You may be unfamiliar with the term, but the passive solar design is about as old as human civilization. It involves orienting a building and working with nature to keep a structure comfortable for a minimum of energy usage instead of fighting the elements.
- Orient the building
Prevailing winds can impact how cold you feel in winter and how hot you are in summer. Orienting the building properly can also help a structure soak up heat from the sun in winter and minimize absorption in summer. This is done hand-in-hand with details like window choices and landscaping. It is not a choice that stands on its own.
- Use thermal mass
Thermal mass means having thick walls or being partially underground or similar. It serves as natural insulation to help protect the building from heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer, making it effective at maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature year-round without running an HVAC system.
- Heat sinks
A wall painted black and facing the winter sun can soak up a great deal of heat during the day and then radiate it into the house at night. Similarly, the right flooring can serve to soak up heat from windows or skylights during the day and radiate it back into the house at night.
- Windows and daylighting
Some of the above techniques work in conjunction with the proper orientation of windows to make sure the right things are getting maximum sunlight in winter and minimum in summer. Choice of windows and window positioning thus plays an important role in passive solar design with regards to managing temperature. Secondarily, proper positioning of windows can provide natural sunlight throughout the day thereby minimizing the need for artificial lighting sources. Be sure to consult with a remodeling contractor that specializes in energy efficiency.
Deciduous trees can provide shade in summer but then lose their leaves in winter, exposing the main structure to winter sun. Evergreens are often used to create a windbreak against prevailing winter winds. Proper orientation of the building combined with strategic placement of the right kind of landscaping will cut heating and cooling costs substantially.
This kind of design used to be the default norm for building design and construction. It also gets called vernacular architecture and is strongly associated with historic regional styles, such as adobe structures in the Southwestern US states and deep porches in the rainy Southeast.
Deep porches allow for keeping windows open to create a cross breeze during frequent rainstorms in the hot, humid southeastern US. Deep porches went out of style to some degree with the rise of the air conditioner, which tells you that there is an alternative to AC.