Let the sunshine in!

Solar Passive
Who knew that the song from Hair is also a great energy tip for the winter months?

If you are like much of the country and hunkering down in the midst of a wee nip in the air, then be sure that you are making the most of what little sun there might be to warm your home. Try opening blinds and shades, particularly on the south and west sides of your home before you leave in the morning to make use of the sun’s heating potential.

The savings are quite staggering. At the upper end of the spectrum, where the entire house is purposely designed for passive solar, heating bills can drop by 50%. Your savings will depend on the orientation of your house and the size of your windows.

solar passive design

Some principles of passive solar design. Courtesy IKLIM

Solar passive also works best where winter skies are clear. And of course, you should first check that you don’t have any gaps in the windows (Energy Tip #11) which may result in more cold air seeping in. Once this is taken care of,
the passive solar radiation can help to bump up your inside temperature by a couple of degrees, saving your heating system the extra work. The best thing about this is that it is that the sun’s energy doesn’t cost a dime.

So while I’m still not sure what the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius actually means, I am pretty sure the writers of Hair were into energy efficiency.

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  1. Jan - February 7, 2007

    It’s so true. I notice a huge difference in the warmth of my living room particularly on sunny days. It has a window to the south and one to the south waest. And I am talking just small size windows. Anyone with a large bay, bow or picture window would notice an even bigger diggerence I am sure. Also be sure to close those drapes at night to help keep it in!

  2. Robin - February 7, 2007

    That’s great for those of us who have houses, but what about those (like me) who are stuck in north-facing apartments?

  3. Pam Guthrie - February 7, 2007

    Once I got all my windows taken care of, I started opening the shades all the way on the upstairs windows before I leave for work, then closing them when I return. Passive solar heat can raise the temp a good 5-7 degrees on a sunny day, and the accummulated heat dissipates slowly, so the bedroom is just cooled down to the thermostat temp by bedtime. the north side stays cooler. That’s just the way it is.

  4. Windowdog - February 7, 2007

    If I don’t keep my drapes closed the rooms get freezing, no matter what side of the house they’re on. Need new windows or at least re-glazing I’m thinking. But anyways your advice only works if you have good seals around your windows.

  5. Edward Mangold - February 7, 2007

    What is “an even bigger diggerence”?
    Ed Mangold

  6. Daniel Barker - February 7, 2007

    I find it bizarre and sad that the average home built today is less efficient than homes built before the Revolution two hundred years ago!
    We waste so much energy it is pathetic. There are new solar cells that are 40% efficient.
    What can we do? I propose using the attic heat to warm the house. In the summer time the heat in the attic can heat the water heater, saving electricity.

  7. Anonymous - February 7, 2007

    We are fortunate (?) enough to have large south-facing windows. Our carpeting is dark green and we have dark paint in our dining room and bedroom. Talk about a heat producer. Of course, on cloudy days we lose some heat even though we have good double-paned windows. But I can’t tell you how much difference using passive solar makes.
    When we moved in there were no trees on the south side, although we remedied that and dropped our cooling bill by $100+ dollars in the summer. Just closed the blinds and let the trees do the cooling.

  8. Dimitry - February 7, 2007

    Sure, if you have good (expensive) windows, this works. But we have old windows, and despite all the weatherproofing I’ve done on them, they still lose a lot more heat when there is no sun (i.e. most of the winter here in Vermont: long nights, cloudy days). So I’m not sure if it really worth having so many windows. Of course, opening the shades on a sunny day is still a good idea.

  9. lora - February 7, 2007

    All north side apartment dwellers need to meet those living on the south side. Have a party!
    I think in the summer it is the reverse direction.

  10. JGBell - February 7, 2007

    Morning…, is it dawning…, on you…, too.
    What you might notice, is something that we have in the Pacifit Northwest…, trees.
    Trees that have leaves in the Summer and not in the Winter can, if located on the South side of your home reduce your Summer cooling bills, and reduce your Winter heating bills dramatically…
    Those Other Types of trees, the green ones in Winter, can be located between you and the cold Winter winds and very oddly dramatically reduce your heating bills in the Winter.
    There is a slight problem, however, with the Western half of Wa, Or, Cal and BC…
    it is rumoured that is one of those places where the sun don’t shine…
    some fool suggested that they should pump heat right out of the ground.
    some people will believe anything.

  11. Aaron A. - February 8, 2007


    Hate to disagree with you there, the sun only switches sides if you happen to live between the Tropics (e.g., within 23.5 degrees of the Equator). If that’s the case, then yes, your hypothesis would be true. Otherwise, the sun will always be at least somewhat to the south (in the Northern Hemisphere) or the north (in the Southern Hemisphere).

  12. Lora - February 9, 2007

    I meant you would want to keep the sun out in the summer. You would close your blinds on the sunny side.

  13. Grace Mulei - February 10, 2007

    Dinner Party,
    Dear All,
    It is agreeable that the sunshine in the house will not only keep the house warm but also well lit and freshly odored.
    But we in the tropical developing country, are wasting too much of sun light. It shines all year round while every one goes without Energy to light up the house and the streets at night.
    Solar Energy would serve for Sustainable Development and economic growth. It would reduce crime and violence against the vulnerable groups.

  14. Anonymous - February 10, 2007

    Black Trash bags or curtains over the windows work much better. The light will be absorbed by the trash bag and the rising air will naturally heat up. I’ve noticed a massive difference when I take the curtains down, it saves on heating. In the summer, white curtains or reflectors in the window will cut down on A/C needs.

  15. Grace Mulei - February 10, 2007

    The tropical countries would plant trees to serve as carbon sinks.
    The trees would also conserve the environment, and attract clouds for rainfall formation.
    But this emission of carbon rising 280 per million by volume to 367, is quite alarming.The climate change that follows and the unpredictable weather forecast is quite a dilema out here!
    The developing countries suffer most out of CO2 emission while they emit less thus 97%-only 3%
    Any insurance cover! Any premiums for the developing countries!

  16. Lora - February 10, 2007

    Greetings from Canada! It is wonderful to be able to chat with you.
    Men like Bob Geldof, Steven Lewis, and Noam Chomsky are trying so hard to help Africa.
    Am reading The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery and he explains the Sahel disaster. What a tragedy for you, your country and your continent.
    Planting more trees on this planet is necessary. So is bringing water to Africa in pipes, not bottles. Perth, Australia is going to desalinate, probably using solar power. It must be viable for Africa. Man pipes oil and wires all over the globe. Why can’t we pipe fresh water from oceans that are going to be rising?
    I hope you and your family are well.
    Lora Bruncke

  17. Ruth - November 8, 2007

    I live in upstate NY in a ground floor apartment on the north side of the building. There is no cellar and only electric heat. Last year, my first year living there, was terrible in electric bills even though I am consciencious about not wasting electric. I am not home much in the daytime and I prefer to keep the heat no higher than 65 degrees.

    Best idea I have for blocking drafty old windows or add a layer of protection is to buy the thicker clear plastic off a roll at Walmart that you cover table clothes with instead of buying the very thin window kit insulation types. I buy the 2″ wide clear tape and seal that plastic against the wall the window is in. Go around it a few times, extending the next row of tape out further from the plastic than the previous row so you have a stong hold and surely keep out the draft/loss of heat around the edges in any way. The curtains cover and disguise the tape from within.

    Only one double window faces southeast and when I leave for the day, I drape a large piece of black fabric from the window sill out over the couch and into the room to catch the sunlight and grab as much heat as possible while I am gone during the day. If the weather is not going to be sunny, then I keep the blinds and curtains closed.

    Another huge saving is to buy the spiral energy-saver bulbs and put them in every socket. They more than pay for themselves in a month. I use lights only in the room I am in. 15 minutes before I shower I flip the breaker for my water heater while laying out my clothes. As soon as I finish my shower, I throw the breaker off because it will turn on and off during the day while I’m gone and that is a huge waste. I leave early morning and return about 8pm and by conserving, my electic bill is never over $20 a month from May through Oct. When I have to turn on the heat it is on low to keep off the chill and prevent the water pipes from freezing.

    I plan food to take to work that can be microwaved or served cold and eat an inexpensive hot meal out. Discovered I was running a refrigerator to keep food in the freezer; then electric stove to cook it and decided the money to run the refrigerator and stove would pay for some of the meals. Who gets the money – electric company or restaurant?

    Wearing layers of clothing is another science and I am very comfortable out in the very cold but use to freeze before figuring this out. I am almost 70 and watch so many people pay huge bills for electric they waste. It takes a plan but it works if you try.

    God Bless