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Passive Solar Bioclimatic Architecture




Imagine a house that stays cool in summer and warm in winter; which remains pleasant all year round with only little need for heating or air conditioning systems. A house designed in such an intelligent way that it exploits the sun passively when necessary and expels it in a clean manner when it is not desired. Without hardly any costs for energy. Respecting nature. Just so is the passive solar or bioclimatic house.

The bioclimatic architecture or passive solar architecture is the fusion between the knowledge gained over the centuries in traditional architecture and the most advanced technologies in convenience and energy saving. Its purpose is to meet the needs of its inhabitants with the lowest cost in energy, independent from the outdoor temperature, designing the building with the double goal of gaining all the solar heat possible (when desired) and preventing the loss of heat (or the increase in summer). This implies carefully studying the building design as well as the materials to use with a view to giving rise to a thrifty and very comfortable construction. Modern architecture provides the concept of efficiency and simplicity in the interior distribution, removing corridors, lowering ceilings and optimizing the positioning of kitchen elements, which results in more interior comfort, but it has suffered deterioration in other areas. The difference between modern architecture and solar or bioclimatic architecture is that the former needs huge amounts of energy that comes from far away in order to heat, cool and illuminate itself or to heat up water, while the latter has been integrated in its surroundings, needs few energy and this it obtains from its surroundings, mainly from the sun. How do you achieve this? By means of the insulation, reasonable dimensions, orientation, adequate openings and utilization of resources and the energy form the environment. A house with a good insulation looses only half the heat and if it is well oriented and has suitable openings it makes use of three times more energy than a conventional house, and adding up the two concepts it is possible to spend 6 times less energy than in a conventional house.

The following requisites could be applied to every new construction, (some of them might even be valuable for already existing constructions):

- Adaptation to the site: Nowadays this adaptation is still being despised, but it requires huge costs for electricity which are unnecessary. Traditionally, in the South constructions were made with a view to expel the sun (inner patios, White fronts reflecting the sun, few Windows facing south ...), while in the North the houses were raised to escape from humidity, or balconies facing south were glazed to trap the scarce and desired sunlight.

- Orientation: In a bioclimatic house which seeks the heat in winter, the main front of the house will face south, being the direction in which the most surface exposes itself to the sun. The summer sun will not affect a bioclimatic house. If located in a hot region, even in winter, the large windows and openings facing north will open.

- The big gaps (windows, balconies, large doors) have to face south. It is the sunniest part, which is why we will profit from it to receive all the passive heat possible (the sun that enters the house, besides heating, sanitizes the air and removes humidity). Within the house we will guarantee a good thermal mass (storage of heat that we allow to enter in winter, in form of platelets, brick walls, etc). Towards East, West, and especially facing north should the windows be few and small (to avoid heat loss). The small windows facing north will facilitate natural cooling in summer. The shutters, shades and marquees will avoid the sun to enter in summer. A porch extending over the complete south side of the house, as well as canopies in the appropriate size covering the windows will prevent the summer sun to enter, but they will permit it in winter (due to the altering position of the sun in the these seasons).

- Optimal insulation: All the walls, as well as the floor and the roof have to have a double wall, with an air chamber and a good layer of insulation in between. The insulation, which could go on the outside or the inside of the house, should be a high-density and ecological one to avoid the release of toxic emanations that could be harmful for the inhabitants (straw that has been pressed and treated suitably or natural cork are some of the most economic and ecologic and especially most healthy options available). The windows should be double-glazed and have blinds with inner insulation or resort to wooden shutters on the inside. Some heavy curtains on the inside also help to prevent the heat in summer to enter (or the loss of it in winter). A little hall or separator between the entrance door and the rest of the house would serve as retention of the external climatology. The awnings could help as a complement, given that they can be opened and closed as pleased.

- Heating through radiant ground: Equivalent to the traditional Gloria (and its name tells everything) it consists of placing tubes in serpentine across the floor of the house (on top of an insulation layer and under the floor’s finish). These tubes will do the job of the radiators and the water that has been heated up by any system (including solar energy) will circulate through them, with the benefit that at most 30ºC will perfectly heat up the house (while a fan heater needs water of 80ºC to be able to heat up). This system leads to greater comfort for its users (since the heat flows through the coolest part of the house, the floor, and the heat tends to rise due to simple natural physics) and implies a reduction in energy costs (almost free if the heating system uses solar thermal energy).

- Natural Cooling: It will take the bioclimatic house more time to heat up than a conventional house (due to its design, the insulation and its radical prevention for undesired heat to enter). The intentional openings facing north make it possible for fresh air to enter, which will reverse the produced heat and could be boosted by some simple electric fans of very little energy consumption. At night, the natural air circulation will refresh the house which will remain cool during practically the entire next day.

In the northern part it is recommended to plant vegetation with a double purpose of diminishing the cool wind coming from the North in winter and creating a fresh environment in summer which will help to refresh the house.

Where the conditions allow it, a cellar being excavated in the ground could also be used to refresh, in form of a cool spot, by means of natural or mechanic systems.

Palapas- Geo-biological Studies: Done before construction in order to guarantee us that the land on which we want to build is free of harmful radiation, both artificial and natural (subterranean streams of water, Hartmann grids, high-voltage power lines, etc.). Likewise, it will be studied carefully the electrical installations and the domestic appliances used in order to cancel out or minimize the effects of electromagnetic pollution.

- Green energies: They should accompany the solar or bioclimatic house. In a construction designed to save money on energy it is interesting to invest in a solar water heater, which will save most of the electricity or gas which would be used for the same purpose during the next 15 years. The heating costs will be evidently smaller and if we place solar-thermal collectors, additionally, they’ll be practically cero. Photovoltaic solar electricity makes sense in an ecologic house, in economic terms; if the house already disposes of the conventional electricity grid it would be interesting to connect the photovoltaic system to the grid, having the possibility to accumulate the energy surplus in the grid of the energy supplier on advantageous conditions for the user.

Besides renewable energies, a bioclimatic house will increase the savings by using domestic appliances of high energy sufficiency and on water, etc., as well as being illuminated by high performance light bulbs or LEDs.

- ¿And how much does it cost?: The passive solar (or bioclimatic) house has an increased cost between 5 and 10% compared to the usual cost, due to higher thermal and health quality of the material and advanced tightness and insulation of the building. On the other hand, it enables savings of 80% on heating, cooling and lighting, making the house healthier and more comfortable apart from more responsible towards nature.

The passive solar house can be applied to every new construction, be it a single-family house or apartment complex and it just requires that the town planning of the town authorities takes into consideration the right of future buildings to enjoy the sun, with a street distribution that follows a logic rather than being random or depending on foreign speculative interests instead of the common good.

Some of the technologies of solar architecture can be applied to already existent buildings, but with less striking results.

Today, in a world of limited energy resources it is essential to make use of all the means in our reach in order to satisfy our needs at the lowest cost. The passive solar architecture allows your house to be not only safe and pretty, but also thrifty and very comfortable. Before you buy your house, demand that the above characteristics have been taken into account; and before constructing it, make sure that your architect has the knowledge that is necessary to have your house in a way that it can safe 80% of your energy bills, do it for yourself, your family, and why not, for nature.