Solar addition boasts indoor garden, water savings

by Julian Traista
(Worthington, MA)

Passive solar sunroom/greenhouse

Passive solar sunroom/greenhouse

LAURA RODLEY

Julian Traista, owner of Welcome Home Green Building, kneels next to the Finnish-designed masonry stove he installed in his Harvey Road home three years ago. The home’s new sunroom includes solar windows and an indoor garden that is watered using runoff from the home’s roof.
The dozen people who turned out March 21 for the open house for Julian Traista’s business, Welcome Home Green Building, were able to get a close-up look at the new sunroom addition he has built at his Harvey Road home, where he lives with his wife, Joa Agnello-Traista, a massage therapist and sound therapist.
Julian’s answer to having solar heat at an affordable price, the addition is made of panes of high performance solar insulated glass, approximately 4 by 9′ 6″ feet each, that face southeast on the first and second floor. He catches runoff from the roof, allowing the water to flow down a gleaming gray metal chain into rain barrels, to catch the light, rather than enclosing the water in a gutter.

“When the sun shines through it, it’s just magical,” he said.

Traista uses the water for his garden, which is built inside on the first floor. It is inset against the right wall and has a dirt floor, just as a garden would outside. The water from the roof is stored in barrels inside that he uses to water the garden with a hose. Any runoff from watering the garden flows directly into the ground.

The rest of the room’s floor is made of a 10-inch slab of combined concrete and stone that absorbs available heat from the sun, and releases it at night.

“This (garden) is how the whole thing was born. I believe in self-sufficiency. The greenhouse is a must-have,” he said.

Side windows release the heat, termed “solar gain,” for a passive self-ventilation system, he said. A 6-foot diameter ceiling fan circulates the heat. Noticeably missing was any condensation on the windows, a usual side effect in greenhouses.

“There is a free circulation of air so there is no condensation buildup,” he said.

Upstairs in the sunroom the glass is tinted so the sun shines gently. A large gray tabby cat named Pepino sprawls on the rug. Once a stray, he entered the yard just as Traista started building the addition last spring and moved in.

“He thinks I built it just for him,” he said.

The addition includes a Finnish/contraflow design masonry stove, which Traista installed three years ago. The major difference between a regular stove and this stove is that it reaches 2,000 degrees F, he said. Since wood gases ignite at 1,200 F and burn off, the stove burns clean, leaving no creosote buildup, he said. One two-hour hot fire creates 24 hours of warmth. The only drawback is that a freezing house takes three hours to warm up. The stove has an inside core and an outside “skin” made of concrete blocks, stones, brick or soapstone, both which store heat.

Meanwhile, Joa Agnello-Traista has been studying Ayurveda medicine at the Kripalu School in Lenox. Ayurvedic medicine is used in eastern India as the traditional medicine, using herbs, massage, yoga and foods; it is taught as alternative medicine in the United States.

“I love it; it’s wisdom channeled through thousands of years, learning to stay balanced in nature,” she said. Together, she and Traista conduct healing-sound groups in Florence, with Himalayan bowls, crystal bowls and their voices.

“The process taught us how to listen to each other and connect to nature,” said Traista, and in turn, to apply it to his building.

“It helps me to connect and really hear what the customer wants,” he said, “rather than me telling them how it is built.”

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