Monday, November 29, 2010


After discussing our options for building on a basement or a slab, Steph and I met with Adam the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to review the initial plans.  Prior to our meeting Steph and I decided we'd revisit the drawing board and build on a slab with an attached two car garage.  I spend a lot of time working on our vehicles and the absence of a garage would be a huge thorn in our side.

As for changes to the initial floor plan, we opted to locate the master suite and a separate loft area on the second floor.  On the first floor, we're going with two bedrooms, a mud/laundry room that accesses the garage, a full bath, and an open kitchen, living, and dining room.  Ultimately the utilities will be located on the first and/or second floors.

We know that traditional floor plans locate the master floor plan on the first floor, but we opted for a second floor suite for few reasons.  Better views, separation from the rest of the house, and a private bath.

Think about it...  Where do you spend most of your time while at home?  In bed, in the kitchen, and in the living room, right?  How big do the extra rooms really need to be to live comfortably?

One thing has become obvious to me as we've discussed our options.  No matter how much space you have, you'll use it.  If we added more rooms, more closets and space for storage, we'd fill it up.  Why not design and build your house to live a comfortable life and restrict yourself from filling up "extra space?"

Often I wonder what we'll end up with, but I know we don't want to dump a fortune in a huge house.  Living simply is something Steph has preached from the beginning and I'll have to say I'm finally on board.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

an example

Penney Poyzer, TV environmentalist reporting for BBC2's "No Waste like Home," makes the case for the Passivhaus low energy building standards in this short documentary. To learn more about the Denby Dale Passivhaus, visit the Green Building Store.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Basement or slab?

We met with Adam on Monday and got to see the first sketches of our house.  Our initial plans, per our request, featured a north facing walk out basement which housed the utilities.  The plans also featured the master suite, laundry, kitchen and great room living spaces on the first floor.  On the second story, two bedrooms share a single bath.

A north facing walkout basement is not ideal for a passive house.  Exposing more surface area that faces the north will require a higher heating demand during the winter months.  Would it be better to build on a concrete slab?  Ideally, yes.  Minimizing our energy demands is our ultimate goal.  Building a slab is in line with the passive house standards, due to our building site, and ultimately minimizes our heating demands.

On a slab with extra square footage or a garage?

If we build on a slab, our budget would allow for adjustments to the square footage on the first and second floor or allow for building a garage.  Eliminating the basement would mean we'd have to relocate the water tank, heat recovery ventilator (HRV) and some of the other utility components as well.

If we build on a slab and add square footage to the floor plan, we could place the utilities on first or second floor.  I feel like the initial floor plan needs some adjustments, but I don't think we need more living space.  I'm confident we can accommodate two bedrooms, one master, laundry etc. within ~1500 sq. ft. provided the layout is efficient. 

If we build on a slab and add a garage, we might be able to put the utilities in the garage.  An attached garage would have to allow for shelving, two vehicles and a motorcycle as well.  I can hang our bikes and canoes; no problem, and my tool chest can stand just about anywhere in a garage.

The absence of a garage would mean all of this stuff would have to live outside, one or two years, until we could save enough money for building a garage later.  The more I think about it, I'm not sure I want anything that we'd store in a garage sitting outside for one night, much less, one year or two.

Tentatively, a passive house on a slab with an attached garage sounds like our best option.  Once Steph and I have had a chance to talk it through, we'll revisit the drawing board.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

the first school

Yesterday I visited the Center for Energy Efficient Design (CEED) in Rocky Mount.  I met Adam Cohen, our architect/builder, for a personal tour of the first passive house certified school in the United States.

[A view of the CEED from the south.]

The CEED is a perfectly wrapped passive house package composed of various eco-friendly and energy conservation pieces that will be readily monitored beginning Wednesday, November 17, 2010.  This highly efficient school features everything from a photovoltaic solar tracking system to counter tops composed of crushed stone from the New River. 

[A view above the CEED from the southeast.]

Vegetation on the roof and porous concrete in the walkways collect rain water that will provide H20 for the its greywater demands.  Solar thermal water tubes will assist in preheating the hot water tanks while sub-thermal water lines will aid with the heating and cooling demands of the ventilation system.

[A view of the CEED from the southwest.]

Although I didn't capture any pictures of the interior, sun light entering through the wide array of windows on the roof and south face of this school provide for a well lit workspace.  This place is awesome!

[Another view of the CEED from the southeast.]

For more information on the CEED, visit The CEED - The Center for Energy Efficient Design.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Each weekend I make a little more progress on the mountain.  Currently, we've got about 3-4 acres of forest thinned for a yard and 1/2 acre completely cleared for the house.

It took a shot of ether to get the loader to fire yesterday morning.  As I let the loader warm up, I worked on the burn pile.  The remainder of the day was spent digging stumps, moving piles of rock, and watching Barley enjoy the views.  Things are really shaping up!  I'll be sure to take some pictures on my next "land" update.

By the way, stumps are really a "thorn in the side" when you're clearing land.  Figure on at least an hour digging up each one!  If you're ever looking to purchase raw land to build on, pay close attention to the amount of stumps that are located within your building site.  Stump removal will adversely affect your lot clearing budget unless you have your own machine.

For the first two hours yesterday, Barley trailed me as I pushed dirt and rock.  Then he fell asleep, woke up an hour later and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on a hill side.  As I'd look around to be certain he was clear of my path, I'd find him either watching me or staring across the valley at the Peaks.

Steph and Telli came up around noon to spend lunch with Barley and I.  I decided to leave Telli at home yesterday; she's not a big fan of the track loader or chainsaw.  As Steph says, "poor little Telli."

Thursday, November 4, 2010


The Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany, founded in 1996 by Dr. Wolfgang Feist, is an independent research institution that employs physicists, mathematicians and civil, mechanical and environmental engineers, to perform research and development on highly efficient energy use in homes.

In the United States, the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) represents a non-profit a consulting and research firm working to further the implementation of Passive House standards and techniques.  The PHIUS is also authorized by the Passivhaus Institut to certify passive houses built in the US.

As published in, "New Passive House Alliance Launches," on EcoHome Magazine's website, "the PHIUS will launch the Passive House Alliance at the North American Passive House Conference between Nov. 4-7, 2010.  The Passive House Alliance will relieve the PHIUS from marketing, public outreach, and political lobbying work, allowing it to focus on its core mission of training architects and builders in the use of the passive house standard, consulting on projects, and certifying buildings.

Taking on public outreach, advocacy, education, and professional support, the Passive House Alliance will expand the base of knowledge about the principles of Passive House design in the United States and push it toward the mainstream."

From my experience, its been extremely difficult to explain Passive House standards to friends and family.  The concept is easy to explain, but its getting people to really understand that's the trick.  I feel like I run into a wall halfway through my explanation because most of us [American's] can't see outside of the box, i.e. standard construction.

I think the Passive House Alliance is a great move for the PHIUS and I feel confident they'll be better at spreading the word than the few passive house blogs that are floating around on the internet.  I look forward to their success spreading the word about passive houses' proven energy conservation building techniques.

Monday, November 1, 2010

carbon neutral

Take a passive house, produce at least as much energy as it uses and you get net-zero.  Take a net-zero passive house, produce enough energy during its service life to offset the carbon emitted during its construction and you get carbon neutral.

A group of designers, engineers, and consultants, based out of Asheville, NC are doing exactly this.  The Nauhaus Institute is incorporating Passivhaus building techniques along with various other concepts to achieve carbon neutral building and living solutions.

Their first building, the Nauhaus Prototype, is a 1700 sq. ft., 3 bedroom, 2 bath, Craftsman style home currently under construction in Asheville, NC.  To view the features and plans for the Nauhaus Prototype, see below or visit the Nauhaus Institute - Nauhaus Prototype Project.