Active & Passive Solar Heating: What’s the Difference?

There are several methods available today to capture the sun’s energy and use it to heat your Fort Collins home partially, or even completely. Many homes use a combination of both passive and active solar heating to accomplish the task.

Passive Solar Heating

Passive solar heating takes advantage of a building’s design and construction to capture solar energy during the day, store it, then release it during the night, without using any external sources of energy. On the south side of a typical passive solar home, a large array of windows captures sunlight during the daytime, using it to heat dense materials such as ceramic tiled floors, thick stone, concrete or adobe walls, or even tanks of water. As the house cools during the night, these materials slowly radiate the stored heat back into the home, keeping it at a moderate temperature.

During the winter the sun easily enters through the south-facing windows, because it is low in the sky compared its position during the summer. Large overhangs on the south side of the home are used to shade the windows during the summer when the sun is higher, reducing the amount of heat generated and making it easier to cool the home.

Active Solar Heating

Active systems use an external energy source, such as electricity, to power pumps or other equipment that are used to more efficiently harness the power of the sun. One common example is a solar hydronic heating system, which uses a pump to circulate water through roof-mounted solar collectors that heat the water. The hot water then travels through radiators, baseboard heaters or a radiant floor heating system to provide heat and, often, hot water for the home. Another type of active solar system uses solar collectors to heat air, which is then distributed throughout the home using fans. Finally, photovoltaic solar panels can be used to generate electricity that directly powers electric heaters, air-source heat pumps or geothermal heating systems.

For more information about solar heating, talk to our HVAC professionals at Balance Point Heating & Air-Conditioning. We serve the Fort Collins area.

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