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Solar Concept: Location of Spaces

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House 1-13

After we agreed on the size and shape, we started looking at what functions would go in the spaces, always keeping in mind the effect the sun or lack of it would have on the temperature and light of the space. There was give an take, going back and forth between the spaces and the size. I dearly wanted to stay below 2000 square feet, but I could not get all the spaces to fit on the first floor that needed to be there. In the end we accepted 2100 square feet and the kids got more space than they needed!


The main idea is to put more active rooms on the south side, where they will receive solar heat directly and daylighting. Then put less used or less active rooms on the north side. In some cases, cooler spaces may be desirable for the function – storage for example.

Other factors come into play, such as placing related functions, such as cooking and eating spaces adjacent to each other; zoning for noise; location of entrance, etc.


In our case, one of the biggest factors was the need for a first floor master bedroom suite. It was very difficult to have all the first floor spaces fit in a clean, slightly elongated rectangle. On the flip side, the resulting upstair space was more than we needed for two children’s bedrooms and bath.

Our solution was to have the kitchen, dining, and family room (see Active Area, in attached .pdfs) occupy 2/3 of the first floor, on the south side. All this space is drenched in sunlight during the winter. Plus, the whole ceiling and  the back wall to our bedroom are insulated, minimizing heat loss to these spaces. I'll talk more about this when I discuss the full intent of the Active Area in a future blog.

On the North side of the first floor, we have a smaller bedroom “suite” than we wanted and it has an odd layout; but, it is on the first floor and it will meet our needs. This is an example of an adjustment necessary to have a 100% Solar Home – when your knees are getting old... Also, the laundry/guest bathroom is on the north side, but with access from the Active Area.

The children, on the other hand, have more space than they need (though not as much as they wanted) on the second floor. With the shed dormer, there is good southern exposure for their rooms and a parallel processing bathroom on the south side. And, there are the utility knee-wall, the kids’ closets and the storage room (we have no attic) on the north side under the sloped roof.

I would have made their rooms smaller, but with a cape and full shed-dormer design this is pretty economical space and thermally efficient. Also, since we will not have an attic for storage, we needed the storage room and placed it in the center of the second floor, north side.

In the basement, there are only two fairly large south-facing windows. we have plenty of space for a future play room (kids’ cave, now that they are getting older) and a future office/guest room on the south side. On the north side, there is space for the “solar center” (utilities - water storage tanks, electric meters, inverter, service panels, wiring, etc.) and a storage area along the entire north wall.

Beneath the basement we have our “solar battery,” three feet of compacted sand and concrete (to be discussed in the future). Toward the bottom of the sand, one foot above the 6” of insulating blue board is a series of PEX tubes running serpentine, south to north. Solar heated water will run through these tubes. The serpentine pattern does not go under the north storage area. Because the tubes run south to north, the south side of the basement floor will be warmer and the north side (the storage area) will be cooler. Pete Skinner is designing the system and controls to best utilize the solar heated water throughout the heating season, which based on our current observations will be limited to December, January, February and March (more on this later, too). 

Beyond the confines of the house, we located a root cellar under ground on the north side of the house, a solar greenhouse on the west end with full southern exposure, a screened porch on the west end, our “entrance” on the east end with access to the garage and backyard deck.

Every space was placed with the sun in mind. For example our TV (sorry Dave, but the flesh is weak), is on the west wall permitting afternoon football without solar intrusion! Our bedroom allows Judy to sleep in on the weekend, with no sun peeking in! And the deck is perfectly situated for the sunsets we love to watch. We also factored in summer breezes and winter winds. I’m sure we will find some details that will cause me to think about an even better design/layout, but after nearly three months here, everything seems to work very nicely.

Dan Gibson is the Reporter and Chief Coordinator of Our Energy Independence Community ( Previously he performed home energy audits for five years in NYSERDA’s Home Performance program and new home ratings in the New York ENERGY STAR Home program. He is currently building a 100% Solar Home - no, it's not finished yet. He can be reached at


.pdf Document:   Basement floor plan

.pdf Document:   First floor plan

.pdf Document:   Second floor plan

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