There are some ways you can design or adapt your home to use natural process to your advantage. Three of the most common are detailed here, with thanks to Green Doors householder Rob for explanations and drawings.
This is about heavy stuff (!) which takes longer to warm up but holds the heat for longer. For example a thick stone wall or a clay tiled floor can be beneficial.
First you need to consider how you are going to use the house. Are you a professional couple only in a few evenings a week, a stay at home parent or a retired couple (very short list but to get you thinking).
Essentially the more time you spend in the house the more advantage you gain from thermal inertia exposed thermal mass, which slows the heating and cooling cycle. The embodied heat can come from solar heat gain or through heating systems
Example: A evening workshop would do well to have no exposed mass and be insulated internally in a sort of bubble, when you turn the heating on the space very quickly becomes warm, but as soon as you open the door it is gone again! Whereas a retired couple’s living space would be better to have underfloor heating and exposed mass so that the space self regulates its temperature to a median point
Solar Heat Gain
This is about deliberately using the sun to directly heat the building.
This needs careful consideration to ensure you don’t overheat. It also uses expanses of glass, which whilst they allow the warmth of the sun in, can lead to significant radiant cold in the winter (think of a conservatory as an extreme example). You need to consider the orientation of the windows and shading before you can decide how big to make them.
Winter and summer azimuths are a key consideration – In the winter the UK sun is at about 15 degrees above the horizon, where as in the summer it will be at about 62 degrees. As such you can use solar shading to stop overheating in the summer and yet allow the sun in during the winter. Deciduous trees are another great way to shade windows in the summer but allow the sun through in the winter (remember they grow so think about the lifetime plan)
Opening a window or vent to allow hot air to escape is an example of this but it will only be effective if certain conditions are met.
It is a great solution for the summer time, which is really simple. Hot air rises so your stair well will allow the hot air to rise up through the house. If you put a window, which can be opened, at the top of the space you can let out the hot air and create what is called passive stack ventilation, (see below). In the winter, you will want to regulate air entering the stair void to stop this happening but in the summer all that hot air flows into that space and rises through the house.
How it works: Both the difference in air pressure and either the suction caused by wind passing over the roof window, or through two windows on either side of the house that allow a cross draft, mean that air is pulled up through the house.
Many tall terraced houses can utilise this and some were even designed to. It's also great for houses where MVHR systems wouldn’t be practical.