A Year Of Passive Solar Living

Four years ago we bought our dream property. A hilltop location with a view that goes on for miles; 53 acres of land with excellent southern exposure. The decision to build our house was easy. It was the process that was hard.

The southern exposure initially prompted us to research a completely off-grid lifestyle. Unfortunately, we aren’t independently wealthy and we had to mortgage our home. With mortgages come banks, and banks are unwilling to finance a home that isn’t tied into the grid. We went back to the drawing board and fell in love with passive-solar designed homes. We chose our floor plan, went to the local lumberyard, and presented it to the bank. The week after Christmas 2011, we began framing. Yes, we were crazy enough to build it ourselves. We even had a 2-year-old along for the ride.

Fast forward to Memorial Day weekend. We had one functioning bathroom and no siding on the house, but we started calling it home. And as the old saying goes, new house new baby. Two days after our move we found out we’d become a family of four in February. A month after we moved in, we experienced the terrible derecho (straight-line wind storm) event that tested the construction of our house and left us without power for eight days. This storm event, which brought with it sustained high winds and severe thunderstorms, is a rare event that left a path of destruction throughout the state of West Virginia. Fortunately, with the passive solar design, with larger than average overhangs to keep out the scorching summer sun and plenty of windows to create breezes, we survived.

It is really quite amazing to see just how well the design of the house works. Absolutely no sun comes in through the windows in the summer. As the lazy days turn to fall, the sun creeps slowly in, warming the house quite nicely. The sun is our No. 1 heat source with our woodstove as back up. We needed the woodstove when super storm Sandy hit in October. We lost power again and with the woodstove, we were able to stay warm and cook some mighty fine meals. The woodstove continued to warm our bodies and hearts on days the sun was afraid to show its face. The sun shining in our windows helped keep things warm for our new daughter and helped keep my baby blues away. As the day started getting longer, so the sun crept slowly and slowly out of the house. And the cycle repeats itself.

The derecho event downed numerous trees that we were able to cut and split for this winter’s firewood. We look forward again to those cold winter nights with cups of hot cocoa by the fire. We are anxiously awaiting the solstice and hope that it’s a sunny one.

The south side of our passive solar home and our first garden on our homestead.

Published on Dec 4, 2013

Grit Magazine

Live The Good Life with GRIT!