Thursday, February 16, 2006

Unlike America, Japan Cuts Energy Use Ruthlessly

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

Every time the price of fossil fuels jump, the Japanese people respond to government commands they cut back by ruthlessly cutting down energy use, for example, not heating buildings at all. Meanwhile, America can't even throttle back gas guzzling vehicles.

From the Washington Post:
When the Japanese government issued a national battle cry against soaring global energy prices this winter, no one heeded the call to arms more than this farming town in the misty mountains of western Japan.

To save on energy, local officials shut off the heating system in the town hall, leaving themselves and 100 workers no respite from near-freezing temperatures. On a recent frosty morning, rows of desks were brimming with employees bundled in coats and wool blankets while nursing thermoses of hot tea. To cut back on gasoline use, officials say, most of the town's 13,000 citizens are strictly obeying a nationwide call to turn off car engines while idling, particularly when stopped at traffic lights.
Note the difference from America. When we lost a lot of our oil wells, like a big baby, we ran over to Europe and demanded they supply us with lots of oil or we would run up the price of oil to over $100 a barrel. So, grinding their teeth, they forked over the fuel which we then happily guzzled, hardly pausing in stride.

We made nearly zero attempts at curbing our consumption on any level. I remember when Carter was savaged for suggesting we heat our houses at 68 degrees and put on a sweater! Reagan said, "What me worry?" and we all cheered, turned up the theromstat and went on to party like there was no tomorrow.

And there will be no tomorrow at this rate.
Takao Iwase, Kamiita's husky administrative director, joined other locals in switching off the heat at home, too -- leaving his family to quickly hustle from steaming nighttime baths to the warm comforters on their traditional futons. "We're saving [$100] a day at city hall by shutting off the heat," Iwase, wearing four layers of clothing and a winter coat inside his office, said proudly. "But we no longer see this as just an economic issue. Japan has no natural resources of its own, so saving energy has become our national duty."
This sounds so much like the Chinese, heh. Japan runs a giant surplus with us. They must import all their oil but in our case, even if it is only 60% of our oil we are importing, this is still, by volume, more than Japan imports and since we have nearly wiped out our industrial base, very little of the oil we import is creating value that can be exported at a profit, unlike Japan.

The Japanese have always put their personal comfort second to other considerations. For example, there is no clamor for cheap beef. Why? Well, it would have to be imported and this will ruin the trade balance so shop owners and meat packing houses and everyone conspire with the government to not only not allow foreign beef in except for a very small amount, but the media won't express consumer rage over high prices.
Canon's $225 Pixus MP500 printer, which uses 60 percent less electricity than the company's other models, has become the number one seller here despite a variety of less costly options on the market. Matsushita, maker of the Panasonic and National brands, is selling a $600 energy-efficient ceiling lamp that proudly tells its users, "You are saving 10 percent on electricity," each time it's switched on. Last year, the company jumped into the housing subdivision business and is now building suburban "eco-homes" fully equipped with energy-saving gadgets and solar panels that can chop 65 percent off the average Japanese power bill of about $180 a month.
The Japanese use much less energy than we and their cost per kilowatt hour is much higher. America's trade imbalance is a very serious thing and one component that is very bad is our importation of fossil fuels.

Just like balancing the budget, we have to cut back on that element or else slowly or increasingly swiftly, bleed to death.

As my illustration above shows, the typical American house has central heating and many of them use natural gas. In Japan, it has been quite different up until recently. The table the family in the picture are using is called a Kotatsu. It is a low table with two quilts thrown on top of and then, to protect them, a hard surface for eating off of. I have eaten at such tables when visiting Japanese nuns, for example. When your legs are warm, the upper body feels much warmer than expected and to warm the hands, you slip them under the quilt occasionally.

We lived in a tent complex on a very cold mountain for ten years. We got used to wearing bathrobes that are big and thick, like huge quilts, along with heavy felt booties and long woolen socks. I used to warm up bricks on the Victorian cook stove and slip them under the blankets, wrapped in a towel, to heat up the beds so we wouldn't freeze when climbing under the covers. The other thing was to drape the bedding covers over a chair by the woodstove and then, when it was warm, go to bed with it.

I also took old fur coats and remade them as blankets and trust me, nothing is warmer than a mink coat, fur side under.

Because America is big and was allowed to run up a gigantic debt, we have resized ourselves and our infrastructure to deadly proportions. I once owned a mansion and heating that monster was a nightmare. I was glad to be rid of it. Right now, America is dotted with mini-mansion of great size, all of which will have to be abandoned when the energy problem becomes the energy nightmare. What a waste.
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Monday, February 06, 2006

High Halloween Couture Big Hit In Paris!

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

It now looks like the French top designers want to crib from some of my past NYC Village Halloween Parade specials! Only they left out my lovely bat wings. Well, next year, after they look at my art here, they will remember that item, too!

From the NYT:
THE GRAND PALAIS was built for expositions — many Parisians in the last century saw their first airplane there — and since its reopening last fall Karl Lagerfeld has used it to display Chanel's new clothes and, of course, himself. Last October he had a giant video screen erected, with his image blown up like Kong. For his spring haute couture show on Tuesday he put up what looked like a missile silo. At the end of the show, the tube lifted toward the glass ceiling, revealing the models on a spiral staircase.

It's easy to snicker at Mr. Lagerfeld. He is 70-something, he speaks brutally fast, and he has an eccentric collection of jewelry. The other day he had on a porcelain carnation made for Madame de Pompadour and retouched with gold by Jean Schlumberger. "He was kind of gifted, Schlumberger," Mr. Lagerfeld said, squinting behind his dark glasses and breaking into a huge grin.

But — from Madame de Pompadour's breast to Karl Lagerfeld's lapel — that is the arc of couture's incredible comet. If you are gifted like Mr. Lagerfeld, or like John Galliano at Dior, you don't have to ask whether couture is dead. It's relevant if you can make the meaningful connections between the past and present. On Monday, Mr. Galliano sent out a provocative collection with allusions — in the rough work boots and red-splattered white organza — to the French Revolution and, not incidentally, to the recent riots in France.
Well, Muslims are now burning down embassies all over the place, in at least six different countries. Luckily for the Grande Palais, Lagerfeld didn't do this, too.

I was one of the very first people to start off with the now famous Village Halloween Parade in NYC. It started because we young freaky mothers in the arts community wanted to show off our creations with our little tots so we all dressed up hugely and walked the kids through Washington Square Park and went begging together. This grew rapidly into a wild show over the years.

The costume here got a rousing reception. I was with two guys dressed as a bear and a bull in business suits and we wheeled a Wall Street lampost with us as we joked about the coming recession (we were right on the nose, too! Haha!).

I had "Vagina Dentanda" with me, my baby monster. I kept him hidden in my volumous skirts which were made out of the Wall Street Journal which is, by the way, in serious trouble at Wall Street because that rag is losing money! Haha! Again!

Anyway, this skirt was huge and so were my wings, I couldn't get on a subway except sideways. And as I stalked along 6th Avenue that night, every time someone yelled that we didn't scare them, we would surround the brave soul and talk about stocks falling. And I would whip out Baby and people would scream. It was a riot. A little Japanese girl cried when I did that to her daddy so I had to kiss him with my monster face. She loved it and wanted to hold Baby. I said, "I am a demon, you shouldn't be my friend," but she insisted.

So I was a total failure.

Well, seeing this year's fashions in Paris, I plan to hop the next broom over or maybe just fly with my lovely wings and go instruct them on how to design really cool demons.

Read my hips. No new fashion designers!
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Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Material Girl In A Material World: Dancing Like Loie Fuller

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

This is a publicity photo from one of my dance performances. The fine fabric has storm clouds and rainbows printed all over it and it would drift through the air wonderfully, catching every breeze and onstage, I could whirl it into a vast, billowing cloud about me, it being over 50 yards in width. Manipulating material and reality: dances inspired by Loie Fuller, the first American modern dancer.

Loie Fuller, in Wikipedia The very first American modern dancer was a stout young lady from Illinois. She not only took Europe by storm, she revolutionized the art of dance, sponsored Isadora Duncan and inspired many future dancers. She and her brother invented stage lighting that used gels and changed rapidly like the color wheel, for example. Yet less than 50 years after she died in the twenties, she was nearly totally forgotten.

I was visiting MOMA in Manhattan in 1969 when I ran into this amazing statue showing a delighted lady flipping a mountain of material around her body, estatic.

"Impossible," I said. "Probably just made up." I read the dancer's name on the base and decided to figure out how she danced. This took more than a year to do. Once I figured out from various pictures how she made her fabulous costumes and the bamboo rods she used as the flexible supports to extend her arms to tremendous degree, I began to reproduce her dances, one by one.

This is the great lady dancing in her most difficult costume. I reproduced this one in particular for the Lily dance, for example.

It was over 100 yards in size and moving all that fine material at such an extention was very hard work. Since I do construction work too, I am very muscular with powerful legs. When I demonstrated this dance at the Julliard School of Dance, one ballet student told me, it was simple to do a Loie Fuller dance so I dressed her in this costume and told her to give it a whirl. Within minutes, she was tangled in the masses of material to the snickers of the other dancers.

I enjoyed doing these dances because they were very meditative, I didn't pay attention to my feet or arms but instead, my mind would dwell upon the far edges of the cloth which was moving sometimes at lightning speed far from my body. In the Fire Dance, I would be moving the cloth so ferociously, the sound of it moving around me in an ever rising pillar was a loud roar but the audience couldn't hear it over the sound of the Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner.

I would go to the studio and stand in front of banks of mirrors, peering around the billows of material as I would perfect the movement of my arms to draw the cloth into various shapes and designs. I got so good, I could do it in my sleep and indeed, today, can reproduce any of my dances with no rehearsals, it is ingrained so deeply.

The only time I could see myself was through photographers because the material, especially when lit up, can't be seen from within.

Instantly, when I set off in Manhattan to show this dancing, other dancers ran off in imitated me. It is amusing to see all the offspring of my efforts even until today. But precious few understood the core of her dances, aside from myself. They simply wave the material around. They don't make it into anything except surface razzel-dazzle.

When I danced the Rose dance, for example, the cloth would fold and roll until it was a bud, then blossoming into full flower and then disintigrating lavishingly. The Fire dance starts as bluish ripples with my fingers tweeking the far edges of the cloth, then rippling higher and higher until I became a pillar of literally roaring fire with the cloth cascading over my head and rolling to my ankles only to shoot even higher! It would reach over 15' high.

Then there was my favorite, a dance I made myself. Using photos of Voyager, I took everyone through the solar system, ending with the earth, to "Au Claire De la Lune" by Debussy. Utterly dark stage with light absorbing black velvet backdrop. As the music plays, I silently glide onstage and only when the cloth intersects the stars projected from the booth can anyone see anything.

As the planets get nearer, Saturn's rings suddenly appear, rippling and rolling across the material which flies out in graceful whirls. I move faster and faster until the Earth appears.

Then I slow down to near immobility, the sheer cloth trembling, slithering across the stage, at this point, invariably, silence falls and I could hear sobs from the audience. Head back, I pull back into myself, pulling the cloth with me until I dissappear.

This dance was beautiful because it was infused with my intense feelings about our planet, Mother Nature and the Universe. Dances done without heart are meaningless.

Anyone can dance, but to find the Heart of the Matter is what escasy is all about. To step into another world, to become something more than a mere mortal, the nectar of the Gods is what Creation is all about, to gain this, even death won't stop, for it is beyond death and suffering.

It is Heaven. (And yes, I was the first to revive her dances)
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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Building for Earthquakes and Hurricanes

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

No building codes anywhere mandate doing what I did on my own house when I framed it out. Namely, all components are tied to each other with metal and the rafters are not held down by mere hurricane straps which are small but are attached over the top and under the bottom of the top plate and the rafter.

When high winds hit and we were narrowly missed by two catagory two tornadoes, the house doesn't even creak. The windows will flex and groan but the house doesn't move at all. We have had 90 mph winds strike us and the silence is astonishing. After living ten years in a tent, it is refreshing.

Some readers here think California has really good earthquake standards for building. I know that if one is an anal-retentive sort like myself, can build a very good house that can survive a hurricane or earthquake but since all this stuff costs a lot of time and money and is invisible, the chances of the average person or building appealing to them, doing this is around zero.

If they do have codes, they always are minimal. This is normal for governments because if it is greater, property developers complain bitterly since it ups the costs while producing nothing tangible (except on doom's day!). I went around looking for examples of the building codes but to read them, you have to pay over $25 so I thought, well, let's see what other writers have to say about all this.


Official California US Goverment site:
Homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies do not cover losses related to earthquakes.
A separate earthquake insurance policy is one way to help protect your home, in addition to seismic retrofitting.
Earthquake insurance also helps with additional living expenses in the days and weeks after earthquakes.
A staggering 86% of California homeowners do not yet have earthquake insurance.
I do suggest anyone in earthquake territory to visit this site. Fascinating pictures. About the 86% of California without insurance: guess what! If we get clobbered again, Uncle Sam won't be able to do anything at all unless the Japanese decide to take even more of America. Sitting around, goofing off, bidding up the price of each other's possibly doomed housing is total insanity.

Banks bankrolling this insanity are criminal. I know that if you get a mortgage out in my neck of the woods, they require various forms of insurance. Yet in California, with a 100% chance that a house will be hit by an earthquake sometime in the next 50 years, having no insurance on the most expensive housing outside of Midtown Manhattan is just asking for a country to collapse.

Talking about collapsing, here are some schematic drawings of how I put my house together:

Note the diagonal cross studding and the middle pieces. This reinforces all corners including where interior walls join the outside framework. Unlike mere metal strapping, this prevents listing or shifting. I looked into some of the California building codes and laughed my head off, what little I could find.

What they consider to be a great way to strengthen the walls is to put up 1/2" sheets of plywood and then nail the hell out of it! Hahaha. I could die laughing. I used 3/4" plywood on my own house! 1/2" is significantly weaker. I can prove this by having my small draft horse walk on a sheet of that vs the heavier stuff. 1/2" will flex and break.

I couldn't find the standards for strapping but I did note that the government web sites had many references to water damage and other hazards but no big boxes with red earthquake information! It was really eerie. I went through the websites of various cities and towns and gave up. It shows how la-la people are in California.

I have lived through earthquakes there. A sister barely survived the Northridge quake. I had to rebuild my parent's house after the Pasadena quake. So I am not naive about all this.

Here is an interesting site that happens to agree with me that California isn't taking earthquakes very seriously. From Drworld:
The California Building Code offers only minimal protection from seismic damage, i.e., a structure should not be damaged in a minor earthquake, damaged beyond repair in a moderate earthquake, nor collapse in a major earthquake. However new technologies, such as seismic isolation, can mitigate both structural and building contents damage and are becoming available to government and industry. There is a need for design professionals, building officials, planners, and building owners to become aware of these new technologies, the criteria for their use, and how to incorporate them into practice.
As I said earlier, the pressure to have the government allow builders to take the cheap-o way out always trumps doing things right.

The fact that virtually no one in California has insurance after allowing builders to erect stuff that really isn't suitable is a crime because they will want us to rescue them all when tragedy hits and this irresponsibility coupled with sneering about how rich they all are thanks to bidding up the price of these uninsured structures...steams the hell out of me!

Here is another issue inhibiting builders from advertising or using interesting technologies:
Government may also set an example. The state must facilitate the use of new earthquake hazard mitigating technologies by using them in state buildings and creating a positive environment for these new strategies in the private sector.
one incentive would be liability protection for professionals who incorporate new designs into projects. In a highly litigious society, architects and engineers are now caught between two legal mandates in building design. On the one hand, any deviation from codified practices using earthquake mitigation technologies could result in a lawsuit. On the other hand, a design professional can be sued for not using new technology superior to code requirements. Most design professionals prefer to adhere to the code.
Building owners must be convinced that insurance will not indemnify all losses due to earthquakes, and that the best insurance is prevention of damage through design.
In other words, if one claims a building is better in earthquakes, then one can be sued if, say, an 8.2 quake hits and the building fails! This is why the still bare minimal building codes are such a disaster. All seems well until the Big One hits. Then all is definitely not well. Remember, the codes are not to keep the housing intact but to prevent death. Habitability is a whole different issue.

California could do the nation a favor by requiring banks loaning money to buy housing to not close the deal until the buyers get insurance that covers the loan. This would have kept the housing market sane since tacking on the extra $100 a month for insurance ($500 a month if the liability is over $500,000!) would have kept the market down and discouraged speculators. And if an earthquake happens, the government won't be asked to fork over $600 billion to the over-extended, over built, over the top California realestate market.

This coming earthquake is going to cost us dearly.
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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Examining Geo Thermal Heating/Cooling: the Natural Solution

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

The New York Times talks about geo thermal heating today but has little real information so I will fill in the gaps.

From the NYT:
Energy legislation last summer increased the financial support for these systems. The law provides for $300 in federal tax incentives and includes a provision allowing for a $2,000 federal incentive for home improvements that reduce energy costs by more than 50 percent. Geothermal systems can trim 30 percent to 75 percent of the cost to heat and cool, so many installations would qualify.

But the biggest driver is the cost of fossil fuel. With the Energy Department predicting huge jumps in residential oil and natural gas costs for winter heating - 27 percent for oil and 41 percent for gas - shipments of geothermal pumps doubled during the last three months, Ms. Commins said.

Now, "the front-end costs are within reach," said Roy Mink, director of the Energy Department's geothermal program. At the same time, he said, "there's more competition for geothermal business, and that's driving down the price of installing them by 10 percent."
The article lauds this system and it is a good system to try installing. Coupled with a large solar/wind array and one can live free of the system and stresses while still enjoying that wonderful bubble technology and civilization and cheap fossil fuels have made us accustomed to.

Explaning this system is easier with diagrams. I got some of the raw material from these sites, all of which are good places to visit: Alliant Energy Geothermal Systems or International Groundsource Heat Pump Association. Googling "geothermal heating systems" brings up quite a few websites, too.

Here is an aerial view of a horizontal system layout which is installed just like any septic system, only it is over 4' deep, 5' in the far north. It has to be below the frostline or it won't work well in winter, obviously, colder than freezing is no good. But the general idea is, the ground below a certain level (in Alaska, more than 12' down!) is fairly stable in temperature. So if you run a glyerine/water fluid through a series of pipes buried in the warmer sublayers of earth, the pumping action caused the fluid to warm up in winter or cool off in summer, in other words, you pump in opposite directions during the seasonal changes.

Where there isn't enough earth to run pipes, the more expensive way is to drill deep holes.

The water travels down and then is pulled back up and the heat exchange happens during this process. For example, since a drilling rig is quite large, one can drill in the front yard of a house, after checking for gas lines and water lines, of course, and then rig up the system that way though, of course, building with this in mind is much better than retrofitting, of course. The well we drilled on our mountain for water went down over 500' and cost us $3500 ten years ago so you can see, it isn't cheap.

Calculating how many feet of pipe one needs for either system is complicated. Square footage to heat, how well the house is insulated and type of soil/rock and even the moisture level matters and must be figured out, there are computer programs that do this available, but again, it isn't cheap because you need a geologist if one is drilling deep, for example.

I do a lot of backhoe work and know the layers and qualities of the top 10' of people's property and have dug in sand, loam, mixed rock and heavy shale, for example. Time digging and barriers encountered like digging up rocks bigger than bathtubs or Volkswagens costs more and shale, for example, is pure hell. I intend to eventually install this sort of system. My own mountain has both tons of room and is well hydrolated so it is an excellent site to use this system. I already have infloor heating tubes installed so hooking up a hot water/cold air in summer exchange system will be easy and excavation and pipe laying costs will be minimal since I can do all that, myself.

But is is a very ambitious project.

This is the inside the house part of the system, the pumps and coils and compressors. It operates just like your refrigerator. Note that airconditioners and refrigerators produce a lot of heat. The heat pumped out during heatwaves from airconditioners is very bad for the environment and should be eliminated just to save our planet if nothing else! The heat in summer isn't shoved outside to roast the neighbors, it is recycled into the earth! In winter, the evaporator becomes a humidifier, everything is in reverse, same system, just switch to the opposite pumps and away you go!

Easy as can be!

The compressor uses up a good amount of energy, of course. In my case, since I heat right now with wood from the forest, it costs me next to nothing to heat but I have to be around all the time to keep the place warm which is a major bummer. So even though my electrical bill might be $1,200 a year if I use this system, it is better than paying triple that for heating and cooling using traditional modern methods.

This system should definitely be used in the deep South. Right now, we are burning up massive amounts of fossil fuels in the form of coal and natural gas, in order to provide massive amounts of electricity to cool down everyone. And all those aircompressors are flooding the enviroment with hot air, a very bad thing indeed.

For the past ten years, we should have mandated all new multi-family buildings have this geothermal system but of course, this was put off, disasterously, in the deluded belief, there would never be an energy crisis.

From Stockholm:
Concerned with rising prices, a Swedish coop has switched to a heat pump system in a move that could set a precedent in chilly Stockholm.

Electrically driven, the system works by drawing geothermal heat from a hole drilled in the bedrock below the coop. The hole contains a pipe filled with liquid (70% water and 30% ethanol). The liquid is circulated by the pump, with the heat then transferred into the water borne central heating and hot water system.

At current prices, the coop would consume $30,000 annually in heating oil. With the new system costing only $10,500 annually, the coop stands to save hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years.

A combination of high-energy prices, cold temperatures and estate values could result in more coops making the switch to heat pumps – which may not be welcome news to Fortum, the Finnish energy company that owns half of the district heating system and oversaw a 40% rise in energy prices since 2002.
Just to keep balance of payments under control it behooves us all to change over our systems today!

There is worse, just look at the agony going on tonight in Europe, thanks to a natural gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine! From the BBC:
Russian gas supplies to Ukraine will be cut at 0700 GMT on Sunday, state-owned firm Gazprom announced after last-ditch talks failed to settle a price dispute.
The row erupted after Ukraine rejected Russian plans for a 460% price rise.
A shot across our prow! After Enron reamed out California, after all the oil companies reamed us out after the hurricanes, anyone who thinks they won't get reamed out will be screwed all to hell one fine day. So investing in systems that protect oneself from this sort of energy chaos is well worth it.

In particular, schools and businesses should be required to use these systems. Right now, they are major energy wasters, many are mostly windows with nearly no walls and recapturing and recycling the heat or cold from inside as well as in the earth should be standard for all modern buildings. Most architecture is insane recklessness predicated on irresponsible consumtion of nonrenewable resources.

Geothermal is just one more key element in retrofitting America for tomorrow. Time's awasting! Look at how destabilized the world's ecosystems are thanks to human abuse of fossil fuel energy systems!
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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Brrr, Cold! -6 F Outside But Passive Solar Home Heats to +85 F!

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

I didn't have to wait long for the temperature to drop below zero outside, record cold this December! So I took pictures of the sunroom's thermometer and pictures of the exterior to show how a true passive solar home operates in severe cold.

Seeing is believing! As you can see, the outside is cold and white, everything covered with snow. As is usual when it is below zero, there is no cloud cover. This is because it can't get below zero easily on cloudy days, here near the Atlantic Ocean. For the heat sink of the sea counter acts the cold air and warms us up slightly. So all really cold days are clear as a ringing bell.

The pictures are no exaggeration, the sky to the north is a deep blue, the humidity is very low, any moisture in the air is frozen and falls even if there is no clouds, we have a very fine light frost that can be seen only as it sparkles here and there in the brilliant sunlight.

The thermometer above is in this sunroom which is off our bedroom. Our bedroom has two sliding glass doors leading into the narrow sunroom. If the sunroom is too wide, it won't heat up very fast. Ours reached 85+ F in less than three hours! The sun rose above the opposite mountain ridge at 8:40 am and by 12, it was roaring hot inside and the outside temperture only climbed to 12 degrees. When I went outside, I only wore a very light jacket over my clothes because the snow reflects back the sunlight and it is amazingly warm, in the sun. There is no wind, of course. Wind makes a big difference.

Windy, cold days with no sun force us to heat the house in conventional ways.

Most of my windows on the lower level outer shell are scavanged. Over the years, as I get better windows, I replace the free windows. But anyone can erect a passive solar shell on their homes if they have a porch facing south or can put up a deck and then glass it in. But the key is always, little floor space! Otherwise, it won't heat up fast enough. My sun room buffers are around 5' deep but run 20+' in length.

I believe every house in the north in America should have this system. This shouldn't be optional, it should be required! There is no excuse to not have such a system. It is insane to not have it. I am predicting that in 50 years, all homes will have this installed, one way or another.

Or we can move into caves and igloos.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

An Example of a Passive Solar House Plan

Designing and building a passive solar home in the far north isn't all that difficult. One needs a compass and a way of measuring exactly what angles the sun shines at various times of year. There are books containing this information. This new sub-blog will try to provide this sort of information. For today, I wish to share my own house plans. Living in this sort of house does require some labor, opening and shutting windows, doors, turning on or off fans or reversing them, eventually, I might computerize this whole thing but that will be a while yet. Besides, I am home all the time, anyway.

Just like computers make our cars burn fuel much more efficiently than previous engine incarnations, computers can make our homes run much more efficiently if we preset them with the proper air circulation/sun/shade cycles. The ideal is to be able to totally obscure windows at night in the winter and to make them reflect outwards the sun in summer, of course, tall skyscrapers that do this make the environment much worse because the air around them heats up intolerably. Walking in Manhattan in summer can be brutal. This is why using awnings and various shade devices is so enviromentally friendly. Many middle class and upperclass Victorian homes used awnings, especially on the western windows. Often, I find artifacts of these awnings when I do repairs or restorations of such buildings. Obviously, since they couldn't use electricity to create an artificial enviroment, they used passive methods that work pretty well for I use the same, myself, today.

Often, finding out how to cope with rising energy costs involves understanding how our ancestors dealt with it in the past, they were awfully clever, no?

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

It took me several years to build but I finished the main work on this house in 2000. These floorplans show how a building, oriented to get maximum sun exposure in winter and minimum in summer, works.

The problems are several fold. If you have many windows, the heat loss in winter at night is severe. To deal with this, I made buffer zones of the sun rooms. Namely, at night, I can close all the interior sliding glass doors, isolating the rooms. To keep them from dropping in temperature, there are heat ducts from both the basement coal/wood stove and the main floor's coal/wood stove.

So the temperatures at night in the core of the house remain quite high while the exterior buffers drop, but not more than 15-20 degrees, so if the core is at 75 degrees, the buffer zones are at 45-50 degrees. The sun, when it shines, heats up the sun rooms so much that if the doors leading to them are not opened, the temperature can rise to over 90 degrees. Even if it is below zero outside, the sunrooms still heat up tremendously. Since severe cold days tend to be very bright days, we often use the least heat on hypercold days. It is the gloomy, rainy or snowy days we use the most energy.

In winter, the sun reaches deep within the house which is why we have so many sliding glass doors, both on the outside buffers and the interior. The rays come inside, our home being in the higher latitudes, that it goes in at least 15 feet into the rooms. The outer buffers are 6 feet wide by the bedroom and 10 feet wide by the livingroom yet the sun shines into livingroom and bedroom, it is very bright on sunny days. Even in winter, the sun shines into the western sunroom so the whole house continues to heat up until 4:00 EST. The tree planted by the western windows is decidious so it sheds its leaves in fall and lets full sun shine in winter but in summer, shades the same windows.

The western windows can be quite brutal in summer unless one does something about it. We found that 8-10 foot awnings works great, we have vines growing on the ornate metal posts as well as bamboo shades which cuts down on the sun while letting air flow and inviting hummingbirds to visit. The south eaves are 18" deep which keeps out the summer sun entirely in our latitude. Each house must take into account, when building, what the actual sun angles are. The further south one goes, the less the difference in summer/winter sun angles.

In summer, the eastern windows have small awnings for it is nice to wake up to the sun peeking in, only after around 10 am does it become an annoyance. So 2 feet of awning is all one needs. When I was building the house, Bargain Outlet, my favorite guys, they sell odds and ends at very good prices, had a shipment of sliding glass doors which I got for very little. I wasn't expecting to have 11 sliding glass doors! This inspired me to design the house so the basement as well as upstairs has not only excellent ventilation in summer but a zillion fire exits! We use all of these doors in summer, the dogs and cats love going in and out of them and children are fascinated by them. Most of the time, being on a mountain, we don't have all of them open all the way because the wind just roars through the house.

So we stagger them, opening doors at 45 degree angles to each other. Right now, tonight, the wind is over 50mph and thanks to the strength of modern sliding glass doors, I hardly hear the wind unless it rattles something outside like my ladders which just gave a knock. Of course, when building, one must double-seal everything. I use Grace Wycor sealing tape which is a foot wide and very airtight.

The windows on the north are all much smaller than the south. The south windows all go floor to ceiling. On the west side, from ceiling to waist, on the north, only three feet tall or shorter. In summer, when it is hot, the prevailing winds are from the south so if I open only the north windows and the attic top vent, the cooler, shaded air on the north side pulls up from the basement to the attic. We reverse the heat duct fans in the sunrooms which blow downwards in winter to upwards in summer. This way, the entire house is brought into harmony with each other's parts so various parts aren't excessively hot or cold.

The heating and cooking stoves are all on the north side of the house. Usually, we only have to run the stove in the livingroom. When it is very cold, we light up more and more stoves, sometimes, when it is 20-30 below zero, all the stoves are roaring hot at night.

One has to take into account oxygen depletion when heating a very sound, insulated, airtight house. I ran airducts to the cold air at the top of the house, this is fed into the woodstoves and shoots out as very hot air. This causes the fires to burn very nicely as well as healthy air in the house, proper. A lot of people living in modern houses forget about this factor. People die or their heating systems burn inefficiently or badly due to lack of oxygen.

In older homes our ancestors lived in, everything was very drafty. In Germany, after WWII, I once lived in a house built in the 1600s. The bedroom Beate and I used was so cold, we put our school clothes under the coverlets to keep them warm and you could see the frost on our breaths, in bed. When I returned to America, the bedrooms at night at home were insufferably warm. I felt like I was going to suffocate!

So if you are in an airtight house, check out the air return system to see if you can improve it. Usually, installing a vent to a heating system isn't all that hard depending on where it is and one's skills (I find it very easy to do, but then, I do this sort of thing all the time so it isn't fair assuming other people can do it!).

If anyone wants to submit their floorplans (include which way south is!), I will be happy to analyze them and make suggestions. There are many things one can do to make one's home more efficient.

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