Grit Blogs > House on the Hill WV

Passive Solar Winter Living

Heidi NawrockiIt is difficult for us to believe, but we are at the start of the third winter of living in our passive solar home. We still get confused looks and stares when we tell people we live in a passive solar home.

“So, you use electric to heat your house, then?”

“That must be neat to live off grid!”

“The sun? It heats your house?”

“That can't really work, there's no way.”

Well, I'm here to tell you it DOES work and it's a lot of fun as well. So, let's dispel some myths.

1) We do NOT live off grid. We still are hooked into the traditional power grid. We were fully prepared to go off grid. We had a local solar company come out to do a site assessment and give us a quote. We have excellent southern exposure and there would be NO reason that we wouldn't have been able to be completely off grid. But alas, we would have been unable to secure financing for our home if we had chosen that route.

2) The sun DOES heat our house! It's crazy and it still amazes us every day. There are 2-foot overhangs on our roof. The sun literally does not come in the windows in the summer, which certainly adds to the comfort level in the summer. But in the winter, sunlight fills our home. There is such a difference in the level of comfort between sunny days and cloudy days in the winter. Just the other day when it was a balmy 15 degrees and sunny outside, the sun kept the inside a nice 68.

3) We do have an electric heat pump, but it's our TERTIARY source of heat. No. 1 and our absolute favorite is the sun. Our secondary heat source is our woodstove. And then comes the heat pump. Our heat pump is only efficient down to a certain temperature, so our woodstove gets the most use on non-sunny days. It also certainly helps that our house is mega insulated.

4) Why, yes, we DO love all of our windows. I always get remarks about how much work it must be keeping the windows clean. Yes, I won't lie, cleaning windows is not my favorite chore. But, when we see views like this, it's worth it.

View

We are so happy with the performance of our home in the winter. There are ways YOU can take advantage of the sun, even if your house isn't specifically designed for passive solar.

Be sure to open any blinds and windows on the south side of your house during the day. This will allow for the maximum sun to enter your home. Be sure to close your blinds and curtains at sunset to help trap the heat you have gained.

I had a friend last winter who, during a power outage, opened up her curtains on the south side of her house, and was able to raise the temperature of her home by 2 degrees. It's a small thing to do that can have a big impact! Or, you can be crazy like us and go ahead and build yourself a passive solar home. You won't regret it!

Be sure to follow along for more about passive solar living, knitting, home improvement, and chickens on our blog. Happy Winter!

diane goodwin
1/16/2015 1:33:11 PM

I designed my house for passive solar also, and would do it again. The one caution I would offer is to make sure the heat system is designed to compensate for the grey overcast days in winter where there is little to no solar heat gain. But in the winter when the sun shines, my house is toasty and the heater barely kicks on. Financing and insurance also be drawbacks to alternative house design. I installed mini-splits with heat pumps for heating/cooling and one insurance company said they could not insure my house because I had more than one thermostat. I can only imagine how bad they would be to actually file a claim with.


nebraskadave
11/23/2014 8:59:12 AM

Heidi, great post about the heating power of the sun. I have a south facing three window view of .... well .... the neighbor's house across the street in my urban neighborhood but during the winter months I do just as you have suggested. The insulated drapes are wide open during the sunny days which keeps the furnace from operating most of the day. When the sun goes down the drapes are closed and heat retention is the goal. ***** In the summer the drapes are open as well as the windows during the evening and night hours to let in the cool air. During the day the drapes are closed to keep out the hot sun and thus make the air conditioning hours less and not stress out the unit. With a little logic and planning utility cost saving can even happen in the urban city. ***** Have a great solar passive heat day.