Saturday, November 15, 2008

Solar In Situ

I've wanted to "do solar" for 30 years (really) and so it was definitely going to happen with this house.

The problem has always been that the site demanded that the house be oriented the way it is, with the curtain wall facing West, and therefore the sloped roof facing East, not South.

I tried to resolve this with "building-integrated photovoltaics" (BIPV) on the South wall, but for residential, you're truly pioneering or spending ridiculous money, and the efficiencies for vertical panels aren't that great. We weren't even sure we could get a UL label for the windows if we used photovoltaic panels.

Ted the Esteemed Architect then suggested an "ah ha! wall." Huh?

You'll recall from your formative days growing up on your English manor that the livestock always kept their distance from the back garden. When you were old enough to wonder why the sheep didn't just walk into the Blenheimshire-on-Avon kitchen, you walked toward the animals, promptly falling over a sudden, hidden drop in the landscape, held up by a low retaining wall, or "ah ha!" wall. 

So that's what we built to orient the solar panels to the South, keep them from spoiling the design of the house, and hide them from the house itself. Prehaps it's nice to be able to say "look at me, I'm green!", but green shouldn't be tacked on to a house, and, if you can integrate, maybe you should try something else.

The structure holding the panels is probably over-designed and built, but it's not going to move through the intense freeze-thaw cycles of Wisconsin, and there's room for expansion for more PV panels or solar thermal. 

Note that we picked all-black panels for their efficiency and for their clean look. When it's all landscaped, you should just see a black ribbon cutting across edge of the property, that, centuries from now, will become a sort of green Stonehenge.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see more images of the house.

Jason Hammond