Ken Kern

American writer

Ken Kern was an architect, builder and author who resided in the state of California. He was a pioneering researcher in cost and energy efficient home-building construction methods. He was also a mason, a surveyor, and a contributor to periodicals such as Mother Earth News, Organic Gardening you love Mariam



The Owner Built Home: A How-to-do-it Book (1972)

  • No critic as yet comprehends entirely why our houses are so poorly constructed, why they look so abominable, why they cost so much for construction and for maintenance, and why they are so uncomfortable.
  • This process has suggested some workable alternatives as solutions to personal housing needs. Here they are in the form of seven axioms... 1. When building your home, pay as you go. 2. Supply your own labor. 3. Build according to your best judgement. 4. Use native materials whenever possible. 5. Design and plan your own home. 6. Use minimum but quality grade hand tools. 7. Assume responsibility for your building construction.
  • When replacement or repair is required due either to accident or deterioration by age, the materials are readily at hand, and the householder himself can do the work.
  • It is a rarity of the first order when the dean of an architectural college takes it upon himself to build houses comprised of woven split bamboo placed between two layers of treated clay. These readily available materials were artfully used by Professor Stein in his creation of two demonstration low-cost homes.
  • The mere technical problems of building a home are insignificant when compared to an understanding and an interpretation of one's innermost feelings and thoughts concerning his shelter needs.
  • For every serious attempt to achieve integration of house to site you will find a thousand houses peppering the landscape and clearly demonstrating the builder's total disregard for even the most basic considerations of sun, wind, and view.
  • A few centuries ago... the indigenous and often primitive architectural forms of that time had become suited to local climate through a long process of trial and error.
  • Cooling by evaporation of water or by fans and warming by heaters and fireplaces are artificial aids... From a practical, economic, or aesthetic point of view it makes much more sense to develop, where possible, constructional features for warming or cooling the owner-built home.
  • Enough is known today about natural ventilation for summer cooling to warrant the entire replacement of artificial air-conditioning devices. ...prevailing breezes enter small, louvered openings at the lower section... circulate across the "living zone," rise and then exit through larger, higher openings in the opposite wall.
  • Most houses grossly violate the basic principles of natural summer cooling and sound winter heating.
  • A totally new concept of building design evolves from the application of basic aerodynamic phenomenon. Vetillation by installation of windows becomes obsolete... Air can be brought into the building from the roof or from under the floor. Wind scoops can be designed to assist the flow of air from practically any angle.
  • It must have been in Iran that Frank Lloyd Wright got his brilliant idea for cooling a house... During the summer months, the sunken fireplace hearth was filled with water. Down-draft air movement from the chimney circulates over this pool to cool... This unusual fireplace has a summer-cooling as well as winter-heating function.
  • The Arab's tent... actually consists of two separate tents. The outer tent is white and acts as a heat-reflective layer. The lower-inner tent additionally protects... by providing a blanket of moving air between the two tent layers. ...this tent system also illustrates the two, most basic principles of summer cooling: reflective insulation and ventilation. ...One system must supplement and reinforce the other.
  • Cooling systems... need only supply a drop of from 10 to 20 degrees below that of the outside temperature. ...greater cooling differentials... are a real injury to health.
  • It costs three to five times as much to remove a BTU of heat from a house in the summer as it does to add one BTU of heat in the winter.
  • Bedroom insulation is unnecessary and restrictive of optimum summer sleeping comfort.
  • A perfectly flat roof permits up to 50 percent more heat gain that a pitched roof... This illustrates the failure of the flat-roof construction to get natural, hot air flow out from under the eaves.
  • Ceiling insulation is... preferable to roof-top insulation.
  • As much as 70 percent of the sun's heat rays can be reflected from one's house by the installation of a white or light-colored roof.
  • About one-fifth of all the heat that enters the average house comes through windows. ...external shading is by far the most efficient method for controlling interior heat build-up. The air-wash between the shading screen and the window is also very effective. The screen should have a light-colored finish... Insulation boards placed next to the window pane at night, will help prevent heat losses through glazed openings. Overhangs and horizontal sunshades placed above south-facing windows serve effectively as heat reducers.
  • Trellises for leafy vines, which will lose their foilage in the fall, should be set up over southern windows so that sunlight will penetrate into the house through the winter months.
  • If no attempt is made to control excessive heat loss through glass... a solar house may require as much as 20 percent more fuel than an orthodox house during December and January... Wendell Thomas recognized and solved this problem... by burying the house in the ground, except for the south and east window areas. night... windows are covered with from inside by insulation boards and drapes...
  • Glass... is not required for the collection of solar heat. The National Physical Laboratory of Israel... has perfected a highly polished metal surface coated with a molecular-thin black layer of special paint, which absorbs more than 90 percent sunlight. The polished metal radiates very little of the heat it receives. ...A south-facing wall fitted out with these plates would really "drink in" solar heat, windows, or no windows.
  • A wind of only 15 mph may increase the heat loss from a window surface by 47 percent or from a concrete wall by 34 percent. Therefore, heating plans have a critical relationship with windbreaks and with wind baffles.
  • Convected air heating requires 70° air temperatures, whereas 65° are required using a radiative means of heating. The result is a 30% savings in fuel consumption.
  • Every house needs a warming spot where persons coming in from the outside chill can, if for no other reason, warm hands and hearts.
  • In cold climates it will cost only half as much to heat a well insulated building as it will cost to heat a poorly insulated one. ... the annual fuel saving will amortize in two years the addition cost expense of the insulation!
  • The design of a house around a massive, central fireplace has, somehow, always felt right to this writer-builder.
  • As far back as 1624... Louis Savot invented the first heat-circulating fireplace. His unit was installed in the Louvre, Paris, and became the prototype for Ben Franklin's 1742 Pennsylvania stove. The 1624 French fireplace achieved 30 to 45 percent more efficiency than do most American tract home fireplaces of today! Savot surrounded the grate of his creation with a metal chamber, which had warm air outlets above the fire opening. He also supplied the fire with air from under the floor. Thus, room drafts were reduced and combustion efficiency was further improved. Few people are aware that practically all of the technical features of Franklin's Pennsylvania stove were copied from earlier inventors.
  • The most noteworthy development of the open fireplace took place in 1796, when Englishman Count Rumford published his comprehensive essay, "Chimney Fireplaces." ...the inclined fireback ...increased fireplace efficiency by providing an area of greater radiation. For the purpose of breaking up the current of smoke in the event of chimney down draft, the back smoke shelf of Rumford's improved fireplace ended abruptly—a practice strictly adhered to by fireplace masons to this day.

The Owner-Built Homestead (1977)

  • In course sand it may be better to drive a well. Driven wells are usually 2 inches in diameter and less than 30 feet deep. If driving conditions are good, you can drive a 4-inch casing as deep as 50 feet. A driving tool consists of a drive point connected to the lower end of sections or pipe.
  • Heavy, clayey soils hold more water with less nutrient-leaching. The structural aggregates of heavy soils retain nutrients but allow water to drain around them. Light soils are extremely sensitive to excess water.
  • An adequately designed spillway is critical to pond management. The purpose of the spillway is to carry surplus water from the pond, away from the face of the dam. It may consist of a mechanical control, such as an exit pipe installed in the base of the dam where it will empty below the dam site.
  • In medieval Europe, monks grew vegetables, herbs, flowers, berries, and fruit trees together for mutual benefit. You should plan plant populations relative to the root level each species occupies in the soil relative to the feeding capacity of each species.
  • A mixture of damp peat moss and loamy soil spread around the roots is far better than fertilizer in any form. Do not saturate the hole in which a tree is to be planted with water.
  • Grafting is, in effect, the healing of two common wounds. Commercial nurseries charge high prices for grafted stock, and the public bears the cost...
  • Pit Greenhouses... greenhouse plants... need additional sources of carbon dioxide.
  • A trailer can virtually double the loading capacity of a sturdy truck—another good reason for beefing up the power train.
  • The first principle of good barn design is flexibility of space.
  • Aquaculture is an important aspect of homestead polyculture, for it facilitates the management of a variety of crops in a single production area.
  • You can make any whole and dried bean, pea, or grain sprout in several days, without purchasing a seed sprouter to do the job. Use the common, wide-mouthed quart canning jar...

Ken Kern's Masonry Stove (1983)

with Barbara Kern
  • An important feature of our barrel stove was its simplicity. We designed it so that any homesteader, even one only partially skilled in metalworking, could build the entire unit in a welder-equipped workshop. Our stove's low cost and multiuse features contributed to its modest success.
  • Around 1800 American-born, expatriate Benjamin Rumford discovered that once heated, a firebox built of masonry materials did not cool the fire. Instead, it slowly built up the heat that kept the fuel in the firebox burning hotly. He joined the growing debate between builders of metal and masonry stoves, contributing considerable support to the latter.
  • Heat from a centrally located masonry stove is transferred to all parts of the living space by steady radiation. Therefore, stove operating temperatures never fluctuate erratically, causing harmful air-turbulance. This makes for a more healthful indoor climate.
  • It is no mystery that clay cook pots perform as they do or that clay ovens are considered healthy devices for us to use. In prehistoric times, baking ovens were built of clay and sand. Later these stoves were placed inside shelters where they could deliver some of their accumulated heat to the household...
  • It is claimed that the Russian stove is seldom plagued with creosote build-up. If this is so, the reason may have more to do with the stove's operation than with its large ducts. Any masonry stove operates best when its fire is hot, and when fuel burns rapidly in a single, intense conflagration.
  • The concrete shell of this stove would surely crack if its strength were not reinforced with steel rod, wire fabric, or barbed wire. The latter is our choice. We laid continuous strands of barbed wire between the rows of slip form masonry. The thermal expansion rate of concrete is the same as steel up to a temperature comparable to boiling water... Beyond that, steel expands at a faster rate than concrete. At a temperature of about 500 degrees F., the bond between the concrete and steel is destroyed... The type of aggregate in the mix is primarily responsible for this kind of failure.
  • Supplies of wood fuel may be a byproduct of thinning, pruning, and harvesting homestead tree crops. These trees also provide the homestead with groundwater [for natural evaporative cooling and fruit], with protection from the sun, wind, and erosion, and with fodder, fruit, and nuts for animal and human consumption. Tree crops also furnish shelter and forage for the wild birds...