Sunlight and your home.

Started by abraun, December 14, 2007, 07:34:54 PM

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It's no secret that life on Earth is highly influenced by the sun. It affects everything - climate zones, the length of day and night, food for all living creatures. People of many cultures used to worship Sun as a God that created all life on Earth.

Ancient Greeks had a beautiful myth about Helios – he drove his golden chariot up to haven, spreading light on the skies and although the horses were wild, he never lost his course. One day his young son Faeton took the chariot for a drive, but couldn't hold the horses and they came too close to Earth, causing climate over-warming and wild fires. Actually, this myth could imply that the global warming we are so worried about these days could have happen in the past as well. 

But enough said about the past - this introduction is only here to show the importance of the sun and the way it affects everything. From now on we concentrate on the way an architect is dealing with the sunlight – whether he wants to protect the house from it or to enhance its presence.

The ideal positioning of the house is different in various parts of Australia. And if in the north (Darwin) the main concern is hiding from the sun, in the south (Melbourne) we need to think of a way to keep the sunlight in our house.

To keep sunlight in the house means both letting it in and making it stay there for as long as possible. In the past, before people learned about glass, they used ox bladder to replace glass in the windows. But nowadays we have most elegant sealed insulating glass units – which basically two layers of glass with vacuum in between.

The reason for the 2 layers of glass is the hothouse effect, which lets the sun's warmth in and doesn't let it out, no matter what is the difference between the temperatures inside and outside the house.

So when we build a house in the south of Australia, we would want to keep the heat in summer and hide from it in winter. One option is to have as many windows as we can face north-east or north-west and no windows on southern walls. As for protection from the sun we will use an external structure, because those means of protection are much more efficient than internal, such as curtains or blinds.

Another thing to be said about sun is that its light varies in intensity during different times of day – less intense in the morning, blazing heat in the midday and quite strong until the dusk.

This is why we should plan bedrooms and nurseries to face north-east, this way they would get most of the sun light in the mornings. Isn't it a great feeling to wake up to the first rays of morning sun?

Living room, kitchen, meals area and study are best to be facing north and north-west. As for garages, bathrooms and toilets, powder rooms sun makes no difference.

Another option is to build your house is with most of windows facing south or south-east – those rooms will be the coolest in the house. Just a few rays of morning sun would enter through the south-east oriented windows, and all south-facing windows will get is a diffused light (very good for art galleries with artificial lighting).

Moving north, when your house is in the tropical climate all you think about is how to hide away from sun which is everywhere. Our builders didn't waste any time during the last century – they have learned how to use lot of materials to protect the house from sun, such as concrete, metal, ceramics, glass, fabrics and plastic.

Glass of different colors blocks sun very well, metal lattices around windows are also efficient and concrete embrasures on the façade take all the heat so none enters the house.
Adding ceramics to the concrete makes it rich in color and plastic is indispensable where blinds are concerned. There are many types of blinds – vertical, roman, roller blinds and all of them have become an integral part of any modern house.

So house in the northern part of Australia is a house in tropics, which means that it should have as many walls with little windows or no windows at all. Let the breeze in – plan some open spaces such as galleries and corridors for the air to circulate through. Add sun-blocking lattices and blinds, have terraces and balconies covered. It's best that the windows face south or south-east, but if that is not possible – add visors above them. Wide-crowned trees also work well creating lots of shade and making bedrooms feel more comfortable. If you have a pool, use a moving plastic see-through cover for it - works well to protect you from blazing midday sun.

Visit - Australian blog on real estate


Anthony, the info re the Greeks was interesting. And I don't doubt that the earth was warmer at periods in the past, after all there used to be settlements that grew crops in Greenland.

As I read your article I noticed a problem. I don't know the exact demographics of our members as to how many live in what hemisphere, we do have at least a couple of members from down under. However I do know a great number of us live in North America, mostly the USA and Canada. Therefore some of the directions here need to be adjusted by the reader with that in mind.

What do you think about the effectiveness and the time for payback on some of the low-e glass windows and the extra cost of using argon or other inert gases in the sealed space. Do you think triple pane windows that are sometimes seen in the extreme cold climates of Canada are worth their extra cost?

Unfortunately when we own a piece of land of typical suburban size, there is usually little or no choice in a home's orientation. The best we could do when choosing our home site in the desert 20+ years ago was to select the east side of the street over the west. That at least gave us a shaded back yard in the later part of the day. The windows in our front (west facing) side are limited to two and we use external removable wood "screens" to provide respite from the hot summer sun. Link Here 
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn't mean it is good design.

glenn kangiser

Interesting article, Anthony.  What do you think of Mike Oehler's ideas on the Underground House as incorporated into my place?

It seems to me that his ideas are some of the best as far as getting sunlight into an underground area. 

Have you worked with anything like this in Australia?  Thanks for your input.
"Always work from the general to the specific." J. Raabe

Glenn's Underground Cabin

Please put your area in your sig line so we can assist with location specific answers.

John Raabe

I have asked Anthony to take out the advertising links in his postings, but that doesn't mean a visit to his website is not worth a look. - has several good articles in this site map. [cool]

This resource will be of most interest to Australians. (The space cost calculator is in meters).

That makes me wonder where Jonsey of Hay, Australia is these days?? He was one of the winners of the super small - under 200sf design contest.

None of us are as smart as all of us.

glenn kangiser

We occasionally hear from Jonesy, e-mail but he has been a busy guy lately, along with getting a new computer with Windows Vista -- which of course will have problems.  Hopefully he will get to drop by soon -- I guess it's summer down there.

I looked over Anthony's site a bit.  Lots of interesting stuff.
"Always work from the general to the specific." J. Raabe

Glenn's Underground Cabin

Please put your area in your sig line so we can assist with location specific answers.