Orientation --

nightowlrnJune 3, 2014

We found land that just might be "it." An acre with a great back yard. We like to garden. We like to entertain outside. The house can't vary too much from parallel to the road. See the link for the sun orientation.

The negative is the back of the house is west. The positive is there is so much land we can place gardens in an area that won't be shaded by the house and there are many wonderful 100 year old oak trees. But, the though of the summer sun pounding the back yard and windows every afternoon ....

Our current plan has a kitchen with amazing 2 story windows and faces the back ....Now, I am imagining having to put up blinds over windows that shouldn't have them and losing the view of our wonderful back yard... I hate the thought of that. I am thinking a prairie style back and lowering the windows with a covered back porch and sky lights now...




Here is a link that might be useful: SunCalc link

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Annie Deighnaugh

We oriented our home so the back was facing south. We love it. In fact, it's so important to our energy efficiency and how well our house lives and functions, that I would seriously consider reorienting the house to take advantage of the sun.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2014 at 7:02PM
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We can't spin it 90 degrees... 125 wide lot ....

    Bookmark   June 3, 2014 at 7:31PM
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Sounds like a beautiful property -- I have a soft spot for oak trees. Maybe try a "C" or an "L" shaped house, and/or site the house both for views and sun relief close to the oaks (but not too close)? "Too close" in my area would be different from "too close" in an area subject to high winds or other severe weather.

This post was edited by Oaktown on Tue, Jun 3, 14 at 21:20

    Bookmark   June 3, 2014 at 7:54PM
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i'd be looking for another plan, really, windows on the west are terrible for energy usage and comfort
our present home is oriented front to the east, back to the west and even with 8 ft porches and several trees the heat is really bad-when you open the door, approximately 1/2 the windows in the house are facing west

    Bookmark   June 3, 2014 at 8:18PM
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We also chose our lot so the back of the house is facing south. We live in a northern midwest state, so if there's sun to be had, we want it coming into the house. The few hot summer months we have the sun will be so far overhead that it won't come in directly as much.

I don't have any advice, but i love that app link you posted- thanks!

    Bookmark   June 3, 2014 at 8:35PM
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I will take some photos tomorrow if I have time after work. The oaks are huge and we wouldn't do anything to disturb them! I am just not sure there are enough to mitigate the blaring midwest sun.

We lived in a home 17 years with a south back and I now know why we liked it so much. The kids didn't like hacking at the ice on the north front walks though ....

    Bookmark   June 3, 2014 at 8:49PM
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Now you all are freaking me out. Our new house will have the backyard facing west....but it is a heavily wooded lot. Will we be ok?

    Bookmark   June 3, 2014 at 10:54PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Well, seems to me there are 3 options here...find a different lot with a better orientation (it doesn't sound like you purchased it yet), change the house plan so it takes better advantage of this lot (there are many house plans that orient the house to be deeper), or expect a hot house with much higher energy costs and do what you can to mitigate it with shade trees, awnings, porches, whatever.

For trees, a lot has to do with how big they are and how close to the house. Of course the closer the tree, the more damage the tree can do, be it loading up your gutters, roots into the septic lines, wind damage, dealing with shady plantings in the landscape, but the better shade it will provide in summer.

A building site is a mess and the mess reaches many feet outside the foundation, so unless the trees are a significant distance away from the foundation, they won't survive. Driving next to the trees is very damaging to the root system due to compaction so equipment must be kept away from the root systems for trees to survive. (See attached article). But trees that are far away from the foundation must be very large to provide any shade. You can do landscaping with mature trees once the build is complete, but that gets very expensive and the trees are less likely to survive and adapt than they are when they are young.

As an example, our build site was far from compact.

When we built, house orientation was absolutely critical as we considered ongoing expenses beyond the build, not just building costs, and were very successful in keeping our total energy costs down...(active solar, passive solar, geothermal, etc.)

We knew what was most important for us. You have to decide what's most important for you.

Here is a link that might be useful: trees and root systems

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 7:57AM
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We already bought the lot. My husband reassured me. We're in northern mi, where sun is a commodity. It's hot here three months at best....and even those months have many cooler days (it's 62 here today). My husband grew up in the same town on the bay with a western facing home that was in direct line of sunsets with not a one tree to shade it. It was fine....only a handful of those days were too hot in the house.

The trees on our lot are old and tall. And numerous. But, we will consider adding a porch on the back of the house. Both our builder and architect have visited our lot and didn't even mention the orientation. And it's just not something we ever hear about up here....maybe it's because of our very short summers?

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 8:39AM
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This is an excellent thread and should be something everyone pays close attention to when building a home. Western exposures are one of the more dangerous directions to have alot of windows facing.

Annies got some great advice about the trees. Dont drive, cut or fill anywhere in the drip zone or you risk tree death or decline. Sometimes these big trees can take several years to show weakness. Involve an arborist if you need to cut utilities through the root zone or do major pruning. Dont rely on your grader to protect your mature trees. It can be wise to erect boulders, concrete barriers or heavy duty chains at the drip line if they are close or vulnerable.

If you must expose windows to the west, covered porches and wide overhangs will help alot. Also specify as Low SHGC windows as you can. Have a third party do a Manual J and D to ensure that the rooms have adequate HVAC design.

Even in your climate, the fewer western windows and more southern windows you go with, the better your home will perform.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 9:59AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Wow, Michelle, I can't imagine an architect not even mentioning orientation. It is certainly something I would ask about. Builders, maybe I can see...they often opt for what's most practical for them...but an architect should be all over orientation and site planning. It's not that your current situation isn't fine, but that the issue is important enough that you want to make sure it's been given proper thought and analysis.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 10:04AM
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You will have to make your own decision of what you end up doing. But, I thought I'd share our DD and SIL's experience. They have a home in SW Indiana with a west-facing two-story wall of windows. It's a gorgeous home and the living area with the west-facing windows/doors are wonderful to look out over their 18 acres which is surrounded by woods. The view is marvelous. However . . . the summer sun in the afternoons and evenings are brutal inside when it is hot outside.

We are living with them while our house is being built. The last two summers with extreme heat waves of 90-100 degree weather, it was difficult to sit in their family room during the afternoon with the sun. Every evening for dinner we have to close the curtains to prevent sweating at the table. :-) In addition, even though they have geothermal HVAC, they said their electric bill is higher in the summer because of the sun coming in.

Because of their experience, we purposely tried to avoid west-facing windows. In fact, we only have one in our home in one of the bedrooms and it does seem to get shaded by a large tree.

Good luck in trying to solve this!

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 10:23AM
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A good sized covered porch will work wonders. You must buy the lot with the old trees. I wish I had some.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 10:51AM
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In case anyone is interested in how wooded our lot is, Here's a link to our development.

Here is a link that might be useful: Neighborhood -Lot 35

This post was edited by Michelle1973 on Wed, Jun 4, 14 at 15:42

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 11:28AM
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Michelle...I couldn't see your lot because I don't have Adobe flash on my iPad but your development looks really nice. Love Michigan! Love the cool summer weather. I'm jealous of your location ;-). In Northern Michigan I'm sure it won't be such a big issue.

Nightowlrn--I think you can work around the west back if you love the property, but I hate to say it...not with those 2 story west west windows. How is your 1 acre lot shaped? You could do something where a wing has South windows. Can you show us your platt?

We built the house we are in now 10 yrs ago. Tons of South back windows with walkout basement. It is a great house but honestly I have a back porch that is unusable much of the day in the summer due to the heat.

We have a lake cabin with an East back which we love. The house isn't much but the orientation and the view are wonderful. In the afternoon and evening our lake house is wonderful in the back.

So for our new house we chose property with an East back. Yes we will have to deal with a West front, but we have a front porch 10 ft deep and plan to use plantation shutters on the front windows. Our lot is also wooded and we will do our best to keep shade on the front by saving trees. I like the idea of getting an arborist involved.

Brian Knight---please give more details on both "Also specify as Low SHGC windows as you can. Have a third party do a Manual J and D to ensure that the rooms have adequate HVAC design." Thank you!!

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 12:20PM
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Michelle - How big is your lot? Due to the shape, and if it is large enough, it looks like you have more than one side that the backyard could face. Do the rules say the front of the house has to face the street? Ours don't so the front of our house does not face the street. Instead we have a bit of a winding driveway. Having the back of the house face due south was very important to us.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 1:47PM
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Our dining room (where we eat most dinners) has windows facing West. Even with some neighbors trees in the way, the sun is brutal. Not so much the heat but the sun is shining right into the eyes of someone at the table. We have to close the blinds and turn on the lights to eat dinner.

That sun tool is great!

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 1:58PM
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Dekeoboe, it's a 2 acre lot. We are actually angling the house towards the south a bit, so that should help.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2014 at 3:45PM
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Window tuning per orientation is something few designers or builders pay attention to but should. Its one of the lowest hanging fruits available to decrease energy costs and environmental footprints and increase comfort on new builds. Basically, you want high SHGC glass (>.4 or higher) for southern facing windows and Low SHGC for western windows (<.35 or lower there are many considerations in this arena mostly having to do with climate. for instance my region i usually want similar shgc numbers on the east and west but your colder you would probably be better off a higher east. stuff is much more involved than most deal which leads me suggest checking adjusting design an energy modeling program like resfen third party rater.>A third party energy rater is also who should perform the Manual J and D calculations which are similar software programs used to size the heating and cooling system and duct design and sizing. Never trust your HVAC contractor to do the typical "rule of thumb" and best guesses for you. The easiest way to achieve all this is to insist on Energy Star certification and have the certifier or rater run the software in the planning stages.

Here is a link that might be useful: GBA window selection link

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 5:49PM
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The rear of my current house faces due South and our new hour the rear will face due SouthWest. According to the sun calc app - we'll get direct sunshine onto the back of the house at about 2pm - when the sun is high. As it moves west, the very tall trees we have (about 150 ft from the house), plus the setting angle of the sun, should minimize the blinding western sun.

I think the problem when you face due west is that the sun goes down so low, and there is nothing you can do to stop it from coming into the house blinding you, because of the angle.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 10:19PM
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.30 or less shgc is what I've recommended to my clients.
of course this is hot humid La.

exterior shading beats the heat before it gets into
the house. awnings, porches, plantings all are great
things to do.

for instance I have banana trees in front of my west facing
living room windows, banana trees are tall enough now
to provide the shade..and die back in winter so that
I get some sun in the lr in the afternoons. inside plants
need that winter sun.

either beat the heat before it gets inside..
or buy the lowest shgc & ufactor windows you

best of luck.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 8:14PM
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The lot is a rectangle. 125 wide (N/S) x 360 deep (E/W). The road is the east direction. There are electric wires at around the 160 foot mark -- we are going to ask about the rules for the wires and where we can build if we pay to have them buried. 160 sounds like a lot of depth already, but we can't build closer to the road than the average of the houses on each side -- they are all in a line and about 70 feet from the road.

If we can build behind the wires, I think we can tilt the house enough. There is an amazing oak tree in the front half that would preclude any house tilting in front of the wires, so the back would be dead on west ...There is just no way I can be responsible for killing it, so we will keep looking if that is a deal breaker.

We are looking at ditching the 2 story back windows and putting on a nice covered porch along the back and maybe sky lights over the kitchen to bring the light back in somehow.

We walked the back last evening. It is worth every penny if we can work it out.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 1:26AM
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thank goodness you are so far north....it might work out
but would not be a first choice for me.....

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 10:31PM
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