Passive Solar Heating: The Basics

It has become abundantly clear, from your many comments, that most do not understand what passive solar heating means. Passive solar means there are no solar panels or any electricity involved in the creation and retention of heat within a building. The heat is created only by passive means of collecting energy from the sun and then retention of that heat by the physical structure of the home.

How is this done?

beginning to build on the slab comanche drive

Number 1: The positioning of the structure is essential. Mike made certain that our home was positioned facing directly south, with a whole wall of the correct type of glass doors and windows. In our case that included incredible views of the Spanish Peaks! You need full sun exposure on that side of the house. No trees, buildings, or other obstructions.

Number 2: In a passive solar home, the slab of concrete the home is placed on must be the heat-sink type and FULLY insulated from the earth. If it is not, the heat will come into the home during the day, sink into the foundation, and leak out of the slab, leaving the home cold at night when heat is most needed.

slab and framing of comanche drive

Number 3: Excellent insulation in the walls and ceiling of the home are essential. Holding the heat in once it enters the home is the only way it can remain warm when it is zero degrees outside. The home must be close to air-tight with quality doors and windows. Your floor must also be some sort of dark tile to help absorb more heat during the day.

new windows with Mike and Lee in photo

A view of the south-facing wall during construction

Number 4: Although the sun will be directly overhead in summer, proper overhangs on the south side of the home are essential to keep the sun from coming into the home too early in the fall. Mike also positioned our south-side overhang so that they are the correct size and angle to add solar panels later if needed.

Our home has very few windows on the north side, but a few on the east and west ends to absorb the morning and evening sun. We absorb solar heat most days in the winter, store it in our slab and it returns to keep us warm at night. Sometimes in mid-winter, we need to open a window at the warmest part of the day to cool off a bit!

clouds over Spanish Peaks summer

The view from our new PASSIVE SOLAR home!

So far in southern Colorado we have never fallen below 60 degrees at night no matter how cold it is outside. We supplement our solar heat with small room electric heaters. No furnace or propane needed. Ceiling fans help to distribute the heat.

Last January, when we lost electricity for three days because of a BAD ice storm, we stayed warm. With this system, we are able to average $100/month for all power to our home. A couple other unexpected benefits? Our home stays cool in the summer with its positioning to the sun and so much ceiling insulation, and it is so quiet inside all the time with no furnace turning on and off in winter!

The funniest part was learning that I didn’t need to turn down the thermostat when I left the house… the heat just keeps on coming in!

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A New Year, A New Photo Essay

View from our land

Retirement may suggest lifestyle change for some, but how many are willing to take on any real risks at age 60? Enter Mike and I, the quiet revolutionaries. Four years ago this month, we drove down to southern Colorado to purchase a few rural acres of pinon-juniper woodland west of Walsenburg.  Mike’s dream had always been to construct his own passive solar home with amazing mountain views. This was our chance to make that dream come true!

In June 2014 we packed up or got rid of most of our worldly goods, sold our nice  home in suburban Fort Collins, and took off to live in a 100-year-old rental home in Walsenburg, while constructing a new life twenty minutes west of there. Crowning ourselves the “NEW Old Farts,” I began sharing this retirement adventure with the world in October 2014.

Laura and Rasta the view 2014

Although my husband was a true believer from day one, this all felt like a gigantic leap-of-faith for me. With housing prices rising quickly in the metro areas of northern Colorado, I saw little chance of changing our minds later to return to the city if this didn’t work out. So I made myself believe in my relatively new husband’s vision, and you know what? He was right.

Three and a half years later, after too many doubts and incredible challenges to my idea of who I am and where I belong, I am now quite content in our country solar home looking out each morning at the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains. My days are filled with supreme quiet and astounding beauty. I have also found a few good friends, a yoga class I like, and all the books I wish to read and movies I wish to view through the La Veta Public Library.

snowy west peak with comanche home in foreground

The view from our new solar home!

I find my need for distractions has dwindled. No, I do not miss city shopping, traffic, stress, noise or air pollution. In fact going into a city of any size is now the perfect reminder that I made the right choice for me. I have finally learned the power of living in this present moment. With so much more available to me and few distractions, I now have the time, energy, and awareness to fully appreciate the world around me.

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Sunrise that occurred while writing this post…

We moved here for a number of reasons: To live close to nature, to try passive solar living, to build the kind of home we chose to live in for the rest of our lives, and to find a far more peaceful, healthy and less expensive lifestyle than cities could offer us. We have received so much more by choosing to live in this beautiful, quiet place where life is luxuriously slow and overflows with simple pleasures.

Would you like to know more about our adventures? Check out my new memoir!

Colorado Divide: Rural versus Urban

colorado-divide-logo1We had a pleasant visitor today, a reporter from the Denver Post who is putting together their final piece for a series on rural life across our state. Kevin Simpson came down to visit with us about why we came here, and did we find what we were looking for in choosing the La Veta – Walsenburg area for retirement.

Here’s what he came up with. I think he did a great job of LISTENING to those of us who chose to leave city life behind

Colorado Divide: Why some Coloradans are cashing out of the Front Range and seeking their rural happily-ever-after

Laura and Rasta the view 2014

And, of course, that got me thinking along the same lines. The answer for me is a resounding YES! What has surprised me the most is how much my own choices have changed me.

As most of you know, I’m almost certain I would have never had the courage to move to this area on my own. I can now see our move to Walsenburg three and a half years ago was nothing short of traumatic for me. At first it felt like I was getting lots of tough things to adjust to with few upgrades in my lifestyle. In other words, I was very short-sighted. I have always wanted to be a go-with-the-flow type, but I’m not.

leap_of_faith blog sizeIt took me over a year and a brand new solar home to decide that I had made the right choice. Only after moving in and living here for a while did I fully appreciate an amazing new lifestyle for myself. And, there’s the rub. I had to take what felt like a gigantic leap of faith to find out how I would feel after I had lived here for a while. Some said rent for a year or two before committing to a new place, but that would not have worked for us. Decent rentals are extremely hard to find here, and living in your own solar home in the foothills outside of town is certainly not the same experience as living in a 100-year-old miner’s home in Walsenburg.

In this process I learned how much I love living close to nature and in silence. Overall I would say the BEST part of living here for me is the silence and lack of daily stress. My newfound ability to live completely in the moment has been a great and wonderful surprise!  OK, so I am a contemplative person, but as we age these things become so much more important to us.

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“…we all know how this ends, so rushing through life is senseless.  As our inner life grows ever more luminous, the chatter of the speed-and-greed world slowly fades, leaving us with greater peace, tranquility, quiet and contentment.”                                        —  Arthur Rosenfeld

A New Sunrise in Southern Colorado! So much to be grateful for…

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The clouds and sun had a special surprise for us this morning. Today we saw the brightest yellows and oranges at sunrise that I have seen so far! The sky was bursting with bright colors…

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.. begging us to come outside to enjoy everything it had to offer us on this glorious new day!

IMGP6935The Wahatoyas or Spanish Peaks were lit up like only nature can achieve, and we knew we had moved to the right place…

What High School Reunions Can Bring Up

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My high school mascot: A Thunderbird

I just received a reminder that my 45th high school reunion is coming up soon. My first response is I simply cannot believe that I graduated from high school 45 years ago. How did that happen? So I turned to my yearbooks to try and remember something about high school.

wasson highI went to high school in Colorado Springs from 1970 to 1973. I was not active in clubs or any other extra curricular activities. The way I remember it, I was horribly shy and quite miserable most of the time. I had very low self-esteem so I kept my head down, hoping nobody would notice me. As it turns out, most don’t remember me at all.

I hated everything about high school. I hated my home life and how I felt at school. The best way to describe me looking back from my 45-years-later perspective is flat affect. I just kept wondering if my life would ever get better. I remember at high school graduation singing that German song from Cabaret: “Tomorrow belongs to me…” over and over in my head.

These days I am so glad I hung in there! Everything got better in college. I went to Colorado College, the one where my father taught. As soon as I got there I felt like I fit in much better. For the first time I was constantly around fellow eggheads, and finally completely academically challenged. Slowly through the past four decades I have become more at home in my own body and freer to become my true self.

The hardest battle you will face in life is to be no one but yourself, in a world which is trying its hardest to make you like everybody else!

Now I see this maturation process as peeling the onion of my soul. At first I only felt safe taking off the most outer layers, exposing my true self very slowly and carefully, so afraid of what others might think or say. When I finally got some counseling in my early thirties, my therapist noted how often I said, “People think this…” And she would challenge me with, “Who are these people?” It was not easy, but I have finally found my true self in the midst of too much feedback from others, and a generous number of rules in my own mind.

Sunflowers on a county road

My commute home from La Veta Colorado…

I have never attended a high school reunion, but I am seriously considering it this time. We live only a couple hours southwest of Colorado Springs now, and I am quite curious. Perhaps I should go find out who I went to high school with, because I suspect none of us are anything like we were in high school.

How did we all turn out? For a REALLY FUNNY take on high school reunions, go here!

Laura & Rasta Xmas-2012-CROPPEDLaura Lee Carter is a professional photographer, writer and psychotherapist. Her midlife crisis included a divorce and the loss of her career as an academic librarian, misfortunes she now finds supremely fortuitous, as everything wonderful flowed from these midlife challenges. Laura now sees midlife difficulties as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for personal liberation. Laura Lee has produced five books on midlife change. Don’t miss: A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado.

 

Listening to old friends…

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Horsetooth Reservoir at dawn

Since my parents were celebrating their 66th (!) wedding anniversary in Denver, we decided to make a weekend trip of it, and spend a couple days up in Fort Collins and Loveland.

Sunday was heaven for me. I spent the entire day talking to people I love that I hardly ever see. I found such reassurance that those friendships are still strong and we still can have a great time together! One friend Mike has known for decades said a few thought provoking things Sunday night.

psychoactive brainHer husband left her twenty years ago with four kids to raise, so she was talking about how much her blood pressure fell after her husband was finally out of her life. That was quite striking, and reminded me of how my own super tight jaw (TMJ) vaporized after my divorce. Then all of a sudden she said, “You know, I haven’t been angry or in an argument in weeks now.” I thought, wow, that is so true, with the tiny exception of the horrendous traffic in Denver!

past better not bitterWe got to talking about how we cope with difficult times in our life, crappy times like divorce. She said she only started drinking too much during and after her divorce. I’m just not fond of alcohol or other addictive substances, so when she asked me, “How do you cope with tough times?” I said, counseling, walking, journaling, reading good books and quiet times where I delve into what went wrong, in hopes of making my future much better than my past. I have made a million big mistakes in my life, but I have also always been an analyzer. (Can you tell?) I want to understand everything around me. As far as relationships go, I knew that if I improved my own relationship with myself, I would be so much easier for others to enjoy.

The break up of any major relationship is the perfect time to process how I am relating with others. The last time I launched myself into such deep analysis was when I got divorced and then lost my job/career in 2004. I knew this was a great time to readjust life priorities. I decided I didn’t much care about anything but love, because if I didn’t ever find an amazing solid love relationship, I wasn’t sure I wanted to live that much longer anyway.

How to Believe in Love Again!So I did everything I could think of to understand 40+ love. I even started my own local dating service, and it’s a good thing I did. A few months later Mike walked into my life. Everything got better with Mike, or as my Dad said a few months later, “Mike saved your ass.” I finally found unconditional love and compassion in a world where it is so very rare. Then I wrote: “How To Believe In Love Again: Opening to Forgiveness, Trust and Your Own Inner Wisdom.”     I wanted to save lives. When you feel all hope is lost, please consider taking a look at this book.

Send me an e-mail & I’ll hook you up with a copy!    — The Midlife Crisis Queen!  MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com