My Mother's House Part V: Ductwork and Hybrid Energy

Learn more about the MOTHER EARTH NEWS earth-sheltered home that relies primarily on passive solar gain and a passive/active heat and storage system.

| May/June 1982

By the time you read this, MOTHER'S Eco-Village property will be getting ready to open its gates for the summer, and thousands of folks will have the opportunity to view our earth-sheltered house firsthand. We hope the building will have interesting features that will be relevant to nearly anyone's favorite energy-efficient housing concept.

During the ongoing planning process we've tried to remember that earth sheltering and/or passive solar design may not be every future homeowner's cup(s) of tea, so we've attempted — wherever practical — to experiment with an assortment of alternative heating and cooling techniques. In this issue, for example, we'll describe our hybrid-solar collection and storage system... a setup that — though not strictly necessary in a dwelling with the inherent energy efficiency of ours — has proved to be quite impressive.

Passive Solar Energy and a Ducting System

Because of the extensive use of glazing on the south side of our house, two areas can — on sunny days — become warmer than is necessary: The sun-heated air tends to gather both in the greenhouse and at the peak of the second-story roof. Of course, the presence of 90-degree-Fahrenheit-plus temperatures at those two locations doesn't pose a comfort problem for the structure's occupants (and it would be easy enough to vent the excess heat, anyway), but we simply couldn't bear to let all that warmth go to waste.


Consequently, we decided to set up a ducting system that could capture heat from both spots and either direct it to the floor area immediately or store it for future use. Essentially, during collection, warmth is pulled actively (by a 1/3-horsepower blower) from the greenhouse and from a triangular passageway that runs along the peak of the second-story ceiling.

The air is routed through ductwork (it's made from fiberglass board) to an enclosed rock storage area located beneath the east-end bedroom floor. The box was built from plywood (with a supporting framework) and insulated with polystyrene board, then the bottom of the container was lined with 8-by-16-inch concrete blocks placed on their sides and spaced about an inch apart. Our crew handpicked a little more than 10 tons of approximately 3-inch-diameter washed river rock to fill the storage bed to a level about 6 inches below the top.

To give our rock bed the capability of handling both storage and heating, we cut openings at the top and bottom of the east and west ends and then built plenums, from fiberglass ductboard, to encase each of the two pairs of openings. Each chamber has a valve inside which will join either its top or its bottom rock bed opening to the connecting ductwork.

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: April 28-29, 2018
Asheville, NC

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!