The Farmhouse Media
Content writing for the architecture, construction, and urban planning industries


The Home Used to Be the Machine. Now It’s Filled With Machines

I found this article interesting, and have been considering a similar idea recently: the house as machine. One commenter even used the same phrase. 

Solar vs. Superinsulation

My point is this: homes of the past did a better job, in some ways, of adapting to the changing weather. Houses in hot climates incorporated high ceilings and transom windows, with multiple windows arranged to encourage breezes to flow. Homes in cold climates incorporated small rooms around the heat source, and sometimes were earth sheltered. Actually, earth-sheltering is an effective strategy in all climates, though not on every site.

Back before we had such abundant and portable energy such as natural gas and oil, buildings were built to be heated and cooled without machines specific to those tasks. There was no machine to add to the house that would provide abundant cool air, for example, and an affordable heater was a wood stove. Most of those homes were quite small by today’s standards.

Homes of the past certainly had problems, as air-sealing and insulation were not well understood. Many homeowners created a sickening fire hazard by extending their wood stove chimney in all directions to capture the most heat possible before the smoke escaped outside. People who could afford one employed a metal pan called a bed warmer, often filled with hot coals. Slight fire hazard? Houses tended to be drafty, and therefore well ventilated.

In the last few decades we’ve replaced good, regional design with more machines. More machines require more energy, and that leads us to the energy-guzzling homes of today, with homes all over the country adopting a more-or-less standard suburban architectural style (McMansion) that wastes energy like mad. 

A home in the desert southwest, for example, should minimize the number of windows that face the southern and western sun. Homes located where there's a lot of snow need a steeply pitched roof. Most homes built in suburbia aren't designed this way, though, and are oriented to the street, with a huge air conditioner blasting away much of the year.

As the article states, the oil embargo in the 1970s got the efficient-home movement rolling, with great advances made. Builders and architects used superinsulation and passive solar design to cut down on energy requirements, and are two of the most important components of efficient homes today. 

A passive-solar home with thick walls for a hot climate.

A passive-solar home with thick walls for a hot climate.

An earth-sheltered home.

An earth-sheltered home.