Students investigate passive solar building design with a focus solely on heating. They learn how insulation, window placement, thermal mass, surface colors, and site orientation play important roles in passive solar heating. They use this information to design and build their own model houses, and test them for thermal gains and losses during a simulated day and night. Teams compare designs and make suggestions for improvements.
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standard Network (ASN), a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.org).
In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
Click on the standard groupings to explore this hierarchy as it applies to this document.
- Colorado: Math
- Colorado: Science
- d. Identify different energy forms, and calculate their amounts by measuring their defining characteristics (Grades 9 - 12)  ...show
- a. Develop, communicate, and justify an evidence-based scientific explanation regarding the costs and benefits of exploration, development, and consumption of renewable and nonrenewable resources (Grades 9 - 12)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- J. The alignment of technological processes with natural processes maximizes performance and reduces negative impacts on the environment. (Grades 9 - 12)  ...show
- R. Evaluate final solutions and communicate observation, processes, and results of the entire design process, using verbal, graphic, quantitative, virtual, and written means, in addition to three-dimensional models. (Grades 9 - 12)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering. (Grades 9 - 12)  ...show
- Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts. (Grades 9 - 12)  ...show
- Model a few techniques used in passive solar heating.
- Explain the importance of passive solar heating.
- Identify the role an engineer plays in passive solar design.
- 32 x 20-inches sheet of 1/8-inch foam core board (this is one half of the standard foam core board sheet, typically available with the dimensions of 1/8-inch x 32-inches x 40-inches [.32 x 81 x 102-cm]; this is about 9 sq ft or .84 sq m)
- 1 sq ft (.09 sq m) thin clear plastic
- 4 sq ft (.37 sq m) aluminum foil
- 2 sq ft (.19 sq m) thin rubber (any kind)
- 2 sq ft (.19 sq m) black fabric (any kind)
- pencils, erasers and white or graph paper for designing and graphing
- (optional) Excel software for recording and graphing group data
- Design Challenge Handout, one per group
- Analysis & Results Worksheet, one per group
- hot glue guns and/or tacky glue
- utility knife
- scotch tape
- masking tape
- straight edge (metal ruler)
- 300-watt light bulb
- desk or clamp lamp (that can safely accommodate a 300-watt light bulb)
- floor or box fan
- bucket or plastic container (for the ice)
- thermometer (alternative: use a laptop and HOBO data loggers to automatically take and record temperature readings at specified intervals)
- watch or timer to determine 30-second intervals
- Teacher Testing Steps
|HVAC:||Acronym that stands for "heating, ventilating, and air conditioning", which is an area of design and research for civil engineers.|
|insulation:||Material that prevents the transfer of heat.|
|passive solar design:||Using the sun's energy, the geographical climate, and the properties of different materials to heat and cool buildings.|
|thermal mass:||Construction material incorporated into passive solar design because of its high heat storage capacity. Possible materials include floors and walls made of concrete, tile, brick, masonry, stone, soil and water.|
- Foam core board: for walls and roofing, to mimic insulation and thermal mass
- Thin clear plastic: to let light in as windows, to heat up the homes
- Aluminum foil: to imitate metal surfaces; while not a thermal mass, it does reflect heat and light
- Thin rubber: to imitate a thermal mass
- Black fabric: while not a thermal mass, it absorbs a lot of heat from light
- Glue: besides holding the house together, it serves as a final insulator to seal up any cracks and small air leaks in the model homes
Before the Activity
- Gather materials and set up a testing station(s).
- Make copies of the Design Challenge Handout, and Analysis & Results Worksheet, one each per team.
- Introduce passive solar design for purposes of heating and its primary design considerations and methods, as described in the Introduction/Motivation section.
- Briefly describe to the students what they will be designing during the activity (see the "goal" on the Design Challenge Handout).
- Divide the class into groups of two or three students each.
- Hand each group a Design Challenge Handout. Have them look over the handout; answer any questions they may have.
- Have the teams brainstorm ideas and discuss possible passive solar heating techniques using the materials provided. Encourage them to design unique houses. For example, they do not necessarily have to have the traditional four walls.
- Once teams have come up with several ideas, have them choose one and sketch it on paper. Double-check their designs to make sure they meet the requirements before handing them their materials.
- Give the teams time to build (see Figure 2). This will take the most time, perhaps five 50-minute periods (about 250 minutes total). Keep them on task by setting interim deadlines.
- Once the groups are done building their model homes, set up a testing area and give each team the Analysis & Results Worksheet. Then, start conducting the tests (see Figure 3) as described in the Teacher Testing Steps attachment. Have teams record their data on their worksheets.
- Have students finish the Analysis & Results Worksheet when their testing is done.
- Direct each group to prepare a 5-10 minute presentation of their model house results, discussing the concepts in their original passive solar design, its successes and failures, and how they would improve on it.
- Use caution when cutting materials with a utility knife.
- Make sure the lamp you use can safely accommodate a 300-watt light bulb.
Activity Embedded Assessment
- For lower grades, limit the discussion of passive solar heating techniques to insulation, windows and surface colors. Have teams choose one or two techniques to incorporate into their model houses.
- For upper grades, encourage students to research additional passive solar heating techniques beyond those introduced and then incorporate what they find in their model houses.
Passive Solar Design. Choices for the Home Construction, Consumer Energy Center, California Energy Commission. Accessed October 22, 2009. http://www.consumerenergycenter.org/home/construction/solardesign/index.html
Passive Solar Design. Sustainable Sources. (Provides a great introduction to solar design, including "rules of thumb," and many diagrams that illustrate thermal storage, ventilation and other techniques) Accessed October 22, 2009. http://www.greenbuilder.com/sourcebook/PassiveSol.html
Jonathan MacNeil, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Denise W. Carlson
© 2008 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: July 3, 2015