Concrete Houses, Llamas for Learning and Growing Kiwi Fruit

A look back at a concrete house featured in a past issue of MOTHER, how llamas are helping inner city kids, and growing tropical kiwi.

| October/November 1993

Concrete Houses Stand the Test of Time

Dozens of you have requested follow-up reports on previous MOTHER experiments, specifically alternative housing. (Your message was heard.) So we begin our update with Jesse Savell's passively heated and cooled houses from back in 1977 (issue #48). We're pleased to announce that Savell's houses, made of precast concrete wall panels, have withstood the test of time.

The operative word in Savell's design is mass. Since the construction of Egyptian pyramids, builders have been relying on thermal mass to achieve near-constant interior temperatures, not unlike those in deep caves. While the walls in Savell's house design are only six inches thick, their thermal resistance is equivalent to a wall 10" thick. The trick: Savell uses a sandwich effect: several inches of concrete wall panels on the inside, stucco on the outside, and a layer of polyurethane in between.

Unlike other alternative-style houses, these are designed to look like "typical" houses—Victorian, Colonial, or any other style.

By building the house facing south, the structure also becomes a passive solar collector, absorbing the sun's low-winter rays and storing the energy in the walls and foundation. Because the house maintains an average temperature of 58°F year-round, you'll save plenty on your energy bills. Think about it: when it's 10°F out side, the average heating system must overcome a temperature difference of 60°F to keep the optimal 70°F temperature inside. The Savell house must overcome a difference of only 12°F, which can be achieved with a small heating pump.

Dean Geraldine Rice, who has been living in a Savell-design house in Canyon Lake, California, for 13 years, swears by it. "During mid-summer, when temperatures reach into the 90s here, we hardly ever use our air conditioning. I'd say our summer energy bills are about 70% less than our neighbors' who live in `normal' houses."

Since we last visited the Savell system, the construction has qualified for Solar Tax credits, survived numerous earthquakes virtually damage free, and even won first place in California's first Passive Solar Design competition in 1979. In addition, Mr. Savell has reduced by half the amount of concrete required to build the walls without compromising the heating or cooling capabilities.

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