Home Heat With a Trombe Wall

A Trombe wall is gaining popularity as a simple passive solution to heating your home with the sun. Being passive, your expense for pumps, tubes and fancy solar collectors is avoided. Using any material for the wall that absorbs the sun's heat during the day and, using a series of well-placed vents, will circulate the heat back through the house at night. When you start investigating the benefits of building a Trombe wall, you will find lots of references to a thermal mass and insulated glazing material. Don't let the terminology baffle you. A thermal mass can be adobe, stone, concrete, or even water tanks, like old water heaters. Insulated glazing material refers to two or more glass panes, spaced apart and hermetically sealed to resist the heat flow, like storm windows. Other materials, like polyester panels, can also be used as glazing materials, but glass works the most efficiently. Simply put, the sun heats the south-facing wall behind the two panes of insulated glass. The wall, usually 8" to 16" thick, holds the heat and prevents it from entering the house until it is needed with a series of adjustable vents. Using natural air flow, the heated air flows into the house from the top vents and pushes the cold air, collected along the floor, back onto the heated wall. That circular exchange, convection, continues as long as the Trombe wall is warmer than the household air. A backup system for those days when the sun doesn't shine would be a good idea. At night, the warm air will travel through the walls and heat the room on the other side of the collector, so it would not be a good idea to place bookcases on that wall. Some of the heated air will travel up the wall and flow into the living space through the upper vents, as described above. The warm air held by the wall will also leak back out of the insulated glass panel during the night. Dropping an insulating panel or shades between the glass panel and the thermal wall during the night will stop or slow down some of that heat escape. The air and heat flow can be increased with simple electric blowers controlled by thermostats. If blocking the severe summer sun is a something you want to do, trellises with climbing annuals would be both attractive and effective. Some have used the Trombe wall to heat water in pipes, sending it through the walls or under the floor when heat is needed in the home. Others have constructed a greenhouse between the insulated glass panels and the Trombe wall, creating multiple uses for the same heating source. When you begin to live a greener, gentler lifestyle, you will find many options and offers for purchasing kits and plans. Do your homework and decide what you need before you jump into any project that's for your home.


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