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November 2008
December 2008
January 2009


        As promised, I am writing this month about "passive solar" and what a great month to pick for discussing that topic! If it works in a cold January in Montana it should work anywhere! Gregory Lynch, a solar cooking expert, is supplementing my article with a very informative piece. Please enjoy!!

Using Passive Solar Heating . . .

Thank God for the Passive Solar Heat we all enjoy every day!

The Delicate Balance of Temperatures in Our Solar System

Yes, and thank God for the things that are free and are not yet, but might be, in the stock market!

Just imagine for a moment us traveling on a floating chunk of dirt, rock and water, wrapped in and insulated by a blanket of mainly nitrogen and oxygen. This rock is orbiting around the sun at the perfect distance to keep that life-supporting equilibrium alive! 

It takes eight minutes for light to travel from the sun to the earth and if we were to reduce this distance to seven minutes, the oceans would boil and evaporate. All greens would be cooked and all wildlife barbequed and we would be too hot ourselves to enjoy it.

Conversely, if we were to increase (and thank God again, that we do not have the power to do it) that distance to the sun by one minute, then no-one would need a freezer to keep their wildlife fresh, as a matter of fact we would have a hard time getting to that freezer anyway, because we would be ice-cubed ourselves.

By perfectly divine design, we live comfortably in temperatures that stay within our survival range, just inside of that wonderful blanket we call the "atmosphere".  But outside of our earth's immediate atmosphere, we would succumb either to the deadly heat of the sun or the sub-zero temps of the night.

As insulation is one crucial part of the picture, thermal mass is another, it being the ability to store heat. Heat is stored in heavy stuff such as in dirt, rock, concrete, brick and stone and not-to-forget water. Thermal mass can absorb heat from the sun or any other heat source and to some extent hold on to it and then slowly give it back long after the heat generator has stopped producing heat. Between the insulation (the atmosphere) and the thermal mass (the earth's mass) we are enjoying the mild temperatures inside our bubble, called earth!

As you now see, we have a lot to be thankful for and do I need to argue the existence of miracles any further??

This perfect and magical balance between staying warm enough and not getting cooked, and staying cool enough and not freezing to death, is what we are talking about in this month's newsletter.

To get down to our scale of daily life, it is very much the same way. We bask in the sun behind a window, insulated from the cold winter winds, and soak up the sun's radiant heat. Our bodies (the thermal mass) are able to hold on to that heat for a period of time and then, we have to go back and absorb some more .....

This weekend I was talking with my daughter, who is a resident surgeon in an E.R. She told me about caring for a middle aged man who was ejected out of his car, when he hit the median on a highway. At night the police found the car wreck, but they looked for bodies without result. Later, the following morning, they found the man somewhere beside the road.

The nightly temperatures had been well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. This man seemed frozen stiff after having lain in the cold for about five hours. He was rushed to the hospital and the doctors (notably my daughter, says a proud father) were able to revive him by warming up his blood and slowly adding heat to his not-yet frozen body by making “his thermal mass” accept the heat that would save his life!

You know where I am going with this ... it was the police and the doctors that saved his life. Mother nature had also given him enough thermal mass to retain enough body heat to survive while laying wounded for hours along the side of a road on a sub-zero, North Dakotan night. On arrival in the hospital, his body temperature was recorded at 77 degrees Fahrenheit and his heart beat had stopped.  This is the second miracle I mention today.

Capturing Passive Solar Heat in Your Home

If we designed buildings that maximize the absorption of solar and thermal heat, retain it and then distribute and control its release, we could significantly reduce our heating bills. The effect on the environment could also benefit by reducing the use of heat conventionally generated from coal, natural gas, propane, oil and nuclear energy.

We are not depleting any type of resource by letting the sun come into our houses and use that heat in a controlled way!

As I live in the first hybrid house created on this blue green planet, I have first hand experience of what it is like to go through a Montana winter, and here is the report.

The house is constructed with passive solar principles applied. The atrium or attached greenhouse has three facets facing all directions, except North. This allows the sun to shed its warm blessings upon the thermal mass, strategically placed in the house, all day long.

The release of that captured heat is controlled by two exterior walls. The exterior walls have the required insulation to prevent the heat to escape. The exterior walls also have the ability to distribute or dispose of the heat in a controlled way. This is how the magnificent power of nature and smart human design can culminate in a maximum result that utilizes the resource we need to survive in the first place: Mother Nature!

Monday Morning at 7 o’clock January 26: The temperature outside is -7 degrees Fahrenheit. The large doors, between the atrium and the living room are closed. I am checking the ambient temperature of the brick floor in the atrium before I open those doors a crack to let some heat in from the living room.

Today I will attempt to track both ambient and “thermal mass” temperatures in the atrium and also the ambient temperature inside the living room as well as the temperature outside the house. The air is 39 degrees in the atrium and the brick is 40 degrees and my sprouts, leeks, parsley and beet greens are looking good! The house itself is a comfy 72 degrees.

As I am getting the kids ready for school I am starting a fire in the wood stove, now that the living room and atrium are exchanging temperature. (I guess I could have done that after my kids are out the door, they smartly remark, while eating their bagel).

These days, the sun does not hit the house until about nine, but then the fun begins immediately: At ten o’clock I can open up those doors fully because the temp has shot up to 85 degrees in the sun and 60 degrees in the shade. The brick walk measures about 50 degrees. It is clear how the mass takes a while to follow the ambient temperature. Warm air and an abundance of sunlight are flowing into my living room while the temperature outside is only 7.5 degrees Fahrenheit!

I have noticed on these sunny days, that I do not need to turn the wood stove on, since it might get too warm. At noon it is 13 degrees outside and 75 in the living room. The doors opened wide and in the atrium the ambient temp is 92 degrees, but it does not feel warmer than about 70 because of the effect of the thermal mass taking on whatever heat is available. The bricks measure at 70 degrees.

By the time the sun is about to set, the temp outside has dropped to 8.5 degrees, but in the atrium ambient temperature still measures 82 degrees. The thermal mass bricks are now clocking at 80 degrees. In about three hours I will be closing the large doors, because the air temp in the atrium will have dropped enough to start making the living room uncomfortable. The brick walk in the atrium will still be at around 70 degrees and continue to give of heat during the night and keep the atrium above freezing!

Yesterday it was a cold and cloudy day and even though I keep the atrium doors closed the temperature in the atrium climbs to about 52 degrees during the day and does not drop below 37 degrees even during the coldest night. Warm enough to grow some winter hardy vegetables, but not warm enough to have any heat gain for the house itself!

I love living in the Oasis hybrid home and it is the first house I have lived in, where I have do not signs of cabin fever. (I checked with my daughter and she agrees!)

Solar Cooking
by Gregory Lynch

Nature has provided no better way to cook our food than with sunlight. That may sound like a pretty sweeping statement but for almost everyone I know who has done a bit of solar cooking over time, the agreement would be nearly unanimous.

Generally the food just tastes better! A simple pot of brown rice or a chicken, for example, receive a unique transformation with a dash of sunlight added. You have to taste it to believe it.

I have solar cooked for eighteen years and taught and demonstrated it nearly as long. I enjoyed it from the first loaf of bread I removed from the solar oven. I believe solar cooking is a gift literally “from on high” waiting to come forth in the human experience to transform life.

There's a touch of fun in taking a pot of food and putting it in a homemade or manufactured solar cooker and knowing that the only "fuel" involved for cooking is sunlight. Plus there’s no heat added to the kitchen, nothing added to the utility bill, and delicious food added to the table!

There are very simple homemade cookers that can be constructed in 30 minutes with a dollar's worth of materials and a Reynolds oven bag to insulate your pot while it’s in the cooker. You can see the easiest-to-make, the Box-Corner Cooker, at my web site, www.wholesunliving.com. While this particular homemade cooker works well in mild to warm weather, there are more sophisticated designs which can provide for cooking even in freezing weather. I have done a lot of cooking in Minnesota and Montana in temperatures hovering around zero.

A number of manufactured units are on the market, at least three from the U.S. The "Sun Oven" (www.sunoven.com) is the most widely known followed by the Solar Oven Society "Sport" (www.solarcookers.org) .

A vast resource to help you find your way into the world of solar cooking is http://www.solarcooking.org. Almost every facet of Solar Cooking is covered in detail: (a) endless ideas for constructing your own unit, (b) finer points of cooking by sunlight, (c) examples of how this cooking method is transforming lives in many developing nations, and (d) how you can help make the solar revolution real in the lives of others you may never see. Many other online information resources are just a few clicks away. YouTube.com provides over 500 videos related to solar cooking.

Solar cooking is, I believe, a step into the future of food preparation that is available today. Make sure you don’t miss your opportunity to taste the future of food right now. Happy cooking!


Thank you for taking your time to read this newsletter! I hope you will come back to visit us next month, when we will talk about active solar heating.


Call for help

     If you are in the market for an existing home or are looking for a lot to build a new one and would like my assistance in evaluating the property for maximum element-gathering capabilities, please contact me at 406-223-1406.  You can also contact me if you would like help with any of the elements explained above, or to build your own oasis hybrid home, which is designed to include all the above considerations and custom-fitted to your site location.

Ask A Question

     Please join me for the tour and fire off your questions for our mid month frequently asked questions and answers portion of our newsletter to pouwel@oasishybridhomes.com


Pouwel Smiling
Pouwel Gelderloos, Designer,
Builder and Founder
of Oasis Hybrid Homes.com







Dog resting on bricks
Soaking Up Sunlight







Fireplace Supplemented by Atrium







Plants Growing in Winter







Pouwel Measures Temperatures
in the Sun Room






solar cooker
Bread in a Solar Cooker







Solar Cooked Chicken






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