Home design part four. Design for your own circumstances and use.

We have briefly discussed resale value but there are many more considerations in home design. Is it to be a family home with several children or perhaps several generations? Is it to be a retirement home? Does it need to accommodate handicapped or family members with special needs? Do you need space for a home based business or office. Do you want to incorporate rental space for extra income? What about your pets? Does location issues such as isolation, climate, or crime levels require special design parameters?
Resale value is probably less important than the other considerations for most people. If you are located in a reasonably large market there are usually buyers available with needs similar to your own. Of course, you should be careful not to price yourself out of the market or be willing to take a loss on some special adaptations. The more unique a property is and the higher the price gets the smaller the market becomes and the longer it may take to effect a sale.
When designing with children in mind it is important to remember that children grow up and usually leave home in a reasonably finite time. In some cases such as farm families it is not possible to downsize by selling and repurchasing a more suitable property. It is wise to design children spaces for easy conversion to other uses. Examples are the ability to expand the kitchen, master bedroom or family room into unused bedrooms. It also may be possible to design so unused space can be converted to revenue producing space and provide extra retirement income.
Perhaps you are building a retirement home in which you wish to be able to live independently as long as possible. I have actually built two with retirement in mind. The first became a revenue property when we decided to move to a location closer to family and medical facilities.
For a retirement home it is wise to plan for the likelihood of future disabilities. The most important is that the home is small enough for easy care and maintenance. I will go further into building a retirement home in a later chapter.
If you have pets you will wish to provide a safe and comfortable environment. Fencing to provide a safe exercise area is likely the biggest expense you are likely to face.
Wheelchair and handicap convenience usually requires wider doors, a larger bathroom, ramps instead of steps or chair lifts on stairs and lower kitchen counters with work areas that a wheelchair will fit beneath. Of course a single level close to grade will be the most inexpensive solution for ease of access.
Location issues usually only includes access to services. You may have to provide your own water, sewer, electricity, etc. which can be quite costly.
I am going to make one last observation on design. The primary reason for building your own house is to keep cost as low as possible. One of the best ways to do this is to keep the building size to as small as is needed. Next is to follow the KISS principle (keep it simple stupid.) Nothing raises cost quite so fast as complicated building footprints and intricate roof lines.

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Guest Post– Wind Power for Your Home

Alternative Energy for Your Home: Why Wind is an Excellent Choice

You like the idea of being less dependent on a single source of electricity for your home. The concept of powering the house using an energy source that’s kinder to the environment is also attractive. As you look at different forms of alternative energy, don’t overlook the possibilities offered by outfitting the home with equipment capable of generating energy from the wind. Here are some of the reasons this solution could be just what you want.

The Cost of Setup and Operation

Using any type of alternative energy source does mean investing in the right equipment. What you may not realize is that creating a residential wind energy plant is less expensive than many other approaches. The key so the lower start-up cost is the simplicity of the plant itself.

Using the wind for energy is nothing new. In fact, it’s been around for centuries. Many of the basic concepts used with the windmills of antiquity lend themselves easily to the creation and use of wind turbines today. Drawing on the technology of the past and adapting it for use today is one of the reasons you can get started with less overhead.

The savings don’t stop there. You’ll find that wind energy is one of the least expensive per kilowatt generated. Long after you’ve paid for the initial installation and covering the costs of periodic maintenance, you’ll have access to energy that is more affordable than any other sources you’ve used in the past.

Wind Energy is Clean

It’s hard to think of any form of energy generation that’s cleaner than using wind as the source. No fossil fuels are used in the creation of the energy and the process does not have any negative impact on the environment. With virtually no carbon footprint and no waste that must be discarded in some remote location, you can power your home and know you are doing something to preserve the earth’s resources for future generations.

Preserving Water

It’s true that water is a renewable resource. Even so, it is somewhat scarce in some areas of the world. Did you know how many conventional power plants rely on water as part of the cooling process needed to maintain power plants that use coal, or gas-fired equipment to do the job? A power plant based on wind energy does not require the same cooling action and eliminates the need to place a greater demand on water. That’s helpful anywhere but especially helpful during a drought or in areas where water is not as plentiful.

Easy to Install On or Near Existing Structures

Depending on the design of your turbine and battery storage system, alterations to your will be minimal. There are homes that require nothing in the way of structural changes other than some slight cutting to find a place to insert the turbines and run the lines to the storage batteries. In some cases, you’ll find that setting up a wind energy station on your property and running lines to the home will make the installation even easier.

There’s More Wind Than You Think

One of the objections that some detractors have about a wind energy system is that it’s not creating any energy when the weather is calm. In fact, the system is likely generating a little energy even when there does not seem to be much of a breeze.

This is because wind is the result of a combination of sunlight and it’s heating effect on the planet coupled with the natural rotation of the earth. Add in the peaks and valleys found around the planet along with terrain that slopes and it’s easy to see how there is still some amount of wind even when we tend to not notice it much.

What this means is that on days when you really don’t sense much wind, there is still a little amount taking place. Your turbines don’t need a lot to generate some energy. When you thing about the fact that the turbines are creating energy day and night, and that energy is being stored for future as well as immediate use, any worries about days with no apparent wind will be a thing of the past.

A Dual Energy System Prevents Waste

Think of what happens if the traditional power grid is down for a few days. It’s not just having no power to use your computer or run the air conditioner. There’s also the problem of how to keep all the food in your refrigerator and freezer from spoiling. If you have several hundred dollars of meat in the freezer, the last thing you want is to have all of it go bad before the power can be restored.

If you have a dual energy system that makes it possible to use the wind energy stored in batteries when the main grid is out, you can relax. There will be enough power to keep your food safe. You can even run all the other electrical appliances in your home and live comfortably without wondering how long the grid will be down. That type of independence alone makes setting up your own wind energy plant worth the cost and effort.

Talk with a professional, like http://www.allclimateroofing.com/, about what it would take to set up a turbine system and battery storage for your home. The process could be easier than you think and the overall expense much less than you anticipated.

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Water and Wastewater

When I was growing up we obtained our water from a well. The first was a shallow hand dug well from which the water was drawn by a hand turned windlass with a bucket on the end of a rope. Our drinking water was stored in the house in a ceramic crock with a tin dipper. A second bucket in the well served as our refrigerator. The arrangement did not seem very sanitary by today’s standards but the hard water did provide a lot of minerals and nobody seemed to get sick. Later we were able to afford a drilled well equipped with a pump (hand operated at first), later with a gasoline engine and finally with an electric motor. It was several years before it was piped to a faucet in the house. For my entire childhood, running water meant running with a bucket. Needless to say , without a pressurized water system our wastewater was thrown on the garden and our most important hygienic facility was an outhouse, complete with a department store catalog for wiping.

Thankfully, those days are long gone for most of us (at least in the developed world).

In urban and suburban areas, our water and wastewater services can simply be hooked to municipal, or utility, provided services at the front street. You may be responsible for providing a contractor to do the hookup or alternately the municipality, or utility, will arrange it. The hookup is simple and relatively inexpensive. Maintenance is rarely necessary, and your only long term responsibility is a monthly bill. When building, the only necessity is ensuring that the piping enters the house at a convenient location. Arrange for hookup well in advance to avoid delays. A security deposit for service may be necessary if you have not had a previous account with the municipality or utility. It is usually best to arrange for installation of hookups at the excavation stage, but it can usually be done later if necessary.

A water analysis is usually available from the provider, and should be studied. Most water will not need any further treatment, but it is possible that drinking water should be filtered or treated for taste. A water softener may also be advisable to reduce soap requirements and maintenance on water heating systems. A whole house filter is inexpensive insurance against plugged shower heads and faucet aerators.

If your new home is in the country on a farm or acreage, you probably won’t have access to utility provided water or wastewater services. You will have to provide your own. For water some of the options are a well, spring or creek, rainwater or hauled water from a treated source. In some areas runoff water collected in a dugout is the best option.

Wastewater will require some sort of carefully designed and located septic system. The municipality will have strict regulations. A permit and inspections will be required. In every case, this will be more costly than a utility hookup, but you won’t have regular bills. Maintenance cost may be an issue.

If there is an aquifer beneath your property, a well will likely be the most practical source of supply. A relatively small pressurized tank will probably provide all the storage you need. Size will depend on your peak usage and the flow rate that your well can maintain. Your drilling contractor will determine the best flow rate your well can sustain. In most cases a jet pump with either a surface or a down well jet can provide sufficient flow and pressure. A submersible pump is more efficient for deeper wells if your well diameter is large enough to accommodate one. Deeper wells will require the most elaborate lifting systems.

Well water in some areas is safe for potable use without any special treating but you will need to have a complete analysis done before first use and a regular analysis for health issues thereafter. Hard water is not usually a health issue (in fact it may be healthier for drinking), but it is destructive to equipment and more soap is required. A softener is a good investment in this case.

Stream or spring water will almost certainly need some treatment. It may not be practical to use for drinking or cooking. Rainwater will also need filtering, at the minimum. Water may be purified, by reverse osmosis or distillation for drinking or cooking, in most circumstances, but there are cases where pollutants make it impractical or overly expensive to clean. A different source for the water used for drinking or cooking may be a practical solution.

Dugouts need a clean drainage area to collect water from. The drainage area must be protected from sources of contamination such as feces from domestic livestock. It is essentially a storage system for water from precipitation. Practical where climates are cold enough that liquid precipitation is not available for long periods and in areas that are not underlain by an aquifer. The dugout needs to be deep enough to prevent freezing to the bottom and to minimize evaporation losses. It will need to be located in relatively impervious soil or a liner will be needed.

Treated water, hauled to you, can usually be used without concern, but storage tanks should be regularly cleaned with a chlorine bleach solution. Be certain that the hauling contractor is reputable.

Wastewater will require primary treatment at a minimum. This can usually be accomplished with a septic system. Disposing of the water after septic tank treatment can be done in different ways, depending on local by-laws, slopes and soil conditions. A pump out system or a disposal field may be appropriate but there may be cases where it will have to be hauled to a treatment facility. There are not many instances where an outhouse is acceptable in this age. A poorly designed or operating system is a health danger to you and your neighbors, as well as a danger to the environment. Close consultation with your local authority is essential. In every case, it will be more costly than a simple utility hookup, and maintenance can be an issue. Once again, however, there will be no monthly tariff.

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Powering Your Home

One area of home design, that I don’t believe I have covered adequately, is the necessity of services, and how they can be provided under different circumstances.

For your house to be livable, with most modern amenities, electricity is quite important as most other services depend on it to some extent.

Electricity can come directly from the electrical grid, provided to North American homes as 120/240 volt alternating current, at a frequency of 60 hertz. The utility company may want to know if you expect to use an unusually large amount. You need to know the point from where your hookup will be sourced. You may have choices such as an underground service, overhead, or a combination of the two. A direct overhead connection will likely be the most inexpensive. But your homes service entrance will have to be placed so this is possible. Allow for that in your planning. Check with the utility company before committing. The utility may, or may not, have an original connection charge. If your site is outside of an urban area you may be faced with a substantial capital cost for a grid hookup.

If you are too far from the grid for an affordable hookup, or simply want to be independent of increasing grid and electricity rates, the calculations are more complicated. Whether or not it makes economic sense, to provide some or all of your own electricity needs, depends on many factors. I have little direct experience with these systems, but have done a lot of research and feasibility studies so the following should be of some value to you. I am providing multiple links to give you added help.

The first thing you will need to determine is what your power needs are expected to be, for now and the foreseeable future. The simplest calculation is simple to add the usage from your current electrical bills and adjust for any changes. Usage will usually be calculated in kilowatt hours (1000 watts for one hour). Watts or kilowatts will be the units describing load or supply. If calculating the load represented by each appliance, you may have to convert from amperage draw. Watts are amperage multiplied by voltage (usually 120 volts in North America, but may be different in other areas). A joule is a measurement of energy equal to one watt for one second if you need that conversion. 3600 KJ would be a KWH.

For comparison you will also need to know your current and future expected electrical costs and rates. This will be comprised of two parts, often separated on your utility bills. One is the fixed or grid delivery costs, charged whether you use electricity or not. This cost will probably rise with inflation and could have increases related to grid upgrading, government regulation and taxes. The other is actual usage multiplied by the electrical rate. Usage is somewhat in your control but rates can be subject to wide swings, sometimes weekly. They are influenced by spot price markets, the utilities contracts, government regulation. Recently, government regulation is having a greater and greater effect. Check some of the most regulated markets as a guide to what is possible.

Location is an important consideration. You should first determine if incentives such as grants, tax credits, or rebates are available from any of the government sources. The type of incentive is important. Tax credits may not be worth anything to you. Rebates require an upfront investment. Grants usually have special qualifying rules. Some Alberta, Canadian, U.S. and Australian sources. Do not neglect any level of government. Some areas may have a mandated feed-in tariff that will pay for some of your surplus generation, if you choose to remain connected to the grid as backup.

It is also important to determine what alternate sources of energy are practical for your location. Options include solar, wind, small hydro, and a few other less common sources. Solar depends on year round sunlight being dependably available. Wind is an option in many areas, if you have enough land area for siting without undue impact on your neighbors. Hydro, of course, requires a reliable source of running water within reasonable distance.

Calculating the suns position at different times, dates at your locations is needed to estimate panel efficiencies on the days of least sun and calculating the angle of your mountings. Most important in high northern or southern latitudes. Since batteries are expensive, it is probably best to plan generation and backup generation sufficient for your needs on the lowest output days. Batteries used to even out daily use and variations in cloud or wind. Storage for seasonal variation is likely not practical.

All types of generation will require storage or backup, usually batteries, a grid connection or both. Without a grid connection, enough storage is needed to cover your peak loads and also to cover periods of low generation. Batteries will likely be needed if you expect the system to work during grid outages. Backup generators, or a grid hookup, can reduce the amount of battery storage needed and the size of the generation method. Fuel for backup can be a major factor. For lower cost and less maintenance, natural gas fuel may be the best option, if it is available. There is the possibility that an electric car could change the economics and perhaps even provide extra battery storage in some instances. To lower overall cost, the efficiency of your appliances, lighting and other draws are extremely important. Powering some high draw appliances with an alternative to electricity is possible. Examples would be, a gas range, gas clothes dryer and gas hot water heater. Even propane refrigerators are possible. If you are in a sunny area where frost is rare, a solar hot water heater may be an option.

It is obvious that alternatives to conventional electrical hookups is comparatively costly. It will take careful accounting to determine if payback times are reasonable. Do not neglect maintenance and replacement costs, capital cost, or the monthly grid costs if you choose to remain connected. With your own system, your electrical costs should remain more or less fixed, while grid costs are subject to fluctuations. There are non monetary considerations. You may be replacing some high carbon, high pollution source. There are a lot of ROI (return on investment) or payback calculators available on line but many are from organizations with a bias. To avoid being misled, it is probably better to develop your own spreadsheet. Make sure to save it so you can update as things change.

Probably the hardest calculation is the effectiveness of any system. Clouds or fog can reduce solar generation for several days at a time. Wind speeds can fall below needed levels for long periods. The suns inclination, and a shortened day, is a larger effect the farther you get from the equator, and can severely reduce the effectiveness of solar panels in northern areas during winter months just when you need it most. A tracking system can increase efficiencies considerably, but increases costs. There are tables available to help you with these calculations.

If you are in an urban environment, rooftop solar panels may be your only alternative option. You will need to determine if you have enough unshaded southerly facing roof area. This may determine whether you need a grid hookup or not.

I have run the numbers for my own situation. Low usage, low electrical rates, a northern location, shade, and the absence of reasonable feed in tariffs or incentives made it uneconomical to install my own system. Things are changing rapidly, however. Incentives are coming. Rate increases are inevitable due to the retirement of coal fired power plants, carbon taxes and other government regulation. An electric car might change the figures, if it can be charged during the day. Costs of solar installations are falling. I will have to do my calculations again, soon.

If alternate systems cannot be made to make sense, addressing the electrical efficiencies of your home is another way to lower costs. It may even make alternatives work.

In my next post I will discuss some of the other required services.

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Home design part 3

It has been a long time since I have added a post to this blog. Boardsandbricks does seem to be maintaining and even increasing it’s popularity, so I think it is worthwhile continuing it.

Part of the reason for my long absence was a heart attack and subsequent bypass surgery. The rest was just other interests, laziness and a bit of writers block.

There have been some major changes in the world since my last post. Politics in Canada seem to have made a shift to the left while Americans have had an abrupt swing to the right. Public opinion seems to be polarized with close to equal representation for either side.

In Canada The left leaning federal liberals as well as the governments of Ontario, Alberta and B.C. are putting significant emphasis on the environment and the remediation of climate change. That is leading to the introduction of subsidies and encouragement of “green” building practices. When designing your house it may be worth your while to explore the available enticements. Most will lead to further savings in the future. In the U.S., buy American protectionism may lead to higher material cost. The same could happen in Canada as a result of retaliatory tariffs. An example is the recent tariffs on American drywall board. Carbon taxes in Canada will, of course, add to the cost of everything. Americans are unlikely to face this anytime soon. Using locally sourced material could help.

Whatever your feelings about climate change (global warming), you are being affected by it, if only by government action.

What design considerations are needed to account for climate change possibilities?

The cost of grid supplied electricity and heating fuel is almost certain to go up, mostly because of government provided disincentives to the use of fossil fuel. It would be wise to plan your house placement and roof style to take maximum advantage of solar energy. If you are building in an urban area you will likely be restricted to using your roof as a place to install solar panels. You may want to provide as much south facing roof slope as feasible. Position your house as far to the North side of your lot as possible to avoid shade problems from neighbors to the south. If building in a rural area, you will be less restricted and off grid solutions may be less costly than grid hookups. Currently in my area and with my usage, solar is not nearly cheap enough to make sense, even with a complete grid disconnection. You will have to do your own math. Some things such as charging an electric car could make the difference. Remember to incorporate space for battery storage and the extra electrical equipment needed in your design. Even without the need for off grid systems now, it is aways wise to look to the future.

With good design and a little extra cost it is possible to reduce your heating and cooling loads to practically nothing. Consider better windows and doors and more insulation. If you only require a tiny amount of supplementary heat, then almost any option will be affordable.

What about the possible direct effects of climate change? It is my belief that climate change will not create a significant added risk from severe weather events. That does not alter the fact that we already have a severe and dangerous climate and preparing for worse may be a good idea. Building stronger and safer can reduce risk and possibly maintenance and insurance costs. The cost is often not that great. The use of metal ties between foundation and walls and between walls and roof is relatively inexpensive, if you are providing your own labor. Make certain that OSB or plywood sheathing laps over rim joists and top plates and is adequately nailed. Sheathing that is a little thicker than code will hold siding and shingles a little better. ICF (insulated concrete form) walls are nearly immune to wind events and metal roofs are much more resistant to hail if you can bear the extra cost. It might be wise to incorporate a shelter where tornadoes or hurricanes are a stronger possibility. Be certain your grading is adequate to protect against extreme precipitation events. Above all, choose the safest location. Avoid flood plains and stay well above sea level if near the coast. Look up and see what might fall on the roof. It might be wise to sacrifice some size and spend the savings on a stronger more weather resistant building envelope.

Prepare for emergencies by having alternate heating plans, a generator, fuel and an easy way to utilize it. A gasoline generator will often not start after a long period with fuel in it. Best to run it dry after each use, add fuel stabilizer, or best yet, convert it to propane fuel.

If you are interested in an analysis of climate change science that is easier for a layman to understand, try this link.

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House DesignTips, Part Two, Getting Started

By now, you should have your land or know what you are looking for. Hopefully you are aware of the land use by-laws pertaining to your area.

The next step is to produce a floor plan. You could do a rough drawing only, and hire a draftsman or architect to do the rest, but if you are like me, You will want to be hands on for everything.

If you are doing detailed drawings, then a good first step is to purchase computer program. There are many good home design products on the market. They range from expensive architectural tools to open source drawing programs. Some are easy and intuitive to use. Others are complicated and require considerable study or training. My own preferred choice is a low-cost home design program that is easy to use. I spent about 100 dollars. Check the reviews before you buy and if possible, use free trial copies. Never give your credit card number to obtain a free copy.

a slightly unusual house that blends well into it's setting

a slightly unusual house that blends well into it’s setting

Many home design programs have catalogues of home furnishings and appliances. You can incorporate these into your plan to see how things fit. measurements of the items can be modified to match your actual choices. Most will also generate a materials list. I have found these to be of little value because of regional cost differences and construction standards.

There are many other features to these programs that you may, or may not use, but exterior and interior views can save you from straining your imagination.

Placement of windows and doors are important. They can be important visual feature of your home. Strive for balance, both inside and out. The front of your house, the side facing the street, is the one most seen and deserves the most attention. It is likely the first thing you will see whenever you come home as well. It should be attractive and welcoming. Well planned landscaping, however, can  enhance any facade. Do not neglect a pleasing view.

If you are placing many windows on the south of your house, consider the solar gain, a good thing in winter but not so for summer. On a single story house, this can be alleviated by placing the windows a little higher and providing 24 inch or more for eaves. At least at higher latitudes. Landscaping with deciduous shade trees to the south can also help considerably. A low E coating for your window glass is almost a must, no matter what side the windows are on.

I cold climates, try to avoid large, north facing windows. Even the best windows have poor thermal properties. On the north side of your house the temperature differential is the greatest and therefore subject to the greatest heat loss.

The fields are in bloom in Alberta

The fields are in bloom in Alberta

You must have one exterior door, but most houses provide more than one. They should be placed for convenience, and for easy escape routes in an emergency. They should be at least 32 inches wide. One door 36 inches wide, or more, is a good idea for ease of moving furniture and appliances in and out. It should provide straight in access. A visually appealing door can add a lot to the front of a house.

Don’t forget security. If possible place doors and windows so they are visible from the street or at least from the neighbors. Higher windows provide less easy access to criminals.


Don’t forget toallow for your pets

Consider resale value. You may think you will live there forever, and you might, but people’s lives and circumstances change. There is no point building more than you need or want simply for resale value. It is, however, a good idea to build so that a house is easily expandable. It might even be you, that needs more space in the future. Try to place windows and doors where they will work for expansion. A  window 40 inches, or more, wide is easily converted to a hallway entrance and the header is already there if needed. Think of how heating and cooling can be provided. Use trusses for the roof structure so interior walls can be easily moved or removed. I have seen a few 3 bedroom homes that have been converted to 1 bedroom when the kids are grown and gone. There is usually a developed basement to accommodate guests.

Today most people like to have a deck or patio for outdoor living. normally the best location for a deck is on the East where you have morning sun and the house provides afternoon shade. North may be better in hot climates. If you have other sources of shade,you can utilize that. A deck should have easy access from the kitchen or dining area. It is a big help when entertaining or dining outdoors. Plan for a natural gas hook-up for a BBQ if NG is available in your area. If you can build your deck within a year or two you may be able to avoid the cost of extra permits by including it in your house plan and site plan.

Garages are almost a necessity in cold or hot climates. It is not necessary to heat or cool them to the same degree as your house. They actually save energy over idling your vehicle to heat or cool it. They also protect the finishes and interior of your car from sun damage. An attached garage is very convenient and protects you from the weather as well. If it is outside your budget right away, design so it is an easy addition.

Think of the environment. Net zero energy homes are possible, almost anywhere. The capital cost will be greater but operating cost will be much lower. Especially on a larger house. A smaller house, however can be extremely efficient without spending much extra.



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House Design Tips, Part One – Property Considerations

House design tips is meant to help you design your home or to modify existing plans. They can also be of use for major renovations. Siting, capital cost, usefulness, environmental issues, operating cost and maintenance are the main issues dealt with. I will also deal briefly with designing tools and methods.

We are going to make the assumption that you already have the land on which to build and are aware of development by-laws for the area. Choosing a location is a whole subject in itself.

choose your location

choose your location

It is important that your home design is well suited to the location. If you are stuck on a particular design, then you must search out a suitable property. Make a drawing of your property showing dimensions and orientation. Note the prevailing winds for the area which may be different in different seasons. Consider the angle of the sun for different seasons (More important at high latitudes). Note the location of all services. With a builders level, or a water level, determine the topography of your property. Map it out in 2 to 4 ft. (1/2 to 1 meter) increments. With this information you can decide to work with any slope or to spend extra for leveling. Remember that footings should rest on undisturbed soil, with the top-level of organic soil removed. It is difficult to compact fill enough for secure footings. Dig a little and determine soil composition. It is important to plan footings sufficient for support on your soil type. Determine the water table, allowing for possible variations. Ask around the neighborhood about basement water problems which may be the result of a high water table. You may want to design your house without a basement. In my experience, wet basements is a common problem, and usually expensive to remedy. Don’t assume that because you are on a slope you are immune from water problems. Water often travels freely through sand, gravel or coal. Look around and note the styles of neighboring homes. Try to choose a house design that will fit in seamlessly. A two-story house can look a little odd in a group of ranchers. A little variety is fine, but your house should look like it belongs there. The front of your house (the side facing the street) should align fairly closely to the neighbors on either side. The most attractive and interesting side of the house should also face the front. On a corner lot, you have the problem of two sides that will be often seen by the public. You can either design two attractive facades or plan for screening with fences or shrubbery.  Curb appeal is important for resale value.



You will need to determine driveway location. Do you have a back alley. Will you have an attached or detached garage. Do you need space for  an RV or other vehicles. Consider your neighbors in this case as well. Is it going to be possible to preserve existing trees or other landscape features? Do not forget the root area of large trees. Consider the danger from blowdowns. Finally, design for the climate in your area. It is advisable to plan for extreme weather events that may be possible. Insurance may cover damages, but it will not alleviate the pain from injuries or loss of life. Nor does it really compensate for inconvenience.

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A 200 Day Review

We have now lived in our new home for over 6 month, so it is time to do a 200 day review.

A view from our deck

A view from our deck

What would I do differently? Well actually this home suits us almost perfectly. An attached garage would have been nice, but I couldn’t warrant the cost with a garage already on the property. It is not a major fault. The constricted entry is a bit of an annoyance, when several guests arrive, but once again it is not a major issue. I could be solved with an added porch. Our patio door is a 60 inch. A 72 inch would be better for wheelchair access, if that ever becomes an issue. A pantry would have been nice, if I could have found space for one. It is only an issue because we live rather far from major supermarkets and need to stock up a bit.

All our systems worked nearly perfectly. The underfloor heating was very comfortable. It did shut down twice, but a tap on the flow sensor fixed it both times. probably caused by a bit of debris that had not cleared the system yet, I have filters on the water inlet, so no new debris should enter.

The heat recovery ventilator was very successful at keeping the humidity under 55 percent and at providing fresh air. I operated it both manually and on automatic humidistat control.

A nice feature is our hot water circulation system which keeps hot water at our taps almost instantly. It took me a little while to figure out how to adjust it.

The house is quite efficient. Our natural gas bill was under $100.00, except for one month, when the price spiked due to a cold snap in the U.S. and Canada. Natural gas provides the fuel for our heating, cooking, hot water, and BBQ. Delivery costs are about half, so our heating cost is pretty minimal. I will have a better idea after a few summer bills.

Our barby

Our barby

I managed to get the deck built a couple of weeks ago. We have enjoyed the BBQ a few times. The East facing deck is excellent. It is nice and sunny for morning coffee and nice and shady for that evening beer.





Gage is getting a little fat and sassy without much supervising left to do.

The laminate and vinyl floor are easy to clean. A good feature with pets, and without sidewalks or grass as of yet.

Our location is excellent with low traffic and nice views.

Everything considered, the house suits us almost perfectly. We have never been this satisfied with any of our previous homes

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Unfinished Business, Spring Projects

We had some unfinished projects from last year when snow came a little too early. These are spring projects that included decks, finishing the siding and landscaping.

Now the winter is finally over. Trees are getting leaves and flowering. Nature is beautiful.

Crabapple blooms

Crabapple blooms

As always we are operating on a very limited budget. Of course, one of our goals is to see how inexpensively we can build a home.

We hired a contractor for the first time. I wanted continuous gutters which require special equipment. The contractor was an old friend and installed gutters on the house and garage, including leaf screens on the garage. The total cost was 850.00. Our rain barrels have been filled with valuable rainwater that we are using liberally for new plantings.

We also installed our surveillance system. It was one I had purchased a few years ago and never installed. It works perfectly, giving us 360 degree views of our property

New gutters

New gutters

We built the 10′ x 24″ deck with outdoor wood. The joists are 2 x 8 and the decking is 5/4 inch outdoor wood. It is attached to the house with joist hangers and rests on 5 concrete deck blocks. This allows for some movement without damage and is easily adjusted in the future. This method is fine for a low deck, but a higher deck should have posts securely attached to concrete pilings.



The railings are PVC that I was given for free. There was far more than I needed, so the rest (still a full truckload) was donated to the local legion.

Notice the blocking used to reduce deflection.


A ramp was added to the driveway side and steps to the garden side.


Railings assembled easily once I figured it all out.


The deck, mostly finished, still needs skirting. I think i will use white PVC lattice.

I installed our natural gas BBQ and now we need to purchase a patio set. It will have to wait until after taxes are paid and I accumulate a little cash. Material for the deck cost me about $1400.00. Good thing the railing was free.

We spent about $200.00 on trees (mostly fruiting) and plants. Some trees and perennials were moved from our last house and others were gifts. We have seeded some patches of grass but most will wait till next year We fell that sod would be too expensive, although it would speed things up considerably.

Now all we need is some guests enjoy the deck with us.

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Save Cash, Reduce GHGs and Save the Planet

Reduce energy bills, reduce GHG emissions, save the planet

Can you help save the planet and gain a dollar advantage at the same time? Are you concerned about global warming, air pollution or just your energy costs? Here is a list of things you can do to your home which can cost little and have excellent returns. The list starts from the least costly and is suitable for existing housing.

Typical costs are based on a specific Canadian location in Canadian dollars. They could vary widely. Do your own research and calculations.

Caulking, a cheap way to help save the planet.

Caulk everywhere there is any chance of air leakage

Number one. Caulk, caulk and more caulk. Whether you live in a heating or cooling climate, air leakage is a large energy cost. Caulking is cheap, typically a couple of bucks per tube. Watch for sales. Use paintable or clear product that is suitable for indoor or outdoor use. Fill every crack and space that has even a remote chance of air leakage. This has the added advantage of reducing hiding spaces for insects. If cracks are large, repair or stuff with a suitable material before caulking. Typical cost $10 to $50. The short course on caulking.

Angie changed the 312 furnace filter
Collin Anderson / Foter / CC BY

Number two. Maintain your equipment. Keep furnaces, air conditioners, refrigerators, and freezers operating at peak efficiency by cleaning heat ex-changers and changing filters regularly. Anything that looks like a radiator and has a fan needs to be kept clean as well as any radiating surface. Use metallic tape to seal any leaks in ducting. Arrange furniture so that it has a minimal effect on heat distribution and does not block ducts. Do not install restrictive filters in an attempt to clean the air. They effect efficiency and can damage a furnace. Good maintenance reduces replacement costs. Typical cost for filters is about $25 for a year in colder climates. The best furnace filters to buy.

Keeping your furnace clean can help save the planet
Keep your furnace cleanslworking2 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Number three. Use less cooling or heating. Turn the heat or air conditioning as low as possible if no one is going to be home. Lower the temperature at night in cool climates and use more covers on the beds. Turn heating and cooling completely off if there is no possibility of freezing or other damage. You can do this manually or you can purchase programmable thermostats (or smart controls) that will allow you to raise or lower temperature just before you need it to prevent temporary discomfort. Typical cost $0 to $100. Learn more about thermostats.

Number four. Use less lighting. Make certain everyone in the house turns off lights when not needed. Replace bulbs as they burn out with lower wattage bulbs or replace high usage bulbs immediately with LED or CFL bulbs. Prices are still fairly high for more efficient bulbs but in

LED lights can help save the planet.

LED lights are the new efficient lighting.

many cases the payback time is very rapid. I just bought 4 Led bulbs. 2 were 6w to replace 40 watt and 2 were 10.5w to replace 60w incandescent. My total cost including taxes was $60. You can likely find them for as little as 1/2 that. Pretty pricey but I did a calculation for one much used light. At 6 hours use per day the LED would pay for itself  in 1.5 to 2 years. that’s a good investment in my book. Our electrical rate is $.08 right now and higher rates would effect a higher return. I am very impressed with the LED lights. They are practically instant on. The light is pleasant and at least as good at replacing incandescent as advertised. A 10.5 watt actually gives as much light as the 60w it replaces. Typical costs $0 to $500. I tried to find a good link to information about LED bulb. Everything I could find was outdated. Development in LED technology is proceeding at a lightning pace

Baths use a lot of hot water
Baths use a lot of hot waterwester / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Number five. Use less water and heat less water. Showers typically use much less water than baths. A shower can be installed in most bathrooms for as little as $200 if you do it yourself. A new bath spout with a flex hose and shower head along with a shower curtain may be all you need. A tub surround or tiling may be needed as well in other cases. A lot of energy can be saved by doing laundry in cold water and drying you clothes on an outdoor clothes-line when weather permits. A more expensive option is a front load washer. It is worth considering if you have a large family and are replacing your existing unit. When replacing water heaters, consider high-efficiency models. There is really not a typical cost here but some options are quite affordable while others can run into the thousands.

Sufficient attic insulation can go a long way toward saving the planet.
This attic obviously does not have enough insulation for cold climates.zieak / Foter / CC BY

Number six. Increase attic insulation. In many heating or cooling climates, attic insulation up to about R60 is cost-effective. Have a look. If you have less than 16 inches of insulation you likely have room for improvement. Although a bit of a pain, do it yourself installation is not difficult. Adding 10 inches of loose fill insulation to a 1000 sq. ft. attic can cost under $700. This is an increase of about R30. 

Insulate your basement for heating efficiency..
Insulate your basement for heating efficiency.Paulgi / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Number seven. Basement insulation is important and inexpensive if the space is unfinished. Often neglected is the at the top of walls between floor joists. Insulate to at least R20 and pay close attention to sealing against moisture on the inside. There are several different possible methods of insulating this area with wide range of efficiencies and cost. Necessary in any cold climate but probably not effective in a hot climate.

To help save the planet use use energy efficient windows when replacing.
Choose energy efficient windows when replacing your old ones.Joe St.Pierre // Joestpierrephoto.com / Foter / CC BY

Number eight. Replacing old windows and doors with new and more efficient ones. This is one I don’t recommend for energy-saving reasons alone. It is very costly and the payback is long. However, if you are replacing for appearance or for functionality, use at least a double glass with low E coating. Vinyl or wood frames allow the least energy transfer.

These last two may be out-of-order but costs can vary from very little to very much so I have placed them at the last. They are not always a possible solution in all situations

 Orient your house to take advantage of the sun or shade
Foter / CC BY-SA

Number nine. Consider your home orientation to take advantage of natural, passive heating or cooling. This is easier with a new house, but use of awnings, heavy drapes or cross ventilation can be effective with older homes.

Trees can go a long way towards saving the planet
Trees can go a long way towards saving the planetblmiers2 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Number ten. Use trees for shading and wind breaks. They also tend to lower the temperature in their immediate vicinity on hot days. They have the added advantage of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The result is stored carbon and released oxygen. In my area winters are very cold and the prevailing winds are from the north and west. I would plant evergreens to the north and west for windbreaks and deciduous trees to the south for summer shade while allowing sun through in winter. Varieties require careful consideration. Planting large trees can be very costly but  some varieties grow rapidly and can be used while waiting for slower growers to mature. Time is rather irrelevant here as it is the future we are trying to save. Facts about trees.

You can do your bit to reduce greenhouse gas emission and pollution while padding your pocket at the same time. It doesn’t matter if you believe in global warming or not. The cost of fossil fuel and thus energy is bound to escalate in the future, perhaps rapidly. The Idea that recoverable reserves have increased due to technology is misleading. Oil prices have increased 10 fold in recent years in spite of increasing production. We may not be in danger of running out soon, but costs are increasing rapidly.

You may notice that I have not included any alternative power options in this post. That is because it is pretty complicated, especially in our northern climate. Regulations for connecting to the grid vary widely as well. The economics requires a detailed study for each situation. It deserves a post of its own, and I don’t feel qualified to write one, until I have completed a lot more research.

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