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The Sun Heats His Off-Grid ‘Passive Home’ – Even When It’s 0 Degrees Outside

The Sun Heats His Off-Grid ‘Passive Home’ – Even When It’s 0 Degrees Outside

Although Andrew Michler has been working on his passive house for the past 20 years, he admits it is still very much a work in progress.

Located one hour north of Denver and offering sweeping mountain views, the off-grid project started 20 years ago when Michler bought what he calls “a solar shack” for $60,000. “It immediately fell apart, and I have been fixing it ever since,” he admits.

Michler is modest; he has rebuilt that shack and a former shed on the property into an impressive Passive House, which is an international term for a building that focuses on reducing energy consumption by as much as 90 percent. The passive heating design allows the house to stay warm – about 62 degrees – when it’s -10 degrees Fahrenheit.

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The idea for the Passive House does not come from builders, Michler explains, but from physicists. “This entire building is designed in a spread sheet,” he says, adding, “This house is essentially a thermal battery bank.”

Bright, inviting and warm enough inside to allow you to stand comfortably in front of a large pane window wearing a t-shirt during a harsh Colorado winter, Michler’s home features a simple wedge shape. Along with a southern exposure and a location nestled on a hillside, the home also is wedged between three trees, which offer it an energy-efficient canopy.

Inside, Michler says he “decided to erase any labels from rooms and make it as much a continuous space” as he could. “The idea of walls is counterproductive,” he explains. “They just make a small space smaller.”

Two children visiting the home during a recent video interview are drawn to a large second level net bed that works as a place to sleep or to play. From the net bed, the kids also climb into a high window ledge that beckons them with a commanding view of the surrounding landscape. “It almost has become a little clubhouse space up there,” Michler says as he watches them.

The home’s doors and windows are designed to be air-tight, and Michler says that when they are shut, the home will hold its temperature for days. “It’s like a big thermos,” he comments.

In the small, tidy kitchen, he has used equipment designed for boats, including the cooktop, the cutting board and the countertops. Flooring throughout the home is 80 percent plywood, a decision he says he was nervous about at first. He says the floor has held up well, however, and he points out how the different grains of the floor boards add character to the bedroom.

When Michler built his outside rainwater catch and filtration system, it was contrary to Colorado building laws. Although those rules have now been modified, Michler laments that restrictions ever existed against harnessing a valuable natural resource in the high desert.

Michler says living off-the-grid as he and his wife do is not for everybody, and he admits that some of his neighbors have given up and moved back to urban areas.

“You have to know yourself to be out here for any length of time,” he says. “But it is not just your relationship with yourself, but also with your landscape.”

“The forest is very dynamic. … There is a rawness in the landscape, and the inside (of the home) contains a certain level of rawness too.”

Would you like to live in this type of house? Share your thoughts in the section below: 

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6 comments

  1. What’s the point of this article? How about some details?

  2. OffGrid FL Prepper

    That is NOT a Passive Solar House. A Passive Solar House is direct South Facing structure where the sun is transmitted directly through glass to heat up a floor or a solid Thermal absorption materials mass such as a Black slate floor, which then heats the house. It is way more cost effective to build it and set it up south facing right in the beginning, than this pretend imitation then having to use tubes etc. And this guy has trees blocking his sun exposure. Cut those down as well. I live 100% off the Grid using Solar for electricity, studied Passive Solar and a good book to understand fully the Dynamics of True Passive Solar is this Book: The Passive Solar Energy Book by Edward Mazria This is an expanded professional addition. Also some good websites to check out to calculate your needed solar to over come your electric needs are: PVWatts dot com- Calculator; FreeCleanSolar dot com, Renogy dot com/ calculator Here in FL I am not worried about passive solar heat as winter here only lasts about a month with about a few weeks of cold weather which I use cheap propane to take the chill off. But a true passive Solar is the south facing structure fully exposed with Glass and a thermal Bank to absorb the heat in the structure. Just like your vehicle that sits in the sun and is blazing hot inside when you open the door.

    • Come on man, use your head. Propane only has 94k btu per gallon, diesel fuel has over 188k bus per gallon. Diesel furnaces for sailboats are sitting on the shelf and have over 50 years of proven reliability and safety. I’ve used a diesel furnace no bigger than a lunch box to heat a 400 square foot cabin in Alaska in 45 below weather and that thing will keep you toasted. Think outside the box.

      • OffGrid FL Prepper

        I use my head by living in FL with only about 2 weeks of winter and not 10 months of Alaskan Winter. lol Propane is cheap, and burns clean. And I can burn it in my structure. Try that with Diesel. lol Plus propane will store for decades, and diesel? About 2 years with additives.

  3. It’s refreshing to see some independent thinking. We all can learn more by getting out there and trying things and discovering new things that work. Great inspiration for all of us to get busy and do something with our lives. Keep thinking outside the box. New track homes today are still built with 200 year old technology and outdated thinking.

  4. How about Fuel oil, is it cheep, readily available, BTU’s per gallon and how long does it last. I also have plenty of wood.

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