Seeing the light
Seeing the light

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Seeing the light

Your home’s orientation

Activity 12 Your home’s orientation

Timing: Allow about 1 hour

The purpose of this activity is to help you to work out how well the place where you live has been shaped and oriented to take account of the Sun’s apparent movement around it. If you like, you can choose another building that isn’t your home for this activity.

For this activity you will need three different coloured pens, as well as a compass or something else to draw large circles with, a pencil and some paper.

  1. Draw out the shape of your home as if a bird was looking down on it from above. You might like to use the satellite view in Google Maps [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] to help you: magnify it as much as you can and print it out if you need to. Try to get a sense of the proportions of your home in order to draw its shape. Make a double line for walls that have windows in. See below for an example, which is a terraced house.

  2. Establish where north is in relation to your home. The simplest way to do this is to use Google Maps, which has north at the top of the screen, but you could also use a compass, or observe where the Sun is at midday (13:00 in British Summer Time), which will always be south.

    Draw a north–south line through the middle of your home, and then draw the corresponding east–west line through the same point as shown below.

  3. You now need to draw lines that show approximately where the Sun rises and sets in summer and in winter. To do this, imagine that the north–south and east–west lines have turned, like a wheel, through 45°. Draw these lines, in a different colour, through the centre of your home as shown below. 

  4. Next, using a compass, or by holding a bit of string tied to a pencil, lightly draw two large concentric circles from the centre of your home all around it as shown below.

  5. You now need to draw a line that represents sunrise (towards the east) to sunset (towards the west) in midsummer. With a red pen or pencil, trace the outer circle clockwise from 45° on the east side of north to 45° on the west side of north. 

    Next, draw a line that represents sunrise to sunset in midwinter. With a yellow pen or pencil, trace the inner circle clockwise from 45° on the east side of south to 45° on the west side of south. 

    Your drawing should now look like this:

  6. Work out which side of your home, and which window, provide the best orientation to the Sun throughout the year. If you could, which way would you turn your home to improve its orientation?


The home in the example is an L-shape with its front in a north-west direction and its back in a south-east direction. That means that the windows at the back of the house get the most sunlight. As it is a terraced house, there are neighbours on each side, and that means it doesn’t get as much sunlight as it could. 

The sunniest window is the one right at the back of the house. If this house was turned clockwise a little, it would get a bit more sunlight later in the day. It was probably a combination of existing roads and the nature of the landscape that prevented this ‘optimal’ orientation when the house was first built.


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