Book Review: The Passive Solar House

The Passive Solar House: The Complete Guide To Heating And Cooling Your Home, by James Kachadorian

When reading a book like this, it is important to know why. Sometimes an author will be coy about their intentions, but in this case the author’s point is clear. The author had spent many years building and making plans for buildings that utilized passive solar heating, especially in Vermont and across New England, and wishes for this knowledge to be spread to a larger and potentially friendly audience in a way that understands what the author was doing (and is doing as a consultant in such matters) rather than using previously existing designs inappropriately. This book has a sort of defensive purpose in protecting the author from negative repercussions for having some of his previous work be in the public domain, and he is doing so in part while seeking to promote passive solar heating while also protecting the privacy of the customers who have in the past used his services for their own homes. This is a complex purpose, and the author manages to do a good job at the task. Whether or not one is sold by the technique is one matter, but at least in the consistency and openness of the author’s intents there is a lot of credit that deserves to be given here.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages long and is divided into twelve chapters and numerous appendices. After a short preface the author talks about the desirability of letting creation heat one’s home through passive solar heating (1). After that comes a look at the concept of passive solar heating (2) as well as a look at the solar slab and basic fundamental aspects of designing (3). This is followed by a discussion of issues of insulation, venting, and fresh air (4) as well as some basic layouts and floor plans (5). A large chapter on doing solar design calculations follows (6), as well as a discussion of the foundation plan and backup heating and cooling (7). After this there are chapters that discuss a solar variation and more worksheets (8), sunspaces and special design considerations (9), interior design for year-round comfort (10), a case study on three projects (11), as well as the use of the CSOL program (12). Then the book ends with appendices that include solar design worksheets (i), various mathematical considerations based on location (ii), thermal properties of building and insulation materials (iii), various statistics based on location (iv), average monthly and yearly degree days for various cities (v), mean percentage of possible sunshine for various places (vi), an isogonic chart (vii), and an index.

One of the aspects of this book that I found to be notable and at least somewhat dubious was the way that the author used so much in the way of mathematics. This book is not for those who want primarily pretty pictures of solar building. What this book is for is for those who are willing and able to make a lot of calculations about how one is going to heat one’s home and how much sunlight is necessary to do so, and how much heat at what times of day are going to be necessary. Passive solar heating is by no means as obvious a solution to problems of heating as turning on a thermostat, and the author’s comments about what levels of heating and cooling are necessary may in fact be a bit uncomfortable–the author assumes that someone who wants passive solar heating is going to be able to handle more austere conditions than those who deal with conventionally heated homes. The homes the author designs are not going to stay at 70 degrees or 72 degrees all the time–at night they may drop as low as 60 degrees, and if that is too cold for someone, then it is worth wondering if passive solar heating is going to be an appropriate heating solution for one’s housing needs.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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