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Monday, May 11, 2009

Facing south

A compass point that directs you toward energy efficiency

In winter, homes and apartments with extensive south-facing walls and windows are in a better position to benefit from passive solar heat. The winter sun beaming into the room adds light and increases warmth. This obviously improves the natural energy efficiency of the building and helps with lowering utility bills.

In summer, however, such homes are at a possible disadvantage: They collect and trap heat indoors -- when what the people inside really want is to prevent or reduce heat gain.

Blocking the sun to stay cool in summer is the key. There are numerous steps one can take to mitigate the effect of summer sunlight. Some, such as replacing old single pane windows with high-efficiency units, can be very expensive.

Shade is the cheapest and the most natural way to stop the sun’s heat-building rays. There are handful of things every person or family can do to prevent heat from building up inside their homes during the summer:
  • Apply window films to block out unwanted heat. These reflect heat away from the window, in many cases allowing in light but not the heat.
  • Indoors, close drapes or blinds during the day. These will block some of the sun's rays as well. When you leave your home for a time, close the drapes and windows to keep heat out anyway. Best keep the rooms dark and relatively cool while you're away.
  • Outdoors, use awnings or shade trellises to create attractive barriers that prevent the sun's rays from ever touching your walls and windows in the first place. This provides an attractive first line of defense against heat build-up.
  • Plant trees and shrubs that are green and leafy during the summer, but which lose their leaves in winter (so as to allow the sun's rays to come inside). Trees and plants block the sunlight before it comes into contact with your walls and windows. They are attractive, and they help the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide and giving back oxygen we need to breath.
So look around your living space, considering the points of the compass. South-facing windows provide interesting and attractive opportunities for keeping cool and comfortable in summer.

The following video discusses benefits of planting trees and shrubs on south-facing windows:

And TAP Plastics has posted an instructional video about window films, which offers some ideas as to how you might consider using these:

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