Friday, January 25, 2008

Home, Plants, Sun, Water

I am constantly amazed how warm and cozy our solar house is, my appreciation for its pleasant ambiance is growing with each passing year. My husband, Scott Pittman, designed it back in the day when I still could barely understand how solar homes worked. For a long while I took it for granted. But as I see other homes, answer questions of our visitors, I am beginning to understand that we are truly living in a miraculous house. It "knows" how to absorb a very significant amount of sun's energy in the bitter cold winters, cooling off only slightly into the next morning, needing very little additional heat from our masonry stove to keep it at 68 Degrees even through the single digits frosts.
Our house "knows" how to provide enough light for the 600 sf interior greenhouse on the hottest summer day without overheating the house in the slightest. It is a large house, kind of embarrassingly large, nearly 2400 sf - but a large portion of it is interior is a waste water treatment greenhouse, which you can see on the photos above. All of our water (I mean ALL of it) goes into this very simple pumice bed which has some light soil on top. There, without any contraptions or moving parts, or energy inputs, it is being processed by bacteria into nutrients for our plants. The plants, besides being very lovely, also cleanse our home from any pollutants, they transpire the moisture from the pumice bed underneath and make our home a little more humid in the typically low (10-20%) humidity of our arid environment. Some are food producing too, although one cannot count on it for survival!
Our interior walls are made with bales of straw, creating a very quiet home, which is also very good at keeping constant interior temperatures. In the summer it is cool (the window and roof overhangs are designed to keep the sun out of the house); in the winter all of our absorptive surfaces (walls and floors) are awash in the sunshine, warming up with each hour. For heat we use a Russian (masonry) oven, which is very heavy with its incredibly thick masonry walls. It takes a while to get it hot, but once it is hot, it takes a while for it to cool off - making it into a very efficient device! An added benefit - it can be fueled with twigs, which allows us to be self-sufficient using just dead wood from our small woodlot. The more I think about all of this, the more I realize - this is a truly fabulous house we built!