Locating Your House and Passive Solar Energy

Reader Contribution by Cynthia Brownell
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By Cynthia Brownell

In the last blog, I talked about hiring a forester or logging company to come in and help you clear your land. Granted, this scenario isn’t appropriate for everyone. Some lucky person will buy an already-established barn and house, or buy a piece of property in a large subdivided field. This is for the person who is standing in a mess of trees wondering, like we did, “Now what?”

Once the property is logged, it usually comes as a shock to most people because the land looks like a mess. It is amazing, however, to see how fast the forest can re-establish itself. When it comes to planning, you will have to stay on your toes. Our first year after the property was logged, we noticed a large growth of blackberry bushes. We were completely excited. Blackberry jam and jellies. After five years of berry picking I now have a strange fascination with running down a number of blackberry bushes with my lawn mower. They are everywhere!

Now that the land is cleared, the question is where to place your house. In the southern United States, house placement is different from where we live in the northern climate. Our winters are long and cold and summers are short and sweet. We needed to place our cabin in the most energy-efficient location on the property. We were so proud of ourselves; we placed the cabin in a location that would get the most sunlight throughout the day. This is what we learned:

1. Summers are hot! Yes, hot. When the sun is beating in all the windows, the temperature of the cabin rises during the day. Going to bed in the evening is like laying in an oven on 350 degrees. For us, air conditioning is out of the question right now.  I have friends who live off-grid and hook up an air conditioner to their generator and let it run during the day to cool off their home. Then in the evening the house is a little more comfortable.

Our solution was to buy a few insulated curtains. In the morning, we close the insulated blinds to keep the house cool. In the evening, we open the windows and the blinds and let the cooler air into the house. 

Granted, when it is hot and humid this system doesn’t work to combat the humidity. We are working on it. The funny thing is, when we moved off-grid we sold our air conditioner. My husband and I are now on the lookout for a smaller window unit. I am looking forward to hooking up an air conditioner to the generator. 

2. Winter wind is cold!  In our first winter in the cabin, we ran out of time and didn’t get a chance to add the porch before the first snow fall. The location of our front door is apparently in a direct path to the wind from Lake Ontario and the tug hill plateau. Talk about cold! Some mornings we would wake up to frozen door hinges and a light dusting of snow under the door. Our solution? Build the enclosed porch.Once we could hold a hammer without our hands freezing to the metal, we started to build. The second winter was much better. We could still hear the wind, but we couldn’t feel it anymore. 

The placement of your house truly affects how comfortable you are. We are in the process of planning our larger house. We are designing the home to use passive solar energy during the winter and a possible air-flow system in the summer.  We are still in the designing and researching phase. Our first two years living in the cabin have taught us how the weather affects our property, the placement of the sun, the location of outbuildings, and shade trees. 

The original idea about moving into the cabin was to save money and kick-start our dream of homesteading. What it has become is our “training” cabin. We can try different ideas without losing a ton of money. My suggestion before you start to build is stay on the property either in a camper or cabin. Use this as your training cabin and find out the best possible place for your future home. 

In the next blog, I will be exploring different water sources and systems. What is your best water idea and system set up?

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