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Passive Solar – Simple Engineering? Hardly!

Passive Solar Concept

Passive solar design for residential dwellings is appears rather straightforward.  First, design an overhang that controls seasonal UV (Ultra-violet – the portion of visible light that contains heat) light penetration through a building aperture – usually fenestration (a window or a door).  The idea is to construct the overhang such that UV light penetrates deep into the dwelling in winter but is blocked out during the summer.  Second, install some form of mass (concrete, fluid, etc.) in the floor and the walls that can store the heat generated during the day.  Then, sit back and let convection and conduction perform the miracle of thermal dynamics.  All this sounds so simple, so why not do it on every house?  The answer is that it isn’t simple – we are dealing with a moving heat source (the sun), variations in outdoor temperature (climate), weather patterns (we need sunny days to make this work) and real estate assets (which direction are my views).  For example, here in sunny Colorado where we have 300 days of sunshine, a temperate climate, and a high altitude that allows intense UV rays to reach our altitude – but our views in Denver and the front range are typically west.  Well, our solar source in the summer is at its lowest point in the afternoon and producing the highest heat levels of the day.  The overhang required to shade any west facing fenestration would be nearly 20′ – you would essentially need a west facing wrap around porch with a concrete surface.  So, once again, we are faced with an architectural dilemma.  We need to capture the views that the property offers in order to enhance the value of the home.  Yet, we need to engineer systems for the dwelling that mesh with the architecture and reduce the use of fossil fuel burning devices necessary for controlling the indoor climate.  In conclusion, just like daylighting, it may prove more effective to reduce fenestration and mass absorbing materials and install local power generating elements such as solar and wind.      

This is the notion of Ecotecture – blend all the architectural elements, engineering systems, and the natural environment into one entity.  Too many people buy into one notion of reducing our carbon footprint without fully understanding the ramifications.  We, as stewards of the earth, must first educate ourselves properly and then enact and build dwellings that are organic and smart.  They must be analyzed for local conditions, designed to produce the smallest carbon footprint and then made beautiful to make others take note of Ecotecture.
Fallingwater – Green before Green was Cool


Fallingwater's Famous Exterior

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater is his most memorable work.  Designed in 1934, it has inspired countless architects since its inception.  Fallingwater blended architecture with the natural ecosystem in a way that had never been seen.  The concept was Green in its interaction with the ecosystem, but the elements used in the construction were not ‘sustainable’.  Although the building is a style to emulate in Ecotecture, the continued interaction with the environment must be advanced.  The design must incorporate earth as an insulator (living roofs and walls without windows), PV and wind power generation, advanced construction techniques and the use of sustainable construction materials.  In closing, Fallingwater can be used as a guide for sustainable design in its interaction with the natural ecosystem and its overall design, but the introduction of new Green technology must be infused into the architecture.  It must become Ecotecture to truly reach the next level of sustainablity.

PV Structures are Green & Beautiful

Example PV Canopy

You can read about my beliefs on how PV’s (Solar Panels) should be integrated into architecture at www.ecotecturestudios.com/sustainable.html.  I believe that they should be used as elements of art such as awnings, patio covers and pergolas.  There is no need to place them on your roof as an afterthought and eye-sore.  They can be blended seemlessly into new architecture or added onto existing homes in beautiful and useful ways.  Some great examples I found for commerical applications can be viewed at FlickrSolargen1 and Sunengineer.   For residential examples of PV structures you can visit GoGreenSolar, FlorianSolarProdcuts , GreenEdmonton and SolarLiving.  You can see from these examples that PV systems can be beautifully integrated with your Green building or home.  These examples clearly show that being Green can make your building architecturally stunning and unique!

Seeing Green
May 7th, 2009

Seeing Green

Welcome to our blog! The world of sustainable architecture and green building is evolving so rapidly that it’s hard for even a ‘green geek’ like me to keep up on the latest materials and trends that make the vision of sustainable living a reality. I am constantly researching new products, techniques, materials and vendors that can allow us to push the envelope in green design. I intend for this blog to be a forum to share my latest findings and theories in eco-friendly architecture and how I’m incorporating them into Ecotecture Studios’ gallery of sustainable designs. From living roof systems to heat transfer methods to photovoltaic systems and much, much more, our mission is simple: to design beautiful, sustainable homes. Check out our new Web site at www.ecotecturestudios.com and stay posted to this blog (or subscribe via RSS feed) for regular updates and news.