Passive Solar Design Ideal for Coronado Climate

Coronado 1950s bungalow renovated to passive solar design specifications.  

Thinking of renovating your house, or are you interested in a total knock down and rebuild? Have you thought about passive solar design?

Those not yet au fait with passive solar design may automatically think of solar panels on residential roof tops or Earthship monstrosities made from mud and recycled tires, located in the American desert and lived in by Mother Earth worshipping hippies. This is not the case (not that there is anything wrong with solar panels, Earthships, or Mother Earth worshipping hippies for that matter).

The reality is, you may have walked passed a passive solar house today and not even realized. Coronado is home to one such house. A 1950s bungalow designed and renovated in 2011 by Jimmy Sullivan, Principal Designer of CitiZen Design Studio, San Diego.

Jimmy Sullivan earned his degree in architecture at the prestigious Newschool of Architecture + Design, San Diego, in 2002. Jimmy then relocated to San Francisco and over the years worked on numerous residential and commercial projects. In 2007 Jimmy returned to San Diego to form CitiZen Design Studio, with the intention to focus on designing transitional housing for survivors of domestic abuse. Since then Jimmy has expanded his focus into many areas, including sustainable “green” design, which includes passive solar.

Passive solar design takes advantage of the local climate, the site of the dwelling, building materials and clever architectural design techniques to minimize energy use, thus eliminating the need for electricity and gas hungry machines such as air conditioners and heaters.

The definition of passive solar design is simple. “Solar” refers to the sun, and “passive” means without mechanical devices. Basically, through smart design, the house heats and cools itself. Pure passive solar design involves using windows, walls, and floors to collect, store and distribute solar energy in the form of heat during the winter. During summer, solar heat gain is minimized using methods such as cleverly designed window overhangs, and incorporating smart building materials; commonly polished concrete, stone, brick and tile, which have high thermal mass properties. This means these materials absorb and store the sun’s energy to help moderate the internal temperature of the house all year round.

Photo: Jimmy Sullivan 

One does not have to construct a passive solar house as a new build. It is possible to renovate and retrofit a period house, maintaining the integrity of the original design, whilst marrying environmentally friendly and money saving designs. The 1950s bungalow renovation, designed by Jimmy Sullivan, located just two blocks from Glorietta Bay and the Coronado Golf Course, is one such example. Sullivan explains, “This client was looking to renew some contemporary spirit into their 1950s mid-century beach bungalow... with its passive solar design, strategic daylighting, natural air flow, solar tube skylights, bamboo flooring and other eco-friendly finishes- the home is not just beautiful, but it’s smart too.”

Coronado 1950s bungalow before renovation. Photo Credit: Jimmy Sullivan 

A developer, with the intention of renovating and reselling, originally purchased the Coronado bungalow. Sullivan explains, “The house had great natural light but a very choppy floor plan which obstructed the natural light. The first thing that had to be resolved was the floor plan to allow the light to travel through the house freely. In addition to opening up the plan we added new French doors and new windows at the rear to allow for additional light. All of the windows were replaced with new dual-pane energy efficient windows. Operable skylights and solar tubes were strategically placed to allow for light in darker hallways and bathrooms. By opening up the floor plan and adding additional windows we also allowed for a natural cross breeze.”

Interior of Coronado1950s bungalow before renovation. Photo Credit: Jimmy Sullivan  

Sullivan goes on to explain, “Not only does the cross breeze reduce the need for air conditioning, the operable skylights also help to push any hot air up and out of the skylights on warmer days.”

Due to the age of the age of the bungalow there was no insulation so Sullivan added new R-19 recycled denim insulation at the walls and R-30 denim insulation at the attic made by Bonded Logic. “We used rigid board insulation on the vaulted ceilings that is actually made from recycled materials and completely biodegradable. We replaced an old water heater with a new efficient tank-less water heater by Rinnai.

Kitchen renovation of Coronado 1950s bungalow. Photo Credit: Jimmy Sullivan 

Sullivan selected bamboo wood flooring throughout the bungalow by Plyboo.

Sullivan also opted to use recycled and local materials in the renovation with the intention of reducing the carbon footprint on the environment, “The tile for the kitchen backsplash is made from recycled glass from modwalls…we sourced things locally or from within the U.S. as well when possible.”

In terms of electrical appliances Sullivan says, “All of the new appliances are energy-star rated…all of the lighting throughout is LED as well with ceiling fans in every room for air circulation. The washer and dryer are a stackable water saving unit as well.”

Bathroom renovation of Coronado 1950s bungalow. Photo Credit: Jimmy Sullivan 

When asked if the initial outlay for constructing or renovating a passive solar house or even just a “greener” home is significantly more expensive compared with a standard house, Sullivan explains, “It's a bit more expensive but not anything like it used to be. I think 10 years ago, when so much of this was new to contractors and the industry, it was definitely more expensive to ‘build green’. I used to have to go through lot of effort to convince clients to try new products or systems or convince them of the long-term benefits of something like replacing their windows or putting solar panels on their home. But now I have clients who are very educated on sustainable design and the various tax incentives.”

Sullivan elaborates, “I think people are realizing how important their homes are, they care about the environment and their health and they're seeing that sustainable design can add value to their home. I also think for a long time people pictured an environmentally friendly home as something that looked very different or maybe wasn't attractive. I think we've definitely proven that that's not the case at all and that sustainable design can be quite beautiful when done well.”

Exterior renovation of Coronado 1950s bungalow. Photo Credit: Jimmy Sullivan

Sullivan has a simple philosophy for business, “Do good work and be kind to people - I think it goes a long way.” He also believes that “great projects take a good client, a great designer, and a really great contractor. If you have those three elements you're set. Clients who understand the value of design and who are interested in learning more about sustainable design and architecture are always encouraged to contact me.”

When asked if Passive Solar is a niche market or starting to become a trend, Sullivan responded, “For me I think passive solar is intuitive to any designer who cares about the environment. When you begin any design project (new construction or a remodel) you start with your site/home and then you study how the sun moves and how light and air move through a site or house. For me natural light is so critical to how a space feels, especially in Southern California where we are so often striving to build that relationship with the outdoors. We're so lucky to have the climate we have and we should be taking advantage of it with the design of our homes. I don't see it as a niche market or trend. I see it as something that every designer should be implementing when possible. Good sustainable design has the ability to create wonderful and harmonious spaces, people just never know it's there, they just feel it. People gravitate toward spaces in homes that feel warm - and often those spaces are the ones filled with great light and a good breeze.”

For further information about CitiZen Design Studio, Jimmy Sullivan and his outreach efforts click here.

Siobhan Bailie

Staff Writer

Views: 592

Tags: business, community

Comment by Community Manager on January 16, 2014 at 2:14pm

This is absolutely fascinating to me.  Thanks for sharing the story with us!

Comment by Siobhan Bailie on January 16, 2014 at 5:06pm

Thanks Brooke! I hope our readers find it fascinating too! 

Comment (keep it clean & on topic)

You need to be a member to add comments. It only takes 60 seconds to join. Get breaking news alerts!

Join News | Coronado's Local Newspaper

Support Local Business

Advertise on

Advertise on

© 2015

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service