Book Review: Canadian Solar Home Design Manual

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Building one's own energy-efficient home from the foundation up can seem like a daunting task, especially with the huge range of options out there. Some fundamental questions include: what are your needs and budget? How will you site your home? What materials will you use? And of course: to go off-grid or to not go off-grid?

A large part of homeowners who choose alternative sources of energy will choose solar. To keep costs down, some will opt for the do-it-yourself route. So while there is no shortage of texts on energy-efficient design out there, it's encouraging to see more easy-to-understand literature cropping up, like the Canadian Solar Home Design Manual, written with the adventurous DIY homeowner in mind.Published and recently revised by the Canadian non-profit Solar Nova Scotia, the manual holistically focuses on the process of building a solar house from start to finish, but also includes information on integrating solar energy as part of a retrofit. Unlike other manuals which may skip the basics in favour of technical know-how, the manual starts on the right foot by covering the fundamentals of actual design. Essential topics - from analyzing your site's potential for solar gain, to how orientation, prevailing winds, trees and slopes may shape your design, to organizing spaces in a "solar pattern" to maximize passive solar gain - are clearly explained and illustrated, which will prove helpful to homeowners who are not sure where to start.

To give the reader a good scientific grounding, the book does well by explaining various concepts in a straightforward manner. Passive solar design is also broken down, with different suggestions on how to incorporate direct or indirect solar gain methods into your design (like Trombe walls, solariums, greenhouses and the like).

Later chapters give valuable information on improving indoor air quality, incorporating auxiliary sources of heat if needed and how to choose the right building envelope materials to boost the solar gain performance of your house. An excellent chapter on solar add-ons is included for those who looking to incorporate solar energy into an existing home.

On top of the basics, the manual's appendix goes the extra mile by providing solar charts, heat loss calculation worksheets, information on earthworks, water, waste management and sizing a photovoltaic system. There are even inspiring case studies at the end of the book to demonstrate how solar design process moves from paper to real-life dimensions.

Written in clear language and laid out with a wealth of illustrative diagrams that thoroughly explains concepts and ideas, the Canadian Solar Home Design Manual is a broadly comprehensive and accessible book that homeowners and designers alike will refer to again and again.