Buying a passive solar home!

So…some big news here. We have put in an offer on a new house! I know that might seem odd, given all I’ve done to this homestead, but check out these features:

  • It’s in the woods, but there’s a place to garden, because it opens onto a wetland (fen or peat bog, not sure which). This also means it’s really quiet and peaceful – my main complaint about the current house is road noise.
  • It’s a passive solar design – actually won an award for its design. On sunny winter days, it needs no other heating. Not that Michigan gets a ton of those, but every bit helps.
  • The design includes a 50′ long solarium on the south face of the house, which heats the upstairs and gives the house a ton of natural light, even though the main living space is earth-bermed on 3 sides
  • It’s just gorgeous!  It’s an incredibly peaceful place – very grounded and relaxing.

There are a few down sides – it’s further from work (though closer to a town) than our current place. The vegetable gardening will be OK but probably not great. I plan to do more perennial gardening, though.  We may need to trim or cut down some trees…but we want the solar collectors to be shaded in the summer. No sense pumping heat into the house when it’s 90 degrees. So we have lots of thoughts, but it’ll take a while to figure out the best approach.

It’s also a short sale, so though we have an agreement with the sellers, it won’t be official until their bank agrees to the price. That could take months; we wouldn’t close until spring.

Fen Ridge House

South face of the house. Solarium, with rock pile solar collector beneath.

Fen Ridge house

Living room - the whole lower floor is one open living/dining/kitchen space. Three sets of French doors and a large picture window open onto the solarium.

Fen Ridge house

Solarium. See the vents above that draw heat into the bedroom above? We'll need to shade this in the summer so we don't roast.

Fen Ridge house

View of the wetlands.

We had the home inspection yesterday, and it checked out pretty well. Some sign of termites, but it might be an old, inactive infestation (we’re having an expert in to check). The inspector is also concerned about mildew/mold in the “rock room” passive solar collector. The owners say it smells musty when they open the vents to let that air in.  We can tell that water is getting in down there, though, and wonder if that would go away if we took care of the water issue (the downspout discharges on the panels, and has warped the furring strips and destroyed the caulk) and got the air moving down there again. The danger is that it wouldn’t help, and that we’d be pumping mold spores into the house in the meantime.  We are going to see if someone at the architecture school has any ideas. Worst case scenario is that we seal off the ventilation loop through the rock pile and retire that part of the passive solar system. It might still help with some radiative heat, or we might just have to chalk it up as a loss.

So…if you know anyone looking to buy our existing homestead, with a nice, sturdy, well-insulated 4 br house near Ann Arbor, Michigan, surrounded by lots of excellent garden beds…let me know!



  1. Cynthia said,

    December 25, 2011 at 7:47 am

    Cool! Where is it?

  2. Cloud said,

    December 27, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Found your site this evening. I am converting our .17acre A2 city plot to an urban mini-farm aka bio intensive double dig experiment. 🙂 I’ve mapped out ~1800SF of bed area between the Front, Back, and side yards. Was glad to have the warm start of winter. Hope it continues enough to finish digging up the earth! BTW, complete sod removal in a pain in the arse manually with shovel.

    • Emily said,

      December 28, 2011 at 9:10 am

      Sounds like a great plan! I’d love to see it. Wow, you must have more sf of garden beds than house. 🙂

      Yeah, sod’s a killer – that’s why I never dig it up! Eight inches of soil or wet, heavy horse manure will kill sod, even without cardboard or newspaper under it. So I build my beds up, let the sod die, and save my back. If you want to double-dig, do it in the second year. I love John Jeavons, but I’ve found that double-digging is really not necessary.

      • Cloud said,

        December 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm

        Hah! True. The house is only 1530SF on a 65×112 Foot plot. I’ll be heading out shortly to pick up some wood to fashion the bed borders. If I can get a wide/tall enough board then I can bury it a few inches to the root level of the grasses and weeds while maintaining a few inches above to create a hard edge. Should abade a bit of the ‘lawn creep’. It’ll also give the front yard a better appearance to win over the neighbors. 😉 The soil is so compacted that when you do double-dig, it brings it to nearly a foot above the typical ground level. Figure that to just deal with the sod removal the first year to speed the process along without having to wait, as well as get most of the grubs out that may eat what I wish to grow. After a season or so, that pile of sod will return itself to being nifty soil that I can reincorporate back into the beds when they composting works its way up. It’s all a delicate balance between doing something, not spending a fortune, and exercise in the nice AC outside. 😉

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