How to orient your home

The prototype house in Anaktuvuk Pass is facing south to maximize solar gain and use prevailing wind to scour snow from the entrance.

Home orientation is one of the first things to think about when you’re ready to build a home.  Most houses are designed for ‘street appeal,’ or to give a certain appearance from the street.  Others are designed with windows carefully placed to capture a fantastic view.  However, in our climate it’s important to take into account topography of the property, solar orientation, wind direction, vegetation, shade, and proper drainage.

You’ve probably heard of the importance of south-facing windows. They can capture free passive solar heat for your home. In the winter, we get more sun from the south, and many south-facing homes in Fairbanks use less fuel in late February and March. If you have north-facing windows, however, you’re going to both lose more heat and gain less heat.

East-west orientation is also a big factor. If you’re on a south slope, and you orient your windows to the southwest, you’ll get the hotter afternoon sun–important if you like entertaining in the evening and hanging out on the deck. If you orient a little more toward the east and the southeast, you’ll get the morning sun–for people who like to start the day with sun.

Seasonal shading is something else to keep in mind.  You don’t want much shade in the winter, but you will in the summer, especially on the south and west sides of a home.  Vegetation will slow the capture of solar heat on summer afternoons.

You should also look at wind direction.  In some areas, prevailing winds can pile up snow in front of windows and doors. Though this is a bigger issue for coastal regions than Interior Alaska.

If you want to add solar panels to your home,  south-facing panels will gather more light, and therefore more power.

Before you break ground, observe the drainage features on your property (which will be altered once you start moving dirt). Water will tend to drain in a certain pattern around your home, which can be detrimental to your foundation.

Where to start? Before you begin building, make a list of the ideals you want for your home and compare it with what you can accomplish on the actual site.  Get the big picture of how orientation will affect your life in your new home.