Keya Lea

Passive Solar House in Michigan

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In an 8 minute video, the owner-builders show the design of a house built in Michigan. The viewer sees the outside and inside of the house while the video covers the basics of passive solar design.

They start from the outside and show that most of the windows are on the south side of the house. You also view the north side of the house and see only three small windows and one door.

They used efficient materials, good insulation, and thermal mass (tiles or some type of slate) in the southern rooms that receive sunlight (materials with thermal mass absorb the sun’s heat then release it through the colder evening). Because they built a tight house, they also installed an air and heat exchanger that pulls clean air into the house while it simultaneously moves stale air out of the house. As the warm air passes the cold, there is a heat exchanger that warms (or cools, depending on the season) the air coming into the house.



It’s good to see what they did right, but it’s also good to hear about what they wish they hadn’t done.

While the Michigan couple built many good and appreciated aspects into the house, they were not as enamored with the pellet stove, yet they give the viewer their reasons why. They also talk about the tankless hot water heater, the problem that they initially had, and how they improved it by adding a manifold. (Okay – I know I’m a geek, but I love seeing utility rooms!)

The owners built a lovely, modern, and efficient passive solar house. It looks very much like any other house, but with the passive solar choices that they incorporated, they have a far more efficient home.

While it is a large house, they say that they spent $85 on energy in one typical month in the middle of a Michigan winter. (Their house is probably 5 times bigger than the house I currently live in and I spent about $130 a month on electricity and gas in the winter, with the average temperature in my house being 55 degrees Fahrenheit. (While I currently live in a very cold area, Gunnison, we have the lowest electricity rates in the state. I, however, dislike paying more than necessary for philosophical reasons and since I realize that I’m heating the great outdoors. Someday I will have a warm, efficient, comfortable passive solar house.)

Nice job in Michigan!

I just got in touch in them and they reported that they spent $75 for their heat, range, dryer, and hot water for their latest January bill. This is in Michigan! They’ve been really happy with how well their house is performing.


Owner/Builders – Graham Smith and Amy Young
Time on Build – Four years
House Sq. Feet 2400




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