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A Backwoods Home Anthology INDEPENDENT ENERGY

Cool your home with this simple device
while you also meet your hot water needs
By Rev. J.D. Hooker concept remained a constant with each system. Additionally many of these
individual cooling system they “backswamp homes,” had been built
y first encounters with the

M possibilities of solar cooling
came in the early 1970s
shortly after my wife and I first mar-
designed for their own homes.
The heart of these systems wasn’t
anything more elaborate than a large
hollow chimney-like structure fash-
up on stilts, off of the swampy ground.
These usually had grate-like openings
in their floors, allowing cooler air
from the shaded area underneath the
ried. For a few years we lived on ioned of wood, masonry, HVAC dwelling to be drawn into the cycle as
Florida’s swampy Gulf Coast. The (heating, ventilating, and air-condi- well.
winters there were great with tempera- tioning) leftovers, stuccoed palm While several further improvements
tures that were never actually cold, blocks (a sort of cordwood masonry are readily adapted into this sort of
and it rarely got hot. But the summers that consists of pieces of palm logs), system, the very first and most useful
were a different animal—hot and or whatever was easily available. Near option I’d recommend would be
humid, both with a capital H. the top of the structure would be a installing the flat black “solar collec-
At least out-of-doors, you might large glazed window, often using tor” to provide for your hot-water
catch a cooling breeze coming in off Plexiglas or clear plastic sheeting needs as well, especially since adding
the Gulf. But once the ever-present rather than more expensive window the heat-storing capacity of the water
mosquitoes (Florida’s Gulf Coast is glass. Opposite the window, the inside in such a system will increase the effi-
often referred to as the “Mosquito of this “chimney” was painted flat ciency of the whole system anyway.
Coast”) and other biting insects black and often this side of the struc- The solar heat stored in the heated
chased you back inside, if you didn’t ture’s interior was lined with corrugat- water is sufficient to keep the cooling
have air-conditioning, or at least a ed metal roofing to provide a little draft and chimney effect working right
whole-house fan system, you just more heat absorbing surface area. on through the sunless nighttime
sweltered and suffered. A large opening (or openings in hours.
Several of the men I worked with, some cases) near the bottom of the Shown in the illustrations is one
pouring concrete on construction sites, chimney-like structure formed an air easy method for putting together a
were outright “swamp rats.” More inlet. As the black interior of this simple solar powered water heater for
than a few didn’t have addresses or structure absorbed heat from the sun’s inclusion in this system. Using flat
even any sort of roads leading back to rays, the temperature of the air inside black painted plastic water pipe, in
their swamp-land homes. Their daily increased. Once this heated air started addition to the already black interior
“commutes” to and from work includ- rising upwards, exhausting through of the chimney, will increase even the
ed at least a couple of miles of travel the chimney’s top, air from inside of daytime efficiency of the whole sys-
by air-boat or out-board equipped the dwelling would be drawn into the tem a little while heating your water.
canoe. chimney through the bottom air By providing a somewhat faster air-
Though generally a pretty rugged inlet—which of course, would suck exchange rate, a stronger, more cool-
and tough bunch, most of these men outdoor air into the house through the ing breeze will develop. However,
were pretty outgoing and friendly. many doors and windows. black painted copper or galvanized
Several invited us over to meet their I should also mention that, in addi- water piping, or even dark colored
families and to let me see how they’d tion to having some sort of rain-cap garden hose, will work just about as
adapted their own homes to temper atop the structure, each of these sys- well as the plastic pipe. So it should
Florida’s intense summer heat. tem also had every opening covered be easy to adapt your own ideas and
All of their ingenious cooling sys- with fine mesh to prevent the ever- available materials for use here.
tems were based on one very simple present insects from finding an easy I probably need to include a couple
principal: that hotter air always rises, way into the house. of short words of caution here. Even
so heated air going out through the top All of the different parts of this sys- though many folks wouldn’t think so,
of a flue must, therefore, draw cooler tem worked together to create a nice, this or any solar water heating system
air in at its base. sort of breezy, cooling effect which can be just as prone to building up
Though I ran into several variations was remarkably similar to that of any enough heat to cause an excessive
on this general theme, that same basic electrically-powered whole-house fan build up of pressure, as can any other

248 The Eighth Year
A Backwoods Home Anthology

water heating system, no matter how they did was drape burlap feed sacks cult to retrofit such a system right in
it’s fueled. So, not including a rela- over all of the windows and doorways the middle of your existing home, it’s
tively inexpensive pressure relief (covering the floor grates where normally not very complex at all to
valve would just be like begging for applicable would also help) of his center such a structure on one of the
trouble here. Also, while possibly desert, dirt-hued, self-built rock and longer exterior walls.
unneeded in many tropical areas, in adobe dwelling. They set an old Anyone considering including some
more temperate climates you’ll need a water-filled coffee can, pitcher, or sort of cooling system in their plans
means of draining and bypassing this other container on a shelf over each for any sort of a building should take a
system during the winter months. opening. They then attached a sort of serious look at this type of solar cool-
Another valuable addition to the burlap tail strip from the inside of the ing system. While this really can’t
basic design is much simpler, and it’s can to the burlap window covering approach the cooling effects of a stan-
quickly put into practice. I first where it was pinned. These tail strips dard electrically-powered central air-
encountered this ingenious adaptation act like wicks to keep the burlap cur- conditioning system, it can very readi-
at the remote home of a long time tains always damp, adding a constant ly equal the comfort level of any elec-
friend who was a Vietnam War “tun- evaporative cooling effect to the air trically-run whole-house fan system,
nel rat” now turned Arizona desert rat. drawn in through the doors and win- without any monetary outlay for man-
Along with his unofficial, immigrant dows, and it kept the inside of his ufactured energy, and without any
“wife,” he has raised a mess of unoffi- remote “owl-hoot” much more com- moving parts to break down or wear
cial kids (five boys, two girls, with no fortable than I would ever have out. In fact, with only a little minor
birth certificates, no hospital, immu- expected. and occasional routine maintenance
nization, dental, educational, police, It also seems well worth pointing (repainting, recaulking, etc.) this type
or other records). All of them are as out that the more centrally you can of system is capable of reliably pro-
well adapted to their parched sur- locate such a system, the greater its viding free cooling and free hot water
roundings as any of the wild creatures effectiveness seems to be. But, while for at least a couple of lifetimes. Not a
sharing their desert domain. What in many cases it might be pretty diffi- bad investment in my opinion. ∆

The Eighth Year 249