The End of the Line for Passive Solar?
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Author name: Alex Wilson Blog Category: Energy Solutions Passive solar design features have helped define what energy-efficient buildings look like. Have newer design practices left them behind? A home in St. Peter, Minnnesota, designed by Sarah Nettleton Architects features south-facing glass with exterior shade panels and lots of interior thermal mass. Click to enlarge. Photo Credit: Don Wong The state of passive solar heating, though built on timeless principles, has changed over the past several decades—as latest feature article in Environmental Building News describes. Some 36 years ago, in the summer between my junior and senior years of college, I dipped my feet into the world of renewable energy. About 20 students from Ithaca College and Cornell University spent the summer trying to determine whether a farm outside Ithaca could become energy self-sufficient. This was three years after the 1973 oil crisis, and like a lot of people, we wanted to figure out how to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. The National Science Foundation supported the project. In 1976 solar heating usually referred to complex, active-solar systems. Experimenters and back-yard inventors were putting solar collectors on their roofs and pumping solar-heated air through rock-beds to store the heat, or they were pumping antifreeze through roof-mounted flat-plate collectors to charge large insulated water tanks. We experimented with some of those systems in our quest for energy independence, but we were also hearing about these low-tech, passive-solar designs being developed in the Southwest—especially northern New Mexico. We liked what we saw and put on our tool belts to build some of these passive systems we were reading about, including south-facing attached solar greenhouses (sunspaces). The River House in Vermont's Mad River Valley, designed by architect Bill Maclay. This net-zero-energy home features extensive use of passive solar and deep overhangs to prevent overheating. Click to enlarge. Photo Credit: Maclay Architects. read more