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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

Health Meets Comfort in Naturally Heated Home: Passive Solar Heating

Mar 28, 2015 04:35PM ● By Marilee Burrell

Passive Solar Addition by Lou Levy Construction

A healthy home is a comfortable home, and one great way to improve the health of a home—and the people inside it—is to install natural radiant heating. The sun emits radiant heat, which warms us and the surfaces around us. Natural radiant heating can be achieved through balanced passive solar design.

Most conventional home heating systems simply warm the air. Not only is this a less efficient method than radiant heat, but it’s far less healthy, as it tends to attract and circulate dust.

Passive solar can be integrated into the design of a new house, or it can be retrofitted into an existing house through an addition and interior alterations. This can be achieved through any of several complementary design features:

  • South-facing windows: Position an array of windows along an area of the house that has a southern orientation to allow solar gain.
  • Passive solar windows: Klearwall, Yaro and Hurd are a few companies that manufacture very high-efficiency triple-pane windows. These windows have a thermal insulation value of up to R-9 and a balance of low-E coatings that allow heat to come into the house and help retain the heat in the winter and reflect the heat out in the summer.
  • Roof overhangs and trellises: When a roof is designed to properly extend over an array of windows, it prevents overheating by keeping the midday sun from shining though the windows in the summer, but it allows light and heat to penetrate in the winter, when they sun is lower in the sky. The same effect can be accomplished with a trellis covered with a deciduous vine
  • Creation of a thermal mass: This can be achieved through the use of tile or stone on a concrete slab, a masonry wall, a contained water wall or an interior water feature. The mass will absorb and store the solar heat, which will then radiate into the house over an extended period of time.
  • Radiant heat circulation: An open-wall design will allow the radiant heat to naturally circulate. A low-speed whole-house ventilation system with a heat exchanger can be added to transfer heat to closed-off areas or rooms.
  • Backup heating: A hydronic radiant floor-heating system can be run throughout the house. This system can be heated by a hot water heater with a heat exchanger, by an airtight custom masonry radiant stove, or a prefabricated stove such as those manufactured by Tulikivi. The radiant tubing in floor of the area with solar gain will naturally heat up the system as well.

Passive solar design brings the sun as well as the exterior natural surroundings and landscape into the interior of a home. The result is a home that makes us feel connected to our environment and more relaxed, happy and healthy.

Lou Levy is owner of Lou Levy Construction, a mid-sized general contracting and design-build firm specializing in residential and light commercial architectural alterations, additions, renovations, restorations and new construction. It operates in Westchester, Putnam and southern Dutchess Counties, NY, as well as Western Fairfield County, CT.


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