solarroundhouseWe like being warm in winter. Creating warmth is likely the biggest challenge we have – considering we want to reduce dependence on imported, expensive energy. You might be surprised to know that on cloudy days the sun generates a lot of electricity. But direct heat? Not so much.

We’re thinking about this a lot. What warmth do you most enjoy – conductive, convective or radiant? Maggie says the best is sitting in the sun on a sheltered deck. If, that is, she can’t have a permanent Mexican beach. I say it’s a warm fire on a winter’s day. What they have in common is – radiant heat. Thousands of years of human experience has likely trained us to thrive with radiant heat. (Google: ‘solar round house’ and enjoy the show)
Conductive heat’s okay, especially when I’m chilled and can curl up beside Maggie. But when a floor is sucking heat away from my feet, conduction’s not so great. Cement and tile floors are good conductors so even when they’re 20 degrees C they conduct heat away from our 37 degree bodies.

Convective heat, like our furnace provides, is acceptable because being cold in winter isn’t. Forced air is loud – a pet peeve! And, again, air moving past us at 20 C has a cooling effect on our hot bodies.

We lived for 6 years in our present home with only sun and wood heat. There were chilly times, but they were quiet times. How do we, now, design a consistently comfortable home without relying on any fans to move air? By letting the sun in, building rammed earth walls to absorb the heat and by incorporating a masonry heater in the middle of the house. That’s where we are so far.

Rammed earth (RE) homes (which I’ll explain more in depth soon) are particularly well matched with solar warming because of three qualities. They are inherently air tight. They absorb a lot of heat during the day and let it radiate out at night. They absorb humidity when the air is moist and let it go when the air dries out. But they don’t address the cloudiness factor.
Our bottom line is that we want our house to stay above freezing when we walk away in winter. We’re certain our design will do that much. We’re willing to cut wood as well. We’re enamoured with the masonry stove designs we’ve been seeing that call for much less wood and attention than we’re used to. But, what about when we get older and don’t want to be cutting and hauling as much wood? Depend on kids and grandkids? I like the sound of that, but also like what we saw a few days ago.

We visited Bev and Will Eart and their off-grid home north of Treehern. They recommend adjusting our design to accommodate more window area facing DUE south. (See the reworked model in Blog # 5.) The visit also helped us realize that we can run hot water through our floor – simply because even on cloudy days we can generate enough electricity to heat and move water. Voila! Their system is certainly more complicated than ours, but the elegance and reliability is intriguing.

More later. Best. David and Maggie.