Solar Alpine Home with 3-story Greenhouse Facade

Emanuele Almagioni wanted to build a home in a cold and windy, but very sunny, town high in the Italian Alps that would use the sun to provide all of its heating needs. With winter low temperatures reaching -25°C (-13°F) the home had to be tight enough to hold the heat but exposed enough to capture the sun.

So he built a very tall, thin, 3-story wooden home with an all-glass southern facade for maximum sun exposure and nearly completely closed on the other three sides for maximum insulation. Besides the benefits of the greenhouse effect of all the glass, he also added phase change material (PCM) in some of the windows to absorb the sun’s warmth during the day and then release it at night. The PCM windows are four layers that include a substance with a low melting temperature which melts as it absorbs heat during the day and at night it releases that warmth as it solidifies.

The home is nearly all wood, using prefab OSB panels for structural support and as interior cladding and locally sourced, untreated larch as exterior cladding. Heating is supplied by the sun’s energy and on the rare days when the sun isn’t shining, there’s a wood-burning (though the space is so well-insulated that with 2 hours of burning, the home is usually warm for the day).

Almagioni used recycled materials for much of the furniture, in particular, wine boxes for kitchen and bathroom cabinets and bedside tables. Located in an Aosta Valley Italy village (winter population: 5) at 1750 meters above sea level (5740 square feet), the home mimics the passive solar orientation of the centuries-old homes in the village. Almagioni was inspired by the vernacular architecture here, particularly the ubiquitous porticos which absorb sunlight and protect from the wind.

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4 thoughts on “Solar Alpine Home with 3-story Greenhouse Facade”

  1. Hello.
    You talk about heating in winter by the sun, but what about when it’s summer?
    Is the house overheating or is there a cooling system?

    • It appears that most of the windows can be opened to help ventilate the house, and the phase change glass reflects the heat during the summer.

  2. Great post, Kelly, thank you! Nice to see an example featuring simplicity of construction (using standard store-bought materials, for example) but also making such good use of a simple design to harness passive solar energy.

    Curious if you found details about the footprint for that home? It looks like it could be as small as 16×20, and an insulated slab in those dimensions would minimize concrete for the 3-story sq. footage.


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