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Sun & Shade Harvesting Principles

These guidelines aim to help you develop a deeper understanding of, and reciprocal relationship with, the seasonally changing path of the sun and other stars, so you can more consciously collaborate with other lives that have adapted with these patterns, to grow and build in ways that benefit you and all life.

1. Prioritize living strategies over mechanical/non-living strategies
Unlike non-living strategies, living strategies get better over time, and they can reproduce and repair themselves. Additionally, they typically provide more diverse and dynamic services and potential than non-living strategies.

For example, plants are living solar panels that utilize the sun’s energy to create food and grow. The plants get more productive as they grow, while also cleaning the air, producing oxygen, sequestering carbon, creating myriad habitats for more life, moderating temperature extremes, generating beauty, and on and on.
While non-living, manufactured photovoltaic (PV) solar panels degrade and become less productive with time; and only produce power and shade.

2. Prioritize free & passive over costly & active systems
By utilizing free, passive strategies to cool and heat a home or growing space (like strategic shading that shades out the summer sun, while letting in the winter sun) you can reduce or eliminate the need for costly active strategies like air conditioners and furnaces.
At minimum, this way you’ll reduce the size, and thus the cost and negative environmental footprint of the active system(s); which occurs in their material extraction, manufacture, transport, or energy consumption.

The use of, and practice with, passive systems empowers us as we learn how to meet more of our needs with what is already freely at hand. This then enables us to see, and act on, more such potential.

3. Enhance microclimates in ways that enhances the macroclimate and the lives in both
Strive to make the microclimate of your home and garden more comfortable and healthier in ways that also improves the comfort and health of your community’s larger macroclimate and that of our planet, rather than achieving a temporary microclimate enhancement at the expense of macroclimate harm.

For example, you can cool your home and street in summer and heat it in winter with strategic shade trees that can do the same for the surrounding neighborhood and planet. Irrigate those trees with passively harvested rainfall and stormwater runoff, and you’ll also clean and recharge local water supplies, reduce flooding, and grow more resilient food harvests.
Contrast that approach to purchasing a larger air conditioner which consumes more power & money, and makes more noise; or a larger wood stove that consumes more wood & money, and emits more smoke.

4. Prioritize strategies/practices that benefit life in all seasons, rather than favoring one season at the expense of another
For example, strive to enhance summer cooling of a building in ways that also enhance its winter heating (where needed), rather than cooling the home in summer in ways that makes it colder in winter.  

5. Embrace, practice, and promote solar rights – the right to freely access the power and potential of the sun – for all, in all seasons
This way your sun & shade harvesting strategies won’t reduce or eliminate the ability of your neighbors to do likewise or vice versa. Instead, you’ll enable your neighbors with your good example, which can inspire your neighbors to also enable you.

6. Embrace, practice, and promote dark sky rights – the right to freely and clearly access the power and potential of our naked eye-view of the stars, planets, and moon cycles
This way we can all nightly reconnect with the grandeur, inspiration, place-rooting, direction-finding, time-telling, and story-telling/-creating of our galaxy, while also improving both our ability to see, and safety on the ground.

Due to light pollution, 80% of Americans cannot see the Milky Way galaxy from their homes, and it becomes easier for the nefarious to hide in the deeper shadows of the ever-increasing contrast between brighter lights and darker shadows. Yet simple strategies that strategically soften and redirect night lights can bring back our view of the Milky Way and more wonders of the night sky, while also making it easier and safer to see what’s on the ground and in the shadows.

7. Make it easier to do what you want/need to do, and harder to do what you don’t.
For example, consciously choose or build a home (or addition), apartment, or camping spot ideally oriented to the sun to maximize its free, passive summer cooling and winter heating. That way, just the orientation will do the bulk of the work for you. Or simply, make it easier to open a curtain or window to freely/cleanly/non-consumptively heat or cool house/room than it is to consumptively build a fire or turn on an air conditioner, which leads to more pollution.

Said/asked another way, what actions/choices could you incentive to further develop your learning, comfort, and contribution to the environment and community that better sustains you and other life?

8. Design your built and planted environments in a way that just by being there and looking at them one can quickly determine the cardinal directions, the season, their latitude on Earth; and how you are (or could further) consciously collaborating with all of the above.
Nature does this, and so can you. For example, outside of the tropics it is easy to see that different plants at different densities grow on a winter-sun-facing slope compared to a winter-shade-facing slope and its different microclimate. The same happens when we look closely at what grows on an east-facing slope compared to a west-facing slope. And rather than look at a slope, we could look at what grows best on different sides/microclimates of a building or a tree.

Thus if we were to mimic nature, no building or garden designed to work with the sun’s seasonally changing path in the sky should look exactly the same on all sides, because based on their orientation, they would be designed to harvest or deflect the seasonally changing paths of sun, shade, wind, and more as needed. They would be in deeper relationship with their unique place on this planet and its seasonally changing sun paths; and they would be more comfortable, productive, and inspiring.

In this section

Active Sun & Shade Harvesting

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Passive Sun & Shade Harvesting

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For more

See the new, full-color, revised editions of Brad’s award-winning books
– available a deep discount, direct from Brad:

Book Cover #1

Volume 1

Volume 1 has detailed sun & shade harvesting info on:

  • Orienting buildings and landscapes to the sun
  • Designing roof overhangs and awnings to optimize winter sun and summer shade
  • How to choose and size windows to optimize passive heating and cooling
  • Solar arcs
  • Sun & shade traps
  • Maintaining winter sun access with winter-solstice shadow ratios and solar rights
  • Sun angles and path for any latitude and season
  • How to find your way, and true north or south, with the sun and other stars
  • How to place vegetation or structures to maximize natural ventilation or windbreaks
  • Table comparing the energy consumed, water consumed, and carbon emitted of active and passive clothes drying, water heating, food storage & prep, lighting, heating, and cooling strategies.
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