I’ve been working for the past couple months on a new section on Low Thermal Mass Sunspaces. In the course of doing the testing and putting this material together, I’ve become a real believer in this kind of sunspace design — it offers an exceptional combination of space heating performance and multiple use living space that is hard to beat. I think that if more people came to appreciate how well these low thermal mass sunspaces perform, they would be far more popular.
Low thermal mass sunspaces are very efficient in making a lot of heat that can then be exported to heat the home that the sunspace is attached to. When designed correctly, they can be just as efficient as high quality active solar collectors for home heating, but in addition to providing space heating, they provide a whole raft of other uses — including:
- Space to lounge in the sun (even when it 10F outside).
- Space to read the paper and have a cup of coffee in the sun.
- Space for the kids to play.
- Four season space to dry clothes — a major energy and carbon saving in itself.
- Space to dry and store firewood, or have a workshop, or may other uses.
In addition, sunspaces can be very visually appealing and are more likely to pass muster with your HOA or your spouse than are active solar collectors. I believe that they are also likely to increase the value of your house more than other energy saving investments due to their aesthetic appeal and mulit-purpose nature.
These sunspaces are efficient space heaters because their design is optimized to generate a lot of heat and to get that heat to the house. They intentionally have very little thermal mass — this makes them heat up very quickly, and the heat they generate is transferred to the house rather than being used to heat thermal mass in the sunspace.
I don’t know of any other solar investment that is so cost effective as an energy and carbon saver, and at the same time provides so many other family benefits.
Included in the new section:
– A design guide that explains what the low thermal mass sunspace is, how it works, and why its efficient. The guide also covers a number of design guidelines that you want to follow to make a sunspace that is both an efficient heater and a pleasant place to spend time.
– Some careful tests done on my sunspace to measure the actual heat output and efficiency for an optimized sunspace and compares it to high quality active solar collectors. The bottom line is that a well designed low thermal mass sunspace is just as efficient as a space heater as high quality active solar collectors — and you can enjoy a nice morning cup of coffee in the sun sitting inside your collector!
Another result that emerges from this testing is that there are several design rules that need to be followed if the sunspace is to be an efficient producer of heat.
– Several good and detailed descriptions of low thermal mass sunspaces that cover the whole wide range of possible designs. Here are some examples of the examples:
This is Mike’s retrofitted low thermal mass sunspace in the Colorado mountains. It is an efficient space heater for the house, but also provides a wide range of other uses including lounging in the sun, kids play area, and a clothes drying area that saves an additional 1200 KWH a year in itself — just this side benefit is equivalent to the yearly output of a 1000 watt PV array. And, it looks great.
This is Nick Pine’s new cutting edge three story low thermal mass sunspace. Nick has tried a number of innovations in this sunspace including DIY clear polycarbonate glazing, a unique air distribution system, and a mesh scheme that promises even more efficient operation.
I want to particularly thank Mike P., Nick Pine, and William Sikora for taking the time to document their sunspaces.
For all you low thermal mass sunspace owners out there, I hope you will use the comments section (or email me) to pass on your experiences with your sunspaces.