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Notes from the Farm

Posted 11/28/2007 7:00am by Leaf Myczack.

The community weather climate is influenced somewhat by the collective micro-climates it contains. For example, a tree filled neighborhood, with minimal vehicle traffic will normally be slightly cooler on a summer day than say a commercial strip along a major thoroughfare. It can even subtly change from yard to yard depending on the topography, vegetation, shade area, etc. Most micro-climate areas around a house and yard will occur where there is summertime shelter from the hot sun, and wintertime protection from cold winds. Above ambient moisture such as found with a creek, pond, or water-garden, or even roof runoff, will also produce a micro-climate.

So why are micro-climates important? Let's begin from a strictly economic perspective. If you had the ability to positively alter the temperature around your house a few degrees year round, you would significantly lower your energy consumption. Energy costs are on an upward trajectory and they will only get more expensive.

The two weather conditions we face are heat and cold. One low cost, natural factor that can address both issue are trees. By planting the right type of tree in the right location, one can block summer sun and winter wind with equal efficiency. Conversely, it would be counter-productive to block summer breezes and the winter sun. So it is very important to plant the proper type tree in the proper location.

Our farmhouse was built as a low cost "starter house" with a conventional design based on the road rather than the sun direction. The majority of glass was on the north side (facing the road), while the south wall had large solid runs punctuated only by two small and one regular size windows. Deciduous trees were planted on the north and east sides of the house, while pines were planted slightly away from the house on the SE and SW corners of the yard area. The pines were too far from the house to shade it in the summer, but with the lower angle of the winter sun, they effectively blocked most of the daily winter sun.

This misplacement of the trees, and the poorly located windows in the house, caused the house to be colder in the winter and hotter in the summer. In other words, it cost a lot of fossil fuel energy to keep this house at a comfortable temperature for the occupants. Even though it is a small and simple house, it was disproportionably expensive to heat and cool.

Our need for an energy efficient farm operation prompted us to undertake a short and long-term strategy that would drastically cut our utility supplied energy consumption. You can read the details of our plan in a previous blog, tagged-Cutting the electric bill without cutting comfort. (click on the sidebar tag) Much of the long-term energy savings will come about from landscape work.

On farms of my boyhood, tree lined wind brakes protected fields, crops, and buildings from harsh New England winter winds. Somehow we have forgotten the basics of shelter design with the advent of cheap fossil fuel energy. However, now energy, both economically and environmentally, has gotten much costlier.

We can meet this energy challenge through intelligent design principals that are quite ancient in their wisdom. The answers are in the natural world-all around us. We just have to be observant enough to understand the message provided by the micro-climates we experience around us.