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Inside a solar greenhouse.

Passive Solar Design
Building the Energy-Efficient Home

      There are hundreds of potential ideas to incorporate into your home to make it energy efficient, but many ideas require expensive materials, labor, and money, above and beyond the cost of your home. People are always inventing something new to build and maintain. That is easy to do. It is easy to throw money at the problem, to hook up a bunch of technical equipment and come up with something new that works. But it is a much greater challenge to invent something less-something that requires fewer materials, less labor, less money, yet still achieves good performance. Energy efficiency should be inherent to the design, not tacked on as an afterthought.

Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction       A well-designed solar home has no more materials than a conventional home. The materials are just arranged more intelligently to optimize performance. For example, a solar home typically has most of the windows on one side. There are no more materials involved; it just takes more time and creativity to come up with a blueprint that aesthetically works inside and out.

     People expect a solar home to cost a lot more, but it does not have to. Regardless of what kind of construction you choose, Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction includes helpful coverage of energy-efficient passive solar design. The book emphasizes smart design over expensive materials for keeping a home comfortable without a big heating bill. For additional resources on natural, energy-efficient, and passive solar house design, be sure to check out the books included below.

Recommended Guide Books

The Natural House - book cover.

The Natural House
A Complete Guide to Healthy, Energy-Efficient, Environmental Homes
by Daniel D. Chiras

      In the early 1990s, people were still asking a question that now sounds surprising: "Is it really possible to build a house that is economical, energy-independent, gentle on your health, nourishing to the soul, and kind to the environment?" Now that books such as The Independent Home and The Straw Bale House have sold tens of thousands of copies, that question is much easier to answer. Gracious, comfortable, and ecologically benign homes are being built all across America. But many people--including potential homeowners, professional contractors, and architects--are intrigued by solar techniques and natural materials, yet lack an overview introducing the basic choices now available.

      The Natural House addresses that need with style and substance. This exciting new book, written by a veteran author who himself lives in a straw-bale and rammed-tire home, takes the reader on a tour of fourteen natural building methods, including straw bale, rammed earth, cordwood, adobe, earthbags, papercrete, Earthships, and more. You'll learn how these homes are built, how much they cost, and the pros and cons of each. A resource guide at the end of every chapter offers a wealth of information.

      With a writing style that is clear, understandable, at times humorous, and fun to read, the author shows how we can gain energy independence and dramatically reduce our environmental impact through passive heating and cooling techniques, solar electricity, wind power, and micro-hydropower. Chiras also explains safe, economical ways of acquiring clean drinking water and treating wastewater, and discusses affordable green building products.

      While Chiras is an advocate of natural building, he takes a careful look at the "romance" of natural building techniques and alerts readers to avoidable pitfalls, offering detailed practical advice that could save you tens of thousands of dollars, whether you're buying a natural home, building one yourself or renovating an existing structure, or considering hiring a contractor to build for you.

The Solar House - book cover.

The Solar House
Passive Heating and Cooling
by Dan Chiras

      Passive solar heating and passive cooling -- approaches known as natural conditioning -- provide comfort throughout the year by reducing, or eliminating, the need for fossil fuel. Yet while heat from sunlight and ventilation from breezes is free for the taking, few modern architects or builders really understand the principles involved. Now Dan Chiras, author of the popular book The Natural House, brings those principles up to date for a new generation of solar enthusiasts.

      The techniques required to heat and cool a building passively have been used for thousands of years. Early societies such as the Native American Anasazis and the ancient Greeks perfected designs that effectively exploited these natural processes. The Greeks considered anyone who didn't use passive solar to heat a home to be a barbarian! In the United States, passive solar architecture experienced a major resurgence of interest in the 1970s in response to crippling oil embargoes. With grand enthusiasm but with scant knowledge (and sometimes little common sense), architects and builders created a wide variety of solar homes. Some worked pretty well, but looked more like laboratories than houses. Others performed poorly, overheating in the summer because of excessive or misplaced windows and skylights, and growing chilly in the colder months because of insufficient thermal mass and insulation and poor siting.

      In The Solar House, Dan Chiras sets the record straight on the vast potential for passive heating and cooling. Acknowledging the good intentions of misguided solar designers in the past, he highlights certain egregious -- and entirely avoidable -- errors. More importantly, Chiras explains in methodical detail how today's home builders can succeed with solar designs.

      Now that energy efficiency measures including higher levels of insulation and multi-layered glazing have become standard, it is easier than ever before to create a comfortable and affordable passive solar house that will provide year-round comfort in any climate. Moreover, since modern building materials and airtight construction methods sometimes result in air-quality and even toxicity problems, Chiras explains state-of-the-art ventilation and filtering techniques that complement the ancient solar strategies of thermal mass and daylighting. Chiras also explains the new diagnostic aids available in printed worksheet or software formats, allowing readers to generate their own design schemes.

The Passive Solar House - book cover.

The Passive Solar House
Using Solar Design to Heat and Cool Your Home
by James Kachadorian

      The Passive Solar House gives readers a comprehensive look at the ten key principles of solar design that can complement any style of architecture or method of building. Kachadorian's sensible approach is both appealing and reassuring for those who think innovation in solar design ended in the 1970s. Kachadorian emphasizes that solar homes need not look experimental or futuristic, nor do they require complicated, expensive, or hard-to-maintain gadgetry. Good planning is worth much more than special technologies or equipment.

      The Passive Solar House contains information on how to save money when building, how to avoid overheating, and which interior design features will lead to year-round comfort. Heavily illustrated, with color photos and easy-to-use formulas, this book is perfect for anyone considering a building project which maximizes energy efficiency. The author's clear, simple presentation of the basics combined with his technical authority make the material accessible to the owner/builder, professional contractor, or architectural student.

      The new edition of The Passive Solar House includes a CD with user-friendly, Windows-compatible software to supplement the design process explained in the book by allowing homeowners/designers to enter the specifications of their design and see how changing a variable will affect its energy efficiency.

Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction
See also: Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction.

      Looking for life-changing resources? Check out these books by Thomas J. Elpel:

Green Prosperity: Quit Your Job, Live Your Dreams.
Roadmap to Reality: Consciousness, Worldviews, and the Blossoming of Human Spirit
to Reality
Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction
Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills.
in Nature
Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat.
Foraging the
Mountain West
Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
in a Day
Shanleya's Quest: A Botany Adventure for Kids

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