The Importance of Solar Access in Design

When you first contemplate the design of your house, solar access may not be at the top of the list. You may consider adding a window here and a window there for aesthetic purposes, but have you thought about how much sunlight you will receive during any given day? Passive heating and cooling can be a huge bonus and keep your home at an ideal temperature all year round.

Benefits of solar access

Many modern designs are tackling the issue of solar access and even solar electricity panels in creative and imaginary ways as there are many benefits to be had for both the home and those who reside there. The benefits of focusing specifically on solar access design in your home include:

  • Reduction of electricity bills
  • Emphasised property selling point
  • Reduction of greenhouse gases
  • Enhanced comfort of your home
  • Increased warmth in winter
  • Reduction of the energy you draw from the electrical grid
  • Access to a clean and renewable form of energy
  • Minimised dependence on energy providers and fossil fuels
  • Increased property market value
  • Improved psychological well-being
  • Reduction of your carbon footprint

Should You Consider Solar Power?

A greater number of homes are installing solar power systems, and their efficiency will depend on numerous factors including the type of panels and the location of your home. Approximately 17.7% of homes in NSW had invested in Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels as at March 2017, with the overall Australian average being 23.2%. Consider the initial outlay of the system, the approximate savings as well as any government rebates that may be available before you make your decision. Solar power can be used alongside electricity from the grid to reduce your bills and minimise your dependence on energy providers.

Landowner’s Rights

What happens, however, when you have spent the time to design your house only to find that the neighbour’s trees, plants or building overshadow the direct sunlight coming into your building? Generally speaking, your building should receive a minimum of three hours of direct sunlight onto the floor or internal wall of the central daytime living area between the hours of 9:00 am and 3:00 pm (based on the winter solstice date of 21 June).

Local governments are just beginning to create controls to protect your access to the sun from new buildings or renovations, although as it stands, there are general guidelines indicative of the government’s ideals rather than specific laws which can be enforced. To date, disputes have been heard in many states across Australia including NSW ensuring that fundamental principles are met. If you believe that your solar access is being impacted by trees or a neighbouring development, it is important to register your concern to the Development Application (DA) or seek legal advice. There may be no official right that offers you protection, but common sense has and will prevail in many of these cases.

The good news is that overshadowing of a house from the poor design of a neighbouring development or tree blockage may not be acceptable and changes may need to be made. If you can demonstrate the potential impact of a new development or upgrade, then there is a better chance of your voice being heard. However, if the layout of your windows or panels were the result of a shoddy building plan, then you may struggle to stop a neighbouring development or renovation from going ahead. Because of this precedent, you must be able to show that your plans were designed with clear and careful intent from the outset.

Orientation Aspects

Your designer or architect will talk you through the best positioning of the building and consider such issues as the solar efficiency of your home focusing on seasonal characteristics, the slope of the land and any adjacent or proposed buildings. If the orientation is lacking, you may find that your house is exceptionally cold in winter and very hot in summer, which is clearly not your ideal scenario.

From your perspective, consider the sun as your free source of warmth; you want to make the most practical use of the natural sunlight to warm your home and power your solar water tanks and electricity panels if necessary. Ideally, you want it to be as warm as possible in winter and cool enough in summer through solar access alone. Once you have determined the ideal orientation for your home, and discussed trees and plants for additional shade, then you can assess whether you want to make use of solar electricity panels to further reduce your energy bills and increase the comfort of your home.

The ideal orientation for your living area is approximately somewhere between 20 degrees W or E of true north. Maintain north-facing living areas so you have access to the winter sun, and keep the northern side of the house free from obstruction to avoid blockage of solar access. Landscaping can help with shade and assist the flow of cool breezes where necessary. Small windows on the south, east and west facing walls can help ventilate the home during the hot summer months, in particular.

As you can see, there are many reasons why solar access will play an important part of your home design. From obvious benefits such as a warmer house in the winter months through to being able to strengthen your legal standing should your solar access be impeded. Remember to always take into account the natural features of your home or land and use them to your advantage.