My Mother's House Part IV: Installing a Passive Heating System

In this stage of building MOTHER's house, workers install a geothermal heating system. Read how it's done and what suggestions we have for a heat-exchanger system of your own.

| January/February 1982

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    The cooling system pipes enter the house through an opening at each end of the front wall.
    PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    Elevation drawings.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    The building's natural air conditioning system consists of 15" diameter PVC irrigation pipes buried deep in the cool soil.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    The above-ground portions of the upper level are insulated with 1/2-inch polystyrene and 3-1/2-inch fiberglass for a combined R-value of over 20.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    The drainage lines for the foundation run through the same trenches as the "cool tubes".
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    Gravel is spread around the drainpipes that lie against the back wall.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    The intake ends of the cool tubes are capped with screens and shields to keep rain out.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    Fill dirt was added until we reached a level about 1-1/2 feet below the edge of the roof on the back of the building. We then laid a 6-foot-wide sheet of 4-mil polyethylene along the entire length of the building, to prevent water draining off the roof from running directly down along the wall.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    The greenhouse section of MOM's house nears completion.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

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With winter upon us, the Eco-Village crew has been hard at work getting "My MOTHER's House" ready to weather the coming storms. Beyond the innumerable seasonal details to be taken care of — which include installing insulation, sealing, shingling and flashing to name a few — we've had to finish off one component that we really won't be needing all that much until next summer.

Because our building's single most important energy-conserving feature is its earth berming (and, on the front half of the structure, the sod roof), we've been anxious to get on with the necessary backfilling and grading. But, to do so, we've also had to go ahead and install the natural cooling system (it consists of a pair of buried 15-inch-diameter, 60-foot-long plastic pipes), through which ground-cooled air can be drawn into the house. Now air conditioning may not be at the top of your list of concerns as the snow blows past the living room window, but the tubes had to be installed before the berming could be done. So snuggle up to your wood stove while we tell you about our passive home cooling system. 

Using the Earth For Passive Heat

 

Because soil is far less willing to conduct heat than is air, the temperature of the earth below the frost line remains comparatively constant throughout the year. At 25 feet down there's essentially no change in the ground temperature, although at shallower depths the tempering effect is weaker. In general, however, the earth six feet or more below the surface will stay fairly close to the average annual air temperature for the area.



That stability of ground temperature is, as many of you know, the key to the energy efficiency of earth-sheltered homes. The soil surrounding such structures is likely to remain in the 50 degree Fahrenheit to low 60 degree Fahrenheit range — so the buildings lose less warmth in the winter and gain less heat in the summer, than they would if their walls were exposed to outside air.

However, earth sheltering doesn't eliminate the need to exchange a home's interior air at least once every two hours. (Such a change is required to maintain adequate oxygen in a house and to prevent the accumulation of carbon dioxide and toxins emitted by gas appliances, wood stoves and the building materials themselves.) You may be surprised to know that, in a very well-insulated dwelling, the task of heating or cooling the "new" air to room temperature can account for a substantial portion of the building's thermal requirements.






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