Passive Solar House Project

Environmental Physics in action

It is possible to heat homes in Cross River completely with the sun—provided the residents wear sweaters—maintaining a temperature in the low 60s all winter. The specially designed homes can also hover at temperatures in the low 80s throughout the summer.

Because most homes in Cross River depend on heating oil and natural gas, the concept of a passive solar home that uses or shields sunshine without the aid of pumps, fans, or solar panels was a surprising discovery for students in Jim Panzer’s Environmental Physics class.

Through the Passive Solar House project, students became well versed in the value of windows on southern exposures, thermal storage, vents that promote air circulation, R-value of insulation, seasonal shade and more.

Many Solutions Based on Passive Solar Principles

Students became experts and shared their work with others

A real-world application of trigonometry

"A foundation of designing a passive solar house is calculating how the angle of the sun changes with the time of day as well as the season at a specific latitude," said Panzer. "Students used the formula 'the tangent of an angle equals opposite over adjacent' to calculate the angle and size of the awnings—a real-world application of trigonometry."

Students also chose building materials based on their R-values to retain just the right amount of thermal energy while also taking into consideration the materials' health risks.

Teams of students built prototypes that displayed the wide variety of passive solar home designs possible. They showcased them for visiting faculty and staff,  gaining valuable experience explaining the concepts behind their designs.