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Passive Solar Heating literature

user-1075855 | Posted in General Questions on

Hi, I wanted to learn more about passive solar heating. I kinda know the basics from reading online, but are there any books on the subject that you all would recommend?

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  1. jklingel | | #1

    "Solar Hot Water Systems" by Tom Lane was recommended to me (I think someone here did.)

  2. kevin_in_denver | | #2

    Tom Lane's book is about active solar heat.

    Dan Chiras' "The Solar House" is pretty good.
    Kachadorian's "The Passive Solar House" has good design guides, but his air floor system is impractical.

    Check Alex Wilson's book:

  3. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #3

    Here are my recommendations:

    The Sun-Inspired House by Debra Rucker Coleman.

    Tap the Sun by Leslie Jones -- a book that is apparently out of print and may be hard to locate.

    Unlike Kevin Dickson , I advise you to avoid the James Kachadorian book. Kachadorian promotes discredited designs involving the circulation of interior air through sub-slab ductwork.

  4. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    I would also advise you to be wary of any advice you find in the Dan Chiras book. Here are excerpts from my review (Energy Design Update, May 2003) of Chiras's The Solar House:

    "Sometimes it seems that there is less than a 50-50 chance that a reader will find accurate information in any recent book about energy-efficient home construction. The latest discouraging entry in the field of published misinformation is Daniel Chiras’s new book, The Solar House, a guide for designers and builders of passive solar homes. The book is such a minefield of bad advice and inaccurate statements that the educated reader soon begins to doubt even the good advice. ...

    "Chiras confuses vapor barriers with air barriers: “Unless an installer is using encapsulated batts, a vapor barrier is required to create an airtight envelope to protect the insulation from moisture.” This sentence is so jumbled that it is hard to begin to parse it. Suffice it to say that interior paint is an adequate vapor “barrier,” but is not a useful component of an air barrier system.

    "Chiras’s advice is often off-base, as when he writes, “Basements can also be insulated internally using rigid foam or bubble insulation, such as Reflectix, a relatively new product consisting of plastic bubbles sandwiched between reflective layers of aluminum.” Chiras neglects to inform the reader that Reflectix has an R-value of only 2.

    "Elsewhere, Chiras advises, “If you build a house with an attic in a humid climate and need to get rid of moisture that enters an attic, you can install attic vents or a solar-powered roof vent.” In fact, increasing attic ventilation in a humid climate will not solve a moisture problem. If the attic contains air-conditioning ducts, increasing the level of ventilation during humid weather can actually make an attic moisture problem worse.

    "Chiras’s misstatements abound: ...
    • “Internal [rigid foam] insulation needs to be covered with a fire-resistant material such as drywall to reduce toxic outgassing in the event of a house fire.” In fact, the purpose of a thermal barrier is to prevent the rigid foam from igniting. Once the foam is on fire, a thermal barrier is incapable of reducing “toxic outgassing.”
    • “Foil facing [on polyisocyanurate insulation] also adds about R-2 to the insulation.” Actually, aluminum foil is an excellent conductor, not an insulator, and does not contribute to the R-value of polyiso.
    • “Vapor barriers are also effective in preventing moisture from penetrating walls and dampening insulation.” In fact, the most common source of moisture entering walls is rain, and the second most common source is air leaking from the interior. In neither case will a vapor barrier help. Vapor diffusion is rarely the cause of moisture problems in walls.
    • “Although vapor barriers are essential in closed-ceiling designs, they are generally not required in attics.” In fact, the two most important factors that determine whether a ceiling requires a vapor barrier are the anticipated level of indoor relative humidity and the climate; the presence or absence of an attic is irrelevant. If a vapor barrier is necessary on a cathedral ceiling, then it is necessary on a ceiling under an attic as well.
    • “In warm, dry climates, [housewraps] have limited utility, as moisture is rarely a problem in such places.” The most important function of a housewrap is to protect sheathing from rain. Even in a dry climate, where lawn sprinklers or infrequent rainstorms have been known to cause sheathing rot in walls, omitting a weather-resistive barrier is foolhardy.
    • “[In] the cold roof design … 2x4s or 2x2s are nailed to the roof decking, forming channels that permit air to move between the first and second layers of decking. This vents escaping water vapor through the insulation…” In fact, the first layer of sheathing (generally plywood or OSB) is a vapor retarder, so that air channels above the lower layer of sheathing are not an effective method of venting water vapor from the insulation in a cathedral ceiling. In a cold roof design, the main purpose of the air channels is to limit ice dams by lowering the temperature of the upper layer of sheathing.
    • “At this writing, I am aware of only one manufacturer, Owens Corning, that is making fiberglass windows with insulated sashes.” In fact, when The Solar House was published (in October 2002), 12 North American manufacturers were producing fiberglass windows. One of them, Accurate Dorwin, has been manufacturing fiberglass windows continuously since 1984. But Owens Corning — the only manufacturer cited by Chiras — stopped making fiberglass windows in January 1998.
    • “Perhaps the biggest drawback of forced-air systems is that they are generally the least efficient of any heating system.” Many factors affect a heating system’s efficiency, including the efficiency of the furnace or boiler and the efficiency of the distribution system. But forced-air systems are not inherently less efficient than hydronic systems. ...
    • “Radiant-floor heat results in cleaner indoor air, too, especially if the boiler has a sealed combustion chamber.” Many factors affect the “cleanliness” of indoor air, but the existence or absence of a radiant-floor heating system is not one of them. Moreover, the replacement of an atmospherically vented boiler with a sealed-combustion boiler will not, in and of itself, necessarily improve indoor air quality.
    • “Hydronic heating systems tend to require less maintenance than forced-air systems.” Chiras does not back up this categorical statement with a source.
    • The author describes outdoor wood-fired boilers as “high-efficiency” and “efficient to operate.” Yet according to “Emissions from Outdoor Wood-Burning Residential Hot Water Furnaces,” an EPA-sponsored February 1998 report, “In all test cases, the furnaces [boilers] delivered heat at an efficiency of about 50 percent, plus or minus 10 percent, of the input heating value of the wood.” "

  5. wjrobinson | | #5

    Martin, go meet Bruce Brownell. Investigate yourself his designs and then come back to Taunton and report your findings. There are many positives to his assemblies.

    I for one would like his particular floor mass shown to be worthy or less so by you taking a short drive West someday soon.

    Edit----- NYSERDA has done the work I wanted to see.

    Very interesting study. My one conclusion is that Bruce has been building very airtight low ACH homes which saved energy because of the low ACH. And his slab idea mainly contributes to comfort via destratification. I like his homes and having been in two am all for his designs and for the improvements sited in the NYSERDA study.

    Website for Bruce;

  6. Mike Eliason | | #6


    ed mazria's passive solar energy book? for $0.44 used, it's not too shabby.

  7. Alex Wilson | | #7

    Take a look at the new book, "Passive Solar Architecture," by David Bainbridge and Ken Haggard. I've known David and Ken for probably 25 years. Both have been designing passive solar homes, mostly in California, for over 30 years. The book came out in 2011, published by Chelsea Green Press.

  8. user-1075855 | | #8

    Thank you for the suggestions everyone. I've already gone ahead and ordered some of the books you all listed and look forward to reading them

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