Solar Housing Washington DC
History of Solar Housing
Location, location, location - the crux of every homeowner's dream. Living in the 21st century offers options of setting up base camp almost anywhere - atop a mountain, in the woods, on the beach or in the desert. Extreme climatic conditions can be managed inside the house with the push of a button. In other words, when it comes to choosing the right location - if you can think it, it can be done. However, long before scenic views or the right neighborhood with the best schools became a top priority, living comfortably at home consisted of innovative planning centered around the only available source of energy aside from building a fire - the sun. For the ancient Greeks, finding a place in the sun was not a spring-break ritual or a retiree's dream, it was a matter of existence - and a comfortable one at that. Socrates came to the delightful conclusion that the ideal conditions for living in a home were to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter. In Xenophon's Memorabilia, Socrates observed: "We should build the south side (of our homes) loftier to get the winter sun and the north side lower to keep out the winter winds. To put it shortly, the house in which the owner can find a pleasant retreat at all seasons and can store his belongings safely is presumably at once the pleasantest and the most beautiful." With this revelation, the existence of solar architecture was recorded. Excavations of Classic Greek cities shed light, quite literally, on demonstrated knowledge of the sun. Beyond knowing that it rose every morning and set every evening, they also charted its course through the sky with the use of common sundials of the day, called gnomon, which consisted of a pole or arrow placed perpendicular to the ground. Through this study, they gained technical knowledge that became the foundation for solar architecture. Building homes facing south took advantage of the sun's low arc during the winter. As the light entered the home from the south, not only did it improve the lighting within the house, but the adobe brick walls and earthen floors soaked up the sun's rays. The solar heat stored in the floors and walls then released to warm the house in the evening, after the sun went down. The walls on the north side were built up to help shield the house from the northerly winds. In the summertime, eaves shaded the house from the sun's high arc, keeping the portico out of the direct path of the sun and offering a shady respite from the summer heat. Socrates' architectural ideals were not exclusive to the rich and famous in Greece. Parity among its citizens was a democratic goal of the day, and since the sun was a focal point in Greek culture and highly regarded for its life-sustaining and -enriching benefits, entire communities were planned around these principles of solar design. City streets ran east-west and north-south, to ensure that every home on the block would have a southerly exposure and unobstructed access to the winter sun. This general insight into homebuilding based on the sun's behavior throughout the year provided the foundation for all passive solar architecture to follow. Down through the centuries, southerly exposure is still the most widely incorporated aspect of solar design, although modern technology has made the sun's arc a little less critical than being in the right neighborhood or having a stellar view from the back porch. Through innovative thinking and insightful observations, Socrates inspired individuals, communities and eventually the world to consider solar architecture when planning to build. His ideas gave everybody unobstructed access to the sun and ensured that all homeowners might "find a pleasant retreat at all seasons" - after, of course, they find the perfect location. n David Denison is a freelance writer based in Portland, Maine.