New Houses for a New World
by: Topher Belknap
- South facing hill.
- South facing water or field.
- Existing clearing.
- Existing fruit, nut, and maple syrup trees.
- Some slope is beneficial.
- Conifers (pine & spruce) trees to North & West.
- Place for vegetable garden.
- Place for well and septic field
Siting the House
- North edge of a clearing, existing or created (gives the most sunny recreation space).
- Generally flat area, with a bit of downward slope nearby (for drainage).
- Deciduous (leaf droppers) trees to the South, for shade in summer, sun in winter.
- Shelter from wind (coniferous trees, hill, etc.).
- Sight lines to view (the house does not need to face view).
- Keep as many trees as possible. Cutting is quick and easy; regrowing is very slow.
Designing the House
- Small. Don't start your plans with a square footage; start with furniture.
- Rectangular. More than 4 corners adds cost, and reduces usable area.
- 3:2 Aspect ratio. Long side should be half again as long as short side.
- Long side facing South (true South). Adjust slightly towards more sunlight.
- More windows on the South, fewer on the North. Don't go crazy on Southern windows though.
- Open plan. Increases apparent space, reduces waste space in halls and walls.
- Stairways are the hardest design element. Don't shrink it too much.
- Public and most used rooms on South side. Closets, bathrooms on the North side.
- Think about that front door that no one ever uses.
- Woodstoves should be centrally located. No fireplaces.
- Frost protected slab on grade instead of a basement, unless absolutely needed.
- Heating system: whatever. Following these recommendations will result in very low heating needs.
60 Gallons of # fuel oil, 80 Gallons of Propane, 3500 kWh of resistant heat, or 1000 kWh of a heat pump.
For sustainable fuels, 1/3 cord of hardwood, or 3 4x8 Solar hot water panels.
- Keep the roof line as simple (and steep) as possible. Every complication is a potential leak.
Detailing the House
- The most important thing is to consider costs in terms of monthly payments. Mortgage plus Energy.
- Windows from Canadian companies are more appropriate for Maine's climate than Southern US companies.
- Add the following fuel costs to window costs:
Glazing Type South East West North Single Pane $2,058 $3,174 $3,174 $3,948 Double Pane, Clear $489 $1,475 $1,475 $2,159 Double Pane, Soft Lo-e $763 $1,268 $1,268 $1,620 Double Pane, Hard Lo-e $60 $981 $981 $1,620 Triple Pane, Soft Lo-e $567 $995 $995 $1,292 Triple Pane, Hard Lo-e -$172 $646 $646 $1,213 Single Pane, GF Triple Int Storm -$262 $448 $448 $940
- Traditional wall insulation is woefully inadequate given today's energy prices. More appropriate is R-35 to R-65.
- Simple rule, R-60 everywhere. There is no reason not to have R-60 in attics.
- Insulation levels: See: GreenFret.com for a calculator to evaluate your situation.
- Basements ceilings, As much insulation as will fit in joists (vapor barrier against warm surface).
- Live-in basements, insulation on outside wall, R-30 or better. R-20 under the slab. (R-30 for radiant heat)
- Heat Retaining Ventilator (HRV), with an earth tube inlet. Allows maximum air sealing.
- Seperate drains (inside and outside) draining to daylight.
- Keep the number of pentrations of the heating envelope as low as possible (under 50).
|Wall Construction Method||Fuel costs|
|2x4 tradiltional construction:||$49,624|
|2x6 tradiltional construction:||$39,060|
|2x6 optimized construction:||$34,621|
|2x8 optimized construction:||$27,470|
|6.5" Structural Insulated Panels:||$38,315|
|8.25" Structural Insulated Panels:||$31,717|
|12" Larsen Truss or double wall construction:||$14,454|
|18" Larsen Truss or double wall construction:||$10,055|
- Scrape off any top soil which will be excavated or covered. Save it for landscaping later.
- Fence off the root systems of all trees near the site.
- Talk with your builders often (once a day); bring them food.
- Get a blower door test done when the building is closed in, but not finished.
- Get a blower door test done when house is finished. Include passing test at 0.6 ACH50 in building contract.
- Keep all bushes at least 2 feet away from the house. Plant considering their full grown size.
- Keep large tree roots away from the foundation.
- Native plants require less maintenance and water.
- Don't feel obligated to use the foundation dirt in landscaping. You (or others) might want it later.
- Grass lawn is energy, water, and maintenence intensive. Have as little as possible.
- Plant desired high maintence plants near the house. Herbs near the kitchen.
- Leave a section of the lot completely wild.