North, South, East, West: Which Way is Best for a House to Face?

By Bill Primavera

My homebuying history involves three purchases. The first was a wonderful town home in the historic neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights. The second was a large historic home in northern Westchester and my current residence is in a Trump building in the same town in which I have lived for more than 40 years.

But as a realtor, I have been involved with many purchases and sales of homes.

For my first two purchases, I never considered the orientation of the front of the house. The only way to control such considerations is to build your own house and face it as desired while observing local zoning laws and setbacks.

I fell in love with both homes regardless of their orientation. As I think about it, my home in Brooklyn Heights and my first Westchester purchase faced south, while my current condo residence faces east. For the latter, I considered its orientation, and being in a large building, I had only two choices, east or west. I chose east, preferring to have the morning sun and the afternoon shade.

I must confess that the views took precedence. Facing west looked over a row of homes, while facing east provided the lush greenery of trees embracing the Taconic Parkway.

The orientation of a home may not necessarily register with buyers as something of importance when buying or building a home; however, it is critical to maximizing energy efficiency. As a realtor I’ve learned that it can be much more than that.

My very first buyer client insisted that I should only show him a home that faced east. That involved some extra consideration on my part when researching listings. I just did as I was told, but never considered the reasons why until recently. Research identified the pros and cons of facing east. 

Pros: Beautiful sunrises, lots of morning and early afternoon sunshine and warmer east-facing rooms on winter mornings.

Cons: Waking up early to sunlight if your bedroom faces that way, a lot of heat in summertime and rooms facing east will be darker in late afternoon and evening, expending more energy.

If I were house shopping today, I would look for a home with a lot of windows in all directions, so I would be guaranteed excellent cross circulation when they are open.

I do like homes with east-west exposures the best. As I think about it now, when I was home searching for a property in the country, I probably saw some that seemed dark inside, even with the lights on. Probably subconsciously, I automatically rejected those homes. Now I know that orientation of a home impacts energy consumption and the size of heating and air conditioning bills as well as comfort.

As a realtor, I now know that a poorly designed and orientated house will have key living areas shrouded in darkness, increasing the costs of heating and keeping the lights on longer during the day. A well-designed home should have lower energy costs by using as much natural light as possible.

A house orientated to capture sunlight from the north delivers radiant heat inside and makes a big difference when it comes to energy consumption. Maximizing the amount of sunlight falling onto hard surfaces, such as polished concrete or tiles, helps transmit as much thermal heat as possible during cooler weather. These hard surfaces retain heat longer than materials such as wood and carpeting.

You can utilize the amount of natural light which comes into your house through skylights and windows. A very good idea is to have these double-glazed to help reduce heat loss.

When looking to build in southerly climates, look at ways to maximize the northern sunlight. Whereas if you were looking at building a house in the northern part of the country, you would look at ways to reduce radiant heat by adding louvres and blinds and using tree shade.

Many people will consider that facing north has the most impact with direct sunlight. However, the ideal direction for your yard to face is west due to the afternoon sunlight having more impact on the dwelling.

Another key factor to consider is that the sun shines down at a 67-degree angle in summer but at only 32 degrees in winter. By allowing your windows to be set high on the north side and by incorporating overhang shading, you will receive ample privacy, warmth in winter and shade in summer. 

Something else to consider if designing a double storey house – locate the stairs on the northern side and have large windows to capture as much of the sun’s natural heat as possible.

When buying or designing a new home, always consider orientation. You will save on energy bills, increase lifestyle comfort and add value to your property.

Bill Primavera, while a writer and editor, is also a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com. To engage the talents and services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

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