The Wonder of Thermal Mass

insulation thermal mass Jan 31, 2019
 

Every day I step out my front door, and I'm greeted by a cheerful snapdragon plant. This seemingly tender little flower jumped from my window box and reseeded herself at the base of our rock wall leading to the front door.

You might be asking yourself, why I'm talking about a flower in January. Well, that hardy little plant is still alive and green this morning after an overnight low of 8° F! The winter temperatures barely crept above freezing today, and even I found it challenging to brave the cold and icy road to take our dogs out for a walk.

This snapdragon has survived several winters now. Without fail, each morning she gives me a happy hello as I step out the door. Nearly every day, I think to myself that SnapDragon would make the perfect subject for one of my favorite topics - thermal mass. After surviving one of the coldest nights this winter, I decided that today is the day she makes the blog.

Still, what does a flower growing in sub-freezing temperatures have to do...

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Reflections on the Winter Sun

A series of snowstorms have left us with several feet of snow on the ground, and now we're delighting in a stretch of bright sunny days. 

I'm continuing to share with you what it is like to live off the grid during a Colorado winter. This is my eighth winter to live here at Twisted Oak, our off-the-grid, self-sustaining home. After all these years, I still can't imagine living any other way.

I love and appreciate my deepening connection with nature and the beautiful cycles of the seasons.

If you've been reading or watching my blogs, then you know that I don't promote off-grid living for everyone. The principles of living more sustainably apply whether you desire to live on or off the grid. We can all shift our perspectives and increase our awareness of how we use our precious resources.

With our batteries fully charged, snow melting into the cisterns and sun shining, I'm getting caught up on some laundry. I probably could have continued to wash the clothes during the storms,...

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Reflections After a Storm

 

We've weathered a series of storms and now the sun is shining clear and bright.

The forecast is for a few days of partly sunny skies, then one more day of snow and then a high-pressure system is expected to bring us a long stretch of sun.

Mother Nature has showered us with abundant snow, and we are so grateful. Grateful for the much-needed moisture for our forests and gardens. After last summer's devastating fire season, we will always welcome moisture in any form.

In terms of living off of the power grid, this unusual series of storms that has lasted most of January has kept us mindful of our power usage. Our system is designed to provide power for a five-day storm, and this one came in waves. We had a few days of snow followed by a day or two of partly sunny weather which allowed our batteries to charge enough to keep us in power for several weeks.

When we are conserving power, I use a laptop instead of my large screen iMac. We watch movies on laptops instead of on the...

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Part III - Create a Comfortable Home and Enjoy the View.

design Jan 15, 2019
 

I've talked a bunch about incorporating a significant amount of windows on the south side of the home. So how do we design houses with a view on the north, east or west side?

We must consider that we cannot control the sun exposure on windows placed on the east and west sides of a home. For example, a window on the west will remain shaded all morning. As the sun begins it's decent in the afternoon, it will flood a western room with light and heat. This may be nice in the winter, but this heat in the summer could make the room unbearable. 

An east-facing window will experience full sun all morning and move into the shade all afternoon. In the summer, this may overheat the eastern rooms in the morning. These windows will contribute to the overheating in the summer and heat loss in the winter.

I'm not advocating for eliminating window on the east and west sides, but these windows should be consciously placed, modest in size, well insulated, and protected with insulated...

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Reflections During a Winter Storm

Uncategorized Jan 06, 2019

Today we have a beautiful winter storm! This kind of flurry comes with free refills. Boot, dog, and ski tracks are quickly filled up with fluffy white snow!

A few weeks ago I shared my reflections during our first snow of the winter. I promised to share more insights during a several days storm - maybe even having the opportunity to share what it is like to lose power during one of these storms.

Winter has now arrived in all her glory, but I'm sorry to disappoint - we still have electrical power produced by our six solar PV panels and stored in batteries. Even so, I'd like to share with you what it is like to live off the grid during a Colorado, Rocky Mountain winter.

First of all, we watch the weather. With today's technology, this is not much of a challenge. Apps on our iPhones give us continuous data on approaching storms, satellite images, and forecasts. During the long sunny days of summer, we don't worry as much about the weather. But the shorter and more cloudy days of winter...

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Part II - Creating Spaces Heated by the Sun

design Dec 10, 2018
 

If you've read Part 1 of this series, Designing an Affordable Home, then you have likely been pondering some of the questions posed in the blog:

Have you been considering what spaces your home needs to include to meet your needs exactly?
Have you considered where you spend most of your time?
What activities need a separate place, and which rooms can be multipurpose?
Did you take time to consider which spaces will benefit from a lot of sunlight, and which areas would function better without direct sunlight?

These are just some examples of the questions you can start asking your family as you begin this journey toward creating a sustainable home. You may not have all the answers yet, but hopefully, these questions have led you to some insights.

Did your answers generated more questions?
If this is the case, then you're on the right track. This part of the process is the best time for questions and contemplation.

Now, we can start looking at how we can arrange spaces in a home to take...

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Supplemental Blog - An Off-Grid Winter's Day

Uncategorized Dec 03, 2018
The weather outside was frightful - so the kids went skiing and Matt and I decorated the house for the holidays.
 
What is it really like living off the grid in the winter -especially during a storm?
 
Yesterday was the first significant winter storm of the season. In an off-grid, passive solar home there's no thermostat to dial up the heat. So what do we do?
 
We woke up to a winter wonderland, so we made tea and coffee and opened up some of the insulated blinds so we could enjoy the view.
 
We started a fire in our small, but air-tight wood stove - not because we'd freeze to death, but because it would make us extra comfortable. (Our house doesn't get below about 57.)
 
Matt and I streamed holiday music on the surround-sound stereo system while we made breakfast and began unpacking the holiday decorations. (Later, we switched to an iPod and a rechargeable portable speaker - still a great sound.)
 
We decorated the tree with...
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Part I - Designing an Affordable Home

design Nov 27, 2018

How do we design homes without mortgages and smaller utility bills? As you might imagine - this is a sizable question.

The first step is to start with the floor plan. The perception of what size of house we need has drastically changed over the last few decades. In 1950, the average home was under 1000 square feet. Today homes are typically 2500 square feet or more. Our family size has decreased from 3.37 people/ house to 2.5 people per household, but the square footage we expect has risen. Why is that?

The real question is why do we need all that space? Larger square footage requires more fuel to heat and to cool, as well as a larger mortgage. Larger mortgages require us to work more and might force us to work in jobs that don't fulfill us. We may be spending less time with our spouse or family to pay for our family home. Sound like a vicious cycle?

Several years ago I was working a home show with a colleague of mine who is a gifted designer of modest-sized homes. A young family of...

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Living in Abundance Rather than Lack

Uncategorized Nov 14, 2018

Moving into the season of gratitude reminds me of the many blessings I have received over the years of living and flourishing here at Twisted Oak, our self-sustaining home. This home works with nature to keep us warm during the frigid November nights, collects our water, and generates all our power. Living this way has created a rich and abundant life beyond measure.

Recently, we spent several weeks traveling, and after nights spent in hotel rooms, I was grateful to return home. Our first night we lay in bed and sighed. It was delightful to once again sleep within thick, sturdy walls in a quiet and peaceful space. No forced-air fan was blowing. No mechanical systems were coming on in the middle of the night, disrupting our sleep. The house was still and silent. As we lay quietly in our bedroom listening to the silence, I heard my fiancé whisper into the night, "I love this house." We are grateful to live in a peaceful and tranquil place every day.

In our culture, homes...

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Passive Solar Heating & Cooling ~ Part IV

design Nov 01, 2018

The Following edited excerpt is a continuation of how I designed the interior of our passive solar, self-self-sustaining home. 

The kitchen would have new appliances, and I began to research energy efficient refrigerators and stoves as well as those designed specifically for off-grid living. The island in the kitchen would function as a kitchen table.

The greywater planter would run the full length of the south wall of windows in the living room. This indoor garden would need the light from the southern windows to grow plants that would clean the greywater. This arrangement of windows and indoor garden would bring in plenty of winter sun as well as provide a lovely view from any position in the great room and kitchen. 

The remaining half of the home would consist of two bedrooms, the bathing room, toilet room, and a laundry space. Because the greywater planter would reside on the sunny and warm south side, there needed to be some consideration for getting the water from...

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