Having earned his mechanical engineering degree, Michael Sykes set out to build stronger and more efficient homes– this played a huge role in his decision to build with solid timbers. On Christmas eve in the early 1970s, Mike sat down on a stack of Southern Yellow Pine that had been soaking up the sun the day before. He noticed the heat radiating off the logs and was surprised at how well they retained the sun’s warmth.
The wood was storing energy by a process called “thermal inertia”. Contrary to conventional thinking, this thermal inertia was more important than the “R” value in the performance of these massive homes. Mike knew that the solar storing properties of these logs was a breakthrough, and it was time to use this information in a back-to-the-drawing-board, total upset of the conventional way of building. Mike wasn’t finished finding new ways to innovate. He realized that far more solar energy strikes a house than can be absorbed by just the exterior wood walls in the sun. If he could get more energy in contact with the right amount and type of wood, a self-heating house was mathematically and theoretically possible. In addition, Sykes began calculating ways to tap into the steady cool temperature of the earth to make the home more comfortable in summer months.
ENERGY FROM A SHIFT IN TIME
This was a new field, a new technology. Sykes had to develop his own ratios and equations to explain and design with the new phenomena, which he named “Enertia”, defined as energy from a shift-in-time.
He designed a sunspace mimicking Earth’s atmosphere; This space filled with windows would allow the sun to enter, warming the solid timber walls. This heat filled space would then transfer the maximum amount of solar energy by convection, much like the trade winds in Earth’s atmosphere. In addition the timber walls would warm the occupants of the home by radiating heat.
More than a decade of research and design experimentation later, a patent for the Enertia® Building System was granted. Using his mathematical model, Mike developed a line of pre-designed homes; each one receiving custom adaptations to the slope, latitude, and climate of the building site.
In 2006, the History Channel, TIME Magazine, and the US Patent Office held a competition called the Invent Now Challenge, hosted by Modern Marvels. The goal was to find America’s most significant and potentially life-changing new invention.
More than 2,200 inventions were whittled down to 25 finalists and among them was the Enertia Building System. Sykes and a scale model of an Enertia house were at the final judging at Citigroup Center in New York City. Judges included inventors, technology writers, and Apple Computer founder Steve Wozniak. Finalists were interviewed by the well known host of NPR's, Science Friday, Ira Flatow.
The Enertia Building System was chosen out of thousands of entries in the History Channel, Modern Marvels competition. Mike was thrilled to receive his award from history making inventor, Steve Wozniak. Decades of Mike's research and development were recognized as a part of the solution to the crisis that had dawned on Americans in the early 70s.
The following year Enertia won a spot in TIME Magazines, Inventions of the Year. Mike's work to create sustainable homes was no longer an idea, it had become reality. Reach out if you'd like to be a part of history in the making.