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Off The Grid

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Passive solar: interior thermal mass

Thermal mass on the interior of the building is able to store heat or cold, and then slowly release it back out to the surrounding air. Heat from a sunny winter day as well as the coolness of a summer night can be retained inside the insulated shell of the exterior walls if the building incorporates adequate thermal mass. Thermal mass is needed to prevent daytime overheating of the structure and to stabilize its ambient temperatures through nights and periods of cloudy weather.  The more mass is available, the more stable the interior temperature.  Also, the more directly the winter sun hits the mass, the higher the solar heat gain.

Floors can provide a good source of mass. Concrete, brick, flagstone, or other masonry materials work especially well.  Any of these can be layered over with cork — an organic material that insulates well, and has the advantage of creating a softer surface underfoot.  Earth floors can be used, but do not perform as well.  Insulating beneath the floor helps to return the heat gains to the interior of the building more quickly.  Interior walls and houses are often framed with wood, but if built out of masonry materials such as rock or adobe, these can provide excellent mass, especially those interior walls hit directly by the sun. Concrete poured between studs is a quick way to add mass. (more…)

Passive solar energy use

Passive solar technology is simply a set of techniques for using sunlight for useful energy without the use of any active mechanical systems.  These methods convert sunlight into usable heat (passive solar heating — hot water, warm air, and heat stored in thermal mass), cause air-movement for ventilation, and store heat for future use.  Passive cooling is the use of the same design principles to reduce summer cooling requirements.

Solar design (also called solar architecture) requires a basic understanding of how the sun moves in the sky over the year, and how this movement affects the sunlight that reaches a specific location at different times in the summer in the Northern Hemisphere.  The sun rises as well as sets to the north of the east-west line, and is high overhead at noon.  In the winter, the sun is much lower at noon and rises and sets at points that are further to the south.  It is possible by taking advantage of those changes to build a house that is naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter. (more…)

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