The Greeks venerated the sun and believed that exposure to the sun nurtured good health. Thus solar architecture became a cultural necessity

Design Principles

The concept of solar architecture is nothing new. The ancient Greeks utilised the benefits of the sun some 2,500 years ago. With the short supply of wood as fuel they found it necessary to build their houses to take advantage of the sun´s rays during the moderately cool winters, and to avoid the sun´s heat during the hot summers.

Excavations of many Classical Greek cities show that solar architecture flourished throughout Ancient Greece.

Individual homes were oriented toward the southern horizon, (northern horizon in the southern hemisphere) and entire cities were planned to allow their citizens equal access to the winter sun.

The Greeks venerated the sun and believed that exposure to the sun nurtured good health. Thus, solar architecture became a cultural necessity.

They built their homes so that the winter sunlight could easily enter the house through a south facing portico (north facing in the southern hemisphere) similar to a covered porch. The main rooms in the house were warmed by the rays of the sun streaming through the portico but were sheltered from the cold winds from the north.

With the recent proliferation of technology and access to cheap fossil fuels for energy, we have tended to ignore past vernacular building practices that were dependent on available resources, technologies and local climatic conditions. These limitations meant that building solutions had to be effective yet still work with the environment and available materials rather than transforming and dominating the environment. Thus, these vernacular building solutions took advantage of the natural elements to improve comfort, rather than the current tendency to ignore local climatic conditions and instead add energy consuming and polluting technologies to create comfortable environments.

Today solar architecture is undergoing a resurgence as more people not only recognize the comfort benefits and lower energy bills of solar architecture, but now see a way of helping reduce the polluting effects of greenhouse gases through less reliance on fossil fuels for heating and cooling.

Basic house design principles include:

Basic House Design Principles Symbols Orientation


Of the main living areas towards the north.

Basic House Design Principles Symbols Thermal

Thermal Mass

To store the heat from the sun.

Basic House Design Principles Symbols Ventilation


To capture cooling breezes.

Basic House Design Principles Symbols Glazing


Used to trap the sun´s warmth.

Basic House Design Principles Symbols Insulation


To reduce heat loss or heat gain.

Planning a passive solar home should consider all the basic design principles, working within any restrictions that a building site may contain. The above floor plan is an example of a house incorporating particular client needs, with an ideal north orientation, taking advantage of an existing tree on the western side that helps shade the building from the low angle western sun. The carport has been located on the western side to provide a buffer from the western sun also. 

The footprint of the house is a long rectangular shape on an east/west axis minimising the walls exposed to the low angle east and west sun and maximising the walls facing the north allowing for winter sun exposure. Rooms are no more than two deep and living areas are open plan, allowing for good cross ventilation. This house is in a cool temperate zone with high levels of thermal mass in the form of rammed earth walls and a concrete floor slab. Suitable eaves overhang and a solar pergola provide shade in the hotter months and allow winter sun into the spaces in the cooler months.

Plan example drawing
Basic Design Principles Section View

A well designed solar home should remain within 18 degrees C to 28 degrees C throughout the year and save 60% to 70% in average household heating costs. Read more about Passive Solar Heating and Passive Cooling.