The following is an excerpted from Home Work: Hand Built Shelter (Shelter Publications, 2004) by long-time MOTHER EARTH NEWS contributor Lloyd Kahn. The book features more than 1,500 photos illustrate various innovative architectural styles and natural building materials that have gained popularity in the last two decades, such as cob, papercrete, bamboo, adobe, strawbale, timber framing and earthbags. If you love fine, fun or funky buildings, you will want to own this splendid book.
The wide open spaces are the reason we live in the mountains. Our nearest full-time neighbor is more than six miles away.
I first saw Home Power magazine in the 1980s. It was a funky looking yet technically loaded and serious journal of (mainly) solar, wind, and water-generated electricity. Not only has it survived, but it’s gotten increasingly better. It’s now an all-color compendium of the latest in home energy.
Richard and Karen Perez are the heart and soul of Home Power, and after some years of living in funky sheds in the woods, they built their own home-powered home/ofﬁce/hangout in the Oregon woods. I ﬁnd it just amazing to look at a place like this: off-the-grid, its heat and power provided by sun and wind (and ﬁrewood). And they are running the computers and network that produces their magazine from the same clean electricity. These guys are walkin’ the walk!
View from the sunken living room up into the dining area. The red tile on the ﬂoor covers the solar-heated, concrete slab.
We started Home Power in 1987 and to date, have published 90 issues. Prior do doing Home Power, I spent 10 years as an installing dealer of PV systems. I solarized our predominately off-grid neighborhood by installing more than 200 systems. I realized that folks had no idea of what current solar energy technologies could do for them — they were still running generators to power their off-grid homes and businesses.
I also saw an emerging renewable energy industry which had no way to contact their potential customers. Hence, Home Power was born.
Currently, we are entering our 15th year of publishing. Including folks who download our current issue for free from our website, we have more than 100,000 people reading each issue. We print 38,000 copies in our paper edition and about ⅔ of these are sold on newsstands worldwide.
For many years, we lived and worked in a 560-square-foot “plywood palace.” This uninsulated building was chock-ablock with the necessities of life and computers. Our site is six miles off-grid, and we’ve been powering all our electrical stuff using solar and wind electricity for decades now.
Our wood stove, which uses a secondary catalytic converter to increase fuel efﬁciency and reduce pollution. Last year we burned less than ½ cord of wood, thanks to the solar heating systems.
In summer of 2000, we did a total rebuild — the original cabin disappeared into the center of a new 2,300-square-foot building.
The new building has two stories. The ground ﬂoor is split-level, with a four-foot drop along its east/west axis. Thus, the building follows the contour of the south-facing hillside on which it rests. The building was designed and constructed by the Home Power crew.
Passive home design. Energy efﬁciency was our major design criteria. We employed both passive and active solar heating techniques. On the passive side, we insulated the hell out of the building — R-30 in the walls and R-60 in the roof. We installed many south-facing, double-glazed windows, a few east-facing windows for an “early morning wake-up,” and very few windows on the west and north sides of the house.
Solar hot water. Computer-designed overhangs prevent all these windows from overheating the building during the summer. On the active side, we installed four, 4-by-8-foot solar hot water collectors on the roof. These collectors directly heat a six-inch-thick, concrete, thermal slab on the ground ﬂoor.
Wood heat. The combination of passive and active solar heating, and super insulation have reduced the amount of wood we burn in our backup heater from ﬁve cords per winter to less than one-half cord per winter. We increased the size of our home/ofﬁce by a factor of four and reduced our wood consumption by a factor of 10, which overall increased performance by 40 times.
Solar heat retention. Besides ﬁnally having enough space to not be crowded, the new building is very comfortable — warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We are located at 3,320 feet elevation in the Siskiyou Mountains of southwestern Oregon. It gets cold here in the winter. Nighttime temperatures are often in the teens, and it’s not uncommon to have several feet of snow on the ground. Inside the building, it’s always cozy. The thermal slab stores enough heat for around four days of continuously cloudy weather. Proof of wintertime performance is that all our dogs and cats prefer to sleep on the solar thermal slab instead of any other place in the house.
Passive cooling. During the summer months, when the outside temperature is often in the high 90s, the inside temperature never rises above 76 degrees. We open the many operable windows after sunset and allow the cool mountain air to chill down the house. In the mornings, we simply close the windows and allow the super insulation to keep the house cool during the day.
Power room, which houses our batteries, inverters, and other renewable energy equipment
Lloyd Kahn is a sustainable living visionary and publisher of Shelter Publications. He is the author of natural building books, including Home Work, Tiny Homes, Tiny Homes on the Move, Shelter II , Builders of the Pacific Coast, and The Septic System Owner’s Manual (All available in the Mother Earth News Store). He lives and builds in Northern California. Follow Lloyd on his blog, Twitter, and Facebook, and read all of his Mother Earth News posts.
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