All about the house

So what is an off-grid passive solar home?

Off-grid means that we are not connected to the electrical grid, water, sewer or gas mains. We create our own power with solar collectors and a wind generator. Simon at Generation Solar prepared a Load Analysis with us and specified a system to match. Our kitchen stove and back-up hot water heater are propane fired. On sunny days our primary souce of heat is the sun itself coming through the windows and heating the concrete floor. On cloudy days, we have a radiant-in-floor heating system. The pumps in this system use electricity so as a backup we hope to add an efficient wood stove or fireplace insert soon.

Our hot water comes from a combination of two solar hot water heaters and a propane fired boiler, in the summer the propane boiler rarely comes on as the sun provides most of our hot water. In the winter, the boiler must run more frequently in order to make up for the increased number of cloudy days and for the drain brought on by the radiant-in-floor system. A large heat exchanger supplies domestic hot water and heat for the radiant-in-floor heating system.

Passive solar refers to a design philosophy that involves the proper positioning of the house to allow the sun to heat the house in winter but not in the summer. This approach requires the architect to be very precise about roof overhangs and shading, since a mistake can result in a house that acts like a sauna in the summer if too much sun comes through the windows. In our house on the summer solstice the sun comes about four inches into the house. On the winter solstice the sun projects much further into the house - about thirty-four feet.

Some views of the design:

Hunter House - South Elevation

Hunter House - East Elevation - Exterior

Hunter House - Floorplan

Hunter House - East Elevation - Cutaway

Basic Info

Our architect is Paul Dowsett of the firm Sustain-able.
Solar Power
We used a local firm for the solar power, Generation Solar in Peterborough. Check out our Load Analysis prepared by Generation Solar.
Our heating is coming from a wood burning stove or fireplace (not yet installed), radiant in-floor heating, and the Sun.
The structure is timber-frame with straw bale infill walls. We hired the fine folks at Camel's Back Construction to help us with the straw bale building and plastering.
The roof is Galvalum, and was supplied by Havelock Metal.
The windows came from Thermotech Windows of Napean, Ontario. They were expensive but according to our research there are no better windows for passive solar design.
All of our appliances are the most energy efficient that we can find. The only tricky appliance is the refridgerator since that runs the longest each day. The appliances are all major brand names except the dishwasher which is made by Asko.
Most of our lighting is Compact Florescent or Halogen. We have a few LED lights. I found a good source for LED lights and parts (Eurolite) and have built some LED lights myself. I have built a dining room light and hanging lights for the gallery.

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House Pages

House Costs
A table detailing the costs of construction up to the point we took residence. The table has not been updated since then.
Building Site
Some pictures of the building site before we started construction.
Load Analysis
A table prepared by Generation Solar showing a proposed load analysis. The size of the off-grid system was based on this table.
Load Chart
A table prepared by us that shows the actual power requirements of various electrical devices throughout our house.
The Land
Some pictures of the land.

Recomended Reading

Straw Bale

Straw bale building: How to plan, design & build with straw
Chris Magwood & Peter Mack
This is sort of the bible of building a straw bale house, especially in Canada as it is one of the only books that deals with our colder climate. Easy to read and filled with lots of clear diagrams I highly recommend this book if you want to learn about building with bales.
More Straw Bale Building: A Complete Guide to Designing and Building with Straw
Chris Magwood & Peter Mack
Straw Bale Details: A Manual for Designers and Builders
Chris Magwood
This book is filled with all of the fiddly details of building with bales. Recommended if you are a builder or when you've finished Straw Bale Building and want to learn more.
The Straw Bale House
Athena 'Swentzell Steen
Focused more on southern climates, this was the first book we got on building with bales.

Passive Solar

The Solar House: Passive Solar Heating and Cooling
Daniel Chiras
This is the book I wish we'd had before we started the house. It explains everythingt you could possibly want to know about passive solar house design, and more importantly it covers all of the common mistakes, like over-glazing for example. If you are building a passive solar home buy this book.
Tap the sun: Passive solar techniques and home designs
Leslie Jones
The book, put out by the CMHC includes all of the technical details you need for building a passive solar house in Canada. While definately not uber-glossy house porn the book does contain some (kinda boring) house designs.

Off Grid

Smart Power
William H. Kemp
If you're new to renewable energy, but want a clear and simple resource to get you started, this is the book.

House Design

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction
Christopher Alexander
Well Amazon says: "A Pattern Language offers a practical language for building and planning based on natural considerations." But it's much more than that, have you ever been in a house where the layout just didn't 'feel right'? A Pattern Language will explain why, and how to design a house that works.
Sustainable Homes: 26 Designs that Respect the Earth
James Grayson Trulove
This is the house-porn. Lots and lots of glossy pretty pictures. Rammed earth, straw bale, you name it it's in here and man are they gorgeous! This is the book to show the naysayers who think that green can't been modern, or that environmentally friendly means boring and rigid.