Plan for Passive Solar Home and Garden - Version 1

We've updated our homestead map and have created a more detailed house plan for our sustainable home. We plan to build in phases, completing agricultural and barn spaces first and renovating the inside of our mobile home after other priority structures have been erected. Once the greenhouse is place and the interior of the mobile home has been reconfigured, we will be able to implement a simple venting system to moderate the temperature between the primary living space and the solarium.

In years to come, we also envision a rain catch pond on our land. We are interested in irrigation techniques that combine water collecting with terraforming to encourage the development of a microclimate environment suitable for orchard cultivation.

Click here to download a more detailed version of our homestead house plan in PDF format.

Simple Layout for Passive Solar House

The main structure of our passive solar house will be a single wide mobile home. It will be aligned East to West and once renovated our home will feature passive ventilation, passive heating and cooling, solar hot water, and solar cooking. We will also build an agricultural greenhouse along the south side of the mobile home to contribute to home heating and air circulation. The elongated design of our home and greenhouse will contribute to our passive solar heating capabilities by maximizing solar exposure in the winter months.

The layout of the interior living space will be fairly simple and will include 2 bedrooms, one bathroom, kitchen, pantry, dining room, and living room. According to our floor plan design all of the rooms in our house will be connected by a long central hallway that will divide the living area from the garden space and will also promote ventilation. As part of our passive solar strategy, windows on the north side of the house will be minimized and supplemental light will be provided via solar tubes.

Solarium and Greenhouse

Our first greenhouse structure will abut our primary home. It will have a traditional roof and its south facing wall will be comprised of double paned glazing. The roof and side walls will be well insulated, and filtered sunlight will be delivered through tubular skylights that perforate the ceiling.

Cinder block beds for indoor planting will be positioned near south facing windows. The thermal mass of the planters will collect heat from the sun during the day and will radiate warmth at night, helping to moderate the indoor temperatures. A concrete floor will also contribute to the solar gain of the greenhouse, by absorbing heat by day and releasing it at night.

Passive Venting in Our Home and Greenhouse

Whenever possible we plan to take advantage of passive heating and passive ventilation techniques. The first part of our strategy calls for vents connecting the greenhouse and the home to circulate and regulate indoor air temperatures. The second part of our venting plan relies on the bi-level design of our home. While the greenhouse will be located at ground level, the floor level of our mobile home will be situated several feet in the air.

Warm air radiated by the greenhouse floor and planters will naturally move upward from the solarium, through vents and into our living space. As a result, cold air will be forced out of our home and into the greenhouse through return vents, located at floor level. In addition, we will locate a wood stove in the solarium to act as a supplemental heating system. However, we believe that the bi-level floor plan in conjunction with strategically placed vents will allow us to utilize passive technology to meet our primary heating and venting needs.

Insulated Freezer Room

We also have plans to build an insulated room to house a chest freezer. The freezer room will have vents connecting it to the cold underside of our mobile home. The goal of this geothermal experiment is to utilize the ground temperature to lower the baseline temperature of the freezer room. By lowering and stabilizing the temperature of the freezer room we hope to reduce the amount of power required to maintain freezing temperatures.

Solar Cooking

A solar oven will be built into the south facing wall adjacent to the indoor garden space. Though we've experimented with building our own solar cookers, we have yet to establish solar cooking as part of our daily routine. We look forward to delving into the solar cooking experiment once we have a permanent solution installed.

A solar dehydrator will also be of benefit to our food storage goals. Like the solar oven, we plan to locate the dehydrator on the South side of the greenhouse. When crops are abundant we will dehydrate fruits and vegetables that can be reconstituted during the cold months. Dehydrating provides a food preservation alternative to home canning. Dehydrated foods can also be stored without refrigeration, but when compared to canned foods they retain a significantly higher concentration of vitamins and nutrients.

Click here to learn more about our solar cooking experiment that culminated in a solar cook out at the Concho Park.

Patio and Landscaping

On the north side of our mobile home we will level the earth to form a back yard patio. Surrounding our patio we will sculpt retaining walls for landscaping and will apply an adobe finish to exterior walls and stairwells to accent the southwestern theme of our home. We also have plans to construct a fire circle patio between the main house and the catch pond, that will be the perfect spot for star gazing and nighttime fires.

Catch Pond and Orchard

We are still in the planning and research phase, though we'd know we would eventually like to have a catch pond and orchard on our homestead. We believe that we can encourage a pond to form at the lowest point on our property by terra-forming the earth to catch maximum rain fall. Our pond will certainly be slow to form, however the land closest to its banks will naturally begin to retain more moisture making it a excellent place for planting trees.

Though we once hoped to preserve all of the juniper trees on our property, we have learned that their presence is destructive to a balanced and native habitat. The juniper tree thirstily drinks up limited water resources, resulting in poorer conditions for other plants. We now plan to remove many of the junipers around the future orchard and catch pond to improve our chances of utilizing rain water for irrigation.

The development of micro climates also interests us and we plan to experiment with climate design as we create our orchard. Our goal will be to develop an optimum growing area that is designed to nurture plant and tree growth, taking into consideration needs for water, sunlight, and wind protection.

Once the junipers have been removed we plan to replant trees that will produce food for consumption by humans or farm animals. The trees that we plant will need to be drought resistant and will also need to be tolerant of freezing temperatures. Currently we are considering planting pinon pines and velvet mesquites.

Barn and Animals

In this version of the plan the barn is designed in such a way as to be easily built in phases. We want to start raising chickens and rabbits as quickly as possible and will first build a small barn structure to house all of our small animals. Eventually we will expand the barn to include more room for animal food and hay storage. We've also drafted space for a milking goat and will be exploring the possibility of keeping a small number of goats in the future.

Our chickens will have a well insulated and brightly lit indoor space that is connected to an outdoor chicken yard. Their outdoor yard will be fenced with chicken wire attached to a geodesic dome frame. We will build a solar incubator on the inside of the southern wall of the barn, that will be heated with a solar hot water system.

The barn is aligned East to West to take full advantage of passive solar heating and lighting. All of the windows and doors face south, permitting the sun to warm the interior of the structure. Additional light will be provided to the animals via solar tubes that we install in the roof.

Studio and Solar Evaporator

After talking to the county building inspector, we determined that using a second mobile home for our office was more trouble than it was worth. Not only would we need special permission to bring a second mobile home onto our property, but we would incur significant permitting fees. We've revised our plan to include separate office and studio spaces that are each less than 200 sq feet. The office and studio spaces will have minimal plumbing and will be complimented by an outdoor bath house that is part of the main living structure.

Mel's studio will also be connected to a solar evaporator that is designed to handle water that is contaminated with paint, metal, or chemicals. The evaporator will have clear glazing to amplify the sun's heat, causing water to evaporate quickly. Contaminant residue will collect in the bottom of the evaporator and eventually will be discarded. The evaporator will allow us to keep chemicals out of our septic system, preventing contamination of agricultural areas.

Homestead Utilities

For more information on homestead utilities and to read more about our sustainable homesteading plan, click here.