Sunny Days – No Fire


Tiny Cottage in the Sun

We haven’t had a fire in the woodstove for the last two days. Not that it has been warm outdoors – Quite the contrary. The temperatures have been about -11°F at night and only raising to the low teens in the day. But it has been Sun-days and we’ve been warm in the cottage.

Passive solar heat warms our house wonderfully even though we don’t have the best of exposure angles. The same thing happens in the animal hoop houses although they have the added advantage of warm toes from their composting bedding – something I’ll not do directly in the cottage!

Due to our location on the mountain we fast a bit east of south rather than the west of south that would be better for our climate. This gives us the morning sun that warms us early. There are other locations on our land that would have given more sun but the trade off would have been a lot more wind – a major thief of heat across windows.

Many passive solar houses experience overheating on sunny days. For this reason it is recommended to limit the amount of windows on the south of a building. (Perhaps I should say sunny side for those in Australia and other places south of the equator.) We have far more glazed area than recommended for our floor square footage yet we don’t over heat. Why? On sunny days the incoming solar radiation is soaked up by the cottage’s 100,000 lbs of thermal mass. Then the warmth is slowly released from the masonry and back to us over a period of days. As the sun gets lower in the sky during the winter it reaches further back until it kisses our back wall. Then with spring it retreats to the front windowsills to keep us cool in the summer.

The cottage is able to actually stay above freezing all winter without any inhabitants. We found this out the first year before we moved in. That was when it had been freshly built in the early winter and hadn’t even had the benefit of summer time warm up and pane glass windows.

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The solar gain is part of how we only burn less about 3/4 cord of wood a winter despite the fact that our roof still only has minimal insulation as demonstrated by the ice dam. Someday we’ll berm the roof and at that time we’ll also add a bit more insulation. We also plan to make super-windows like I made down in the old farm house. I must admit that I was surprised that so little insulation, just two sheets of foil-bubble-bubble-foil, is sufficient to keep us so warm. Of course, most of the time we also have quite a snow load up there which insulates us like an igloo.

The above mentioned ice dams are actually rather useful. They keep the snow on the roof rather than letting it slide off the arch. This gives us more insulation and protection from the wind. I purposefully had made lips at the edge of the roof to retain the snow but the ice further improved on my plan. The final roof will gull wing out even further to enhance this effect.

Outdoors: 70°F/60°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 11°F/-11°F

Daily Spark: I declared, “I’m innocent. Innocent as the driven snow.” To this my son quipped, “Yes, and blizzards kill a lot of people every year!” Too true.

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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13 Responses to Sunny Days – No Fire

  1. Roger Hardy says:

    What is the function of the sticks on the right hand side of the photo?

    • Those are special horizontal space antenna so that we can communicate with the mother ship. No, really… Okay, they’re just rebar. They are their so that we can expand to the east with a green space and entry when we’re ready someday. They also make a a great place to hang cloths, towels, sunflower heads, etc. But you gotta admit the antenna explanation is fun. :)

  2. Oh Walter, you make me feel so…so…so…wasteful. Probably because I am so wasteful. We live in a very large 100 year old farmhouse with lots of character and huge heatloss but ONE DAY we too will build our own tiny cottage.

    • We spent decades in our farmhouse, and another old house before that. I tried for years to ‘fix it up’ before I finally realized I was fighting a futile battle, uphill, against the tide. I could never get the house to stay warm enough for Holly in the winter even shutting off large parts of it and burning seven cord of wood plus having some electric heaters. Despite all our efforts to insulate and tighten it, add foundation, house wrap, etc it simply leaked. I think that it is in part the nature of the construction – light weight wood timber framing that shifts and moves. A million holes.

      I finally gave up. Then after a few years we built our tiny cottage in just months. Because we built from scratch and because of the nature of the monolithic masonry construction it has a huge thermal mass and air only passes where I want through the vents. It is such a joy to deal with. We were just talking about this yesterday. On the one hand we wish that we had done this 20 years ago. But on the other hand, I learned so much fighting the old house that the cottage is better for that battle. Live and learn! :)

      • We have had bacon from big old sows and it was excellent. I’ve heard that said, of watery bacon, about feeding whey too – that is also false. I suspect it is another myth-take. Someone somewhere had some ‘watery bacon’ or another problem and related it to something but that wasn’t the cause. It gets passed on without real testing because people don’t want to take the risk of checking.

  3. Oh, just read your post about Petra, I’m lighting a candle now.But after reading the post I was terribly frustrated. Two weeks ago we sent an older sow to butcher for the same reasons as you. However they told us she would only be good for sausage when we tried to order bacon etc..They said the bacon would be all “watery” (She was 6 and healthy other than decreased productivity) Is this just another myth like the boar taint stories ?

  4. Teresa says:

    I love that you’ve thought about these things when designing your home. I really want to incorporate as many green technologies as possible when I build my market/events center on the farm. You are an inspiration.

  5. north dweller says:

    How is ventilation implemented?

  6. Nance says:

    hope you are all okay and just busy planting garden or something! lol You’ve not posted for a few days . . .

    • It will be a long while before we plant. We have 3′ of packed snow we’re walking on plus more beside the foot paths. Fences are buried. I have heard that there is something called “earth” or “ground” or “dirt” down deep below the glacial crust of our winter planet but it is hard to remember… :) Where getting close to the point where a generation of pigs were born in the winter world and grew up there. They don’t know about “summer”, “pastures of grreen” or rooting in “dirt”. Yet, the sun does seem warmer and the days a tad longer… It was 8°F last night – that’s not quite so cold, over 20 degrees warmer in fact, as other nights. Maybe Spring is winding up tight and getting ready to sprung.

  7. David says:

    So the what then is the blue line that goes to what looks like a white pipe under the um antenna on the right? Curiouser and curiouser. Is that blue pipe connected to the blue shape in the right window?? Looks like a sculpture or something.

    • The blue line coming out under the ‘rebar’ by the door on the right side is a piece of PEX tube that is transferring water from the cottage to a water tank for the livestock. The cottage is supplied by a warm (45°F) spring. The overflow of that spring goes to the livestock waterers and the pond. Sometimes though we need to heat the water for one reason or another. In the cottage we can do this and then send it through that pipe. This lets us also fill pails with hot water to take to the animals, unfreeze a valve or other things. In the winter hot water, even simply liquid water, is a valued commodity that sells for a lot on the, er, stock market.

      Inside the cottage is another piece of the PEX with a funnel on it which is the ‘sculpture’ you spotted (sharp eyes!) hanging in the front window. The tube is coiled up for storage. If we need to cut a hole up through a valve, water pipe, whey pipe or other thing plugged with ice then we pour hot water into the funnel while pressing the end of the blue pipe against the ice. This quickly cuts a hole, which we then feed the pipe up until we’ve cleared the plugging problem. We’ve had to cut as far as 120′ or so on one occasion but usually just a couple of feet is enough. This is a reason why self-draining lines are important.

      Water is mostly a solid thing in these parts for much of the year. I hear that there are parts of the world where water is naturally in a liquid form. How odd… :)

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