eCHOICE BY DESIGN




ECO GUIDE HOME

ECO PLANNING GUIDE
Thoughts Before Planning
Converting a Basic Stock Plan
Cleaning Up
Healthy Eating
Self Care
Yard Care
Organic Gardening
Transportation
Better Pet Care

OUR ECOHOUSE
Planning It-The Beginning
Planning It - The Lot
Planning It-The House Plans
Building It 1
Building It 2
Building It 3
Pricing It
The Result-Outside
The Result-Inside 1
The Result-Inside 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


THE BEGINNING

We have always been an ecologically-minded, environmentally responsible family.  When it came time to move, we decided to attempt to build a house that would reflect this.  We researched all the various methods of building for 4 years before we decided on how to build ours.  In our research, the most intriguing building technique we came across was to use straw bales, but living in the Midwest, a traditional part of the country, made this nearly impossible back then.  No one knew how to build that way in our area at the time and since we are so damp and humid much of the year it seemed as though the house would need to go up fast so we couldn't possibly do it ourselves.  Plus where we wanted our house situated, it was highly doubtful straw bale would be approved since we live in a fairly major metropolitan area with strict building codes.  We threw out building a cob house or any other alternative method for the same reason. We thought seriously about SYP construction (Structural Insulated Panels) and actually went so far as to get an estimate for building.  Unfortunately the cost for the shell of the house was virtually 100% more for SYP construction as for regular stick framing, putting it completely out of our reach financially.  We had to settle for something a little less than what we had hoped and picked traditional stick framing with thicker walls and higher R-values.  In the end what we chose had a higher R-value than any of the alternative ways of building so we were quite happy.

Another goal was to enable this house to have as little impact on the environment as possible.  We wanted to use environmentally responsible building materials wherever we could.  We also wanted to build the house so it would need as little fuel to heat and cool as possible by using tight construction with high R-values and a heat source that was as efficient as possible.  We also planned to add photovoltaic panels each year until we had enough to supply our own electric needs.  And finally we wanted to situate the house on the lot and choose a plan that would use the sun to heat it some of the time.  This prevented us from fully designing our house until we had found our lot.  We carefully designed our house to suit our needs and refined the design many times over a couple of years.  Once the lot was found and purchased (see the Our Lot page) we put the finishing touches on the design (see the Floor Plans page).  We then searched for someone to draw up our plans--someone who was trained in designing ecologically and environmentally sound houses and also trained in sound engineering.  We found that someone in John Robbins (www.queencity.com/people/jrobbins) and worked with him for 4 months while he drew up the plans for us.  Once the plans were drawn up we began our search for subcontractors.

Our lot is on the north side of an east/west street, therefore, we put most of the windows on the front of the house--the south side.  Only 2 small windows and 2 doors are on the north side--the back of the house, and some windows and doors are on the east and west sides of the house.

In the end we chose to use 2 X 6 framing for the exterior walls, 24 O.C. (on center) and 2 X 12 for the roof.  The wall and roof cavities were filled with cellulose. To make the R-values higher for our somewhat cold and not-so-sunny location (near Cleveland, Ohio) we added 2 inches of foam on the outside of the exterior walls and roof.  The exterior walls should perform at close to R-33 or higher.  The roof at close to R-55.  Over the rafters/collar ties, there is an additional 16 inches of cellulose bring the R-value at the peaks of the house to around R-65.  Special construction methods, including spraying expanding foam, were used at joints to make the house as tight as possible.  Although I hate the use of any plastic, I also love the extra R-value the foam insulation brought us and have hopes our fuel use will be so much lessened it will compensate for the negative ecological impact of using a plastic (the foam) in the construction of our house.  The cellulose insulation was installed by A.B.C. Insulation.  The foam was installed by the framer.

Windows are aluminum clad wood Andersen windows (www.andersenwindows.com), double glazed and argon gas filled. Exterior doors are insulated metal except for our front door which is a fiberglass clad steel door.  We wanted a special front door and just could not afford a solid wood one which was over $2,000 versus the $700 of the one we ended up with.  So we settled again.  All our exterior and interior framing, setting of windows and doors, plus installation of stairs and upstairs flooring was done by builder, Paul Jackam.

For our siding and trim we decided to go with fiber-cement siding--horizontal planks which are already primered.  We eventually decided on and used Hardi-plank (www.jameshardie.com).  Paul Jackam, our framer, installed the siding and trim of the house also.  Later we used a Superduck product especially made for fiber-cement siding to 'stain' the house.  This is a spray-on two-step process and when finished it looked amazingly like wood!  It has been over 9 years since it was sprayed on and it looks as good as the day it was finished.


For our roofing material we decided on steel roofing.  Our framer, Paul Jackam, produced a subcontractor to install the roofing.  Our roof is the thing most people notice when driving by the house!  The steel roofing was manufactured by Everlast (www.everlast.com).

All excavation, backfill, driveway, foundation digging, trenching for electric and cable, septic tank installation and laying of water line was done by Marks Excavating.  They also put in our lawn and a couple of extra yard drains.

Our foundation is a poured wall foundation with 2 inches of foam on the inside of the walls and was done by Atlas Walls.  We tried to get a company to install a foam/cement foundation but they were too busy to do our house on schedule so we had to pass on them.  Next time will be different.  The perimeter foam insulation was installed by us!  We dislike basements, so this is a slab-on-grade home.


After lots of research we decided on in-slab radiant heat, deciding this delivered the most heat for the least amount of fuel usage, as well as the healthiest type of heat.  We are fortunate to have several experienced plumbers in this type of heating system in our area and chose Schaefer Plumbing to do the job.  We used the Wirsbo radiant heat system.  The heated water is being supplied by a propane-fired, tankless boiler by Rinnai (www.rinnaiamerca.com).  This boiler is installed into the exterior wall of the house saving space inside the house.  There is a second tankless water heater--also a Rinnai--installed to produce our own hot water.  This was also installed into the exterior wall of the house.  Schaefer also did all the plumbing for the house.  They also installed a whole house Honeywell heat recovery ventilator (www.honeywell.com).

Heat for the upstairs, if needed, was to be supplied by radiant heat panels which the house is wired for.  The city was a bit hesitant to allow us to not install them at first but it worked out very well.  We have 3 open areas to the upstairs and have never needed any extra heating.  The wiring was only for the city's benefit!

For our downstairs flooring we decided to use our concrete slab for a good portion of it.  The slab was insulated underneath with a radiant slab insulation material that is somewhat like a bubble plastic with foil.  It is made by rFOIL Insulation Products (www.radiant_barrier.net) and performs equal to 2 inches of foam.  The slab was tinted a taupe color, saw cut on 2 foot centers in some rooms to look like large tiles, grouted and sealed.  Some of the smaller areas were not cut on 2 foot centers but were cut evenly.  The slab work was done by 880 Construction.  Part of the floor was covered by a prefinished Junckers hardwood flooring (www.cpninc.com).  This solid hardwood flooring is designed for installation over in-slab radiant heating and is connected by metal clips.  Other parts of the slab are covered by ceramic tile.

Our upstairs flooring is 2 X 6 tongue and groove spruce flooring.  This flooring was sanded and finished by Falcon Flooring.  Several of our rooms downstairs have open ceilings.


All interior doors are stained flush birch, except for a few solid oak doors we purchased at an auction.  Closet doors are bi-fold stained flush birch.  All interior trim is 1 X 4 pine from Sweden.  All staining and installation of doors and trim was done by Ed Hetrick.  Staining was done with a Benjamin Moore no-VOC clearcoat.  Our railings were made from 4 X 4 posts, regular 2 X 4s, and chrome grids.

We have two kitchens.  The main east kitchen has Kraft Maid kitchen cabinets.  The countertop is a 12 X 12 ceramic tile countertop with pine trim edging.  The refrigerator and stove were brought over from the previous house.  Eventually they will be replaced with more efficient models.  The tiny kitchenette/bar area on the west side has birch kitchen cabinets made by IKEA--an environmentally conscious company (www.ikea.com).  Their cabinets are made with a board that is very low in formaldehyde and all finishes are formaldehyde free.  Outgassing is very little.  The countertop of the kitchenette is made up of 12 X 12 granite tiles and is also edged in pine trim.  The kitchenette has a Samsung combination microwave/oven on the counter with a two-burner propane stove made by Suburban.  The refrigerator is a stainless steel Conserv (see www.conservrefrigerators.com).  In the end the hall bath ended up with two solid birch, open vanities with stainless steel shelving and towel bars--from IKEA again.  We used an IKEA bathroom sink--the countertop is ceramic tile.  We splurged on this bathroom and had a whirlpool bath installed.  Although many people told us we would quickly stop using the whirlpool bath--6 years later we still use it at least 3 times a week.  It is the one thing I am most thankful I decided to include!

Our downstairs bathroom walls and the utility room walls are partially covered with ceramic tiles.  The Master bedroom bath has a wheelchair accessible tiled shower stall.  All toilets are Caravelle Caroma from Australia (www.caromausa.com), a dual flush toilet using 1.6 gallons for the full flush and .6 to .8 gallons for the half-flush.  The Master Bedroom Bath has an oak vanity with a glass vanity sink/top.  Moen faucets are used for nearly all rooms.

All electrical work was done by Troy Thomas.  It is standard 200 amp and includes cable, surround sound wiring, telephone, etc.  All light fixtures are fluorescent types--except for a couple of exterior lights which are halogen.  All bulbs used inside are fluorescent.

Our washer and dryer is the Whirlpool Duet front load washer and dryer and is stacked in the Greenhouse area.  This is so we can hang clothes in the Greenhouse and Sunroom in the winter if we wish to do so--letting them air dry.  This is another one of my favorite choices.  Our clothes come out just as clean--if not cleaner--than with any other washer, but the entire process is SO much faster!  The washer spins longer and faster than regular washers getting out much of the moisture.  The dryer therefore doesn't take nearly as long to dry the clothes.


The greenhouse and sunroom have multiple uses.  We grow vegetables, mostly salad type, in the winter.  The outdoor organic garden is right outside both of these rooms.  We grow quite a few of our vegetables organically year around.  We are still learning.  The rooms are also used as heat collectors for our house in the winter.  In the summer we close the rooms off to the rest of the house preventing quite a bit of the heat from entering the main part of the house.  There is an overhang by the living room to prevent excessive heat accumulation in the summer but we needed it wide open for our growing areas.  We have shades that insulate somewhat--from both heat and cold--on the greenhouse and sunroom windows.

Our entryway has been planned to avoid heat loss from our house.  There is a door into each side of the house for this purpose--sort of like a large air-lock.  The living room has a small electric fireplace and eventually the family room will too.  Amazingly the electric fireplace can heat the living room enough that it could almost be used solely to heat that entire side!  And to think we wanted small propane fireplaces at one time.  Our builder talked us out of that one--he said it would heat our house to 100 degrees in no time and with the insulation we have it might take 24 hours for it to cool back down to 70!

The upstairs is mainly a finished attic with sloping roofline.  One side is a large open hobby room with attic storage area on the north side behind the walls where the roof gets too low.  The other side has two bedrooms, a half bath, a small sitting/tv room and a tiny guest area.  Nothing fancy but everyone seems to love the upstairs the best.  It has lots of character.

It was hoped that we wouldn't need heat except on sunny days below 20 degrees and non-sunny days below 40 degrees.  This has turned out to be much the case.  See below


This is our way of building to save our planet.

THE REST OF THE STORY

We have now been in our house for 6 years.  Our hope that we won't need air conditioning has panned out well for us.  No matter how hot it is outside, the inside has never gone above 80--the main house never above 76--amazing with all the mostly unprotected windows on the south side of the house.  Nights--even 70 degree plus ones--are very comfortable inside the house.  When you walk in the door from outside it truly feels as though it is air conditioned.  Everyone thinks it is!

We have finished all the planters for our outdoor organic garden.  We have been successfully growing much of our vegetables there and are starting to grow berries now.  We have never seen anything grow like it does in this garden!

For the longest time that first year we thought our radiant heat system did not work because it never turned on!  Finally towards the very end of December it got cold enough outside for it to turn on.  We love having the radiant floors and the better indoor humidity levels.  It has never dropped below 50%--no more dry, cracked skin in the winter!   We do not need heat for the upstairs--it stays only 2 degrees cooler as compared to downstairs.  Even through a few brutal winters, our system does not turn on until it is below 40 degrees outside and if sunny, often not until it is below 20 degrees!  The only problem with this is our 'radiant' floors are not often warm except in the deep winter--since the system isn't 'on' until then.  By mid-March we don't have to turn it on any more and rarely do we need to turn it on before mid-December.  Since all our hot water is propane-fired we are not sure how much we use to heat our house, but as near as we can tell we use about two tanks a year for just our hot water heating and cooking.  Since we usually fill up only 3 times a year, we estimate we use only 1 tank of propane a year to heat our 3500+ square foot house.  We have the smaller, 250 gallon tank, so it does not take much to heat this house.

THE END OF THE STORY

The children grew up and my mother passed away.  I was alone, working a lot of hours, and finally 3500 square feet and 3 acres was just too much for this 60 something!  I ended up selling the house (finding out people were TERRIFIED of the radiant floors) and moving into a conventional house.  It has been a LOT easier to keep up the house and the yard, but I have suffered with dry skin, allergies and such in a much dirtier conventional type home.  I am slowly changing the home over to a more ecological home but it will take a few years.  I am now heading in a direction of helping builders understand how little money and thought goes into taking a conventional house and changing it over to an ecological house that will take a lot less energy to run.  All it does is take a redirection of thinking and applying it.  Removing excess space such as hallways and a bit of smart thinking will enable builders to build a house with just as much useable space that will use a lot less energy and cost about the same amount to build.

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