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Posts Tagged ‘solar design’

Attached greenhouses have numerous advantages in addition to just growing plants.

Attached greenhouses have numerous advantages in addition to just growing plants.


“Building your own greenhouse is a great idea if you are a gardener and want space to start seedlings, or grow plants that require a longer growing season than your climate can normally provide.

But a standalone greenhouse is one thing — an attached greenhouse design for your house brings in a whole other host of benefits to be considered that extend beyond the conveniences of growing food more easily.

Read on ahead to learn about all the reasons to consider an attached greenhouse design for your home — they include providing additional free heat, extending living space, and supplying space to grow food for a longer period of time.”

Read the entire article at the source: The Year of Mud
And while you’re there, check out Ziggy’s Timber Frame Workshops at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

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Socrates’ sun-tempered house

Socrates’ sun-tempered house


What is an optimum house shape that stays warm in winter and cool in summer without reliance on outside energy sources? Designers have grappled with this question since ancient times. Socrates, the Greek philosopher, studied this problem about 2,500 years ago. His solution – Socrates House as it’s now referred to — is a trapezoid shaped house with the long side facing the sun. The roof overhang on the south blocks the hot summer sun, yet allows the winter sun to penetrate into the home. The roof slopes down in the back to avoid winter winds.

From the article referenced below: In Book III, Chapter VIII, of Xenophon’s Memorabilia of Socrates, written a few decades after Aeschylus, and in the midst of a Greek wood fuel shortage, the Greek philosopher, Socrates, observed:

“Now in houses with a south aspect, the sun’s rays penetrate into the porticos in winter, but in the summer, the path of the sun is right over our heads and above the roof, so that there is shade. If then this is the best arrangement, we should build the south side loftier to get the winter sun and the north side lower to keep out the winter winds. To put it shortly, the house in which the owner can find a pleasant retreat at all seasons and can store his belongings safely is presumably at once the pleasantest and the most beautiful.”

While the Greek house that Socrates described probably lost heat as fast as it was collected, due to convective and radiation losses through the wall openings, the later Romans discovered that if the south-facing portico and windows of buildings were covered with sheets of mica or glass supported on wooden frames, the solar energy passing into the building would be trapped inside causing the internal temperature to stay more or less constant into the night.”

Read the full article at the source: Dennis Holloway Architect
(excellent summary of solar design principles)
Also recommended: The Passive Solar Energy Book (Expanded Professional Edition), by Edward Mazria, published by Rodale Press.

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Passive Annual Heat Storage (PAHS) diagram

Passive Annual Heat Storage (PAHS) diagram


A simple underground house design uses a novel insulating/water-shedding blanket that covers the structure and surrounding soil. The umbrella creates a huge subterranean thermal reservoir that soaks up the sun’s energy during summertime and stores it for winter heating. In many cases, the clever design makes a heating system unnecessary.
By John Hait

My first earth-sheltered house, an underground geodesic dome was partially complete when the truckload of insulation my colleagues and I had ordered arrived. Right away, we knew we had a problem: How do you put flat, rigid polystyrene insulation on a round house?

We called housing experts all over the country, but no one had any ideas. Finally, Ray Sterling at the University of Minnesota’s Underground Space Center suggested that we place a flat, insulating “umbrella” in the earth above the building. This, he said, would keep the domelike house warm by insulating the soil around it.

“What a marvelous idea!” I thought when I heard his advice. After two weeks of rigorous examination, I realized that the concept was even more promising than I’d supposed. By then I was convinced that the dry earth under an insulating/water-shedding umbrella could store enough free solar heat from the summertime to warm the house through the entire winter (see diagrams above). This meant that a house could actually be constructed with an unchanging built-in temperature, which would make heating and cooling equipment unnecessary. Now, five years later, I still think it’s a marvelous idea. The Geodome, the house we built in the cold and cloudy climate of western Montana, remains at 66 to 68 degrees F, even through the coldest winters.

The success of the Geodome led to the establishment of the Rocky Mountain Research Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of what is now called the passive annual heat storage (PAHS) approach to free year-round passive-solar heating. Four basic points make PAHS different from techniques used in conventional solar-heated earth-sheltered houses:

– The house’s window shades are opened to collect solar heat in summer.
– The umbrella’s laminated sandwich of polystyrene insulation and polyethylene sheeting (about R-20) insulates a huge mass of surrounding dirt instead of just the house.
– The umbrella sheds water to keep the soil around the house dry.
– The natural-convection-driven ventilation tubes (see below) provide very high heat retention efficiency by acting as counter-flow heat exchangers.

Read the full article that was published in Popular Science magazine at the source: Earth Shelters.com (more good diagrams and details)

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Traditional pit house at Mesa Verde

Traditional pit house at Mesa Verde


Modern Solar Pit House for extremely cold climates (click to enlarge)

Modern Solar Pit House for extremely cold climates (click to enlarge)


I’ll never forget the Native American museum exhibit of a pit house in Anchorage, Alaska. I couldn’t stop staring at it. Pit houses are so simple and yet so effective that people lived in structures like this for thousands of years with relatively minimal environmental harm. This building method and lifestyle really captures my imagination and provides many lessons for modern societies.

Earth sheltered housing is the way to go, especially in harsh, cold climates like Canada. I’m surprised more people don’t build along these lines. Why not take what’s proven to work and update the design to suit our needs? That’s exactly what I did with this design. I was looking at pit houses on the Internet and realized you could just add windows on one side and greatly improve the design. And instead of a square, make it rectangular for additional solar gain. Yesterday’s post showed the proposed Solar Pit House floorplan. Tomorrow’s post will examine the section view and structural details.

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Dear Owen, I am currently doing research and compiling data in order to draft a proposal here in Canada largely related to solving an epidemic within our First Nations communities in regards to a lack of adequate housing. I could go on for hours and hours about the immense and serious problems in this area, but I’ll keep it as brief as possible.

Many of these areas are in arctic or subarctic conditions and I am curious if there is any data available on the viable use of earthbag building in such areas. I am certain that this should be possible especially given that a majority of families in the most remote areas live in temporary housing with little or no insulation, and thin walls.

My first thought when trying to come up with a solution to this problem was earthbags due to their sustainable nature, low cost and widely available materials. Many of these reservations have absolutely no sources of income or employment and survive entirely on government assistance so cost effective solutions are incredibly important while having to be as close to permanent as possible.

Though I am nothing more than a humble artist, recent events in our country have given me a strong passion to work towards this cause.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration,
Hideo Luc Goyer, Cloudgazer Studios

Owen: The two key issues for you are:
1. Locating a source of affordable insulation. Tamped earth without insulation would be as cold as living in a cave. Maybe you could buy scoria by the truck or train load to get a big discount. Scoria and pumice provide decent insulation and don’t mold, rot, burn, etc. It’s lightweight and easy to work with. Our Earthbag Building Blog covers this subject in detail. (Use the search engine on the blog.) [Update: a later email explained how recycled polystyrene is plentiful in Canada.]

2. You’ll definitely want to create a passive solar design with lots of large, south facing windows to maximize free heat from the sun. Thick, high mass walls and floor will absorb the heat, and a thick layer of insulation around all sides (including under the floor and on the roof) will trap the heat inside. You could even grow bananas or other tropical fruit with this sort of design.

Preliminary Solar Pit House design (click to enlarge)

Preliminary Solar Pit House design (click to enlarge)


Note to other designers: I’d like to refine this design with input from other design professionals and make all drawings freely available on the Internet. Please email me at strawhouses [at] yahoo.com if you would like to contribute.

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The following text and video is from Daniel Geery’s article at OpEdNews. I can really relate to what this guy is saying about sustainable housing. Most of the technology was well known decades ago, as you can see in his video below. His house shows just how simple living off grid can be.

“My family and I lived off the grid in an earth-sheltered, solar powered underground house, for 15 years, starting in the early ’80s, proving, at least to myself, the feasibility of solar power.

Doing this should be even easier now, given the developments in the building field, from insulation to heat pumps and more efficient lighting.

I wrote a book on earth-sheltered solar greenhouses that has many good ideas, but should be condensed from 400 down to 50 pages, with new info from living off the grid. It’s on my “to do” list.

Had the whole country moved in this direction for real, we would be detached from Mideast oil by now, and for sure, not need nukes.

We eventually did get a small Honda generator, which we used mainly in the very low light months of January and February. Congrats to Honda, they know how to build things. Very efficient, and just one pull to start the sucker. I support them over Briggs and Stratton or Black and Decker any day.

The earth is like a thermal battery, and much of the valuable work done on earth temps was done when we were building bomb shelters. I dug a lot of that info up and put in the aforementioned book, that I intend to cut down from 400 pages to about 50 and have available soon.”

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