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Each time I drive by a new subdivision with hundreds of new homes under construction, I cringe. For the most part, I see hundreds of new houses being built quickly and inexpensively without attention to solar orientation — to satisfy the perceived need to build affordable homes for the mass market.
As I pointed out in a previous blog, builders and homebuyers are operating under a huge misconception: truth is, cheaper homes cost more in the long run — a lot more. The cost of a home is not the monthly mortgage. It is the sum of the monthly mortgage and monthly utility bills. Spend a little more upfront — for example, on energy efficient upgrades like super insulation — and the cost of the mortgage increases slightly, but the long-term cost of a home actually plummets, often quite significantly.
That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there is something all builders can do to build lower cost homes that don’t cost more upfront: orient their homes toward the sun. That means orienting all new homes so their long axis runs from east to west. Doing so will reduce the annual heating and cooling costs of a new home by about 10 percent.
If builders shift some of the windows from the north, east, and west façades to the south façade, heating and cooling costs drop even further. You can achieve savings of approximately 25 percent. Again, at no additional cost.
Although not all lots are conducive to solar orientation, there’s no reason that all homes can’t be designed to incorporate passive solar — solar gain through south-facing windows. When laying out streets for new subdivisions, care should be taken to ensure homes can be placed on lots to achieve maximum solar gain.
I’m not a big fan of rules and regulations, but in this case, there ought to be a national law in the United States that requires all builders to lay out all new subdivisions so homes can be oriented to the sun. And there ought to be a law that requires all builders to include passive solar.
A national solar orientation and passive solar home law could help us slash heating and cooling costs and help us combat climate change and a host of other environmental problems caused by burning fossil fuels, all with very little, if any extra cost. It’s a no-brainer. But in America, we often overlook the obvious in favor of the purely ludicrous.
Above: The author in front of his passive solar home in Evergreen, Colo., which has saved close to $20,000 in heating and cooling costs in the past 13 plus years.
Contributing editor Dan Chiras is a renewable energy and green homes expert who has spent a lifetime learning life’s lessons, which he shares in his popular blog, Dan Chiras on Loving Life. He’s the founder and director of The Evergreen Institute and president of Sustainable Systems Design. Contact him by visiting his website or finding him on Google+.