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Prefab Home Gets Solar Power!!! Still Zero Energy, Off Grid Is Now Easier For Us!

[Our prefab home is about to get solar power! No more candles!
No more telecommuting off the tractor battery!]

Who Wants To Flip The Switch, Adding Electricity To The Energy Efficient Arsenal Of The Zero Energy, Passive Solar, Off Grid Prefab House Kit?

I'm kinda feeling that way... It *will* change everything, you know... are you feeling that way too?

Flip the switch, and... things are easier.
Although there's still plenty to do...
Old ways, I cherish and respect you. I love that we could get through frigid temperatures with just the passive solar design of the passive solar SIP house and spent our evenings in candlelight... but...
Prefab home - off grid, zero energy, now with solar!

We flipped the switch.
Making some final adjustments...
Huge *thanks* to Pat Root Electric and our contractor Jason Dorris, who made it happen. Also a big thanks to Ron Bernaldo, who put the fantastic team together before he retired. Ron, we were thinking of you! Hug those grandbabies!

Pat and Jason said the solar installation was a breeze. Pat Root came up with a good (temporary) idea for the batteries- to place the solar batteries in a rubber container (which we can reuse for storage in the shed) until the permanent structure is built this spring.

Yes, it IS bizarre to have night fall and then... turn on a light. To plug in the computer.
That one LED light above the dining table was enough to light up a whole group of relaxing, late night readers.

With all the natural daylighting in the prefab home, and the cozy heat from the wood cook stove even in frigid winter, we are comfortable and the prefab house kit is consuming just about .04kw while recharging faster than that on this sunny day! Imagine what it will be like once we get the solar heat tubes on the roof and the radiant heat installed!

Natural daylighting, passive solar design, means you
need less power to be comfortable in the prefab house!

We also have re-insulated around the chimney, inverter, etc. new penetrations in the prefab house's envelope, and confirmed this morning that we are back to our prefab home's prior energy efficiency, WHAT A RELIEF!  We hold heat!!!!

Also, the crude method we have regarding the wood cook stove piping air in via the gas line (which we never planned to use, just plumbed for investment purposes) seems to be working well! Another relief.

Next Up? Plumbing. Then we close up the walls and turn to interior design.
(Note for those getting concerned: Power is only on in outlets / walls that are closed up.)

P.s. Our fashion theme today is BLAZE ORANGE.
It is the last day o' deer season. One season a year, we have a matchy-matchy family.
Even Mister Snow Man is sportin' it.

Or until the dog runs off with not just his arms, but his hat...
Dog: "Grrrrrrr!" Mister Snow Man: "Ahhhhh! My arm! MY ARM!!!!!"

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A Snowy Hike For A Birthday Gal

(Photo by Jason Levesque)
So what do you discover when you cram four people into a car for a road trip for a birthday hike? You discover all sorts of things:
"I went to Harvard summer school with Mark Zuckerberg.
He was my suitemate; we're still friends; but... we don't Facebook."
"I have a friend that spent a year in the BioDome. He said the hookup scene was GREAT!"
"You *have* to go to Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble. Put it on your bucket list."
"Remember when we camped in the monsoon and my brother would pass gas in the tent and we couldn't escape because to go outside was certain death?"

Three of the four in the car owned ukuleles.

And that we could loudly sing Journey songs for an entire car ride to the mountains... And back.

 ...Happy birthday, Catherine,  Miz "It's MY BIRTHDAY" Brooks!!!!! : )

White Oak Cedar Run in Shenandoah National Park

The drive was *gorgeous* - an easy, winding drive by beautiful farms, historic towns, oh, all the things you know by now I moon over. Don't believe me? Take a peek:


(Photo by Jason Levesque)
In the snow, we hiked Shenandoah National Park's White Oak Cedar Run - didn't do the entire loop, but climbed the falls and back just as dusk descended, then gathered around Catherine to sing and share birthday cake!!!!

On the drive back we pulled over next to a field in the dark and watched the stars. We could see the milky way. Shooting stars everywhere! In the crystalline air, we shouted and clapped at the sky!

Even better: I am taking a day to meander this again in the spring, and I AM GOING TO GRAVES MOUNTAIN LODGE for the Bluegrass Festival this year. Santa brought us a tent, we're fixing up the 1960s Scotty camper, and this would be the perfect easy drive and festival to enjoy it with the children.

Here's some more photos from Jason:

By the way: My friend Catherine aka THE BIRTHDAY GIRL is an *amazing* artist who has been featured in galleries in New York, L.A., and London.  Often she works with found objects and reuses them into gorgeous three dimensional art. I thought you might like to learn about her / see some of her work:
If you enjoyed the photos by her friend and fellow Virginia artist Jason Levesque, check out his artwork, here.

And P.S. Modern house kit update:
TOMORROW WE FLIP THE SWITCH ON ELECTRIC in the zero energy off grid prefab house!!!!

*Kathy's Scenic Directions from Richmond:
"64 West to the Zion Crossroads Exit, turn to the right at the exit light and head to Gordonsville. When you get to the Gordonsville traffic round about. Go straight and then left. Drive for about a block and take a right onto the Blue Ridge Trail/Highway. (Route 231) Stay on 231 until you get to the stop sign at Old Pratts. At that stop sign, take a left, drive about a mile until it ends at Rt. 29. Take a right on 29, drive a couple of miles and turn left to go into Madison Courthouse. Go through the Courthouse and veer to the left to head towards Banco/Graves Mountain Lodge/White Oak Canyon. After you have crossed the Robinson River take a left at "Banco" (where that abandoned stone store is that I admire) towards Graves, go through Criglersville. When you get to the Graves packing house on the left and the general store on the right, take a right. Drive on that road, winding around, until you get to the White Oak Canyon Parking, Shenandoah National park, on your left. It's about 2 hours from your house. Remember to stop for potty at the Tastee Freez in Gordonsville and also wonderful chocolate dipped cone."

Copeland's note: Eat at Pig N Steak in Madison, VA if you like BBQ and beer. Deelish, they also have hush puppies and sweet potato fries.




On Foxfire, Water Conservation, and Moonshine

Gooooooood morning!
I am sipping coffee and reading The Foxfire Book's chapter on Planting With The Signs.
According to the moon and astrological data, today is NOT a good time to plant.
Plus there is the little matter of...

This is the season you tackle things like... planning for the next steps in the off grid prefab home.
But I won't bore you with that. ; ) Ok yes I will, but in a minute. I'm just getting warmed up.
Zero Energy Prefab Home...In The Snow.

Instead, I am happily curled up with The Foxfire Book, watching the snow fall while reading about hog dressing, log cabin building, planting by the signs, moonshining, and more. I highly recommend this book. Basically, the Foxfire series of books began when a recent Cornell grad strolled down to Appalachia to be an English teacher.  His first clue that he couldn't hold his class's interest was when they set his podium on fire.

So he created a magazine for his class to involve them, and asked the students to interview their families.
They did. It quickly became apparent that local knowledge passed down by generations was being lost, and so that became the focus of Foxfire, while giving students the experience of conducting interviews and writing articles, thus teaching communication skills. Foxfire is a documentation of loved ones and their skills in Appalachia.

Our tobacco barn... note size of people
in comparison to structure.

I am especially interested in the log cabin building chapter.  We can not save our tobacco barn. 
It would cost way too much to save to then have a structure we can't use - the opening is too tiny for a tractor or a grown man; the proportions are not useful for farm tools of today.  

We hope to salvage the wood and reuse it on the land, elsewhere. I have long thought quietly that it might make a nice cabin, way up in the hills, where you could go and, while being close enough to walk back to the cozy prefab house for morning coffee, would be far enough where you otherwise would not see another soul and could do things like... be alone. Think. Have some No Children Allowed Time. (Why do you think I revive so many of my hobbies with Pointy Shooty Things? It's because then the children have to stand back and give momma some SPACE! Too bad they've embraced the same skills just as enthusiastically...)

Of course you can't read Foxfire without getting the companion book on Aunt Arie. You might recall I quoted her a few weeks back when discussing creases (at the bottom of this linked post).
She is a gem.  And if you enjoy that, you might certainly enjoy The Foxfire Cookbook...

Honestly? I wasn't drawn into the third book, United States of Americana.
It's like how people used to come up to us, hearing we were raising our children without tv and camping on the land, and ask us if we'd read Last Child In The Woods.
 When you're raised with farms, hunting and fishing, have grown up amidst Virginia history (and drinks), with great bluegrass musicians, the blues and Beatles... well, let's just say I think this book was written more for Other People.

Tiny, paying me a visit in Noo Yawk Cit-tay
when I lived in Hotel Chelsea.

My personal interest is preservation of practical skills and knowledge. I shy away from the self-taught butchers, handlebar mustaches, and the vanity spats this book focuses on. I should have known this author was taking a lighter treatment of the subject when I saw his other credits included a book on Marilyn Manson. I guess if you see it as some sort of anthology it's ok... Let's just say it's Very. Light. Reading.

Admittedly, the Washboard Chapter made me chuckle. Did  you know Sister played Lead Washboard in the famous Virginia band, Tiny And The Corn Shucks? ; )

At six foot two, I'll let you guess who was Tiny.
[Where do you think our old friend and old time musician Thomas Bailey got his start?!? (Just kidding. And Thom if you read this - you'd better come visit us soon!)]

Any-hoo, in watching the snow fall and paging through books, I'm also keeping an eye out on the internet, and my friend and green building lawyer Chris Cheatham raised a great question:
Here's the article: Arizona Drought Prompts Unusual Water Proposal
I don't know about water being a bigger issue than power, but certainly it's never had more emphasis than now. Maybe we should all be focusing on the conservation of... EVERYTHING!

Zero Energy Off Grid Prefab Home
Still Under Construction

This is a good opportunity to review what we have done for our own zero energy prefab home's water conservation. An overview of our water conservation and water reuse strategy for our prefab house and land can be found here.

Our Own Rainwater Basics For Our Off Grid Zero Energy Prefab Home: rain water harvesting into underground cistern (1,750 gallons combined with active reduction of water use i.e. composting toilet, old-fashioned washing machine and other methods) and grey water recycling.

- water is collected from 37'x20' galvalume clad roof
- filtered  and treated through XXX water filtration (still fighting over this, I want one vendor,  handsome Husband, the other)
- runs into underground cistern
- pumped out by submersible water pump with filter
- runs through another, finer filter (see spec list in systems work sheet)
- plumbing in house is separated into gray and black water (black is kitchen sink and toilet)
- sewage/drain for black
- gray water is used for irrigation
That's what we have to tell you so far.

So finally, after a very tumultuous, roller coaster holiday of which y'all only know a bit, we had laughter, good food, treasured time spent with great friends, and now, a quiet, relaxing day of snowfall after a Dramatic Holiday Happy Ending.
Christmas Dinner at The H's
(the snow was *just* starting to fall!)

Here is a recipe from Christmas Dinner At The H's: one of my favorite winter salads via Bon Appetit's 1983 Dinner Party Cookbook, completely messed up by moi-même, as usual. It makes a *big* salad, perfect for winter evenings with lots of friends! This was served with The H's rosemary lamb, roasted Brussels sprouts (in a bit of olive oil, with Parmesan stirred in, then topped with sautéed, crumbled panchetta), and some black bean soup I made.

I lose, then look for, this recipe every year.  (Did I mention I have bookshelves upon bookshelves of vintage cook books?) So maybe if I write this down, I won't have to hunt for it so. Because, well, as this post demonstrates, this blog is SO well organized in subject matter, it'll be much easier to find! ; )

Mushroom and Pine Nut Salad with Raspberry Vinegar Dressing
  • mix of lettuces: endive, romaine, red leaf, boston bibb... so it looks pretty
  • 3/4 c walnut oil (yesterday I used pumpkin seed)
  • large package of button mushrooms, plus japanese / wild mushrooms (I never get to the japanese / wild / exotic mushrooms)
  • 3/4 c pine nuts (I'm certain I use more, but who's measuring?)
  • 1 3 1/2 package enoki mushrooms (what the heck is that, much less, who cares?)
  • 1/3 c rasperry vinegar (I use more, I'm sure)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • Brie
  • Basil Bread (just make a boule of white bread except throw in a bunch o' dried basil in the dough)
Another feast!

(Note: I also tossed in pomegranate seeds, not in the original recipe, on top of this last night, it was delicious!)
Toss lettuces in large bowl. In a pan add some oil, sauté mushrooms about five minutes, add pine nuts and  sauté until browned lightly. Then I add in the raspberry vinegar, swirl briefly, then tilt the pan (easy way- move the pan half off the burner) and turn it off - that way you can nudge the pine nuts and mushrooms to cool off above the liquid.  When warm, spread mushrooms & nuts across the salad, but bottle the liquid, which is now your dressing, to add at the last minute otherwise it will wilt and the dressing will be absorbed too strongly. It really just needs a light coating of dressing.  The salad is supposed to be served warm. I added pomegranate seeds to the salad, they looked lovely.

Bon Appetit has you divide the salad into serving dishes and top each plate with a wedge of brie & slice of basil bread. We just passed the cheese & bread around, it was still nice.

We were subjected to Handsome Husband's art and culture.
It is a tradition of his that when night falls on Christmas Eve and over the Christmas holiday, usually after a few libations, Handsome Husband heads out into the dark, silent night to play Very Old Somber Songs on his trumpet.
Here, he and Mr. H play a rousing tune on hunting horns.

Better keep yer day jobs, boys...

You know, y'all, owning musical instruments, does not a musician make...
Mrs. H mentioned that when Mr. and Mrs. H met, he told Mrs. H that "she should go out with him because he was a trumpet player, hence a good kisser." 

Good thing he didn't try to serenade her that day, they might not have ended up with a marriage!

Well, the snow continues...
So I will return to my cozy chair, with sleepy dogs on either side, and continue the Foxfire series.  It reminds me of many family stories, and I enjoy hearing these older voices speak, preserved in these pages.

Besides: I just got to the How To Make Moonshine chapter.
I must now focus my rapt attention this afternoon, to every. small. detail.  Bring on the Glühwein! Or, maybe, Moonshine! Heck, Foxfire's even quoting Robert Burns' hatred of taxes levied on homemade liquor!
That Scotsman would make a GREAT Southerner!

"Thae curst hore-leeches o' the Excise
Wha mak the whiskey stills their prize!
Haud up thy han', Deil! ance, twice, thrice!
There, sieze the blinkers!
An' bake them up in brunstane pies
For poor d---n'd drinkers."

I mention the chapter on moonshine to Mother, who responds:
"Making moonshine can be very dangerous."

Voice of experience, honeys.
We'd better stick to green building.

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The One Where Christmas Is Saved

Oh, the weather outside is frightful.

But the fire is sooooooo delightful.
And since we've no place to go....


We slowly returned to Virginia via mountainous roads...

and a detour or two...

including some time pondering life in front of a country store...
before returning home.

Now I am fresh off the phone with Mrs. H, discussing the Christmas dinner menu.
"Hey guys, guess what Mrs. H is serving for Christmas dinner? Your favorite!"
Pipsqueaks chime in, "What is it?!?" I pause dramatically: "LAMB!"
Pipsqueak 1: "Who is it?"

We don't know this particular lamb.  But I was reflecting on sustainable farming, and the humane raising of meat and butchering when we returned home from vacation to be told that just hours earlier an urban hawk had brutally taken out one of our chickens in front of her flock.  I thought about the fact that I dreaded butchering a bird, and will always do it as quickly and humanely as possible... and that I am adamant and vocal that backyard butchers MUST be practiced before attempting to extinguish a life, otherwise they, in their clumsiness, achieve what they aim to avoid: cruelty.

Maybe that is still better than the factory farm.  Maybe that is still better than being immobilized by a hawk, to be eaten while still alive...  but you can always be better.

Wow. I really do know how to spread the holiday cheer, no?

Well, despite the wonderful time away, it has been a hard holiday, hence my reflection.
Upon our return, I learned a chicken had been lost, my sister's dog had been poisoned and was in the emergency vet dying, and another friend, and a family member, died.

A day passed... and then: my sister called me in tears.
After three days and a $3,000 vet bill (and this after giving birth just weeks ago to a child who needed an MRI last week), the vet had called to say they needed to make the decision about whether to put the dog down. This as she and her husband were making last minute arrangements to fly, with a newborn, leaving her older boys, on Christmas Day, to Seattle for a funeral.

I tried to comfort her, as she wept.
"HOW am I going to break this to the boys on Christmas?!?"

We went over the details, about how if the dog was suffering, it was the right thing to do. We went over their grief, how four boys would now face the holiday with so much loss...  I hung up the phone, so sad for them all.

And then the phone rang.
It was my sister, and she was still crying.
"When I got off the phone with you, the vet called. 
 I knew they were going to tell me what we already knew: that it had been done, and now I needed to tell the boys.

Instead, the vet said, 
'I just couldn't do it.
The staff gathered and we're just not going to put him down, we're going to do everything we can to get this dog better and there will be no more charges. The entire staff is crying right now and we wish you all a Very Merry Christmas.' "

I sat, stunned, listening, then we ALL burst into tears.
THANK YOU, the entire staff at the Emergency Clinic, THANK you, Betty Baugh.
Christmas will be a whole lot happier for four young boys in Richmond.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday...
As always, I reassure you that there will be technical green building stuff in the next post, just around the corner.





"Great Ideas" In Freezing Weather On Vacation With An Off Grid Zero Energy Prefab House Kit

Zero Energy Prefab House Kit, Under Construction.

We had, what they call in science and higher learning, "A GREAT IDEA."
And then somehow, our local quarry, Luck Stone, upon hearing our Great Idea, gave us ROCKS!!!
Luck Stone. The place that gave us rocks. : )

My dad with... rocks.
(He: "Don't tell them I shoot with Mr. Luck, ok?
Take the rocks and run.")
My request was simple:
"Hi! My name is Copeland, and I was wondering if I could buy some rocks.  See, we have an off grid prefab house, but it's still under construction, so we have no solar or radiant hooked up yet, and we camp in it in like, ten degrees, but I found an antique cook stove, it's kinda working, yet since there's also all these holes in the house now, the prefab house is not holding the heat as well as it used to, and I was thinking if I could buy some rocks from y'all, I could fill up the oven with rocks, and then it would radiate heat even longer after the fire is put out!"
I paused, brightly.

There was a longer pause.

"Ma'am, you may have a few rocks for your cook stove... for free."
"Oh no, I'm willing to pay for them!!!"
With a strange look, they insisted.
I think they either felt *really sorry* for me, or just wanted to get me as far away as possible, as quickly as they could :
Give the Crazy Lady some rocks, maybe she'll go away...

Rocks. For a cook stove. *Thank you* Luck Stone...

Day One Of Vacation: Saturday.
I awoke at 6:30, wrote an article on the right to sustainable business, then we somehow convinced ourselves that rushing to the off grid prefab house kit in frigid temperatures, still with no electricity or radiant heat installed, on a soppy snow sodden home site where you KNOW within seconds the children & dogs would be immersed in icy wet water and mud (happily?)... was another great idea.

Arrived, the children and dogs became dangerously soaked-to-the-bone-in-ice within seconds.
Jason Dorris sealed up the cook stove more (with some help from Pipsqueak #1)... and the cook stove was quickly fired up... with the sun setting soon.

The indoor air temperature rose.

Pipsqueak #2 helped put together bunk beds...

Architects and Engineers take note: Pipsqueak #1 did some serious automation of the bunk-building process. He inserted nails into the slat holes on either end, flipped the slat over, then slapped the nail heads on the floor hard to drive the nails through, before quickly handing them up to be inserted into the frame. We were impressed.

Night fell...
And the temperature? Once it warmed up, we were fine.

And Oh: I love my rocks. Thank you, Luck Stone...
(I put the rocks on a baking sheet so not to scratch the enamel of the oven.
I'll be careful... And yes, now the rack is a bit tipsy but that makes it interesting, no?)

When we awoke, it was...
On To The Greenbrier!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In the morning, we bathed with water heated in a dutch oven on top of  the cook stove, then placed the steaming pot in the livestock trough so we could bend down to wash our hair (it was too cold to contemplate even a water-heated solar shower within the livestock trough - in the morning, indoors, it was about 60 degrees before we got the cook stove going, and I was ON VACATION and not in the mood for SURVIVAL SHOWERING that day, dag it).

We then drove from the po' house... to The Big House : The Greenbrier.

The drive was mighty purty...

We meandered up 29, then onto 60, for a beautiful rural drive through Amherst, Buena Vista, Lexington... over the mountains and through the woods / to The Greenbrier cottage we go...

Here's our cottage:

(I know... I knowDon't you remember when we saw it for the first time last year?!?
***CLICK*** on that "we are entering the cottage" video, it is *amazing*!!! Also click on the We Are Going To Die video. Let's hope we don't die tomorrow, please cross your fingers as we pass the mountains again in snow. Drat. I just jinxed us, didn't I.)

And while at The Greenbrier... It snowed!!!!

We had tea, we meandered, we hiked, we sat by the fire, we ice skated, we went sledding...
IT WAS HOT in the cottage. I... had... hot showers.
I appreciate that...

Speaking of ice skating, there was something extremely, secretly rewarding about lounging on a wooden bench, by the fire, as my offspring teetered and skedaddled unsteadily around the rink...
Every few seconds they'd go
onto the hard, unforgiving ice,
and I'd think, from my warm perch,
"Yeah. THAT was for not listening to me when I wanted to go hiking this morning..."
"And *THAT's* for whining and whining when I wanted to take pictures of trees..."


I broke open the rillettes I made a few weeks ago for hors d'oeuvre... delicious.
*And* the bright, lavender infused tomato soup I canned earlier in August... and the Mexican chili, and the hummus, and the eggplant carpaccio...
We were not wanting for food.

And then, in a flash, it was over.

We will be back...

With a snowy forecast, we traverse the mountains again, down to Appomattox.

We had planned to stop in the small towns as we drive through - there is a Railway Museum in Clifton Forge, the VMI museum, Lee Chapel, Stonewall Jackson house and more in Lexington, walking around Buena Vista... and Amherst was *absolutely beautiful*... but we will need to save these leisurely moments for summer : SNOW APPROACHES.
(When we return I also want to spend time in Lewisburg, WV. I had many recommendations from people saying it is a wonderful, historic place to visit, and apparently has a great Irish pub.)

Pat Root was supposed to have been continuing electric on the off grid prefab house this week, and we are still trying to track down the plumber so we can *finally* close up these walls, re-insulate holes, flip the switch, and have radiant heat and electricity... LIKE "THAT."
Although I appreciate and relish "like that," it has not been so easy, and our children have grown up knowing so.
Zero Energy Prefab Hous Kit - Under Construction...
This may be one of the last times you see the zero energy house kit truly off grid / no automatic power at all... so take a good look this winter...
Or, maybe... realistically?
We. Shall. See.

In the meantime, I will leave you with some Nice Boys With Whom I Grew Up,
Aw, Look: They're Singing Christmas Carols.
Isn't that sweet?!? Y'all enjoy, y'hear?

I'll catch y'all on the other side of the mountain.




More On Chimneys And Insulation In A Tight SIP Passive Solar Prefab Home


Sometimes I wonder if y'all think I'm a bit loopy.
I have a simple answer for those that do: I'm from Richmond.
Richmonders certainly have quirks, and a deep historic layer o' foibles.
Honeychiles, in this year's Christmas parade, we even killed Rudolph.

So, if you ever think I'm a tad touched... blame it on geography.

Passive Solar Prefab Off Grid Home
Under Construction

Anyhoo, as I've mentioned, the zero energy prefab house is back under construction with some new penetrations in our previously tight, energy efficient house kit made with SIP.  We have some temporary measures to make our winter more comfortable during this transition, but don't be fooled: Although crafty, we draw the line at a messy, gerryrigged lifestyle. The end result of this construction project will be sleek, modern, permanent off grid grace, albeit amidst I-thought-this-was-going-to-be-short term chaos. 

 We will get there. But face it: We're. Under. Construction.

Prefab House Kit With Passive Solar Design.
And, yes, #SheTakesAfterMe

In Virginia, we currently are enduring ARCTIC temperatures, with more snow on the way. Honestly, as much as I thrilled at our survival camping last year in the SIP house, I am not jumping at the chance to do it again, through another winter, with young children, especially with new penetrations and no radiant heat yet hooked up. (Remember when it was ELEVEN degrees and we were spending the night in the off grid prefab, still with no heat?!?)

So let's talk about energy efficiency, wood stoves, and penetrations in the SIP.
Here's our own zero energy prefab's initial energy audit post:

Wood cook stove pipe in a tight SIPs house.

Note how critical it is to insulate, insulate, insulate where there are not SIP - I wrote about putting insulation under and around your foundation two years ago, to note any thermal bridging and to address it, but also to critically eye insulating your crawl spaces, etc. (if you have them)... and here's a great article on putting foam under your footings, and how to get your local code officials to support it.

But this is a post about chimneys and wood stoves in a tight, energy efficient house kit.

Here is my technical explanation in a nutshell: I know it's impossible to completely seal this ole leaky, antique cook stove, I know that... but I'm gonna jigger the thingamajiggers & take it as far as I can.

The day I finally got mah cook stove...

As always, we walk the balance of energy efficient functionality with heartfelt touches, like the wood cook stove, that combines nostalgia with its own usefulness of off grid net zero cooking and heat, yet detracts from the prefab house kit efficiency when not in use: through its roof penetration.

Basically, the industry feels that to safely have wood stoves in *any* energy efficient home
1. The whole system (not just the wood stove but also the flue, etc.) must be airtight (ours will never quite be)
2. Have an ERV (energy recovery ventilator - external air supply)*
3. Make sure there's no back drafting (the combustion process of the sealed stove sucks in air from outside the envelope and exhausts it through the chimney without affecting the pressure in the house)

And don't even get started on asking for an open fireplace - which only reduces heat, sullies your air, and causes all sorts of problems.

*If you do not know what ERV / HRV are, which are critical in energy efficient homes, or want to understand more about designing good ventilation systems, read here

I decided to see how others are handling efficient wood stoves / chimney penetrations, knowing that in passive houses and other energy efficient tight homes you may not have an open fire place; however that may be, people are using sealed pellet and wood stoves with ERVs and I thought I'd put links to comments of others addressing their chimney penetration for your discourse.

Currently (now don't you forget we are UNDER CONSTRUCTION, no ERV, etc. yet) we have negative air pressure caused by the three penetrations and wood stove. ERVs DO NOT affect the pressure one way or the other, their sole purpose is to remove stale air from the house and replace it with the same amount off fresh air (same amount) while exchanging the heat from one air flow to the other.

Here is our own wood cook stove scenario:
Air escapes through the chimney.  The fire draws in new air, except in our case, since the house is was so tight, it depressurizes the house.  Now you could crack open a window, eh?
(Yes, architects, I just heard you gasp in disbelief. I'm breakin' it down here, be patient.)
People: You just let in frigid, frosty air into your cozy home.
Instead, what we're going to do is bring that external air supply as close as possible to the stove, so that the cold, external air can travel as directly and as close to the fire without mixing with our indoor air. We will be doing that via the gas line, which we plumbed for investment value but never intended to use for our own purposes.

Chimney: Of course we have an insulated chimney. However, the manufacturer states there must be a 2" gap!!!! Jiminy Crickets!
Our contractor, Jason Dorris, argued the manufacturer for mineral wool, refrax, other high temperature suggestions (on my own research I also saw mentions of flue caulk, fibre cement / muffler cement / muffler putty)... to no avail.  We shouldn't have something rigid, so that as the flue moves, contracts & expands with heat, it doesn't crack.  We will discuss that more, later, as I await a return call from the manufacturer before telling you what we ended up doing.

Insulation: In my research I found a nice illustrated explanation that you might find helpful on sealing leakage and insulation... just to give you some ideas on where to start.

Firestopping: (Not that I would recommend PVC, I was thinking of these products for use with other applications & materials. I'm really liking that SpecSeal® SSP putty at the bottom of the page...)

Whenever thinking about wood stoves and chimneys in energy efficient homes, I always think about Kat's great post, here.

Today, I reference this segment:

"Flue penetrations need to be detailed in an airtight manner as well as they need to be as thermal bridge free as possible. The connection between the fireplace and the outside should be via a class A insulated metal chimney, or if possible one should be using a zero clearance chimney. There are ceramic insulating materials that are rated for very high temperatures. A double wall flue could also be used to provide intake of combustion air at the same time while needing only one envelope penetration. "

Interesting Products:

  • The Absolut Chimney System :
    "Two block stones with thermal separation for where the flue passes through the ceiling of the cellar and the roof of the house effectively prevent heat from escaping along the flue, and a specially developed roof seal also helps to save energy.

    The thermo-airdraft is another innovation which helps to save energy. Similar to a heat exchanger, it uses the heat of the exhaust gases produced – which would otherwise be wasted – to pre-heat the inflowing air needed for combustion in the stove."

  • Wood stove for a passive house:

This is also a good time to bring up solar or thermal chimneys, which I think would be a great addition in our prefab house kits if you'd like to include them. I especially have our R1 Residential prefab house kit in mind for such a feature.  For our area of Virginia and our family needs, for cooling, we've found opening the clerestory windows in our casa ti house kit provides enough breeze and hot air escape for our comfort. (We are also installing fans for those still summer days throughout our own house kit....)

The R1 Residential prefab house kit from

Here's a nice overview of how passive solar / thermal chimneys work by Al Herbel, LEED AP.
He also utilizes earth tubes and fans to cool the air. Handsome Husband's comment: "This is passive in the true sense of the word - there are no moving pieces. The solar chimney creates a draft up and out, which is replaced by air sucked into the house through the earth tubes which carry relatively cooler (and fresh) air. It's brilliant!"

Cozy passive solar prefab where I can cook up a storm

But wait. WHY am I talking about cooling in December?!? Give me some heat, honeys!
I know I've addressed these issues before - see this post in particular.
But here's more useful information. Please read all latest information available, not just what I find, when trying to make an informed decision on your own home. (Oh, come on, do I really have to say it - "this is for informational purposes only, honeys, are you kidding me you'd actually take building advice from ME?!?")

From - wood stoves, masonry heaters:

From, [which also has an interesting discussion on what it means to be "passive" as well as more information I encourage you to read]:
"It is perfectly possible to have a chimney in a passive house. This one as it says is being built in conjunction with the PHI.

It has 2 chimneys. 1 inside the body, 1 outside.
Both were built using traditional masonry.
The internal one was built with an adapted detail using insulating blocks where it bridges the airtightness\insulation layer in the roof.
The flue also contains 2 valves even though a room sealed is specified. There is no such thing as a truly airtight stove apparently. 1 of the valves is on the air source pipe for the stove, the 2nd in the chimney itself close to the insulation layer.
This chimney is so well designed that it is not considered a cold bridge in the PHPP.
It is easier to detail the chimney (thermally) if it is outside the body of the house. This can introduce structural issues depending on your build method.
If the company that did your PHPP knows what they are doing they should be able to provide a detail."


From an Irish chimney company:
"Chimney insulation/capping - An insulated chimney makes the world of a difference in any build. A warm chimney insulated with vermiculite or rockwool sleeves, not only contains the heat in the chimny and property, but gives a better operation in the chimney overall. A cold flue presents problems such as damp, condensation, heat loss, and in more sever cases, lack of "pull" - the smoke failing to rise up the chimney and resulting in the smoke coming back into the room. Chimney insulation is one of the best investments you will make in your property(s). An unused chimney should be capped and sealed making the flue airtight (leaving a small vent for the chimney to breath) and keeping the air from your radiators, stove, cooker etc in the house and not evaporating into the atmosphere!"
And back to the previous thread,, an RWagner chimes in:

"While I have yet to design a house that meets the Passive House standards, I do regularly put a wood stove into the very low-energy houses I'm doing. I do this for several reasons. We have 9800 heating degree days here, and many days in a row without sunshine, so often our peak heating load cannot be met through the ventilation system only. The wood stove adds an element of "energy independence." If the power grid goes down and you cannot heat the house through the ventilation system (no electricity), or if there is a disruption to supplies of natural gas (potential used for another heat source), the wood stove is there to provide heat at any time. In our cold winters this is necessary. Some clients want to heat with wood to reduce their reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels, and because it is a clean, renewable source of energy. We only use stoves with a dedicated combustion air route but it does add another hole to the envelope and so it does weaken the envelope a bit. I've decided that the trade-off is worth it. Does a wood stove overheat the house? My experience is no, not if the stove is located in an open area to promote heat distribution. There are very small stoves available, and I still prefer this to a masonry heater because the regular wood stove acts like a small radiator and you can more easily control the amount of heat in a short time. I've found that the small wood stoves work beautifully in a passive solar home. Make a small fire when you first wake up, let it die down and the sun takes over. In the evening if it it gets very cold and the passive solar gain doesn't last into the night, make another small fire and that stabilizes the house through the night. Also, another reason I use a more standard wood stove is because in our area firewood is readily available, and many people are practicing good forest stewardship as they harvest and/or sell this local, renewable resource.

A final note based on two experiences: The "Skyline House" that is calculated to need 23 kWh/m2 annually has been staying comfortable all this winter almost exclusively with the use of the wood stove and the passive solar gain. Another house recently completed has higher heating load (not as thermally aggressive in the envelope, but still has a peak load of only about 8 Btu/sf) but is very very tight - tested at 0.04 cfm/sf@50 Pa (0.4 ACH @ 50) and the wood stove with dedicated combustion air route works nicely."

From the same thread:
"Jesper, I have installed four masonry heaters in four superinsulated houses. They work very well. These are Tulikivi soapstone stoves from Finland. They burn kindling once or twice a day, each fire lasting 30-40 minutes. They are closed up the rest of the time (flue and combustion air from outdoors) so the airtightness of the house isn't compromised much. Each stove is sized for the house it goes into. These masonry heaters can be combined with other heat sources, such as a coil at the HRV. One thing I like about them is that when the fire is going, it's going all out. It's never damped down for a slow burn, so it's exempt from EPA regulations because it doesn't pollute. One last thing: After your morning fire you close everything up and this pile of hot rocks just sits there radiating heat all day long while you're off at work with no worries about a fire burning in your absence.

Ted Nickell"

Last thoughts: Farewell To The Chimney?
Read the comments, you even get a Robert Frost poem on chimneys! AWESOME!
Chimney, solar, and Freak Dog
at the off grid passive solar house kit.

The last comment mirrors our thoughts and beginning experience - we build the fire, get it going, then shut down the flue - and it radiates. I personally think our cook stove is perfect, although we certainly will work on the seal, even with the ERV assurance.  The firebox is small, it heats quickly but not overheats. If we wrap the cook stove with thermal mass, we'll aid its longterm thermal mass output even further!

Well, speaking of cooking, here, I am starting to cook, again, in anticipation of the coming snowstorm.
That includes erecting a Gingerbread House, Take 2.
Last night, as we attempted Take 1, the dogs ran off with the walls.


I leave you with Bing Crosby and David Bowie.
Pah-rum-pah-pum-pum, honeychiles.
Little Drummer Boy - David Bowie and Bing Crosby

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