Solar Heating and Cooling With the Sun

Learn how Jim Harmon achieve a virtually self-sufficient homestead using a heating and cooling system adapted from Middle Eastern home design.

| July/August 1986

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    The "tower of power" divides the bank of clerestory windows and accommodates the unique sun-powered air powered air exchange system.
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    Much of the home's aesthetic warmth comes from the broad use of wood in the interior . . . And a small, but open, floor arrangement.
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    Diagram of the solar heating and cooling system adapted from Middle Eastern home design.

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Reprinted from MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 63.   

Though designed for the California desert, Jim Harmon's attractive and innovative home incorporates features that would prove a blessing in any climate. 

Solar Heating and Cooling With the Sun

In the desert region of Southern California's Imperial Valley—just east of San Diego's urban sprawl—the ambient temperature can seasonally fluctuate from a high of 130 degrees Fahrenheit to as low as the mid-20s, with humidity usually resting at a bone-drying 10%.

Nonetheless, folks do live in the area, and it's no secret that most such desert dwellers consume inordinate amounts of precious energy just keeping their air-conditioned homes comfortable . . . especially during the scorching hot summer months.

But one particularly resourceful resident of this arid wilderness—university professor James Harmon—has chosen to abandon the conventional methods of climate control using natural solar heating and cooling and let the desert environment passively temper his home all year-round!

Planning Paid Off

Achieving a natural climate control system using solar heating and cooling demands a good deal of planning and sound research, even in an area of moderate climate, so in order to make his concept a working reality in the often-uncompromising desert, Jim really had to do his homework. The house he eventually designed [1] rests on a concrete slab foundation that's set about four feet below the desert floor to take advantage of the temperature-stabilizing effect of the earth, [2] incorporates a naturally convected ventilation system that serves to heat the home in winter and cool it in summer, [3] uses insulation to the utmost on both interior and exterior walls, and [4] takes advantage of desirable wintertime sunlight through the use of south-facing glass (much of which is shaded by roof overhangs in summer) both at ground level and within the clerestory wall.


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