We Design Homes, Buildings and Cities
With NO Energy Bills!
In The Beginning . . .
Since the earliest records of human history, most cultures have paid close attention to the role that the sun plays in sustaining life on earth. Those early astronomers, historians, architects, farmers, and religious leaders who precisely understood the annual movement of the sun were better prepared to predict the seasonal weather changes, know when to plant and harvest crops, and how to orient their houses to gather sunlight in the Winter, while blocking its heat in the Summer.
The most intelligent of the ancient wise men had excellent Powers Of Observation. They gathered detailed information about the sun’s path, and spent a lot of time considering its impact on their individual lives, and society as a whole. The sun played an important role in the religion of most ancient cultures, as clearly demonstrated in the earliest records of humanity on Earth.
Understanding The Path Of The Sun
Some type of primitive Sundial was probably the first human device to track the path of the sun, at least 7,000 years ago, maybe much more. The first simple sundials were probably small trees, or just a vertical stick (called the “gnomon”). The gnomon is often tilted away from the equator (toward the polar axis), so it casts a longer midday shadow in the Summer. (A tropical sundial, within 23.5 degrees of the equator, requires special design, since the sun is on the North of it at some point, and on the South of it six months later.)
After a couple of days of primitive sundial observation (shadow of a stick, etc.), the ground can be marked with the specific gnomon shadows when daily events happen, such as sunrise, sunset, community meetings, time of day graduation angles, etc. After a year, an intelligent person with good powers of observation can mark seasonal changes of the sun’s angle on the ground, or etch them permanently in stone or metal.
When clocks were invented thousands of years after sundials, they imitated the path of the sun’s gnomon shadow. Curious observation: If clocks had been invented in the Southern Hemisphere, “clockwise” would be the opposite of what it is today. Human solar technology understanding probably began in the Northern hemisphere (as far as we know today).
Most modern Americans cannot read or understand the seasonal changes on a sundial. Very few people have the trivial skill required to build a sundial, or make use of it to understand time of day or predict the seasons or the year. Atrophied American powers of environmental observation are now EXTREMELY POOR. Scientific observation is NOT taught well in public school, and only about 62% of all American males now graduate from high school anyway. No wonder we don’t know how to resolve today’s energy problems.
Almost all mediocre Americans lack the critical thing skills that were required in the ancient world to make reasonable energy usage lifestyle decisions. We are truly a Non-Learning Nation that has lost the most basic knowledge about the path of the sun, which almost all humans took for granted thousands of years ago. Even primitive barbarians could construct and make use of a simple sundial.
Stonehenge Is A Massive Solar Observatory???
Stonehenge construction began in England an estimated 5,000 years ago. It took hundreds of years to build (spanning many generations in the same location). What was the powerful motivation that consumed the resources and best skills of such a society?
Stonehenge precisely tracks the Summer and Winter position of sunrise and sunset. These are critical calendar set points for an agricultural society with outstanding understanding of their environment. They may not have understood the shape of the Earth, or the orbits of the planets around the sun, but they knew everything necessary to plan their lives around the annual movement of the sun. This surely included the planting of crops and the orientation of their homes.
Ancient Solar Architecture
Unlike modern energy-wasting Americans, 2400 years ago, the Ancient Greek architects, educators and philosophers all understood the easy-to-observe critical solar design parameters. The revolutionary and highly influential Socrates observed: “In houses that look toward the South, the sun penetrates the portico in winter.”
Aeschylus wrote that only primitives and barbarians “lacked knowledge of houses turned to face the Winter sun.” His comments apply to almost all American homebuyers, architects and builders today – Non-learning barbarians all!
We have ignored the lessons that ancient architects understood very well, AND we now lack the basic powers of environment observation to rediscover these ancient principles on our own. What a shame on such an energy-wasting nation. Our Non-Learning Nation deserve to be harmed severely for the wasteful energy practices we have inflicted on ourselves for far too long. It is now impossible to maintain our gluttonous energy-hog ways. Drastic changes in energy consumption are finally being forced on us all. Further resistance to change would surely be catastrophic in less than one generation.
2400 years ago, community planners laid out entire cities in Greece and Asia Minor, including the well-documented City of Priene on the Southeast slope of Mount Samsun to allow every home clear access to the essential sunlight that warmed their porticos in the Winter. Energy conscious legislation was written to prevent new buildings from blocking solar access to existing homes.
Priene has a beautiful view of Lake Bafa to the South – an added benefit to clever south-facing solar community planning. Spectacular solar city planning on this scale has yet to take place in America to this day. In this respect, we are thousands of years behind the more intelligent ancient Greek culture.
ZED hopes that America will revive the ancient Greek solar city planning wisdom immediately. In a time when the U.S. housing market has peaked, a well-planned attractive community of Zero Energy Homes in a rapid-growth area (like Florida) should be a powerful competitive advantage, compared to conventional energy-wasting houses that barely meet minimum building codes.
When we see how intelligent the ancient Greek architects, legislators, and city planners were, and how obtuse and intransigent our modern American architects and politicians have become, it adds great motivation to the desire to teach all Americans about Zero Energy Design® principles (with a rock solid foundation that is thousands of years old, and has withstood the test of time).
To become a licensed architect, city planner, or legislative leader, one should be required to live in a Zero Energy Home for at least a year. Architectural classrooms, campuses, and government buildings should ALL be Zero Energy Design® , so architects and legislators will begin to understand the underlying ancient issues that will so heavily influence the future productivity and pursuit of happiness of our entire Non-Learning Nation.
Rome dominated ancient Greece before Jesus walked the Earth as a man. Romans assimilated the best ideas and architectures of the cultures they conquered, including the Southern orientation of homes in well-planed solar communities.
Romans are credited with the discovery of glass. It was probably a large fire that melted beach sand into translucent glass. Romans soon learned that glass on the south side of a building warmed the room in the Winter, but that glass on the west side created a “solar furnace” in the Summer.
Romans also learned the relaxing pleasure of luxurious hot baths. Roman baths were built wherever the Romans moved in the ancient world. There is a town in England named Bath, built by the Romans near a geothermal hot spring.
Sometimes, Roman bath water was heated by burning wood under a boiler. The tile floors were heated from below by natural convection airflow. Since warm air rises, it makes good sense to warm the floor, rather than heat a room from the top down.
When I design a bathroom, I specify a kick space heater with an eye-level bathroom thermostat (independent of whole house central systems). The bathroom heater warms the floor and your toes after a shower, while you dry yourself in front of the sink. A bathroom heater on the ceiling leaves you with cold feet on a cold tile floor – How dumb is that common American construction practice? We ignore 2,000-year-old ancient Roman standards of comfortable luxurious living, even in multimillion-dollar modern American mansions. Architects and builders don’t have a clue about thermal comfort, or energy frugality.
The ancient Roman bathhouses (some of which still stand impressively today) often had south facing glass (as do ones in Bath England). The Southern glass helped warm the bathhouse on Winter days, but not in the Summer. Ancient translucent glass provided cheery daylight all year round.
Today’s Zero Energy Home with a hot tub, or an indoor swimming pool, in a south-facing solar greenhouse, is based on 2,000-year-old Greek-and-Roman architecture. A sunny greenhouse with a bubbly hot tub improves the quality of a healthy, happy, relaxing lifestyle. A warm hot tub is a pleasurable stress reliever, making for healthier Zero Energy Home occupants. (At least two things are better in a private hot tub, and one of them is bathing.) For thousands of years, thermal spas have demonstrated mystical therapeutic healing powers that have drawn believers from thousands of miles away. I really enjoyed historic Bath England. Having lived the warm Zero Energy Home lifestyle, I fully understand.
In a modern Zero Energy Home, the water must of course be solar heated, as was my entire 40,000-gallon indoor swimming pool in 1979. (smile) The pool had a solar cover, to help keep it warm at night.
The 1973 OPEC energy embargoes made gasoline and jet fuel very expensive. I wanted a cost-effective everyday home that was nicer than any vacation resort I had ever been to. Real estate was appreciating rapidly (due to double digit, energy-caused petroleum price inflation, similar to today), but my scientific friends told me that I didn’t want a large house, since the utility bills would be too high.
I discovered that a glass greenhouse pool enclosure could be built for not much more than the silly screened-in pool enclosures that you see all over Florida today. Years of research, and a trip to Europe, led to my inexpensive, luxurious, 5,000 sq. ft. 1979 Zero Energy Indoor Pool Home, with 1,000 sq. ft. of south-facing glass, and the rest of the modern ZED principles and hundreds of Zero Energy Homes are now documented history.
When you visit Europe, tourists are obligated to spend time inside a few castles and cathedrals that are hundreds of years old. In general, the old castles and cathedrals are impressive testaments to the power and inequitable status that feudal lords and religion had over their subjects. But, I was more impressed with how poorly they were designed with respect to thermal discomfort.
The old European structural designers worked with some building materials and construction techniques that COULD have been much more thermally effective, if only they understood more from the ancient wisdom of Stonehenge, ancient Greece, and the ideas that Romans brought with them into Europe millennia ago.
The old castles were often built on windy hilltops, to give them command over those who would attack the establishment inside. The masonry walls were often two feet thick or more, to protect them from canon balls. This gave the structures very high “thermal mass,” which could have been used to average out diurnal (24-hour) day and night temperature extremes. But on the worst Winter days, with total ignore-ance of the path of the low Winter sun, high thermal mass merely meant that the structure never warmed up on the warmest Winter days, and the castles were both cold and very drafty all Winter long (and still are today – brrrr).
Living inside a castle was not much better than being outside during temperature extremes. Heavy coats and robes were necessary inside the castle in the Winter. If you wore such clothing in a modern comfortable house, it would be much too warm for you.
Inside the old castles you often see large impressive tapestries covering the heavy stone exterior walls. These were not just decorative. Tapestries served a function of partial insulation, to reduce the rate that cold Winter stone would draw radiant heat away from human bodies inside the castle. Tapestries must have almost totally covered the exterior walls in the royalty’s bedrooms.
The areas immediately around the old castles were often striped of natural trees, since they were burned up long ago in huge stone fireplaces that inefficiently drew warm air out the convective chimney, and left the inside walls very sooty to this day. Part of the dark color on the interior stone was (and still is) unhealthy mold that grew in the porous stone when warmer interior air touched cold stone, and condensation moisture fed the growth of common European air-borne molds (hence the modern term – “moldy oldie”).
One interesting (accidental?) architectural thermal feature found in many old castles was the “cupola” at the top of the castle towers (shown in the photo). A cupola is a circular or dome-like structure with windows all around. A primary functional purpose must have been to visually monitor one’s kingdom, and defend attacks on the castle itself. But, I can imagine that on a warm Summer day, the cupola windows could be opened (thick boards removed), horizontal wind would then flow through the cupola and create a vacuum, like the top of a chimney. The vacuum would assist the “natural convection current” of warm air rising up the tower. The hottest air in the castle would be exhausted out the top of the cupola, and cooler outside replacement air could be introduced through openings (as low as possible) at the base of the castle (or through staircases below the castle - downhill from the foundation, where the incoming air would be cooled by the ambient temperature of the earth and the cool thermal mass below the castle.
I wonder if such thermal architecture was understood by very many (if any) old castle designers, or were the good things mere accidents. It seems to me that in the time of King James (et.al.) a great deal of ancient Greek, Roman and Stonehenge wisdom had been lost by autocratic and dictatorial lords, who lacked powers of scientific/environmental observation.
And then came the great migration to America, where freedom of thought and the pursuit of happiness became foundational institutions.
Let’s jump to the 1700’s, during the American colonial period, long before fossil fuels, electric power plants or natural gas public utility companies appeared. New England settlers had to deal with harsh Winters. Nature was considered a threat to human survival. The Western religious belief (from the King James interpretation of the first book of the Old Testament) was that God entrusted the earth to Adam and Eve and therefore humans had the divine responsibility to subjugate and exploit nature (rather than try to live in harmony with it).
The process of gathering and chopping firewood was a lot of unpleasant Winter labor. Houses that required less firewood were more comfortable and desirable (especially when compared to drafty, expensive masonry castles).
By observing the creative ideas, successes and failures of early American home designers, and with the addition Ben Franklin’s energy frugality ideas, the New England “Salt Box” became a popular reduced-energy comfortable home design. (Zero Energy Homes are really nothing new to ancient architectural historians.)
The south side of the 1700’s (zero energy – no utility company) Salt Box was often two stories high, with a lot of glass to let in the low Winter sun. Southern window overhangs and trellises blocked the high Summer sun. Very little glass was used on the west side, often with shade trees for the Summer, or trellises with vines. Attic vents opened to exhaust heat in the Summer and draw in cooler air through the first floor windows by natural convection (often prevailing southern Summer breezes).
1700's New England Salt Box
1980's Hartweg Zero Energy Home
Ben Franklin’s popular radiant-energy stove was much more efficient than a drafty old masonry fireplace (New England home designers were much smarter about energy conservation back then). Insulating window quilts were hung over windows to prevent heat loss on long cold Winter nights – like blankets for the windows. The old skill of beautiful quilting was not just for bed spreads – Quilting played an important role in total home comforts (similar to tapestries on old castle walls). Even the New England housewives understood the extreme importance of home energy conservation. When you about to freeze to death in the Winter, your powers of environmental observation become much more astute (smile).
The north side of a New England Salt Box was often only one story high, with a sloping roof that rejected and diverted the cold northern Winter wind all day and night. As further insulation, bales of hay were usually stacked against the outside of the north wall in the Winter (as Winter transportation fuel); hence there were few northern windows or doors. Snowdrifts could accumulate on top of the hay and roof and further divert cold northern wind with aerodynamic lack of “turbulent wind chill.” Very advanced scientific thinking for the day!
The basic Salt Box floor plan is rectangular to: (1) minimize construction cost, (2) minimize surface area exposed to the outside, and (3) avoid angles and corners that increase “wind chill turbulence”, which would greatly accelerate heat loss during harsh windy Winter nights. Modern uninformed architects love to add many unnecessary cuts and jags to the shape of a house, believing that it is artistic and visually appealing. They obviously know nothing of Zero Energy Home Design considerations, and completely ignore historic off-the-grid living requirements. When (if ever) with they begin to pay more attention to the lessons learned by the great thinkers of the past (and present)?
The New England Salt Box was a well-thought practical design, and it still is for “off the grid” living in many climates with a high Winter degree-day heating requirement. It can also be adapted with modifications for warm climates.
Today’s energy inefficient wasteful American house designers have long ignored the important energy lessons learned hundreds of years ago by early Americans (like Ben Franklin) with far superior scientific Powers Of Observation. The cuts and jags of modern building structures increase exterior surface area and turbulent heat loss in the wind. Windows in the wrong place greatly increase energy costs. Fireplaces suck air from the house 24 hours a day, which must be replaced with outside air. And yet, modern homebuyers love modern energy wasting architecture, and pay very high prices so they can waste energy in ever increasing foolish ways.
Modern American home design is totally absurd. For less money, they could perform much better and be even more comfortable than they are today. Barbaric modern architects and builders get rich, and clueless homeowners are stuck with unnecessarily high utility bills for a lifetime. These behaviors are taught to their children who continue the traditional American energy-wasting patterns, as though it should always be so.
Foolish Americans staunchly defend the status quo, and strongly resist Zero Energy Design® innovations. I know, since I have been demonstrating and publishing the unbelievable truth for over 27 years to a Non-Learning Nation. I’ve designed hundreds of homes and sold thousands of books, but the national resistance to energy conservation is an unbelievably powerful adversary.
Many uninformed people believe that energy conservation involves a reduction in comfort, and standard of living. My 1979 Zero Energy Home proves have very false that inaccurate assumption by mediocre minds really is. Gopal Ahluwalia is a National Association of Home Builders economist. His surveys suggest that consumers do NOT want energy conserving homes because: “They want bigger windows, high ceilings, two-story entrances …” How spectacularly stupid the NAHB position now is. Their brain dead builders have badly misinformed buyers about what energy efficiency is all about.
In 1979, my spectacular Zero Energy Home had a 22-foot-high, 50-foot-wide solid glass wall looking out on a beautiful tree-covered valley. It captures millions of BTU’s of heat in the Winter (which we exhausted when it got warm enough for comfortable swimming on a snowy day). My solar wall rejected solar gain in the Summer (which is 47 degrees higher than in Winter).
Every room in my fully-integrated, systems-engineered, 1979 Zero Energy Home house was designed to have a sweeping view through the environmentally friendly greenhouse. No other house in town was so aesthetically pleasing. Many television shows were filmed inside it, and hundreds of people asked me to design a dream home for them. I gave thousands of tours to wide-eyed potential home buyers, and then reduced my concepts down to a low-cost 1800 square foot home with a hot tub in the solar greenhouse.
My 1979 south wall was the least expensive component of my Zero Energy Home. I designed an inexpensive unique mounting system for single pane tempered patio door glass, which is produced nationwide in very high volume at low cost. I even got a volume purchase discount for a truckload of tempered glass. “Single pane glass – Isn’t that energy inefficient?” you might naively ask. Absolutely NOT! It significantly improves Winter solar gain by 15%, and on nights and Summer days my passive solar system uses a thermal buffer zone with TWO SMALL DELTA T’S INSTEAD OF ONE LARGE ONE, as in traditional inefficient energy wasting homes (discussed in detail later). You have the option of adding window quilts, but we found that unnecessary in our home.
Hopefully, the new millennium American energy crises are helping to bring people to the brink of disaster, so they will seek the energy alternatives that are already readily available off-the-shelf today. We still need one good Winter of people being unable to heat their homes, and massive Summer peak power failures, at greatly elevated electric rates, to create the political motivation to do what should have been done many decades ago.
I once purchased a large beautiful historic home that was owned by a cattle baron in Indian Territory, before it joined the United States as Oklahoma (home of the red man). My Wild West House was built before 1900, prior to the availability of public utility companies, or the discovery (or need for) Oklahoma oil.
This old house had no choice but to be “off the grid.” In the basement was a large furnace that could burn wood or coal. It had huge 24” air ducts that supported natural convection (warm air rising, cool air falling) without any electric fans. The system was self-regulating. The colder it was outside, the more rapidly the interior air became cold and fell down the large ducts into the furnace, to be warmed and recirculated throughout the home in a “natural convection air flow loop”. Combustion air intake controls allowed system energy output control (without a thermostat).
After the house was built, natural gas lines were run to the neighborhood. A gas burner was added to the furnace, eliminating the need for wood or coal deliveries. A gas hot water tank was added to the basement, and extra lines run for new two-faucet sinks, bathtubs and shower over the bear claw bathtubs.
Natural gas lines were run to the center of the ceiling in each room - for gas lighting (before the days of electricity). A lot of plasterwork must have been required for this extensive (but desirable) retrofit. A gas line was added to the kitchen for the stove and one for the reliable old gas refrigerator.
These natural gas features were commonplace in many American homes, before electric utility companies spread across the nation. Thomas Edison had the long-term goal of replacing cities’ natural gas streetlights with his own electric light bulbs and power stations, and we still use inefficient “Edison base” incandescent light bulbs a hundred years later. (GAK!)
My historic Wild West Home had two stories above the basement level. The stairway was an important part of the natural convection airflow path. It was intentionally designed in the center of the floor plan. The old house also had a lot of south facing glass, with lovely quilted drapes to minimize heat loss at night – like a bed quilt for the windows (not a software product).
In the Summer, the prevailing wind was from the southeast. The downstairs windows could be opened on the south side, and the upstairs opened on the north side, to create a natural draft that exhausted warm air in the evening to quickly cool down the big house after dark, with no electricity or fans.
Modern electric wiring was yet another retrofit, long after the original house was built. Individual room air conditioners were added. Special holes were cut in the exterior walls, rather than block existing windows. I found this an interesting concept.
Each room had its own A/C thermostat. On a hot Summer day (up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit in northeastern Oklahoma) the Eastern rooms needed more cooling in the morning, and in the hot afternoon, the Western room air conditioners ran while the east side units were less active. When rooms were not occupied, many of the air conditioners were merely turned off, saving on unnecessary electric bills. By air conditioning the upstairs, the downstairs was partially cooled by natural convection (cool air falling down the stairway).
The largest living room had a tendency to be cold on one side and warm on the other in the Summer. This problem had been solved with a small ceiling fan. It equalized the room temperature when set on the slowest speed.
When we entertained more than a dozen guests, the living room A/C had to be set on high, and the ceiling fan on medium. Each human adds from 500 to 900 BTU’s of heat to a room. The A/C reduces room humidity, and the ceiling fan increases the evaporative cooling of the guests’ skin – lowering skin temperature by about 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Individual room air conditioners are much more efficient than a large whole-house central system (with the average home’s leaky A/C ducts poorly routed in hot attics, etc.). In humid geographical areas, ductwork can develop unhealthy mold and mildew. Today’s cheap plastic ducts can be ripped to shreds with improper duct cleaning brushes. Efficient room A/C units have none of these problems.
Today, a 5,000 BTU window A/C unit sells for only $90 (at WalMart, Home Depot and many other locations). The inflation-adjusted net price of such units has dropped steadily for over half a century, while central systems have become more expensive (thousands of dollars), despite the fact that room air conditioners now have modern electric features like more efficient lightweight motors, ground fault circuit interrupters, etc. I’ve noticed that these modern units have molded polystyrene foam for insulating and isolating tightly packed hot and cold parts, and to reduce the noise level. The modern units are now pretty quiet on low speed.
The $90 5,000 BTU air conditioner has a high seasonal energy efficiency rating (SEER) of about 9.7. The National Energy Guide posted on each unit says that on average it will use only $34 of electricity per year. Multiply that times the number of large rooms in your house and compare it to your Summer central A/C electric bill.
In a poorly insulated traditional house, a 5,000 BTU air conditioner can make an average 10 x 15 room (or more) comfortable for $34 per Summer. In a well-designed Zero Energy Home, you can heat the house with a candle and cool it with an ice cube. (smile)
Suppose you wanted to use a room A/C in a Zero Energy Home with a photovoltaic solar cell roof. The only electrical component is (one or two) efficient motor(s) that is(are) mechanically to the compressor and fan. This motor is designed to run on alternating current (AC), which has been the American standard for a century. However, Photovoltaic solar cells produce direct current (DC), which is great for storing in batteries. To convert DC to AC, you need an inexpensive power “inverter”, which loses about 20% of the energy fed into it. ZED would prefer small room A/C units with motors that run on DC, like those found in modern Recreational Vehicles. The problem is that DC A/C’s are produced in much lower volume, and so they cost much more to buy (but not to operate). This economic issue will be solved when PV-DC-powered A/C’s become more popular in only a few years. Similar things will happen to other Zero Energy Home appliances very soon.
My Wild West House remained comfortable Summer and Winter, but it took some thought to operate it efficiently. I learned a lot about natural convection and many of the old issues about “off the grid living” that most architects do not understand today. (You will see my concepts and conclusions more fully expanded in my later design discussion elaborations.) This old house shows the history of how America got to where it is today with gas and electric public utility services. I appreciate the important energy lessons I learned from owning and living in it.
So, Where DOES Our Sun Rise And Set?
If you answer (like most mediocre Americans with poor powers of environmental observation): “The sun rises in the East and sets in the West” YOU WOULD BE WRONG ON MOST DAYS OF THE YEAR. Any architect who does not know the precise Summer and Winter location of the sun cannot possibly design an effective Zero Energy Home. Even a barbarian could look at the sun and tell time of day and the seasons thousands of years ago. Today, most people with a college degree in architecture do not even know the precise path of the sun.
When you are considering home designers, ask them where the sun rises and sets. Look at the South and West side and roofs of their building designs. If they say “orientation doesn’t matter,” hang up the phone abruptly. For many decades, solar considerations have NOT been taught in Non-Learning Nation schools of architecture. (This serious omission is similar to the fact that American Medical Doctors receive almost no training in proper nutrition.) How dumb is that?
We live in a society that amazes even dim-witted Dilbert. We lack the most fundamental knowledge of our basic environment, and today’s American energy crisis is a spectacular demonstration of our altogether dumb and dumber lifestyle choices.
Do my words sound confrontational? I certainly hope so! I want you to share my deep concern, and need for immediate improvement.
Remember that Albert Einstein wrote: “The thinking which created today’s problems is insufficient to solve them.” We must identify and correct the conceptual errors that led to today’s energy (and healthcare) crisis - Confront the issues NOW and resolve them very quickly. We cannot allow those who created today’s energy problems to advise us on how to correct them. That would be like listening to the bald-headed barber who tries to tell you how to keep from losing your hair! (A favorite saying of my research scientist father – smile.)
With respect to the design of Zero Energy Homes, the solution process begins with a much better understand of our environment, including the Seasonal Path Of The Sun.
Have you ever noticed on a globe that the Earth’s axis of rotation tilts? The next time you see a globe, take the time to observe the precise angle of tilt. It is 23.5 degrees – the location of the tropics on either side of the equator (an interesting problem for equatorial sundial designers).
As the Earth rotates in orbit around the sun, there is a 47-degree (2 x 23.5) difference in the Summer versus Winter position of the sun. Before the first spherical globe model was made, and Columbus sailed the ocean blue, how did ancient humans understand the tilt of the Earth’s axis, before they understood that the Earth was not flat?
The 47-degree difference in the Summer / Winter midday peak altitude of the sun can be directly observed by tracking the (gnomon) shadow of the sun on December 21st, and then comparing it to the peak altitude six months later on June 21. This is true anywhere on the Earth that can you see the sun in both seasons (not true near the poles where it is dark 24 hours a day in the Winter). This precise scientific observation can be made with nothing more than a tree or a stick in the dirt, or any stable vertical structure.
The Peak Altitude and the Azimuth Of The Sun Depend On:
* Distance From The Equator (Latitude)
* Day Of Year / Season
* Solar Time Of Day Of Observation (Different from Clock
due to Time Zone Longitude and Day Light Savings Time)
* Northern Versus Southern Hemisphere
* The Seasonal Tilt Of The Earth Toward Or Away From The Sun
Example Of The Essential Solar Path Parameters
- Required To Design An Effective Zero Energy Home:
Orlando Florida USA, 28 Degrees 32 Minutes North Latitude
7:14 AM EST
Azimuth 116.4 (63.6 E of S)
Altitude 38 degrees, Due S
Azimuth 243.4 (63.4 W of S)
6:29 AM EDT
Azimuth 62.6 (27.4 N of E)
Altitude 85 degrees, Due S
Azimuth 297.3 (27.3 N of W)
Zero Energy Home Design Solar Path Summary: In Orlando (in the Northern hemisphere), the sun is on the South side of a house all day long in the Winter and never higher than 38 degrees above the Southern horizon. The greater the latitude (distance from the equator), the lower the peak altitude of the sun. Vertical Southern glass captures full Winter (Dec 21) solar gain. (Conversely, in the Southern hemisphere (more than 23.5 degrees South of the equator), North-facing (toward the equator) vertical glass captures full Winter solar gain on June 21st.)
In stark contrast to the Winter path of the sun, the Northern hemisphere Summer sun rises North of Due East, peaks out almost straight overhead midday, and then sets North of Due West in the evening. The sun is almost never on the South side of an Orlando house in the Summer. Simple overhangs shade Southern glass in the Summer, while allowing full solar gain in the Winter - Very easy to implement, IF you just observe and understand the environment that you have spent all of your life in (unlike those with POOR powers of scientific observation).
Since the rising and setting Summer sun is nearly horizontal, overhangs are of very little value on the East and West sides of an Orlando house (this is especially important on hot afternoons). Simple-minded poorly-trained architects say that three-foot overhangs are sufficient for an Orlando Summer. That simply is NOT correct on the East and especially West side of a southern U.S. house.
The elimination of West facing glass and poorly insulated high thermal mass (like concrete walls) are extremely important in areas with high degree-day cooling requirements (like Orlando, where concrete block construction and large glass patio doors are common). Each square foot of West facing glass (or uninsulated concrete) in Orlando requires about 3,000 BTU of peak cooling capacity (very expensive for long hot Summer afternoons in a poorly designed traditional house).
The peak altitude of the midday sun decreases as we move farther from the Equator, but the Summer / Winter difference will always be 47 degrees (until the Earth’s axis tilt changes again in the far distant geological future).
These issues are extremely important parameters to the design of location-specific effective Zero Energy Homes. They combine with the issues of Degree-Day Heating and Cooling Requirements, and Solar Gain Potential (on the roof and different sides of the building in different seasons) for each specific location.
American architects with very-poor powers of observation, who are not intimately familiar with all of these well-documented rigid design parameters that we just discussed should NOT be allowed to ever design another home or commercial building in our energy conscious future. Just like our naive American medical doctors who need to learn more about the science of human nutrition, American architects MUST learn a lot more about the solar environment that our houses exist in.
Solar contractors must also understand these issues to install solar panels properly, etc. For example, if you want to maximize solar gain for Winter swimming pool heating, the panels should face South at an angle steeper than 52 degrees (90 – 38) in Orlando. Farther North, Winter swimming pool panels should have even steeper solar panels, since the peak altitude of the sun is lower.
In contrast, if you want to maximize solar gain for an Orlando Summer solar-powered air-conditioning system, your panels should be angled toward the South / Southwest at more than 5 degrees above horizontal (90 – 85). The farther West azimuth that they face, the steeper they should be, to catch the maximum solar collection potential during the hottest part of the day. Maximum solar gain takes place when solar panels are perpendicular to the angle of the sun. A small deviation from perpendicular is not significant, but a large error in the angle of solar panels devalues your investment, through barbaric ignorance of the environment.
Computer-controlled tracking systems are used for large-scale maximum-capacity concentrated solar energy collection systems in community-sized or campus-wide solar power plants. Engineers must obviously know the precise path of the sun in all of its seasons to design such high capacity public utility solar systems. We hope that many more of these are built cost-effectively in the near future, to help reduce fossil fuel and nuclear pollution, and the need to import foreign energy sources, which transfer hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars of American wealth outside of our Non-Learning Nation each year.
Electric vehicles were invented in the mid-1800s and held the vehicular land speed record until around 1900. Shortly after my Wild West House was built, America was faced with a series of society-wide energy usage alternatives. We previously mentioned natural gas versus electricity.
Before Henry Ford introduced his Model T gasoline powered car, many of the early 1900’s American “horseless carriages” were electric, running on lead acid batteries that are still very popular today. The century-old electric cars were very reliable, with few moving parts. They were easy and inexpensive to build, AND very easy to operate – Many were owned by well-to-do women. The old turn of the century electric car newspaper ads often appealed to high society women. The old electric cars didn’t go very far or fast, but they were reliable and just fine for local community drives on a nice day.
The original electric cars were similar to today’s electric golf carts, and “neighborhood electric vehicle” city cars (currently found in modern places like the Walt-Disney-Corporation-created planned community of Celebration Florida USA, where free electrical recharge outlets are provided).
Small, efficient, electric cars are popular in London, Italy, Japan and around the world. Modern interest in them is growing, as the endless problems with petroleum are increasing rapidly. The cute 4-passenger G-Wiz shown here is optionally available in limited edition zebra, tiger and leopard paint designs. London exempts these “green” cars from normal taxes.
The old Model T was noisy, hard to start, complex to maintain, and released toxic foul odors. It didn’t go much faster than the existing electric cars. The gasoline-powered Model T required a nationwide new infrastructure of fuel stations, but otherwise, it was a fun “toy.”
The Model T had many irritating design flaws. It killed a lot of people, and set us on the road that led America away from superior sustainable electric car technology. Although electric cars are appropriate for a major portion of American daily driving needs, they were edged out by the ubiquitous Model T automated assembly lines and aggressive (overly optimistic) marketing campaigns.
Electric cars all but disappeared for eighty years, until the impressive GM EV1 in California. Corporate and state politics and the GM lawsuit have encouraged the popular EV1 advanced technology to be destroyed by its creator (like Noah’s flood), but some type of electric cars WILL be with us in the near future. Our nation cannot survive for long without them. Shame on GM executives for the substantial electric car setback. Their CEO now deeply regrets this as his worst mistake ever.
Hybrid gas/electric cars are now available, but their gas mileage is not much better than the gasoline version of the same car (especially the poorly engineered American hybrids). Hybrid cars cost way too much. They are normally NOT cost effective, and are more expensive to maintain, due to the added complexity of gas + electric propulsion systems. Future hybrid cars should have improved batteries, so they can be recharged and operated without the gasoline motor most of the time. The gas motor will not need to be added to less expensive all-electric versions, where total electric operation is sufficient for about 90% of domestic in-town driving.
Hybrid cars are NOT the wave of the future. They are like 8-Track tape players – OK for a short time, but they will not be around for long. Hybrid cars should be phased out quickly and replaced by rechargeable battery electric vehicles (BEV’s) in the near future, or by hydrogen powered vehicles if/when the complex technology details can be overcome. Both of these could conceivably be “fueled” by Zero Energy Home photovoltaic solar panels, or maybe even home hydrogen production systems, with NO requirement for any imported petroleum ever again.
Free energy for solar power cars – Now, that’s the ticket!
ZED looks forward to the future of electric vehicles in support of a comprehensive national energy independence policy. We are prepared to integrate them into today’s Zero Energy Home planning.
If you build a Zero Energy Home in the next few years, rechargeable electric highway cars may not be immediately available, but the house (roofline, etc.) should be planned to add more photovoltaic solar panels in the future to accommodate car battery recharging, when photovoltaics will cost even less than they do today, as the price falls by one half every five years. We should never have to pay for non-renewable local commuter transportation energy ever again.
Vehicles that run on tracks are easy to electrify efficiently. They do not need to carry around large batteries, as do electric cars. Electric trolleys became popular shortly after Edison electrified cities. Diesel locomotives (like Amtrak) are actually electric engines that inefficiently drag around a huge diesel generator and diesel fuel supply with them. Petroleum powered trains and airplanes are suffering badly as the price of fuel spirals upward. Amtrak is going bankrupt, even with huge federal subsidies. America’s airlines have always been subsidized by the federal government (FAA, etc.), and almost all of them cannot make a profit. Railroads decided long ago to NOT get into the airline business, because they thought it was too expensive to lift passengers and freight off of the ground. They may ultimately prove to have been quite right, although Americans do enjoy jamming the airports during holiday’s with screaming babies in hand.
After World War II, the French railroad infrastructure was destroyed. As a patriotic national effort, they decided to rebuild their railroads with modern electric power. Today, the French railroad system is a model of on-time efficiency, moving millions of passengers and freight quickly and efficiently at minimal cost.
America needs much less petroleum-powered mass transit, and a nationwide system that is at least as good as the French electric railroads, and the impressive Japanese “bullet trains.” For most short domestic trips it might even take LESS time than flying on an airplane. We could save the few successful airlines and a little bit of jet fuel for more-efficient and profitable long-haul and transoceanic trips.
The flexible Chicago Elevated commuter rail system is an efficient way to move masses of people rapidly and reliably. The Chicago rail lifestyle has always involved casually reading the morning paper on the way to work. Newer streamlined mass transit systems like San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) have futuristic looking engines, but they lack the flexible reconfiguration ability of the clunky old Chicago El trains. Sometimes, innovation looks good but overlooks the valuable lessons learned by others long ago.
When Walt Disney designed Disneyland’s Future World, and his visionary Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, he planned non-petroleum electric transportation from a hub-and-spokes circular city with friendly suburbs. He bought fifty square miles in Florida to build it, but he died (from smoking), and those who have run his company since his death are dull non-learning imitators of the past, at best. The stock market crash of February 2000, and 9/11/2001 caused Disney Corp. to lay off almost all of their valuable creative Imaginers (many trained by Walt himself). Some of the recent Disney World additions have been very dull. Others have killed multiple people. How very sad it is that Walt’s creativity is dead forever. His legacy is a non-learning poorly managed corporation operating only on inertia, NOT innovation.
We would like to see something like Disney’s original planned community vision revived, with modern ZED at the heart of all innovations, including exemplary mass transit that uses no non-renewable or polluting fuel sources at all. Several of us have discussed it following the 2004 / 2005 Florida hurricanes. We are motivated and moving in that direction, although the political resistance has been huge.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get the idiots who are responsible for America’s Homeland Security disaster response team to use some of their resources to build replacement Zero Energy Homes in nearby planned communities with effective rapid transit, instead of filling fields with flimsy, inefficient mobile homes (which require mobile home builders to increase their capacity to rapidly deliver the low-quality products that people die in every year). If you feel as we do, please let us know about your desire to participate in whatever capacity you can. We invite every rare learning entity we can find.
When houses had natural gas lines and no electricity, many also had natural gas refrigerators. WHAT? ! (You young people might ask) “How do you burn gas to directly make ice and keep food cold?” The simple answer is century old “absorption cooling.” It was (and still is) a wonderful technology, based on well-known “phase change physics.”
Gas refrigerators were (and still are) wonderful appliances. You can find them in many modern Recreational Vehicles. Gas-powered refrigerators are cheap to build, efficient to operate, and there is nothing in them that wears out, so some of the hundred-year-old antiques still operate properly today. Can you say that about ANY noisy electric compressor refrigerator? The newest Chinese electric appliances have “planned depreciation”, so they will wear out after the factory warrantee, and you will have to buy a replacement. What a “go nowhere” treadmill. Reliable non-electric cooling is in ZED’s vision for the future.
Any heat source (including concentrated sunlight) can be used for absorption cooling. We are NOT recommending gas refrigerators or air conditioners in Zero Energy Homes, but solar powered absorption cooling would be wonderful – The hotter the sun, the more effective the cooling system would be. Absorption cooling works well for small refrigerators, and has been scaled up to large industrial sized systems for cooling huge commercial buildings. It is GREAT for any business that has excess heat as an industrial process byproduct. It can essentially eliminate air conditioning energy expenses.
Industrial Capacity 50 Ton Absorption Chiller
100-year-old absorption cooling technology may play an important roll in tomorrow’s Zero Energy Homes and Commercial Buildings. It is part of the ZED Integrated Systems Engineering alternative “bag of tricks” that we can use, when and where appropriate. It is not widely used today, but then, neither were personal computers, cell phones, MP3 players, or HDTV’s, not too long ago.
“Necessity is the mother of invention” (and in this case, it is merely a matter of rediscovery of a very mature practical technology from 100 years ago).
After World War II, there was a common misconception (promoted with huge advertising budgets by electric power companies) that the Nuclear Energy Age would soon produce low cost, unlimited use electric power at a flat monthly rate – Use (and waste) all you want – Efficiency does not matter, if electricity is abundantly available and nearly free. Ben Franklin would have been outraged at the total lack of frugality. They said that electric meters would soon be obsolete antiques. The expense of meter readers would be unnecessary. E = MC2 would solve all of our energy problems.
This total lack of contact with reality was largely to blame for many disastrously designed houses built in the mid 1960’s and 70’s under the nationwide “Gold Medallion Home” program. Just because a large company advertises something does NOT make it true. If a vendor encourages you to lock into his product, to the exclusion of other competitors, pay very close attention to his motives, and the details and implications of his offer.
The electric power companies would give you a free bronze doorbell button (which tarnished quickly) if you bought an “all electric” home - No gas allowed. You heated your home with an inefficient electric hot wire, like a toaster. You cooled it with a low energy efficiency rating air conditioner. You were not encouraged to put adequate insulation or efficient windows in your home. You heated your hot water with a poorly insulated inefficient electric hot wire heater, often located inefficiently in the cold garage in the Winter. You cooked in a poorly insulated electric oven that heated up the kitchen in the Summer. No problem! Just turn the inefficient air conditioner thermostat lower. Nuclear energy would solve all of your inefficiency issues in the near future.
PURE RUBBISH! All electric company executives should have been imprisoned for life for massive crimes against humanity. Instead, they were steadily awarded large incremental usage rate increases after the 1973 OPEC oil embargoes, while the Gold Medallion Home program unforgivably remained in effect.
You may get lucky and be able to buy a Gold Medallion on eBay today – Environmentalists love them as a tangible reminder of outrageous American energy stupidity, which led to many unsolved problems that we still have today.
We now know for sure that nuclear energy is NOT completely safe, risk free or inexpensive. It never will be. Power companies charge us ever-increasing incremental usage rates, ESPECIALLY the sad owners of millions of all-electric disastrous Gold Medallion Homes. What a reward for buying into the misleading marketing lies!
Some things like long-distance Internet-based flat-rate unlimited-use telephone service are feasible, but electric power is likely to have ever increasing incremental usage charges, for good technological and geopolitical reasons.
Efficiency Counts! Do not ever let anyone tell you that it does not. Good home design is more important than ever, even if you do chose to put photovoltaic solar cells on your roof in the near future. Energy conservation is necessary to significantly lower the total capital investment for energy collection and storage systems.
Comprehensive Holistic ZED Systems Engineering is absolutely essential to our competitive survival as a nation, AND our standard of living as selfish individuals. The accumulation of wealth still begins with frugality (in almost all things).
ZED is not JUST the patriotic thing to do; ZED IS ESSENTIAL TO OUR VERY EXISTENCE in the next few years.
The current American energy crisis is at the very heart of essentially every social problem we have today. Oil makes us fight unpopular wars that ultimately cost TRILLIONS of dollars. Spiraling oil prices have substantially lowered our standard of living and increased the long-term debt that we are about to immorally pass on to our grandchildren along with fewer available jobs (for the first time in American history).
We have made life worse for ourselves, and mortgaged the future of our offspring. They have the right to hate our gluttonous, greedy misuse of non-renewable, highly polluting resources. In many cases, our actions have shortened the lives of our children’s parents, and left our children without the support they need and deserve from us.
Oil prices hurt poor people much more than the privileged few. Rich people are not lobbying our legislature to enact a coherent aggressive energy policy that would benefit the majority of lower income Americans. The recent U.S. Energy Bill is an ineffective joke, which even the government that wrote it ignores. When the old “Buy America Act” was passed, at least it had some teeth, but the recent Energy Bill does NOT require the government to do what they are trying to get citizens to do – Pure Hypocrisy! Do what I say, not what I do – ridiculous.
If we can learn anything from our own history of recent gluttonous decline, it must be that we cannot afford to thoughtlessly squander non-renewable resources ever again. Shame dishonor and disgrace on those who led America to where we are today. We STILL cannot go to the electric power company for advice on the design of an energy efficient house, much less a Zero Energy Home. The government refuses to demonstrate or endorse ZED.
Electric company profits go up if YOU unwisely use energy inefficiently (in all but the highest Summer peak load conditions when their poorly planned and maintained power generation systems demonstrate gross unreliable resource mismanagement).
Don’t expect electric companies to help you with ZED – it would be the worst thing that could happen to them. Of course, they say: “Wait until the technology gets better.” Any delay makes more money for them, which will be lost when people buy Zero Energy Homes.
In 1956, Marion King Hubbert created a bell-shaped-curve model of known oil reserves, and presented in an American Petroleum Institute paper. He accurately predicted that production of oil from conventional sources would peak in the continental United States between 1965 and 1970, and worldwide within "about half a century" from 1956 (i.e. 2006). He was completely correct, but largely ignored until the 1973 OPEC oil embargoes, and again with our new millennium energy crisis. The world is now on the downside of Hubbert’s bell-shaped curve, and headed toward a completely predictable unprecedented worldwide energy disaster.
As oil supplies decline, oil demand is spiraling upward rapidly. We have sent our manufacturing jobs to China, and now the Chinese are joyfully buying millions of new cars (the most popular is the 43 mpg, 7 passenger, GM Sunshine mentioned earlier). China has 21% or the world’s population, but they ONLY consume 8% of the world’s oil supply today. If business-as-usual prevails, soon our Chinese friends will rightfully demand their full 21% share of all available oil, maybe more as oil production declines and Americans lose most of their jobs, according to Hubbert’s accurate Peak Oil curve.
The same thing is happening in India, and elsewhere in the world’s emerging nations. America defined the gasoline gluttony pattern that the world is now learning to imitate very well with the money we are sending to them to buy the products we taught them how to make.
The price of all non-renewable energy sources is heavily influenced by the international supply and demand for petroleum.
we can learn anything from the Human Energy Usage History, it is that:
Non-sustainable energy policies can NOT be sustained forever!
Why is this obvious tautology so very hard for oil-addicted Americans to comprehend?
Why do they all complain about escalating energy prices, and yet do nothing about them?
Why don’t Americans care that the price of energy impacts poor people more than the rich?
Why is it only the rich elite who can afford to pursue Zero Energy DesignTM?
Why don’t public energy policies help poor people make the transition to energy efficiency?
American oil dependency is undoubtedly a dead end dirt highway to despair.
Does anyone know what these ugly artifacts were once used for?
(Won’t it be great when no one remembers?)
Lifelong Learning In An Ever-Expanding Universe Of Endless Possibilities TM
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E-Mail To: ZEDmaster@ZeroEnergyDesign.com