How Physical Orientation Impacts Residential Design

Posted January 17, 2019 | Tags: Residential Design, Architecture Orientation

What is Orientation? Orientation is the disposition of certain parts of a house in relation to seasonal
variations of the sun. A home oriented for solar design is basically a building positioned with respect
to the sun, usually to take advantage of solar energy when required in summer and to minimize heat
conductance during winter.

Why Architects Must Consider Orientation When Designing Residential Buildings and Homes

What is Orientation? Orientation is the disposition of certain parts of a house in relation to seasonal
variations of the sun. A home oriented for solar design is basically a building positioned with respect
to the sun, usually to take advantage of solar energy when required in summer and to minimize heat
conductance during winter.

With the ever-rising energy costs, it becomes increasingly important for architects to orient residential
buildings to harness the sun’s free energy. For home developers and builders, orienting a home to
take advantage of solar energy will increase not only the home’s appeal but also its marketability. For
homeowners, it will help reduce energy costs while making their homes a more comfortable place to
live.

The fact is, the sun never really rises in the east nor sets in the west. If this were the case, orientation
would be a relatively simple thing. In reality, the sun rises and sets in the east and west on only two
days of the year, while something entirely different happens during the remaining 363 days.

This is because the earth’s tilt forces the sun to rise slightly south of east and set south of west in
summer. As a result, the sun spends most of its time in the southern sky during winter and in the
northern sky during the summer. In the southern hemisphere, everything is reversed, such that the
winter sun rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest, while the summer sun rises in the
southeast and sets in the southwest respectively. As such, orientation is a crucial consideration of
residential architecture that should be incorporated into virtually every residential design.

Architects utilize this crucial information to help homeowners achieve long-term energy savings.

The following are the impacts and influences of building orientation:

  • Orient the frequently used rooms towards the sun
A residential home should be designed such that the most used rooms during the day such as the
living room and kitchen are on the southern side. Residents will appreciate the sun’s warmth during
winter and relief from direct rays during summer. Decks and patios should also be on the south side,
where sunlight will allow their use for longer periods during the day. Similarly, seldom used rooms like
garage and laundry rooms should be located on the northern side to create barriers against the cold
winter wind.
  • Plan for Shading from Trees
Tree shade is another important consideration in residential design because trees can shade the
house on sunny days but block natural light when needed most. Deciduous trees should therefore be
planted on the southern side of the home because they will shed their leaves in winter allowing
natural light to penetrate into the house. Evergreen trees, on the other hand, should be planted on the
northern side to act as shade during summer. Architects should, therefore, consider the age, species
and growth rate of trees in the compound for correct structure orientation.
  • Incorporate as many windows in the house
There should be as many windows in the house, but not too many. A sun- facing house should have
windows equaling 5% of the conditioned square footage of the home. Keep in mind, though that
windows conduct more heat than walls, so too many windows can actually drain heat away from the
house during winter.
  • Driveways and parking lots
Driveways of Alabama homes tend to get really hot, especially if they are made using gravel and
asphalt. This excess heat can trickle over to the adjacent house, which is why the driveway and
parking lot should be located to the east or south to reduce heat buildup.
  • Glass should be tilted at an angle
Glass should be tilted away from the sun’s rays to minimize reflection. At the same time, tilting glass
makes it less insulative, so architects strive to create a balance between heat gains during sun
exposure and heat loss during cold weather.

Ultimately, factors such as a property’s lot dimensions and street appeal may restrict an architect from
orienting a building in accordance with passive solar strategies. But even under such constraints, an
architect can still design an energy-efficient home by implementing energy saving features such as
cool roofs, air sealing, adequate insulation and low windows.

Proper house orientation reduces the need for auxiliary heating and cooling, resulting in lower energy
consumption, reduced electricity bills and improved indoor comfort.

Alabama and Georgia residents considering new builds should talk to BWA architects to discuss ways
to take advantage of low-cost and no-cost passive energy strategies.
 
 

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