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Words instead of pictures to describe my dream home

 
pollinator
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Location: Klumbis Oh Hah, Zone 6
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I wrote a thing, with myself as the primary intended audience, and I thought it'd be a good idea to have other people--especially people with some experience building houses--look at it and see if they might suggest things I should include. (And really this was what drove me to register for the forum a day or two ago.) Hang on, I can explain.

For years I've been dreaming about building my own house. For most of that time, the "itch" has been quite consuming and I found I could satisfy it a bit by drawing pictures. First I filled notebooks with sketches and floor plans and diagrams, then I started messing around in Sketchup and even went so far once as to try to design a house in Sketchup from the framing outward.

But as my knowledge and ideas have evolved I've realized it's kinda pointless to draw up a blueprint for a building when I don't even own the land yet, and the building needs to fit the land.

I'm happy to say that acquisition of land for the purpose of building my own house has gone from "silly daydream" to "15-year plan that my wife and I are both on board with". But the itch remains.

So instead of drawing pictures, which are relatively precise and prescriptive, I recently tried just writing down my ideas, starting from a list of "what do I want in a house" and then using that as an outline that I expanded into a ~2400 word essay. The main purpose is to clarify to myself what I want, but it might be something I share with an architect or a builder, or even just with experienced like-minded people (ahem) who can use it as the basis for providing advice as I get closer to breaking ground on my plan.

My question is, would this be an okay place to post the essay for y'all's feedback? If so I'll edit this post to add it.

As you'll see if you read it, I am somewhat agnostic about building methods--for example I am interested in borrowing some ideas from earthships, but I'm not married to earthships as a concept. As such, I wasn't sure what forum to post this in. I'm not even sure the generic-sounding "natural building" is the best fit because at the end of the day if poured concrete forms or shipping containers give me the best path to what I want then that's what I'd go with. But for now this seems like the least-worst place...
 
Ned Harr
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My brother who is married to an architect tells me that if I were going to share a written list of "must haves/nice-to-haves" with an architect it should be a terser bulleted list called a "schedule" rather than an essay (that's fine, I figured as much). He even told me that sharing an essay would probably get me ridiculed as someone who takes himself too seriously.

But I wonder what I should share if my list of must-haves/nice-to-haves is intended not to directly inform a design, but to prompt a conversation, to explain where my desires come from and maybe cause a more informed person to suggest other adjacent things I might learn about? To me the essay I wrote seems perfect for that.
 
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Hi, Ned, welcome to the forum.

I feel for a discussion on the forum an essay would be fine to share. Or words instead of pictures work too.

Just tell folks what you have in mind and let the folks make suggestions.

After the discussion then you can make a terser bulleted list called a "schedule" or an essay whatever is your pleasure.

I feel having a discussion would be a great idea.
 
Ned Harr
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Alright, here it is! What questions do you have about it? Anything you think I should add, consider, learn about, etc.?

Intro: When/Where/Why

In about 15 years, when the youngest of my kids has moved out and my wife and I are retired or closer to retired, I would like to buy a few acres of land in a fairly warm mountainous region.

We have both lived in urban city centers and in remote villages, but have spent most of our lives in suburbs, most recently in a town outside Columbus Ohio. Although we live in a beautiful quiet neighborhood that is safe and friendly, our own house is a typical leaky 1970s ranch, and the others in our neighborhood vary in style but are similar in quality. Meanwhile all around us is exurban sprawl, with farmlands being rapidly converted into cookie-cutter mini-mansions scrunched into tiny lots.

Each mini-mansion, while under construction, produces dumpster upon dumpster of wasted OSB, PVC, 2-by offcuts, scrap drywall, and other forms of waste. When completed, these mini-mansions are crammed full of mass-produced furniture and decorations, home electronics, and other crap to the point that many occupants store their fleet of brand-new jumbo-sized vehicles in their driveways. The houses themselves are inefficient, poorly constructed, and designed with an emphasis on flashy looks, without regard to performance or context. Each one is surrounded by a carpet of grass that was initially brought in on the back of a truck and requires constant watering. Poisons are regularly applied to these ridiculous grounds to keep dandelions and other pollinator-attractants at bay.

Growing every day is my desire to escape from this madness, to “opt out” of it, and to live in a way that is less backward and surrounded by beauty instead of consumerism and waste.

My wife and I love the outdoors and the feeling of being an active part of an ecosystem. As much as possible with our three small kids, we hike, garden, and dwell outside watching the bees and rabbits and birds on our 1/2 acre property. (We notice we are often the only family in our neighborhood that appears together out of doors on a regular basis.)

There is much my wife and I like about suburban living, and we have no intention to become farmers, but we seek a substantial change from this manicured setting and lifestyle for the last third of our lives. I have had a lifelong dream of building my own home and for the past several years have absorbed as much information about different methods and aspects of home construction as I could. I am also reasonably handy and I believe I could do some of the building myself, especially with some initial guidance.

This document is a way for me to clarify to myself and others exactly what my wife and I want in a home that we one day hope to spend the rest of our lives in. Each heading is presented in approximate order of importance.

Feasible/practical/flexible

I knew about Earthships for about a decade but I started really studying them more recently, and shared videos about them with my wife, whose eyes lit up. However, I always knew the content I saw about them was rather one-sided and there must be more to the hype. My interest remained at the level of being intrigued by some of the passive design elements and the philosophy, more than drooling over the structures themselves.

Indeed, after investigating further I learned that many people tried and failed to build Earthships (or “Earthship-inspired” homes, as non-sanctioned ones are legally required to be called), or built them but eventually chose not to live in them. I wanted to avoid those traps. The most important aspect of any home I build must be that I can actually build it, and then have something I want to live in for a long time when it’s done.

I want to have options with regard to where I build it as well, partly so I can choose land with the scenic views I desire, in a climate my wife and I find agreeable (and amenable to our lifestyle), near enough to conveniences so I’m not driving an hour to the grocery store (or a hospital—after all I plan to grow old in this house!) and so I can be reasonably close to some kind of community of friends and neighbors (while still having plenty of open natural space around me). For this I cannot be limited to the “Earthship hubs” in one or two counties in northern New Mexico or southwest Colorado.

There are also considerations like zoning and permitting: building a bermed home with a tire wall can be a frustrating legal process, and there can be issues getting financing and insurance as well. The house I build must be able to satisfy bankers and insurers without me having to tear my hair out in frustration, or needing a law degree.

Additionally, I know I will need assistance to build my home, and ultimately I will need to hire professionals as well; I cannot rely on having a large pool of volunteers in any old place I choose to build. Therefore to keep my house affordable I need a construction method that does not require a large crew and a long timeframe.

Lower cost to build than a conventional house

Since about age 30 I have had a good-paying job and have saved reasonably well. My wife is an expert saver also, and we look forward to saving even more in the near future when all our kids are out of daycare. Assuming nothing catastrophic happens to home values in my neighborhood in 15 years, I expect to have a lot of equity in my existing house by the time I am ready to build my new one.

That said, I do not want to blow all my savings and liquid assets on a house. I have seen too many wasteful half-million-dollar mini-mansions sprout up around me (and become occupied by people who are definitely not surgeons) to want to follow that path. I want to build my house economically, for substantially less than a conventional house of the same size. I have always been a person who sniffs out bargains, finds a workaround, and substitutes high price tags with a bit of elbow grease when possible. I should be able to do that when building my home as well.

Perhaps this means using salvaged materials. It will likely mean designing the home in a clever way (for example, creating multi-use spaces, or clustering utilities). And it will certainly mean doing some of the work myself. I am ready to do all those things.

I am also open to the idea of building in stages—perhaps creating a smaller livable “core” at first, which can then be expanded the next year, and again a year later—though I am not married to this idea either, as it could end up being even harder and pricier than building all at once. Especially since I have a reasonably firm idea of what I want already.

Lower cost to maintain than a conventional house

It is painful to watch my money leak out my windows, down my drains, and through my power outlets, especially since the cost-per-throughput is unpredictable and unlikely to stay the same or go down over time. Therefore some of the things I want in a house include high performance in terms of utilities.

I am not an off-grid absolutist, but I welcome the off-grid idea. If my house sips very lightly from the grid that is fine too, so long as it doesn’t impact where I can put my house, but I definitely do not want to depend on the grid for all my heating/cooling, electricity, water, or sewage needs the way I do now.

Many practices from Earthships and passive architecture appeal to me: the use of berming or other forms of thermal mass together with underground air tubes and strategic design elements to regulate indoor temperature; the use of solar panels and wind turbines to generate electricity; gutters, cisterns, and various synthetic and biological filtration systems to capture, purify, and recycle rainwater.

It is worth noting here one of the ways I want to differentiate my house from many Earthships: I want to ensure that any parts I anticipate needing to occasionally replace or repair are conventional off-the-shelf products that will not be difficult to find. This might include things like appliances, flooring, or interior framing materials.

Interiors

When dreaming of building my own home, my starting place was always interior views: I would envision in my mind’s eye a space that I would like to be in, and what it would be like to look around, what I would see out the windows, what I might glimpse through a doorway or down below in a vaulted area. The thrill of building my own home is the chance to bring some of these visions to life. Fortunately I believe they are harmonious with the requirements above.

For example, large equator-facing windows could provide scenic views of mountains and trees, which I long for. Such windows could simultaneously provide solar gain to heat my house in the winter and grow plants in an interior greenhouse, like those found in Earthships. The planters in this greenhouse could receive gray water from sinks and showers; the plants, aside from providing me with year-round scenery, comfort, and snacks, could do the work of purifying gray water for use in toilet tanks (bylaws permitting).

It is important to me that my house feel neither like a refuge from nature, nor like a blended continuation of it, but like a controlled interface with nature: a place from which to enjoy nature in quiet and comfort. At the same time, the house itself would be a living thing, an ecosystem, which by living in it my wife and I would play an active role.

One aspect from my dreams that I want to manifest in my house is open space and vertical separation: interior spaces from which to look down or up into other interior spaces. I think this provides a quiet sort of grandeur, and if my house is built into a hill it can also reflect the notion of cooperation with, rather than struggling against, the surrounding landforms. I have not seen Earthships with multiple levels, but it seems like such an arrangement could have an advantage in terms of harnessing gravity so that water flows naturally downward from cistern to synthetic filter to taps and showers to greenhouse, reducing how powerful a pump might be needed. (And, carving into a hill seems easier than pounding tires.)

A house with stairs also represents some continued need for mobility; climbing stairs is great exercise and ensures a minimum level of activity. Rather than fear what I may not be able to do at age 95, I want to set a requirement for what I must be able to do at that age.

One more thing worth mentioning is my requirement that all bathrooms have a source of natural light.

Square footage and lifestyle

My wife and I have never lusted after mansions, and even now with us and our three kids under one roof, our 2000 sqft home feels perfectly adequate, even roomy. As Olga Ravn says in her book “The Employees”, anything feels big if you have to clean it. But I do not want to live in a Tinyhouse either: my goal is to comfortably accommodate our desired way of living without getting a house that is too big.

To this end, aside from the basics (bedroom/bathroom/kitchen, etc.), we also would like a dedicated space for exercise, a home office/reading room for my wife, and a dual home office/music room for myself. I would like the kitchen and master bathroom to be comfortably sized. And we would like to have a private place for our kids and grandkids to sleep when they come visit. None of these rooms have to be grandiose, and in fact most of them can be quite modest — and some might be combined into one — but they all reflect aspects of our lifestyle we expect to keep into old age.

Conceivably, some of these spaces could instead take the form of accessory outbuildings (such as the garage/workshop I plan to build as a starter project) but I believe it would be simpler and cheaper to just include more rooms in the main house.

Most Earthships seem to top out at a little over 1000 sqft, and many are much smaller; I think 1600-1800 sqft is a more reasonable estimate of the size home I want. With a vertical separation of space however, it need not take up that size footprint.

One more thing I want to mention is about layout. I want to ensure that spaces in my house flow in a way that is practical and convenient given the way we ordinarily live, rather than to satisfy some fantasy of, say, hosting a large gathering, or to conform to some ethereal metaphysical principle. Someone who arrives at the house, parks their car, and enters through the kitchen door should have a place to put down bags, to sit and remove shoes. If dirty or sweaty clothes need to be discarded, it makes sense to locate the washing machine at that spot too. That sort of thing.

Recycled/salvaged materials & low waste

Saving the planet is not my reason to build a home. I could reduce my impact on the environment even more by moving to a large apartment building. What most appeals to me about recycled/salvaged materials is the cost savings and the satisfaction of having found value in something others discarded, which itself is a kind of cost savings since I have made a waste material more valuable by using it. (I do still feel good about reducing waste and helping the environment of course.) So, I am not wedded to recycled or salvaged materials and if it makes more sense to buy something then I will, but since salvaging and recycling building materials is something I’ve been doing for years now, it’s hard to imagine I won’t at least try to keep doing it when I build my house.

I also want to minimize the waste from materials I do use. That might mean adjusting my design to accommodate full units of material without offcuts, or it might mean making sure that offcuts from the building of one feature have a use in a different feature. Unlike the cookie-cutter mini-mansions that sprouted around me the past few years, my home build should not require that a row of dumpsters be parked onsite. I think I heard that modern houses average about 15% wasted materials; if I can get that number on my house down to 1.5% or lower I’d consider that a success.
 
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Hi Ned,

I'm seeing that the construction waste is one of your main concerns.
Building waste is created by two factors:
-lazy design
-too large building elements made of inappropriate materials

Lazy design can be replaced with intelligent one that takes into account the size of materials and their position in the building. For example when I make reinforcement for a foundation I only buy a specific number of rebars plus 1 and no more. The one is used for my bending mistakes.
Large building elements are already part of unnatural and toxic approach to construction: vinyl, drywall, OSB, other boards, etc.
When you use better materials or natural (natural is not always better) then you either end up with something that can be still used, for example stone, brick, or concrete block or clay (that can be reused for ever) or you can use it to amend your soil: straw, clay, chipped lumber, construction dirt.
These large construction elements were invented to reduce the amount of labor and lower the price, but the labor price for their installation is unproportionally high for the low quality they offer.

Except of packaging I created zero waste:
-left-over CEB blocks are used for other structures
-eroded CEBs are reground and used as plaster
-left-over clay mortar reground and reused
-several short pieces of rebar are used as stakes when laying out garden or orchard extension, or I fabricate some useful objects from them
-pieces of heavy timber used as various supports or simply chopped and used in the oven
-pieces of fired bricks are used to create various architectural decorations and can be used as the fill when grouting structural bricks or concrete blocks
-pieces of roof tiles can be used to build cornices or used for support of other roof tiles when laid in mortar bed
-tens of pallets I have are used as tree wind breaks, temporary barn, compost bin

To build quality and spend wisely you have to be the designer, manager, supervisor and also a helper at the building site. There is no way around - because even experienced and pricey contractors make mistakes and cut corners where possible.
Always try to find independent, self employed tradesmen.
This way your savings will go into the quality of your home and not into the pockets of overcharging and overbloated companies with oversized brand new trucks, downtown offices and secretaries (that have to pay their mortgage).

My other recommendations is: downsize. 1800 sq ft is massive. It's good and healthy to live outside as much as possible. Good size workshop may reduce the size of the house.
Build one bathroom and kitchen and keep them close together for plumbing simplicity - thus reliability.
Think about having a quality masonry heater in the center of your home, but also close to bathroom wall.
So called conventional house is just a name for a low quality house. If you build yours properly maintenance will be greatly reduced.
 
Ned Harr
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Thanks @cristobal cristo!

I'm seeing that the construction waste is one of your main concerns.


I definitely want to minimize it, and I'm ready to do all the kinds of things you mentioned (i.e. being very involved in the build), but to be fair, it is lowest on the list compared to the other things

Love the ideas you gave for reusing materials for zero waste!

1800 sq ft is massive. It's good and healthy to live outside as much as possible.


Right now I'm basing my estimate off of the square footage of other houses and apartments we've lived in before, plus the other lifestyle requirements (working out daily, one or both of us still working at the time of move-in, accommodating visiting kids/grandkids).

That said, we do live outside as much as possible--that is already part of our lifestyle--and we are both adaptable people. We'll see what happens as the hour grows nearer and plans become more concrete.

1800 sqft is massive for an Earthship, but not for a house in general, especially not if there are multiple stories. Right?
 
Cristobal Cristo
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Ned,

It's massive for me - I lived for 25 years in 600 sq ft apartments. The house I built is 1150 sq ft and interior is 800 - because of massive walls outside and inside - I like it this way.
Less footage means less materials means less money and labor. In my opinion the most important room is the kitchen and the dining area. My bedrooms are tiny - they are just spaces to sleep and keep clothes in armoirs.
Now with all experience I would consider two stories house with bedrooms on the second floor, but at the same I'm in low seismicity area and I only like masonry so things would become more expensive than with one floor - despite having smaller foundation and smaller roof. Two story houses if well designed may have beautiful proportions.
 
pollinator
Posts: 3826
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Rooms:
  • Master Bedroom with Bathroom
  • Shared Bathroom
  • Living Room
  • Kitchen
  • Dining Room
  • Guest Bedroom
  • Gym
  • Wife Office/etc
  • Husband Office/etc
  • Mechroom+Laundryroom
  • Outdoor Kitchen+Dining+Livingroom Space


  • Mechroom:
    Water System - Well/Spring/Roof, Pump, filter, RO unit, Ozone/UV filter, pressure tank, PEX Manifold, HotWater Heater(tankless/solar/heatpump/gas/etc)
    Septic Sytem - Maybe macerating tiolet for reduce water need, Aerobic Septic System so that less nitrogen is released into the water ways
    Electrical - Onsite production (solar/hydro/etc), Solar-Ark 15KW AIO charger-inverter-combiner, 15KW solar Array or 2kw hydro-tubine, 45KW battery bank
    Heating - infloor radiant heating (PEX Piping, manifold for zones), Boiler (CO2 Heat Pump or Pellet-Wood Boiler or Gas), Solar Gain via Windows
    Ventilation - ERV, Bathroom Vent, Kitchen Vent
    AC/Dehumidifier - Mainly for humidity control? maybe a chiller so that no freon, enters the house, and it is outside only
    Humidifier - Evaporative-Fan types so that it auto-regulate at 50%
    Insulation - R-50 for walls, roof and floor, not really limited to just a mech room, but why not include it here.

    Building Material
    I assume that you don't mind using foam insulation and so to that end. I recommend just having some 1.5inch concrete/stucco/drywall over some solid 10inch foam insulation on the inside of the walls/roof/floor for thermal mass and similarly on the outside. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJekgKmro_Y

    Layout
    https://www.earthbagbuilding.com/plans/chonburi.htm Maybe something like this but with more rooms, because you said that you need stairs. Personally I kinda like long narrow that are just one room wide with a connecting hallway.

    1600sqft Greenhouse
    - eggs
    - chicken/duck
    - mushroom
    - herbs
    - leafy greens
    - root crops, squash

    1/2 acre Pond
    100lbs of fish harvest, could be more if it is stream fed.

    1 acre Orchard
    - Nuts
    - Fruits
    - Honey
     
    Ned Harr
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    Cristobal, thanks again for the additional thoughts.

    Less footage means less materials means less money and labor.


    I get that, and I could always save more by going even smaller than 600sqft! But as I said, I don't want to live in a tiny house, and I think I will be able to budget for a house in the range I want.

    I actually really like the split level arrangement I have now, with kitchen and dining on the ground floor, and then living room/office/etc. downstairs and bedrooms upstairs. The split allows more utilities to be clustered close together to reduce the lengths of pipe etc.

    So, south-facing slopes will likely be a requirement, or at least heavily weighted, when the search for land begins in earnest.

    S Bengi, I appreciate you putting this together. Is it a "sample" schedule based on what I wrote?? Wow!

    I would reduce the number of rooms:
    - Kitchen and dining could be combined into one space, it just has to be a bit larger.
    - We could probably just have the interior greenhouse be the living room.
    - Instead of shared bathroom, I would put a toilet, sink, and small shower in the laundry/mech room.
    - One or both of the offices (if we even do 2 offices) would also serve as guest bedroom.
    - I don't need an outdoor kitchen, just a flat area near a door with a nice view to put a couple chairs, a patio table, and a small grill. Would that even be counted under "rooms"?

    I like your mech room ideas; I've given a little thought to things like that but not a ton. I need to learn more about offgrid water and electrical systems!

    I would integrate the greenhouse inside the building, Earthship-style. I don't think I want any fowl anyway, and if I have a pond or live near one its utility for me would be for watching wildlife, not fishing. (I grew up fishing but haven't since I was a kid; I don't enjoy it.)

    And yeah right now in the burbs we have sugar maples, peach trees, a mulberry tree, a cherry tree, and a ~12x12 garden on our property, and use all of them! I expect we'd still try to have fruit trees and a (even larger) garden, and I'd be interested in trying my hand at keeping bee too.

    These are stimulating ideas, thank you!
     
    S Bengi
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    Let me know what yoou think of the insulation foam plus concrete thermal mass link that I shared in the pervious post.

    Also here is another floorplan that you might like.
    https://www.earthbagbuilding.com/plans/modern.htm

    I would love to see some of your prior drawing with an attached greenhouse that is multiple level. And yes I would view a garage/outdoor kitchen/porch/atached greenhouse as part of the house and thus a room.
     
    Ned Harr
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    S Bengi, below are some ROUGH sketches I drew up this morning. I apologize, I couldn't get the images to display the right size when embedded (they were way too big and adding "width=600" to the img tag didn't work), so I just made them links instead.

    Anyway, this plan is based on an older design that I'd sketched a lot, and I like the basic layout but I think now I would try to berm the north side and more of the east and west sides, or recess more of it into a slope.

    SW elevation (more of a very bad rendering) looking NE:
    https://i.imgur.com/ert5CNE.jpg

    Floor plan, ground level:
    https://i.imgur.com/PmPWSYq.jpg

    Floor plan, lower level:
    https://i.imgur.com/iInH3qD.jpg

    Floor plan, upper level:
    https://i.imgur.com/rTstPs3.jpg

    S elevation looking N:
    https://i.imgur.com/Iddq78N.jpg
     
    Ned Harr
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    Sorry, forgot to answer these:

    S Bengi wrote:Let me know what yoou think of the insulation foam plus concrete thermal mass link that I shared in the pervious post.


    I don't know much about it. I'm happy to learn more!

    Also here is another floorplan that you might like.
    https://www.earthbagbuilding.com/plans/modern.htm


    I'm not much drawn to "box" designs like this, but maybe I'm just failing to imagine them properly. How do you think it compares to the ones I sketched?

    yes I would view a garage/outdoor kitchen/porch/atached greenhouse as part of the house and thus a room.


    I would do the garage/shop as a separate building, actually probably it's the first thing I would build, as a way to learn and make connections with tradesmen and possibly local volunteers.
     
    Cristobal Cristo
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    Ned,

    "Box" designs has advantages:
    -good heat distribution without too hot/cold rooms
    -less potential leak points
    -simple roof

    Originally I designed my house with a complex shape, but then I realized that a rectangle with golden ratio proportions and tactful architectural ornaments will be always timeless.
    I believe in universal beauty and harmony.
     
    Ned Harr
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    Cristobal, thanks for following up. I was unclear before:

    By "box design" I meant where the house looks like what every little kid draws with a crayon if you say "draw a house". Overall cube shape, gable or hipped roof, typically without open spaces between floors. It's a very conventional look, designed with priorities that really are inherited from other places and times.

    I do understand and think about stuff like heat distribution, seams/leak points, simple roof, ratio of surface area to volume, etc. If you look at the sketches I posted above (in this comment) you'll see I am actually going for a squarish rectangular footprint, and in fact my proposed roof is simpler than most conventional "box" houses because it is a shed roof with only one facet.
     
    Cristobal Cristo
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    Ned,

    I saw only the floor plans, but not the isometric view. I can see it now.
    What will happen with water going down to the berm? Gutter, drain? Just curious.
     
    Ned Harr
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    Cristobal Cristo wrote:Ned,

    I saw only the floor plans, but not the isometric view. I can see it now.
    What will happen with water going down to the berm? Gutter, drain? Just curious.



    I would do a big gutter at the low end of the roof, feeding one or more buried cisterns--Earthship style.

    If the house is recessed into a slope that continues upward to the north, then I'd probably want to think about a French drain or something uphill from the house to divert water around, maybe also feeding into the cisern(s) or a pond or natural pool on the south side of the house.

    Of course this depends on other things, like if there's a water hookup or a well--I don't want to steal rainwater from the well if it would mean the well might collapse. That kinda thing.

    But I'm getting more into the weeds of it now...the short answer is "gutter".
     
    pollinator
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    I think anybodies dream house should be the one they are living in.
    That way you dont get envious.

    Underground water cisterns create their own problems.
    Above ground poly or metal tanks dont collapse inwards.
    Small is beautiful.
    I have been building my modest home about 1000 sq. ft for over 40 yeras.
    I just add something when I see the need.
    My sheds are about 25,000 sq. ft
     
    Ned Harr
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    @S Bengi:

    I assume that you don't mind using foam insulation and so to that end. I recommend just having some 1.5inch concrete/stucco/drywall over some solid 10inch foam insulation on the inside of the walls/roof/floor for thermal mass and similarly on the outside. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJekgKmro_Y


    Wow, that's amazing. What's the catch? I see now there are a few threads about SKIPs here, I'll have to read up I guess.

    Edit, nevermind, I'm getting SCIP confused with SKIP and, reading up on SKIP, they are, uh, definitely not the same thing hehehe...

    @John C Daley:

    I think anybodies dream house should be the one they are living in.
    That way you dont get envious.


    I basically agree, though I think there's a bit of contextualism to it. I like the house I live in right now more than most of the other houses in my neighborhood, and I'm always happy pulling into my driveway after driving past everyone else's house. But my actual "dream house" is way more efficient, laid out better, uses better materials, more aligned design-wise with what's important to me, and most importantly, is in the mountains surrounded by trees for acres and acres. Jealousy has nothing to do with it. Still, I get what you're saying and this is good advice.

    Underground water cisterns create their own problems.
    Above ground poly or metal tanks do you collapse inwards.


    I'm not sure I understand the second sentence there, but the first one I'd like to know more about. What else can you tell me about the problems associated with underground water cisterns? I'm here to learn!

    Small is beautiful.
    I have been building my modest home about 1000 sq. ft for over 40 yeras.
    I just add something when I see the need.


    That's great!

    My sheds are about 25,000 sq. ft


    Wow, that's massive. I think that's about the size of a Walmart! Is it even a shed at that point? Care to share pics? I'm in awe.
     
    S Bengi
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    So the way how I am visualizing your home is one that have:
    1) "basement" (man cave - gym, art studio-office, workshop, gameroom, laundry, mechroom, bathroom)
    2) regular floor (that's at least earth bermed on 3 sided, with the 4th side being a greenhouse with a glass-window wall)
    3) "attic" (no earth sheltering, unless it is a green roof, woman cave/grandkids - her office, grandkids bedroom, bathroom/kitchentte, views to downstairs greenhouse)

    Obviously you are taking the usual basement+regular floor+ attic and bringing it up to the next level, with the attic being a full 7-8ft story, with a flat roof/shed-roof

    Each of the 3 floors could be 24ft by 36ft in total (2rooms by 3rooms if you will)
    The attic will have 12ft by 36ft open to below in the front and the back 12ft by 36ft will have the 3rooms
    The regular floor will have 12ft by 36 ft as a greenhouse (kinda earthship style) and the back 12ft by 36ft will have 3room
    The basement will have the entire 24ft by 36ft space as useable, I recommend giving it two exits in case of emergency

    Let me know if your were only thinking of 2 floors vs the 3floors that I assumed above.
     
    Ned Harr
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    S Bengi wrote:So the way how I am visualizing your home is one that have:
    1) "basement" (man cave - gym, art studio-office, workshop, gameroom, laundry, mechroom, bathroom)


    Not exactly. My wife and I both use the gym (it would not be a "man cave"), if she has an office it'd be down there too, we don't need or want a gameroom, and the laundry/mechroom/bathroom would be on the ground floor, not the lower level. The laundry/mechroom/bathroom would serve as our most common entryway into the rest of the house, that's why it would be on the ground level floor.

    2) regular floor (that's at least earth bermed on 3 sided, with the 4th side being a greenhouse with a glass-window wall)


    Sorta...there'd be a south-facing window wall on all 3 floors, though technically the ground floor (what you're calling the "regular floor") doesn't reach the windows. In my design it is open along its southernmost side with views and stairs to both the lower level and the upper level.

    3) "attic" (no earth sheltering, unless it is a green roof, woman cave/grandkids - her office, grandkids bedroom, bathroom/kitchentte, views  to downstairs)


    This upper level would include the bedroom, the master bathroom, and an open loft area just outside the bedroom (with views to downstairs), plus a narrow greenhouse area along the window wall. The loft area could serve as a second office I guess. I'm not sure about earth sheltering, that might depend on the surrounding terrain. The upper level would not include a "grandkids bedroom" or kitchenette.

    Obviously you are taking the usual basement+regular floor+ attic and bringing it up to the next level, with the attic being a full 7-8ft story, with a flat roof/shed-roof


    Not sure what you mean here. Can you explain? I see this as a split level or tri level, with the lower level including an additional sunken portion under the upper level.

    Each of the 3 floors could be 24ft by 36ft in total (2rooms by 3rooms if you will)
    The attic will have 12ft by 36ft open to below in the front and the back 12ft by 36ft will have the 3rooms
    The regular floor will have 12ft by 36 ft as a greenhouse (kinda earthship style) and the back 12ft by 36ft will have 3room
    The basement will have the entire 24ft by 36ft space as useable, I recommend giving it two exits in case of emergency


    Not sure about these measurements. I think probably the whole house could have a footprint between 30x40 at the low end, and 40x60 at the high end. (That's total footprint of the foundation, not living space.) Maybe even tweak it to a golden ratio :)

    But I do agree, the lower level would have at least one exit, probably to the same side as the kitchen on the floor above.


    Let me know if your were only thinking of 2 floors vs the 3floors that I assumed above.


    No, I'm imagining 3 floors.
     
    Ned Harr
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    S Bengi,

    After watching the video you sent, I spent some time reading up on SCIP panels. So far what I've learned is they appear to be more expensive than conventional construction (I saw estimates of $14/sqft--that's any surface area where they're used, which tends to include floors, walls, beams, and roof--though of course it will vary by locale) and that is just for the panels + labor; you also have to cover them in spraycrete or whatever that stuff is called, so that carries its own additional set of costs in materials and labor. The other catch is that the metal reinforcement material produces thermal bridging, so the spray-on coating or whatever other material used to envelope the panels is not of some minimum thickness.

    Still, it's a cool idea and there might be similar/competitor products that perform similarly while solving the thermal bridging problem and costing as much or less. I think I saw a Matt Risinger video once where a guy had used panels that were a kind of sandwich of wood/foam/wood connected in a way that produced no thermal bridging, though I'm guessing those were probably pricey.
     
    pollinator
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    One aspect of planning, since you are thinking long term, is to plan in full accessibility. If you want to age in place, it's good to make sure in advance that you are covered if either of you develop health or mobility issues.
    Roll-in showers are very simple, if you do them from the start, but are a major pain to retrofit. (I would only do full wetroom bathrooms going forward myself. Easier to clean too)
    If you are going for more than one level, think about if you want to leave space for a lift to be added later or at least put in a plug for a stairlift option.

    Think about entrance grading. Could you make it direct entry or build so a ramp is easy to add?

    Don't add unnecessary interior steps, if you can avoid them. I've seen lots of places with single steps up or down into sections or rooms and it's no big deal, until it starts limiting access to those areas.

    If you're building, you can also make the doors wheelchair width without it being a big deal or expense.

    This isn't something anyone likes to think about when they are healthy, but a bit of planning can make a huge difference in terms of how many years you can stay in your dream home and how comfortable that time will be.
     
    Ned Harr
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    Dian, thanks for the ideas. This is something I'd considered, but ended up deliberately going the other direction. In fact, I'm thinking about adding something like this going from the main floor to the lower level. A good portion of the time, especially when going up, I'd use the "big" stairs:

    ...and other stuff like that to provide alternative, more active means of moving through my house. Staying more active later into life is the best way to ensure AGAINST loss of mobility.
     
    John C Daley
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    Underground water storage has many issues;
    - could be 4-6 x price of above ground tanks.
    - Leaks are never observed
    - tree roots can find those leaks and get inside the cistern
    - cleaning is very difficult
    I am building a personal elevator using a sliding frame and an electric hoist with a cable.
    It has a hand control which rides with the elevator capsule.
    Costs
    - wall track $100
    - track wheels $60
    - Elevator capsule $200
    - Hoist motor and cable complete $200
    Total cost $560 plus 2 days work
     
    John C Daley
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    DIY elevators or lifts in Australia

     
    Cristobal Cristo
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    Ned,

    I was reading about the SCIP system. What I don't like about it - besides the shortcomings you mentioned, is the fact that it's a proprietary system that has to be imported from monopolistic manufacturer and the other systems are not compatible with it. Also - you have a concrete home, but not really, because torcreting some mesh is not the same as pouring concrete into formwork with #4 rebars. Also the bigger panels you deal with - the more design limitations you have or more waste.

    If I wanted to have a house from concrete I would stick to regular concrete blocks that are available everywhere and do not need anything special to lay. 8" inner side of the wall, 4" cavity for mineral insulation and 4" block for the outside (or also 8", because sometimes 4" is more expensive than popular 8"). Interior walls from 8" block. Vertical rebar every 32" and grouted with concrete, other cavities filled with dirt and tamped. Such a structure can be built block by block not being bothered by elements, lack of special machinery or fasteners, etc.
    The walls can be chased with a chaser to run electricity and piping and then everything can be plastered with cement based, or lime based or earth plaster.

    This is standard for construction in Europe, except that in most cases a rigid insulation would be plastered on the outside without additional wythe of the wall (which I don't like, because I like it solid on all sides). Also the concrete block would be replaced by AAC block (Suporex, Ytong) or Porotherm type clay brick.

    Too bad that Porotherm is not being sold here - I consider it the best building material for the masses. It's a traditional clay (so rather healthy and breathing), fired (so resistant to elements), it's insulative by design (the interior has the extruded grid pattern), of course fire proof and there are versions for seismic zones (popular in Italy) that can be vertically reinforced. They are slightly smaller than CMU here and laid on thin bed of mortar. Thermal mass, fire resistance, vermin free, quiet interior and solidity all come by default. It easily makes a house low maintenance and long lasting. - so cheap in the long run and good for environment.
     
    Ned Harr
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    John C Daley wrote:Underground water storage has many issues;
    - could be 4-6 x price of above ground tanks.
    - Leaks are never observed
    - tree roots can find those leaks and get inside the cistern
    - cleaning is very difficult


    Thanks, this is good info. I wonder how these issues are mitigated (or if they aren't, why not and what the results are) in homes with buried cisterns (such as earthships). Like I said several times by now, I am not married to the earthship design, and since my plan is 15 years out anyway I better not be! I'm here to learn and develop ideas so that when the time comes I'm not naive and flying blind, and so I am privy to all the options available.

    If I wanted to do rainwater catchment, there's above-ground and below-ground cisterns, each with their own set of pros and cons. Any other options? What are all the pros and cons of each?
     
    Ned Harr
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    Cristobal, good points about SCIP, and good ideas about concrete blocks. Definitely food for thought...
     
    Ned Harr
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    I quickly translated some of my ideas to Sketchup. I made the back wall curved as if it was bermed from behind. And I drew the window walls as just one big sheet of glass; obviously in reality they would be made of individual windows, and not even necessarily entirely of windows, maybe as little as 50% windows.

    For simplicity I didn't draw any surrounding terrain, and of course none of it is to scale, it's mainly just to show the layout I have in mind. There might be additional interior window walls between the dining area and lower level and between the lower greenhouse and the office area, but I simply haven't drawn them here.









    Let me know if this clarifies from my earlier drawings.
     
    Ned Harr
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    By the way, tying this in to my other tongue-in-cheek post about designing for longevity: suppose I get in a car accident the year after I move in, and lose the use of my legs, and am confined to a wheelchair.

    The design above could be modified by moving the stairs westward and making room for a lift which could fit in their place. Maybe more than $500 but, if my own thriftiness and ingenuity is any expectation-setter, not prohibitively expensive.

    A ramp could also be added over the steps to the sunken part of the lower level.
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    Ned Harr wrote:I wrote a thing, with myself as the primary intended audience, and I thought it'd be a good idea to have other people--especially people with some experience building houses--look at it and see if they might suggest things I should include. (And really this was what drove me to register for the forum a day or two ago.) Hang on, I can explain.

    For years I've been dreaming about building my own house. For most of that time, the "itch" has been quite consuming and I found I could satisfy it a bit by drawing pictures. First I filled notebooks with sketches and floor plans and diagrams, then I started messing around in Sketchup and even went so far once as to try to design a house in Sketchup from the framing outward.

    But as my knowledge and ideas have evolved I've realized it's kinda pointless to draw up a blueprint for a building when I don't even own the land yet, and the building needs to fit the land.

    I'm happy to say that acquisition of land for the purpose of building my own house has gone from "silly daydream" to "15-year plan that my wife and I are both on board with". But the itch remains.

    So instead of drawing pictures, which are relatively precise and prescriptive, I recently tried just writing down my ideas, starting from a list of "what do I want in a house" and then using that as an outline that I expanded into a ~2400 word essay. The main purpose is to clarify to myself what I want, but it might be something I share with an architect or a builder, or even just with experienced like-minded people (ahem) who can use it as the basis for providing advice as I get closer to breaking ground on my plan.

    My question is, would this be an okay place to post the essay for y'all's feedback? If so I'll edit this post to add it.

    As you'll see if you read it, I am somewhat agnostic about building methods--for example I am interested in borrowing some ideas from earthships, but I'm not married to earthships as a concept. As such, I wasn't sure what forum to post this in. I'm not even sure the generic-sounding "natural building" is the best fit because at the end of the day if poured concrete forms or shipping containers give me the best path to what I want then that's what I'd go with. But for now this seems like the least-worst place...



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