Activate Passive Solar Energy
Want to lower your utility bills and increase comfort? Think about harnessing solar power. With relatively simple, affordable improvements, the sun can heat, cool, and fill your home with natural daylight. A passive solar home can lower heating bills by at least 50 percent. Equally important, solar power does not pollute the environment or deplete nonrenewable oil and gas supplies.
How to harness passive solar energy
Here are some passive solar strategies and improvements to incorporate in your home:
Maximize window areas on your home's south side, where it receives the most sunlight.
Keep south-facing windows clean, and use insulating curtains on large windows to reduce heat loss during winter nights.
Minimize windows on the east, west, and north walls for summer cooling.
Shade south-wall windows with shutters, awnings, and trellises.
Replace older windows that lose heat in the winter with well-insulated, energy-efficient windows. Today s windows offer many different capacities (for example, absorbing winter sun, blocking summer sun, or reducing glare.)
Harness natural daylight to decrease use of electric lights. South-wall windows, combined with skylights, a clerestory (a row of windows on the roof peak), and an open floor plan will let sunlight flow into all spaces.
Draw on natural ventilation to cool your home in summer. Install casement windows or a thermal chimney that vents hot air through the roof.
For sunlit walls and floors, incorporate dark-colored materials, such as concrete, brick, or tile, to absorb and store heat during the day and slowly release it during the night.
Change to a solar water heater. Hire an experienced contractor with many references to avoid fly-by-night companies.
Your home can have more than one type of heating system. For example, some homes combine passive solar heat with new advanced gas or wood fireplaces and use central systems only as backups.
If you are considering passive solar design for new construction or a major remodeling, consult an architect who is familiar with passive solar techniques.
Financing and Tax Savings
You can find mortgage financing and tax incentives for passive solar improvements:
Energy-efficient mortgages (EEMs) are available to cover costs of solar and other remodeling costs.
EEMs are also available to purchase houses that are already considered energy-efficient. Since energy-efficient homes mean lower utility costs, perspective homebuyers typically qualify for a better house with less income.
Many states offer tax savings and credits for solar energy improvements.
For more information about solar home energy, consult these Web sites:
Passive Solar Design for the Home.
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network.
EREC Brief: Solar and Energy-Efficient House Design: Reading and Source List.
Sourcebook Passive Solar Guidelines1-2.
Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy.
Details on Energy-Efficient Mortgages (EEMs).
DOE's Financing Solution Center.