passive solar

Reinventing a Passive Solar Design

Posted on March 27,2015 by ScottG in New Mexico

Albuquerque, New Mexico, was an incubator for alternative building technologies when Jon Davis graduated from the University of New Mexico in the early 1970s and started building passive solar adobe houses. Although not an architect, Davis had studied the principles of passive solar design in school, and after graduation embraced superinsulated buildings and, eventually, structural insulated panels (SIPs).

Overheating from South Windows

Posted on March 27,2015 by Ted Lemon in high solar gain

For the past two years, Ted Lemon and Andrea Lemon have been living in a single-family Passivhaus which they built in Brattleboro, Vermont. Ted Lemon wrote the essay below in July 2012.

Every House Needs Roof Overhangs

Posted on March 27,2015 by user-756436 in overhang

Many residential designers pay too little attention to roof overhangs. Roof overhangs have several important functions: they can protect exterior doors, windows, and siding from rain; they can shade windows when solar heat gain is undesirable; and they can help keep basements and crawl spaces dry. A house with improper overhangs can overheat in the summer, can suffer from water entry problems at windows and doors, and can have premature siding rot. The most common design error is to make roof overhangs too stingy. It’s also possible (although much rarer) for roof overhangs to be too wide.

Earthship Hype and Earthship Reality

Posted on March 27,2015 by user-756436 in earth-bermed

If you are a hippie from Taos, New Mexico, you know what an earthship is. It’s an off-grid earth-bermed passive solar home with exterior walls made of old tires packed with dirt.

A Classic 1970s Home Goes from Solar-Heated to Net Zero Energy

Posted on March 27,2015 by ab3 in 1970s

Last week I was in Lexington, Kentucky speaking at the Midwest Residential Energy Conference. It was a great regional conference, and the folks there are making things happen. (I even played nice. With all those Kentucky Wildcat fans there, I held back and didn't mention in any of my talks that I'm a Florida Gator.) One of the many highlights for me was getting to visit Richard Levine’s 1970s active solar house. It stands out like no other house I've seen, and I've seen other solar houses.

All About Thermal Mass

Posted on March 27,2015 by user-756436 in AAC

UPDATED on December 4, 2013 with a citation of recent research findings. What’s the deal with thermal mass? Since manufacturers of materials that incorporate concrete often exaggerate the benefits of thermal mass, it’s easy to get cynical and conclude that the buzz around thermal mass is all hype. But in many climates, it’s actually useful to have a lot of thermal mass inside your house. Just keep in mind that thermal mass may not be as beneficial as its boosters pretend.

A Pioneer of Low-Energy Homes Since 1973

Posted on March 27,2015 by AlexWilson in Bruce Brownell

Bruce Brownell, of Adirondack Alternate Energy, has been creating low-energy, largely passive-solar-heated, resilient homes in the Northeast for forty years — and he’s still going strong. Since 1973, Bruce has built more than 375 homes in 15 states, a third of them in very cold (over 8,500-degree-day) climates. Most require just a few hundred dollars of heat per year.

Shades of Green: the 1970s vs. the Millennial Generation

Posted on March 27,2015 by Ecovrn in 1970s

Recently a friend asked for help in designing an off-grid house. Interestingly, I pulled out the old books from the '70s to show as examples and inspiration. We tagged a combination of ideas: an earth berm house, a passive solar house, an attached greenhouse buffer space, a solar thermal system, and a stack effect heating/cooling system incorporating a heat sink (southern rock exposure) and a cool northern forest glen. It all seemed so — natural …

Earth Day and My Career Path to Sustainable Energy

Posted on March 27,2015 by AlexWilson in Alex Wilson

With Earth Day this past Sunday, I'm inspired to reflect on what motivated me — some 45 years ago(!) — to focus on a career of environmental protection and improvement, a career that has led me to a significant focus on more sustainable energy solutions. Back in the late 1960s at age 12 or 13, I became immersed in "conservation" and decided that this would be my life career. This was before the modern "environmental" movement really began, and "conservation" was the term used to describe environmental protection.

A Superinsulated House in Rural Minnesota

Posted on March 27,2015 by user-756436 in design

Electric resistance heating systems have a bad reputation. While the required equipment is cheap (and sometimes cheap-looking), homes with electric heat are known for their high fuel bills.

Resilient Design: Passive Solar Heat

Posted on March 27,2015 by AlexWilson in passive solar

As I discussed in last week's blog, a resilient home is extremely well insulated, so that it can be kept warm with very little supplemental heat — and if power or heating fuel is lost, for some reason, there won't be risk of homeowners getting dangerously cold or their pipes freezing. If we design and orient the house in such a way that natural heating from the sun can occur, we add to that resilience and further reduce the risk of the house getting too cold in the winter. Passive solar heating

How to Install Tile Over Concrete

Posted on March 27,2015 by ScottG in ceramic tile

Tile can contribute thermal mass to a passive solar house, and to Christa Campbell it would make a more appealing finish floor than concrete. Although tile can be placed directly over a concrete slab, products such as Schluter’s Ditra are designed to separate, or “uncouple,” the tile from any potential movement in the substrate and protect the tile and grout from cracking. The question for Campbell is whether using Ditra offsets some of the thermal mass gains in a passive-solar design.

Blog Review: Equinox House

Posted on March 27,2015 by ScottG in blog review

You might call Ty Newell the reluctant engineer. At the University of Michigan in the early 1970s, he would rather have studied natural resources or liberal arts, but those programs were full. So he went into engineering, figuring he’d switch to one of his first choices in a semester or so. Except that it never happened. His grade point average wasn’t high enough to get him into natural resources, and the prospect of being drafted for duty in Vietnam kept him from dropping out of school. So engineering it was going to be.

Cost-Effective Passive Solar Design

Posted on March 27,2015 by Brian Knight in design

Passive solar design is one of the most attractive strategies available for energy-efficient construction and green building. The sun provides free heat, daylighting, and a better connection to our outdoor environment. It does this for the life of the structure. If you follow these priciples, your house will offer passive survivability, meaning it will remain livable through winter power outages. The passive elements of your home design will have no moving parts, and the only maintenance need is occasional window cleaning.

Is Green Building for Everyone?

Posted on March 27,2015 by ScottG in 1970s

Is green building too narrow in focus, suitable only for people who keep the windows closed and let mechanical systems regulate temperature and humidity? What about people who like fresh air, even in winter, and are looking for minimal intervention from mechanical heating and cooling equipment? That seems to be at the heart of a question from Maria Hars, a GBA reader who lives in a passive solar house built 30 years ago in northern Massachusetts.

Using Sand to Store Solar Energy

Posted on March 27,2015 by ScottG in active solar

John Klingel's question was simple enough: what's the best way of heating up a thick bed of sand beneath a concrete slab with PEX tubing? But the underlying issue — whether a sand bed is a good idea in the first place — quickly takes center stage in this Q&A post at GreenBuildingAdvisor.

Solar Versus Superinsulation: A 30-Year-Old Debate

Posted on March 27,2015 by user-756436 in active solar

The oil price shock of 1973 sparked a burst of interest in “solar houses.” During the 1970s, owner-builders all over the U.S. erected homes with extensive south-facing glazing — sometimes sloped, sometimes vertical. Many of these houses included added thermal mass — concrete floors, concrete-block walls, or 55-gallon drums filled with water.

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