Virginians living in passive solar homes seem to have a special dedication in performing the minor daily chores needed to make these kinds of houses fully effective, according to Mary Ann Zentner, associate professor of the College of Human Resources at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg.
A passive solar system is one in which thermal energy flows by natural means, with nothing mechanical to break down. Passive solar devices include such things as upgraded insulation, tile floors that receive and hold heat from the winter's sun, and outside overhangs that provide shading from the hot summer sun.
Zentner presented results of a survey of owners of passive solar homes in Virginia before the 1983 annual meeting of the American Solar Energy Society, held recently in Minneapolis. Although only 28 of the 63 owners of such homes identified by the Virginia Solar Energy Association responded to the survey, Zentner feels a distinct pattern emerges.
Unlike conventionally heated and cooled homes, where comfort control demands nothing more than the turning of a thermostat dial, passive solar homes often require the occupants to open and close windows or vents, draw insulating curtain or shades, and start up wood stoves.
Few of the homes Zentner surveyed were fully controlled either automatically or manually, and most of the homeowners preferred having both kinds of sources.
Laziness was almost nowhere to be found in the survey, as three-quarters of the respondents said they were "consistent" or "very consistent" in making their daily rounds of the houses, and 89 percent said they actually enjoyed their solar duties.
Zentner's survey found no one who was dissatisfied with the solar features. She noted, however, that this response could have been influenced by the occupants already being committed to living in their houses.
Even so, these Virginians said they most enjoyed the increased awareness of nature and natural lighting, the comfortable interior environment and the feelings of independence.
Living in a passive solar home is not without some problems, such as occasionally inadequate heating, cooling and ventilation, however.
Homeowners were diligent in first attempting to adjust passive solar features when the houses grew too hot or too cold, Zentner said. The first step taken by the occupants was to change to more appropriate clothing. The second move involved such steps as starting up a wood stove. Only after that did the homeowners fall back on twisiting the thermostat dial.