How the sun rises and falls is something you’ve seen so often that you may take it for granted, but it’s a detail that can have a big impact on the design of your home. Designing and building your home with the right orientation will help your house make the most of natural light, make it more comfortable year-round, and help reduce energy bills. Today, we’re shining a light on sun path building orientation.
What is sun path orientation?
When we talk about the sun’s path, we are speaking of the trajectory of the sun or the path from where it rises through to where it sets. Keep in mind, the sun’s path differs in placement and length of time depending on the season.
A good building orientation takes advantage of the sun and wind when it makes the home more livable (for example, sunlight to warm the home in winter) and protects against negative effects (the sun turning your home into an oven during winter).
How does the sun’s path affect a building?
The correlation between your house design layout and the sun path has a major effect on the livability and comfort of your home. Making the most of your surroundings, including the sun’s path, is the building equivalent of working smart, not working hard. Just some of the advantages of a good building orientation include:
- More comfortable temperatures more of the time.
- Better use of natural light
- Stronger solar gains for panels
- Encourage summer breeze flow
- Avoid unwanted summer sun in hot humid climates
- Lower energy bills
The good news is that orientation can flexible and there is some wriggle room for your house design and facing north.
Why consider sun path orientation for your new home?
Whenever possible, it’s always best for your building to work with your environment rather than against it. By creating a passive solar design that works with the sun’s path, you’ll increase the energy efficiency of your home which will have a wide range of benefits including:
- Cut your energy bills
- Lower carbon footprint
- A house which is comfortable more often.
What are the key considerations of good sun path orientation?
Where you live in the world will make all the difference when it comes to what the best orientation is. Different factors need to be considered to get the most from your design.
The climate of where you live will be a critical factor in how your house will be designed regarding the sun’s path. For example, in cold climates, you’ll want mainly passive heating. This means a home that focuses on ways of attracting and maintaining heat gain. Conversely, a hotter environment will require a house that makes the most of prevailing winds.
When performing climate research, you need to take into account the following:
- temperature ranges that can be expected in your area. Look into both seasonal and day-night differences.
- humidity range
- the direction of cooling breezes, hot winds, cold winds, and air patterns.
- seasonal characteristics (for example, is your area prone to heat waves?)
True north and sun angles of your home
In Australia, solar access comes from True or solar north. This means the northern side of the house will receive the brunt of the sunlight and therefore rooms in which you want to receive more solar gain.
In most Australian home designs, it’s desirable to allow low-angle winter sun into your home while minimising the high-angle summer sun.
Building design suited to your climate
There’s no universal design that will work for every climate and therefore you need to take your specific environment into account when creating your home. For example, depending on average temperatures throughout the year, the desired amount of solar access varies significantly. A house that would be perfect for a Tasmanian climate might not work at all in far north Queensland without some tweaking. Local builders should be what design choices best suit your area and should be able to guide you during the design process.
You may be wondering how climate change will play a role in your building orientation. It’s worth remembering the world is getting warmer, and therefore, while passive warming is important, passive cooling could become more essential.
Tips for building a new home with good sun path orientation
Sun orientation for passive heating
Passive heating, or passive solar heating, is about making design decisions that will trap heat in the home. Though useful in all areas, it is particularly suited for cool or colder climates, as it encourages heat gain and makes the most of the winter sun.
Build close to the South boundary
Building close to the southern boundary of your property will help provide northerly solar access to the northern side of your home without shading your southern neighbouring houses.
Consider the location of living areas & shading
The layout of your home (where rooms are) needs to consider both the functionality of the home and how the outside environment will affect it. North-facing living areas tend to benefit from more direct sun.
Increase cross ventilation with window selection
Incorporating cross ventilation into your home design is one of the most effective ways you can take advantage of cool breezes, and is a must for warm, humid and tropical environments. The types of windows you choose, where you place them in your house, and how they interact with one another will make a huge difference to the airflow throughout your house. It may take a little tinkering during the design process, but during those scorching days, you’ll be glad you made the effort.
Minimise winter heat loss
Warming your home is one thing, but your house’s ability to maintain that heat is the x-factor in cutting down on energy bills and increasing the comfort levels of your home. There are various ways to minimize heat loss including:
- Installing proper insulation
- Double-glazed windows.
- Shading for windows
- Proper home orientation, allowing low angle east or west sun to heat your home.
Avoid west-facing bedrooms
As the sun sets in the west in Australia, any west-facing walls or bedrooms will bare the last brunt of the sun. Building bedrooms away from the west of your house will help create more comfortable sleeping environments for you and your family.
Build utility rooms on the south or west side of the plot
So, if you shouldn’t place your bedrooms on the west side of your home, what should go there? Utility rooms, for example, laundry rooms, are a great option for this location of the house.
Plant vegetation on the North side
Planting the right type of vegetation on the north-facing outdoor space of your house could play an important role in the thermal mass of your house.
Landscape using plantings and fences
The layout of your land, including the placement of trees and plants, can channel cool breezes while blocking against harsh winds. Chat with a landscaper about the best ways to plan for the intricacies of your land, including north-facing slopes or south-facing slopes.
Sun orientation for passive cooling
Passive cooling strategies will help cool down your home without using air conditioning. This happens by taking advantage of airflow, design choices and thermal mass.
Build narrow homes with long walls
Narrow homes with long walls can be designed to channel prevailing wind patterns, thereby helping to cool down your home faster and more efficiently.
Position door and window openings to enhance cross ventilation
Creating quality airflow through your home will do wonders for cooling down your home. A key part of this is the placement of your windows and doors and how they work together.
Minimise East & west openings
East and west openings in your home will receive the most sun throughout the day. They are also the most difficult to shade so, if possible keep east and west-facing windows to a minimum.