Converting Your Home to “Passive” Solar Heating

September 25, 2018

Most homes today in this country, are heated either with electricity or natural gas. The heat one gets from natural gas gives us clean and inexpensive heat. It is distributed throughout the home by a forced air system. Even though electricity is more expensive it still does the job of warming the home in a way similar to natural gas. Either of these is good ways to keep your home and/or business warm.

Both of these heating styles have something else that’s in common, if the power goes out, homes will go without any heating. This means since the electrical grid can be very fragile when any disaster hits and causes power outages, the aftermath of any kind of crisis, homes will be without heat.

The main reason homes are built is to protect ourselves from weather and when we lose the ability to keep our homes warm we lose the ability to protect ourselves, our families and employees. This is why so many people believe it’s important to have alternate ways of heating in order to be able to survive disasters.

Emergency Heating Plans

Many homes do have emergency heating plans, most of which require using wood. A lot of homes have either a fireplace or a wood-burning stove as their alternative way of heating their home but that doesn’t have to be the only alternative. Passive solar heating is yet another reliable alternative to natural gas and electricity. There are some homes that can easily be set up to use passive solar heating with just a few modifications being made to their homes.

It’s true that “real” solar homes are designed to be that way. But, this isn’t to say that it’s impossible to convert a home to use passive solar heating. There are a lot of homes that will be able to benefit from the few modifications needed in order to use some solar energy. It all depends on the home but it may be pretty easy to do. It does help to have a wall that faces south, which can be used for modifications.

You Can Take Advantage of Solar Heating

Even though a lot of homes that use this type of solar heating are already designed for it, so many think they simply can’t take advantage of any kind of solar heating. However, just about any kind of home can be modified to use some kind of passive solar heat. It helps to understand how it works and then taking a look at homes to see what can be done to make them more solar friendly. Passive solar systems are made up of five basic components:

  • Collector or aperture. These are simply the windows that sunlight comes in through. If one lives in the northern hemisphere then these windows need to be facing south without any foliage getting in the way. The closer the windows are facing the south the better.
  • Absorber. This is what the sunlight will hit when it goes through the collector and then converts the light into heat. In order to be effective, the collector needs to be a very dark color and made of a material that readily transfers the heat created into the thermal mass.
  • Thermal mass. Once the light is converted to heat, the heat then needs to be stored. In the passive solar system, this is usually a rock or concrete. This absorber will be physically connected to the thermal mass and allow it to readily transfer this heat.
  • Distribution. Passive solar systems absorb all during the day and then releases it during the night. This is accomplished with radiation and convection. The heat will radiate naturally from the thermal mass to the air surrounding it and warming it up. Then the convection will cause the warm air to rise which in turn will heat other places in the home. In many cases, you can use ceiling fans to help assist in the convection process.
  • Control. Finally, you need to have some sort of control which limits the sunlights ability to hit the absorber during the summer, while still letting it hit it during the winter months. This is often the roof overhang on the home. In the winter, the sun is always lower on the horizon and it shines through the windows. During the summer it is more overhead and this is where the control will block it.

Basics of Passive Solar Heating

Putting it simply, passive solar heating is just the sun shining through south-facing windows and then heating up carpeting on the floor. This heat is created simply by the light coming from the sun. When looking at it this way, the window can be seen as the collector or aperture. It lets the light of the sun to easily pass through it and then collecting it to be converted to heat. When the sunlight hits the floor covering it absorbs it and then converts it to heat. This then can be called the absorber. The absorber needs to be black or at least a very dark color so it can absorb as much heat as possible. Then this absorber is attached to the thermal mass. This mass acts like a battery and will store the heat until it is actually needed. When needed, it will then radiate the heat through this absorber into the house.

Possible Roadblocks for Your Home

Even though most homes can be converted to passive solar energy there can be a few things that might make it difficult. One key thing that might make it difficult is that the home may not have enough windows for this system to work. A lot of homes actually don’t have enough windows for this type of solar heating to work effectively. But, that can be easily fixed by adding more windows facing south.

Another problem one might run into is lacking a good thermal mass. A lot of homes have either wood floors or just think cement slabs only about four inches thick. In order to have a good thermal mass, the slab should be eight to twelve inches thick. The thicker the better. If the slab is too thin it would mean one would have to remove the older slab and put in a thicker one.

The absorber could be an issue as well because not many floors are black and lighter colors won’t work as well because lighter colors don’t absorb as much sunlight as darker colors.

Converting Might Be Difficult For Some

Even though it might be difficult to convert some homes, it’s not entirely impossible and if you are serious about converting part or all of your home you might want to stop and consider the possibilities and get in touch with Urban Solar now. Contact us today and find out how we can help you with your solar energy needs.