Passive Solar Heating and Cooling: Construction & Home Design

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Passive Solar Design: Definition

Making use of passive solar energy, this heating or cooling system is designed in such a way that thermal energy flows by natural means throughout the system. In a passive heating or cooling system there are no moving parts such as fans or pumps.

A passive heating or cooling system makes use of the nature of a building’s design, its orientation with respect to the sun and wind patterns and with respect to the materials from which the building is constructed or which can be added to the building.

Although the ideal circumstance for employing a passive solar design for heating or cooling a building would be at the design stage of the building itself, existing buildings can greatly benefit from passive solar design retrofits. Introducing a passive solar heating system into any building brings about significant energy savings.

Energy Conservation: The First Part to Passive Solar Heating or Cooling

The first part of Passive solar design is aimed at conserving the heating or cooling that a building has achieved. The actual means by which heating or cooling is achieved is secondary to this. Conservation measures alone can save 40% to 60% of the average building’s heating and cooling energy use and are generally less expensive to install than the actual heating or cooling system itself.

Heating and cooling conservation measures include:

  • Sealing all cracks especially in the interior surfaces of the house
  • Weather-stripping and/or caulking all doors and windows
  • Ensuring adequate insulation of walls, ceilings and floors
  • Adding tightly fitting insulating curtains or blinds for the windows
  • Earth-berming the house
  • Introducing shrubs and trees for shading or as wind-breaks
  • Adding entrance vestibules to doors which lead into and outside of the building.

In a mild climate that does not have enormous temperature extremes energy conservation is not as important as it is in a more extreme climate.

Climates that become either very hot, very cold, or both will provide you with significant savings in energy if you employ heroic energy saving measures in your house. Even in a sunny climate, energy losses will outstrip energy gains by solar means if adequate energy saving measures are not applied.

In a cool mild climate that does not have a lot of sunshine, insulation and energy conservation will be very important in energy saving designs. In this type of climate, solar energy may not be able to provide as much heating as it would be able to provide in a sunnier local, but, the energy conservation measures will mean that the other heating technologies which will have to be employed, are employed at a maximum efficiency and therefor minimized.

In climates where temperature extremes are experienced, energy conservation will need to include energy storage means. In otherwords, heat storage provided by water tanks, by massive construction such as with interior brick, stone or concrete walls, or by the use of heat storing rock pits will be needed. In a mild or a cool climate energy storage is not needed to the same degree.


Bossong, Ken and Jan Pilarski. Passive Solar Retrofit for Homeowners and Apartment Dwellers. Citizens’ Energy Project, Wash D.C. 1982. report series no.137" Home owner’s Guide to Passive Solar: An Overview"

Anderson, Bruce and Malcolm Wells. Passive Solar Energy Second Edition, The Homeowner’s Guide to Natural heating and Cooling. Brick House Publishing Company, Amherst, New Hampshire, 1994

This post is part of the series: Passive Heating and Cooling

Passive Heating and Cooling Technology uses the natural movement of energies in and around a building to heat and cool the building. By using the principals of passive heating and cooling you can economically eliminate most of the external energy that is required to heat or cool that building.

  1. Passive Heating And Cooling
  2. How Does a Passive Solar Heating System Work? Direct, Indirect & Isolated Gain
  3. Home Energy Conservation: Step One to Passive Solar
  4. Save Your Heating and Cooling Energy by Controling Convective Heat Loss and Cooling Losses
  5. Window Weather Stripping for Your Passive Solar House
  6. Door Weather Stripping for Energy Conservation
  7. Save Your Heating and Cooling Energy by Controling Conductive Energy Losses