Tag Archives: Thermal comfort

#ElementalDesign Advice 07 PASSIVE SOLAR DESIGN


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#ElementalDesign Advice 07 PASSIVE SOLAR DESIGN

“Ensure your home design responds to your climate to maintain a comfortable temperature in the home.” – Talina Edwards

What are Passive Solar Design principles and why should we care?

When it comes to designing a building, it just makes good sense to employ these principles as the fundamental essentials to getting your building to feel more comfortable, and just be a better place to be in! These shouldn’t be seen as ‘add-ons’ or optional extras, but intrinsic to good design.

Passive Solar Design has been around for thousands of years, but became popular in the 1970s, with the main principles being:

  • Orientation and north-facing windows (living areas to face north with largest area of glazing to north to capture winter sun for ‘passive heating’ – here in the southern hemisphere)
  • Thermal Mass (with the idea being that internal mass will absorb the heat from the winter sun)
  • Shading (to windows to prevent summer sun from entering the house)
  • Natural Ventilation (openable windows to capture cool night breezes in summer to cool the house down)

Over time, it has become more widely accepted that Passive Solar Design Principles also incorporate:

  • Insulation (The importance of well-insulated homes has gained more attention as the science and experience of the occupants has backed the claims of why it works)
  • Double-Glazed Windows (Windows are a weakness in the building envelope when we are trying to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.)
  • Draft-sealing (This importance of an air-tight building is still misunderstood, however it can make a BIG difference to the comfort of our homes).

We’ll be going through all of these (and more!) in more detail in future posts in our #ElementalDesign Advice series.

The idea behind these principles being ‘passive’ is about taking advantage of your local climate, to maintain a more comfortable temperature range in the home. Design the building to make the most of the free (and passive) heat from sun in winter, provide shading to exclude the hot sun in summer, and use the wind for cooling with cross-ventilation. This is all before needing an ‘active’ or mechanical system of additional heating/cooling for the building.

Passive Solar Design Principles are not to be confused with the Passive House (Passivhaus) Standard. Passive House certified buildings can also incorporate many of these Passive Solar Design principles, but the standard also has additional criteria to be met relating to the ‘building envelope’ for a super energy-efficient house. (Such as very high levels of insulation, no thermal-bridging in the structure, an air-tight envelope, controlled mechanical ventilation systems, highly efficient glazing, etc.) all of which need to meet their strict performance standards to achieve Passive House Certification.

So a lot of the the fundamentals about Passive Solar Design Principles mean that these are ‘hidden’ and not always evident in the finished building – in fact you’re more likely to notice the negative effects in a building that hasn’t included these, rather than be able to understand why some buildings feel more comfortable and so much better to be in.

Architects who understand and implement Passive Solar Design Principles as fundamental to the design of your project are yworth their weight in gold when it comes to a more comfortable home!

Have you heard about Passive Solar Design Principles before? Does your home incorporate these principles, or do you know a place that does? Let me know in the comments below!

Ballarat Sustainable Architect Green Builder

Talina Edwards Architecture: elemental design is a Ballarat-based studio, with a passion for sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes.Click here to ensure you won’t miss out on our news!

Are all sustainable homes the same? (The past, present and future of green buildings.)

This post continues on our the theme of what a sustainable home is – and are they all the same? We’ll take a quick look at past, the present, and where we are (or should be!) headed in the future with regards to green buildings. Talina Edwards Architecture is a Ballarat-based studio, specialising in sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes. We like to help answer your questions about environmental design. We recently began a series of posts covering the WHY, WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and HOW of sustainable design. 

renovations new homes green building central victoria




I recently wrote about “What is a sustainable house?” which looked at a definition, and listed ten characteristics that I believe constitute a truly sustainable home. But today I want to address how I view that “environmentally friendly” homes have changed in recent times.

I grew up in the bushy Eltham-area (in the outer north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne), which at the time was well-known as an artistic community, who were environmentally conscious with many mud brick homes amongst the trees. Local legend Alistair Knox was a designer, environmentalist, builder, landscape-architect and the arguably the ‘father’ of the alternative natural building movement. From the 1950s to the 1980s, and he designed and built countless earth buildings – for a full list see here!  So I was introduced to this “organic architecture” early on, to these homes made from natural materials of earth and timber, with large windows to connect to the native landscape, and a focus on a wood-fire hearth as the literal heart of the home.

So back then, then the emphasis was about what the house was made from. A focus on locally sourced, organic, natural materials (and living in a more connected way with the natural environment). 

This low-tech approach was (and is) also seen in the owner-builder alternative housing movement, in permaculture, in earth-ships, and also many primitive and vernacular buildings from around the world.

Mudbrick home Eltham Victoria

Environmental Design: the natural way
“Living in the Environment” by Alistair Knox 1975


Today, the focus is more about how the house performs. This is much more of a high-tech approach to the energy-efficiency of the building and its services.

There us so much talk about thermal dynamics and heating coefficients, or megajoules / kilowatt-hours / CO2 emissions and zero-carbon / R-values / ten-star rating / consumption per annum… numbers, statistics, technical jargon…

“Autonomous” homes (or those ‘off-the-grid’) of course need to understand all of this to meet their energy and water needs. These days though, many people seem to focus on these high-tech ‘add-ons’ to make their homes greener – instead of ensuring the building fabric is right first, or perhaps even looking more broadly at how sustainable their lifestyles are the choices they make.

To ensure a home “performs” well (which means that it is thermally comfortable with little need for additional mechanical heating/cooling) it is imperative that the building envelope is designed correctly. Today, sophisticated energy-rating software such as FirstRate (and international standards such as Passivhaus) focus heavily on science, statistics, and rigid criteria to get proven results for new buildings.

Unfortunately,  at times the ’embodied’ energy used to make manufacture/process/transport  some high-tech products/materials (e.g. metal or petroleum-derived plastic products or harmful chemical components/finishes) can outweigh the amount of energy that will actually be saved during the performance of the building…and can be toxic to our health, not to mention the earth. This can be a complicated mathematical equation to evaluate over the life of a building, with many factors and variables to be considered, so it can become even more confusing!

Solar Hot Water PV Photovoltaic Solar Power Energy

Green buildings: High-tech solutions
Solar Hot Water and Photovoltaics on Michael Mobbs’ roof in “Sustainable House” 2010







So the first approach is a bit too hippy, and the second too nerdy…can we do BOTH?

YES! Both approaches are crucial for our future buildings to be more sustainable. And encouragingly, this does seem to be happening…

On the one hand, our souls crave the connection to nature, but we should also embrace new technologies which are making innovative breakthroughs all the time, which can improve our buildings and our lives.

On the other, if we continue our over-consumption and greedy ways, and think technology will save us, we are mistaken. It is only when we start thinking of the life-cycle of our built environment in the same ways as the natural environment that we will start to have truly sustainable buildings. 

As always, it is important to remember that sustainable design is NOT an aesthetic or a style, but a philosophical and theoretical approach to how the building is composed.  Please stay tuned to read more about the who, what, when, where, why, and of course we’ll get to the how of sustainable design.


Are all sustainable houses the same? What do you think? What sort of sustainable home do you dream about living in? Does your heart lean more toward the warmth of timber and the texture of stone…or does your head get excited by the latest specs of photovoltaic panels? (I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!)

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