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Caspar, California - 26 May 2011

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Living Under Our Own Power

Three decades ago, after a short career as a teacher, I became fascinated with energy -- it became very clear to me that civilization is on a collision course with the finite nature of life on an island -- in this case, the planet earth and its enormous but nevertheless limited resources. For more than a decade, I was a principal at Real Goods, a popularizer and purveyor of, among other things, renewable energy equipment (and solar schlock like solar mosquito guards and garden statue Saint Francises made out of cow dung.) 

We like technology. The truth is, we admire old technology, and adore new technology. As we built and rebuilt, we were always looking for the most efficient and robust solutions for the various challenges of making a home ...and we think we have succeeded very well.

../solarnet/IndHome/" target="_blank">I wrote some books ...</a></strong></p>

I wrote some books ...

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For the best part of my 45 years of living in Caspar I have been relearning the genius of the land. Working on my book The New Independent Home I traveled all over the US to interview homesteaders and builders, and was amazed by how little they know about their weather -- where it came from, if it came in patterns, and above all, if there were ways to build that helped minimize the weather's power while maximizing the comfort and longevity of the homes. The Pomo -- the aboriginal inhabitants here -- knew all about this. We have had to relearn it.

Our house is the product of successive invention and reinvention over thirty years, all with the goal of optimizing its performance in place. The great view coincides with the big storm track, so the south side of the house has to be roughly as waterproof as a boat. Our "Great Air Conditioner" is the Pacific Ocean, a massive body of water that seldom gets above 50 degrees F in these parts. Our soil is also a constant 55 degrees. We have 340 days when we have a net solar gain during the day -- only 25 days a year is the sky so dark and the wind so cold that we lose energy.


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How Our House Powers Itself

<p>East elevation schematic of our energy sources</p>

East elevation schematic of our energy sources

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Our house integrates the great old technologies – plaster walls, lots of locally sourced and recycled wood simply finished with hypoallergenic materials like linseed oil and carnauba wax, that don't outgas. We added 22 tons (20 metric tonnes) of concrete for thermal mass; the sun pumps solar-heated water through long-lived Swedish tubing buried in this slab -- a hydronic floor -- to keep the house warm. We replaced all the windows with the best available glass (double-paned, of course, with argon filling and low-emissivity coatings.) Domestic hot water is preheated, or in summer completely heated, in an evacuated tube solar water heating. We produce more grid-interactive photovoltaic electricity than we use. For much more about our energy projects, and some important extracts from The New Independent Home, check out the old Solarnet website, here.

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