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Is it easier to heat a home or cool it and what climate would that solution be for?  RSS feed

 
Alex Ojeda
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I've interned on the building of an Earthship and they are amazing. I do realize that you just can't knock down every home in the world and replace it with a new Earthship or an Oehler home or even a Wofati. Using the easiest eco technology you can think of, what would you do to take a Utility Company's Wet Dream home in suburbia and make it comfortable without paying a monthly bill. Is it easier if this were in a northern climate or in a southern climate? I also feel that we should assume the wimpiest subjects for this experiment too.
 
R Scott
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It is IMO much easier to heat than cool a suburban house without a utility bill--I've done it so anybody can. Not to say it is FREE, as chainsaws drink fuel and gathering firewood takes time that could be spent elsewhere.

An earth-sheltered PAHS (passive annual heat storage) house will be able to stay at average earth temperature year round plus a degree or two--all the designs you mentioned plus conventional concrete earth sheltered homes can do that. It is a tradeoff between material and labor costs, but the conventional concrete and earthship cost about the same if you pay someone to do it; Oehler and Wofati would be less IF you have free timber.

None of them are EASY.

Always look to what the natives built in the area--you don't have to duplicate the materials, but recreate the design principles using modern available materials and methods. You can use rammed earth or earthbag instead of adobe for example.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think that is a worthy inquiry, Alex. We certainly can't expect to tear down all the crummy suburban houses and install brand-new earth friendly structures. I hope folks will engage in this idea of how to remodel existing structures to be more comfortable. I live in a cheap modern house which we heat mostly with wood and cool mostly with ventilation, but it needs a lot more work to rise to the level of "comfortable." Some climates are much more challenging than others, especially those which are hot and humid in the summer and below freezing in the winter. We find it easier to heat our house during our relatively mild winters, using a small woodstove. So far cooling it is more challenging.

 
R Scott
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Does anyone know how much benefit the average home would get from a living roof in terms of attic or interior temperature?

Even if not "living" a perlite or water gel blanket holding water and evap cooling should make a difference even if you have to water it in the dry season.

I would trade a few gallons of water for a few hundred kilowatt-hours of AC.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Just painting the roof white with roof coating can have a significant effect. http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/Cooling/WhiteRoofExperiment/WhiteRoof.htm We plan to do this in the next year or two. Also helps preserve the roof.

Living roof may not be appropriate for very hot climates. I'm pretty sure a living roof would die here almost immediately unless irrigated extensively, which might be a problem here in our region where some folks' wells are going dry.....
 
John Polk
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Evap coolers were brought up.

I would like to add that they are efficient, and economical IF you live in a dry climate. In a hot/humid climate, they will compound the problem. Humid areas benefit more from dehumidifiers, but from what I have seen, they are not very economical.

Deciduous trees are great when you want to shade the summer's sun, but capture it in the winter time. Unfortunately, they will take many years to grow to the point that they serve their purpose. You can utilize trellised vines while the trees are maturing to get some relief from the summer sun.

 
Tyler Ludens
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We put awnings on our west windows, they were expensive but easier to install than new, better windows, and help keep the windows somewhat shaded as the trees grow. Fabric awnings eventually rot but are reasonably easy to replace with new fabric or shade cloth. Just having decent modern double-paned windows instead of el cheapo single pane ones seems to make a huge difference. We hope to replace some of our crummy windows gradually over time, and add additional windows for ventilation. Windows or openings can even be put in interior walls to improve air circulation. We might do this in our bedroom if we get really excited. We also hope to put a cupola on the house to pull air up through the central stack and vent system (presently occupied by the disused central electric forced-air heating), but this is a major project involving cutting a hole in the roof, which scares me.....

 
John Polk
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A classic example of (not quite) native architecture is the Spanish missions in California. The Spaniards brought their Mediterranean climate architecture (which they learned from the Moors) with them to California. Unfortunately, they didn't realize the magnitude nor frequency of our earthquakes, which damaged or destroyed many of the missions.

I have been inside several of them when the outside temperatures were well above 100° F (35° C) . Inside, it was a nice cool 65° F (18° C). I have also been inside them when it was 32° F (0° C) outside, yet, still 65° inside.

Many had both indoor and outdoor kitchens.
All had wide porches that kept summer sun off of the walls, yet allowed the low winter sun to shine in.

Their design/construction was nearly ideal for the climate.
Thick, adobe walls for thermal mass.
Locally made bricks, terra cotta, and adobe.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Oh I should mention a major drawback of the fabric awnings is "flupping" on windy nights, which can keep one awake. This doesn't happen with shade cloth, which doesn't catch the wind.

 
Brenda Groth
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i live in Michigan and I find it is easier to heat a home to a comfortable temperature than to try to cool it (esp without air conditioning). I dont mind cold temps as we can warm it up, but when it gets to 90's here, there is just no way to get the house cool once it warms up.

so my vote is..it is easier to heat a house
 
Rion Mather
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Depends on location. I live in the Eastern Great Lakes area where most houses don't have air conditioning because it isn't needed.
 
greg patrick
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We live in SoCal and we planted a giant native deciduous tree on our SW corner. Sunny in winter; shady on hot summer afternoons. Haven't paid for heat or cooling in years. . .
 
Tyler Ludens
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Southern California is one of those places where it is quite easy to live without heating or air conditioning.

 
John Polk
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There are micro climates in So Cal where heating/cooling are factors to be considered.

I spent a lot of time at my sister's house 7 miles from the ocean (by road...probably 4-5 as the crow flies). For 3 months of the summer, daytime highs of 90's, 100's were extremely common. If it was 80 at the beach, it was 100 at the house.

Winters could be pretty brutal (for So Cal). I don't know what our low ever was, but one day I ventured outside to get more oak for the fireplace at around 10-11:00 am, and the thermometer (in the sun) said 17° F ( -8° C). The dog's water dish in the kitchen froze over many winter nights.

The house was built in 1911 or 12 as a prop for an old Mary Pickford western movie. There were 3 of the cabins built along the creek and they had been used as summer retreats by some of Hollywood's elite after the movie was made. They had no insulation whatsoever, and on a windy day you could feel the wind through some of the walls.

Fortunately, we had lots of old, tall oaks to shade us in the summer, and provide us with a couple of cords for the winter.

It certainly was not a typical coastal So Cal climate.


 
Morgan Morrigan
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cheapest way to modify a suburban home would have to be bury it, or build adobe walls around it w/foam/stucco on exterior.

seems like a double roof with the 4 ft eave's would be next cheapest. If you can do the engineering yourself....

in-floor heating tubes are gonna be big in a couple years, and if you have a swamp cooler, you could use the chilled water for in-floor chilling.

You actually want the water AND the air as warm as possible , so it evaporates easier. The upgrade for swamp coolers, was down draft vents for the panels, that took super heated air off the roof surface for increased water evap ! counter-intuitive i know. Would prob help in more humid areas too.
A lot of folks put their coolers on the shady side of the house thinking it will help em work better, and some put ice in em for a quick chill, but both are counterproductive. painting the top white is good tho....
 
Tyler Ludens
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Morgan Morrigan wrote:cheapest way to modify a suburban home would have to be bury it.


Is there an example of anyone ever doing that?

 
Alex Ojeda
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Morgan Morrigan wrote:cheapest way to modify a suburban home would have to be bury it, or build adobe walls around it w/foam/stucco on exterior.

seems like a double roof with the 4 ft eave's would be next cheapest. If you can do the engineering yourself....

in-floor heating tubes are gonna be big in a couple years, and if you have a swamp cooler, you could use the chilled water for in-floor chilling.

You actually want the water AND the air as warm as possible , so it evaporates easier. The upgrade for swamp coolers, was down draft vents for the panels, that took super heated air off the roof surface for increased water evap ! counter-intuitive i know. Would prob help in more humid areas too.
A lot of folks put their coolers on the shady side of the house thinking it will help em work better, and some put ice in em for a quick chill, but both are counterproductive. painting the top white is good tho....


This sounds similar to what I'm trying to do. My plan:

I want to dig a trench that is 5 feet down and goes under my off-grade house (although, I don't believe that it's necessary that you go under your house). In this trench I want to put AC conduit at about 10" diameter (+ or -). I want to start the conduit perpendicular to the ground going down at least 7' and in a hot area of the yard. The conduit that runs in a straight line under my house will be attached at about 5' down. The resulting "T" will be where the hot air and the cool air meet and, fingers crossed, the humidity will condensate and drop down into the last 2' below before the now dry air rushes into the conduit. That conduit will now carry the air and cool it as it goes under the house. Once it reaches the end it will curve up -trying not to create any drag or turbulence while it moves into the house. I plan to use my attic fan to suck this air into the house.

I got this idea from Mike Reynolds who designed the Earthship homes. He has amazing results. The Earthships use convection from heat in the top of the greenhouse section and venting to pull the cool air in from the back of the house. One thing about Earthships is that they are pretty air-tight if you want them to be.

At least with my plant, I can get cool, dry air without running an energy-sucking A/C unit.

Anyone have any concerns or experience with this idea?
 
Tyler Ludens
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My main concern would be mold and mildew growing in the tube.
 
Alex Ojeda
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Tyler Ludens wrote:My main concern would be mold and mildew growing in the tube.


I am concerned about that since I'll be using an attic fan. On the earthship, this is an automatic process that relies on the air outside to be hot enough to drop out the moisture in the first stage. I believe this is how they keep mold and mildew out of the tube. Since I'll be pulling it through with a fan, I'll have to find some way of being sure that it doesn't run when it's not hot enough outside. Like a thermostat switch.

I have no experience with these things...
 
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