People embrace home automation for a variety of reasons. Some get into it just because they enjoy the novelty of it all. Others integrate automation technology with their home security systems. Still others do it out of a desire to make their homes more energy efficient. Here’s a thought: why not combine home automation with passive design for even greater efficiency?
The interesting thing about passive design is that it has just one goal: improving energy efficiency by reducing dependence on mechanical heating and cooling. Even without home automation, passive design makes an enormous difference. Combining the two in a new build seems like a no-brainer. Passive design can do things home automation cannot, and vice-versa. Together, they could revolutionize energy efficiency in modern construction.
More About Passive Design
The passive design concept revolves around building new structures in ways that require less dependence on mechanical HVAC. Technically, passive design is not new; builders have been utilizing its principles for thousands of years. It is enjoying a new resurgence now because architects and green builders are paying more attention to it.
A big part of passive design is building structures around the sun’s movement. For example, imagine a new home being built on Utah’s Wasatch Back. Rather than clear the entire lot of trees, the architect designs the home to fit within the existing tree cover. This is an example of passive design.
During the summer, the trees provide a natural shade that helps keeps the house cool. During the winter, the trees are bare. This allows sunlight through; sunlight that helps to warm the house. Dependence on mechanical HVAC is reduced in both cases.
Working with Nature
A key element of passive design is working with nature rather than against it. Structures are situated on lots in accordance with how the sun travels across the sky. Features are added to block the sun in the summer but not in the winter. Homes are insulated and ventilated based on the natural climate.
Home automation can be adapted to accommodate Mother Nature as well. For example, imagine electrically-driven window blinds that can be programmed to open and close based on the time of day and the season. You could accomplish much the same effect as the architect who places a new house under natural tree cover.
Window Blinds and Sunlight
During the winter months, when the sun is low, you would program the blinds to be open during the daylight hours. This allows for natural heating. You would program them to automatically close at night for extra insulation. During the summer months, programming would do just the opposite.
Blinds would be programmed to remain down in order to block the sun during the heat of the day. In the evening, when it is cooler, blinds would be up to provide a view or facilitate a nice breeze through open windows.
Vivint, a company that specializes in home automation and wireless home security, recently published a post discussing the benefits of energy-efficient smart homes. Their post referenced environmental benefits including improved air quality, energy conservation, and reduced water pollution. In terms of benefits to homeowners, energy efficiency saves money and makes a home more comfortable.
Home automation can definitely make a home more energy efficient. So can passive design. Perhaps it’s time for builders and architects to combine the two in a single package. We do not yet know what the result would be because it hasn’t been tried on a large scale. But it is hard to imagine the combined energy efficiency would not be better.