Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Sunshine Anecdote

It’s 93 degrees here, way above the normal of about 83, and with a passive solar house that means it’s HOT! Lots of people ask me, "What is a passive solar house???"

Passive means we have no “active” solar panels or water pumping systems, etc. Every day you do nothing – and the sun warms the house.

Here's how it works: We built our house facing the south with lots of windows to catch the solar rays. Sunshine comes in - house heats up.

One key ingredient during building: Use adobe walls and tile floors to absorb the heat during the day’s sunshine hours. At nighttime, the adobe and tile slowly released the heat as the temperature falls, but it helps to keep the house at a fairly even temperature. No huge swings.

During the winter months (October – March basically) the sun’s angle is lower on the horizon which means the rays come directly through your windows. Perfect. Even in January when it’s in the low teens my house will be 75 degrees inside – without any heat on at all! It’s fabulous. I can sit on the adobe bench in my kitchen soaking up the sun and staying toasty warm.

What happens during April/May through September you might wonder – those hot summer months? Well, the sun begins to move higher on the horizon, reaching its full zenith overhead in June. By late May the sun does not shine directly through the windows at all, hence no solar “gain”.

You can observe the patch of the sun’s light movement on the tile floor – literally – as it changes during the weeks of May and September. A few inches, a foot, two feet, three feet, etc. as the sun is changing into it’s winter position - or out of it - as the case may be.

We’re roasting at the moment because I’ve been watching the inches of sun grow to three feet coming in now across my floors (it will eventually grow to about ten feet in December/January!) and yet our temperatures are way above normal. Hence, a very warm house. And the swamp cooler broke yesterday. Sigh.

Native American tribes used the sun to heat their adobe houses and cave dwellings a thousand years ago here in the Southwest. Very smart people!

The Southwest is the perfect climate to a solar home because we have more sunny days than cloudy days. It can be 12 degrees outside in January and even blustery, but the sun will be shining. I love it! Why wouldn’t everyone build a solar house like this? It didn’t cost us more to build. You just direct the main rooms of your house facing south, put in lots of big windows and let the sun pour in.

When we moved to New Mexico and heard about this type of house we thought it was foolish NOT to build a house like this. But very few people actually do. We save a lot of money on our electric bill plus I have a warmer house than most other people do. Cool!

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