Keeping Warm in the Deep Freeze


Brian KallerIf you grew up in the modern West – North America, for example – you probably grew up with central heating, cheap fuel and a near-endless supply of electricity delivered right to a hole in your wall. Generations of us grew up handling the winter chill with one simple technique: reach for the thermostat and crank it up. This assumption of convenience has shaped how we build houses, how we eat, and how we dress for all seasons. It also means that a fuel crisis or depression – or the winter storm that cut power to half a million North Americans a few weeks ago – can leave us completely vulnerable.

Consider, then, that people lived for thousands of years in wintry lands without a thermostat to crank, or without any modern fuel or technology, and obviously did not all freeze to death – nor were they even necessarily uncomfortable. They built their homes differently than we do, they adopted different dress and habits, and lived with a different set of expectations.

Traditional homes in many cultures had thick walls, whose thermal mass absorbed heat during the day and radiated it back during the cool night. Some homes in Ireland, for example, were made of cob – a mixture of sand, clay and straw that could be literally sculpted into a house. I helped built one in County Clare, Ireland, and I’m told it remains cozy inside years later.

The cob house in Cadhay - Wikicommons

Photo: Wikicommons

In many cultures – whether medieval Wales, pre-Columbian America or Ancient Greece – villages were arranged to maximize exposure to sun and light, minimizing the need for burning fuel. Only in recent times have we decided to build without regard to direction or landscape. (1)

10/16/2014 2:06:28 PM

Good topic, Brian, can't wait for the next installment.

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