In Northern New Mexico, most rural folks heat their homes with wood. Winter conversations can revolve around where you got your wood, how well it burns, and how much is left. We quietly listen during these exchanges because it is impolite to brag. We rarely need to start a fire in our hearth. Our home is designed to capture the heat of the sun and store it, even through a cloudy day or two.
By designing around natural patterns we have created a living structure where the systems interact seamlessly. Heat rises, water falls, the earth’s temperature is fairly stable. We can count on these things. So this is where we started with our house design.
It is built into the Northwest side of a hill. The roof has 14 inches of blown cellulose for insulation (R51), and the attached greenhouse acts as a heater in the winter. The South facing greenhouse is slightly sunken, helping not only with heat circulation but also with utilizing our grey water without pumps and filters. We are very careful about what we put down the drain, and all our grey water drains into a processing bed which grows food year round.
We kept the hot water system small and localized around the south of the house where the naturally thermosyphoning solar water system is located, requiring no pumps or heat exchangers. Our water systems draws rain caught from the roof, stored in a 2,500 gallon cistern, into the pantry for pressurizing(the rest of our site is pressurized just from gravity) with a pump and tank. We have an additional 2000 gallon tank for extra storage. Our Big Berkey ceramic filter sits on the side of our kitchen sink and we fill it whenever we are waiting for the hot water to arrive.
The things that make us happy are fairly simple. We like to be warm (but not too warm), dry, and well fed. Housing that helps to meet these basic needs without making major impacts on the Earth and it’s inhabitants is an accomplishment in itself for humans of this era. This brings a peace of mind that not many folks have these days. Any comfort and convenience beyond that, we consider a luxury. These are some examples of the luxuries of our simple home:
- Freshly picked vegetables from the attached greenhouse year round.
- Solar oven accessible from inside the house via the Solar Wall Oven design.
- Solar hot water nearly all the time- our storage tank is located in the house and well insulated.
- The root cellar/pantry is conveniently located just off the kitchen and tucked into the North hill for winter food storage.
- Rainwater passed through a ceramic filter makes delicious clean local drinking water- a rarity in our area of wells that are hundreds of feet deep and water thick with minerals.
Our house is made with earth, strawbales, and salvaged wood. The walls are round and finished with fine earth plasters. It has a cave/womb-like feel but with plenty of light. Our earth floor is sealed with linseed oil and beeswax and is always a favorite aspect for our visitors.
As we see it, our task as humans now is to reclaim our place as creatures on this earth. We can be part of a healthy ecosystem, not destroyers of it. Our house helps us retrain ourselves to cultivate our attention towards the immediate environment. The comfort of our home depends on our interaction- a far cry from the common ‘climate controlled’ standards. Sure, we designed and built the house to be comfortable; it’s soft, round, earthen, bright, cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. But it’s also designed to encourage intimate relationships with our resources. The tank gauge on our cistern just outside the front door keeps us in touch with our most scarce resource. Our thermometer in the greenhouse and in the main house are large and easy to read. That helps us decide when to open or close the doors to the greenhouse for ultimate efficiency. Our voltage meter is easy to read, encouraging informed and quick decisions about our solar electricity usage. Integrating these feedback systems into our home has helped us stay in touch with the sun, the rain, the sky- the elements that are essential to our survival.
We made this house so it would use resources efficiently- not just in the building process, but in the systems we use once it is built. We have focused on simplicity for easy maintenance, and natural materials for our health and sanity. It is customized to our environment. We have a lot of sun, so we use it as much as possible. We don’t have a lot of water, and our infrastructure reflects it’s preciousness. All of these factors make our home the most comfortable human habitation we have ever experienced. It not only reflects our values, but also all the sweat and love we put into it’s creation. Written by Amanda Bramble