The Trombe Wall: Low Tech Solar Design Makes a Comeback

trombe wall photo
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Image Credit Paul Raff Studio, Ben Rahn/A Frame
Regular readers will know that we tend to favour simple, non-mechanical methods of green design, like passive solar heating instead of, say, thermal solar collectors with evacuated tubes and pumps. One of the simplest and most elegant solutions to retain solar heat is the Trombe wall, where solar heat is collected and stored in a wall of high thermal mass, tempering the heat gain during the day and releasing it at night. One of the best modern examples is Paul Raff's slate covered Trombe wall in a house in Toronto. It shows how to make it elegant; In BuildingGreen, Alex Wilson describes their history and operation.

paul raff trombe wall


Image Credit Paul Raff Studio

Alex describes the history of the Trombe Wall:

The Trombe wall is named after a French engineer Félix Trombe, who popularized this heating system in the early 1960s. The idea actually goes back a lot further. A thermal-mass wall was patented in 1881 by Edward Morse. In the U.S., interest in Trombe walls emerged in the 1970s, aided by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico....Trombe walls are particularly well-suited to sunny climates that have high diurnal (day-night) temperature swings, such as the mountain-west. They don't work as well in cloudy climates or where there isn't a large diurnal temperature swing.
morse trombe patent

Patent 246626. I think Paul's version looks nicer.