Residential Solar Power I: How does it work?

Residential Solar Power at Double Solar House


Ha Smith House

Double Solar House South Elevation

This is the first in a series of three blogs about residential solar power. After this introductory blog, the next blog will be about the active solar systems, with the last blog being a description of how a passive system was integrated into the overall architectural concept of a house.

I hear from lots of folks who are interested in residential solar energy, and how it works and if it might be right for their situation. Often they have heard of active solar and passive solar but don’t know how the systems work or how they might be built into a new house.

In most of our house designs we employ solar energy systems and often we use both active and passive systems. In this series, I describe a house we recently built, called Ha-Smith House. This house is a good example of how active and passive solar systems can be integrated into the architecture so that they don’t feel like after-thoughts.

This is what we love to do: integrate the solar energy systems into the look and feel of the house. It often makes sense to use both systems, and where passive solar design is possible, people naturally love it because views, sunlight, and nature become a part of the daily flow of life.

To give a definition, an active solar system means energy is generated in one place and is then moved to where it will be used such as in solar panels. A passive system, on the other hand, means energy is generated in the space where it will be used, with no need for a mechanical transfer of energy. Think of a house with south-facing glass walls.

By using active and passive systems in tandem, we can reap the benefits of both. The active system can supply most of the energy needs of the house that aren’t supplied by the passive system.  The passive system reduces the overall need for actively generated energy by incorporating large glass walls that also showcase the views and nature and welcome direct sunlight in the winter.

The design of Ha-Smith House began in 2014 when we were approached by clients who wanted a glass and concrete house. Glass walls and the thermal mass of concrete are primary components of passive solar houses and common elements of ESA’s residential design. The clients were also interested in reducing the use of fossil fuels through active and passive systems: We were a match made in heaven!

Ha Smith House Plans

Floor plan of Double Solar House

To read more about this project: go to the Ha-Smith House project page!