Sunday, December 27, 2009

Meeting in the Mountains

As I write this, my other half is on a multi-day backpacking trip. He and five of our friends camped out on our land before the start of their adventure. A quick phone conversation revealed that the roof is enclosed and the rooms in the house are framed! There’s even a ladder leading up to the loft—at which point I tried (unsuccessfully) to convince him to sleep in the “master bedroom.”

When I asked how everything looked, “small” was the answer I received. Yikes! I was reassured by others, however, that even the biggest houses look disproportionate at this stage of the game. Let’s hope so. There’s not even drywall up to close off the rooms yet!

Yours truly will be joining her other half later in the week. He’ll be coming off the mountain the day we meet with our builder, finalize some changes and (I think) walk through the house with an electrician.

I’m so thrilled with the way the house is coming along, despite the snow and now rain New England has received. Expect lots of progress pictures when I return.

Best wishes for you all in 2010!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Why We Chose a Small Footprint

Early on in our home building process we worked closely with an architect firm to design the perfect home. For us, that meant a home that was efficient and affordable. One of the easiest ways to achieve both of those things was to reduce the size of our home’s footprint. Our reasons for doing so were plentiful:
  • It would take less energy and effort to build;

  • There would be fewer building materials used;

  • More earth would be left undisturbed;

  • Once it’s complete, our home will use less energy to operate;

  • And less energy means more savings each month for us.

Plus, we strongly opposed building rooms into our home that would go unoccupied. So, there won’t be multiple rooms that serve the same function (i.e., family room and living room). By including only necessary square footage, we won’t have to heat, clean and pay taxes on rooms that are used minimally—or not at all—throughout the year.

We are also on a mission to lead a simplified life, where people and experiences trump possessions. And we hope a small home will force us to cut back on the desire to purchase material things that are just that—things—and help us to focus on what’s important. We try hard to make our (few) purchases serve a purpose, or allow us to experience life in a different and exciting way. We know not everyone subscribes to that theory. But we’ve found more happiness in gifting each other a weekend hiking in the wilderness, than giving each other the latest gizmo.

There will be no clutter in this home!! (Yeah, right…)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Progress Report: The Ridge is Up

Our dedicated construction crew is working so hard to make our dream home a reality. And we are so thankful. The snow is now falling—and the temperature is dropping— in New England, but we’re close to having our house enclosed and roofed in. Things are getting exciting—take a look!

After framing, the walls will be constructed and insulated with spray foam to make the house as air tight and efficient as possible. For us, spray foam was a more cost-effective alternative to SIPS.

A close look at the photo will reveal our steep and low hanging south-facing roof that will house the photovoltaic panels and solar hot water collectors.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Finding Furniture & Fixtures

As mentioned in a previous post, we are purchasing reclaimed furniture for our bathroom vanities. Well, we found our first floor bathroom vanity tonight! A listing on Craigslist for an Ethan Allen dry sink read:

“this is an old drysink, not sure if it is considered an antique or not... i inherited it from my grandmother, who has had it for as long as i can remember…asking $200 or best reasonable offer.”
We answered the listing with an offer of $150—and made plans to pick up this beauty on Friday evening!

We plan to put this 15-inch white vessel sink on the right-hand side of the vanity (courtesy Lowes):

We’ve also been busy picking out lighting fixtures and ceiling fans. This is what we are leaning towards…

…for the bathrooms (courtesy Lowes):

…along our 40+ foot back deck and beside our front door (courtesy Lowes):

...over our kitchen island (courtesy IKEA):

…throughout our house (courtesy Lowes):

And, yes, in case you were wondering, we're going to use outdoor lights inside our home. Because we can.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Change is Good

At least that’s what I keep telling myself…because the past couple weeks have brought plenty of changes. There have been changes to our wood stove venting, and therefore our solar panel layout; our kitchen appliances; our first floor bathroom; our flooring; and our well allowance.

Wood stove venting- By order of the fire marshal, our interior wood stove vent cannot bend twice at 45 degree angles before exiting the home. It’s too hard to clean and you can’t have more than 15 degree angles inside the home. Venting needs to run straight up and out. This modified design also throws a wrench into our solar panel layout.

Solar panel layout- Solar Wind Electric had sent us a clean-looking solar design that accommodated all 12 panels and positioned them in a way that made brushing off snow a bit easier. Because our wood stove vent will now run straight up the south wall and exit the roof lower than we planned, our panels will have to be reconfigured away from the heat source.

Kitchen appliances- Originally, our U-shaped kitchen layout called for an electric slide-in range facing south. I fell in love with the idea of cooking meals while admiring the mountains. Really, just being able to glance at the view from anywhere in the kitchen! Alas, our home is so air tight, it’s highly recommended we vent our stove. I hate the idea of a huge hunk of metal obstructing our view. Instead, we’re opting for a stove that has a built-in downdraft. Unfortunately, we found no induction stoves with this option (which crushed my soon-to-be husband’s dream of being the coolest kids around). In fact, there’s essentially only one kind of slide in range with a downdraft: Jenn Air. And from what we’ve seen, they’re never on sale. Our only option at this point is to buy a cook top and wall oven as two separate appliances. The cook top will remain at the south end of the kitchen, but because of the downdraft venting, the wall oven won’t fit underneath. After much arranging and rearranging our kitchen plan, we came to the conclusion that the north wall is the best (really, only) spot for it.

First floor bathroom- When we designed our home, we thought it would be practical to have two full bathrooms—one shower upstairs next to the master bedroom, one shower downstairs next to the guest bedroom. What we didn’t think of at the time was accommodating children. And children take baths, not showers. Our first floor bathroom is now a standard tub shower.

Flooring- We got the quote back for our flooring options, and it’s over budget…by a fair amount. Our first floor has a pretty big area that will be slate, which is driving our price up quite a bit. But because it will work so well with our passive solar design (not to mention look nice!), we’d like to keep it in the plans and compromise somewhere else. Perhaps we’ll forgo the bamboo flooring on the second floor in favor of cork.

Well allowance- The original quote for our home included a $7,000 allowance for digging a well. Nobody realized we’d need to dig to China to strike water. Really, our well is 600-feet deep! And $4,000 over budget.

Fortunately, we saved $4,000 by switching from Marvin to Pella brand on certain windows. (Windows that didn’t compare spec by spec were not changed.) We also saved $500 by switching the first floor bathroom to a tub instead of shower. We’re crossing our fingers that the hearth quote comes in low, so we can save money there as well.

It comforts me to think that all home builders likely go through this same process and share our stress. I don’t want to sound callous. I just want to know that we’re not the only ones juggling money and making compromises!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Progress Report: We Have Walls!

Presby Construction continues to make strides on our home and recently sent us this photo. Look at those walls (and view)! Anyone up for a night of sleeping under the stars?

So far, New England has seen a pretty mild winter, likely due to this being an El Nino year. The lack of snow has helped keep the construction of our home on target. Hopefully winter waits a bit to visit the White Mountains—well, at least until we have a roof!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Why We Chose an Open Floor Plan

Making my way (ever so slowly) down the “About Our Home” list, I’d like to highlight now why we decided on an open floor plan for our home.

Let there be light. As mentioned in an earlier post, we built our home with a passive solar design in mind to take advantage of the sun’s natural light and heating capabilities. Our open floor plan compliments this design as fewer interior walls means more light reaching rooms on the North side of the house. Minimizing walls will make our space bright and open—and will maximize every inch of space. A good thing, since those inches are limited in our small footprint!

Air it out. We won’t have a need for air conditioning—our super-insulated home will work wonders to keep cool air in during hot summer days. At night, and on cooler days, an open floor plan will allow wind currents to bring fresh air into our home via strategically-placed windows.

Heat it up. According to Wood Heat Organization Inc., houses with an open floor plan and fewer separations between rooms can be heated entirely with a wood stove (depending, of course, on their size and energy efficiency). To maximize our stove’s highest performance, it will be centrally located in the middle of the main floor with the flue pipe running up and out of the roof. Heat will easily flow to the main living area, kitchen and loft above with this set up. A warm house in a mountain town that boasts more than 200 inches of snow a year? Yes, please!

Some home magazines point out a few disadvantages to having an open floor plan, namely inefficient heating and lack of privacy. As mentioned earlier, we plan on using our wood stove quite a bit during winter months, and our open floor plan will actually increase the efficiency of our heating. Lack of privacy doesn’t concern us either. Bathrooms and bedrooms (excluding the Murphy bed on the second floor) all have doors.

It’ll just be up to us—and any visitors—to shut them!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Active Solar Energy

Well, we originally thought we’d need to wire for photovoltaics now and add the panels in the future due to our budget constraints. Not so! We are thrilled to report that that we can afford 12 Sharp 230-Watt photovoltaic (PV) panels right from the start to help power our home.

PV systems are a pollution-free energy source that reduces our dependence on fossil fuel-based energy production. And after federal and state rebates, our system will cost us approximately $7,500. Certainly not a drop in the bucket, but after saving a significant amount of money elsewhere in our home and setting aside some funds, we can afford to install it now.

Our 2.7 kilowatt system will aid in providing electricity for lights, appliances, radiant heat and anything we plug into an outlet. Our PV system will be grid-connected—meaning it will use light from the sun to provide power to our home when possible, and will use utility-generated power at night or on cloudy days. Any energy that’s generated by our PV panels, but not used by us can be sold back to our local utility provider through net metering.

Solar Wind Electric in Bradford, VT, will be providing and installing the system for us. In total, they will install:
  • 12 - Sharp 230-Watt panels (2,760 Total STC Watts;

  • 1 - Solectria 3000 Inverter;

  • 1 - Unirac Solarmount Flush Racking System (to mount panels to south-facing roof);

  • 1 - DC disconnect & AC disconnect; and

  • 1 - Production meter.
Our south-facing roof, showing the 12-panel PV system and two hot water solar collectors.

Based on the size of our system and our average monthly electric bill, we expect to be repaid in less than ten years.