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Passive Solar Thermal Space Heating

There are two types of solar thermal space heating: active and passive. Passive solar thermal techniques are built into the home’s original design. Passive solar heating does not use any pumps, fans, or other electrical devices to distribute heat through the home. Heat is absorbed through the building structure itself. Passive design is advantageous because it is building integrated and requires little to no maintenance.

When designing a home for passive solar thermal heating there are several important factors to bear in mind. Types of materials used and the home’s location relative to the sun are the general issues and permeate nearly every aspect of the building’s construction. Typically, passive solar heated homes will be situated onsite to maximize solar exposure, have large south-facing windows, and an open floor plan.

Three approaches to passive solar thermal heating are direct gain, indirect gain, and isolated gain.

  • Direct gain systems utilize the living space itself to collect, distribute, and store the solar heat. This is accomplished through a variety of building characteristics such as windows, skylights, shading, and thermal mass walls and floors.
  • Indirect gain systems store solar heat between glass collectors and a thermal mass wall (usually a thick, masonry wall). The glass collects solar heat, which is then distributed, over a course of hours, into the living space through the thermal mass wall. This technique is called a Trombe Wall design. Other indirect gain techniques include water walls and roof ponds.
  • Isolated gain systems include sunspaces, greenhouses, and other solar sunrooms which are usually detached from the main living space. Collected solar thermal heat is sent into the home using a duct, air vent, or other non-mechanical device.


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