The Longleaf Breeze Construction Method 3

We’ve adopted a shorthand here on the farm for the ways we built the barn, and the way we intend to build the lodge. I decided to add this post to describe all that we mean when we say someone should or could use the “Longleaf Breeze Method.”

We didn’t set out to develop a method; we just wanted to have a pleasant place to live and keep our energy costs low. What we’ve done is freely available to others, however, and so far, it seems to be working smoothly. Here are the elements.

Keep it small. This is first because it’s the most important. Nothing else we do makes much sense without it. You can cover a multitude of sins by keeping a living space tiny. That doesn’t mean the rest of the structure needs to be tiny, but it does mean that the portion we keep heated and/or cooled needs to be as small as possible. So many things that others might incorporate into the living space, like the washing machine and the office where I handle paperwork, are in unconditioned space.

Splurge on casement windows and doors. Not on the number, but on the quality. We saved money on style (plain white, fiberglass), but we paid extra for double-pane windows that fit well and close tightly. We also let the salesman talk us into “Low-E” glass, which was a mistake. The Low-E feature of the glass actually works against us when we

Soak up direct sunshine in the winter, close it out in the summer. Our windows are clustered high on the south wall under a generous overhang, so that they drink in direct sunshine in the winter when the sun is low and get no direct sunshine in the summer when the sun is high in the sky. In Alabama where we live, if it’s going to be really cold tonight (really cold for us is in the teens), it’s going to be really clear and sunny today. So we get the most passive solar heating on the days we need it the most.

Just as important is thoughtful positioning of windows to admit no direct sun in the heat of the day during the warmest months of the year. We have no windows on the west side of the building other than a bathroom window that opens onto the screen porch and a full daylight door on the south wall. The bathroom window never gets sun because by the end of the day the sun is north of true west. The daylight door gets a little direct sun, but only at the very end of the day when the sunlight is most filtered. The price we pay for that is that our screen porch on the west end of the building is downright unpleasant on a summer afternoon. When we need a place to relax outside on a summer afternoon we hang out on the unscreened front porch which has been shaded all day, truly one of the coolest places on the planet. The windows on the east side of the apartment open onto the front porch and admit no direct sunlight ever.


The barn from the SW

Splurge on insulation. We had wanted to use dense-pack cellulose insulation, but we ended up having to use blown-in spray foam instead because of the way we built the apartment. The embedded energy of foam insulation is absurdly high, but it sure works well. We have at least 5 1/2 inches in the ceiling and at least 3 1/2 inches in all the walls, including the wall between the apartment and the shop.

Light-colored metal roof that’s completely separated from the living space. We have thin insulation immediately below the roof, then a generous air space, then decking above the apartment, then generous insulation, and then the sheetrock ceiling. By doing this, we have eliminated the single greatest heat load in most homes in the United States, the heating that comes in from the roof and attic.

Protect the living space from the north and northwest wind. The breeze at Longleaf Breeze truly comes from many different directions and changes constantly, but in the winter the coldest winds blow from the north and the northwest. Near the end of our planning process we realized that we could make a subtle change or two and use the shop and storage room to buffer the apartment from that coldest wind. We’re not always aware of what a difference this makes in the winter when we’re snug and warm despite a cold wind, but I’m reminded of it when I go over and work in the shop. You can hear that wind slapping up against the metal wall of the shop and almost feel its frustration when it gets stopped short of the apartment.

Don’t scrimp on the ceiling fans. Moving air always feels cooler than still air. That’s why forced air heat is so inefficient. We’ve always loved ceiling fans even in our suburban home, so one of the first decisions we made in the process of planning to live without air conditioning was to equip our little home thoroughly with ceiling fans. The apartment has one, the shop has one, the front porch has two, and the back porch has two. So in our little pole barn residence, we have six ceiling fans. We’ve not used them a great deal yet, because we haven’t lived through a summer yet. If I’m a real man, I’ll remember either to update this post or to add a comment to it after the summer is complete.

No trees overhanging the residence. This one hurts, because Amanda and I love trees and have always enjoyed living among them. We’re planning to harvest rainwater from our roof, however, and rainwater harvesting and overhanging trees just don’t play well together. And we like keeping the obstructions to the sun at a minimum so we can get lots of passive solar heating in the winter. Everyone assumes that we should be using trees to shade our residence, but honestly, the metal roof works better. And later on, when we add solar water heating, we’ll be grateful for the unfiltered solar radiation on the rooftop collectors.

Limit ceiling penetrations. We Americans love to mount things in our ceilings. We have skylights, exhaust fans, HVAC vents, and chimneys for this and that. Every time we penetrate the ceiling, we make it harder to maintain a temperature differential between the inside and the outside, particularly in the winter when the warm air looks for a place to rise. We resisted the temptation to mount sunlamps in the ceiling, opting instead to mount the heat lamps on the surface, hanging down into the living space. Amanda and I did decide to allow two ceiling penetrations, however, which are the last two features of the Longleaf Breeze Method.

Wood heat. As regular readers surely know by now, we couldn’t be more happy with our Regency F1100 wood-burning stove. If you want to know more about it, just enter “Regency” or “wood stove” in the search box above. We could have vented the chimney through the wall instead of through the ceiling, but we chose the ceiling because the straight vertical chimney promised the best draw to keep fires burning well. In retrospect, that was a good decision. One of the things we love the most about our stove is how easy it is to build a fire in it and to keep the fire going until the wood is reduced to ash. Our wood stove gets its combustion air from the outside. If it didn’t, it would need to pull combustion air from the living space, which would create a vacuum in the living space that would tend to increase air leakage through windows and doors.

One of the other things we love most about our wood stove is that the warm air gets distributed naturally by convection so there’s no need for fans. It makes the apartment feel warm and cozy not to have fans running, and it’s also quieter.

Stack ceiling window(s). We have one small window mounted in the ceiling. We keep it closed during the winter and open during the summer, when it acts to exhaust the warmest air in the apartment and pull in cooler air. We chose to mount it over the refrigerator so that the warm air generated by the refrigerator’s coils go straight out of the apartment. It’s late April as I post this, and we have not yet felt the need to open the stack window because the mornings are still pretty cool. My guess now is that we’ll choose to open it sometime in May.

Building a home using the Longleaf Breeze Method isn’t expensive. The core structure is a simple pole barn with a metal roof on trusses supported by 6 x 6 treated pine posts. Pretty simple. Yes, we spent extra money on some parts of the project like windows and insulation, but we more than made up for it by limiting the size of the conditioned space.

It’s too soon to tell whether the Longleaf Breeze Method is going to be well-suited for the summer here in central Alabama. Conventional wisdom is that you just must have air conditioning to survive the summer here, not only because it’s hot but also because it’s wickedly humid. We have purchased and installed a small room air conditioner here in the apartment, so if we become so miserable we can’t stand it we’ll turn it on. We hope we won’t need it, though. It sure would be nice to keep through the summer these low power bills we have enjoyed in the winter.

We are particularly interested in how the apartment performs this summer, because we’ll base our decision whether to build the lodge (about 200 feet up the hill from the barn) on how the apartment in the barn performs in July and August. If it works well and we need little or no air conditioning, we can afford to build the lodge soon using the same approach. If not, we’ll need to wait until we can afford a more expensive approach like an elaborate ventilation stack.

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3 thoughts on “The Longleaf Breeze Construction Method

  • Lee

    This is a long overdue update on the functionality of the Longleaf Breeze Method. Having lived through two summers now, I can say that we have lived comfortably without air conditioning in central Alabama but that our guests don’t find our home “cool.” That tells me that one of the most important ways we have adjusted to life without air conditioning is that we simply have gotten used to it.

    We’ve determined that our little home is ridiculously easy to keep warm in the winter and more challenging to keep cool in the summer. So there are two changes we’re making to the lodge to “tweak” the design. First, the ceiling height in the lodge is nine feet rather than eight feet. That will make it harder to keep warm and easier to keep cool. Second, the lodge has a full complement of north-facing windows, so we’re hoping to have true four-direction cross ventilation in the lodge, in contrast to the three-direction airflow in the barn. Yes, those north-facing windows will make the bedrooms colder in the winter, but that’s a price we now believe it makes sense to pay for the benefit of more comfortable summers.

    The lodge is fully equipped with a heat pump, so when we need to crank it down to 76 degrees in the summer we will be able to do so. We hope to do this rarely, though, because we’re designing the lodge to be comfortable without it. And we anticipate a time when turning on a massive energy-sucking appliance like a heat pump will be deemed a silly extravagance.