Designs for a Canadian Solar-Powered and Heated Home

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
An outdoor deck extends the living area during the warm months.

A design for a Canadian solar-powered and heated home features photographs and diagrams of how the solar home is built for summer and winter energy. (See the solar powered and heated home photos in the image gallery.)

Designs for a Canadian Solar-Powered and Heated Home

As “alternative” sources of energy have become more widely
accepted, passively heated and cooled houses have received
plenty of attention, and for several good reasons: They’re
often elementary in design and function, generally require
a minimum of maintenance, and depend very little (if at
all!) on the more conventional energy sources.

And, partly as a result of the fact that a “sun powered”
structure is its own heating and cooling “system”, most
passive dwellings represent a fine balance between cost
effectiveness and the aesthetic appeal of building a home
that complements its natural surroundings.

STRIVING FOR BALANCE WITH THE ENVIRONMENT
The Peter Fluker residence, located 90 miles north of
Toronto in Canada’s Ontario province, provides a fine
example of the favorable blend of comfortable, attractive
living space with energy efficiency. Because “only”
two-thirds of the building’s heating requirements are taken
care of by the sun (in a climate that experiences 8,500
heating degree-days annually), it can’t be considered
completely solar self-sufficient, but then few naturally
tempered homes are as yet . . . and this “shortcoming” is
certainly compensated for by the outdoor-like atmosphere of
the structure.

In planning his family home, you see, Fluker–a design
architect by profession–strongly felt that the
dwelling should embody the concept that people and their
residences ought to be integral parts of, rather than
intrusions into, the surrounding environment.

To accomplish this, Peter spent a good deal of time
studying the local terrain and designing the building so
that each feature represents a response to its
surroundings. By taking advantage of the site’s physical
characteristics, then, he was able to let the land do its
share in making his home a functional success.

The house’s several-acre lot is well isolated from the road
by a generous stand of deciduous trees growing on a gentle
south-facing slope. This foliage provides shading in the
summer season, yet is developed enough to allow any breeze
to reach the structure by passing beneath its umbrella of
leaves.

The house itself stands at the peak of the slope and is
bermed to the north. To further augment the effect of this
earth sheltering, the designer shaped his home’s
cedar-shingled roof to direct winds away from the
dwelling’s south-facing skylight area. (The structure was
laid out as a modified pentagon . . . both to encourage
airflow and to make efficient use of its southern
exposure.)

COMBINING BEAUTY AND FUNCTION
Fluker’s design is intentionally uncomplicated: He planned
a direct-gain, passive solar structure with 1,750 square
feet of living area, all told. Over half the main floor is
directly exposed to the sun . . . either through the 186
square feet of south-south-east-to south-southwest-oriented
glass, or through the 360 square feet of skylight collector
surface. The master bedroom on the upper level is bathed in
light both indirectly (from white-painted ceilings and
walls) and straightaway (through the roof section of the
skylight).

On the other hand, the triple-glazed window area on the
home’s north, east, and west faces was kept to a total of
only 70 square feet, and is responsible for less than 9% of
the building’s total heat loss.

In order to provide for energy absorption and
storage–while adhering to the concept that the
Structure should be a storage medium in itself–the
designer incorporated several systems into his creation.

To begin with, the slab was poured over an insulated (R-16)
bed, which includes an airhandling system. The surface of
this concrete foundation was fitted out with dark,
heat-absorbing slate in the solarium, hearth, and kitchen
areas . . . but–because the owner felt that a softer
material would provide a warmer, cozier
feeling–carpeting was installed in most of the
remaining living space.

Then, to take advantage of direct solar gain (and to
provide a structural as well as an aesthetic focus), a
concrete block column, veneered with slabs of charcoal-gray
slate, reaches from floor to ceiling at the center of the
house.

The pillar’s function isn’t simply to absorb heat. It also
serves as a chimney for a Fisher woodstove, and houses a
central duct that’s connected to the air-handling network
encased in the slab. By constantly using the low-speed fan
in the backup electric furnace duct for cold-season
circulation, Fluker was able to create a flow loop that
pulls stagnant air from the peak of the building (where it
gathers naturally) . . . into a vent at the top of the
central column . . . and on through the concealed duct and
into those in the system beneath the floor.

In this fashion, both the “conventional” backup and the
solar heating systems are integrated, since any convective
warmth from either the woodstove or the furnace must travel
through the storage mass . . . and the Fisher’s radiant
heat is also absorbed directly by the masonry from the
outside. Moreover, the warm-air distribution system reduces
temperature differences between the high and low levels of
the house, and–since the floor is constantly heated
from beneath–the effects of any loss of direct solar
gain that result from the use of carpeting are diminished
to a significant degree. Finally, to insulate the
structural package, Peter protected the walls and roof to a
factor of R32.

Of course, the Canadian residence was also designed to
passively fend off the effects of summer’s higher
temperatures . . . and this was done, for the most part, as
naturally as possible. The greenhouse floor is vented to
the exterior at ground level, and–because a
low-pressure cell is created within the structure by
prevailing wind flow over it–cool air from the forest
bed is drawn into the house at that point and pulled upward
. . . to eventually pass out of the structure through a row
of clerestory windows high in the master bedroom’s north
wall.

Furthermore, although the huge skylight is somewhat
protected from insolation by the surrounding summer
foliage, this shading is not so pronounced during warm
periods immediately before and after that sea son. So, to
subdue the sun’s rays through the spring and fall months,
the designer may install a motorized shutter system on the
ceiling beams. This should not only prevent unwanted
sunlight from entering the house, but also greatly improve
the structure’s ability to retain warmth when the skylight
is “closed off” at night.

A SHINING SUCCESS
Since completing his residence in 1979, Peter Fluker has
spent a good deal of time analyzing the structure’s
strengths and weaknesses. And considering the harshness of
the Canadian climate, he feels that his objective–the
creation of a functional, attractive living space that
taxes conventional energy sources as little as
possible–has been successfully met.

Fluker’s project has been a success when considered from a
dollars-and-cents aspect, as well: His current heating
requirements are 10 million BTU annually, which translates
into a full-year expenditure of only $162 in U.S. funds.
Building costs, on the other hand, figured to about $46 per
square foot, which compares favorably with most dwellings
constructed in the States at the time.

So, judging from this northern example, one can see that
“going solar” is definitely progressive. After all, getting
more from less–and doing it in style–is what it’s all
about!

EDITORS NOTE: The Peter Fluker Group is an Ontario-based
organization involved in passive solar design and
analysis/retrofit of existing structures. Those seriously
interested in learning more about the services provided by
the firm can contact Mr. Fluker at The Peter Ruker Group,
Ltd., Dept. TMEN, Orillia, Ontario, Canada .