What is a Trombe Wall and how much does it cost?

House with trombe wall

When we think about what the most effective natural resource has been in achieving energy efficiency, the sun would have to be up there with the best.

Most people don’t realize just how long we’ve been relying on solar energy to help us out though, and especially when it comes to solar heating, which has been around since ancient times.

As changes in society like wartime fuel shortages and various energy crises throughout history, the sun has proven a valuable asset to have. The Trombe wall is one such significant development when it comes to solar heating, and it’s still used today with many benefits to the environment and homeowner.

What is a Trombe wall and how much does it cost?

A Trombe wall is a structure made of glass and masonry, designed to draw in heat from the sun and then distribute it passively through a building. The cost to install one depends on the size, existing structure, and positioning, but they can cost a few thousand dollars and sometimes more.

Trombe walls are just one of the ways that this early use of solar heat was applied, and since its invention in the 1960s, it’s continued to be a popular fixture in passive and zero energy homes.

If you’ve been thinking about harnessing the sun for your home’s heating needs, we’ve got everything about Trombe walls you ever wanted to know.

What Are Trombe Walls?

trombe wall on house

The Trombe wall was invented in 1967 and implemented into a home in France, but named after the engineer Felix Trombe, who designed it.

A Trombe wall can have slightly different design features, but ultimately is a wall made with a thick glass panel on the exterior of the house that covers a thicker masonry wall on the inside, made of natural materials like concrete or stone.

A Trombe wall is positioned so that the sun shines on it, and as it does, the solar heat passes through the glass and is then absorbed by the masonry wall without re-entering the environment outside. Once there, it passively distributes through the house slowly and effectively, which reduces your reliance on traditional heating systems.

The glass panel is located on the outside of the home and allows the heat to travel in quickly without issues. Compared to a standard house that is made with only a masonry wall, it’s a long process to get this heat to absorb.

The wall is then busy absorbing the heat during the day, and then at night, it can distribute it through the house at a time when most people rely on standard electric heating units.

How Do Trombe Walls Work?

trombe wall benefits

As well as being used to trap heat, a Trombe wall can be used as a load-bearing wall, and in many passive and zero homes they make up a large portion of the building. Once they’ve absorbed the heat, they then distribute it through the home in various ways, with the most common today being vents.

The vents in a Trombe wall house allows the hot air to make its way through the house, while the cool air from outside comes through a bottom vent and aids in circulation. These vents can be adjusted depending on the weather and a home’s needs, with various techniques used to improve energy efficiency even more.

When installing a Trombe wall, a lot of thought needs to go into where they’ll be built. These walls do best when faced toward the equator as it gives them the optimal positioning to absorb more sun during winter and during daylight hours. 

There are several ways to personalize a Trombe wall to your home, including different materials, colors, sizes, and distribution systems. To ensure the most effective installation and the best positioning to capture the sun, it’s advisable to speak with a contractor who deals with these types of passive heating systems specifically.

The Costs Included of Building a Trombe Wall

Although they come with a lot of benefits, it’s not so simple to price and install a Trombe wall in every home. Because there are a lot of variations in size and materials, as well as the existing building to consider, it’s hard to come up with a figure that works as a good estimate for everyone.

Some estimates of a Trombe wall construction claim that for a 12-inch thick concrete wall to be installed in your house, you’ll pay less than $1,000. For a 24 inch thick wall that will be more effective at absorbing heat, you can double this cost. This doesn’t include anything other than the wall itself though, so it should only be viewed as a base cost.

Included in the total pricing of a Trombe wall are considerations like tools, support structures, building materials, masonry, and vents. You’ll have to figure out how you want to distribute the heat through your house and what area of the building will be most effective for this type of heating system.

If you do plan on installing a Trombe wall for yourself, you’ll need to see what’s required in your area. You might need to obtain a building permit and get an idea of codes to see what’s required.

Some structures like Trombe walls need certification and clearance, as they can put a heavy burden on an existing building and careful consideration of the weight load should be taken.

Are They Worth It For a Passive House?

passive house with trombe wall

There are lots of benefits to having a Trombe wall and even when you take into consideration their costs and the planning required. The cost savings of energy are where you’ll see the biggest benefit so it depends on where you live and its climate as to whether this could be truly beneficial.

If you consider the price of installing a Trombe wall compared to other heating systems that are designed to impact the whole house, it’s a cost-effective measure, and worth it in many ways. You’ll be able to have a more energy-efficient home, especially for those that spend a lot on heating and live in colder climates and do it all with the natural and sustainable help of the sun.

The other major benefits worth considering are the environmentally friendly factor, as you’re cutting down on heating and energy usage and reducing your carbon emissions. By relying on the natural resource of the sun and not electricity, you will have a home that’s doing everything it can to be green.

For those planning to build a passive or zero energy house, talking to a contractor that specializes in these designs can help. They’ll be able to show you where a Trombe wall could be most effective, come up with materials and dimensions that’ll work best, and give you a more exact idea of what type of savings you will achieve.

Related Questions

A Trombe wall is one effective way of harnessing solar energy and using it to power your home, but it might not be the right fit for everyone.

There are lots of heating and cooling systems that rely on sustainable energy, and sure to be one that’s perfect for you. To find the right eco-friendly path to take for your new house or renovation, we’ve answered some commonly asked questions that can give you some insight.

What is Direct Gain Heating?

what is trombe wall

You may notice direct gain being used to describe some passive heating systems that are used more commonly in cold climates.

These use the heat of the sun to do their work and directly source heat from structures like windows or opening so that the entire house can become warmer just with the natural resources of the sun.

What is Passive Solar Design?

A home that uses a passive solar system to heat is one that relies on natural materials to store the heat, and usually, ones that have large enough capacities so they can heat an entire house.

Common materials include concrete, water, and stone, which can be used to store heat from the sun and then distribute it in various methods like vents, so the entire building becomes heated.

What is An Active Solar System?

A solar system working on active power is one that stores and distributes heat from the sun, but must rely on other methods to do so.

This includes things like collectors, solar panels, pumps, and blowers, that help distribute the heat through the house. Compared to a passive system where this is done naturally, there is more effort required to do the heating.

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