As we near the end of the first decade of the twenty first century, most of us are aware of the discussion about global warming and its potential impact on our way of life both culturally and practically by way of ever rising fuel and energy costs. There are many options that a family can take to reduce high power bills and live a more energy efficient lifestyle. One of the smartest ways to achieve some measure of energy independence is to convert your home to utilize passive solar power.
A home designed to take advantage of passive solar energy basically uses the environment to accomplish significant reductions in energy use. A passive solar home constructed with suitable materials and energy efficient design, can utilize the sun’s heat during cold winter months and during summer, can block the extreme heat from entering the home.
The most common passive solar techniques include:-
- By correctly aligning the placement of windows in a house, direct gain of the sun’s radiant heat into living spaces can contribute significantly to providing free heating in colder climates. Alternatively, in warmer climates, aligning the windows to reduce the effects of sunlight entering the living space can reduce the ambient temperature within the home.
- The utilization of effective building materials can also have a dramatic impact on the overall energy efficiency of a home. For example A Trombe wall is a wall positioned to catch sunlight and is built from thermal mass material such as stone, concrete or other heavy energy absorbent materials. This is combined with an airspace and vents so that the whole structure acts as a solar thermal collector which ‘pumps’ warmed air into the home.
- Suitable structures such as double glazing or overhangs on south facing windows to restrict sunlight during warmer summer months.
- Effective insulation to both walls and roof spaces.
In addition to providing heating, cooling and soothing natural lighting for your home, solar electricity options are also available to provide the actual power for many of your household appliances. Solar electricity is generated when sunlight is absorbed by photovoltaic cells. Alternatively, the electricity generated by solar cells can be conveniently stored in deep cycle batteries similar to those used in automobiles and various technologies are commonly available to provide a complete home electricity system utilizing these to augment or replace conventional mains supplies.
Solar Hot Water Systems are another key element in use throughout the world. These systems have been used for many years in countries such as Australia but can be effective in any climate. It is proven that these solar systems will pay for themselves in a very short time. Essentially, the unit consists of a solar panel array which is fixed to the roof of the house. This collects the thermal energy which is used to heat the water which is fed through the panels and into a roof top storage tank. Conventional electric or gas power can be used to automatically augment the heating during winter or days of heavy cloud cover.
An effective solar home needs to utilize many techniques to improve energy efficiency and existing homes can make use of the same techniques to save the homeowner many thousands of dollars. Not all changes need to be dramatic as significant gains can achieved by simply improving existing insulation or installing window shutters or double glazing. Whatever techniques are used, the benefits for the individual homeowner and the planet as a whole are significant.
Remember this: The price of energy will never be as cheap as it is today.