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

Marijuana as Medicine in Southern Colorado

I have to admire Alexis Bortell, a 12-year-old girl who is spearheading a campaign to legalize medical marijuana across our country. She and her family had no choice but to move from Texas to Colorado to find adequate treatment for her severe epilepsy. Now, her family and a handful of others are suing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), demanding “cannabis for the treatment of their illnesses, diseases and medical conditions.” Ever since Alexis began her cannabis treatment, she has been seizure-free for 974 days.

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Living west of Walsenburg Colorado, 50 miles from the New Mexico border for over three years now, I have met a number of parents who have found it necessary to move here just to get adequate treatment for their children. These people had to leave behind good jobs and perhaps even their health insurance to find ways to keep their children alive and healthy.

It has been interesting to observe the combination of citizens here who support the availability of cannabis for medical purposes, versus those whom we now call “CAVES”: “Citizens Against Virtually Everything.”

The most exciting development for Huerfano County, our “orphan” county with around 6,000 souls, has been in the tiny town of La Veta Colorado.  WEED, Inc. announced in July, that it recently acquired Sangre AT, LLC (dba “Sangre AgroTech”), with plans to open a Sangre Bioscience Center, investing over $1,000,000 in Colorado Medicinal Cannabis Industry.

Sangre AgroTech then chose La Veta for their new research facility whose mission is:   “To create a genomics-based Cannabis breeding program that will produce new, genetically-enhanced strains of Cannabis which express the desired plant characteristics for the treatment of disease…”

“At Sangre AgroTech, we are focused on the development and application of cannabis-derived compounds for the treatment of human disease. Targeting cannabis-derived molecules which stimulate the endocannabinoid system, we are developing the required scientifically-valid and evidence-based cannabis strains for the production of disease-specific medicines. Yes, medicines.” 

Picture this. A town of less than a thousand people, nestled right next to the Spanish Peaks of southern Colorado, just attracted millions of dollars worth of research money, and all for the good of mankind. Why? Because the head of this new company, Dr. Patrick E. Williams thought this area is the perfect place to live! He got that right!  We are so excited about this new local development! They plan is hire at least half of their employees locally, keeping jobs down here, which is great, considering our county has the highest unemployment rate in the state.

 

Buying a Home in Rural Southern Colorado

paula's ranchette

I have always found real estate interesting. I suppose it’s a part of my natural nosiness. I like to see how others live and what they choose. Mike knows the construction trade inside and out. That’s why we went with a friend to look at a small property yesterday. She wanted to get our opinion on a darling little ranchette not too far away from us.

This property is relatively new, well-built, nicely detailed inside and landscaped, with great views of Greenhorn Mountain and the distant Sangre de Cristos.

Buying in rural markets is so different than cities. Be sure and check what the property’s access is to water, electricity, phone service, and what kind of heating and septic system it has. This cute little ranch on a few acres has a giant garage and studio space, fully fenced, but it does not have access to water on the property. Most city people can’t even imagine that! Water will have to be trucked in.

Sunflowers on a county road

The good news about properties down here? The cost is about one quarter of what they might cost up north, near any metro area. I can see this property being priced at $500,000 to $600,000 if it was anywhere near the Denver/Boulder metro area. Access to jobs is everything in real estate.

The realtor informed us that sellers here usually have to accept contingencies on sales. Their average time on the market is about one year. We see many come down here, buy a house on impulse, and then need to sell a year or two later. Yes it is amazingly beautiful here in the spring, summer and fall, but the winters are so WINDY and can seem very long with most city distractions (restaurants, shopping, etc.) at least an hour away.

The truth is, most have no idea how or if they will adjust to rural life. My advice? Make sure you like spending a lot of time alone or are on the same page completely with your life partner. You need to get along very well in these circumstances. Make sure you enjoy nature, things like bird watching, plants, hiking, biking and lots of silence. If you have little appreciation for clean air, morning silence, amazing sunrises and sunsets and a pristine natural setting, don’t buy a rural home, especially if you crave any sort of human-based distractions.

decking Comanche home with mountains in backgroun

Our house being built in 2014 -2015

memoir of retirement 2016Mike and I left suburbia in 2014, after living in cities for most of our lives.      We wanted to try out solar living with spectacular views of Sangre de Cristo mountains. We moved here to live close to nature, to try out passive solar living, and to build the kind of home we chose to live in for the rest of our lives. We came in search of a far more quiet, peaceful, healthy and inexpensive lifestyle than cities could offer us. We have received so much more…            Would you like to know how we ended up here? The ups and downs of our year-long building process? My fears in our first year here? Why we love it so much now?

Please send me an e-mail to order your own copy — Laura Lee:  MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com

Three Years Later in Rural Colorado…

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Today we celebrate three years of living in this magnificent part of Colorado. Granted, this was not all a pleasant experience. In fact the first year and a half, from the time we decided to leave suburbia in Fort Collins until our home was completed here, were grueling. Some synonyms for grueling that describe my experience best: backbreaking, challenging, demanding, formidable, and sometimes hellacious. Building in rural areas is not for the meek, and building in mid-winter has its own challenges, but we lived through it and now we are happy as clams!

(Exactly how happy are clams anyway?)

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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 can offer us. We received so much more!

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The greatest gift for me is a sense of freedom and natural silence that I have never come close to in my previous life. I now live in the present, choosing each hour how I want to spend my day. I awaken to the birds singing with the sun pouring in, and go out to work in my fledgling garden of mostly native plants, most of which will be sunflowers blooming very soon!

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Then, if I feel like visiting friends, I drive into La Veta on county roads with wildflowers popping up everywhere. Yes, the dining choices are slim here, just one of the “conveniences” you have to give up to live in the country. Luckily I’m a great cook and prefer to eat at home most of the time.

The hardest part for me was taking the original risk. Letting go of our nice home in suburbia was not easy, especially after seeing the one hundred year old miner’s house we would have to move into in Walsenburg for over a year.

decking Comanche home with mountains in backgroun

Then there were the challenges of working with the local contractors and our builder here. Just getting them to come to work was often the biggest challenge! Here’s where we were one year into the build. But somehow it all came together and everything works today, so we have no complaints.

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I know we will face many more difficulties and much stormy weather up here, but at least we finally know where home is. For now, this is certainly where we belong…

Laura and Rasta on insulation 2014 (2)Would you like to read the whole story of how we ended up here enjoying country living? Check it out: A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado.

Rent-a-Friend, Slow TV & Country Living

What an interesting array of new ideas this past week! From Japan we have “Rent-a Friend” or family member… Apparently some Japanese can be so obsessed with appearances that they actually rent human stand-ins for various get-togethers. But don’t scoff too soon at this idea, because apparently it is also taking off in our own country! Hell, it may be a great idea for those new to foreign countries…like NYC. For the Japanese, who feel uncomfortable borrowing things, rentals seem more honest. They even have substitute therapists, untrained people who will listen to you complain about your life for only $10/hour!

train rideIn contrast, Norway has recently discovered the popularity of slow television, or “slow TV” (Norwegian: Sakte-TV), popularized in the 2000s by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), beginning with the broadcast of a 7-hour train journey in 2009. This live “marathon” television coverage of an ordinary event in its complete length, generally last many hours or even days.

OK now I have a unique and perhaps revolutionary idea. Why don’t you spend the time and energy to make your own hand-picked friend. Imagine how much more satisfying that might be. Or, if you prefer a slower paced life, go find it! Since moving to the country I completely understand the appeal of slow TV, except mine is called ‘slow scenery’ and I stare at it all day long.

IMGP5820From daybreak…

imgp5537to sunset, it changes constantly, and sometimes offers up the most amazing images!

And I have even collected over the decades some of the most perfect music to go along with this tremendous lifestyle. This morning I had to listen to Jesse Colin Young’s song “Ridgetop.” A great description of where we live now. That and “Country Home” work for me!

laura-rasta-xmas-2012-croppedI’m new here in rural southern Colorado.  After two years I decided to compile a short journal about the ups and downs of moving from a good-sized city to rural America to build a passive solar retirement home:  A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado

Let’s work around Amazon (the evil empire!) and make certain authors get paid for their books!           Please contact me directly to order your own signed copies of any of my books!  Cheers, Laura Lee  (email me: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com)