When you build a solar house, there’s more to
the story than just sun exposure. Solar takes into account water power,
wind power, breezes, landscaping, thermal mass, and so on. Before you
start planning a solar home, do some research by starting a log book.
For each location you’re considering, record facts, figures, and your
observations for each of the following aspects:
- Know your solar exposures. What
latitude are you in? What is the sun’s path over the course of a year
at that latitude? For each site, stand in the middle of the lot and
plot the sun’s course on a graph. You may have to do some guesswork
about what the situation will be from a rooftop that hasn’t been built
yet. Different spots on a lot will have different solar exposures with
different shading issues.
It goes without saying that you don’t want to
cut trees down. Look for deciduous trees and try to envision your house
with those trees on the southern exposure, but not shading solar
collectors on the roof. You can plant trees, but it will take a long
time before they can rival natural, healthy, indigenous trees.
- Analyze prevailing winds.
tabmarkNatural breezes are absolutely free and can make a major
difference in the comfort of a home. Look for locations where hills
magnify breezes in the summer. In the winter, you want natural brush
and landscaping to block the cold winds from the north.
To thoroughly gauge the winds, you need to
visit a potential location at different times of the year and in
different weather patterns. Be patient in order to be thorough.
- Determine the water rights and drainage.
Do you need a well? Wells have their advantages and disadvantages. You
won’t have a water bill, but you’ll need expensive equipment. You can
install a solar-powered well with a storage reservoir, and your water
will be free forevermore. But wells can dry up, and the water can be of
You also need to determine the property’s
natural drainage. Some locations simply won’t work for a home unless
you radically alter the property’s contour, which goes against the
green mantra. How much water will your property require? Are you going
to landscape? How will that affect drainage?
- Look in to other factors. If you
can, camp out for a day or two on a prospective lot. At the very least,
visit at midnight, in the morning, and in the afternoon. Visit at
different times of the year, if that’s an option. What sounds do you
hear? Who is moving around and when?
And don’t forget to determine what may happen
in the future. Are you going to have a shopping mall next door five
years hence? How about a freeway? Or an airport? To find out about
these kinds of things, ask your realtor and at your county building