Friday, March 19, 2010

Mapping Solar Energy Around Your Home

The Spring Equinox is happening tomorrow. That is one of four important days for mapping the shadows around your home and yard.

One of the biggest energy inputs into your property is the Sun, and if you want to maximize your utility of it you have to know where it goes and doesn't go.

Draw Your Property
To make it easy, here is a link to a grid paper creation site.
It is easy to see where shadows lie on you property so you draw a map of your property, including your house, trees and large  bushes.
Don't forget to include anything of your neighbors that casts a shadow on your property.

When to Draw
Now that Daylight Savings Time is in effect solar noon (the sun is at its highest point) as actually at 1:00 PM, it will rise at about 7 AM and set about 7 PM. You'll want to take about 3 readings: about an hour after sunrise, at solar noon and about an hour before sunset.
Other days to do this would be the Summer Solstice (June 21) where the shadows will be shorter and the Winter Solstice (Dec 21) where the shadows will be longer; the Fall Equinox is the same as the Spring so if you do it now that is not necessary to do it again.

What the Shadows Mean
Areas that are shaded all the time, like the North side of the house and dense bushes, are full shade areas.
Areas that shaded only part of the day, like the East or West side of your house, get part or half sun.
Areas that get sun all day, like the South side of your house, are obviously full sun.

Plants are all rated as to what level of sun they can handle so now you know where they can go.
Full sun areas are also good for the placement of solar panels and greenhouses.

Other Things to Map
While your at it adding major wind directions to your map would be helpful. That is an energy source as well. You can use this to plan wind breaks or even a windmill.

Where your downspouts are and how the water flows on your property is useful. Most landscaping tries to get water away from the house as fast as possible but water is a very useful resource and you'll want to find ways to keep it on your property, this would be a very good year to create a few rain gardens to capture water.

Utility hookups and where they run under your property would be a good if you happen to know where they are. Most cities will map them for you for free. You really don't want to plant a tree right on top of a water or sewer line. We once had a tree grow into a sewer line and it took six guys in three trucks from the rooter company to clear it.