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.

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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!

De-metrofying your life: The strong connection between where we live and how we treat others

Sunflowers on a county road

After driving in the country, about half that time on county roads, for the past few years, I feel the need to report my findings are where you live and what it does to you.

friendly waveNow you need to understand, on the county road we take out to the highway from our home, most drivers coming the other way wave to us, even if they don’t know us personally. Even in small towns like La Veta, most are quite friendly. It took me a while to get used to this after living in cities my whole life. At first I didn’t know whether to wave back, because some wave and some don’t.

Then I thought, “Oh screw it. I’ll just going to wave at everybody, regardless.”

Yesterday we drove a few hours north to Denver and back for Christmas. I have become so accustomed to natural friendliness, that when an elderly man sitting in a truck stop looked at me for a second or two, I responded with, “Merry Christmas!” He looked shocked…

Then as we progressed north past Pueblo, attitudes on I-25 took an extreme downward trend, even on Christmas day. Down here, almost no one goes more than 5 MPH over the speed limit. Up there near Colorado Springs and Denver, drivers look at you with disgust if you aren’t going at least 10 over the speed limit.

fuck you from carAnd you can just feel the anger and frustration in the drivers around you. The change in attitude is palpable, and not anything I wish to spend any more years of my limited lifespan in contact with. Really, is this the best we can do for quality of life in the wonderful old USA?

Another fun fact. I had so much pain in my right knee before I left suburbia four years ago, I felt certain I would have to get some sort of surgery. Then I moved here and it rarely ever hurts. Why? Because I’m no longer sitting with my foot on the brake at stop lights. We only have two in our whole county and I can certainly avoid those!

cloudy Spanish Peaks with snow and garden

These are just a few aspects of city versus rural life that make me glad every day that I don’t live near cities anymore. I so rarely feel angry and my stress level is near zero most of the time. It took me a year or so to totally quit pre-worrying everything and just relax. That is why driving back up to metroland is so very illuminating and yet anxiety-producing at the same time…

This is a great example of what I now like to call “de-metrofying my life.” Ha, love it! Now I am clearly off-the-grid mentally.

Winter Solstice in the Colorado Foothills

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On December 21st, the winter solstice arrives, a magical time when the sun begins its gradual journey to return to us the delightful warmth of spring. At once, darkness invites us inward to seek and find sustenance in that eternal, luminous ember at our core, while beckoning us out into the night to enjoy our sparkling stars.

Predating Christianity, we humans have been doing battle with midwinter’s ominous gloom for centuries with solstice rituals of light and fire, celebrating the warmer, brighter days ahead. In Europe the ancient Yule festival survives even today, with the traditional Yule log, believed to frighten away evil spirits.

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What a wonderful time to rejuvenate your spirit by appreciating the miracle of our sun and seasons. Take time to contemplate your life.  Nothing happens without personal transformation. Could this be just the right time for your best self to start to shine through?  Is it time to rediscover the positive, creative being you are inside?  What do you love to do, but have denied yourself for ages?  Is it drawing, playing music, watercolors, writing, hiking, dancing?  Is it painting your surroundings in all your favorite colors?  Start focusing on what is dynamic and creative within. What needs to come out now?

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Start each day by asking yourself: “What do I want to happen today?” But this time ask for EXACTLY what you want!

May you know yourself at home in the whole of your life. May you know the vast and infinitesimal blessings of your life as a gift. And may you know and share yourself as a source of great LOVE.

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

Christmas Memories from 1960

christmas cookies

For unknown reasons, I was flooded with Christmas memories yesterday afternoon. It started out with a sudden strong desire for one perfect cut-out Christmas cookie, and then all sorts of memories of childhood Christmases overwhelmed me.

When I was little, we always drove from Iowa to our grandparents homes in Kansas City to celebrate the holidays. My mom and my dad’s parents lived one block apart, so my family would stay at different houses, and then visit one house and then the other on Christmas Day. But when we were very small we would all sleep at Grandma Carter’s house to experience the magic of Christmas morning together.

This is how I remember it:

‘Twas the night before Christmas and my brother John and I simply could not settle down. We were supposed to be sleeping in my Grandma Carter’s big double bed, but instead were literally bouncing off the walls, trying unsuccessfully to contain our excitement about the next morning’s promised bounty. We would talk for a while and then quietly get up and peek around the doorway to see if Santa had arrived while we weren’t looking.

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Grandma Carter’s house was an unusual place, the place where magic could be expected. Her Christmas tree wasn’t tall, but to our young eyes it was most amazing in its sparkling aluminum glory. She had an electric color wheel that lit it up, changing its color constantly!  We would sit for hours watching it slowly turn the tree from shades of blue to green to red to yellow and then back again.  At home we had plain old evergreen trees.

Normally when we visited my grandparents in Kansas City, my parents slept in the double bed in the bedroom, and we kids slept on the couch in the living room. But this was a special night, one where we were supposed to go to sleep early in grandma’s bedroom so Santa could do his work in private. My big brother John was six and I was five years old, just at the age where we were beginning to wonder about the whole Santa Claus thing. My brother was a whole year older, so he instructed me in the intricacies of how Christmas worked.

walking dollThis particular year I had been talking about wanting a walking doll for months. It was almost as tall as me and if you stood behind it, you could make her walk by pushing one and then the other leg forward. Of course, there were other small things I had mentioned, and there were always underwear and socks under the tree, but my heart burned for my own walking doll.

daisy-red-ryder-75th-anniversary-bb-gun-27My brother wanted a Davy Crockett hat and a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun (of “You’ll shoot your eye out” fame in The Christmas Story!) more than anything in the world.

Somehow, and I don’t remember how it happened, John and I finally succumbed to the excitement of the long day before Christmas and fell asleep. No visions of sugar plums occurred, but there were definitely dreams of all the toys we wanted most.

First thing in the morning, came the sound of brother John yelling in my ear, “Get up, it’s time to open presents!” and with that the whole household began to stir. We rushed out to the tree and there was my big beautiful walking doll, too big to be wrapped! She just stood there under the tree smiling at me. I ran over, caressed her, named her Sally on the spot, and began helping her walk her around the room.

christmas card of old santaAfter my parents got up, John started ripping into his gifts and, sure enough, he received everything he wanted. He ran around in his coonskin cap, pretending to aim his gun at each of us. Then we hugged each other in delight, moving around the tree in a childlike dance of ecstasy.  Many decades later, the magic of that particular Christmas still lives on in my heart. So many recollections from childhood are lost forever, but this magical time of bonding remains one of the fondest memories of my young life.

Fine arts in a small town: La Veta Colorado

Some might say they need to live in a city to have access to a vast variety of fine arts. I wish those people could have attended our Holiday Arts Fiesta in La Veta this year. Last night we visited five different galleries in this tiny town, boasting world-class pieces in so many mediums! Clients regularly come from around the world to see and buy pieces from here… Be it batik, oil, watercolor, quilting, weaving, sculpture, you name it, we have got it going on here!

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The Spanish Peaks Arts Council prides itself in promoting and encouraging educational events in the arts throughout the Spanish Peaks region. Their summer programs for kids are fantastic! Watercolorist Kathy W. Hill is often featured along with many new and emerging artists like my husband Mike. Kathy creates wonderful paintings to capture the beauty of this area! She also offers classes in the summer.

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Artists like Peggy Zehring offer experimental drawing and painting classes across the street at the La Veta School of the Arts, and Shalawalla is the home of unique and beautiful batiks, plus classes too.

Flying Horses Arthur

We are also home to noted Oglala Lakota artist Arthur Short Bull. His watercolors are stunningly stark and powerful.

Lady-of-Shalott- by Ricky Tims

And if your interests run towards art quilting, La Veta is home to one of the top quilters in the world, Ricky Tims. If you ever get a chance to see his work, do not miss it!

This is just the beginning when it comes to La Veta! We also have amazing music festivals like the annual Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival. When we first moved here we were amazed to attend a free presentation by Native American flutist Robert Mirabal at Francisco Fort, an adobe fort originally built in 1862.

train ride

Later that summer we took a narrow gauge train up to old La Veta Pass with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band…

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at Fir

to hear them play in a pristine mountain setting… a fine time was had by all!