The Practice of Passive Solar and Mitigating the Stack Effect

It’s no surprise that the month of August proves to be one of the most costly to provide energy to your home. The average home energy bill for August in the state of New York is about $186. One of the main contributors to the high energy costs in the summer is the reversal of what is called the “Stack Effect”.

Stack Effect

One of the fundamental laws of thermodynamics is that heat moves from warm to cool areas. This means that in the winter, when you are trying to keep your house warm, the air naturally escapes in its effort to heat the environment, while warm air from the environment works to push itself into your home environment in the summer months. This is also known as convection. The Hudson Valley is an area rich in history, and that includes the structures in which our lives happen. Just because your house is older does not mean that there are not ways to improve its energy efficiency. Mitigating the effects of the stack effect is a key way to lower your energy bills and waste less energy, not only in the summer, but in the winter too. Homes typically have ways in which air can escape besides windows. In the winter, when you are heating your home, the hot air rises and typically exits through holes in insulation or the structure at the top. In the summer, hot air enters through these holes at the top and pushes the cold air produced by air conditioning or fans out. A simple way to counteract this is by opening your windows at night in the summer, when the air outside is typically cooler than the air in your house, whether you have air conditioning or not. The warm air will try to escape to heat the outside air, creating a vacuum inside your household where pressure will decrease and temperatures will decline. This is one of the easiest fixes you can implement.

Another way is to turn your household into a passive solar home. Retrofitting your home to become passive solar is relatively easy, and will save you money on your energy bills. This includes creating an “envelope” within the structure of your house. One of the foundations of the design of a passive solar home, a housing envelope separates the outside environment from the environment that you create in your home. However, this doesn’t mean that your home does not utilize the outside environment when providing energy to the home. Placement of windows, use of light-absorbent material, and use of material with high thermal mass are just some of many ways to convert your home to passive solar. Windows facing the south reduce heat intake by the home, as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Painting surfaces that have exposure to the sun a dark color, combined with using materials that are high in thermal mass to capture this energy can allow the heat to stay in the household in the winter months. Having a yard with deciduous trees can serve to shade the house in the summer and expose it to sunlight in the winter. Passive solar homes can even utilize photo-voltaic panels to capture sunlight when necessary.

By creating a building envelope – a key way to reduce or eliminate the stack effect – and retrofitting your home to become a passive solar household, a home can become both energy and cost-efficient. Less energy will be needed to heat or cool your home, while also not costing as much. This is true not only in the summer, but year round. It’s as simple as retrofitting your home.

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