Warm Your Home With Passive Solar Heating

If you want to make your home more eco-friendly and save money on your energy bills, you have several options. You can upgrade your HVAC system and appliances to more efficient models. You can monitor your daily electricity usage. One solution you may not be as familiar with is passive solar heating.

Passive solar heating involves optimizing your home to store solar energy without the use of solar panels and solar tubes. While any reliance on solar energy helps the environment and lowers your energy costs, passive solar heating differs in that no energy is expended to convert solar energy to a power source.

How Does Passive Solar Heating Work?

This option works best if you have south-facing windows, but southeast- or southwest-facing windows can work as well. The sun shines on the window during the day, heating the house. Heat is also collected and used to keep the house warm throughout the night.

To introduce passive solar heating to your home, you'll need windows large enough to let in an adequate amount of heat and light. Since windows are usually the part of the home where heat escapes most easily, you will need to properly insulate the windows. Otherwise, the large window size would actually lead to heat loss and counteract the benefits of passive heating.

To prevent heat loss through the window, install double- or triple-paned windows on the south-facing side of your house. The thicker window, usually filled with an inert gas, prevents heat from escaping. You can also add an insulating coating or film to the window.

Passive solar heating is possible through the use of thermal mass to trap and hold heat. It works with solar energy to keep the home cool in the summer and warm during the winter and at night. Materials like concrete and brick absorb heat well, so consider installing a concrete floor in the room where the sun shines. Concrete comes in a variety of colors and patterns, and you can cover it with tile or rugs if you like, so you don't have to worry that using concrete will ruin your décor.

Nor do you have to worry about the thermal mass storing so much energy in the summer that your home becomes uncomfortably warm. You can use curtains or other shading to reduce the amount of energy entering your home, or build an overhang above the window. The low winter sun can still shine through, but the higher summer sun is blocked.

Difference Between Passive and Active Solar

Active solar heating relies on several different methods to keep your house warm. When you install solar panels on your roof, they transfer solar energy to a fluid that then circulates through the piping of the house, heating it up. Newer designs can also directly heat the air in a nearby room, which then is funneled to the furnace and forced through the rest of the home.

Another option is to install a photovoltaic system, which converts solar energy to electricity. You would still use a traditional heating system, but it would be powered by the sun, not an electric company. This is a great way to reduce the energy output of many systems in your home, but it can be expensive to install.

If you are only considering more efficient heating options right now, not a home overhaul, passive solar heating is a fairly simple process. You can still have an electric- or gas-powered HVAC system to take over during a long string of cloudy days.

Preparing Your Home for Passive Heating

Passive heating works best in areas that receive a lot of sunlight and have large temperature differences between day and night and between the seasons. However, it's possible nearly everywhere, particularly if you have a back-up system.

To begin, have a solar heating expert evaluate your south-facing windows. They may recommend installing more energy-efficient or better-insulated windows (which is a good idea for anyone wishing to conserve energy), or even enlarging the windows.

The next step is to find an adequate thermal mass within range of the windows. You likely already have concrete floors covered by hardwood, carpeting, or linoleum. Remove the covering to expose the concrete surface. As mentioned above, you can either polish it or cover it with a less-insulating material. The rest of your house can keep its original flooring; only the room by the windows needs adjustment.

One of the most essential aspects of passive heating is proper insulation. Your heating professional can also give you tips about the areas with the biggest heat loss in your home, such as the attic, and how to best insulate in your situation. The better insulated your house, the more control you have over the internal temperature.

It's also smart to ensure your home has proper ventilation in order to disperse heat in the summer. One way is to open windows at either end of the house to promote a steady air flow through the building. You can also install vents that you can open in summer and seal in the winter.

If you're ready to make the switch to a more energy-efficient heating and cool system, contact HomeSmart from Xcel Energy about insulating your home and using solar energy—we partner with solar energy contractors that can help you get set up with a new system of your choice.  We also offer modern wi-fi programmable thermostats to give you even more control over your home environment.

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