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




4 Responses to Passive Solar House in Michigan

  1. S Brodowicz July 11, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Hello, found your site and like it!

    We also have a passive solar home in Michigan. It was built in 1981. Would you please send us the name of a builder in the Lansing/Jackson/Ann Arbor area? We need some work done on the glass panels in our ‘solar collector’ room (used as a greenhouse…)The seals on the glass panels are leaking.

    None of the glass companies want to do the work due to the slant of the glass. The leaking has gotten pretty serious and we need to get this taken care of. We are now senior citizens and NO WAY are either of us climbing up there to fix the problem ourselves.

    Thanks for any advise.

  2. Keya Lea July 11, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    I’d love to see pictures of your passive solar build from 1981! In regard to fixing the seals on slanted glass, I did a quick search on passive solar builders and construction workers in your area, and while they have to be out there, I didn’t easily find them. (I had the idea to set up a system where they could list themselves on this site, but that hasn’t yet been built.) Here are a few resources around you. They may be able to point you in the direction to find help.

    http://www.glrea.org/ – The Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association has a small directory of builders.

    http://cleanenergywebs.com/myjoomla/jupgrade/index.php/about-glrea/business-directory – Then choose builders or contractors.

    You might try posting to their facebook page
    https://www.facebook.com/GreatLakesRenewableEnergyAssociation

    I did find that the University of Michigan participated in the Solar Decathlon in 2005, so there must be some knowledge (and people who work on them) out there.

    http://www.solardecathlon.gov/past/2005/team_michigan.html

    And if all else doesn’t seem to be working, I bet if you listed a help wanted ad in a place like Craigslist, you’ll be able to find some help.

    Best of luck and would really love to see pictures of your house!

  3. jose avelar November 24, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    hi, we are doing a project of passive solar, and the city we need to create a passive solar house is in ann harbor, any ideas or help, thank you!!

  4. Keya Lea November 27, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    Jose,

    It’s best to take the site’s unique characteristics and leverage the integrated aspects of passive solar building to build a passive solar home. This site is full of different ideas. Best of luck!

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