The Effects of Solar Orientation on Active House USA’s Design


Active House USA Rendering

A rendering of Active House USA shows the skylights, windows, and tunnels being used to take advantage of the Solar Orientation of the home.

Active House USA is bursting that futuristic bubble that many people associate with green home design, but aside from the traditional sensibilities that are immediately apparent when you look at the home there are some very important design features that are being built in that boost the sustainability, energy efficiency, and indoor air quality of the home. One of those key design features is the solar orientation of the home.

Solar orientation refers to orienting the design of the house in relation to the natural path of the sun. And for Active House USA it is a key to successful site planning in terms of the performance of the home.

Whether you are building  or remodeling a new home or an entire development, if you can take advantage of passive solar heating and cooling you have tapped into something truly amazing: free energy. (Well they have not figured out how to tax sunshine yet, anyway).

There is nothing you can do to a home (or any building, for that matter) that has more effect for less investment than plan to take advantage of this free energy source. A well-designed and properly oriented house capitalizes on solar heat gain in winter and deflects unwanted heat in summer. This simple consideration can save a healthy percentage of a house’s energy use—and at no extra cost for the entire life of that building. In summer, if you have oriented the house properly and are able to take advantage of shade trees and overhangs, (shading the windows and walls) the air conditioner can more effectively cool air that is approximately 20° cooler that it would be otherwise.

Proper solar orientation can also provide glare-free natural light throughout the house, especially when you factor in contemporary design techniques like light colored surfaces, glass partitions, and traditional transoms. While you want to limit Northern facing glazing because of cold temperature considerations, incorporating a balance of daylight from the North usually results in a more constant softer natural light. And vertical light, which will be incorporated into Active House USA using Velux sun tunnels and skylights), is even more effective as it provides a higher percentage of light with less glare.

The Active House USA prototype home is taking daylighting and solar orientation one step further by using daylight in our energy calculations. Engineers with Active House Network in Denmark are working with Jeff Day, our Project Architect, to maximize the effectiveness of the lighting in his design. Jeff has created an open and airy interior layout as a result that will maximize daylight throughout the house as much as possible.

The sum of all of this planning is that it reduces the need to use artificial lighting, lowering utility usage and costs. And using less artificial lighting also lowers the amount of heat generated in the house, which, in turn, further decreases the demand for air conditioning in summer.

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