Thursday, December 13, 2007

Inspiration: Stairs

This really isn't the appropriate time during the building process to be looking at finishing details. But since we're basically just waiting to hear back from the excavators we contacted to bid on our project and we won't know until February if the town will approve our build for the summer of 2008, we have time on our hands. Thus, we're researching. In our family, this translates into me spending most of my evenings Googling products, reading blogs, searching the forums on and then running my findings by Ryan. These are some of the various products we've really fallen in love with.

Stairs: Metal Railing

We really want to use a cable, metal mesh or even heavy duty plastic stair rail/panel that would extend along the length of the balcony. Here are some examples of things we like.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Our site

We finally found some time to photograph our building site. Our house would be built directly in the space in the forefront of this photo, facing the road (Butternut Road).

Here's a shot of Butternut Road. Our house would be to the left.

This would be our view to the can barely make out Ryan's parents' house nestled among the trees in the back corner.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Our vision: the modern farmhouse

Our goal is to adhere to the classic lines and dimensions of agrarian architecture (barn style, almost) and open the interior so that it's bright and full of natural light. We also want a clean, modern, streamlined look for the interior and exterior. We especially like the juxtaposition of natural materials like wood and more industrial elements like steel and concrete. All in all, we're going for a modern farmhouse are some sources of our inspiration.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Meeting with the builder for the first time

So we've slowly been making progress over the past few months. We've received the site plans from our engineer, Jeff Olesky at Civil Engineering Associates in Shelburne. It turns out that our building envelope is quite small due to set backs from the road and adjacent properties and because our site abuts Sucker Brook (i.e. wetlands must be considered). But Jeff believes we can still 'make it work' (a nod to one of our favorite shows: Project Runway). We also learned that while there is not enough quality soil to install our septic system in the building envelope, there is great soil about 1000 feet from our site on a small knoll behind Ryan's parents' place. Thus, the plan is to run a force main from our house to that spot. This endeavor will not be cheap but it's the only option. We're soliciting bids from excavators now.

We have also come to the realization that while we initially wanted to build a post and beam frame, it is not realistically within our budget. One of the reasons we were attracted to the post and beam design (besides the obvious beauty of exposed wood) is that it allowed for the use of SIPs. SIPs are the most practical and efficient way to wall-in a post and beam. But it turns out that you can build an entire home out of SIPs, thus eliminating the need for the post and beam frame. While we are sad to abandon our initial dream of a timber frame home, it makes much more sense economically to save the money we would have been spending on the frame (really just the 'sizzle' on the steak) and invest it into the real meat of the project--building a green home.

We are thrilled to be working with a builder based in New Hampshire, Al Rossetto, who holds the title in both VT and NH of most energy efficient builder...meaning he constructs the tightest homes imaginable. He incorporates all of the efficiency strategies we want to pursue plus some. We drove to his home in NH last weekend to meet him and his wife, Gail. He talked us through all of the different techniques we can employ in our build and was nice enough to give us an extended tour of the extremely energy efficient home they just constructed so we could see, first hand, all of the materials and approaches he uses.

Al helped us make several decisions on this visit:

1. Build the entire home, including the roof, out of SIPs.

2. Use ICFs for the foundation.

3. Be smarter about using space inside the home. While we love light and airy homes, too much open interior space it is not particularly efficient when you're on a shoestring budget and want 3 bedrooms. Also, since it looks as if we'll be abandoning the post and beam design, there isn't as much of a reason to have tons of open areas. Thus, the new plan is to close off a bit more of our upstairs than we originally thought we would. I will try to post our current plans soon.

He also provided us with a wealth of information about...
-energy recovery systems (crucial for tight homes like SIP homes)
-triple-pane windows
-radiant heat floors (he heats his entire home with a Polaris water heater)

If anyone in the New England area is interested in building green, Al is the man to contact. He was kind, informative, helpful and a straight shooter. He was forthcoming and honest with his feedback on our plans and really helped set us in the right direction. He understood our vision and worked with us to refine it. We also checked several of the references he provided and everyone had wonderful things to say. He is also well known by the folks at Efficiency Vermont. So all in all, we are thrilled to have connected with Al and look forward to his involvement on our project.

Here is an article from the magazine 'Fine Homebuilding' on Al and his work. It features a house he built in Waitsfield, VT.

Here's another(article begins on first page).

Friday, August 31, 2007

Green is our goal!

So our goal with this house is to build as green a structure as possible. That means everything from using environmentally friendly materials to employing construction strategies that reduce energy loss (and therefore energy consumption) in the home. Why is building green our priority?

"In the United States, there are 100 million homes and 5 million commercial buildings that collectively use about 40% of the nation’s total energy (source: Pew Center on Global Climate Change). To a building owner, energy represents the single largest controllable operating expense. (source: Building Owners and Managers Association)."

Some of the things we're currently exploring include...

SIPS (structural insulated panels) fit really well with our plans to build a post and beam home. SIPs are incredibly energy efficient and provide much better insulation than your standard frame. SIP Panel buildings are "66% more energy efficient than standard frame construction, 2-1/2 times stronger than standard building materials and cut framing time by 2/3rds. Panels are made from a thick layer of foam (polystyrene or polyurethane) sandwiched between two layers of Oriented Strand Board (OSB), plywood or fiber-cement. The result is an engineered panel that provides structural framing, insulation, and exterior sheathing in a solid, one-piece component."

We're totally jazzed about this particular green building strategy. "Insulating concrete forms (ICFs) are rigid plastic foam forms that hold concrete in place during curing and remain in place afterwards to serve as thermal insulation for concrete walls. The foam sections are lightweight and result in energy-efficient, durable construction. ICF walls provide higher R-values (between R-17 and R-26) and lower air infiltration rates than typical wood frame construction (typically R-12 to R-20)." People have built entire ICF homes (walls and all). At this point, we're thinking of using ICFs for our foundation at a minimum and perhaps the entire house.

Radiant Heat Floors
"Radiant heating has a number of advantages: it is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts. The lack of moving air can also be advantageous to people with severe allergies. Hydronic (liquid-based) systems use little electricity, a benefit for homes off the power grid or in areas with high electricity prices. The hydronic systems can also be heated with a wide variety of energy sources, including standard gas- or oil-fired boilers, wood-fired boilers, solar water heaters, or some combination of these heat sources."

We're also trying to minimize the use of wood that does not come from sustainable sources. It would also be great if the wood is harvested locally to reduce the carbon footprint of its transport. For our flooring, we're considering polished concrete for the first level (especially good for those with allergies and for dogs-no scratches!)and either wood or bamboo for upstairs (a renewable resource and recognized as a green material under LEED).

We also plan to buy Energy Star appliances and low-flow or dual flush toilets.

We're really hoping to receive the EPA's top Energy Star rating for our home.

Vermont has a phenomenal green building resource in Efficiency Vermont:
"Efficiency Vermont is the nation's first statewide provider of energy efficiency services. Efficiency Vermont provides technical assistance and financial incentives to Vermont households and businesses, to help them reduce their energy costs with energy-efficient equipment and lighting and with energy-efficient approaches to construction and renovation." Everyone in VT pays for the service via a small fee on our electric bills. Gotta' love this state.

We're also considering applying for LEED certification (more stringent and comprehensive building standards than the Energy Star program).

More building green resources:

Just getting started...

So we've decided to take the plunge--Ryan and I are planning to build a house next summer in Williston, Vermont. After looking at existing homes in the area for over a year, we realized we couldn't find anything that fit our needs and our budget and that the only way we could really achieve the home we wanted was to build. Ryan's parents were generous enough to allow us to 'slice' off a corner of their lot for our house. We made it past the first hurdle--receiving initial approval from the Williston Development Review Board. Unlike some towns in Vermont that have no zoning regulations at all, Williston (perhaps the result of rampant growth and development in recent years) has unleashed on us unsuspecting want-to-be-builders an arsenal of rules and requirements. I have to say, though, that I would rather live in a community that has a growth plan and that is concerned about development. So, in some way, we are happy to participate in this process. [Note added 2/6/08: We recently learned that Williston takes into account energy efficiency when granting phasing to developments. So hats off to them for factoring that important element into their rating criteria.] The town has reviewed our initial subdivision plans favorably and we're cleared until the next hurdle, the phasing meeting in early 2009 (probably February). The hope is that we are approved for phasing at that meeting, meaning we could break ground July 1, 2008.

Things we must do between now and our next meeting:
  • Work with an engineer to design our septic/waste water system
  • Ensure that our building envelope does not encroach upon the wetlands bordering our land
  • Designate space on our land for a 'primitive path' connecting the land behind the Hayes' to Butternut Road so that hikers, etc. can move across our land easily

They've also instructed us to paint our house in natural colors and to provide landscape screening ("to soften its views from Butternut Road"). However, we are not to plant any vegetation that "obscures or will eventuall observe" the views to the north. So some shrubs and trees...but not too many. Oy vey.

I suppose it's too early to be choosing shrubs anyway...we first need a house plan!