Archive for the ‘Heating and Cooling’ Category

Day 72 – What is “Off the Grid?”

Power Meter - Courtesy of Ali G. Photography

So, you hear people talking about it, but what does “off the grid” mean?  Put simply, it means that you don’t have an electric or a gas bill sent to you because you simply don’t have those services because you are not connected to them at all.

Is this possible?  Well, it was for hundreds of thousands of years before we had a grid, so yes it is!

Isn’t this like living in the dark ages?  Well, some people do live rather sparsely off the grid, but the good news is that you don’t have to live like a caveman in a tent to be off the grid!

How can you be off the grid and still fit into normal society?  By designing your home in tune with nature (i.e. don’t put your kitchen on the South side of your house*) and by using solar, small hydro, and/or small wind energy you can make your own power.  Hopefully in the long run, this technology will become part of “normal” society.

Can I use solar, hydro, and wind power and still be ON the grid?  Yes, you can.  In some cases, you can even make extra electricity and sell it back to the power company.  Wouldn’t it be cool to see your meter running backwards?

Is “off the grid” supposed to be the goal for everyone?  Not necessarily.  Some areas do not get enough sun, water movement, or wind to make going off the grid feasible.  It would be nice if we all lived in habitable areas where we did not need a grid, but for now that is not practical.

*Why should you not design your home to have the kitchen on the South side of your home?  Using your oven and stove generates a lot of heat.  The South side of your house (in the Northern Hemisphere) is the hottest because of the angle of the sun.  In the winter, the sun warms up the South side of your house a little, so the extra heat from your kitchen is needed on the North side.  In the summer, there is too much heat on the South side of your house, so a kitchen on the North side balances the cooling needs.  This type of practical, simple advice used to be the norm until fossil fuel heating and cooling became relatively simpler.  Now, designers are looking once again to this practical advice to minimize or eliminate the need for fossil fuels.

Photo courtesy of Ali G. Photography

Day 4 – Greener Cooling

Traditional Box Fan


So, it is HOT in the Midwestern United States this time of year.  I don’t doubt that most people run their air conditioning from the time it gets a little bit warm in the spring until the cooling breezes of Autumn arrive.  There are also some people out there who run their air conditioning to cool off one day and run their heater the next.  

Here at my house we save energy (and money) by taking a different approach with our cooling.  We put a big box fan in one window.  We know some basic principles of warm and cool air: heat rises and cooler air sinks.  Add to this the fact that the North side of the house is coolest because that side of the house has the least amount of direct sunlight and that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West.  So, we put one big fan facing out in a South-facing window and open two windows on the North side of the house, then we use a smaller fan facing in directly cooling the bedroom at the other end of the house that also unfortunately happens to have a South-facing window. 

If it is really hot during the day and the temperature indoors is cooler than outdoors late into the evening, we plug the fan into a timer and have it set to turn on at a specific time that we determine by looking at an hourly weather forecast online.  For those few weeks that it is so hot you can’t fall asleep – that is when we use a small window air conditioning unit in the bedroom. 

In the morning, when the temperature is at equilibrium indoors and outdoors, we shut the house up as tight as a drum including closing most of the window treatments to keep the heat from building up indoors.  When we’re using a particular room, we open the window treatments and let the sun shine!