Most of the houses and apartments in the industrialized world are products of the fossil fuel age, built with the expectation of a boundless supply of cheap energy for heating, cooling, and transportation. That’s all coming to an end now, so thoughtful men and women are planning for a new paradigm about the way we we design our living spaces.

  • They will be smaller
  • They will be closer together
  • They will be oriented toward the sun rather than toward the street
  • They will be designed to be naturally warm in the winter and cool in the summer
  • They will be part of communities built around shared solar rights, shared security, and an interdependent local economy.

So what will become of the McMansions that represent so much wealth in our modern economies? There’s a real challenge, isn’t it? As built, most modern large homes are dinosaurs, too large and poorly designed to maintain in the post-petroleum world by anyone but the wealthiest of the wealthy. We tell ourselves that we are ingenious; this will be our chance to prove it. Those of us who own large homes will pursue several different strategies to make our homes livable after cheap energy is gone:

  • We will add lots of new insulation to them
  • We will fit them with interval metering to shift our use of power from times when it is most expensive to times when it costs less
  • We will live in parts of them and abandon the rest of them to storage
  • We will invite others to live with us in them to share expenses
  • We will retrofit them with root cellars and other climate-appropriate amenities to maximize food storage options
  • We will use a variety of tricks and tools to shade glass from the summer sun and open glass to the winter sun.
  • We will block off west-facing and some east-facing glass
  • We will add insulating shutters around windows to minimize heat loss
  • We will abandon some houses entirely, cannibalizing their parts to build smaller, more efficient houses on the same lot
  • We will do other things Lee and Amanda aren’t smart enough to anticipate, because Lee and Amanda aren’t as smart as you are about your house.

Do you sense a continuing theme here? The very first thing you must do to design effective shelter (at least in the northern hemisphere) is to know where South is.