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Helpful Solar Design Tools
By Dan Chiras

Many professional solar designers use powerful new software like Energy-10, a computer program that allows designers to predict the energy performance of various building-design strategies, permitting a fine-tuning of designs to achieve optimal comfort, performance and economy. (Energy-10 is available from the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council.  Designers also use a Solar Pathfinder a $255 device that allows a builder or architect to fully assess the year-round solar potential of a site in about 15 minutes.

Debbie Rucker Coleman prefers a simpler approach using Passive Solar Design Strategies: Guidelines for Home Building by the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council (see "Resources"). "Most homeowners would be able to follow these guidelines, as the notebook is put together very well. I like the program because it tells you the percentage of your heating needs the sun is providing and lets you compare strategies such as adding insulation or increasing south glass. You can complete the work sheets manually or with the computer software version."

Simple Solar Solutions

So what are the worst-case consequences if you follow the basic principles, but don't want to perform your own detailed energy analysis or hire a professional to do it for you? Less-than-optimal amounts of south-facing windows may require running an auxiliary heating system more, or may necessitate adding another log to the woodstove or putting on a sweater. Undersized mass will cause winter daytime overheating, which is easily remedied by opening windows.

A less-than-perfect passive-solar design can be remedied after construction. What you cannot easily change later is the basic shape, design and orientation of the house. That's why a well-insulated, south-facing structure is the essential foundation for a comfortable passive-solar home.

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