Before you build your home, read this definitive guide to designing with the sun in mind by Mother Earth News contributing editor Dan Chiras. Learn how you can cut your energy bills in half by choosing the best passive solar heating and cooling techniques.
Passive solar heating and passive cooling — approaches known as natural conditioning — provide comfort throughout the year by reducing, or eliminating, the need for fossil fuel. Yet while heat from sunlight and ventilation from breezes is free for the taking, few modern architects or builders really understand the principles involved.
Now Chiras, author of the popular book The Natural House, brings those principles up to date for a new generation of solar enthusiasts.
The techniques required to heat and cool a building passively have been used for thousands of years. Early societies such as the Native American Anasazis and the ancient Greeks perfected designs that effectively exploited these natural processes. The Greeks considered anyone who didn't use passive solar to heat a home to be a barbarian!
In the United States, passive solar architecture experienced a major resurgence of interest in the 1970s in response to crippling oil embargoes. With grand enthusiasm but with scant knowledge (and sometimes little common sense), architects and builders created a wide variety of solar homes. Some worked pretty well, but looked more like laboratories than houses. Others performed poorly, overheating in the summer because of excessive or misplaced windows and skylights, and growing chilly in the colder months because of insufficient thermal mass and insulation and poor siting.
In The Solar House, Chiras sets the record straight on the vast potential for passive heating and cooling. Acknowledging the good intentions of misguided solar designers in the past, he highlights certain egregious — and entirely avoidable — errors. More importantly, Chiras explains in methodical detail how today's home builders can succeed with solar designs.
Now that energy efficiency measures including higher levels of insulation and multilayered glazing have become standard, it is easier than ever before to create a comfortable and affordable passive solar house that will provide year-round comfort in any climate.
Moreover, because modern building materials and airtight construction methods sometimes result in air-quality and even toxicity problems, Chiras explains state-of-the-art ventilation and filtering techniques that complement the ancient solar strategies of thermal mass and daylighting. Chiras also explains the new diagnostic aids available in printed worksheet or software formats, allowing readers to generate their own design schemes.
About the author
Daniel D. Chiras is the author of The Natural House. He holds a doctorate in physiology and teaches courses on sustainability and environmental health at the Universities of Colorado and the University of Denver. He is the author of five college and high school textbooks as well as other books on global environmental issues. Chiras is also an avid musician, organic gardener, river runner and bicyclist. He lives with his family in a passive solar/solar electric, straw bale and rammed tire house in Evergreen, Colo.