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Here Comes the Sun

In Here Comes the Sun: Solar Homes for Newfoundland, director and narrator Fred Hollingshurst asks: “are new homes [in St. John’s] being built to meet the demands of an energy-scarce future?” His question comes in the context of the soaring oil and energy prices of the 1980s, which saw oil peak at $100 US/barrel. He answers his question by looking at examples of home-design alternatives for Newfoundland.

The film opens with comparison shots of typical suburban two-story and split-level developments and the “Parkdale Enersave Homes” (Angus Campbell, architect) by Parkdale Construction Ltd. These boast high insulation, wood energy, waste heat recovery, and passive solar design elements, as well as small greenhouses for extended gardening and solar collection. It is unclear where exactly these homes are, and how they fared commercially.

The bulk of the film centers on the house of Dr. John Evans (a biologist at Memorial University) whose solar home near Logy Bay is under construction at the time of filming. In interviews, Evans and architect/co-designer Robert Mellin (of Tilting and Newfoundland Modern fame) describe the passive-solar features of the house.

The home’s windows are on the south and east walls (within 45 degrees of south) only. These are arranged in a series of bay configurations with a greenhouse,¬†acting as a solar collector, covering them. Heated air in the greenhouse is drawn by fans into the attic, where it is further heater, and distributed down the back of the house. This air is finally filtered through a CMU thermal mass at the bottom of the house for heat storage and then expelled back into the greenhouse. The house’s walls are super-insulated (12″) and its windows feature a pocket blind to prevent heat gain in summer and heat loss at night.¬† Two wood stoves provide supplementary heat in winter. The greenhouse allows, according to Evans, a 9-month growing season.

The house is designed with Newfoundland vernacular in mind, exhibiting a saltbox shape, traditional wooden design elements, and a dominant kitchen. Major living areas are located in the sunny south, while unoccupied spaces, such as stairways and baths, are to the north.

The home’s design is explained through the use of models and diagrams demonstrating sun penetration (on a helioscope), site/solar orientation, air circulation, and room layout.

Mellin predicts at one point that solar homes will become standard in 10 years (roughly 1995). Tellingly, it is now 30 years later, we have seen energy prices peak above those seen in the 80s, and we are still far from seeing solar principles applied to most or even many new homes.