Thinking about building your dream home and looking to improve its energy performance? Alongside a low-carbon underfloor heating solution, you could consider utilising of the natural warmth of the sun in the design and construction of your house to make it as sustainable as possible. In this expert guide we’ll explore the concept of solar gain, discovering its pros and cons. You’ll learn:
- What solar gain means
- How solar gain can be used alongside floor heating
- Top tips to maximise solar gain in your home’s design
- Ideas to reduce solar gain if required
- Which UFH system is best for your new-build house
What is solar gain?
Solar gain is the name given to the increase in temperature in a space, object or structure due to the natural heat from the sun. In homes and buildings this heat is the result of short-wave radiation heating the interior of a building directly through an opening such as a window or indirectly heating the fabric of the structure – or both.
Can solar gain help lower my energy costs?
As solar gain is a form of passive heat that uses free sunlight, it can be a very cheap way to help heat a home. However, as it is reliant on amount of direct sunlight available, it cannot often be used as the main source of heat, and you should consider it as a form of supportive heating to work alongside your primary heat source. If you’re building a new-build home, you may want to utilise solar gain to help warm your home or you may wish to reduce solar gain to cool down the property if it is built in a hot climate.
What is passive solar design?
Passive solar design is an aspect of passive building design which maximises or minimises the heat energy from the sun’s solar radiation. Techniques in passive solar design include simple things such as installing insulation smartly, planting trees in front of larger windows to keep the property cool, utilising glazing to optimise solar gain or building your home with technologically advanced materials to attract or reflect solar energy.
The thermal mass of the building may be utilised to even-out heating and cooling requirements throughout the day by storing solar gains accumulated during the daytime and then releasing them slowly during cooler times. Solar gain can also be transferred to a building by indirect or isolated solar gain systems, such as solar panels.
How to utilise solar gain with underfloor heating?
Solar gain can change the heating requirement of an area quickly, so you will need your heating to be as responsive as possible, by heating up and cooling down quickly.
An electric or water underfloor heating system is the best responsive heating solution for use with a passive solar designed house as they offer quick heat-up times and precise temperature control. Radiant floor heaters allow for multi-zone heating where the temperature of individual rooms can be set independently from each other to accommodate for possible heat gains in different parts of your home.
Underfloor heating can also assist in working with solar gain to bring even bigger savings on your energy bills. Homes heated with a floor heating system are up to 40% more efficient than those using traditional heating methods and with this increased energy-efficiency you can look forward to low running costs, with savings of up to £400 a year.
3 things to help maximise solar gain in buildings
If your home would benefit from using the natural heat from the sun to work alongside your heating source, below you’ll find some top tips to increase solar gain when designing or refurbishing your property.
1. Choose the best location and size for windows and openings
Windows are a great and easy way to optimise solar gain. To achieve this, glazing should be positioned on the sunniest side of the building as much as possible with larger windows facilitating more of this natural warmth. It should be noted that at certain times of day and at different times of the year, even in cooler climates, too much solar gain can cause overheating and for this reason, Part L of the UK building regulations places restrictions on the amount of glazing that can be used in buildings.
2. Select the right orientation of the building
The orientation of a building has a significant effect on solar gain. Orientating a building so that the majority of sunlight strikes the side on the greatest structural area of the building will allow greater solar absorption.
3. Use the correct building materials and insulation
Utilising specific materials in the building structure, which absorb sunlight to produce as much solar gain as possible, can also be used. Insulation is key to both maximising and minimising solar gain and may help reduce your heating bills too. Good levels of insulation will keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Using high-quality floor insulation with your UFH system will also enhance the efficiency of radiant floor heating, improving its heat-up times and preventing any heat from escaping the room. The building structure, by using dense solid materials, can act as a thermal mass storing the solar gains during the day, and then releasing the heat during cooler parts of the day.
3 ways to reduce your home’s solar gain
In hotter climates, solar gain can be beneficial during winter, however with more intense sunlight during the summer months it may create the problem of overheating. This is where reducing solar gain becomes important – below are some of the ways to achieve this.
1. Limit the size of windows and openings and consider their orientation
Limiting the size and location of openings such as doors and windows can help reduce solar gain levels. Smaller windows allow less warmth from the sunshine to enter the space and shading or orientating doors and windows away from direct sunlight can help cool the house down in warmer weather.
2. Use shading and ventilation in your building’s design
Using reflective materials on the glass and building fabric can help repel solar radiation. In hotter climates or summer months, the use of awnings, shades, shutters and heavy curtains may be used at certain times to limit solar gain. The planting of deciduous trees in front of windows, well-designed window apertures or using shading screens can also be used to limit high-level sunlight during summer while allowing solar gain from low-level angle winter sunlight.
3. Ensure your home is well insulated
Insulating walls and roof spaces to prevent indirect solar gains into the building is another great idea. If a building is well insulated, then the heat gains achieved through windows and openings will be contained; however, heavily insulated walls also reduce indirect solar gain through the fabric of the building structure.
What is the best UFH system to work alongside solar gain?
If you’re interested in a new heating system to work alongside the natural warmth of the sun in your home, an energy-efficient underfloor heating system is the ideal choice.
Water underfloor heating systems, also referred to as wet or hydronic heating systems are perfect for use in new-build projects and larger home renovations. The Clypso System is a popular hydronic heater for such projects and it can be ordered directly online and sent to your location.
Considering a smaller refurbishment in your home? Then one of our electric floor heaters would be a great idea. Electric systems can be installed in just one or two rooms in your home, to be used alongside your existing primary heat source and any energy from solar gains. Electric heaters offer rapid installation times and great value for money. Get a free instant quote today using our online tool to find out how much a new UFH system would cost for your home.