Looking for a way to reduce that electric bill, lower your carbon footprint, and show off to your neighbors? The good news is that you don’t have to build a brand new home in order to reap the benefits of sustainable building techniques. Here are 6 ways to passively solarize your current home so you can slash electricity costs, cut emissions, and impress your friends with science.
Have you noticed that your pool tiles stay hot even after the sun goes down? That’s because floors made of mud brick, tiles, and concrete store the sun’s heat during the day. Because hot air rises, this heat is released at night, so by using these floors and similar walls you can keep the air around you nice and cozy while you sleep.
Planting deciduous trees on the north side of your house provides shade in the summer but allows the winter sun in after they lose their leaves. Vines on trellises along a northern verandah provide the same effect. Be sure to select trees that are specific to your region, preferably ones whose populations have been reduced in number, and remember to ask your local gardener or geologist which trees are best for the soil near your home.
Related: Green Building 101: Energy and Atmosphere—Keeping Cool and Staying Warm
Putting small skylights into the roof of your house can provide light in dark areas. This reduces the need for extra lighting fixtures during the day and allows for a nice moon view at night. Larger skylights can also be used above a bathtub in order to provide cloud-gazing opportunities. What better way to relax than with some lunar appreciation for your naked body?
Shady Trees (but not the peeping kind)
Planting shady trees (trees that are leafy year-round, not trees that watch you with binoculars) along the windy side of your house will protect you from the hot summer afternoon sun as well as the cold winter winds. All these trees create habitats for more birds, which means fewer insects (read: mosquitos) that crawl into your ears while you doze on the front porch with your mouth open. It also means more pleasant sounds to wake you up instead of that iPhone alarm clock that sounds like a 1940’s telephone.
Locating large windows on the southern side of your house (so they can be open on hot days) allows breezes to flow through your home from north to south. This reduces your need for air conditioning, which is heavily contributing to climate change through positive feedback loops, and on a windy day it allows you to stand in your doorway with a towel pretending to be one of those models in a shampoo commercial.
Build Another Garage
Building a garage (or even a large shed) on the western side of your house insulates you from the sun, and can also provide an opportunity for one of those “father-son bonding moments” you’re always looking so hard to find an excuse for. And let’s be honest, you’ve probably been meaning to build another garage to hold your extra cars that are getting covered with summer pine sap and pollen.
Houses that have these characteristics don’t need cooling during summer or more than a small wood stove for heating during the winter. As a result, they don’t emit much energy and their carbon footprint is minimal. The ideas of “clean-burning,” natural gas and “clean coal are just another example of government greenwashing garbage. Extractive processes like “fracking” and Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining threaten our health, hurt our future economy, and destroy the natural places we love. By implementing passive solar design we can reduce our reliance on these fossil fuels by imitating our girl mother nature, cause she knows what’s up.
Note: These orientations vary in different areas of the world so be sure to know where your prevailing winds come from, where your sun is orientated during winter/summer, and any other patterns that might affect natural heating/cooling in your climate.
Lead image © Aaron Pocock and Andrew Michler