We are in the very early stages of planning an earthship in Western Newfoundland. The site we are examining is located at the base of the Long Range Mountains. The building would be situated at the bottom of a valley. The house would be approximately 900 meters (1/2 mile) away from the base of the steep hill which is approximately 350 meters (1200 feet) high. To further compound the issue, the ridge sweeps towards the north approximately 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) to the west of us. The sum it up, our winter sun exposure would be limited to only 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day. I could increase the amount of sunlight by designing the building with both south and western facing windows (greenhouse). To add another wrinkle, directly to the north of us is the Humber river (world class salmon river) and another range of mountains. The view in that direction is incredible. We would like to have windows along the entire north facade. This would then limit our berm/tire walls to a small portion of the northern wall and the entire east facing wall.
Also, we plan on incorporating several tiny home concepts into this build. We want this house to use the least amount of energy as possible and retain as much energy as possible. I think that this will minimize the concerns noted above.
Questions are as follows:
1. Does anyone have any experience/input in dealing with a mountain or other obstruction to the southern exposure?
2. Given that I am no longer following the earth ship recipe of berm/tire walls on three sides, am I gaining anything in terms of passive solar?
3. Any ideas on how to design this thing given my constraints?
Since we are still in the winter solar angle range, have you actually recorded the exposure on a sunny day?
Even total superinsulation everywhere else will not compensate for the heat loss of a whole wall of windows that never gets any solar gain. I think you will need to moderate that desire. I have a beautiful view across and down a valley (fortunately to the south), and find that about half window and half solid wall still allows me to enjoy the view. I concentrated the windows at focal areas, a 6' wide window in the kitchen, an 8' wide window in the living/dining room. With the sink below the kitchen window, I have a panoramic view while washing dishes. Also, low dividing partitions allow some view from one room out the other's windows.
Have you studied the actual performance of earthships in your climate? The mean ground temperature at 50 degrees North is going to be significantly lower than in the Arizona desert, and the climate exacerbated by site conditions will drastically reduce the amount of solar gain relative to Arizona.
I don't know if it would make a measurable difference given that the mountaintops are about a kilometer away, but putting south windows high in the wall would theoretically increase the amount of time out of the shadow. If there is not a significant view to the south, you might even berm that wall partway up, leaving say one area with a direct eye level view.
You said the mountains sweep around to the west of you, so I don't see how that improves the western sun... unless you are just thinking afternoon warmth. Is the eastern exposure shaded?
The first thing to do in this situation is to mark out your proposed house site and do a solar travel map.
Doing this will give you some data to consider when coming to terms with design of the structure.
This map will also tell you if you need to consider multi story construction (it is possible that passive solar could be greatly improved by going up a story in height).
You didn't mention where along the river your land is located, Corner Brook, Humber Village, Pynn's Brook, Reidville, etc.?
That could be a help in taking a look at the land via satellite to give you some better suggestions.
I think you have some challenges to hurdle at the planning stage so that you can design a best fit structure for your wants and needs. One of these might be changing the location of the build site.
Danny, here's your solution. Forget about southern exposure. Put all your windows on the North side of the house so you can take in the view of the river and mountains. Then build a huge mirror like a hundred feet up in the air, so it doesn't restrict your view, but gets above the shadow of the southern mountains and reflects the sun onto the north side of your house. Boom.
We have mountains to our south which block a lot of light and we are at 59 degrees north latitude. we get around 2-3 hours direct sun on the winter solstice if its not cloudy. Our cabin is 20'x14' with the longer south wall having about 60 percent of its area in glazing. If its a truly sunny day around the solstice we still get 1/3 to 1/2 of our heat taken care of by the sun. Here we need to heat in summer too (outside temps 50-60F) so all our heat is totally covered for about 7 months (no fire needed-enough solar heat gain even on cloudy days) , about 1/2 to 2/3 for another 2 months (occasional fires needed if its cloudy) and maybe 1/4 for the 3 darkest months, which tend to be cloudy also (we have the fire going constantly except when we fall asleep, unless its a sunny day, and we just have a fire in the morning). Insulated curtains make a huge difference so we don't lose as much heat thru the glazing when its dark out. I made my own "poor man's thermal panes" with 3'x6' sheets of clear acrylic glazing. I think in your case that 4-6 hours of winter sun can definitely be enough to provide all your heat. You need a very long south facing wall compared to the east and west facing walls and you need a very high percentage of that wall in glazing. Then you need to size your overhangs so all that glazing is shaded in summer and any months when you don't want the heat. Its all about getting the geometry right, but 4-6 hours of winter sun can be plenty. Play with a sun angle calculator to determine your overhangs.
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