The Sunhouse

By Frank (Barney) Barningham

The house we have built is designed on the principles of passive solar gain and high thermal mass. It is modelled on a very similar existing house, built several years ago by Hans Albarda in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. His house is working effectively and houses a family of four.

Our roof is supported by the exterior insulated frame walls. The ceilings are supported by sand-filled concrete block walls. Between the two walls there is rigid insulation to prevent thermal bridging.

The walls have more rigid insulation behind the stucco, mineral wool insulation in the 2 x 4 frame, three layers of rigid 3/4” polyisocyanurate insulation and then the sand filled concrete block. The walls have a total insulation value of at least R35.

Above the ceiling there is insulation of R50 and this is all the more effective because there is no thermal bridging. The rigid insulation continues below grade into the footings and there is rigid insulation under the poured concrete floor.

Thermal mass in this house is provided by the insulated concrete floors and the concrete block walls, including two interior block walls. These are all 8” concrete blocks, filled with sand to maximize the thermal mass and parged on the interior.

The house is 56 feet long – the long south wall has large windows to afford maximum penetration of the sun in winter. All the windows are triple glazed, argon-filled with fibreglass frames to minimize heat loss.

The Sunhouse is run on a 12-volt system without an inverter. In between the windows on the exterior of the south wall are ten 85-watt photovoltaic solar panels which charge the four 6 volt 976 Ahr batteries in the house which in turn provide the power to operate lights, water pump, appliances etc.

The principle source of heat and energy for this house is the sun, maximized by:

  1. •    The southern orientation of the house
  2. •    The double wall construction without thermal bridging
  3. •    The very high level of thermal mass and insulation
  4. •    The design which allows maximum penetration of the sun in winter when the angle of the sun is at its lowest

We do, however, have a wood burning cook stove which helps us to heat water and maintain heat in the thermal mass even during spells of winter weather without sun.

During the summer, when the angle of the sun is at its highest, there is minimal penetration of the sun and the high thermal mass serves to keep the house cool.

This is a simple house to run. It is designed without steps and with wide doorways to allow full wheelchair access. Maintenance of the solar array/batteries, running expenses etc. are minimal. This house is not connected to outside sources of hydro or other services: with its own bored well and septic system, and generating its own power, this is an independent house. It cost more to build than a traditional house but these are upfront, one-time costs; now that the house has been built, running costs are minimal as is its initial and ongoing “environmental footprint”.

This is a comfortable, light-filled house: warm in winter, cool in summer with low running expenses. Hans Albarda’s house in Nova Scotia has a “boringly” steady interior temperature – a constant 70F summer and winter. This has been our experience too.

With thanks to Hans Albarda for the concept and ongoing support and advice, and to Randy Martin of Hawkwind Trades ( for helping us to make it all happen.


Citizens for Renewable Energy

The Renewable Energy Handbook by William Kemp ISBN 0-97 33233-2-9

Private Power Magazine (Canadian) 1-800-668-7788

Home Power Magazine (U.S.) 1-800-707-6585

CATALOGUES/WEBSITES – good info as well as products:

Northern Alternative Power Systems 1-866-835-6277

Backwoods Solar 208-263-4290

SPS Energy Solutions – Soltek power source 1-888-300-3037

Sunvolts Unlimited 1-800-558-7939

Canadian Tire

Solcan – solar water heating

Lehman’s non-electric catalogue 1-888-438-5346

Green Grid Solutions –

Sundial Renewable Energy –

Glenergy –

Barney and Liz Barningham

The Sunhouse, 323199 Durham Rd. E.,

P.O. Box 955. Durham, ON, N0G 1R0

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