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An Efficient House

If your goal is to build an efficient house the devil is in the details.

L'il Devil
Darwin Bell / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Not paying close attention to the little things can result in a lot of little inefficiencies. if you expect the lifespan of a house to be in the 200 year range, these little inefficiencies add up to a lot.

The main concern here is energy efficiency, but I also want to touch on construction efficiency and on living efficiency. By living efficiency I mean time, money and effort spent on maintenance as well as everyday cost in time and effort.

One of the factors I have probably mentioned too many times already, is size. It is only common sense that a larger home is going to be less all around efficient than a smaller one built to the same standards. If prestige is the goal, my feeling is that there are far better ways to gain it.

Very careful planning is where efficiency starts. Use care and common sense in evaluating your needs. Think into the future. Are you building space for children that will be gone in a couple of years? Are you considering special needs you may face as you age.

Swain House, Fort Street, Detroit
Not so simplesouthofbloor / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Keep it simple. Complicated designs tend to have higher costs and contribute to both energy and construction inefficiencies.

A simple rectangle is the most efficient design for energy efficiency. It provides the most space with the least exterior surface.

The insulating value of the walls and especially the ceiling is very important if you live in a cold or hot climate. If you are lucky enough to live in area where daily average temperatures stay in the comfortable range then thermal mass is probably more important. The ceiling is easier to insulate to higher R values and has a reasonable payback even to R50 and higher. Most homes have a certain amount of heat layering which increases the temperature differential between inside and out at the ceiling and the tops of walls. More insulation is required at these locations for the same results. Blow in insulation works well. Normal rafter configurations make the area above exterior walls difficult to insulate well. Special rafters with a raised “heel”  solve this. The extra cost may be worth it. How to measure heel height.

Rafters today are usually manufactured trusses which are enable fast and efficient construction. Click here for a truss diagram and a glossary of terms. A n excellent and more detailed explanation of trusses is available here.

When calculating paybacks it is important to remember that fuel and electricity will likely become more expensive in the future. This will be partly because of scarcity and of environmental concerns.

Heat in the attic is not your friend no matter what your climate. Be certain of good insulation and ventilation. Choosing a light-colored or reflective roof covering could be beneficial.

192/365 - Help, I'm Alive, My Heart Keeps Beating Like A Hammer
Helga Weber / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Even the best windows have poor insulating properties. Design with this in mind. Don’t neglect the use of natural light for energy savings.

A two-story house or a basement can add living space  at a lower energy cost. Providing staircases can reduce this benefit considerably. Stairs can be problematic for small children and seniors. There is an element of danger to everyone. My own opinion is that it is best to avoid the risk of falls if possible.

One of the most common housing problems I have encountered over the years, has been wet basements. Providing a full depth basement that is completely waterproof may be more costly than the space is worth. This link is to a commercial site, but they do list a lot of the common basement problems.

An efficient house must be as impervious to air movement through the exterior envelope  as possible. Pay extra attention to sealing around windows and doors. Don’t forget to seal where plumbing and wiring penetrate the building envelope.

Energy efficient lighting is a consideration. Flourescent and LED lighting uses less electricity than incandescent. In a climate like much of Canada it becomes a little more complicated. incandescent bulbs lose efficiency by generating heat. In winter, in Canada, that heat is definitely not wasted. In summer the days are long and little light is needed. Other considerations are how that electricity is generated and what fuel you use for heating. My own guess is that  the extra cost of flourescent or LED bulbs may not be justified in all cases. Our government here is taking the decision out of our hands by prohibiting the sale of incandescent bulbs. Probably an effort to make Canada look better to the rest of the world through climate change action. Follow your own consience.

an efficient house has efficient appliances
Corie Howell / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Choose energy-efficient appliances.  Front loading washers are presumably more efficient than top load. The capital cost, however, appears to be almost double. They do use less water and the cost to heat that water is, of course, lower. There is little reason to heat the water to wash clothes, though, so much of the advantage is lost. I think the jury is still out on this one.

A clothesline is an inexpensive way to use less electricity

A garage may seem like a bit of a luxury. Actually a lot of fuel can be saved by not having to warm or cool your vehicles by idling. An attached garage has at least one less wall for heat loss. There is no reason to heat a garage above 40 degrees fahrenheit. The latent heat of a vehicle just off the road is enough to provide most of the heat needed for a well-built garage. In hot climates, just keeping the sun off your car makes a huge difference.

Design your house for safety and ease of use. Make certain that bathrooms are easily accessible from all areas, Kitchens must be designed to reduce workload. Large closets are good in the master bedroom, but do you really need them in guest rooms? I never could see the logic of two sinks in a bathroom. Do you really want to carry togetherness to that extent.

Minimize hallways. They are largely wasted space. Do not use doors where they are not necessary.

Place windows higher for privacy and to maximize space for furniture.

Do not use more interior walls than you need. An open concept is efficient and pleasant.

Vaulted ceilings add interest and an illusion of space, but are not very energy-efficient and may make your home more difficult to insulate well.

To reduce the environmental cost of building your efficient house, there are a few considerations. Cement and steel are huge greenhouse gas producers so it follows that they should be used carefully. Calculate carefully so as to not waste concrete. Building on a crawl space reduces the need for concrete and reinforcing steel considerably. Both products have a long life and this reduces impact somewhat. Review each material and design choice for its energy use and environmental impact. Environmental cost of building materials.

Source as much of your material as possible locally, to reduce the impact of transportation.

Last House on Holland Island, May 2010
An unsafe locationbaldeaglebluff / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Build strong and build in safe locations. Replacing or repairing homes damaged by flood or storm is not very efficient or environmentally friendly.

Use labor and trades that are nearby if possible. If doing much of the work yourself, see if it is possible for you to live on site during construction. This is a huge time and energy saver.

Choose your water and space heating equipment carefully. Eliminating a chimney saves considerable space and material. consider the space used by the equipment. Using a tankless water heater for both space and water heating eliminates the need for a chimney and much of the space requirements. Follow the following links for more information. Hydronic radiant heatingHeating with a hydronic radiant system.

Finally, the home that has a long practical use is more environmentally friendly, So build well and with forethought. Avoid fads.

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Environmental cost of building materials

Choices in building material and construction methods for your house can vary widely as to their environmental cost. Energy use, pollution and habitat destruction are key considerations but the indoor environment created is also a consideration. The following is a comparison of common building materials.

Factors that are relevant to the envirocost (did I just coin a new word here) of materials are, transportation, raw material used, energy required in manufacture, longevity, carbon storage, recycle-ability, renew-ability, and sometimes the insulating value of the material. Recycled and reused material rates highly if it is locally available.

A rammed earth home has a low environmental cost
A rammed earth homeLsbentz / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The use of locally available material can dramatically reduce environmental damage and usually reduces costs as well. Transportation is a major contributor to pollution, carbon emissions and costs. It follows that the less distance a product travels and the lower its weight, the less its cost, both financially and environmentally. The one caveat is that it must be commonly and easily available. Ideal are products that may normally be burned or land filled.

One of the best examples is earth that is available right at the building site. The soil in many areas is suitable for the construction of rammed earth walls. This method is well suited to warmer drier climates, but is also a possibility for much of Canada. For more detailed information,follow any one of the three following links.  About rammed earth homes.  Pictures of rammed earth construction.  A more technical discussion of rammed earth construction in Canada.

In agricultural areas, straw is usually readily available and easily transportable. Straw bale construction is the most commonly known but straw is also sometimes used to manufacture panels that are commonly used as flooring underlay. Panels made from waste straw are also now being manufactured as an alternative to MDF, plasterboard and chipboard. Wheat straw is often used but many other types of straw could be utilized. Emphasis should be placed on waste straw. Straw in many areas needs to be incorporated into the soil to maintain or improve fertility. Proximity to manufacturers and cost would be considerations. Another alternative to straw bale construction is emerging. Straw formed into rope or cable is used to form columns or walls.

Using papercrete blocks has a low environmental cost
Papercrete blocks used in the construction of a shoprabble / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Paper can be recycled into building products such as panel board or papercrete. The practicality of the board would depend a lot on freight costs. Once again the environmental cost is probably closely related to the cost of the board delivered to you.  In the case of papercrete it is possible to make your own. This link provides one papercrete recipe. Most papercrete recipes utilize a proportion of cement in the mix. Cement has a relatively high environmental cost but the proportion is usually small  One persons method of making papercrete blocks.  An intriguing building material but it may be better suited to farm outbuildings, sheds and garages than to homes. There is no shortage of information about it on the internet.

Much of North America and the Northern parts of Europe and Asia are in close proximity to sources of wood as a building material. Wood is a renewable resource and a versatile building material. The carbon storage in wood products is considerable. Virtually every part of a log is used and many species once considered weed are now used to manufacture building material. OSB (oriented strand board) can be manufactured using fire or insect killed wood. Distribution networks for lumber and wood products are well established and efficient, reducing the impact of transportation somewhat. A well designed wood frame house has an excellent life expectancy.

PVC pipe
Plastic pipe is used extensively in home constructionThirdangel / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Petroleum and natural gas provide the raw material for plastic. Cheap and light it is used in for the manufacture of many building products including flooring, siding, insulation, counter tops, plumbing and wiring, and in doors and windows. It is used extensively in appliances and to some degree in furniture.. Most of the environmental damage from plastic comes from single use packaging and recycling to date is not extensive. It’s lifespan in building materials is good. It’s use for piping in housing is such an improvement over metal that it has replaced metal almost entirely The environmental cost is probably less than the metals it largely replaces. It’s low-cost, low maintenance and light weight make it practical to replace wood in some cases such as siding. The use of plastic has made housing affordable for many more people. A disadvantage is that the smoke from some plastics is very toxic in case of fire.  The construction industry is the second largest user of plastics after packaging.  Follow this link for more information on the use of plastic in building and construction.

Reflexions in glass
Glassx1klima / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Glass is a component of nearly every home. The energy requirements in manufacture are quite high but carbon emission would depend on the energy source. The raw material used is abundant. It is heavy and fragile which adds to transportation cost. It does have a low thermal resistance and requires special methods to improve the insulating value. Even the best windows are several times poorer than the surrounding walls at preventing energy transfer. Strategically placed, glass can be used for passive solar heat gain. This can offset much of its poor performance. Glass should be used carefully to prevent undue inefficiencies in the building envelope. An inert material, it is easily disposed of in land fills. Considerable amounts of glass can be recycled into new glass, but collection and transport can be a problem because of weight. For more information on glass production click here. 

The short lifespan of asphalt shingles create an environmental cost. They are very heavy and recycling facilities are few. Most end up in landfills at the end of their lifespan. Newer types have life spans that are much longer without a significant increase in cost. Considering the cost of replacement alone should  make you insist on the longer life choices. Lifetimes can vary considerably depending on location and roof styles.

The longevity of concrete is evident in Roman archetecture. Longevity can reduce environmental cost.
A very old concrete structureFoter.com / CC BY-SA

Concrete is probably the most commonly used building material. The raw material for its production is usually available reasonably close. It is very heavy and transportation can add considerably to its cost. In my area concrete is usually delivered for about $150.00 per cubic meter. Some areas have prices of $250.00 and more. The production of cement is highly energy intensive and is responsible for considerable carbon emissions. Not a very environmentally friendly material choice, but a big winner in longevity. Some structures built with concrete by the Romans are still standing and even sometimes usable after more than 2000 years. Carbon cost of concrete manufacture has one estimate of carbon emissions. For a technical comparison of concrete and steel environmental cost follow this link.

Heat energy used adds a high environmental cost to steel
Heat energy being used is evident in this photo of the interior of a steel millPayton Chung / Foter.com / CC BY

Steel is another building material that is energy intensive in production. The thermal resistance of steel is very poor. It’s longevity, however, is very good. It is almost 100% recyclable and a high percentage of steel used today has been recycled. It is also quite heavy which adds to carbon footprint through transportation.

Other metals are similar to steel, but some are becoming very costly due to scarcity and increased mining costs..

Aluminum is highly energy intensive in production. The carbon foot print may not be very high, though, since much of the manufacturing is done where low-cost hydroelectric is available. It is also considerably lighter than other metals, lessening its carbon cost through transportation. To recycle aluminum requires less than 6% of the energy as producing new aluminum from bauxite. Recycled aluminum accounts for at least half of the product produced in North America.  This article discusses the energy cost of aluminum production, and ways to reduce it.

Any building material has an environmental cost associated with it. The environment is best served by using the least material possible, It is worth considering the use of lower cost alternatives wherever possible.

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The environment and building your home

Most people today, will be at least some what concerned with the environment, when planning and building their home. Both construction and the ongoing operation of the house will have their effect.

The environment is everyones responsibility

The environment is everyones responsibility

The size of your home will have the biggest overall impact. If the environment is a primary concern of yours, carefully consider your needs, and build as small as you are comfortable with. This has added advantages in cost, and in future maintenance. There is much less effort, and cost, involved in keeping a small house clean and well maintained.

The material used, in building your home, will have varying costs to the environment. Although I lack the resources to be specific, I can list some concerns to be considered.

Reuse and recycling of material should be considered at every opportunity. The longevity of materials is important, as it reduces waste streams. Fuel use for transportation is also an important factor.

 Try for least environment impact

Modern home

Wood is used extensively in housing and furnishings. It is a natural and renewable resource. Carbon is stored in the wood for the life of the house. Replanted forests remove carbon dioxide from the air and stores it in the wood. Some carbon is transferred to the soil in the form of humus. The cost would be in the energy used for harvesting, transportation and replanting, and in land use. Recycling and reuse is limited.

Concrete is another common construction material. It’s longevity is excellent. Because of weight, transportation is a significant factor. The ingredients, though abundant, must be mined. The limestone used for cement must be heated in kilns to drive out the water. The carbon release to the atmosphere is significant. Concrete is not easily reused or recycled.

Cement manufacture

Steel, and other metals used, must be mined and refined. Many metals are becoming harder to find and increasingly costly to mine. This usually has significant effect on the environment. On the other hand, metals are relatively easy and economical to recycle, and a high percentage of metal products are from recycled material. Metal products used in house construction have excellent longevity.

Plastics are being used more and more in home construction. It is replacing metal almost totally in plumbing. It is also widely used for window manufacture, vapor barriers, insulation and fixtures. Plastic has a bad reputation in the waste stream. It is almost indestructible and recycling is not yet widespread. This relates largely to it’s use for packaging and for disposable containers. It’s use in housing does not contribute greatly to this problem. Plastics are commonly made from petroleum resources such as oil or natural gas or their by-products. It’s light weight and longevity reduces it’s impact on the environment when used in construction.

Plastic production.

Shattered Glass - Britney Spears
Mr. Carls / Music Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

Glass is a component of every home. It can be reused but is seldom recycled. An inert material, it is virtually indistinguishable from normal soil components, if crushed. Energy is used in it’s manufacture, and it’s weight adds to transportation cost. Glass fiber has widespread use as insulation, in shingles, and as a structural component of doors and fixtures.

Glass manufacturing.

Brick, tile and other ceramic material use considerable energy in their manufacture and they are heavy. Sun dried adobe is usable in some climates, and has less impact.

Asphalt, used in shingles or for driveways, requires some heat to remain liquid until used. The name is applied to the material used for roadways, even though gravel and sand are the main components. The same is true for shingles, where other materials make up the bulk of the mix. Recycling is possible where facilities or equipment exists. Transportation is a large factor in the economies of recycling. A petroleum by-product, asphalt may be a more finite resource than concrete, but likely creates less greenhouse gas in it’s production.

Oil refining and asphalt production.

Some materials, such as stone, earth, straw bales, or in some cases wood, have very little negative impact on the environment. If they are available locally or even on site.

Traveling to Albany
Barb Henry / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Transportation of material is often the largest single source of pollution and greenhouse gases. The use of locally produced material can significantly reduce the impact of your project.

The longer the useful life of a construction material, the less it will effect the environment. Single use items, such as packaging and disposable containers, create huge problems in disposal. The near indestructible properties of plastics make them an excellent choice in construction, but the same characteristic is a problem when they are disposed of. Recycling helps to alleviate the problem, but faces problems of economics and logistics. Transportation of waste to recycling plants may cause more pollution than it alleviates.

Asphalt shingles are a good example. They are available in grades with life expectancies of from 20 to 50 years. Because the initial cost of a house is important for many reasons, builders often use the lowest grade, even though the long term economics strongly favor longer lasting products. Twice the lifespan means half the material use and half the contribution to the waste stream. Used shingles are usually sent to a land fill because of a lack of recycling facilities.

The ongoing operation of your home also has significant impact. Comfort and economics strongly favor an energy efficient home up to a point of diminishing returns. Current low interest rates, and rapidly rising energy costs, means more capital investment can be made in efficiency. Reducing the size of your home, to closely match your actual needs, can also make more money available. Your concern for the environment may trump pure economics, but don’t forget the impact of material use. The energy used to manufacture and transport material could negate any future energy savings.

|The simplest way to help the environment is to use less of everything. Use less heating fuel, water, electricity, consumables of any kind, and fuel for transportation. The earth will thank you.

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A house for less than 100000 dollars


Can you build a house for less than 100000 dollars? Yes, it is possible. In fact, you may be able to build for much less than that.

There are many designs available, or you can use your own design, that can be built very inexpensively. Here is how.

I am going to use a hypothetical location typical of a small town in central Alberta. You may be able to do much better.

a house for less than 100000The first requirement is land.

. Property values are quite low in many areas. For this discussion, we will include a value for the land, which may or may not be applicable to your area or situation. In my area, you can buy a single lot of 5000-6000 sq. ft. (465-557 sq. meters). for 25,000 or less. Sometimes much less. Two serviced lots, near where I live, were recently sold by closed tender, for under 5000 each. In some cases it just takes a little luck. I will start with a land cost of 20,000.

To keep keep cost down, services need to be along your property boundaries. In many subdivisions, water and sewer are located under the street in front of your property. Material. labor and equipment cost, to bring it to the house, should be less than 3,000. I will use 2,000.

There are several ways to build a house for less than 100000

By Dwight Burdette (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Natural gas, electricity, and telephone are usually available from the alley. Bringing them to the house should cost less than 1,500. I will use 1,500. I am going to assume that the property does not need undue shaping, or leveling, before you are able to build. Twenty four hours with a skid steer at 75 dollars should do the leveling, excavation, and back filling. Total cost, 1,800.

Hey, we haven’t even started, and we have already spent over 25000, you are thinking.

Land cost, services and preparation is a significant portion of the cost of a house, and one over which you have little control, other than the choice of location. There are a few areas where you can effect savings. Perhaps you could rent equipment and do your own excavating and site prep. Maybe a plumber friend could help you run the water and sewer services.

Now you need your permits. Cost for these can vary enormously, depending on many factors, but permits have cost me less than 1,500 on my last couple of house builds. It might be a little optimistic but I am going to use 1,500.

you can build a house for less than 100000 using locally sourced material

Using locally sourced material

It is time to build. We know that to build a house cheaply, we must use simple and efficient design. The house will be rectangular with a gable roof. Patios, decks and landscaping will be left for when we have a little more cash available. We will look for the best for the least, but will try to build so that future operating costs are as low as possible.

In many areas, building on a concrete slab will have the lowest foundation cost. In others, a preserved wood stem wall will be the least costly. In my area there is not a lot of difference in cost, but PWF might win if you are doing your own labor.

We want a comfortably sized house, so I have settled on a two bedroom ranch style of about 1000 sq. ft. (93 sq.meters) for this example.  Many people would be happy with less than this.

We will try to plan the house for ease of future expansion. This means planning the house with the extra additions included, and then removing them. Possible additions would include an attached garage, bedrooms and bathroom.

Although this could vary, depending on location, my recent experience is that material costs for this type of house will be about 50 dollars per sq. ft.. Our 1000 sq. ft. house will have a material cost of about 50,000 including all plumbing, electrical and mechanical. This should allow for upgraded shingles, colored vinyl siding, extra insulation and perhaps an extra bathroom. Cabinets will not be the cheapest but will be in the lower range. Windows and doors will have to be in the mid to low cost range. There should be room in this for a few frills, such as shutters, for appearance. It should allow for a high efficiency furnace and water heater. If your main goal is economy, you can probably lower this cost considerably.

To build a house for less than 100000 it is necessary to do considerable work yourself

Working on your house

I am, of course, assuming that you will be doing almost all the work yourself, without resorting to trades people. I am also going to assume that you will need to hire some help, just to stay on a schedule. Although it is more than I usually require, I will allow for 2 laborers for 12 weeks at 40 hrs. per week and pay them 20 dollars per hour. Remember, this is Alberta. Our labor costs are quite high. There goes another 19000.

There are a few more costs, which would include insurance, interest on interim financing, property taxes while building, deposits on services, and material for a driveway and walk (Just gravel for now). The 4000 we have left from our 100,000 should cover that nicely.

This little exercise has left us with a house that has a cost of about our target of a house for less than 100000.

Could we build for even less? The answer is an emphatic, yes.

We have included the cost of the land, which is not really part of your house building costs. It does, however, contribute to what money you have available. You may already have the land, or you may find a less expensive location. We have assumed an easily serviced property, but the costs could be more, or less. Perhaps you will be replacing a mobile home, or something similar, and the required services will already be there and usable. These scenarios could lower the cost by as much as 25,000.

Wise buying choices.

Planning for savings

You might have the time, and the inclination, to do practically all the work yourself. Savings could be up to the 20,000 allowed for labor.

You could go the cheapest possible on material and equipment and save 20% or more. There is another 10,000.

You could build smaller and realize a proportionate saving on material.

It is theoretically possible that you could end up with a livable house for as little as 40,000, if you already have the land. Even less, if you are fanatical about it.

It may seem crazy to try to build a house for under 100000

Not so crazy ideas

About now you are probably thinking, “this guy is a total loony.” Well, you don’t have to be crazy to build a house on your own, but it helps. It takes a tremendous amount of hard work, and perseverance, and I am not putting any monetary value on that. If you have a career paying a couple of hundred thousand per year, you would be a damn fool to take time off to build your house. It is for someone like me, who would not be doing anything else of value, or would be building for someone else anyway. The advantage is, I do not have to pay any taxes on the money saved building my own house.There are other little perks as well but they are a good subject for another article.

As an example, I built my current house in 2006, and the cost was less than 100000. This was just under 1,800 sq. ft. including the attached garage. It included two full baths and the garage is fully heated. The high efficiency furnace and demand water heater were considerably more costly than they are today (the water heater alone was 2,500 with out fittings or vent). I used shingles rated for 30 years which were more costly at the time. The windows were all awning or casement for less leakage. My backyard fence was included. A jet tub and a one piece 4 ft. shower was installed instead of cheap tubs. All the appliances including a freezer and central vacuum were paid for. I used 2 helpers for two months at 15.00 per hour. The cost of land was included but, I had purchased the lot for only 5,000. Cabinets were purchased ready to assemble, inexpensive, but not the cheapest available. My actual material cost was about 65,000. The only things left to do when I quit counting was the driveway, walks, deck and landscaping. I even managed to pay myself a modest 1,500 dollars per month for the 5 months it took me to complete the project.

We moved in 3 months after I did the excavation.

There is no doubt about my accounting since 100,000 was all I had, and I did not borrow any money.

From what I can tell, the costs today, are not substantially different. In some areas, they may in fact be lower. Alberta is not known for low construction costs. I expect my current build to cost about 85,000, including land.

I have now nearly completed my new house. For a look at costs follow this link

To build a house for less than 100000 rquires bargain hunting

Bargain hunting

Of course, I have had a lot more time to shop for bargains.

I hope this makes you a little less hesitant about starting on your own project.

One thing to remember, everything depends on careful preparation and diligent planning. If you take enough time to do this well, the rest will be easy.

Take the time to explore this site.There are many money saving ideas and alternate solutions to some costs.

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