The term "solar home" can apply to homes specifically designed to incorporate solar technologies, as well as to homes retrofitted for solar power. As the concern over the environmental effects of fossil fuels used in automobiles and for power production has grown, the interest in methods of using solar energy to reduce power consumption in the home has also grown. A number of solar technologies exist; for new homes, design elements can help to harness solar energy.
Solar panels are one of the most widely employed types of solar technology applicable to homes. Easily recognized by the bluish-tinted panels, solar systems can employ several types of solar cell. The most efficient, and consequently most costly, type of residential solar panels are monocrystalline cell panels, made from silicon wafers cut from a single silicon crystal, reports Free Sun Power. Other options are polycrystalline cell panels---the most frequently used---and thin-film panels, which offer the lowest efficiency. Solar panels produce no carbon dioxide while used and can help reduce or eliminate the power costs of a home.
Solar Water Heating
You can integrate a number of solar water heating applications into a home. The Department of Energy reports that solar water heaters function, in general, by passing cold water through a solar collector to heat the water and then directing the heated water into a storage tank. Solar collector types include flat-plate collectors, batch systems and evacuated tube systems. Solar water heaters can be passive systems, in which gravity moves the water, or active systems that use pumps. Due to the potential structural forces involved, have such systems installed by experienced professionals.
Another type of passive solar is involves using the materials and design of a home to take advantage of the heat and light provided by the sun. Not every component of passive solar design will work for every environment. Homes in places that experience long winters with short durations of sunlight and extreme cold, such as Alaska, are better served with more traditional home designs. To take advantage of solar energy, orient the panels southward; southern exposure maximizes the amount of time the sun strikes the front of the home. Use materials that absorb solar energy on this portion of the home, along with larger windows, to help retain heat in the structure during the colder weather. Sustainable Sources reports that carefully designed overhangs can also shade these windows during summer months to help minimize excess heat.