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The Passive Solar Primer: Sustainable Architecture

By David Wright, AIA. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2008, 273 pages, $29.99.

Reviewed by David Sokol

The Passive Solar Primer certainly has its hippie moments. There are the overt political statements, only passing references to computer modeling, and “The Electric Company” typefaces, not to mention the illustrations seemingly ripped from the pages of a vintage Up With People brochure. But can you blame author David Wright? The author-architect is the real thing, having built a two-story adobe house in Santa Fe in long-ago 1973 and a similarly climate-sensitive, much-publicized residence in Sea Ranch, California later that decade.

The Passive Solar Primer: Sustainable Architecture
Image courtesy Schiffer Publishing
David Wright, AIA, The Passive Solar Primer: Sustainable Architecture, 2008
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This throwback is more relevant than ever. So is his primer. The Passive Solar Primer covers all the bases of heat loss and gain, thermal storage, and engagement with landscape for single-family homes. Once you get past the anachronistic flaws, you’ll find Wright’s pointers—such as his discussion of mean radiant temperature or the unique ability of local materials to accommodate local climates—to be far more sophisticated than the appearance of the book, too. A favorite feature: The chapter entitled “Rules of Thumb,” which divides the continental United States into a series of regions, with lists of must-do rules for achieving passive solar performance in that area. “For economy of construction, size south glazing in the range of 10 percent to 15 percent of the floor area” in Minnesota, for example, while homes in New Mexico should sport “2 to 8 inches thick walls, 4 to 6 inches thick on floors” for thermal mass.

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