The term "Solar Home" is used herein to refer to a home that has been specially designed with three primary goals:
- to take advantage of a home's location, climate, and building materials to minimize energy use
- to reduce power requirements, whether heating and cooling loads or appliance loads, through energy-efficiency strategies
- to provide electrical power to address remaining energy loads in whole or part with solar energy
Such homes are also referred to as "Passive Solar Homes" or "Net-zero Homes". In the extreme, such a home could be off-grid with supplemental energy storage to ensure electrical power at night or on cloudy days. More common would be for such a home to be grid-connected such that it could return electricity to the grid when local solar power exceeded use and receive electrical power back from the grid when required.
Well-designed solar homes collect heat as the sun shines through south-facing windows, retain that heat in various materials that store heat, known as thermal mass, and then utilize that heat at night. These homes also provide daylight all year, utilize ventilation and shading to manage heat, arrange the interior layout to best take advantage of the various passive systems, and consider exterior features, including landscaping.
The concept of a Solar Home has been a major focus of the US Department of Energy, which sponsors a biennial competition called the Solar Decathlon to help accelerate the adoption of energy-efficient products and design by:
- Educating students and the public about the money-saving opportunities and environmental benefits presented by clean energy products and design solutions
- Demonstrating to the public the comfort and affordability of homes that combine energy-efficient construction and appliances with off-the-shelf renewable-energy systems
- Providing participating students with unique training that prepares them for the clean energy workforce.