Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Passive Solar Heating

I have no exact memory of when/how/where I first heard about passive solar heating, but that's how I wanted our home to be designed and built. I may have heard of it when we lived in England for two years and I read articles about using wind for electricity. 

Soon after we moved to Shiloh we chose a building plot and hired an architect.  I told him what I wanted him to design.  He hadn't heard of it, and this predated the internet making it very difficult to research the revolutionary concept of Passive Solar Heating. 

One thing I did know was that we had to live on the eastern slope of the mountain.  That's where we were, by chance, in Bayit V'Gan, Jerusalem.  Friends who lived on the western slope in a very similar apartment and exposures suffered from terrible winds, and we didn't.  I found the perfect spot.  It was one of the lots prepared for a prefab which had been detoured to another community, so it was on the water, sewer and electricity lines.

My mother found us a couple of books about passive solar heating which I avidly read.  She also contacted her brother's close friend from the PalYam, Israel's pre-state navy, which brought in Jewish survivors of the Nazi holocaust against the British blockade.  Gidon Rozen was one of Israel's earliest building engineers and he visited us and gave the architect advice.

In the end, the house wasn't built with any special materials.  Our contractor had even less experience than the architect, but he meticulously researched to provide the best insulation and construction possible.  And, thank G-d, we've needed fewer repairs than any other homeowner.

Our house was designed to absorb the sunlight through well-placed double windows.  And the guy who did the second set of windows, top-quality aluminum had even less experience than the builder.  You could say that the house was built with very good intentions by highly intelligent inexperienced people.  Only the architect had any professional, in his field, training and qualifications.

One surprise, which wasn't mentioned at all in the books and articles I had read, was that in the winter strong winds come from the south here in Shiloh, Israel.  And winds heralding seasonal changes come from the east.  And our large windows are on the south and on the east.

All in all, the house is relatively comfortable in the winter with minimal heating, and it's much too hot in the summer.  If the fruit trees I planted by the eastern windows had thrived instead of dying then we'd be shaded in the summer.  I guess the guys who planted them didn't dig deep enough holes.

Most people don't have the opportunity to plan, design and build their own home.  There are things about the house I wouldn't change and there are mistakes, too.  But I'm not moving!

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