1978 Solar Style House in Wayland

The Sterling Solar Model A

Wayland architect, Bill Sterling, designed one of Wayland’s first solar houses in the so-called “blizzard of ’78.” He likes to call it his Model A Solar Style House, giving a nod to a Model A Ford roadster that he restored when he was sixteen. In 2012, he finished the

original vision of the Solar Style House with

Photovoltaic Voltaic roof panels that produced enough solar-generated electricity to offset the entire house’s annual electrical usage.

A solar style house is a design form derived from roof pitch and solar orientation, window proportioning and shading devices that make the house a ”machine for collecting solar energy.”

Because glass is not well insulated, it can be a major source of unwanted heat gain and heat loss, making for inefficient envelope design unless great care is taken with regard to its solar orientation. Best practice is to face its largest area of glass 

south, to place moderate amounts of glass east and west (7% of the wall area) and minimize glass facing

north (under 5%).

Sterling’s original solar style design, Model A, orients full-height window walls directly south to maximize solar heat gain and adds 4’

overhangs on the south elevation to shade the windows from hot summer sunlight. In the summer, due to the high sun angle, sunlight

doesn’t even touch the glass, thereby eliminating unwanted solar heat gain in the warmer months. The low sun angle of winter months hits the glass and generates enough heat to warm up

the whole house during the day. In the

winter the sun comes into the main living spaces all 15 feet to the inside wall, heating up the black porcelain tile flooring. That is when the family cat used to follow the sun around the room lounging and napping in direct sunlight all winter long while outside the windows there was snow

and ice and chilly winds. Insulating shades are pulled every winter night to retain the heat

gained during the day. The black slate tiles storing heat and re-radiating it back into the

room at night.

Stylistically, the house was a late 20th century derivative of late 19th century Stick Style

and Shingle Style defined by Yale historian, Vincent Scully. The Stick Style, craftsman

approach of exposed structural post and beam framing was implemented on the south

side of the house whereas much glass as possible could be inserted between the framing

members. The Shingle Style was implemented to enclose the east, west, and north facades

in a sort of “ stretched skin” of well-insulated shingle clad siding and very few punched

windows where daylight is needed inside.

Sterling has been employing his solar style on residential and commercial designs since he started his own firm in 1980. More recently he has added the latest methods of superinsulated

walls, thermal breaks, airtight construction and high-efficiency mechanical

systems to his design toolbox, approaching net-zero energy design in some cases.

Sterling concludes about the

Model A Solar House, “It is

very gratifying to know that

the design principles that I

used in 1978 are still

effective. It is exciting that the

original solar house can be

made even more productive

and fully sustainable with the

latest photovoltaic

technology.”