Five Micro-Climate Tips On How To Choose And Design An Energy Efficient Building Plot

Micro-Climates should play a big part when considering building a house, but especially when planning a passive or energy-efficient house design. Since I posted my design-process and my first small house designs I received your kind feedback and questions in regards to sorting out or choosing a building plot. You are absolutely right, I jumped right into the designing process but you have to forgive me, as an architect it's just so exciting to get right into the designing process. But of course we should start considering things early and look at the sustainable design aspects relating to natural daylight, building massing and making the most of the suns warming energy as well as micro climate when choosing the plot.


A Micro-Climate is what it says on the tin, a climate that applies to a smaller area. This is generally caused by something specific to this area and could be as tiny as a hole in a log providing the best circumstances for mushrooms to grow. 


On a much larger scale this could be a mountain, a forest or a lake and since building our very first shelters mankind has always sought to make the most of these natural features, so here are my five tips and tricks to bear in mind when you are selecting your building site, things to consider when you add buildings or landscaping to your plot or are even just looking to find the best spot for outside seating in your garden. 

First -  Try to live on the right side of the mountain, your vegetable garden will love you for it and reward you with plenty of fresh greens. You will benefit from that too as you will get a lot more sunshine, natural heat and light for the building itself, on the south facing slope of a mountain or hillside.

Trees provide shelter and Micro Climates Sketch by Heidi Mergl Architect
Tree provide shelter from the wind generating Micro-Climate

Third - Directing wind is something to be careful with though as you might have experienced yourself. Wind enters metropolitan areas just like we do in rail corridors or multi lane roads. As we and the wind travel towards the city center these roads get smaller and buildings tend to be taller basically squeezing the wind and resulting in higher wind speeds. This is nothing you need to worry about when setting up your building plot but something we architects need to manage carefully to ensure wind does not sweep us of our feed while walking inner city roads. However, it could be something to consider when you are choosing a building plot in a city area.


Passive design with deciduous trees diagram by Heidi Mergl Architect
Deciduous trees let the winter sun through and provide cooling shade in the summer


Fifth - Areas of water, like lakes and large ponds, have a cooling effect on their surroundings. They often even generate light winds, something that comes in handy during the hot summer time. And did you know that the color and materiality of the surfaces around you affect the temperature you feel! Dark artificial surfaces like paving warm up a lot quicker than light, natural surfaces like grass. The pavers will also store the heat a lot longer and giving it back when the sun has long set, basically a thermal mass that could also be used to our benefit as explored in one of my earlier blogs.


Passive Design and Micro Climates around Mountains Sketch by Heidi Mergl Architect
Mountains and hills impact the weather and create different climates on each side

Second - A row of trees or a larger group of trees [ as sketched on the left] create a physical barrier for wind providing shelter on the other side. These pure physics apply to man-made obstructions too, so if you fancy using your outside space be sure to make the most of existing features, or if need be, create your very own. 


Venturi Effect Urban Canyon Diagram by Heidi Mergl Architect
Wind is tunnelled in urban areas resulting in undesired high wind speeds


Forth - Positioning deciduous trees (those are the ones that shed their leaves in autumn) close to your building will be very beneficial to the internal comfort of your building, pictured left. These trees will give you and your building a lot of shade during the summer months, basically keeping the heat out, while letting all that lovely warmth inside when you want it during the cold winter months.


Micro Climate as a result of dark artificial and light natural surfaces diagram by Heidi Mergl Architect
Dark artificial materials store and give bag more heat than light natural surfaces


Food for thought or something you have considered before? Well, happy green planning making the most of these passive design measures that basically come for free if thought of ahead of time.

All the best,




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Winter and Summer Sun Path Sketch by Heidi Mergl Architect

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Rooms in your home set up to use the suns warmth and natural light diagram by Heidi Mergl Architect

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