traditional energy use?????

15 years ago

A couple of years ago as I sat next to my wood burning stove during a power outage I started wondering why all of the functions of heating, cooking and lighting a house had become so separate. I cooked on my woodstove and read by the light during the evenings of a three day outage. And it really got me to wondering why all of these functions now needed to ge so separate. My range does nothing but cook food and that seems like such a waste. Why can't shower water, or my house, be heated at the same time? Why does all of the water leaving my house not drive something that creates power (like an old mill)? I've seen on tv how 'green' house building is expensive right now, but what about just plain old fashiond smart architecture and materials? I mean windows and doors placed to take best advantage of breezes in summer, etc. Also, I have a full 1700 sf basement that is heated and cooled so amazingly fast and efficiently just by virtue of being a hole in the ground with tons of earth for insulation. I really want to find info on good, old-fashioned, common sense building design. Are there threads out there relating to this? I'm all for wind and solar power, but there's got to be more info out there. We will sell our empty-nest house within a couple of years and I really would like to build a small, efficient house. Am I alone in wondering about tradition, maybe even ancient, ways of building that must be better than what we have now?

Comments (5)

  • jason_reno
    15 years ago

    A hundred years ago, what you are talking about was called "the kitchen stove". It cooked the meals, heated a tank of water and heated the house. (At least it heated the kitchen, the rest of the house would freeze on winter nights.) It also had a fire burning in it all the time.

    I think modern systems are designed to do one job much better. You can cook on your woodstove, but can you vary the temperature to rapidly get a boil and then drop to simmer? Your cooking stove concentrates its heat into the cookware. Is there really enough waste heat to keep your house comfortable? Would you be willing to run it all day and night for heat?

    Certainly, there are opportunities for efficiency and co-generation. You could probably heat domestic water off of your woodstove. Earth shelter homes and adobe homes have a lot of thermal mass and have advantages especially in cooling. I've always thought that solar heat for domestic water and radiant heat is the best way to go solar these days.

    Why isn't that done? Energy is cheap. Things like that generally require more thought and customization than a builder throwing up 500 tract homes in a season can afford. Things like that are also highly susceptable to individual preferences. Maybe the guy that buys your house doesn't want to (or can't) deal with wood as a primary heat source.

    I'm not trying to argue with you, just throwing up some counterpoints. I think you're posing the right questions.

  • cuddlepoo
    Original Author
    15 years ago

    hi jason, actually I can drop the temp on my wood stove cooking by just by setting it on another metal pan on the stove (had time to practice this during our black out!). I also saw a public tv cooking show that was done completely over a fire outside. He used different length hooks to hold the pots to make different temperature zone. Off topic, but one of the many lost skills I think. Not that I would want to keep a wood stove going all day, though during a black out in winter I can't imagine not having it, but the point being it's one resource doing multiple jobs. A better example may be the systems that take the gray water in your home and then it's used to flush toilets, and then it is run through a large planter bed.
    So when thinking of my next home, assuming we get to build ourselves, here are the questions I have:
    1. I would think about architecture first. What building shape is most efficient? What floor plan is most efficient? Is ther a size and placement for windows that is most efficient? What materials to build with (what did they do before the newer materials)?
    2. Then I would think about adding my solar and wind power. DH travels alot and tells me that he sees windmills (or whatever they are called) everywhere. Why not here? My town is SOOOOO windy we would be flush with power!
    3. I do know that I would absolutely have a wood stove again. Not only for power outage, but what if our utilities were out for a very long time due to disaster or war. It could certainly happen. And I am certainly interested in being able to function in all aspect of life if we lost our utilities and infrastructure. How would we deal with water?
    I do see many sites regarding wind and solar power, earth homes and such, but I still really want to know what were the common building strategies of the past.

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  • jason_reno
    15 years ago

    Building strategies depended on location and lifestyle. American Indians ran the gamut from tipis to timber frames to adobe. Poineers used log cabins and sod houses. In Europe they usually used stone, masonry and timber frames with thatch, slate or shake roofs. You can search Amazon for "historic building" and "alternative building" for references. (Alternative is probably the better one)
    1. Most efficient in what way? Thermal? Ventilation? Storage? A sphere has the leas surface area for a given internal volume, They can be tricky to build, but it's been done. Most efficent is to have no windows. Materails depend on what's on hand. Do you have a lot of timber, a lot of rocks or a lot of straw?
    2. It's best to do a wind survey, because the wind you think you have and what can actually be used for power aren't always the same. The recommendations I've seen in Home Power are to set up a recording aenomometer on your site for a year.
    3. There are a lot of options for solar or wind water pumping, but you will need a storage tank.

    Another thought on old time building techniques is that I think our standards of comfort are a lot higher than 100 or more years ago. Those heavy quilts and canopy beds were used because it could easily get below freezing in the bedroom on winter nights. There's a reason we invented central heat.

  • jemdandy
    15 years ago

    As an aside, those canopy beds were originaly used for insect control in the summer. Back then, there wasn't any window screens! Mosquito netting was essential for making it through the night.

  • DavidR
    15 years ago

    Your woodstove is significantly less efficient at turning fuel into heat than a modern gas furnace. Furthermore, controlling temperature by moving the pan further away is inherently wasteful, simply throwing away the heat you don't need instead of controlling the fuel input to reduce it. No big deal in the winter when you can use the heat, but in the summer - big waste.

    OTOH, one could argue that a woodstove's fuel is renewable, while natural gas and electricity (usually) aren't. Pick your poison.

    But you are thinking in the right direction. There are certainly a lot of interesting possibilities for improving efficiency. Some of them are proven methods (passive solar design, sensible home siting, windows one can actually use, etc.) These are relatively easy to implement. It just takes a cooperative contractor and a few wheelbarrows full of money.

    Others are more "high tech." For example, wouldn't it be nice to have a home-sized fuel cell that produced your heat from natural gas, AND at the same time fed the grid with electricity? Such a device was designed and prototyped many years ago, but I don't believe it ever got into production. (Someone please correct me if I'm wrong about that. It would be nice if it had.)

    There are some established energy conservation techniques that are just now finally becoming mainstream in the states. They are really pretty minimal - we are WAY behind such nations as Denmark and Sweden on this - but they're a start, and you have some chance of finding a contractor who can handle them. Go outside those established techniques and you are on your own. You may have trouble getting the building inspector to approve them. You will be either buying expensive limited-production products (and living with their quirks), or designing and building them yourself (and living with quirks you created yourself ;-).

    But somebody's gotta do it, or it'll never happen. That's what being an early adopter is all about.