A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Archive for passive solar design

Passive Designs for the New Home: saving energy by not needing it in the first place

Where do our inspirations come from for the style of our homes?
Palladio studied the features of ancient temples for his homes, and Wright turned towards nature. When I want to spot a trend, I examine commercial buildings. Bank branches will use many of the new fashionable materials first, but strip shopping centers are not far behind.

We turn to the past again to develop residences that will use less fuel to power them. Traditional techniques used the method called passive design. The sun’s heat was used to heat the home in such a way that nothing actively had to be done. Part of passive design did involve some activity though; opening and closing windows to catch the breeze to cool the home is one example, but these places were laid out to take advantage of this element. In some areas, homes are being built closer together, so they can shade each other. Two roof systems are being used to help cool the home. One roof resembles a roof used for a patio, while the home is built underneath it. Tents are being used for this purpose too.

Driving along, I tell my son to pull the camera out of the glove box to take a few pictures of office buildings. I noticed that a means to control the heat of the sun has been employed on these structures that appear as a decorative element. Here are the photographs (courtesy of my son, who wonders about his father at times):

Walls jutting out from exterior wall.

Same building as the first.

Variation on a theme.

These extending walls are strategically placed to prevent direct sun from shining into the window. In other cases, they just help recess the window back into the building to help control the light coming in. I have seen this idea carried out with canvas walls. I have only seen it used on one house, but their may be more around. I will have to look. Awnings for windows are coming back into fashion to provide much of the same effect, but these pop out walls also cool the exterior by shading more than the window.

Maybe this will be a new decorative feature on a home. Walls coming out for no other purpose than to control the heat of the sun. I think that I need the second roof idea for my home. Maybe a tent? Would the neighbors be alright with it? More importantly would my wife allow me such a flight of innovation? She would not. Good fences make for good neighbors, so maybe a really high fence to block that setting sun. We will see.


Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck