Idea for a passively heated and cooled house
The following was originally posted in 2010, but as I’ve been migrating some old blog posts I thought it was worth resurrecting and reposting as a current idea. Building a house is still on my mind here in 2022, but jfc they just keep making it harder to do anything, don’t they? It’s also worth noting that this whole entire idea is optimized for our particular latitude. The angles involved will vary depending on where you live relative to the equator. The whole idea is also pretty specific to high desert climates, as it expects dry air and cool nights even in summer.
The core of my house idea is the way it’s broken into two levels, one on top of a hill and one on the north side. Doing this allows the entire house to benefit from warmth of shallow winter sun, while at the same time shielding the living room and kitchen from the harsh but high angle summer sun.
Allowing the summer sun to beat down on the upper level in the summer does serve a purpose though. Having two levels, one of which is exposed to sun while the other is not, should create a big heat gradient. Opening vents at the top of the house and the base of the north wall should cause a decent amount of air to be drawn from the cool, shaded north side through the house and out the top.
If I then have a lot of vegetation around the north vents and/or a fountain in the living room in front of them I can actually use the heat of the sun to cool the house for free!
How those same skylights warm the house in winter should be obvious, but I’d like to put a wood stove on the lower level for good measure anyway. Even if I don’t need it all the time it’s great to have a fire to sit next to.
The idea is then to have the kitchen and living room on the bottom and the bedroom and bathroom at the top.
Then in winter the bedroom and bathroom will be warmest at night, while the living room and kitchen capture enough sun to be pleasant in the day.
In the summer the living room and kitchen are shaded and cool in the day, using the heat in the upper level to ventilate them. Then at night all that heat goes flying out the top leaving the bedroom with a warmth that should be pleasant in our surprisingly chilly desert nights.
In the fall and spring you don’t have to worry about climate control around here because it’s just so unbearably pleasant all the time.
The other cool idea I had was to build a cellar under the bedroom, and then build the kitchen cabinets into the wall so that they open into the cellar as well as the kitchen. Then we can stock the cabinets from the back while standing in the pantry…like a supermarket!
The overall budget for building and equipping this house is looking like under $20,000 to construct and equip with state of the art appliances an extremely efficient 600 square foot home (not counting the cellar). The appliances don’t include the bathroom sink because we’ll build our own, the kitchen sink because we’ve got one or the range because we’ve also got one of those in our garage.
I need to start reading that Feng Shui book I picked up recently, that might change a thing or two. We’ll see. I’ve also started some overhead floor plans, but they’re still pretty rough.