The Thermal Envelope Home Redesigned

The controversial thermal-envelope house is reconsidered and redesigned to make use of the features that work and eliminate those which don't.

| July/August 1983

  • thermal envelope home redesigned
     Steve and Tamara McKinney's dwelling in Squaw Valley, California exemplifies Smith's evolved design. It has an attached solarium and earth-coupled foundation, but no envelope, superinsulation, or excess thermal mass.
    PHOTOS: SCOTT KLINE, CRAIG KALONICA, AND SHARON STAWICK-SEIDERS
  • Original Thermal-Envelope Home
    Tom Smith's original thermal-envelope home, completed in 1977, provided some new insight into the double-shell controversy.
    SCOTT KLINE, CRAIG KALONICA, AND SHARON STAWICK-SEIDERS
  • thermal envelope home living area
    The living area is oriented to the south, and is tempered by…
    SCOTT KLINE, CRAIG KALONICA, AND SHARON STAWICK-SEIDERS
  • thermal envelope home sun space
    …this cozy sunspace, which is linked to the insulated crawl space beneath the structure.
    SCOTT KLINE, CRAIG KALONICA, AND SHARON STAWICK-SEIDERS
  • 082-158-01
    Tom Smith's evolved thermal envelope house design eliminates some of the unnecessary elements of the original.
    SCOTT KLINE, CRAIG KALONICA, AND SHARON STAWICK-SEIDERS

  • thermal envelope home redesigned
  • Original Thermal-Envelope Home
  • thermal envelope home living area
  • thermal envelope home sun space
  • 082-158-01

In March of 1979, MOTHER featured a story on what was at that time a rather unusual passive solar house. For instead of collecting warmth and storing it in a conventional medium, this double-shelled maverick admitted insolation into a greenhouse and then routed the sun-tempered air—by convection—through a vertical loop that completely surrounded the living area. During its circuit, the air gave up its heat to the mass of the inner structure, and then, when it had cooled, it was reintroduced to the solarium to be warmed anew. 

In effect, the envelope of heated air not only tempered the living quarters, but also provided a buffer zone between the harsh outside climate and the moderate atmosphere within the house, while the home itself functioned as both collector and storage medium. 

The structure worked, but many people—including Tom Smith, the dwelling's owner, co-designer,and the author of this article—had difficulty pinpointing exactly why. Consequently, it wasn't long before the design was called into question by individuals knowledgeable in the solar field. But by the same token, proponents of the "cause" were equally ready to defend double-shell architecture, and did so. In the meantime, various hybrid designs rooted in the envelope theme were unveiled, and they, too, functioned well. 

While all this was going on, though, Smith merely observed quietly, and then got busy working out the modified structure shown in the photos, based on the knowledge he'd gained in the several-year interim. Since Tom was one of the first to promote the original double envelope concept, we think it only fair to give him an opportunity to explain what his new design is all about, and why it differs from the old one. 



I've had a tiger by the tail ever since my "thermal envelope" home appeared in MOTHER EARTH NEWS over four years ago, and to me it's ironic that what was intended to be an expression of simplicity turned instead into a source of confusion and controversy! 

Those not familiar with the course of events should know that a lot of people initially thought my double-shelled house wouldn't work. Then, when the house itself proved otherwise, folks agreed that it indeed worked, but no one could figure out exactly why. Finally, the solar "experts" got into the discussion. As a result, the theories and research became more sophisticated, but the obvious seemed to become more obscure. The field even polarized into camps of advocates and critics! 






Mother Earth News Fair Schedule 2019

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Next: February, 16-17 2019
Belton, TX

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!

LEARN MORE






Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).


Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard
Free Product Information Classifieds

}