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Is Exterior Shading Right for My Home?

Though still more common in Europe, we are finally starting to catch up across the pond, as it is becoming more common to add exterior shading to homes. The science is sound, and there are plenty of clear benefits. So how do you decide what type of exterior shading system would be great for your home?

November 13, 2019

The Northwest is not really known for sun. When anyone finds out I’m from Seattle, they ask how I cope with the rain within the first few minutes of our conversation. While us locals like to keep them thinking that it is horrible all year round and they should absolutely not move here, the reality is the climate here is really quite wonderful for large portions of the year. It is not only clear and bright, but we get a lot of solar exposure. West-facing homes with views out to the stunning Olympic Mountain range are often hammered by the sun in the afternoon.

So, what do you do about that? Trust me, not doing something isn’t really an option when it feels like you’re going to light on fire in your living room at 6 pm.

Exterior shading is fairly common in Europe and becoming more common here. It is good science (yay science!) and a great idea for your home.

Here are a few of the basic strategies I employ when considering if exterior shading is right for a project. This applies in principle to single-family residential projects, and to larger commercial projects — for the most part, it just means different grades of products.

Assess the Exterior Envelope

The first step is assessing what your exterior envelope looks like. This means ensuring you have well-insulated walls and high-performing windows. They’re your biggest line of defense. On passive house projects, these are going to be robust systems that act as a strong thermal barrier. Even if you don’t go "full" passive house, you can employ many of these strategies on any home.

It is also not uncommon to upgrade to triple-pane windows, which deliver outstanding performance to keep your space comfortable. On a remodel where you have older single-pane windows, the first step really should be upgrading those, even if you can’t upgrade the insulation. Shading in front of a single pane window will help, but you’ll get a much better return on your investment by starting with the windows.

Determine the Purpose of the Shading

Shading can help with a few issues, so it's important to determine what you’re using the shading for. It can provide covered outdoor area that not only shades the house but also provides a covered outdoor area that protects you from sun and rain. Shading can also simply reduce the solar exposure hitting your windows which can reduce your heating load. It is also a simple tool to help reduce the damage that solar radiation can cause to furniture and fabrics (although usually, an interior shading system is a better solution for that).

Once you determine why you’re using a shading strategy, then you can determine if energy modeling is useful. Understanding what windows get hit with the most sun can help determine your design strategy. On passive house projects, we can use sophisticated energy modeling software to help identify where shading will have the biggest impact and reduce our energy needs.

Research Your Product Options

Finally, you’ll want to figure out what product is best. There are a lot of options and they have numerous design implications based on how they’re being used or installed. On a new home, we can easily design a pocket in the wall above the windows so shading devices slide up and away when not in use. There are vertical options which can sit proud of the facade and turn to follow the sun. There are awnings that pop out above a window. There are sun canopies that extend out from the house and provide shading and a generous covered area.

Each one of these comes with cost implications and various levels of quality and complication. Navigating this is part of what an architect does (amazingly, we love diving deep into this sort of wonky technical stuff), and a key final piece in ensuring that your exterior shading works best for your project.

Exterior shading can be a beautiful and effective strategy for providing a more comfortable space. It can reduce your energy load and monthly operating costs, provide a comfortable spot to relax, and add architectural interest to your façade.

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