This section of Rural Home Technology discusses the use of non-traditional methods of heating buildings and domestic hot water. For our purposes here, non-traditional means non-fossil type fuels, fuels which are renewable and have less of a detrimental impact on our environment. This discussion is based on living in a passive solar home for over 20 years, participating in the design of several other passive solar homes and greenhouses, and presenting several programs, tours and seminars on these subjects.
The most obvious source of alternative energy, indeed, the ultimate source of all of our stored fossil fuel energy, is the sun. Twenty years ago, just after the oil embargo of the early 70's, there was a scramble to employ the sun in the design of new homes. As with any "new" technology, there became a following of purists who attempted to cut the umbilical to traditional fuels completely, employing radical designs that were often too costly to ever be practical or pay themselves back in the builder's lifetime!
Others of us tried a more practical approach, planning our houses to utilize the sun as much as possible while keeping them within traditional boundaries. We realized that someday we may want to sell these houses to someone who will need to have the heating and mechanical systems maintained by traditional tradespeople. And we wanted to maintain a balance between fuel efficiency and aesthetics.
Many of us discovered that, in the long run, it was not some radical technology or extreme building technique that would make our homes efficient, but attention to a few basic principles and lot of small details that would prove the best all around.