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Title: Orienting the House: A Study of the Placing of the House with Relation to the Sun's Rays

Author: American Face Brick Association

Release date: July 29, 2021 [eBook #65955]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: American Face Brick Association, 1922

Credits: Charlene Taylor, Donald Cummings and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)


Orienting the House

A study of the placing
of the house with
relation to the
sun’s rays

Price Twenty-five Cents

American Face Brick Association
130 North Wells Street

© 1922. Eben Rodgers, President, A. F. B. A.

Detail of Residence, Sheridan Road, Chicago, Illinois
Walter Miller, Architect


Orienting the House

In selecting a home site, there are a number of very important things to be considered. When once you settle the point of convenient accessibility to your work or place of business, you doubtless think first of the neighborhood in which you and your family are going to live, the kind of people about you, the church, school, and library privileges, and such like questions.

Then you will consider the physical character of the place, its slopes and levels, its trees, its gardens, its outlook, or, in a word, its attractiveness from an aesthetic point of view; to which are closely related the practical questions of pure water supply, good drainage, and shelter from the extremes of weather. No matter how attractive otherwise a locality might be, you would not consider it for a moment unless the conditions of sanitation and healthfulness were fully met; and you would want some natural protection from the severe storms of winter as well as from the blazing heat of summer. In the winter you would want as little breeze and as much sun, and in the summer as little sun and as much breeze as possible.

Finally, in selecting your site, it would be well to have in mind the house you intend to build and the way you want it to face. If possible, get your house plan first and select your lot accordingly. Or, at any rate, picture it all out in your mind to guide you in selecting your location. By a little planning and forethought you may not only secure the outlook you want but the exposures to sun or breeze most desired. You cannot change[4] climatic conditions or topography, but, to an appreciable extent, you can adjust the location of your house to them.

The Orientation Chart, here given, shows the points of sunrise and sunset, on the horizon, midsummer and midwinter, as well as the direction of the sunlight each successive hour of the midsummer and midwinter day. The chart will thus aid you, so far as conditions permit, in facing your house so as to get the sun or shade where you want it.

Chart to be used in connection with text of booklet, “Orienting the House”

© 1922. Eben Rodgers, President, A. F. B. A.

Orientation Chart

Issued by American Face Brick Association

—it Pays

130 North Wells Street, Chicago, Ill.

In the first place, you see three broad, concentric circles, on the outside of which the rising and setting sun is depicted for both midsummer and midwinter day. The figures, 30°–50°, alongside of the sun represent degrees of north latitude, wherever you may happen to live, which, with the exception of most of Florida and southern Texas, cover the United States. The short arrows show the direction of the sun’s rays at sunrise and sunset.

Garden Side of Residence, Westbury, L. I.
Peabody, Wilson & Brown, Architects

The inner circle represents your[5] horizon, and the degrees marked upon it show the points of sunrise and sunset, north or south of the direct east and west line. These angular distances, in terms of degrees, are called amplitudes, north or south, and must not be confused with the degrees of latitude on the earth’s surface, indicated by the numbers along side of the sun, though intimately dependent upon them. The amplitude of the horizon point, where the sun rises and sets from time to time during the year, always depends upon the latitude on the earth’s surface where you happen to live, as may be seen by following with your eye the direction of the arrows of latitude through the amplitude circle. Starting from the number indicating the latitude where you live, trace the arrow until it touches the amplitude circle. You can then read the degree on it which shows how far north or south of the east and west line the sun rises or sets. We are indebted to Professor Philip Fox, of the Dearborn Astronomical Observatory at Evanston, Illinois, for determining these points.

The two outer circles are sun-dials for midsummer and midwinter day at the 40th degree of north latitude; and, if you imagined them pivoted on their rising and setting points and tipped up from the south to represent the slanting path of the sun during the day, they show the direction from which the sun is shining during successive hours of the day (or night on the other side of the world). The shaded portions of these circles represent night, which for all northern latitudes is short in summer and long in winter, as the day is short in winter and long in summer. If you examine the hour spaces[6] on the winter dial of your winter night, you will find them exactly like those on the summer dial of your summer day. So also your winter day hours are spaced like your summer night hours. South of the equator, people have precisely the same experiences only in the reverse order. New Zealanders, we fancy, wear straw hats in January and fur caps in July. If you liked summer well enough and cared to move, you could live in a perpetual summer on our little globe. It is probable, however, that, like most people, you rather prefer the change of seasons, in spite of occasional extremes.

The irregular hour spaces on the dials would make it appear that the sun moves around the earth in a sort of jerky way. On the contrary, it moves, or rather the earth rotates, at an absolutely uniform rate, but the tilt of the sun’s path to your horizon line gives you at certain points a fore-shortened view by which the sun seems to cover various distances at various stages of its course.

The sun-dial time is used on our chart as it more universally applies at different meridians on a given latitude, than does our standard time which, for the sake of timepiece uniformity, is a compromise based on mean solar time. As the earth’s orbit is such as to make the sun gain a little or lose a little in crossing the meridian each day during the year, the total annual time of the sun is averaged into uniform daily periods, which in turn are divided into 24 uniform hours and referred to certain meridians the world round, about an hour apart. To show the exact position of the sun in strict agreement with these standardized hours[7] would require a special chart for every degree of longitude, and then be of no especial value for our present purpose; for while the astronomer must have exact time to the fraction of a second, the differences between watch and sun-dial are not enough at any time to affect essentially our problem. So that, if you do not find the hours marked on our summer and winter sun-dials, at any time, exactly agreeing with your watch, you may, nevertheless, trust them to show you accurately enough from what direction the sun is shining at different hours of the day.

Residence, St. Paul, Minnesota
James Alan MacLeod, Architect

The chart is drawn for midsummer and midwinter day on the 40th degree of north latitude, which is taken as[8] the best average line that runs midway of the country from ocean to ocean, passing through or near New York City (N); Philadelphia, Pa; Columbus and Cincinnati (S), Ohio; Indianapolis, Ind. (S); Springfield, Ill. (S); St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo. (S); the northern boundary of Kansas; Denver, Colo. (S); Salt Lake City, Utah (N); Carson City, Nev. (S); and Sacramento, Calif. (S). With the exception of St. Louis and Sacramento, which are something over a degree south of this line, all of these places are either on it or within less than a degree of it, north or south.

Residence, Buffalo, New York
Edw. Henrich, Architect

You will see, as drawn on the chart, how the sun’s rays morning and evening, summer and winter, are indicated streaming out in the direction of the latitude arrows[9] marked 40°. If you live on or near any of the other degrees of latitude, indicated by the other arrows, imagine the center of the sun slipped up or down to that point, and then trace the rays lightly with a soft pencil across the chart in lines parallel with the respective arrows.

“Home of Beauty,” Design 101, Rear View

Of course, if you make any change, all four suns must be moved in a corresponding way, for you will observe how beautifully symmetrical the chart is. For any given northern latitude, the midsummer sun rises and sets north of due east and west at exactly corresponding points on the eastern and western horizons, and these points in turn exactly correspond, six months later, with those for midwinter day south of due east and west.


And this exact correspondence east and west, for the day, and north and south, for the season, will obtain for any day in the year, or for any place you take on the earth’s surface. Of course, it must be noted that the time of rising and setting will change with every new position taken. If you draw the midsummer sun down and the midwinter sun correspondingly up until they coalesce at “E” and “W,” you have the equinoxes about March 21st and September 21st, with the sun rising and setting due east and west, and equal day and night in any part of the world except the poles.

Residence, Highland Park, Illinois
N. Max Dunning, Architect

Living where you do, somewhere between 30° and 50° north latitude, the sun, summer or winter, will never pass overhead at noon but shine on a slant from the[11] south, very much more in winter than summer. This slant of the sun, however, will not concern you practically so much in placing your house, as will the time and direction of sunrise at the extremes of June and December, and the position of the sun the successive hours of the day, at those times of the year.

You have certain rooms in which you especially want the sun, morning or afternoon; or a porch you want as much in the shade as possible, let us say. In tracing the direction of the sun’s rays, do not think of them as converging or as spreading out. Think of them rather as coming in great, broad, parallel bands so that no matter how large your house may be, the moment one side gets the sun, the opposite parallel side falls into shade. The broad band of parallel lines streaming from the sun, as seen on the chart, is meant to illustrate this.

Now cut a piece of light cardboard in the shape of your house, at a greatly reduced scale, with all its porches and projections, as, for example, the blank form on the chart. Attach it with a pin at the center of the chart, so it may be easily turned. First place your house facing directly east. You will see on midsummer day that the north and east elevations will get the first morning sun. About 8 o’clock the sun will leave the north side and begin to illuminate the south elevation. At noon, the sun will pass from the east to the west side of the house, and then, at 4 o’clock, leave the south and creep back to the north side of the house, shining on west and north sides from then on until its setting between 7 and 8 o’clock in the evening.


Residence, Glencoe, Illinois
Robert E. Seyfarth, Architect

At the opposite season of the year, that is, in midwinter, your house, still faced directly east, will have the first sun between 7 and 8 o’clock in the morning on the east and south sides. At noon, the east side will be deserted for the west, and from then on the south and west sides of the house will have the sun until its setting between 4 and 5 o’clock. Thus, in the winter, the north side of your house will get no sun at all. This would hardly be a good place for the kitchen, though it would be well enough in the summer, as the sun would be out of it by 8 o’clock in the morning and not return until 4 o’clock in the afternoon when its rays are shorn of much of their midday strength. You know, of course, that during the changing seasons or the changing hours of the day, the sun’s warmth depends largely on the slant of its rays. In the summer, the north side would[13] be a good place for a shady porch most of the day. However, the east side of the house would give you a shady porch from noon till sunset. But a porch around the northeast corner would give you shade from 8 o’clock in the morning clear through the day until sunset.

By turning your house one way or another from this direct east and west position, you can see what modifications of sun and shade you get. Suppose you turn it northeast, almost facing the morning sun on midsummer day. The front of the house would directly get the rising sun between 4 and 5 o’clock in the morning. At 6 o’clock, the south front would come into the sunlight. At half-past 10 o’clock, the east front would fall into shade for the rest of the day, while the west front would begin to catch the sun. By 2:30 o’clock in the afternoon, the south side would be in the shade for the rest of the day and the north side would get the sun from then on till sunset, between 7 and 8 o’clock. A porch on the east front of this house would be in the shade all the summer day after half-past 10 o’clock. But, in the winter, it would not be so fortunate as the house faced to the cardinal points, for, as just indicated, it would get the sun only on two sides all day long; and yet the summer advantages might more than compensate. Try slighter turns than those suggested, and you may get just the result you want for a given room or porch.

The placing of your house for the sun is really a problem of settling on the rooms or porches you want favored, and then letting the other portions of the house take care of themselves. In determining these questions of sun[14] and shade on your house, due consideration must be given to neighboring structures, trees, or portions of the house that might otherwise get the sun if it were not for certain extensions, such as bays, porches, L’s, and the like. Of course, nearby hills or mountains would have a marked effect on just when you got the sun in the morning or lose it in the evening, no matter where or when the sun really rose and set.

Bungalow, New Orleans
Nathan Kohlman, Architect

As already suggested, if you live on or near any of the other degrees of north latitude marked, imagine the center of the suns slipped around to that degree, and then draw light pencil lines across the chart parallel with the respective arrows. Do the same also for other[15] parts of the year than the solstices which are shown here. For each succeeding month, move the center of the suns down and up from the solsticial points about a third of the distance to “E.” At “E” the sun has reached either equinox and will rise directly in the east and set directly in the west. Remember that for several days on either side of a given position of the sun, there will be no essential change in the direction of its rays that you need practically to consider.

But at the times, other than the solstices, while you can thus get the direction of the rising and setting sun, the sun-dial of our chart won’t exactly apply. What happens is that as the sun moves down or up from the solstice to the equinox, the summer hour spaces grow more uniform, while the winter hours grow somewhat longer. But with the general direction of the morning and afternoon light settled for the two solsticial extremes, the hour position of the sun during the between seasons will not be of so much importance.

Of course, you can’t have everything in this world exactly your own way, but by studying carefully the Orientation Chart in connection with your plans for building a home, you may get many valuable hints for selecting your lot and locating your house which will lead to arrangement of lasting satisfaction to you in the coziness, comfort, and attractiveness of your home. A sunny corner or a shady spot, where you need it and when you need it, may cure an invalid or develop a poet, as the case may be and as the years go on.

The Right Kind of House to Orient

Before you have the problem of orienting your home, you have the more important problem of deciding on the kind of home you intend to build. It is one of the most, if not the most, important question you have to settle.

In the first place, it is an economic question, for you want to be sure of getting value received for the money you expend. To do so, the house you build must, aside from its satisfactory design, be permanent; it must be easily and economically maintained; it must be comfortable and safe against fire; and it must be attractive. In a word, it must give you satisfaction in every way, inasmuch as you and your family are going to be in it a long time; or, if circumstances compel you to move, you want the house to make a persuasively attractive appeal to the intending renter or purchaser.

Such a house you can build of brick, the endurance of which has been demonstrated through thousands of years. “By frost, nor fire, nor flood, nor even time are well burned clays destroyed.” This permanence of brick construction means a saving on insurance rates, on upkeep, and on depreciation, while the material lends itself to the most beautiful and varied artistic effects. “Strength and beauty,” the essential characteristics of all good building, may be fully met in brick construction.

If you have not already seen The Story of Brick, you should send for a copy, as you will find in it many valuable suggestions.

American Face Brick Association
130 North Wells Street

Rogers & Company, Chicago and New York

back cover

Transcriber’s Note:

Obvious printer’s, punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were silently corrected.