Debra Rucker Coleman, Architect
Solar Energy for Homes
Sun-Inspired houses capture the sun's heat to warm homes without the help of solar panels and other mechanical devices. Sun-Inspired design incorporates passive solar heating and daytime lighting - the simplest ways to incorporate energy from the sun into homes. With passive solar, there is no need for panels on the roof, only windows on the south side of the house. 
Every home is a solar home to some extent since the sun strikes the surfaces unless it is shaded by trees, building or mountains. The south wall should be free of shade between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. But the degree to which a home becomes solar is based on the home owner's awareness of how the sun's energy can help lead them toward energy independence.
The sun can energize homes in many ways:
1) Passive Solar Heating
Heat from the low winter sun enters the home through south-facing windows. This reduces the amount of supplemental energy required to heat the home (from equipment such as electric heat pumps, gas furnaces, oil boilers, or wood stoves). Properly designed overhangs and other design elements keep the sun out in the summer and aid in the passive cooling of homes. This simple, passive way of admitting in the sun's rays is inexpensive.
2) Day Lighting
Through careful placement of windows, natural light from the sun brightens the home. This reduces the use of electric lights, and therefore lowers electric bills. It works best for people who desire natural light and views of the outdoors. Well-spaced windows facilitate natural cooling when the windows are open. Since most rooms have windows anyway, this careful arrangement doesn't cost extra.
3) Solar Hot Water
Solar hot water panels contain pipes that are filled with water.  When these panels are provided with southern exposure on a roof or on the ground, the water in the pipes is heated by the sun before it enters the hot water heater inside. This reduces the amount of electrical, gas or propane energy conventionally used to make water hot. The systems range from simple and inexpensive to complex and very efficient for those in cold climates or with high hot water usage.
4) Photovoltaics
Photovoltaic panels convert sunlight into electricity. This energy can be used instantaneously, or it can be stored in batteries to power part or all of a home. This reduces or eliminates the homeowner's need to purchase electricity from the power company. Systems can be tied into the existing electrical grid, or can be stand-alone systems with large batteries for storage that can provide electricity without being connected to the grid. PV systems can be quite expensive, but various federal and state incentives bring the prices down.  With the addition of solar electric panels, Sun Plans'passive solar homes can become zero energy homes - producing as much energy as they use over the course of the year without carbon emissions. For more information visit the
5) Clothes Drying
The sun's heat dries wet clothes when they are hung outside. (Wow, what a new, modern idea!) A sunny, warm area will dry them quicker. Outside drying reduces or eliminates the homeowner's need to use an electric or gas dryer. For those that have natural clothes drying as a high priority, Sun Plans designs the laundry area to be near the side of the house or carport where the clothes will be hung. The combination of an Energy Star high-efficiency washer that wrings most of the water out during spinning, combined with at least partial outside drying for heavy clothes, can at least reduce the amount of time that the dryer is required. (Most still prefer the dryer for few minutes as a preferred way to get out the clothes' wrinkles.) 
Purchase or Create Energy?
It's a given that the price of purchased energy will increase. Some home owners have decided that they've already had enough of purchasing energy from the electrical and gas companies. For those who have thoughts of total energy independence, now or later, and intend to add active solar and/or wind power to the passive solar house, then load reduction and conservation measures are the first line of defense. This is also applicable with the desire for occasional "passive survivability" where one can live comfortably during periods of power outages and natural or man-made disasters.
Sun Plans focuses on passive solar heating, including its inseparable companions, passive cooling and day lighting. The amount of solar energy utilized by each of the above techniques varies from house to house, but is usually the greatest for homes that first employ conservation measures: higher amounts of insulation, smaller floor plans, water-saving fixtures, energy-saving appliances and a lifestyle that values sensible and efficient use of resources.
It is optional to further incorporate active solar energy for the purpose of heating water or creating electricity by adding panels to the roof or a ground-mounted pole. While solar hot water and photovoltaic panels may not be part of the house plans, those systems can be designed by a solar contractor in the region where a home is being built. Supplementing the home with wind and hydro energy may also be feasible for some locations.