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Rolling, Rolling, Rolling...Passive Philosophy: Invest in Smaller, Better Systems

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling...

Passive home solar design not only enables your home to "work", it allows you to use less to do more.

My green building architect friend Scott Kyle shared an article last week which embodies this philosophy, and is in line with our own thinking:

You don't need a bunch of systems stuff- if carefully chosen, less is more.

In Vivian Loftness's article Free-Rolling Buildings on,
"More efficient technologies can help us to achieve a 30-percent reduction, but they will never get us to carbon neutrality. For that we need nature’s renewables—daylight, passive solar heating, natural ventilation, natural cooling. We need mechanical systems that are turned off as long as possible, buildings that “free-roll” through hours, days, months, and seasons."
Off grid prefab house kit from
I push down manufacturer prices to give you volume pricing for the passive solar house kits (homes designed by amazing custom architecture firms!), but everything is a huge investment and when having to make a choice between better but more expensive vs. cheap and poorly-made, your best bet is quality, every time.
This is especially true in systems choices.

As our modern off grid house will depend upon energy efficiency, I have been researching the market for appliances that use little or no electricity.

Zero energy prefab house kit from
Sometimes the choices I make will not be the most inexpensive, but I believe they will last years longer, even generations, certainly making them the longterm affordable choice.

As I consider decisions I think
1. Invest in efficiency and durability
but also
2. Do we really *need* all "this" (whatever "this" may be)?

One way we financially achieve systems purchases is by doing it in stages- each year we invest in one more thing, paid for in cash.

For Christmas last year I gave Handsome Hubby a...
composting toilet.
Now that composting toilet is much more expensive than just purchasing "a toilet." (And what a wonderful gift, no? I got even with him for the year he gave me car parts.)

But when you consider our freedom from having to dig pipes to hook up to a sewer, much less the fact that we won't be contributing to sewage... it's a good, long term, affordable solution.

This year, I will be purchasing the refrigerator and freezer.
I have been looking at models that run on propane, and extremely energy efficient electric models that would tie in to solar power. Regardless which choice I make, I am purchasing the smallest model refrigerator for two reasons:
1. less expensive and
2. our philosophy that really, since we will be buying from our neighbors farms / growing much ourselves seasonally, you really don't need the huge storage- much will be canned, preserved, then the refrigerator supplements/keeps what is used that week.

Off grid prefab house kit from
The freezer will certainly be larger, to hold meat seasonally acquired through friends' free range farms or hunting, but I may hold off on that purchase awhile as technology improves (although there IS a nice solar powered freezer I've had my eye on which could be stored in the shed).

In that same sense of evaluating what we "need" in systems, do we *really need* extreme heating and cooling?
Thanks to the passive solar design of our house kit, thanks to the energy efficiency of the structural insulated panels (SIPs), our home will not have extreme fluctuations in temperature, or fast temperature loss/gain.

For heat, we installed radiant heat in the concrete thermal mass.

What about summer?
I discussed this with Ron, our contractor... who, like I, wasn't concerned. I have never been a fan of air conditioning- heck, our air conditioning has been set to 80 for years, I just like to "take the edge off" of summer. I've always felt that when it's summer, you should be wearing summer clothes- light dresses, sandals... and often wondered about the health effects of working in companies where you must bring a wool sweater with you in August to work because the dial is set to "frigid."

By using a sun shade on the south side, overhangs in the architecture, and letting the cool air in at night while the hot air escapes through the clerestory windows... we expect to be plenty comfortable.

When evaluating systems, my constant question is "how low can we go?"

It will be interesting look back five years from now and whether our systems choices were indeed, too much or little. (I'm expecting them to be appropriate, as I've done much research, but I'm just saying...)

When I initially envisioned our own house kit, I had dreams of cooking over a wood-fueled kitchen stove which would also heat the house... I dreamed of masonry heaters and evenings spent huddled about its warmth with our children...

Instead, I realized I could be zero energy / more carbon neutral by giving up that nostalgic flickering flame, and achieving better, more evenly-distributed heat with solar powered radiant heat. Our solar cooker will help us supplement many tasks that would otherwise be done via baking / cooking.

(You can see some of my early solar cooking experiments here. : ) )

How low WILL we go?
Here are some of the choices I've made:
I have decided I really am not passionate about laundry. ; )
Why consume energy in a clothes dryer when you can air dry your clothes outside? (Heck, in winter I'll just hang them in the bathroom, actually, I could hang them anywhere as the floor is concrete! ; ) )

For washing clothes, I have decided to go waaaaaaaaaaaaay low tech, and low water (don't forget, we have no hook up to water, and the rainwater collection and filtration system has not yet been purchased):

Initially we use (and then maybe not replace?) the Pressure Handwasher, because the Home Queen Wringer Washer is something I can purchase down the road but don't want to pay cash for now. It will encourage us all to not let laundry pile up, thus needing less clothes.

Handsome Husband makes a great point: In the army, they had to "clean" their clothes with a brush, without water. Now, I'm not going to get that rustic, but it certainly inspires me to make sure the "muck" is off the dirty clothes before washing them, therefore needing less water, cleaning better!

Handsome Husband: "I think frugality is fun in this life exercise. I don't see it as a limitation but as an adventure. It's about being conscious, and realizing you really don't 'need' much."

It's also reflected in our interior design.

Unlike a lotta "prototype" homes you see, we are reusing (mostly) thangs we already have and not asking for design handouts in exchange for "publicity." Like you, we have accumulated carefully over time our favorite things, that make a house a "home," that really reflects our family.

Because, like everything, we have carefully considered the future, over years of thrifting and reuse... we dream, we plan, we scavenge.
 : )
And make it frugally, functionally, fabulous.

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