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Windcatchers have been employed for thousands of years to cool buildings in hot climates. The windcatcher is able to chill indoor spaces in the middle of the day in a desert to frigid temperatures.

Windcatchers have been employed for thousands of years to cool buildings in hot climates. The windcatcher is able to chill indoor spaces in the middle of the day in a desert to frigid temperatures.


The following list includes dozens of low tech, low cost ways to cool buildings in hot climates passively without electricity or machinery, i.e., passive cooling or natural cooling. This list is in addition to the 11 or so simple passive cooling techniques that I talked about in my video the other day. Altogether there are over 50 practical methods for cooling your home sustainably. Despite all these wonderful methods, most people – at least in North America – live in poorly insulated boxy houses with costly, wasteful air conditioners. This is one example of “ignorance is not bliss”.
– night cooling: open the windows at night to let in cooler, fresher air.
– roof vents for improved ventilation. This could include a ridge vent and cupola.
– gable vents on gable end walls
– adequately shaded clerestory windows
– smaller windows on the east and west to prevent overheating (if the walls aren’t shaded)
– louvers and vents
– well located doors
– 50-100% more or larger windows on the leeward side than the windward side to help hot air to escape
– earth berming with moist vegetation such as grass
– keeping vegetation moist around the house to help cool the breezes (the yard)
– planting trees to funnel air toward your house
– plant trees that don’t block breezes
– wing wall to direct cool breezes into the home
– building on stilts
– stack effect: multi-story designs can be very effective at encouraging natural convection
– open plan living areas that encourage air circulation
– narrow floorplans
– orientation to catch breezes more effectively
– location: breezy locations near lakes, etc.
– outdoor living areas
– porches/verandas that shade the walls
– shaded, high thermal mass walls such as earthbags, adobe, etc.
– windscoop/windcatcher (with possible addition of a water element)
– evaporative cool wall such as double terra-cotta brick walls (low fired brick) filled with moist sand
Venturi effect
– solar chimney: chimney designed to heat air and draw air from the house
– atrium or sunroom: can act like a solar chimney if properly designed
– basement: upper floors draw cool air upwards from the basement
– cool pantry and rootcellar
– well, open air cistern or underground water canal in the basement
– earth tubes in dry climates where mold is not a problem and digging is fairly easy
– roof insulation and reflective roof insulation
– fly roof (secondary roof over the main roof)
– green roof/living roof
– soffit vents and baffles between rafters to improve roof ventilation
– light roof color that reflects sunlight
– manmade water feature such as a lily pond on the windward side
– awnings (if you don’t have large roof overhangs)
– inner courtyard/open atrium
– pergolas and trellises to shade walls
– minimize sun reflection and re-radiation from surrounding environment: plants versus gravel or pavement
– blinds: close if sunlight is entering window
– avoid skylights unless openable and tinted
– smooth plaster reflects more light than textured plaster

Note: This is just a list of practical cooling strategies. There are plenty of ‘yeah, buts’ you should be aware of to prevent problems. There isn’t time or space here to cover everything. A fair amount of research is required to learn the details so you can optimize the passive cooling design for your home and building site.

Image source: Wiki – Windcatchers (good info on windcatchers)
Good reference with more details: Passive Cooling at House-Energy.com

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Here’s a real nice example of integrating fruit trees, vegetables, aquaculture, composting, worms and beekeeping. This guy is getting hundreds or a thousand or more pieces of fruit off each small tree in a desert region near Joshua Tree where he was told “fruit trees won’t grow”.

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Earth covered farm homes in Keldur, Iceland. These were built in 1193, and are supposedly the oldest buildings in Iceland. (click to enlarge)

Earth covered farm homes in Keldur, Iceland. These were built in 1193, and are supposedly the oldest buildings in Iceland. (click to enlarge)


Earth-sheltered home

Earth-sheltered home


Earth-sheltered home

Earth-sheltered home


“Earth sheltering is the architectural practice of using earth against building walls for external thermal mass, to reduce heat loss, and to easily maintain a steady indoor air temperature. Earth sheltering is popular in modern times among advocates of passive solar and sustainable architecture, but has been around for nearly as long as humans have been constructing their own shelter.

The expression earth-sheltering is a generic term, with the general meaning: building design in which soil plays an integral part.

Definition of earth-sheltering: A building can be described as earth-sheltered if its external envelope is in contact with a thermally significant volume of soil or substrate (where “thermally significant” means making a functional contribution to the thermal effectiveness of the building in question.)

There may be said to be three forms of earth-sheltered building:
– earth-covered
– earth-bunded [I call this earth bermed.]
– subterranean

The benefits of earth sheltering are numerous. They include: taking advantage of the earth as a thermal mass, offering extra protection from the natural elements, energy savings, providing substantial privacy, efficient use of land in urban settings, shelters have low maintenance requirements, and earth sheltering commonly takes advantage of passive solar building design.

The Earth’s mass absorbs and retains heat. Over time, this heat is released to surrounding areas, such as an earth shelter. Because of the high density of the earth, change in the earth’s temperature occurs slowly. This is known as ‘thermal lag.’ Because of this principle, the earth provides a fairly constant temperature for the underground shelters, even when the outdoor temperature undergoes great fluctuation. In most of the United States, the average temperature of the earth once below the frost line is between 55 and 57 degrees Fahrenheit (13 to 14 degrees Celsius). Frost line depths vary from region to region. In the USA frost lines can range from roughly 20 inches to more than 40 inches. Thus, at the base of a deep earth berm, the house is heated against an exterior temperature gradient of perhaps ten to fifteen degrees, instead of against a steeper temperature grade where air is on the outside of the wall instead of earth. During the summer, the temperature gradient helps to cool the house.

The reduction of air infiltration within an earth shelter can be highly profitable. Because three walls of the structure are mainly surrounded by earth, very little surface area is exposed to the outside air. This alleviates the problem of warm air escaping the house through gaps around windows and door. Furthermore, the earth walls protect against cold winter winds which might otherwise penetrate these gaps.”

Source: Wiki
Image source: Wiki
Image source: Earth-sheltered Homes (good summary of earth-sheltered homes)
Image source: Earth-sheltered Homes

From Earth-sheltered Homes by Rob Roy:
“Back in the ’70s, earth-sheltered housing enjoyed great popularity, thanks in part to the energy crisis resulting from the 1973 oil embargo. Adventurous builders and researchers explored various forms of earth-sheltered building, from underground excavated spaces to surface-level buildings with earth piled in berms against their walls. People searching for alternatives to conventional building showed that sheltering a building with earth could reduce energy costs for both heating and cooling by half or more — at little or no increased expense… An earth-bermed house can reap about 95 percent of the energy advantages of a fully underground home, and adding an earth roof, or living roof, further promotes planetary health by “greening” the house’s footprint.”
Read the full article at Mother Earth News

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Rob Roy’s earth-sheltered cordwood home

Rob Roy’s earth-sheltered cordwood home


“More than a third of the average American’s after-tax income is devoted to shelter, usually rent or mortgage payments. If a person works from age 20 to age 65, it can be fairly argued that he or she has put in 15 years (20 in California) just to keep a roof over their head. With a piece of land, six months’ work, and — say — $35,000, he (or she) and his family could have built his own home.

To save 14½ years of work, you cannot afford not to build, even if it means losing a job while you do it. Granted, the land (and the $35,000) has to come from somewhere, but this amount is no more (and probably no less) than the down payment on a mortgaged contractor-built home, and about half the cost of a new double-wide mobile home (figuring either option as being about the same square footage as an earth-sheltered home).

So… why don’t more people do it? Is it really worth giving up 15+ years of your life (and I’d say for many people, more) to pay off the house you live in just to save yourself the effort of having to do it yourself? Surely it can’t be that a life of 9-to-5 indentured servitude is so wonderful that one can’t give up a summer or three building a house like the one above, which I believe came in at about $20,000… And with an increasing percentage of people defaulting on their mortgages and losing all of those years, even on a risk management level it seems completely nonsensical.”

Source: I Need More Life

“An earth-sheltered, earth-roofed home has the least impact upon the land of all housing styles, leaving almost zero footprint on the planet.

Earth-Sheltered Houses is a practical guide for those who want to build their own underground home at moderate cost. It describes the benefits of sheltering a home with earth, including the added comfort and energy efficiency from the moderating influence of the earth on the home’s temperature (keeping it warm in the winter and cool in the summer), along with the benefits of low maintenance and the protection against fire, sound, earthquake, and storm afforded by the earth. Extra benefits from adding an earth or other living roof option include greater longevity of the roof substrate, fine aesthetics, and environmental harmony.”
Earth-Sheltered Houses by Rob Roy

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Earth-sheltered Passive Solar Earthbag Greenhouse (click to enlarge)

Earth-sheltered Passive Solar Earthbag Greenhouse (click to enlarge)


“Harmony of human habitats with nature, the use of soil and solar energy enables us to build energy-efficient shelters, produce healthy food, process waste and meet the material and spiritual needs in a sustainable manner and in accordance to the local environment. Join us during the earth sheltered passive solar greenhouse building workshops and explore the world of eco-design!”

Source: Cohabitat.net

Sorry we didn’t see this workshop announcement until now. It was in September, 2011 in Poland. You might want to write and see how it turned out, and check on future workshops. Or if you’re one of the organizers or designers, please drop us a note with an update. Remember we have a free Workshop page and Bulletin Board to post announcements.

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GERES free online PDF has complete greenhouse building details

GERES free online PDF has complete greenhouse building details


I think you’ll forgive me for double posting on this subject after you see GERES free online greenhouse building PDF. I’m reposting on the subject so no one misses this. The information in the PDF is top notch. It’s rare to find books with so much detail, even those for sale. Details include drawings for numerous designs and different building materials (adobe, brick, stone, rammed earth, earth berming), alternative roof materials such as wood poles, how to support the plastic sheeting with rope, check lists, material list with cost estimate, ventilation guidelines, and more. These building methods would apply to almost all cold climates except extreme polar regions and where winds are too strong.

Also, I thought I’d provide a little background on the man behind this amazing award winning greenhouse that’s helping thousands escape poverty. “Vincent Stauffer, a French Thermal Engineer, is the main contributor to this manual: he has led the design process, the experimentation and the diffusion of the model of greenhouse presented in this manual. He has been working since 1992 in the field of solar energy and since 1998 in the Hinda Kush – Himalaya area. With GERES, he contributes to the development of solar poultry farm, passive solar housing, improved stove, food processing and woolen transformation in Hindu Kush Himalaya.

The Renewable Energy and Environment Group (GERES) is a French NGO created in 1976. It works in a dozen of countries in Asia and Africa, promoting renewable energy resources and energy efficiency through a development process controlled by the local actors. GERES encourages the use of local resources with the objective to respect the environment and provide well-balanced development schemes.”
GERES Greenhouse PDF: A Manual of Solar Greenhouse Construction
Now I need to research their solar houses…

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Sand bag fish pond

Sand bag fish pond


Sand bag fish pond

Sand bag fish pond


The pond is lined with black plastic but the pond is supposed to look like a natural jungle pond (ideally a peaceful zen-like pond) which you might stumble upon while hiking in the jungle so the black plastic needs to be hidden. We found out after we had all the rocks in place that one side of the pond was a little high so it was difficult to hide the black plastic on that side with rocks. We also realized that the best way to hide the plastic is to have a shelf of rocks a little way below the top level of the pond. We are achieving this by pulling out one layer of sand bags on the high side. It is also necessary to back fill dirt very close to the edge so that we can root plants that will drape over in places and also look natural. The plastic will loop up a little behind the low level of rocks before we back fill with more rocks and dirt. This will contain the water when we bring the level of the pond up again.

Source: El Yunque Rainforest Bed and Breakfast Blog
Related:
Building Your Own Earth Pond (Note: the soil that’s removed can be used to build your earthbag house.)
Erik’s Swimming Pool to Pond Conversion

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