Face your lodge to meet the rising sun. Several times when I asked how a camp was a Lakota elder I had the privilege would say something including “E-t’ay Wah-Kay’-ah Ee-hon’-nah Wee-se’nah-pay”. Which vaguely meant “face your lodge to the morning sun” and all was good. It was usually followed by that phrase “Sell-ee”-oh-tah’kah” meaning “sit down here”.
As I have moved around the west the last decades on gravel roads it became apparent to me whether a ranch or house was built by someone who knew the country and the weather for our vicinity. Most Native Americans and early settlers either placed their living quarters near a water source in the shelter of trees or hills, or they built on the west slope of a gentle hill just below the top of the ridge.
There were a number of reasons for this including dominant winds, solar exposure and some spiritual beliefs. Both native lodges (called tipis by us Wasichu) and cabins were a lot easier to keep warm when they look east. The morning sun provides the first heat in a segment of the day which often has less wind to pull it out of living quarters. Often the bulk of earth or trees behind the lodging reduced the wind effect. If you had a spring or well nearby, having your location up the slope also reduced your flooding risk and increased your view. In addition, having the morning sun start your day is always fairly positive.
More recently we have homes which can almost establish a water supply anywhere allowing them to be built anywhere. A number of new homes have been established right up on top of ridges where the winds can be ferocious but provide an amazing view. This is especially the case with incoming storms and snows.
Studies conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Colorado State University demonstrate that building homes on wind prone locations can increase energy costs by 25-34% each year despite the efficiency of home design. This can generate huge heating costs and additional investment in wind-proofing doors, windows and joints. In comparison homes which partially utilized the earth to block energy loss referred to as “earth-sheltered homes” can reduce energy costs by buffering your home’s temperature change.
There are some down sides to building up a lee side of a slope away from dominant winds in that you will have to establish some drainage patterns to keep moisture from seeping into your home. In addition, if you do not pay attention to snow drift patterns it may build around your home and insulate it even more from temperatures. And you may have to plan your approach along the hill since snow may drift below your home (good garden location). Also pioneer type energy efficient homes do not usually have good sunset views but you can always watch the colors move across the valley to the east.
Homes built above the flood plain which face south or southeast away from our dominant winds are also good candidates for solar systems. Make sure you learn the dominant winds in a specific area, speak to someone who understands snow drifting, and check out your soils and water if you’re a planning a new home site.
The energy sustainability of homes built in harmony with the landscape is much greater than building a home and then trying to establish windbreaks. If you already have an established home which has energy challenges jump into a consideration of windbreaks.
Here is hoping the warm morning sun meets you every day and your lodge flap is open to friends.