earth sheltered passive solar designs

design northwest


passive solar advantages

Achieving Energy Efficiency

Design Northwest’s passive solar home designs utilize solar energy to produce energy efficient sustainable buildings that feature increased comfort and lowered operating costs, at standard construction prices.

Design principles taking advantage of the sun’s energy for solar heating and lighting result in the high energy efficiency of our earth sheltered passive solar buildings. Using conventional materials in an innovative manner yields construction costs comparable to that of conventional buildings. The comfortable, light and airy buildings are efficient by design. Rather than employing expensive, potentially complex, applied and evolving technologies, the building is the system.

Creative design and detailing of key conventional building elements allow the passive solar building to capture the sun's energy in the winter heating season, and cool the building in the summer.

Annual Energy Costs

During its first years of operation monitoring was an important aspect of tracking energy use at the Vashon Dental Clinic, a Design Northwest earth sheltered passive solar building. The 2600 square foot clinic portion of the building required an annual expenditure of only $70 for supplemental heating and cooling. Adjusted for today's cost of electricity, that amounts to a total annual cost for heating and cooling of $130.

Because this high level of efficiency is achieved at standard construction costs, the benefits are immediate; there is no amortization period. As a comparison, providing electricity for heating and cooling by adding photovoltaic panels to a conventionally constructed building would require many years of operation before cost benefits are realized.

Low Maintenance Costs

Conventionally constructed wood structures require periodic expensive exterior maintenance to protect them from the elements and possible eventual structural damage. Earth sheltered passive solar buildings have greatly reduced maintenance requirements and increased longevity by the nature of their design.

The durable exterior walls constructed of concrete or other masonry materials are largely protected from the elements by the earth sheltering of the structure. The exterior maintenance costs of an earth sheltered passive solar building are negligible compared to a conventional building. Low maintenance cost and durability have proven to be the case beginning with our early earth sheltered passive solar buildings dating from the 1980's.

Stable Temperature

Due to the high thermal mass inherent in the design, as well as reduced air infiltration, a result of earth sheltering, temperature swings are minimized. The temperature of the internal spaces remains stable, increasing the occupant's comfort.

Light and Airy

The intent of passive solar design is to flood the building with natural light. If anything, an earth sheltered passive solar building is brighter, more airy and spacious feeling than a conventional structure. Careful placement of window wells on the earth sheltered sides ensures that abundant natural daylight enters all sides of the building.

Noise Insulation

An additional advantage of earth sheltering the building is the substantial quieting of the interior. Soil provides effective acoustic protection against unwanted outside noise. The offices of Design Northwest are located adjacent to a busy highway, but because the side of the building facing the road is earth sheltered, noise from passing traffic goes completely unnoticed. The experience of privacy for the dwelling's occupants is greatly enhanced.


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