Solar Houses - Sustainable and Aesthetic

18th March 2014

From one inspiring talk – some forty years ago – I started to learn the principles of good sustainable building design (basically passive solar design including maximising natural ventilation and natural lighting). Of course it is disappointing to consider how many houses have been built over the past forty years without these features – to the cost and inconvenience to the owners and tenants.

For a bit of inspiration have a look at this article by Mercedes Martty in Sourceable (18/3/14) about two sustainable houses in northern NSW with both passive and active solar systems. Here are some excerpts:

"To make the home self-sufficient, the [first] house boasts a system that collects and harvests rainwater for consumption of the residents and an eight-kilowatt solar power system with back-up batteries, which ensures the home is well powered without the need of outside power. The house also has an on-site black and grey waste system and double glazed doors and windows to minimize energy requirements. Additional strategies were used to ensure the house functions autonomously, including multi-layered insulation, north-facing living areas, deep overhangs to the north-facing glazing and external shutters to the western glazing, as well as multiple outdoor spaces and the two decks that provide natural cross-ventilation.

"The second project was for a completely self-sufficient 8-star home ... The architect explained that in the initial stages of the project, the focus was not on earning an 8-star rating, but on designing a house to give his clients a great lifestyle and comfort with a small environmental footprint. Passive solar design principles were the main instrument to reach the goal of a self sufficient home, reducing the need for cooling and heating systems. While smart glazing passive solar design principles generally require southern walls to have small windows to reduce heat loss during the cold season, this project had to maximise openings to the south to take advantage of the views. However, by using the latest technology in glazing, it was possible to create a design that takes advantage of the views to the south while still producing an energy efficient home. ...

"Both projects are stylish, contemporary, comfortable and, most importantly, they demonstrate that a house can be ‘off-the-grid’ and ‘luxurious’ at the same time, reducing people’s carbon footprint on the earth and also their bills.

Read more at:

Both houses have a number of features (such as cross-ventilation, solar hot water and solar electricity with storage batteries) which all work together to make the houses more cost-effective and comfortable.

It is interesting to note the use storage batteries. This is where Going Solar started some 35 years ago with off-grid solar systems. These are still popular but what are also emerging are grid-connected systems that also include batteries. These are known as ‘hybrid systems’ and you can read more about them at: