Houses should be comfortable at all times with very little energy inputs. Comfort in a home is not about air temperature. Of course, the temp of the air has a role to play in comfort, but it is not nearly as important as the radiant surface temperature of all the materials in the home. It’s very simple to understand. In the winter, if you sit by a warm woodstove, you will feel the warmth of its radiation. You are colder than the surface of the woodstove, so it radiates heat at you. The same is true when the high desert sun warms your skin. In the winter, you want your walls and floor to warm you. Hot air blowing out of a duct will not warm you up, it will leave you feeling cold and dried out. Our homes are packed with thermal mass to regulate the air temperature and radiate heat to you, to warm you like the sun does. The building envelope prevents drafts and insulates all the mass inside, preserving the warmth. It keeps the heat in and the cold out.
The same principles of radiant surface temperatures work in the summer. You are hot, the insulated mass is cool. When you are in the home, you radiate your heat energy and it is absorbed by the mass of the home. The air sealing and insulation keep the heat out. You stay comfortable. No need to use energy to power an air conditioner in this home. Without doing anything, you will feel cool and comfortable in the summer when inside.
Our homes are meticulously weatherproofed, air-sealed and insulated. The way we build keeps water out, stops air movement to and from outside and allows for breathing of vapor as the seasons change. Our homes will be comfortable year round, from taking in the sun’s radiation during the cooler months and storing it in the mass of the floor, giving you a cool space to enjoy and escape the heat of the summer. All of this happens passively due to design. Warm in the winter, cool in the summer. The ancient Puebloans of the Sangre de Cristos understood this, the Spanish settlers also understood these building principles. Our houses use modern materials, and up to date building science principles, but accomplishes the same comfortable outcomes.
With an air-tight house, there are many benefits. The home requires less energy to heat, as none is escaping. Another benefit is that you prevent mold from forming in your walls. When warm moist air from inside finds its way through small cracks and holes, it hits the cold exterior of your building. From there, it will condense, form water droplets and start rotting the wood and feeding mold. A tight home eliminates this problem.
But what about fresh air? Two ways to keep it fresh and healthy. One is to open the windows; old fashioned, but it works great. In the summer, the windows will allow for cooling of the insulated thermal mass of the house. Opening windows at night and closing the windows in the morning will keep the house very comfortable and cool. But we live in the high desert. There can be blowing sand, dust and pollen at times that one might not want in the home. Also, in the winter, you might not wish for cold air to be brought in. That is where a heat recovery ventilator comes in.
This device (an HRV) keeps a constant supply of fresh and filtered air coming in, 24 hours a day. In the winter, it exchanges the stale air from the home with filtered fresh air from outside. It does so in a way that the heat energy is exchanged to the fresh incoming air to recover the heat, so it’s not lost to the outside. This ensures you always have fresh clean air to breathe in the home, without sacrificing energy efficiency.
Radon must be considered as well. Radon occurs naturally in the soil here. Some lots, more than others. We take no chances with radon. In all of our homes, below the slab, there is a 15 mil vapor barrier and radon collection system. This prevents any soil gasses from entering the building envelope. This is a passive system that vents out of the roof and requires zero upkeep or maintenance. If there are any harmful soil gasses, such as radon, it will not enter the home.