The Sunburst Passive Solar House

This truly attractive passive solar house—designed around an honest-to-goodness Trombe wall—represents the "state of the art" in (ultra) low-technology solar heating.

| January/February 1979

Anyone who's familiar with solar-heated houses knows that there are any number of ways to harness the sun's energy, from the simplest "passive" approach (the "little guy's" method) all the way up to the expensive, highly technical, "active" systems that big business tends to promote.  

Recently, one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' staffers and a photographer went to Landenberg, Pennsylvania to look at one of the "simple" systems and to talk to its designer—produce salesman-turned-builder Jim Kries—who is in the process of constructing a small community of passive solar houses; he calls them, very appropriately, "Sunburst" homes.  

Mind you, though, these houses don't utilize what you might call your "average" solar collector. Instead, Jim has opted to incorporate a "Trombe wall" (named after its inventor, French physicist Felix Trombe), which not only heats the house without any moving parts or expensive equipment, but makes the dwelling as attractive (at least!) as any custom-built conventional home. In fact, the owners of the house—Vincent and Kathy Polidoro—decided to buy it when they saw the blueprints before construction of the home had even begun. And, after talking to the Polidoros, we're convinced that they haven't been disappointed at all!  

It's no secret that solar-heated dwellings have come into their own in the past decade or so, thanks largely to the efforts of many "unconventional" yet dedicated designers. Folks like David Wright, William Shurcliff, Steve Baer, Bruce Anderson, and a host of others saw a definite need to "make hay while the sun shines" rather than just sit around and complain about the rising costs of fossil fuels.

And there's no doubt that these solar homes really work despite what the skeptics say about cloudy days, winter storms, and other "no-sun" situations. But with a few exceptions, most effective solar homes aren't as attractive as their designers or the public would like them to be. Let's face it, there's not too much you can do to improve the looks of a solar collector without lowering its efficiency. Until now that is, because the Jim Kries-designed "Sunburst" solar house is a real beauty!

You see, instead of trying to "hide" the collector in the back yard, Jim decided to use it as the entire south wall of the ground floor. To do this, he built a 14-inch-thick, 225-square-foot "Trombe wall" which is painted black on its outer surface (to absorb and hold the sun's heat) and is finished in white stucco on the inside (to assure an attractive, light, "airy" look in the house's dining and living room areas).

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