Designing for solar access

Zero Energy House

Shay Brazier and Jo Woods looked at many properties before finding the site for the Zero Energy House. If they wanted to have a shot at achieving their Zero Energy goal they had to find a site with good solar access, one that had little-to-no shading from large trees or surrounding buildings. This was key for the placement of the energy generation system, but also meant they could make full use of the sun to heat the building in the winter, helping them achieve another one of their main goals, avoiding the need for space heating.

Configuration of the building on the site

After finding the right site for the project - a fairly flat, rectangular plot of land in the Auckland suburb of Point Chevalier - one of the first steps of the design process was to work with A Studio Architects to define the ideal building footprint on the site with the following criteria in mind:

  • Maximising usable and sunny garden space for outdoor living and growing vegetables and fruit.
  • Maximising winter solar gain to the building for natural heating and light.
  • Allowing for spaces that interact with the street-front and neighbours, as well as for spaces that are private.
  • Maximising opportunity for natural ventilation.
  • Ensuring availability of north-facing roof space for solar photovoltaic modules (PV) and hot water collectors (SHW).

The design team, together with Jo and Shay, considered a number of different configurations, three of which are shown below.

North-west facing L
U facing west of north
Rectangle facing 30° west of north

The layout they decided on is a simple L shape with the main living area facing north-west and the workshop/carpark wing parallel to the boundary with the neighbour to the left.

Final layout

This configuration has the following benefits:

  • Solar gain is maximised along the north elevation where most of the living spaces are located.
  • It creates a courtyard in the front of the site sheltered from the prevailing south-westerly winds.
  • It maximises garden space with direct sunlight.
  • It maximises solar potential for PV and SHW.

Configuration of internal spaces

Having decided on a footprint for the house, the design team moved on to the distribution of internal spaces. These were arranged based on use, but also on the solar access considerations below:

  • Kitchen: located for morning sun to allow a sunny warm space for breakfast.
  • Living areas: located for solar gain during the times of day in which they are mostly used, afternoon and/or evening.
  • Dining area: located for sun throughout the day.
  • Bedrooms: each with access to the sun at some point during the day, i.e., along the north side of the building.
  • Transient or less frequently used spaces where internal temperatures are not so important such as hallways, bathrooms, laundry, etc: located along the south side of the building.

The way the Zero Energy House sits on its site and the location of its interior spaces is not accidental. It is the result of a dialogue between its owners and the design team, in which the latter explored a number of alternatives based on Shay and Jo’s requirements in order to understand the pros and cons of each option. The outcome of this process is a house that responds to the needs of its owners while making the most of the sun’s valuable energy, and of its light and warmth.


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