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).