Thursday, November 18, 2010

Living In An Energy-Efficient Earth-Berm Home

When we moved to our homestead this past December, we really didn't know what to do with our earth-berm home. We knew that it was supposed to be more energy-efficient, but we had no clue how to make it energy-efficient. We thought we would just move in and see tiny electric bills from that day forward. We were so disappointed when, last winter, we simply could not keep this house warm. I was miserable. I would get out of the shower and almost freeze to death before I could get dressed.

Since then, we've discovered that our attic insulation was very sporadic. So, late this summer we had more insulation put in. We also recently added thermal curtains to most of the windows on the south side of the house. (The north, east, and west sides of the home are built into the ground, so if there are windows, they are the small "basement" type.)

I'm pleased to say that, with the improvements that we made this year, we just recently turned on our heat for the first time two days ago, on Tuesday November 16th. Now, I never really paid attention to when we turned our heat on for the first time in our old home, but I'm pretty certain that it was well before mid-November. I've also been comparing our electric bills from our old home. I was pleased to see that this month's electric bill was $78.19 compared to this time last year at our old home at $102.41. Figured into our $78 bill now is an outdoor light with a $8+ dollar monthly fee that we didn't pay for at our old home. So, I'm pleased to be seeing a savings so far and I'm looking forward to this winter to compare last winter's bills. However, our goal is to be totally independent of the central heat at some point. We'd like to solely heat with our wood stove as we gain more experience with it and Shawn gets a larger stockpile of firewood cut.

It's also taken some time to figure out how to "work" our earth-berm home. I discovered that, in the summer, I needed to open the windows as soon as the sun went down and the temperature dropped. Then, in the mornings I needed to close all the windows and curtains in order to keep the cool air trapped inside our home. It did make a difference, and fortunately, with our skylights and small northern windows, we still had enough light entering that we didn't have to use the electric lights too often. I will admit that I wasn't excited about this plan because I didn't want to feel like I was living in a cave for the entire summer's daylight hours. However, I discovered that I really spent very little time inside in the summertime. There's way too much stuff to do outside in the garden and orchard at that time of the year. So, coming inside to a cool, relatively dark home was kind of nice.

In the winter, I will need to do the opposite. In the mornings once the sun comes up, I open the south-facing curtains to let the sunlight come in. Doing this helps the house to heat up. In the evenings I close all the curtains up and the heat from the sun is trapped in here to help keep us warm through the night.

So far, things seem to be working well. Granted it's only November. I guess the real test will be February when it's bitter cold, but I'm optimistic.


  1. You are being a good inspiration Janice. I have been too pre-occupied w/ other things to focus on really cutting our energy bills lately. We put in the best insulation we could get locally but I know we need to do some changes here, like change out door seals. Seems I go in spurts, as I cannot do anything in moderation.

  2. Amanda, I don't know about being a good inspiration, I'm just doing this so we don't go broke and freeze to death this winter! You're pretty flattering, but I'm doing this for entirely selfish reasons!