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House Design Blunders

Do you complain about how high your heating and cooling bills are? If so, then your house is probably designed all wrong. House design blunders can force you to spend hundreds upon hundreds of dollars every single season of every single year in utilities… money that could otherwise be going into your pocket. Why is there so much waste in how homes are built?

Most people don’t know this, but every house is a ‘solar house’ as long as there are windows that allow sunlight in. However, some are designed far better than others. The majority of building contractors that build houses to code via standard construction simply do not know how to design or build an energy efficient passive solar house.

A solar house is designed specifically to allow sunlight in during winter, and to keep it out during the hottest summer months. Additionally, passive cooling techniques can be utilized to help cool your home without air conditioning.

Why your house sucks and mine doesn’t

Chances are, your stick-and-brick house is hot in summer and cold in winter, causing your A/C and heater to kick on continually, driving up your monthly bills.

inefficient house design

Standard Construction

The difference between your house and the one I built (in the 1990’s) is that my house plan layout was designed to be passive solar, which can save up to 60% in heating bills. We also installed earthtubes to cool the house. The house had R-50 insulation values in the walls and ceiling because we utilized alternative building materials. My 1500 square foot house probably cost less than yours did too ($20,000).

When it was 99 degrees F with 99% humidity outside in summer, it was a cool shady 70 degrees inside with absolutely no air conditioning whatsoever! That, folks, is what earthtubes can do for you, and is why they are considered nature’s cheap air conditioning!

You may be wondering things like…

So how does using certain construction materials save you money on heating and cooling costs in your home?

What are some of the classic blunders that people make with layout or design?

What can I do to fix my problem of high utilities in an ill-designed house?

It’s rather easy. Although actually doing it is a process, the choice is pretty simple:

Consider becoming an owner builder (you can save up to 2/3 the cost of your house by doing your own labor), or consider hiring a contractor that can build what you really want (the cost for a solar house is typically only about 10% more than standard construction, yet will pay itself back in saved utility bills month after month, year after year, for the lifetime of the house).

But there are other factors involved here too, because the design is not just the plan, but also the materials you put into the home…

Build indigenously (local)

Think indigenously (local) if you want the construction materials going into the building of your home to save the contractor you hire (or you, the owner-builder) some serious money, because doing so will put that money saved back in your own pocket by not having to spend it in the first place.

If there is an abundance of a particular type of material in your area, then it will be easily accessible and cheap/inexpensive, especially compared to having to special order it in from out of town or out of state.

If you live in a rocky area, build a rock house. If you live in the forest, build a log house. I once lived in the plains area (Nebraska) among great acreages of farmland, so we built a plastered straw-bale house. Our walls had an R-factor of about 50.

There are, of course, many other types of alternative building methods and materials for construction: Adobe (great in the desert), rammed earth, cob, papercrete, hempcrete (the newest trend!), and cordwood are but a few of them.

If you live in an area with lots of sunshine, go solar for energy. If you have wind, consider wind energy. If you live by the water, consider water power. Find ways to utilize all the local renewable and recyclable and sustainable resources near where you live or wish to build.

These old adages comes to mind:

Think globally, act locally
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Used lumber, doors, windows (stay away from single-paned windows, however), and other interior products and materials can save you a lot of money!

Proper design is crucial to your success

Saving money on heating and cooling costs runs right in there with layout/design of your passive solar house plans. This means the passive solar design of your house is where the house actually becomes the solar collector.

The thing to remember is what I mentioned earlier… that EVERY HOUSE IS A SOLAR HOUSE.

direct gain

Passive Solar House

South windows are what one needs for an efficient passive solar house here in the northern hemisphere. North windows are almost a total loss as they gain zero sunlight and they lose a great amount of heat. Also having the glaring sun beating in a west window on an already hot summer evening just overworks the air conditioner and runs up the utility bill–avoid having windows on the west side of the house. East windows tend to be a bit nicer to have because they are the first to gain those welcomed sun rays while drinking the morning coffee at the kitchen table (now you know where to put your dining room).

Room placement in passive solar house design

There are guidelines you can follow as to where to place certain rooms (kitchens, bathrooms, living room and bedrooms) based on how they generate heat or not, and where you will spend most of your time, but that is for another article another day.

But I will say this…

Usually it is considered best to put the living areas on the warmer south half of the house, and the bedrooms and storage areas on the cooler north half (people generally sleep better in a cool room than a hot one). The kitchen usually generates its own heat from all the major appliances so it is best suited for the northeast corner (the coldest corner of the house) with the dining room next to it on the southeast corner (remember the early morning coffee I mentioned earlier?).

The keys to an energy efficient passive solar home:

Thermal mass
Window area and placement
Proper overhangs


Thermal mass is the heat sink for storing and maintaining temperatures in the home–these *conduct* heat/cold rather than insulate. The ideal thickness for mass materials is 4-5 inches. Thermal mass is made up of the combination of WALLS (plaster, brick, adobe, rammed earth, stone, masonry fireplace or other mass products are far superior to gypsum board), FLOORS (brick, tile, etc. are far superior than carpeting or linoleum, which actually insulate and isolate the thermal mass from the interior of the rooms instead of conducting it), and FURNISHINGS (which are minimal unless they have a lot of thermal mass in them).


There is a specific glass-to-mass ratio that makes for an efficient design. The amount of glass on the south wall should equal 7% of the homes total square footage. (Example: 2,000 Sq. Ft.= 140 Sq. Ft. of glass). This 7% amount of glass should not be exceeded or overheating will occur. Note that this 7% applies to a conventional home with wall to wall carpeting.

If more glass area is desired, additional thermal mass must be added to compensate. The 7% is NET Sq. Ft.; the total window area less the trim. Multiplying the entire window by .8 will get the net glass area. (Example: A 3’x5’ window is 15 Sq. Ft.- 15x.8=12 Sq. Ft.)

East and north glass should not exceed 4% of the total Sq. Ft.

West glass should not exceed 2% of total Sq. Ft.

Each design starts with the 7% of south glazing (NET). To increase beyond this we must add thermal mass usually starting with the floor and then the walls. An additional 1 sq. ft. of south glass may be added for every: 5.5 sq. ft. of sunlit thermal mass floor (the max. amount of sunlit floor is 1 .5x the south window area) 40 sq. ft. of floor that’s not in direct sunshine 8.3 sq. ft. of thermal mass wall. The recommended maximum amount of glass on the south side for direct gain is 12-15%.


Keeping the sun out in the summertime is as important as letting it all in in the wintertime. Overhangs at the proper length will allow this to work at all times of the year.

There is a formula that exists if you Google it, but some excellent tools for calculating overhangs (among other solar tools) can be found here:

The idea is to keep the sun out of the windows when the sun is at it’s highest (summer solstice) and to let it all in when it’s at its lowest (winter solstice). Thermal mass stores the heat (or cold) and releases it slowly, which stabilizes the interior house temperature.

Standard constructed houses with wall-to-wall carpeting simply lack these majorly important features, and this is why they break the energy efficiency rules and are considered as ‘house design blunders’.

Perhaps soon you can find yourself building your own house, not just as a place to live, but also to enjoy the heating and cooling savings of up to 60% with your passive solar and energy efficient design.

Learn more, get my free book on Kindle as a free ebook download if you are a KindleUnlimited member.

how to solar energy projects

Book cover

I wish the printed version was a free book, but until donations are higher I cannot afford to send it to people at no cost, however, the paperback is available here for $15.

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