200 Year-Old Sustainable Design

200 Year-Old Sustainable Design

With an uncertain climate future, sustainable building design is a hot topic today.

But sustainable design is nothing new. It has been an important feature of human architecture for a long time. 19th century farmers like the Towne Family, the original owners of the ifarm land, did not have access to vast power sources, central heating, or air conditioning. Instead they designed sturdy buildings that could passively regulate temperature.

Their methods are still essential practices in sustainable design today.

Sustainable Design at ifarm

Solar Orientation: The ifarm farmhouse (constructed in 1790) and the majority of its windows are oriented to the south, which captures sunlight from the low-hanging winter sun. In summer, the sun is at a much higher angle in the sky, so the south-facing windows do not get too hot.

ifarm farmhouse

Thermal Mass: Densely packed earth is a great insulator. Cellars and basements stay cooler in the summer because the earth insulates them. The ifarm barn (built circa 1870) has a stonewalled root cellar, which stays cool in the summer and above freezing in the winter. It functions as a refrigerator without any energy cost.

Harness Natural Forces: Wind and solar power are common examples of harnessing natural forces. ifarm has a water tower (installed circa 1900) near the farmhouse that uses gravity to “pump” water.

The 3,300-gallon water tower is placed on a small hill that overlooks the farm, which pressurizes the water. The tower was an insurance policy in case of drought, but it also meant the Townes did not have to carry water each day as long as they kept the water tower full. They could rely on gravity to run water anywhere on the farm.

1900 watertowerimg_4473

Originally the Townes had a windmill that used wind power to pump water from Towne Pond into the water tower. This combination of wind and gravity power meant the Towne family could outsource a significant amount of work to nature. That is permaculture and intelligent design in action!

Timber Framing: Timber Framing was the main building style of the 19th century because of its longevity.

Today we build with dimensional lumber (two by fours) to uniformly support the weight of a house. Thin dimensional lumber is easily damaged by rot or strong weather. In the case of serious damage, this style of house (called stick framing by timber framers) is difficult to maintain because it can become dangerously weakened and be difficult to support while restoring.

Timber frames are stronger and much easier to maintain because the large load-bearing timbers are fewer, more rot resistant, and simpler to replace. It is also far more efficient to use large timbers for building, because cutting a tree into dimensional lumber creates waste. Timber frames are built to last for centuries, rather than decades. Read more about the unique ifarm timber frames here.

As you can see, the Townes designed their farm with sustainability, conservation, and economy in mind!

Today ifarm has uses other sustainable approaches and technologies. Click below to learn more about our solar panels, solar herb dryer, draft horse power, and permaculture garden.

2 Comments
  • Randolph Johnson
    Posted at 11:06h, 27 January Reply

    Great, clear explanation of a timber frame.

    • Nick Shrewsbury
      Posted at 09:45h, 21 February Reply

      Thanks Randolph! Glad you enjoyed it.

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