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A Church Architect’s Home: Passive Solar Design in Action

Church architect Kenn Sanders has designed and consulted on the master plans of churches across the country for years. Here, he shares how his home's site, orientation and components work with Arizona's climate to harness energy efficiently.

By Kenn Sanders   •  January 31, 2017 9:22 am EST

Tags: architectural design, energy efficiency, environmental sustainability, passive solar design, passive solar orientation, site selection,

Stats of note

Here is how our home is doing energy-wise compared to 100 similar neighbor homes within approximately one mile.

* Our home: 466 kWh (kWh: a kilowatt hour is a way to measure electricity use)

* Efficient neighbors: 868kWh

* Average neighbors: 1,470kWh

* Our home uses 46% less electricity than its efficient neighbors

An architect's home

Our home is constructed with Rastra Blocks -- an insulating concrete form -- to make the walls. Its main components are concrete and thastyron, which is a mixture of plastic foam and binder that are subsequently molded into blocks. Rebar is use to reinforce the blocks, which are filled with concrete. This makes the walls 700 times stronger than a wood-frame structure.

We can enjoy the benefits of how the home is designed with a geographic layout ... just as spending time in nature eases the heart and clears the mind.

The harmonious effect is a subtle, yet tangible, experience.

Here are examples [of that experience]: Our front door faces the morning sunlight to welcome us as we venture out for a day of activity.

We return home in the evening to the soft, protected invitation of our front door,shaded from the very hot western sun.

Our architecture brings out the inherent balance of nature, with celestial events, such as the rising of the harvest moon, regularly filling many rooms in our home. Each day, inside seeing outside nature from all around our home -- with wild animals playing and all kind of birds flying and making nests in all our trees that require only rain from above.

In other words, we do not need to do any work outdoors ... this nature setting is what the city wants.

We can quietly sit in any room remaining untouched by the harshness of the summer sun, all day and evening. In the winter the windows are so arranged to let the sun into the rooms to keep us warm without using electricity.

[Editor's note: Kenn Sanders supplied the following description of his home's aerial view - "North is the top of the picture. This is my whole acre+ site. The bright color is the sunny south side. The gray side with the dark shadows of the wall is the north half of the building. This is a winter time picture. In the summer the sun reaches around to all of the walls of the house. The house is built in different shapes to have all the great views of the mountains and looking across the valley below of the great Phoenix area. Every tree, cactus, and bush and ground was there when we built in the middle of the site. Nature takes care of everything on site, and we have a wash through the site that fills to over five feet high for heavy rains coming down out of the mountains."]

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