Dream House Design

Discussion in 'Alternative Energy' started by Kevingr, Dec 16, 2006.

  1. Kevingr

    Kevingr East Central MN

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    Ok folks, lets do some dreaming. My wife and I decided that we're going to move and this time we'll build new. Once we find the acreage that we want (no less than 5 acres, and probably no more than 10 because of the cost) we'll start put our little hobby farm up for sale and start to build. We're in central Minnesota about 70 miles north of Minneapolis.

    Here's some challenges. I hate to pay utility bills, my wife likes to turn on anything and everything without having to think about it. I like hot water heat, but still want air conditioning. She wants a traditional cottage style house (two story, 3 bedrooms on the second floor and full wrap around porch, blocking out the sun!), and I like what's most energy efficient. Whatever I want to do regarding solar or wind cannot be seen as you drive up to the house. She also dosen't want any type of open fire inside the house, in other words, no inside wood stove or fireplace (her fear of house fires).

    So, here's what I would do. 6" walls (that's a code requirement here), double pain windows, grid tied electric but a few solar panels on a tracking system set away from the house, and a small wind plant (we have good wind around here). The panels and wind plant would just be to offset some of the electric since we'll be using around 1100-1500kwh per month. We'd use all energy star rated appliances and a 98+ efficient boiler. I'm torn right now between an outside wood boiler or just having solar panels to provide hot water to the in floor heat. Since the house will be fairly air tight and I'd be using an efficient boiler, I'm not so sure the $8000 to install an outside wood boiler, plus deal with the wood is really worth it. I also want to do solar water pumping into plastic storage tanks in the basement of the house, the use a 12v pump to pressurize the house water system. I'm also thinking of some kind of outdoor water storage and collection (rain run off) for lawn and garden watering.

    So, given the housing requirement and restrictions from my spouse, what would you do? Cost is somewhat of a factor, we're not the Rockefeller's, but we can afford to put in a few extras as long as at some point during the ownership it'll pay for itself.
     
  2. Kevingr

    Kevingr East Central MN

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    Just to clarify. I'm not looking for people critique what I may or may not do, but what would you do given those requirements. Think of it as a brain storming session. Or, maybe you wouldn't do it with those requirements and you'd tell your spouse to rethink what he/she wants in a house.

    Also, to clarify, I never said I was looking to be self sufficient on 5-10 acres, altought I do quite well on my 12 acres today. Also, I'm not looking to use alternative sources for the 1100-1200kwh/mo because that would cut to much into the budget overall budget of the house. But nothing wrong with replacing a couple hundred kwh or so. Also, they do have high efficient boilers, over 90%, from what I've heard from my boiler man, but they've had their problems. To clarify on the 6" wall requirement, it's actually the R value of R19 (I think it's R19, whatever a 6" batt of fiberglass gives you) is required as a minimum and to achieve that they use 6" walls with fiberglass batts. Also, fairly tight means the need for some kind of fresh air exchanger during the winter months, I don't know how they do that with a boiler, just a furnace, my 101 year old farm house breaths just fine on it's own :).

    So remember, brain storm.
     

  3. ET1 SS

    ET1 SS zone 5 - riverfrontage Supporter

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    Oops. my mistake I read 6" as 6'. Sorry.

    Your local code requires the walls to have a void space of 6 inches? for insulation. Nice. Assuming that you want to use wood stick framing, are you going to use 2X8 for the frames so you can get 6 inches of void for insulation?

    Around here I see a lot of wood stick going up with 2X4s.

    My walls have 8 inch voids so putting in thick insulation was easy, but I am using a steel building so it has no framing in the exterior walls.
     
  4. SolarGary

    SolarGary Well-Known Member

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    Hi,

    I'd think about building the house on a concrete slab with radiant floor heating. The concrete slab can store heat from either direct gain solar or from solar collectors. Make sure you insulate around and under the slab.

    For MN, I would use more wall insulation than a straight 2X6 stud wall. With thermal bridging, this only gives about R15. One construction that I like, and is inexpensive is:
    http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/SolarHomes/Stick/GSNotes01.htm
    Its well thought out, and has been used on a number of homes in norther WI, which should be similar to MN.
    Lots more efficient construction techniques here:
    http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/SolarHomes/constructionps.htm

    For the roof, I would use blown in cellulose insulation (lots of it) with raised heel roof trusses so that you can get the thick insulation all the way out to the edges. This is inexpensive and very good thermally.

    You really want to keep after the contractor on air sealing. With good insulation, this will likely be your major heat loss.

    ---
    Plans:
    There are all kinds of passive solar house plans. They can look very conventional or not. I'd take a look in this area, and see what grabs you.
    http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/SolarHomes/constructionps.htm

    --
    Solar Electricity:
    In Minnesota you will be spending a lot more energy for space and water heating than for electricity, so I would take the money you are planning to put into the PV, and put it into excellent insulation and solar heating. That is, work hard on conserving electricity with efficient appliances and lighting, but spend your solar PV money on solar heating rather than solar electricity -- the solar heating gives you about 25 times more bang for the buck than solar electricity.

    Sounds like a great project -- good luck!


    Gary
     
  5. mondakkid

    mondakkid Well-Known Member

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    I live in NW North Dakoa and have a small farm in
    Hi Kevingr....I like your post. I am really interested in some of the replys that you will get. I am also in the process of planning a solar heated house. I am also looking for suggestions and possible layouts for rooms. I have really enjoyed some of the ideas from Solar Gary....learned a lot from them. I am a firm believer in super insulation....a dollar well spent. I would not go with the code of today.....think of what it will be 10..20 years from now. I also think that money spent on more insulation, wrap, etc. is well spent. This is a one time investment...a person can always add the extras later, like carpet, etc.
    I have plans to use a triple wall using 2 X 4's. This will give me a wall approx. 11 " thick and then spray the cavity with spray on cellulose. I have not decided on what part will be passive and how many active solar collectors to have and how to store the heat. I hope to decide over the next month or so from reading all that I can about building solar heated houses and from people like your self that are doing the same thing. I have really been impressed with some of the replys that I have read on this site. Good luck on your project. jerry
     
  6. WisJim

    WisJim Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Insulation--superinsulation is the way to go, minimum 9 to 12 inch walls in my opinion, based on experience (built super insulated house in western wisconsin in 1977 or so, with min 12" walls). Active solar tied to a well insulated thick floor system works in mid-Minnesota (I know of systems around St Cloud and about that far north in Wisconsin). Have you considered straw bale construction?
     
  7. Kevingr

    Kevingr East Central MN

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    I hadn't really thought about the super insulation aspect, that makes a lot of sense and seems to be the easiet/cheapest(?) thing to implement. Not to mention that works with all house designs.

    Gary, thanks. Excellent links, I spent a few hours yesterday researching all that. Wish I could talk my wife into a masonry heater, with that, super insulation, and the masonry heater heating water for in floor heat a person would have a pretty nice setup.
     
  8. ET1 SS

    ET1 SS zone 5 - riverfrontage Supporter

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    I agree that insulation is the best investment on any house design.

    We are doing an R-40 ish.

    One issue to look at in design is thermal-bridging. We only have bridging in the window and door frames. But nowhere else.

    Insulation can be expensive. But it is one of the best places to put money into.

    While you are still in the design phase, this is the best time to address the thermal-bridging, and work-out how to eliminate it.

    After you achieve a R over 40, then heating and cooling should be far easier, regardless of what system you choose to use to heat and cool with.
     
  9. painterswife

    painterswife Sock puppet reinstated Supporter

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    We are in the same design process.

    We are looking at 3 wall options.

    ICF
    SIP
    Insulation on the outside and concrete on the inside.

    Cement slab floors with infloor radiant heated with evacuated solar tubes.
    No wood heat due to our mother-in-laws health problems.
    Wind and Solar electricity as we can afford.

    Our hope is to have enough mass that we will not have to air condition.

    We will be building somewhere in the Wyoming Black Hills.

    We will have a east west axis and south facing exposure for all main rooms.

    Jill
     
  10. Dubai Vol

    Dubai Vol Well-Known Member

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    Insulation is great, as is thermal mass. Passive annual heat storage is possible even for a conventional-looking house. More expensive up front but then you have virtually free heating AND cooling.

    Another thing to seriously consider is building on one level. If this is your home for the rest of your life, there may come a time when getting up and down stairs is not possible. IMO the only reason to build two stories is when you just don't have room to build all on one level. On 5-10 acres that's not an issue.

    Also, don't discount the power of persuasion. Just because your wife wants it thus and so now doesn't mean she always will. In my experience she probably hasn't given the matter much thought, she just "knows what she wants." That's fine, but it's also much easier to get her to consider new ideas too.

    Consider options to traditional stick-built. I'm going with stone walls and a ferrocement roof. Fireproof and tornado proof. Four hundred year roof. Geothermal heating and cooling via earth tubes, with a heat pump backup and a masonry stove in the middle of the house. (the house is fireproof, so no worry about a fire! See how that works?) No heating or cooling bills either.

    Dream big and think outside the box.
     
  11. SolarGary

    SolarGary Well-Known Member

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    Hi,
    There are some ICF's with insulation between two layers of concrete -- see the DowT here:
    http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/SolarHomes/constructionps.htm#ICF
    You might also want to look just below this to the Van Geet house in Dry Stack block house area -- its pretty impressive in its energy use, and has lots of thermal mass inside the insulation.


    You have probably already thought of these, but, just in case:

    - To avoid AC, in addition to the insulation, sealing, and thermal mass, you need to keep your heat gain down. The worst source of heat gain is windows. Well designed overhangs on the windows and maybe some external shading devices. Maybe low heat gain windows on the west and east sides? Controlling solar gain is a real key point.

    - I would think that in that climate that it cools down enough at night to use a night ventilation scheme to precool the inside thermal mass down for the next hot day would work. We use a whole house fan for this, and it works quite well, even though we have some unavoidable gain through east windows. We live in SW MT, which I think is somewhat similar to WY.

    If you use a radiant floor heating system, this is a good match for solar heating, because it can make use of relatively low temperature heated water, which solar collectors are efficient at producing. But, if you use a boiler for backup, you would want (I think) to get a boiler that is compatible with using low temperature heated water. Some boilers can be damaged if the water temps are not kept high -- these are not a good match for solar.

    I know people really love the evac tubes, but I've yet to see anything (and I've looked pretty hard) that says they will do as well per dollar spent as ordinary flat plate collectors. They are somewhat more efficient in cloudy weather, but this is not by a large amount, and if you need quite high temperatures they do this better than flat plate collectors. You won't need very high temps with the radiant floor, and the better cloudy day performance is (I think) of marginal value when you consider that there just is not that much sun to collect on a cloudy days. So, I would at least consider the regular flat plate collectors as well as the evac tubes.
    I did a winter long simulation of my new solar heating system using the collector efficiency data from the SRCC website for both flat plates and evac tubes. The best of the flat plates and best of the evac tubes were nearly equal in total heat produced on a winter long basis, and, at that time, the evac tubes were quite a bit more expensive. One thing that surprised me was the of the evac tubes that the SRCC has tested, there is quite a bit of performance difference -- the worst of the evac tubes they have tested are real dogs.
    My 2 cents :)

    Gary
     
  12. Spinner

    Spinner Well-Known Member

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    I'm a dreamer so here's how I dream your house...

    I'd make the walls extremely thick, to make it less costly to heat and cool. Maybe a square bale house. Then I'd use the extra space in the interior walls for hidden storage. I'd put in a outside woodburner, piped for central heat. I'd put the burner in the ground so it would be easy to roll HUGE logs into it. (Save work on splitting the logs :) )

    The wrap around porch sounds great. It would be a great place to spend early mornings and late evenings, maybe even a sleeping porch in the summer? Could you make a solar panel roof on it, or make an upstairs wrap around porch also with the solar panels as the roof of the top story?

    I'd also make a hidden basement with the entry under the stairs. I don't know if you are in tornado area, but here we are so that hidden basement would have a safe room with beds, cooking area, hand water pump, etc. plus a root cellar, and storage for non replaceable items such as family heirlooms, pictures, etc. Basically it would be a large self-contained apt. under the house.

    I’d add lots of extras such as either noise or voice activated lighting.
    Also an instant hot water box instead of a hot water heater tank.

    I’d add a light in the attic so I could see if I had to go up there to do any type of wiring or other repairs later. Also a light or series of lights in the crawl space under the house to assist if plumbing needs work in the future.

    Since your in a cold part of the country I’d use the pipe that doesn’t leak if it freezes. You might already know about it, but it’s new to me.

    I’d make the house round instead of square.

    I’d have a room off the kitchen with a dirt floor so I could grow an indoor kitchen garden. Not an attached greenhouse, but an actual room of the house that gets heated and cooled along with the rest of the house. The room might have a sprinkler system in the ceiling for watering the plants. The walls would be similar to a bathroom shower. (I’m making this up as I go so don’t yell if it don’t make since... LOL)

    The guest room would have a hide-in-the-wall bed that could be pulled out when needed, but I’d have lots of space to use for an exercise room or something else when I have no guests.

    I’d have a patio kitchen for cooking in the summer. It would be cool to have a earth oven, etc.
     
  13. painterswife

    painterswife Sock puppet reinstated Supporter

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    We will have mass in our floor and a propane tankless as our back-up boiler.

    We use one right now to heat all our domestic hot water as well as our in floor radiant( cement slab over a crawl space). I run the water at 110 most of the time. I can adjust it at will with a wall mounted remote. I am very partial to my endless hot water.

    I am trying to design a system that will enable me to dump heat from the floor in the summer into either an outdoor hot tub or heat sink of some kind.
    I did all our radiant and plumbing here and should have no problem with the new home other than it will be larger.

    We will have overhangs for summer. We have also looked at the T-mass system and it would be are first choice if we can get it done cost effectively in our area. We will do most of the home ourselves and like the idea of having the structure closed in quickly with no rush to finish the outside. I do need to find the balance between what we need in thermal mass and insulation.
     
  14. ET1 SS

    ET1 SS zone 5 - riverfrontage Supporter

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    Each method has it's own virtues.

    I am really in favor of Spray-in-place urethane foam insulation.

    We did one inch on the interior of our walls, and it sealed nicely. Now I am hanging the R-30 batting, inside of that, before the interior walls get finished.

    Urethane foam insulation is structural, deadens sound, stops all drafts, vapor and air leaks, and was very easy to apply.
     
  15. painterswife

    painterswife Sock puppet reinstated Supporter

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    Our present home is SIP. I love no drafts! It would be the easy way to go as we have worked with it before and it goes up quick.

    Spray-in is an option but it would be my last as it I would want the whole wall sprayed( no bats, I hate them).

    We are considering a steel building like you have done but it would be then wrapped with SIPs or something else so we have no thermal bridging. I have done alot of investigation into this system http://www.koreteck.com/ and like it alot. or http://www.acsys.net/

    We want vaulted ceilings so no blown in insulation. My husband is very tall and feels claustraphobic otherwise.
     
  16. painterswife

    painterswife Sock puppet reinstated Supporter

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    Gary

    I just had another look at this site. http://www.rbsdirect.com/build.htm I think it is exactly what we are looking.

    It has exterior insulation, raceways for electrical( my biggest concern) an a finished surface on both sides that wil enable us to put on fnishes at our own pace. All this and interior mass.

    I am going to do some serious research on this.

    Jill
     
  17. SolarGary

    SolarGary Well-Known Member

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    Please let us know what you conclude.

    Gary
     
  18. highlands

    highlands Walter Jeffries Supporter

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    Figure out how to avoid that. Earth sheltering, earth air tubes, shading, etc.

    Code - ugh. Don't buy where there is code.

    Besides, go with thicker walls, do a thermal disconnect between the inner and outer walls, make it super insulated on all exposed surfaces.

    Go with triple or quadruple pane. Much better in both my own tests and studies I've read. You're about in my climate (northern Vermont). Double pane is not enough.

    I wouldn't tie to the grid but that is because if you produce electricity here in Vermont they'll give you a credit but no cash. Costs you monthly and costs you to tie in. Then if there is a credit at the end of the year they "donate" back to themselves at the electric utility. Real sweet - for them. Maybe it is different in your state.

    Cost out batteries carefully... Full lifetime costs.

    I have a very good wind location but decided against it. Wind is not reliable enough even in a great location and it is too mechanically prone to failure. I see a _lot_ of dead windmills.

    Investigate the health effects carefully. I would recommend against this toy.

    Do everything passive and gravity fed that you can. Try hard not to be dependent on mechanical or electrical systems for your basics.

    I would build it myself, talk her into one level (better for access as you get older), earth sheltered on the windward side, passive solar, gravity fed, large thermal mass, earth-air pipes, etc. You can see what I'm doing here:

    http://sugarmtnfarm.com/blog/2006/12/roof-done-cottage-construction-pan.html

    and in a lot of the posts on my blog there for the month of November and December.

    What ever you do, do your dreams!

    Cheers,

    -Walter
    in Vermont
     
  19. ET1 SS

    ET1 SS zone 5 - riverfrontage Supporter

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    Okay, though I fail to see why that would be a problem.

    We did spray the entire walls and ceiling.

    ?



    Yes, the entire wall and ceiling needs to be done in order to eliminate all thermal-bridging.

    We have 14 foot ceilings, kind of cathedral like. Which is why we did spray in the foam on them.

    After having spent so many years living underwater, I like having a lot of head-room.

    :)

    I found the steel building to be very easy to put up. After hiring the foundation to be poured. I only needed one other guy's help for 3 hours, using his crane to stand up the girders. Otherwise our 2400 square foot building was easy to put up by myself.

    With R-40 on the walls, it should be relatively easy to heat and cool.
     
  20. farmmaid

    farmmaid Well-Known Member Supporter

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    We just built our retirement home in NY zone 5. Earth-wrapped, 8" poured concrete in E-blocks. Regular roof (MUCH better insulation than earth) with 32 feet of slanted windows facing south. Radient heat in the floor with an air tight wood stove. We have had nice weather here, the radient heat has not kicked on ( 3 different zones). We have had @ 6 fires in the stove and that is all so far, making curtains for the windows. Stepless home all handicap friendly...love the house. There is a root cellar (6' x 16') off the pantry next to the kitchen, 3 sides wrapped in the ground, 50 degrees constant...Joan