, the arc of the sun in relation to the actual or proposed orientation of your home, the materials used in construction - in particular the incorporation of thermal mass - all need to be brought together if a comfortable, natural living environment is to be achieved within your home.

So regardless of whether you are building from scratch or renovating an existing home, if you want to take advantage of passive solar, then contact an experienced architect, who can show you the affordable way to achieve cost-effective comfort.

Dion Seminara Architecture Phone: 07 3899 9450 or visit