Monday, March 14, 2016


The late architect Louis Kahn, a man known for the exquisite ambiguity of his design philosophies, once began a lecture thus:

“Light. . .is .”

Rule No. 1: Living areas should face south or nearly so.
To which I might humbly amend, “Sunlight. . .is even more so .”  Sunlight is probably the single most essential ingredient of a livable, welcoming home.  Yet it’s staggering how many houses are built with precious little consideration of when and how sunlight will enter the rooms. And while home buyers are often particular about gimmicks like six-burner ranges and fridges with internet connections, they’ll blithely overlook poorly-oriented living spaces that will make their home unalterably dreary year-round.

The rules for good solar orientation are simple, easy to implement, and have been recognized for thousands of years.  If you’re house hunting, or especially if you’re planning a new home, pay scrupulous attention to solar orientation before you worry about built-in ironing boards and all that. 

•  The first rule of orientation:  The windows of living areas should generally face south.  Not necessarily due south, but close enough to get direct sunlight (or "insolation", in technical jargon). Southern orientation of living areas warms your home in the winter and brings in plenty of natural light.  Given identical floor plans, it can make the difference between a warm, inviting home and a dark and miserable one.

A Real Loser: Never, ever face outdoor living areas
to the north. They won't get used.
And by the way, the roof isn't helping any.
However, make sure that you have a means of shading, either with architectural overhangs or with window coverings, in order to control the amount of sun coming in.  Why bother facing south if you’re going to put up shades?  Simple—you can always keep sun out when you don’t want it, but you can’t bring it in if it ain’t there.

•  Minimize north-facing windows.  Since sunlight seldom reaches north walls, north-facing windows effectively contribute zero solar heat gain;  meanwhile, they radiate lots of heat outdoors, making for cold rooms.  All in all, a lousy deal.  So whenever possible, relegate north-facing spaces to utility areas like the garage, laundry, pantry, bathrooms, and so on.  

Mmm, I can smell the bacon frying.
Who could resist eating breakfast here?
Another caveat:  Never locate outdoor areas like patios and decks on the north side if they’ll be in thee house’s shadow.  You’ll end up with a space that’s chilly and unused for most of the year.  

•  Orient specialized areas according to their time of use.  For example, a breakfast room should face east or southeast so it’ll get plenty of morning sun.  A deck that you plan to use mainly in the afternoon should face southwest or west to get afternoon sun. Orient the kitchen according to the time of day when it’ll get the most use:  east for mornings, west for afternoons, south for general all-day use.  If bright sun helps wake you up in the morning, face your bedroom east, and so forth.  These rules may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many homes have rooms that get sun at all the wrong times (or worse, no direct sun at all).
No one could possibly oversleep in a sunny
bedroom like this one.

•  Remember that the sun’s altitude isn’t constant during the day.  Morning and late afternoon sun comes in at a lower angle and requires special attention to shading to avoid uncomfortable glare.

 •  Finally, while real-life conditions like views, street access, and terrain may dictate some compromises in orientation,  don’t stray too far from the basics.  You might be left in the dark.

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