Designing for Natural Light and Lower Energy Costs

What Makes Sense Today?

Some very basic low tech/no tech solutions can make your new home less expensive to heat and cool. But just as importantly, energy wise design can make your home a more comfortable living space. Today’s solutions combine state of the art energy conserving details and joinery; high levels of insulation; advanced heating technology, and a host of basic design principles that work. The best solutions are cost effective and provide major benefits.

Let the Sunshine In!

No house should be designed without serious consideration of passive solar design principles. The most basic principle of energy efficient design is to use the sun wisely. In climates where home heating is a primary concern, maximize your site’s southern exposure to take advantage of passive solar gain. With today’s high performance glass, south facing windows provide a net heat gain vs. lose through the glass area. If you are building in a more temperate climate you should take into account the heating effects of the sun on west facing rooms.
Not only will well-placed windows reduce your heating bills (by as much as 50%), but they will provide the benefit of making your home bright and welcoming. Add the practical consideration of not having to rely on artificial lighting during any daylight hours—and the subsequent reduction in energy costs.
The power of solar gain can be maximized with heat-absorbing masonry (fireplaces or tile floors) in rooms with southerly exposures. Southerly exposures can be shaded from summer sun with floor or roof overhangs, exterior pergolas planted with greenery, or with well-planned landscaping.

Design to Take Advantage of Your Setting and Local Environment

In northerly and temperate climates a simple rule of thumb is to orient your primary living spaces to the south. Devote the northern portion of the design to bathrooms, closets, garages, laundry, mud rooms and entries, to provide buffers against heat loss and northerly winds. A closet on the north wall can provide a two foot thick blanket of insulation. Important living spaces will be enhanced by southern sun and its potential for heat gain. Few sites and house plans can adhere to these principles 100% of the time, but partial benefits are measurable and worthwhile.

Take Advantage of Topography and Vegetation

The temperature of the earth at three feet below grade is roughly 55 degrees year round. That fact provides ample reason to build some of the living space in your home into south-facing slopes. The south side will enjoy the gain from the sun, and the north side will be “exposed” to a moderate temperature year round, the end result being reduce heating and cooling bills. If your site slopes, you should consider this design possibility.
Even in situations where it is impractical or undesirable to berm the foundation to the north, the use of landscaping berms and retaining walls can be an important element in deflecting northeast winds during winter.
Landscape vegitation can be a critical energy design element. Trees to the north side (particularly evergreens) will deflect winter winds (and drifting snow!). Trees to the south of the house- especially deciduous trees- will shade your south-facing glass in summer, but let the warming winter sun in.

Select Energy Conscious Products

When purchasing kitchen appliances pay close attention to the federally mandated energy consumption ratings. The same is true for furnaces, hot water heaters, clothes washers, and dryers. The highest rated appliances often come with an Energy Star (T) sticker that certifies their efficiency. Also be sure to use energy efficient lighting.

How Can We Help?

Principles of sustainability and efficiency are at the core of every Stillwater Dwellings design. Starting with the direction provided by the building site- its solar orientation, topography, and vegetation – our architects will design your home to reduce energy consumption and while maximizing the many benefits of a bright light filled living environment. All Stillwater homes are customized for your site to take advantage of the sun’s path and the benefits of passive solar applications.
For more information…
For more information on this topic or any other aspect of our custom design and building programs, please contact us.