Solar-passive House Testimonials

Photo of a birthday party in the solar-passive house

Birthday Group

Family members visited the solar-passive house in Monash Street, Manilla, NSW, in Mid-winter 2016. The date of their visit is shown on the graph in this earlier post. This photo shows us dressed for comfort at 17 degrees indoors.

What do you think of Grandpa’s house in winter?

Grand-son (10):
I like Grandpa’s house. It’s nice. Except there’s no wifi. But apart from that, it’s good.

Grand-daughter (13):
Grandpa’s house? It’s cool. It’s interesting. Awesome curtains – I get a shock when they move because I’m not used to it. The garden is cool too – it’s pretty.

I love winter. And I love visiting my Dad. He built this really great house in Manilla nearly twenty years ago. Prior to that, he was tenanted in an old office space above the newsagent. I loved visiting him back then as well, even if his flat was super hot in summer and not at all cosy in winter. The house he built is wonderful all year round.

Even if there are only a few hours of sun each day in the depths of a NSW winter, that is all you need to warm my dad’s house. You can find yourself a chair in the sun, sit for a while and imagine you’re on vacation in Hawaii. Only with much better coffee. As the sun goes down, the sound of noisy birds settling in for the night comes through from outside.
The kitchen is well-stocked for preparing dinner (especially after we restock it) and, once the stove is on, it’s toasty warm in there. There is a curtain that closes the kitchen off from the rest of the house, but cooking time is social time for us, so we leave it open – which also helps flood the house with the delicious smells of curry. The house finally gets coolish sometime after dinner. That’s when we don the cardies and fluffy slippers and pre-heat the beds. The electric blankets, even on low, manage to warm the bedrooms all night.

Next morning, on a strict schedule, the automatic curtains fly open to announce the new day. Not being an early-morning person, I make good use of the curtain override button. At least, until I get the first whiff of toast.

Having grown up in India, I find summer is a breeze and cold weather is a challenge. After a couple of decades in Canberra and almost a decade in Switzerland, I have finally realised that dealing with winter boils down to managing the environment in the house and wearing the right gear.

I have stayed in my father-in-law’s house in Manilla several times, in summer and in winter, most recently in the winter of 2016. The house is comfortable in both summer and winter. I remember feeling colder in winter when I first stayed there compared with now – I am not sure whether the house is warmer, or I have more layers of fat to protect me as I get older. Maybe I just dress more appropriately now for winter thanks to my time in Switzerland.

The place where we hang out the most is the kitchen, and around the kitchen table, over cups of coffee or improvised meals, catching up on left and right leaning newspapers. The kitchen is very cozy in winter, especially when there are multiple dishes cooking away on the stove.

A memorable feature of my father-in-law’s house is the automated curtains which felt space-age when I first experienced them, but now I am used to them. They are like a bell-less morning alarm. Being a morning person, I beat them to it, and am awake before they start moving and letting in light.

I love the balcony on the first floor. It is well protected and I can sit there for hours with a cup of coffee and a book, and listen to cockatoos and other birds, and watch the paragliders in the distance when they are out. In winters the mid to late afternoons are the most comfortable.

As the trees and shrubs in the evolving garden have grown and the paths have become more structured it has become a wonderful place to walk around and to relax. The garden bench is particularly inviting. This man is as passionate about his garden as he is about his house. The guided tour of his garden is one of the highlights of our stay there.

Thank you all for your answers.
Goodnight, everyone.

Recent photos of the house and garden are here.

September 2016 had near-record rain

Blooms of Acacia paradoxa

Kangaroo Thorn

There were fourteen rainy days in a month that ended no warmer than it began. The month of September normally warms up by nearly four degrees. This time it remained near 14° all month. Some plants encouraged by the plentiful moisture were discouraged by the cold.
The highest daily rainfall reading, 28.8 mm on the 14th, hardly compares with one of 71.1 mm in 2005, or even one of 40.0 mm in 2011.
No days were warm. For the first time in this 18-year record, no September day reached 25°. More days than ever (18) were below 20° but not one was as low as 15°. Temperatures at night were near normal. A frost on the 5th was the only one. It may have been the last of the year, about a fortnight earlier than usual.
Only four mornings this month had no cloud, while seven were totally overcast.

Weather log for September 2016

Comparing September months

For monthly average temperatures, the daily maximum of 19.7° stands out as a record low, 4.1° below normal. Three indicators for moisture reached their extreme September values for the new century: rainfall, percentage of cloudy mornings (63%), and (narrowest) daily temperature range (12.0°). Dew point (6.0°) was just above normal, but very much higher than in September months since 2010.
The monthly rainfall total of 122.4 mm (amended) was one of the four highest ever September readings. The others were: 1917: 124 mm; 1949: 126 mm; 1998: 166 mm.
There are not now any noteworthy shortages in rainfall totals for any number of months, up to 360 months (thirty years).

Climate for September 2016

Data. Rainfall figures for this month are from the automatic rain gauge at Manilla, published on the internet by the Bureau of Meteorology as Station 55031. All other data, including subsoil at 750 mm, are from 3 Monash Street, Manilla.

3-year trends to September 2016

Parametric plots of smoothed climate variables at Manilla
“September 2016 extreme cold and rain”

Trends to September 2016

September raw anomaly data (orange)

September 2016 was extremely wet and had extremely cold days. Axes on the graph had to be extended to anomaly values of minus 80 mm for rainfall and minus four degrees for daily maximum temperature. In sympathy, cloudiness and dew point were extremely high and daily temperature range was extremely low.
On the first graph, partially-smoothed rainfall and temperature values had moved consistently in the same direction since March.

 Fully smoothed data (red)

The latest fully-smoothed data point is March 2016.
Rainfall, temperature range anomaly and daily maximum temperature had been static for three months. The latter had been rather high, the others normal. Cloudiness, dew point and temperature range had begun to move down the graph, while daily minimum temperature and subsoil temperature had begun to move up.


Fully smoothed data – Gaussian smoothing with half-width 6 months – are plotted in red, partly smoothed data uncoloured, and raw data for the last data point in orange. January data points are marked by squares.
Blue diamonds and the dashed blue rectangle show the extreme values in the fully smoothed data record since September 1999.

Normal values are based on averages for the decade from March 1999.* They appear on these graphs as a turquoise (turquoise) circle at the origin (0,0). A range of anomalies called “normal” is shown by a dashed rectangle in aqua (aqua). For values in degrees, the assigned normal range is +/-0.7°; for cloudiness, +/-7%; for monthly rainfall, +/-14 mm.

 * Normal values for rainfall are based on averages for the 125 years beginning 1883.

Climate trends for thermal soaring

For pilots who soar at Lake Keepit or Mount Borah: relevant summer climate data for Manilla, NSW, since 1999.

Graph of some summer climate variables 1999 to 2015.

Variables relevant to thermal soaring

From my data I have selected three variables that are relevant to success in soaring flight using thermals. I have chosen to use values for summer: a total or average for the three months of December, January and February.
The variables are:

  • The number of hot days, when the maximum temperature was over 33°C;
  • The number of sunny days, when the cloud amount seen at 9 am was less than two octas;
  • The average daily temperature range in degrees celsius.

Changing values of the variables

The graph shows that each variable fluctuated wildly, with each summer very different from the last. These variables often moved in the same sense.
Two summers had high values of all three variables: 2006-07 and 2013-14. Two summers had low values of all three variables: 2007-08 and 2011-12. I would expect that longer and faster thermal soaring flights would have been achieved in the summers with high values, compared to those with low values.


I have fitted linear trend lines, and displayed their equations within the graph.
All three trend lines slope down. This suggests that summer thermal soaring conditions have been getting worse.
I have cited the values of “R-squared”, the Coefficient of Determination. All three R-squared values are abysmally low. Even the best is below 20%, which can be taken to mean that more than 80% of the variation has nothing to do with the trend line shown.
You could say that the trends are nonsense, but we are dealing with Climate Change here!

The future

In the spirit of Mark Twain, we can extend the trend lines forward to where they come to zero:

  • There will be no hot days above 33° by the summer of 2118;
  • There will be no sunny mornings with less than 2 octas of cloud by 2073;
  • Days will be no warmer than nights by 2423.

That last date seems too remote to worry about. However, the daily temperature range will be unacceptable when it gets down to 11°. That is the current summer value for Lasham, England, after all. According to the trend, the daily temperature range will be worse than at Lasham by 2117. That is the same year that the very last 33° day is expected.

Global Warming

You may be surprised that the linear trend lines fitted to this data set slope downwards. It seems to contradict Global Warming. Continue reading

Hard Winter for Solar-passive

Graphical log of daily indoor and outdoor temperatures for winter 2016.

Temperature log: main features

This graph, for 2016, shows a winter pattern of indoor and outdoor temperatures that is typical for this house. Indoor temperatures vary much less than outdoor temperatures, they rise and fall with them, and they are higher nearly all the time.
While the outdoor temperatures shown go as low as minus three degrees, those indoors lie within the winter “comfort zone” from 17 to 24 degrees (see this post) nearly all the time.

Weather this winter

This winter was harsh for a solar-passive house. Near-record rainfall (227 mm) came with the greatest number of cloudy days of any winter in the new century. There were 53 mornings with more than four octas of cloud, when the average is 33.

Heater use

Because cloud limited the the solar gain, I had to use blower heaters far more than in previous winters. My records show that I used 320 kWh ($80) in these heaters this winter, when I normally use about 40 kWh ($10).
Heaters were also used by guests who were present on the six days shown. As well as being unused to the climate, the guests lived in the colder west wing of the house. They may have used 72 kWh ($18). Those guests have kindly written reviews of their visit.
Even using 400 kWh of electricity for personal heating in a winter could not make a detectable change in house temperature. I have found that blower heaters are surprisingly good at making a room in this house comfortable. As the radiant temperature of the walls is only 2 or 3 degrees too low for comfort, it can be compensated by making the air temperature only slightly higher.

The pattern in detail

While cloudy days are not plotted here (Cloud observations for this winter are plotted elsewhere.), cloudy days can be recognised on the graph. In this climate, days with low maximum temperature and high minimum temperature are always due to cloud. Only in fine weather are days warm and nights frosty. The graph shows how the weather goes through a cycle every week or two: sunny days get warmer, then rain sets in. As it clears, the air gets even colder, before warming up again.
Indoor temperatures follow the same cycle, but there are differences. There may be a delay of up to a day, and sometimes longer.


I did scatter plots comparing all the variables shown in the first graph and I fitted linear regressions. I present the four scatter-plots that had the highest coefficients of determination (“R-squared”). Continue reading

Extremely wet winter 2016

Water flowing over a weir

Manilla Weir Fish Ladder

This winter, with 227.4 mm of rain, was the fifth wettest in the record from 1883. In order of rainfall, wetter winters were: 1920 (318 mm), 1998 (304 mm), 1950 (261 mm) and 1952 (233 mm). This winter’s total was more than 100 mm over the average (125 mm). The heaviest daily fall, 37 mm, was on 5 June, and there were four other falls of more than 15 mm; two in June and two in August.
There were big week-long swings in temperature through June and July. On four occasions nights were more than four degrees warmer than normal and on one occasion days were four degrees cooler than normal. No such swings occurred from late July to mid-August, then days became five degrees cooler than normal. In this winter, there were few spells of either hot days or cold nights. The number of frosts (42) was near the usual number (44).

Graphical log for winter 2016
While the mean temperature of the season was normal, most other measures of climate were not.
The winter seasons of 2016 and 2010 were both extremely moist. Winter 2016 had more rain (227 mm versus 160 mm) and more cloudy days (53% versus 49%). In other respects 2010 was more moist: the dew point was higher (3.7° versus 2.5°), and the days had a narrower temperature range (12.5° versus 12.8°). The daily temperature range for winter is usually much wider: 15.3°. It was 17.5° in winter 2002!

Climate for winter 2016

Rainfall figures for this month are from the automatic rain gauge at Manilla, published on the internet by the Bureau of Meteorology as Station 55031. All other data, including subsoil at 750 mm, are from 3 Monash Street, Manilla.