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"the solar home," by mark freeman
wed, 15 sep 1999
belying the subtitle ("how to design and build a house you heat with the
sun"), "the solar home" (stackpole books, 1994, $16.95, 226 pages,
isbn 0-8117-2446-8) by mark freeman is short on design, and
the resulting house isn't really solar-heated.

the author says he uses 2 1/2 cords of wood per year to heat his
1986 passive solar house ("fiddler's green, " which "has two ducts,
two fans, and one thermostatic switch") in the 7500 (f) degree-day
adirondack climate of east greenwich, ny. freeman says the wood
provides about 20% of the heat. the house has "approximately
sixteen hundred square feet of floor space... and most of the ceilings
are very high, which makes the solar heating work better..."

he continues:

    everything you need to know about passive solar construction
    can be put into one paragraph: be sure that your site has a good
    southern exposure... put all or almost all of the windows on the
    south side. superinsulate the house, with special attention to the
    vapor barrier, and provide a fairly substantial [unspecified] amount
    of heavy material to act as a heat sink. that's all there is to it!

he continues:

    ...a heat sink is a volume of dense material you can sink heat into.
    certain kinds of material absorb a lot of heat energy when the
    building is warm and release it slowly as the ambient temperature
    drops... for example, per pound, water is a better heat absorbing
    material than granite, but per cubic foot, rock is better...

his house contains "a bed of sand, some thirty to forty tons, with
a duct snaking through it... heat reaches the sand bed from the
greenhouse floor above it by conduction and from the basement via
a fan blowing air into the duct, which takes a winding course through
the sand and back to the basement. heat reaches the basement via
another fan and duct from the highest part of the house. of course,
when we're using the wood stove in the basement, heat is produced
there..." no dimensions are given.

the design process continues: "imagine a model of your house, with
water at the lowest point. now mentally turn it upside down. would the
water flow readily to one point? it should. now turn it back right side
up, and install a duct and fan to blow the warm air back from that point
to the basement (or lowest point.) freeman says "most heat escapes
through the ceiling.; your highest ceilings or the roof should have
about twice the [unspecified] insulation of the walls."

he suggests that plumbing be vented through the side of the house,
noting that "a hole in the wall will let out many times less heat than a
hole in the roof..."

he continues: "most books on this subject... engage in a  lengthy
discussion of r-values, which everyone talks about and nobody
understands...  every material has an r-factor, which is an indication
of how slowly heat passes through it. all you need to know about r-value
is that it's an approximation, and the higher, the better. it's all
relative; a handy thing to remember is that four inches of air space
has an r-value slightly under one. if your ceiling insulation is r-19,
it's vaguely like having eighty inches of air between the ceiling and
the roof... heat is prevented from radiating out of your house by the
shiny foil facing on insulating sheathing, and also by painted surfaces
or anything else that reflects light and heat back into the room. (foil
surfaces buried under sheetrock still work.)"

freeman on air-air heat exchangers: "in theory, stale air passes
out of the house as fresh air comes in; through a complex series of
tubes, channels, and baffles, all heat energy is transferred from the
outgoing air to the incoming air. in practice, air-to-air heat exchangers
are extremely expensive and not very efficient. one authority states that
the best of them is only slightly better than opening a window."

on tyvek: "be sure to put it on right side out, remembering that the
manufacturer always wants his name to show. if you put it on inside out,
it will let moisture _into_ your walls and not let it out again."

on condensation: "any passive solar house, if it is built right, will
have massive condensation problems, in the form of water running down
all the windows and making pools on the sills. we're not talking here
about a little moisture, but pints of water. on a very cold morning,
the windows will be covered on the inside with a complete glazing of ice,
this is easier to clean up than water, because you can hold a pan
under it and scrape it off with a windshield scraper."

on woodburning: "caution: don't have fires in a fireplace and a
woodstove simultaneously; the draft of one may suck the smoke 
of the other down the chimney and into the house."

on air infiltration: "in a typical house built before 1950 and never
renovated, the entire air content is exchanged with outside air every
four hours or so. this gives a whole new meaning to the term 'heating
all outdoors.'"

on solar living: "most of us who dwell in such houses are constant
putterers. there is always something to do: put on [thermal] shutters,
take off shutters... bring in wood, tend a fire, clean the stove and
chimney, carry out ashes, open drapes, close drapes, open up the sunspace,
close the sunspace, and so on ad infinitum. if that doesn't sound like
your kind of lifestyle, you probably shouldn't plan to live in a passive
solar house, at least not unless it has backup electric heat that is 
thermostatically controlled."

the book ends with an appendix:

   this section is for those who want to know why and how things work.
   if you are satisfied just to know that they do work, you can skip
   this part, although the information is handy for squelching those
   friends and acquaintances who will assure you that passive solar 
   heating won't work in your climate..."

freeman goes on to explain how to calculate overhangs, explaining that
the maximum sun elevation on 6/21 and 12/21 is 113 and 67 minus the
latitude, in degrees. he says (without actually doing any overhang
calculations) "it isn't nearly as difficult as it sounds; you can usually
calculate the overhangs "by guess and by god... we didn't calculate this
to five decimal places; we just looked at where the shadow of a plank
fell on about june 21. if the overhangs were half a  foot longer or
shorter, it wouldn't make a great deal of difference..."

the publisher says this book has sold well.


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