In Missouri on February 5, 2014, we have a few inches of snow, and the afternoon temperature is 14 degrees with a -18 wind chill factor. But, inside our straw bale house we have 72 degrees, a toasty fire and a piping hot cup of java heated from our wood stove.
Brrrr…This is the coldest winter we have had in Missouri in a good while! We feel so thankful to have a cozy, warm home! Our Casa’s highly insulated and thick r 30 straw bale walls make us feel like we live in a big hug. Of course, our Casa’s hat (attic) is insulated, and its boots (foundation) has some insulation in it and around it. Wood heat centrally located in the house keeps us very warm, and we use approximately 1 ½ to 2 cords of wood per winter to keep us warm. This wood stove works double-duty heating our water for the hot water tank, which will be covered in an upcoming article.
Weatherization is a *hot* topic close to everyone’s heart…well…pocketbook, anyway. If it isn’t, maybe it should be. One look at a Plant Hardiness Zone Map, and you will know exactly where you stand with cold temperatures. So really, don’t underestimate the importance of insulation here in Missouri! Concrete, cob, earth, rock, sand, and brick are not insulators, and cold finds its way through these very easily.
We feel badly for people who are having trouble staying warm, especially if they are paying for the privilege. The quality of the available housing stock is questionable. Some houses, especially older homes, have minimal insulation. Leaky doors and windows, recessed ceiling lights, and other unsealed penetrations in the house exchange far too much warm, conditioned air for cold, dry, winter air. It seems that some of the poorest housing stock has been turned into rental property. Renters will move in, unaware of previous utility costs, and find themselves unable to pay the high heating bills, so there is a huge turnover in these rentals. One great option is to take advantage of the low-income and other weatherization programs where available.
Folks who heat with propane must have been in for quite a shock when the price of propane doubled this last month! For rentals or older home purchases, propane companies do not have to tell you how much propane that house was using, unlike with electric. Also, it can be hard to tell exactly when propane was used and how much was left in the tank. Be sure to check before you purchase! Having a walk-through and a peek into the attic or crawlspace done by an energy auditor is also advisable before you purchase your new home. At least, you would have a much better idea about what you are getting into!
Many older homes and some newer homes have HVAC duct work with gaps and poor fitting connections in unconditioned spaces, which are areas of the house that are not insulated as part of the thermal envelope, such as crawlspaces under the floor, uninsulated basements or in the attic. This duct work needs to be sealed with mastic (recommended) and then insulated, because much of the heating capacity is being diminished by the unheated space, adding significantly to the cost of heating. Also, hot water pipes should be insulated at any place accessible, along with the first 5 feet of the cold water pipe above the water heater.
Passive Solar should not be overlooked or underestimated. Passive solar uses sunlight without active mechanical systems, which would include technologies such as heat collection, thermal mass, thermal insulation, proper window glazing, proper window placement and shading. These same design principles would also apply to reducing your summer cooling requirements. Active solar includes mechanical systems such solar thermal heating systems. Employing passive solar techniques in your house design can save from 20% to 50% and even more in your day-to-day energy costs! If you can save annually upwards of 50% using passive solar, then why not?
Building Green really is the smart, fiscally sound option. Let us know if you would like to talk energy conservation in your home! If you want to build with straw bales, we can help you stay warm and dry.