Builders Should Be Required to Orient New Homes Toward the Sun

| 2/11/2010 2:25:00 PM

Tags: passive solar, solar orientation, green building, green homes, Dan Chiras, solar energy,

Dan Chiras bio 

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.

2/26/2010 2:12:25 PM

WIth all of the new products and incentives, implementing renewable energy or energy efficiency is getting more and more complicated. I am thinking about installing a solar water system in my house and have had trouble navigating all of the tax credits. Here is a great article with some good resources for these problems as well as some simpler solutions to saving you money.

2/15/2010 7:44:38 PM

Such a fantastic surprise to read so many comments that, essentially, said what I was going to say to the author of this article! I have a home, which is paid for, and I do everything environmental/conservationist that I can afford. I maximize natural light, heat partially with wood, have compost bins, rain collection barrels, I grow vegetables and water my indoor plants with dehumidifier water or wash water. I can, I freeze, I cook my own food and try to buy local--and I do all of these things intentionally and voluntarily. If the gov't got involved in my rain collection and composting, I'll bet ya yer Birkenstocks that they'd mess it up.

2/14/2010 12:01:12 PM

Solar orientation: Great idea. Legally mandating it: bad idea. Not everyone is fortunate to live in a mostly sunny area. And Heaven help us if we let the feds force us to use what little income we have left, after taxes, to incorporate expensive solar add-ons. Granted, site orientation isn't always an expensive proposal, but it often can be depending on geography and other considerations. You'd probably be in favor of government subsidies to make passive solar technologies more obtainable to the masses. Oops, up go our taxes again. Let those who can, make use of it. Leave the rest of us to manage our own lives as best suits our incomes and local climates, thank you very much.

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