Passive Solar Gain

Traditional earthen architecture limits the invasion of direct sun through large glass openings for a couple of reasons. First, earthen buildings rely on sufficient mass to provide stability. Big windows mean less wall mass. Second, glass is a relatively recent invention compared to the thousands of years dirt architecture has been around.

Earthen walls act as a buffer from the assault of the sun in summer, and as an external heat sponge for absorbing the low-angled sun in winter (Fig. 17.5).

To get the benefit of modern day passive solar design, while making the best use of an earthen structure's mass, add a wraparound sunroom, or a greenhouse built of wood framing that can accommodate a lot of glass — rather than to risk compromising an earthen wall with a series of big windows. Sun entering the glass room will heat up the earthen walls, which act as a thermal storage bank. Later in the day, as the sun retires, the heat is slowly re-radiated back into the living space. Cold, sunny climates are prime areas for this strategy. Cold, cloudy climates will need to supplement their heating with auxiliary systems, i.e., wood burning stoves, radiant floor heating, gas furnace, etc. (Fig. 17.6a & b).


17.5: Angle of exposure for summer sun and winter sun.

An enclosed sunroom creates a buffer from the external environment. This is easy to regulate by closing it off from the rest of the house or venting it in warmer weather. Insulated window shades keep heat from escaping at night. It is much easier to regulate the heat generated within an attached sunroom than within a whole house built with a lot of south facing glass.

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