Active, Passive, and Combined Solar Heating

Passive Solar Heating

Buildings designed for passive solar heating with natural sunlight to light a building’s interior incorporate large south-facing windows, skylights, and building materials that absorb and slowly release the sun’s heat. Incorporating passive solar designs can reduce heating bills as much as 50 percent. Passive solar designs can also include natural ventilation for cooling. Windows are an important aspect of passive solar design. In cold climates, south-facing windows designed to let the sun’s heat in while insulating against the cold are ideal. In hot and moderate climates, the strategy is to admit light while rejecting heat. Interior spaces requiring the most light, heat, and cooling are located along the south face of the building, with less used space to the north. Open floor plans allow more sun inside.

Active Solar Heating

Active solar heating systems consist of collectors that collect and absorb solar radiation and electric fans or pumps to transfer and distribute the solar heat in a fluid (liquid or air) from the collectors. They may have a storage system to provide heat when the sun is not shining.

An active system may offer more flexibility than a passive system in terms of siting and installation.

Heating your home with an active solar energy system can significantly reduce your fuel bills in the winter.

A solar heating system will also reduce the amount of air pollution and greenhouse gases that result from your use of fossil fuels such as oil, propane, and natural gas for heating or that may be used to generate the electricity that you use.

To learn more about Active Solar Systems, click here.

Combined Passive/Active Solar Heating

We have learned to combine passive and active solar elements in our designs because they both have advantages. Passive heating allows us to use building elements (walls, floors, etc.) as heat storage, reducing the requirements for water storage while leaving the advantages of active solar systems.

A cubic foot of water will transport or store 3800 times the amount of heat the same volume of air will. Active solar systems allow the use of water to collect, store and transport heat.

For more information visit our Radiant Floor Overview page

While some of our houses have been completely passive, actually able to meet their heating loads with the elegant simplicity of passive heating, we believe that a combined system is most effective because the increased area of glass amplifies total heating and cooling load, and active systems allow the greatest flexibility of site design, landscaping, and room layout.

One advantage to using the sun to heat your building in New Mexico is that it allows you to use the unique ”solar right of way” law preventing neighbors from shading your collecting surface, and preserving
the open spaces to the south of your building.