What Is a Smart Home Anyway?

CC BY 2.0. Temagami Nativeweb

At a recent panel discussion on smart homes held at Toronto's Workshop, three of the four panelists had been on TreeHugger before: Janna Levitt, Paul Dowsett and Ted Kesik. Both Ted and Paul showed this image of what they considered to be a really smart house: a wigwam, as built by the Algonquin and Chippewa. And it is surprisingly* really sophisticated:

  • It has an inner structure lined with birchbark
  • It has six inches of swamp moss insulation
  • It has an outer frame covered in elm, cedar of basswood bark.

This is more sophisticated than about 99% of modern houses, where the insulation is between the studs which act as a thermal bridge. It is more like the staggered studs or double walls used in Passive houses.

Then there is the heating system:

  • It has piles of rocks with a clay cap for passive thermal storage after the fire goes out, which acts as a radiant floor.
  • It has a birch bark earth tube to provide combustion air for the fire.

This again is more sophisticated than many heating systems that don't have a provision for makeup air. It even has a fire suppression system: a long cedar pole for swatting out sparks on the roof.


Janna Levitt, Paul Dowsett, Ted Kesik, Larry Richards/CC BY 2.0

The panelists were supposed to be speaking about the modern smart home, but ended up demonstrating that the native people in the cold northern parts of North America were long ago building a whole lot smarter that we do now, and without WiFi.

*commenter Philip Rutter says I should be ashamed for using the word "surprisingly." He's right.