Friday, April 04, 2008

Green Home Building Ideas

I'm back to looking into the cost of building a eco-friendly, low impact, sustainable house. Last year, I was inspired by the book "Building Green: A Complete How-To Guide to Alternative Building Methods Earth Plaster * Straw Bale * Cordwood * Cob , by Clarke Snell

It's a FANTASTIC book with detailed instructions and tonnes of pictures for all 4 building systems. Not only does it include insightful tips based on the author's hands-on experience, but also, it deals with siting, foundation, water run-off, post & beam construction, passive solar heating/cooling, AND living/green roofs.

The biggest problem I have with all the "Natural" home building books out there is that they seem to be designed for California. There's lots of talk about hurricane tie-downs and earthquake safety protocols, but very little about snow. California might be the king-pin of the environmental movement... all those hemp clad, granola crunching, vegan PETA activists... but what about us northern eco-freaks? Igloos might be low-impact and sustainable, but they're really not practical in the summer. Would it really be that difficult to include some information on how to protect plaster walls from snow, or the feasibility of a low-sloping green roof with near-record breaking snowfall *cough*417cm*cough*?

Thankfully, I've found Serious Straw Bale: A Construction Guide for All Climates, by Paul Lacinski. I had to laugh at some of the reviews I've read -- people are complaining that there's too much information about building for wet or snowy weather, and not enough about dry, hot climates... .... Seriously. EVERY OTHER straw bale book is geared towards the southwest. Can't we have ONE book tailored to OUR needs? Anyway, I just ordered this from Chapters, and it should be here in a couple days along with Strawbale Home Plans, by Wayne J. Bingham. My excuse for buying 2 straw bale design books is I needed to go over $39 for free shipping >.>

So here's the plan so far (prior to reading Serious Straw Bale)

- no info yet

Frost Protected Shallow Foundation
- minimal impact
- lower cost than traditional cement footings due to reduced labour and materials
- lower imbued energy due to reduced Portland Cement
- lower heating costs due to insulated foundation

Post & Beam Framing
- I *think* I can cut all the joints myself... we'll see
- fast raising
- might require a crane, or significant help

Straw Bale Insulation
- lower cost than common insulations
- sustainable product (making use of agricultural "waste")
- locally harvested materials
- high insulation factor
- non toxic, biodegradable
- utmost care must be taken to keep bales dry, dry, dry.
- bottom row would have to be sealed in home wrap

Lime Plaster
- sticks to straw bale better than cement stucco (chicken wire not required)
- retards mould growth
- vapour permeable
- lower imbued energy than Portland cement

- Green would be cool, but snow loads are a major concern (more info needed)
- I wonder if thatch would work...
- metal would probably work best in our climate

- solar power would be great, but I don't think we get enough solar hours to make it worth the high cost
- wind power?
- electricity lines are already running to the lot
- signing up for Bullfrog Power, and using energy efficient appliances seems to be the best solution

- I'm pretty sure a well is our only option... really hope the water tastes and smells good

- looking into grey water system (how they work in winter, green house applications)
- looking into sawdust toilets (just received The Humanure Handbook, by Joseph Jenkins)

Furnace / Hot Water Heater
- geothermal heat pump
- renewable energy
- non-polluting
- most efficient heating/cooling system available
- can be combined with well to reduce excavation costs

- radiant floor heating (Warmboard subfloor with 1/2" PEX Aluminum PEX tubing)
- very efficient heating method with great distribution (no cold areas)
- runs at lower temperature than other systems
- less tubing required due to higher heat transfer efficiency (1 ft tubing / sq. ft.)
- higher initial cost than other radiant floor methods, but lower operating costs due to lower temperature
- $8 / sq. ft for Warmboard alone

- large overhanding eaves, good ventilation
- hoping to not need air-conditioning
- save on ducts

- haven't looked too far into this
- Triple-glazed with High-Solar-Gain Low-E, Argon/Krypton Gas, Insulated Vinyl or Fiberglass, (double glazed on south facing wall with large overhang)
- large bank of south facing windows, restricted windows on north face

- Cork: nice, but I've heard it's not durable
- Bamboo: durable, renewable, but the joints make it very busy
- Tile: high cost & labour
- hardwood: look for FSC certified, expensive, but 'softer' than tile
- Wide plank hardwood: beautiful but expensive, old-growth trees or recycled old floors, need care when installed over radiant floor heating
- Linoleum: durable, renewable, available in a multitude of colours... cheap looking?

Green house
- attached to house on south facing wall
- create grey water filtering soil beds
- black lined thermal pond can assist heating in winter

Floor Plan
- still working on this
- large south face
- preferably easily expandable so we can add-on as we get money

Main floor
- master bedroom on main floor
- master bathroom with shower, connecting to entry powder room with sawdust toilet
- walk-in closet or large bank of wardrobes

- kitchen with island bar overlooking large, long harvest table (ie. the Mains')
- induction cooktop
- wall oven
- appliance garage for mixmaster, blender, juicer, etc
- compost bin

- large family room along the south bank of windows

- an "away" room for children to play or adults to escape to, down a hall
- a water play station and train tracks

2nd floor or walk out basement
- extra bedrooms
- full bath

- dormer or clerestory windows

Still working through ideas...

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