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The ideal energy saving house?

Posted by Bry84 (My Page) on
Thu, Dec 2, 04 at 16:01

I'm currently looking in to building a fairly small one level house, about the size of a comfortable apartment. I'm forced by finances to keep it's design quite economical, so I'm keeping the size small and intending to use clever design to make it work rather than make it huge. I've been looking at the way mobile homes, boats and motor homes use various designs and built in storage to make every sq. foot useful and comfortable. I find a huge ammount of a convential house is simply wasted space that uses excessive materials to build and consumes energy for the entire life of the building. I'd rather avoid the expence and wastage.

I also want to use materials that are renewable and aren't considered hazardous to health. Low embodied energy is a nice feature, but I'm willing to use materials with high embodied energy if they offer serious long term advantages. I'm expecting the majority of the structure to be wood of some kind, but I'm looking in to a number of materials. The walls, floor and roof will be heavily insulated and sealed, and the design will use passive solar combined with landsaping to block out summer glare while letting in light during the winter. I hope to use solar air heating and water heating. Possibly biomass fuels like wood burning as well. The rest of the energy would be from electric (using a 100% renewable provider), thus ensuring it uses no fossil fuels without going to any extreme or expensive off-grid designs.

Well, I've heard loads of good ideas and comments here, so I'd love to hear some of the people here's ideas for an energy saving design. If you were to build a house like this, what would you want in it and why? Please remember however this is supposed to be reasonably economical, and anything really unconventional like geodesic domes are sadly unlikey to impress the planning department or potential buyers in the future. That's not to say I'm going with an everyday convential design, I actually want something very futuristic, but I do want a certain ammount of familiarity with everyday houses as well.

I look foward to sharing some ideas and eventually making the best design choices I can. Thanks for listening,
Bry


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Build it with 6" thick SIP panels and a precast insulated foundation.

Here is a link that might be useful: superior walls


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Wow...is that just the strangest thing or what. I was just about to log in and say "Build with SIPS". Yep. They use chemicals, but after physically seeing the process of making them in the plant, there is very little waste, very little downstream chemical problems, and the long term energy savings are so, so huge that they ARE considered Green by most architects and designers creating "green" buildings. Of course, I AM biased, since I live in one.

And, if I were building myself a small home again, I'd definitely get inspiration from this site; although all the links/homes shown are prefab units, all of them are fairly small, and architecturally designed to take advantage of both the size, the storage, the light, etc.

Check it out.

Oh, and if you want to know anything else about SIPs, just give a ring.

Here is a link that might be useful: Architecturally designed prefabs (small)


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

SIP panels are the future of building. They did an article in the latest issue of poular science about using them.

My dream house is going to be built with SIPS


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

I also like SIPS, but they're turning out to be quite a large range of materials. The usual type, the ones I presume you're all talking about, are some kind of wood composite sandwidged on each side of a plastic foam core. I'm not against using a non-renewable insulation foam here, it's a long lasting product which isn't going to end up in a landfill any time soon. I do however have some concerns about the chemicals as some foams are made with formaldehyde and it can off-gas. I'd have to check with the manufacturer before I decided on a specific product.

Curently however, I've been looking at a different type of SIP called XLSolid. It's a solid sheet of wood laminated together with non-toxic glue, and naturally has insulation value, like a log cabin would. It assembles just like a normal SIP, but the advantage aside from having no plastic foam is that it can be directly finished both inside and outside without needing any siding or drywall. I haven't yet priced it against normal 2x6 contruction, but I expect there to be large savings as it eradicates a whole range of building materials.

Here's a link that I found:
http://constructionresources.com/products/Building envelope/XLSolid.htm

I like the look of them as well, I think they would adapt nicely to a modern design. On the down side there wouldn't be any wall cavity to hide services or radiant barrier insulation on the external walls, but I could work around that minor problem, and having wooden walls allongside normal plaster walls would make a nice design feature inside. I'm quite convinced this, or something like it, is exactly the material I need.


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Good call Bry...but here, almost all panels are already made with formaldehyde-free glues and other products. Outgassing really isn't a concern. Typically, it's "slightly" more than 2x6 construction, but for a DIY, that price drops (in specialized labor costs). The SIPs I use have built in wiring chases for electrical or other types of wiring (phone, speaker, etc.), and here, we DO NOT put plumbing or heating services in exterior walls.

In my home, I spend about as much in a year as a similar stick-built house does in two months.


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Hi Jason,
I just read an article about formaldehyde I came across entirely by accident, aparently it's gone from being labled a probable carcinogen to being labled carcinogenic. Certainly not something anyone wants in the house, but so many building materials contain it. I expect it to be part of some material in the house, but the smaller the ammount the better.

Anyway, I have to ask a little more about your experiences with SIPs, for example did you use them for the floors and the roof? A lot of sites seem to show people doing that with them. And did you take part in assembling the building itself?

Thanks,
Bry

PS: I have since looked at that link you gave me and it's very similar to the kind of thing I was picturing, and the designs there share the same ideals I have for a smaller better designed house. It's a pity prefabricated construction is still uncommon here. If you have any more links like that I would love to see them?


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

My experience? I built my own home (post and beam with SIPs on the outside), more than 15 years ago, then became a builder. I'm a distributor and builder of SIP structures. I've built a few. I've used them for both floors and roofs (and of course walls). Right now, I'm considering using a newer "foundation" panel. Wood basements are somewhat common in my area, and have been used with some success here. With that in mind, SIPS are so much better, that I'm thinking of it.

Formaldehyde IS a concern, but there's two reasons that it's not as much of a concern as it was, oh, say ten years ago. First, almost all products have a much smaller portion of F. type chemicals than they used to, and second, with an SIP house, you MUST have some type of mechanical ventilation. They are so tight that ordinary sources of pollutants such as water vapor, CO2, and other gases must be exhausted on a regular basis (and they should be on a well-constructed home of other means, as well). So, HRV's (heat-recovery ventilators), ERVs (energy-recorvery ventilators), and AAHE (air-to-air heat exchangers), are a must. Even regular stick built homes I've built must have some type of "make up air".....that is, a method of bringing in outside, fresh air to feed the water heater and furnace, at the very least. My own home has an AAHE; the stale, exhausted air is used to "preheat" the incoming cold air before it goes to the furnace. Works great.

SIPs are the way to go.

And I LOVED many of the homes shown on the Fablist; some very, very cool stuff.

Thanks for posting back!


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Well, I'm more than sold on the sips. They're not quite perfect, they do use non-renewable foam cores, but otherwise they're ideal for what I hope to do. Actually, I do prefer the look of post and beam buildings with lots of glass, like those made by Huf Haus, but the price is too high. Sips are generally used with a more enclosed look, but I could combine them with extensive glazing to get the look I want.

I also want to use them for the flat roof. My plan is to make it all very low cost, so I'm picturing a poured slab foundation, sip walls with a flat sip roof to make a fully enclosed building shell for minimal expense. Once I have a building shell I can do a lot of work myself, for example I can install the windows, drywall, lay wood floors and fit trim. Plumbing and wiring I have enough experience that with a good plan I know I could do it myself for minimal cost.

My main objective right now is cutting costs, although I want to retain the style and quality as much as possible. For example I had originally wanted an interesting shaped building, but that's since been changed to a square box as it gives the least sq. foot of external wall for the maximum interior space. This minimises siding costs, the amount of sips needed, the flat roofing can be ordered to an almost exact size without wastage, and it even improves the thermal rention of the design. If anything it's a design upgrade, not a downgrade. Besides, I can still do some interesting things with bumped out windows and place it at a different angle on the lot to give it some shape.

It's rather nice just being able to change a few things on paper and see the price go down by thousands... It's certainly faster than saving the money towards building expenses!


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Bry, I like that idea as well. One of the areas I built in had 300" of snowfall....so flat roofs generally aren't encouraged, but I did like a lot of those "designs" from the prefab link I posted above. Particularly if you don't need a lot of room, you might be able to get some good ideas from that site.


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Fortunately heavy snow isn't a problem here, so I hope to reduce costs a lot by using a flat roof system. I've been quoted EPDM roofing (which is DIY suitable and lasts 30+ years) for 14-17 a sq. meter. This includes the EPDM sheeting, adhesive and edge trim. I cannot find anything else on the market that compares with this price vs. life span.

The whole building should be a affordable as possible, which is the main reason why I'm not using 'normal' materials. Here in the UK brick walls and tiled roofs are standard, but then again 150,000+ home prices are also standard... There has got to be a better way to build and design houses. Not only do we have a huge range of modern materials that offer better insulation levels, lower construction costs and even improved life spans, but there's a lot of traditional materials that for one reason or another have fallen out of use. Structural wood for example is a very old material that could lower UK building costs a lot if used carefully.

If we could focus on the purpose of a house, not what we expect a house to look and feel like, I believe there's a huge variety of styles and prices possible. Currently there's only one modern house type on the UK market, and that's a house with red brick walls, sand coloured mortar and a cement tile roof, plus white plastic windows. Even finding a house with a different colour brick is difficult! How can there be just one right way of doing anything?


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Well Bry....there isn't. Here in the U.S., we've been using "platform framing" building for nearly 100 years, and it's an outdated, outmoded process. They do improve certain aspects of it; better insulation, or better windows, or what have you, but the building industry is seriously behind the times, technology wise. I assume it's that way in many places. Builders of homes make their money doing what they've done, and customers like that "comfort zone"....when we get outside of the comfort zone, that's when people rebel. Neither builders nor owners want to be the "guniea pigs" for "new" things on what for most is the biggest investment of their lives.

So we just go merrily along. If computers were at the same technology levels of homes, we'd still be using abacus' (sorry for the spelling).


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Checked out your site...

So John....why would you consider, given the specs on your site, that your products are in any way "green", or even energy-effecient?


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Well, to be fair, there is a section on the site titled green homes. It's small and the basic synopsis is they're made from SIPs, which use less energy, so they're green homes. Personally I find that at least a little misleading, but again, in all fairness there is as far as I'm aware no standardised definition of green.

Personally however, I think it takes a bit more than SIPs to make the building environmentally sound, I mean it helps reduce the heating/cooling used by the building compaired to the same design built with other less energy efficient materials - but it doesn't compensate for a poor design, nor does it make the materials used sustainable, and it does nothing to change how well the space is used. Creating a 'green' building isn't a simple matter of specifying some new materials that make it more energy efficient, it takes attention to detail and understanding of how the building interacts with it's environment. The windows need to be placed carefully to get the ideal solar gain during each season, the materials should be assessed for both their energy efficiency and the effects of production, use and disposal, and the appliances/fixtures that use energy and water need to be carefully chosen for reduced consumption. Flurescent or LED lighting instead of incandescent, and low flush toilets in place of conventional ones, even kitchen appliances like ovens and fridges have comparative energy ratings now. It's also not sufficient to just use less energy, I think the source of energy needs to be considered carefully as well. It does after all have a huge effect on the environmental impact of the building.

Unfortunately, this view isn't commonplace and many still feel their energy bills directly correlate to how environmentally sound their house is. At least for now, I'm unusual in that I expect anything claiming to be green to have a well thought out design and theory behind it. Reduced energy use alone isn't enough. I want to know the story of a product from raw materials to it's eventual end in a landfill, and if any part of that process significantly concerns me I'm reluctant to use it without a very good reason.


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Ah....when I looked at the link, it looked like pretty standard 2x6 framing, blah, blah, blah.

And although I agree with you, I think every little bit helps. Even if a house isn't oriented correctly for solar, better insulation, or a better, more energy effeceint heating plant, or better light bulbs (and some thought to placement), all help. Heck, I can't imainge the amount of energy we'd save if everyone just did ONE thing well (energy effecient wise), in every new building today.


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

I've been reading a lot about passive solar recently. Apparently it can substantially reduce the heating/cooling for minimal expense, and it seems my intended materials are well suited to it. The majority of case studies I saw were using a poured slab foundation and either SIPs or regular framing for the walls.

The different houses were estimated to be collecting around 10-85% of their heating energy for free, depending on design and location.

On a different topic, although I'd like a modern clean burning wood stove of some kind, I'm otherwise convinced I'd like an all electric house. The modern electrical appliances are much more efficient than before, for example using a split system AC in heat mode gives over 3kw for every 1kw of electric it consumes. Heat pump water heaters also give similar energy returns, and work on the same principal of moving heat, rather than creating it with electric resistance elements. Electric kitchen appliances come in a variety of options as well, and thankfully here in the UK we have just introduced standardised energy ratings, so I can easily compare items on energy use.

Overall I'm close to a rough price for building and everything looks good, low initial price, and predicted to be extremely low energy when built. The only remaining issue is the windows, I cannot seem to find many windows made in the sizes I want (floor to ceiling) and the few I have found cost a lot.


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Interestingly enough, I've found that 2x6 foot Andersen casements do a great job at doing the same thing; letting in a LOT of light while being quite inexpensive. That's what I have on my house.

Are you building this house yourself?


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

jason, we are considering sips (sunlight homes in albuquerque uses murus polyurethane panels) but have not yet found an architect that is familiar enough with sips to feel comfortable hiring them (part of the reason we are looking at sunlight homes). what design and panels do you usually work with? i know that is a broad question.

from the building a home page i asked you about post and beam but after doing much research think that a sips home with timber accents is more reasonable for us. my husband has concerns of the long term stability of sips for holding up the structure. he thinks the timber frame makes perfect sense because it is the supporting structure. murus has a lifetime guarantee on their polyurethane panels against delaminanation.

is there anything in particular we should be looking at for support on the corners? thanks in advance.


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Kelly, I've used Winter Panels a couple times, and R-Control all the other houses.

I think you should go out and check out www.harmonyexchange.com....they sell just what you're talking about; something like SIP walls with a timber-frame roof, for example. They'll send you a catalog.

I am not concerned about SIP longevity; the oldest ones (the original ones), are still standing in Midland, Michigan, where they were built, and it's the preferred method of construction in places like the Artic. I've seen several pictures of SIP homes that have stood standing when everything else around them was destroyed (e.g., Kobe, Japan earthquake, Grand Rapids, MI, tornado, etc.). I'm not concerned.

Check out that harmony exchange site, and if you have questions, please feel free to post them here or email me. I'm a big user and proponent of them.


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

jason,
i am checking out harmony exchange. is there something specific you like about them compared to other timber frame companies? i guess if sarah susanka used them for her show home in orlando they must be pretty good.
thanks.


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

I like them because with them, you can design the own components of your "kit"; just the frame, or walls, or maybe an SIP downstairs with a timber upstairs, etc. And they get stuff all over the country; it's not all sent out of one place in some far-off state; they get timbers or logs or whatever from the closest mill that they can, so there might be some money savings there.


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Thanks for the suggestion about anderson, I believe I've seen somebody who stocked their products out here. I'll have to look in to it and check the prices... Hopefully the extra distance won't increase the price too much.

The current problem is simply that I want some large amounts of glazing, around 7 foot tall by about 4-6 foot wide. This is potentially very expensive, the glass alone will be pricy because it's a large peice and will have to be toughened for safety. Depending on the final estimates I'll either accept the cost for the windows, as they're such a nice feature, or I may have to reduce the number.

As for building it, I don't intend to personally do all the work myself. Pouring the foundation, assembling the main structure, and some electrical work will have to be done by professionals. However, I can do a lot of other things, particuarly finishing/fitting work, and hope to save money by doing these. If I believe I can do something safely and to a good standard myself, then I'll do it, but otherwise it's going to have to be contracted out for obvious reasons.


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Check out these houses. They are steel framed so they are renewable. They go together with those self tapping steel screws and nuts and bolts. They go together just like my greenhouse. Really easy to put up. And fast. All you need is a drill and a socket set. They have a metal roof. I have had a metal roof on my current house and have absolutely zero maintenance for over twenty years. And I mean zero. The snow slides off and I don't even think about it. The best thing about these steel framed houses is that they are cheap. They are about $10 per square foot for the kit. You can put them up yourself easily.
They are not perfect. I haven't figured out how I would insulate one. I don't want to install interior framing just for the insulation, but there are ways around it. That is why I am posting this here, to get some of your ideas on how to insulate one of these. I can put one up with just myself and a friend. I can plumb and wire it myself. I can rock it. A guy I know will install the slab for $3000 for a 1200 square foot slab. One of you gave me the idea to use PEX in the slab for heating. They don't have attractive siding. It is poor looking steel siding, but I like that because I have woodpeckers in my area and they can cause problems.
http://www.americanoutbackbuildings.com/buildings.htm


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Well, the price for the shell is great and they look durable. Aesthetically you could do better than they did in those promotional pictures. The built in garages were a poor choice, but the fourth house photo was quite nice really. It's all about presentation.

My main two concerns are that it's not thermally insulated, which would prove extra expense and trouble to install, and also that while it builds a good priced shell much of the cost of a building is in the finishing. How favourably the final price and insulation levels will compare against SIPs, for example, is difficult to determine.

The SIPs should go together easily as well, and both will require the same amount of plasterboard for finishing the inside. The SIPs however have excellent thermal properties that reduce the energy useage for the entire life time of the building, they also don't require insulation to be added and some come with built-in wiring conduits. Unfortunately SIPs will require more external finishing as you'll have to buy some kind of siding. I'll probably install plain T&G cedar as the price is good and it looks nice, but you can do anything you want really, including aluminium/steel if woodpecker damage is a concern.

I admit I don't have any extensive research or figures, but I have a feeling the end price may not be much different between the two. SIPs may even prove cheaper in the long term through energy savings.


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

I am a little confused. The link apparently refers to houses which use the SIPs only for foundations in basment homes. But that isn't all you use them for, is it. Does anyone have more links to these. I Googled, but I just chased by tail, if you know what I mean. Can you use the SIPs on a pitched roof? Do you need trusses? I was not impressed with those homes on the Fab site, well I was impressed with the homes, but not favorably impressed with those prices. $132 per square foot? Well, not for me.


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

What do you want to know? Of course you can use SIPs on a pitched roof....


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

My parents built an ecohouse up in the Peak District (north England). The website is www.ThornhillEcohouse.org.uk it should give you a few ideas about energy, water collection and treament, solar, reclaimed materials etc. For people in California I have made a website with info about renewable energy - www.re-empoweringpeople.org.uk
Hope these are useful.

Here is a link that might be useful: Thornhill Ecohouse


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RE: The ideal energy saving house?

Thanks for the link Robin, it's been extremely interesting as they're using a number of things I'd like to impliment. The rainwater collection and grey water recycling is one thing that caught my attention as it seems there's little information about this in the UK. When I asked my local council about reusing grey water from the bath/shower and washing machine in the garden they seemed to think I was crazy... It's good to see that someone is sucessfully using grey water here.

The links page is very useful as well, there seems to be a distinct lack of green product directorys for the UK and finding so many sites at once is quite the find. In fact, I'm considering starting a site just for the UK as we could do with more information like this. I presume it would be ok for me to link that site?


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