Harnessing the Sun

by Andrew Robinson

Properly positioning a building on site can help capture the sun’s natural light and save 25% on energy costs for lighting of typical commercial buildings.

While hardly anyone worships the sun anymore, the architecture community has lost a certain reverence for the power of the sun. Despite the often lack of attention paid to how a building is oriented to the sun, solar orientation totally informs the design of a building, particularly its energy efficiency, lighting, and ventilation. According to James Theimer, AIA, Principal Architect at Trilogy Architecture, properly orienting a building can save 25 percent of energy costs for lighting to typical commercial buildings. In fact, a recent school designed by Trilogy cut artificial lighting use by a whopping 90 percent.

“WITH HVAC RESPONSIBLE FOR THE MAJORITY OF ENERGY COSTS, SOLAR ORIENTATION IS A VALUABLE CONCEPT TO UNDERSTAND AND IMPLEMENT WHEN DESIGNING BUILDINGS.”

—James Theimer, AIA, Principal Architect, Trilogy Architecture

Allowing natural light into a building goes beyond lighting and is a major factor with heating and cooling costs. With HVAC responsible for the majority of energy costs, solar orientation is a valuable concept to understand and implement when designing buildings. Theimer notes the oft-repeated saying that air conditioning is the worst invention of the 21st century, as it allowed architects to not utilize natural processes, such as breezes and solar orientation in designing buildings. Nevertheless, taking advantage of these natural processes can lead to considerable energy savings. While how you site a building is not necessarily the “sexiest” talking point when discussing energy efficiency, according to Theimer it is the number one effort to make in energy savings over the life of a building.

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