Friday, August 10

Cold House, Hot House

At least once every winter (and often more) I go into my speechifying about how poorly houses are built in this country. Every year when I live in a house where the indoor temperature is barely warmer than outside; when I’m sitting here all rugged up, in my scarf and beanie and layers of clothes, I have a little whinge about how it’s “bloody cold” and that is stupid because come Summertime the house will be so “bloody hot”!

I need one of these!
I appreciate having a house. Of course I do. There are so many people the world over who don’t have adequate shelter. But as every winter approaches, no matter where I live I am filled with dread by the coming cold.

And I have lived in lots of houses…at last count it was 38 (and I’m only 40yrs old).
Granted some of those dwelling weren’t what most westerners would call a ‘real’ house. Some of them didn’t have walls (now… that’s another story.) But even the ones with walls were cold!

I was talking to a friend at the start of winter, after the first few really cold days. She moved to Australia from England 8 years ago. When she first arrived here she was horrified when she and her husband were looking at houses. The walls seemed so thin, like shed walls. In England all the houses have nice thick walls that appear solid. Anyway, she says she has experienced colder winters in houses here in the subtropics of northern NSW than in England.

Then, I start telling anybody close enough to listen, about how one day when I build my house I will do it properly. (Pity the poor folk who hear this every year!)

There are three main things to take into account if you want a Warm house in winter and a cool house in summer; instead of a cold winter/ hot summer scenario. They are Passive Solar design, insulation and Thermal Mass.

The wonderful thing is that none of these cost more than building a ‘normal’ house and all of them will reduce the cost of heating and cooling your home with other means…fire, gas, air con etc. So you have the added benefit of knowing that no fossil fuels are being burnt to keep you warm or cool.

Passive Solar Design

This is stuff you do in the design phase of building, ways to orient and build the house so that it gets maximum solar gain in summer and shade in winter.
It might seem simple but is one of the most advantageous ways of building a comfortable home.
Beautiful Earthship home, solar passively designed, using recycled and Earth friendly materials

Design features such as:
     - positioning a house to face North (in the southern hemisphere), positioning windows mainly on the North and East sides of the house.
-    Eaves over-hanging just the right amount so they let the lower winter sun enter     the building but shade out the higher summer sun.
-           Shape of the house itself can influence temp…a long rectangle, with the longest side to the North to maximise sunlight.
-          Designing gardens and tree plantings to shade or let in light.
-          Choice of materials, i.e., double glazed glass, good quality insulation


Yup, we all know about insulation…adding layers for warmth. I’m pretty well, insulated here with many layers of clothing and my socks and beanie, but I’d probably feel more comfortable if the insulation had been applied to the house instead of me!

There is a whole heap of insulation alternatives available now, not just the old pink batts. These fibre glass batts are pretty toxic and are not even really high on the R-rating scale (The value of how well a product insulates.)

If I ever needed to insulate cavity walls or roof spaces I’d probably choose wool insulation, it has a high R-value and is also a natural product so there’s no chance of it off-gassing toxic chemicals into my home.

Then there is the building material itself that can act as an insulator. A traditional brick/veneer wall filled with fibre-glass batts can have an R rating of around 5, this is better than without the batts (2.5) but compare this with a straw bale wall that has an R-rating of 15-20 and you can guess what I want to build with!

Thermal Mass

This is the principle of having materials in the building that hold heat.
For example in winter the Sun light enters the house (under the carefully designed eaves) and hits the concrete slab floor. This slab has a high thermal mass so holds the heat. During the cold winter night that follows the heat is slowly released from the slab keeping the ambient temperature more stable.

I’m really surprised that not many of these design features have really been included in mainstream housing before now. They are only just starting to be brought in for Eco-housing projects.
Most of these were being talked about in the ‘70’s and ‘hippies’ have been building homes using these principals for years.
When you look at Traditional housing in many countries they have incorporated these principals for 100’s of years, so I guess really, it’s just another case of the West being left out of the true circle of knowledge because we have been focused mainly on money and power…but I do feel that is beginning to change, at last…

Cob and stone cottage, somewhere in the UK, a great use of natural building materials

So I think I’ve rambled enough for now and I’ve got to go fill up another hot water bottle and crawl under my doona and 3 blankets and dream of the day I live in my Passive solar, solar powered, chemical free, straw bale walled home…


Yeshe said...

yes yes yes yes! ITA!! I live in a converted single brick workshop with single paned windows and little insulation and this winter has been a bastard! We get minus 6 or 7 sometimes and although we have a wood fire we have to pump it full to get any benefit, wasteful and harmful to the environment.
My dream home is strawbale, passive solar with rammed earth floors. Sigh. Oh well. dream on and freeze on!
Love to you and your fam :)

Ariad said...

Yeshe! I have missed you!
Yep, dream on is what we're doing...and soon it'll happen and then you can come bless our home with your presence :)

Franknkitteh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yeshe said...

Love to :) said...

It nice to have solar power house.

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