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Book: The Natural House, Daniel D. Chiras

November 21st, 2006

The Natural House, Daniel D. Chiras
ISBN: 1-890132-57-8

The first half of this book, while interesting, was dedicated to alternate forms of home construction (cob, rammed earth, straw bale, etc.) that aren’t of much use for our particular project; The city isn’t quite ready to have folks try out these methods in locales where their house can actually fall on another house.

But the second half is chock full of very practical suggestions to keep in mind when designing a house. One suggestion in particular came to mind yesterday, after our furnace received its winter maintenance visit.

“Don’t pay extra to give your heating contractor peace of mind.”

The technician indicated that our 26 year old furnace was putting out 90,000 BTU, whereas our small house probably needed 45,000 BTU “at the very most.”

According to the book (and as was apparently the case when our furnace was bought) most heating contractors will over estimate the amount of heating you need for your home. This happens, if not for the unscrupulous reason that they get to sell you a bigger furnace, because they don’t want your furnace to be unable to adequately heat your house.

But consider this: when have you ever encountered a house who’s furnace couldn’t heat the house? Indeed, it probably stayed off most of the time and came on from time to time to blast the temperature up a couple of degrees and then shut down again.

This can’t be more efficient than a system that runs steadily. To my thinking, a furnace which is the ‘right size’ for your house is one that has to run constantly on the coldest day of the year to keep your house at a comfortable temperature.

And what happens if you have an unusually cold run of weather for your region? It’s not as if the furnace, unable to maintain 22°C will drop to 0°C. If it can’t keep up, it might become 19°C and you’ll have to put on a sweater, or run an electric space heater when and where you need it.

Obviously electric heat is expensive, but just think how much is wasted by running an over-sized furnace every winter, compared with running an electric heater for a few hours on a couple record-breaking cold days in a rare extra-cold year?

But I think I’ve digressed…

The Natural House also covers topics on insulation, window technologies, flooring, non-toxic paints, solar electricity, solar water heating, and much more. It’s a great read for anyone trying to get to the crux of what they need to know about the materials that go into their home.

Follow-up: Properly sizing mechanical systems

Posted by Colin