Longtime UUCA member Patricia Emerson was green before green was all the rage. She participated in the very first Earth Day in 1970, and after that event, Patricia “made a decision to change my life,” she shared.

During that time, she served on the boards of the Passive Solar Coalition and Solar Coalition and, due mostly to major life changes which altered her finances, Patricia moved to to build a passive solar home. “I had just been awarded my PhD, and my marriage was breaking up.” Her new job as a psychologist at a state mental health facility paid only $12,500. Her husband earned over $80,000 but became depressed, chose to pursue other interests, and stopped working. Patricia’s solo salary could not sustain the household. 

The couple divorced, and Patricia sold their large house on Moores Mill Rd. When contemplating her next move, she knew she wanted to build a solar-powered home. “At first I was thinking of active solar with panels,” she said. “I visited a gentleman at an ice rink near Newnan that had solar panels on its roof. He told me that the panels did not work well in Georgia because of the angle on the roof.”

That led her to find someone to design a passive solar home, and that someone was Kelly Jordan, a draftsman and close friend. They set out to design a house to be located on extra land down from her old home on Moores Mill Rd. The duo scrapped their initial design in favor of a parcel in Lake Claire, where the larger frontage would allow them to maximize sun exposure. 

The angle of the sun changes throughout the year, so a well-designed home can let in the sun in the winter while blocking it in the summer.

“Passive solar design refers to the use of the sun’s energy for the heating and cooling of living spaces by exposure to the sun, this Williams College source explains. “When sunlight strikes a building, the building materials can reflect, transmit, or absorb the solar radiation. In addition, the heat produced by the sun causes air movement that can be predictable in designed spaces. These basic responses to solar heat lead to design elements, material choices and placements that can provide heating and cooling effects in a home. Unlike active solar heating systems, passive systems are simple and do not involve substantial use of mechanical and electrical devices, such as pumps, fans, or electrical controls to move the solar energy.”

Patricia lucked into Lake Claire property. “This lot was only available because a child playing with matches had burned down the house. Two neighbors were using it as a parking lot. The price of the lot was only $5,000,” she said.

The new lot required Patricia and Kelly to come up with a different design, and they brought in an engineer to calculate the optimal angle of the house. Solar wasn’t the only driving force behind the design. Patricia wanted a single story house that she could age with and navigate in a wheelchair if needed. “Since I had polio as a teenager, this was more a reality for me than most people of my age,” she said. “I am very short and wanted a vanity height kitchen with no cabinets that I had to use a ladder to reach. I have extreme allergies and wanted as little toxic building material as possible.”

Patricia’s private practice necessitated an office, and she preferred less square footage and small rooms. “I was not keen on my three children moving back home,” she admitted.

The resulting house was built with 4×6” boards rather than standard 2×4” boards, allowing more space for insulation. Patricia explained that it is important to do everything possible to minimize the heat loss to the living space. “The design of the house used materials that would absorb the sun’s rays, so the floor is quarry tile,” she said. “A huge chimney was built, and the brick became part of the mass to absorb the sun.”

Thanks to the smart design, “the summer sun stops at the window sill, and the winter sun floods the living room,” Patricia said. Her all-electric home has relatively low utility costs, but most important is how it has addressed multiple priorities: energy and financial savings, allergy control, low maintenance requirements, and accommodation of long-term aging in place.

Learn more about passive solar design here, and take a moment to speak with Patricia at an upcoming service about her pioneering home. If you have creatively addressed our climate situation, we would love to feature your story. Email us here!

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JOURNEY WITH US: The Climate Action Team is for you. Yes, you. Because you want to act on your love for the planet and because you need caring companions as you navigate these changing times. Learn all about the group here, and check out our lending library and Carbon Offset Fund. Contact Nicole Haines to connect to the CAT and join us for our next Zoom meeting on Oct. 16.