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Passive Solar

Passive solar design and principals utilize the Sun's energy without the need for mechanical systems. With proper siting and design, passive solar can provide a large proportion of a buildings year-round heating load over a wide range of locations, and even in extreme climates like Fairbanks, AK.

The Best Energy is Free

Passive solar may be the ultimate energy source, and was civilization's first designed use of any renewable energy. It refers to utilizing the sun’s energy without any mechanical systems or equipment involved. It is the only renewable energy that is truly free. There is no equipment to install or maintain, and no moving parts to wear out or repair. Most people are familiar with the basic concept of south facing windows allowing sunshine to enter a house for light and warmth. This concept, incorporated into proper design and construction techniques with suitable windows, adequate insulation and sufficient passive thermal storage can produce dramatic results and economic benefits for space heating, even at Fairbanks’ latitude. Appropriate daylighting design can also reduce the electric consumed by light fixtures by 50%.

Staff at Arctic Sun have designed Fairbanks homes that require no space heating for the majority of the year while remaining extremely comfortable. Interior temperatures stay above 68oF for more than seven months continuously, and it is not uncommon to go days, or even more than a week, without supplemental heating as early as the end of January. On a reasonably clear day with outside temperatures of 15oF, passive solar gain can easily keep a home warm for a full 24 hours or longer.


Passive Solar Design Criteria

The key to passive solar is a properly designed balance between the energy gained, the storage capacity and the structure’s heating demand. Windows must be sized, glazed, located appropriately and configured to minimize potential overheating.  Thermal storage or thermal mass must also be sized and located correctly. The structural envelope must be well insulated and reasonably airtight.  Once a building is constructed to quality passive solar design standards it will return significant energy savings for the life of the structure (or until a baseball goes through the front window). Arctic Sun has developed a variety of techniques to achieve these standards and can work with you to determine what best meets your specific needs. The US Department of Energy website has a short but informative article "Passive Solar Home Design" that provides some more detail on the elements of passive solar heating.

The maximum heating potential from passive solar gain is site-specific and proportional to the available solar irradiation, as discussed on our "Solar Energy" page.  However, most of the components of a quality passive solar design still provide benefits and energy savings without factoring in the solar gain, and should be considered universal design efficiency standards. These construction techniques have proven very effective in extreme cold climates with limited sunshine, and are applicable to essentially all buildings and locations.

Passive solar design can be adapted to homes of any size, shape, architectural style, or building material.


Additional reading specific to passive solar might include:
Passive Solar House
by James Kachadorian

For the past ten years The Passive Solar House has offered proven techniques for building homes that heat and cool themselves, using readily available materials and methods familiar to all building contractors and many do-it-yourself homeowners. True to this innovative, straightforward approach, the new edition of this best-selling guide includes CSOL passive solar design software, making it easier than ever to heat your home with the power of the sun. Since The Passive Solar House was first pub…

The Passive Solar Design and Construction Handbook
by Steven Winter Associates; edited by Michael J. Crosbi

The Passive Solar Design and Construction Handbook is an unbeatable guide for architects and building contractors who want to satisfy the growing demand for passive solar residential design. A complete revision of the bible of passive solar design originally published by the U.S. Department of Energy, this is the only comprehensive guide to adapting standard building practices to current passive solar applications. It supplies detailed, step-by-step information on all practical aspects of passiv…

The Solar House
by Daniel D., Ph.D. Chira

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 Dan Chiras, author of the popular book "The Natural House," brings those principles up to date for a new generation of solar enthusiasts. In "The Solar House," Chi…

Passive Solar Architecture
by David Bainbridge, Ken Haggard

No matter what climate you're designing for, new buildings can be solar oriented, naturally heated and cooled, naturally lit, naturally ventilated and made with renewable, sustainable materials. In a comprehensive overview of passive solar design-the resurrected solar strategy that is sweeping through Germany and rapidly regaining popularity in the United States-two of the nation's solar pioneers give homeowners, architects, and builders the keys to successfully using the sun and climate resourc…

The Passive Solar Energy Book
by Edward Maria

This older book (1979) is currently out of print and may be hard to find, but it contains a complete and comprehensive overview of the fundamentals passive solar presented in an easily understood fashion.