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Thread: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

  1. #1
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    Default Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    I've been watching the "Modern Architecture" thread here in the Bilge, and it occurred to me that although much of what was posted was interesting, that my real interest today is in small, energy efficient houses.
    To explain, there will come a time in the next while when its time for me to move ashore, and when I look back at my landbound houses, at least the ones that I'd not designed myself, few of them had much to recommend them apart from the fact that for the most part they didnt leak.
    I'd like a much more effective and interesting home, one that was really fit for purpose, energy efficient, quiet, nice spaces and easy to manage. I live on my own most of the time, so dont need a McMansion, would rather have the money needed to build one of those invested and earning income so my thoughts are a house between 800 and 1000 sq ft, two bedrooms, passive solar heated, natural ventilation and cheap to build.

    Note that where I'll be is warm enough in winter to be frost free, no snow at all, but in summer the max would be around 85F so thats not a big deal either.

    I've been looking around for inspiration, something different but still not so complex that it gets expensive to build.

    Does anyone have any images of "interesting" houses, or interesting construction methods that might work?

    John Welsford
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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    You may want to look at "home by design" by Sarah Susanka for some ideas. Her book is a primer of the "how" and "what's going on" of many of the concepts which are demonstrated in her desperately best selling series of books starting with The Not So Big House. The book I've flagged is what she says that she wanted to write in the first place, an introduction to many of the design questions and principles which architects in her school of thought use when they work through ideas with clients, or then tweak those ideas into draft and finished designs.

    Bear in mind that Susanka's objective is to create spaces which feel welcoming and warm rather than challenging, and as a result will feel less than razor-sharp cutting edge and provocative. Her lines of approach clearly won't be to everyone's liking. One of the formative principles in her own work is how to make smaller spaces which perform excellently in their intended functions, rather than building a larger and ultimately less useful space.

    I'm not current on the energy efficiency front, but the "passive house" approach has a number of folks rooting for it. Not least because it's rooted in actual metrics and design recommendations for how the structure performs in terms of energy efficiency.
    If I use the word "God," I sure don't mean an old man in the sky who just loves the occasional goat sacrifice. - Anne Lamott

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Interesting and timely topic - two of my kids are contemplating 'options'. With two in my house (it varies, depending on which daughter needs a respite!), we have more house than we 'need' - but it's what swmbo wants, so there you have it. If I was building, I'd be inclined towards a nice looking, smaller structure - perhaps part 'earth home', if that worked, or at least a walk out basement; some sort of permanent siding, likely brick, not requiring maintenance; super-insulated and with geothermal climate control. Tesla roof or its like, for solar/electric generation. In-town, electric vehicle. Interior finish, where we actually spend our time, is where I'd 'go detail' - hardwood floors, or tile; infloor heat in BR. Nice appliances. In younger years, workspace in the garage might've been important; not so much, now.
    There's a lot of things they didn't tell me when I signed on with this outfit....

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    A mate of mine has just bought a plot in the Waikato with views of Te Aroha with a plan to build just such a house in the next couple of years.

    I think he's close to engaging an architect but still not decided on the technology. SIPs are one possibility - http://www.nzsip.co.nz/. I've been raving to him about what a difference the double glazing we had installed in April has made to the livability of even our late 70s weatherboard house, I don't know if Steve's going to do something similar or even go triple-glazed. I'll ask for more details next time I catch up with him on the ferry.
    'When I leave I don't know what I'm hoping to find. When I leave I don't know what I'm leaving behind...'

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Oh, one detail I remember is that it's likely to have a triple garage, 2 for his and her cars and another for all the bikes, both powered and otherwise.
    'When I leave I don't know what I'm hoping to find. When I leave I don't know what I'm leaving behind...'

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    A group of smaller efficient (for those days) houses with a common 'back yard' of significant size was built in a Melbourne bayside suburb in 1948. A co-op project from a group of ex servicemen. Two pools, a tennis court, communal veggie garden, even a small pony paddock, and the original trees mostly were retained. They even had a private track to the beach.

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    I'd like to see someone take on the 'earth-ship' model and really do something interesting with it, beyond repeating its well worn form. But I am a great fan of the idea of using recycled materials in construction to decrease the embodied energy footprint of a building.

    Fly ash concrete is particularly good as it's lighter and stronger than normal portland cement based concrete, and is a by-product of furnaces.

    But as Tom has said passive house technology is really where it's at as far as being carbon negative, and having a great deal more flexibility in the designs achievable.
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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    I submit my place, built from recycled building materials (with the exception of the new colourbond roof)
    and home to 5 people, 2 teens and 3 adults. Our power bill is 1/3 the local average for a dwelling with the same number of people.

    house.jpg
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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    I designed an earth sheltered home system for my architectural thesis in design school; I still think the idea has merit given the right site. .
    Gerard>
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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    For the last ten months or so my wife and I have been mulling over the idea of building a new house. We love our current one but as we get older maintaining a 130 year old wooden house loses its appeal. We're pretty much in agreement in what features and size we need in a home, so that source of discord is absent. We've found some stock plans we like and are tweaking them via sketches and foam core models. Once thats done we'll send our ideas to the original architect for his input and comments, hopefully leading to a set of workable plans.

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    '' You ain't gonna learn what you don't want to know. ''
    Grateful Dead

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Quote Originally Posted by Gerarddm View Post
    I designed an earth sheltered home system for my architectural thesis in design school; I still think the idea has merit given the right site.
    If I started from scratch, I'd build a house dug into a south-facing slope (north-facing in NZ) with large windows and dark masonry or slab floors for direct solar heat in winter that would be shaded in summer. You could dig trenches and put in geothermal heating/cooling ducts. There are also ways to add solar heat collectors for domestic water and underfloor heatsinks for radiant floor heat, especially in spots that don't freeze.









    For an example of of a low-tech setup that works in a really cold (-40°F) climate, see the first pages of this thread—

    http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthre...ate&highlight=
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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Quote Originally Posted by AnalogKid View Post
    A mate of mine has just bought a plot in the Waikato with views of Te Aroha with a plan to build just such a house in the next couple of years.

    I think he's close to engaging an architect but still not decided on the technology. SIPs are one possibility - http://www.nzsip.co.nz/. I've been raving to him about what a difference the double glazing we had installed in April has made to the livability of even our late 70s weatherboard house, I don't know if Steve's going to do something similar or even go triple-glazed. I'll ask for more details next time I catch up with him on the ferry.
    I've been looking hard at SIPs, there are five or six companies doing them in NZ and most of the reports are very favourable.
    Yes to multi layer windows, Denny and I went to the home show a couple of weeks ago and that was one of the things I was checking out. Note that not all of them have full thermal breaks in the surrounds though so thats worth checking on.

    Thanks for chipping in with that.

    John Welsford
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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Quote Originally Posted by Chip-skiff View Post
    If I started from scratch, I'd build a house dug into a south-facing slope (north-facing in NZ) with large windows and dark masonry or slab floors for direct solar heat in winter that would be shaded in summer. You could dig trenches and put in geothermal heating/cooling ducts. There are also ways to add solar heat collectors for domestic water and underfloor heatsinks for radiant floor heat, especially in spots that don't freeze.









    For an example of of a low-tech setup that works in a really cold (-40°F) climate, see the first pages of this thread—

    http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthre...ate&highlight=
    Interesting ideas there. I've been thinking of a heavy concrete slab cast into an insulated box in the floor just behind big windows, the angle organised so its shaded in the summer and in as much sun as possible in the winter. That heat reservoir is a good thought.

    John Welsford
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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Quote Originally Posted by AnalogKid View Post
    Oh, one detail I remember is that it's likely to have a triple garage, 2 for his and her cars and another for all the bikes, both powered and otherwise.
    Mine will have, at minimum, a 12 metre x 8.2 metre shed with full lighting and no part of it more than a couple of steps from a power point!
    Got to have a place to play, the house is really just a bed, bathroom and kitchen.

    John Welsford
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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Quote Originally Posted by TomF View Post
    You may want to look at "home by design" by Sarah Susanka for some ideas. Her book is a primer of the "how" and "what's going on" of many of the concepts which are demonstrated in her desperately best selling series of books starting with The Not So Big House. The book I've flagged is what she says that she wanted to write in the first place, an introduction to many of the design questions and principles which architects in her school of thought use when they work through ideas with clients, or then tweak those ideas into draft and finished designs.

    Bear in mind that Susanka's objective is to create spaces which feel welcoming and warm rather than challenging, and as a result will feel less than razor-sharp cutting edge and provocative. Her lines of approach clearly won't be to everyone's liking. One of the formative principles in her own work is how to make smaller spaces which perform excellently in their intended functions, rather than building a larger and ultimately less useful space.

    I'm not current on the energy efficiency front, but the "passive house" approach has a number of folks rooting for it. Not least because it's rooted in actual metrics and design recommendations for how the structure performs in terms of energy efficiency.
    Thanks for the link. Our local library has that and several other books by her, I've just ordered Home by Design and The not so big house. Thanks for the tip.
    I'm fairly well researched on the Passive house issue, I designed the last one I built on those principles and daughter tells me that her power bill is around half what it was in their old home. She could reduce that a lot if she were prepared to give up the electric clothes dryer but as a working couple with two kids thats not easy.

    John Welsford
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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Quote Originally Posted by Duncan Gibbs View Post
    I'd like to see someone take on the 'earth-ship' model and really do something interesting with it, beyond repeating its well worn form. But I am a great fan of the idea of using recycled materials in construction to decrease the embodied energy footprint of a building.

    Fly ash concrete is particularly good as it's lighter and stronger than normal portland cement based concrete, and is a by-product of furnaces.

    But as Tom has said passive house technology is really where it's at as far as being carbon negative, and having a great deal more flexibility in the designs achievable.
    I'm interested in that idea, love the "earthship" concept but watching some of the battles that people have with our building standards people over that sort of construction I'm not wanting to go there even with the benefits that the method provides. Bear in mind that New Zealand is sometimes known as the "shakey isles" as we have tremblors all the time and a decent earthquake fairly frequently so the building standards are very conservative. It takes a lot to get anything much different past the bureaucracy. It can be done but I'm about all worn out with fights like that.

    John Welsford
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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    I think the idea is viable, but a replacement would have to be figured out for the tyre wall at the back.

    Concrete is a great material that might be considered as a structural replacement, particularly if you can source fly-ash. But the basic model could be retained and expounded upon.
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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    My house is 20 feet square. 2 story shed roof. Floor is 6 inches of cement on top of 6 inches of styrofoam.6 inch walls,10 inch overhead.(fg insulation).small woodstove.foam inserts for windows.
    Dead simple.No pipes in the slab. One door.cost $6000 to build in 1980.
    Over time we tiled the floor ,made the window treatment nicer and installed a heat pump.

    In 1985 I built a twin, 2 miles away.


    ..also tacked on a160 sq ft bedroom. Built of the doug fir that grew here.
    Folks often ask me how I can afford to live half the year on my boat in the Caribbean. Living below my means, like this house, is the answer.
    Last edited by wizbang 13; 10-12-2017 at 01:58 PM.

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    I was involved for a brief while with small "huts" based on skids. This was a work-around planning permissions as the building "could" be moved around;the caveat with this style was no fixed plumbing for water or sewerage, though even if semi-static, overground pipes did not need planning permission either. This was in the SW of Cornwall where housing was/is beyond the reach of most locals on their average wage, and the local council planning department was one of the worse i have had to deal with.
    Sips panels are an excellent way to build, it was beyond my budget at the time i was looking to build a new house on my previous plot, but one i would have opted for, the other was straw bale, but round these parts you really have to keep the small vermin out. Only have double glazed windows here and seems fine down to -25, triple glazed up in Siberia but -40 in winter is a definate every year, hard to imagine you would want that in balmy NZ, your electric bills would need to be frightingly more expensive than they are in Sweden for the extra cost of glazing to pay off. Passive solar, heat sinks, bulk thermal water tank all good, but we can go weeks here in winter with no sun, so a small woodburner with a back boiler is a good option.
    For someone who came close to buying a few acres with a burnt out house down in Dunedin way back when, a small cabin/house is all i would have required. I share the sentiment that a house is just somewhere you go to eat .sleep and wash, but i will add somewhere warm and dry to stow your books.
    I would be interested to hear about your rules on caravans for "permanent abode". They do "winter grade" caravans here in Sweden, very well built and insulated including the water tanks. Caravan does offer the option to move if absoulutely needed, but not not have the feel of a home design and built wee house.
    My current thoughts are along the lines of a barge like build or a shanty/pontoon boat, something that could be used on the lake for an entire summer liveaboard, and taken back to land and lived in during the winter......might struggle with a 1000sq ft though and keep it road transportable.

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    A bloke I worked with whose dad had bought well when land was cheap had a house in a very expensive beach town beside a private golf course. In the 1970's the golf course wished to expand, he didn't want to sell, eventually a new modern part underground house was built with a green on the roof. Oh yes, he wasn't a golfer.

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    John, one thing to bear in mind is that SIPs are basically metal clad EPS panels; the same material that went up in smoke and flames on Grenfell. This isn't such a huge drama on a small house, particularly if there are no real possibility of bushfire attacks, but it is something to think about when choosing your materials. There are SIPs that are fire retardant, but they come at a premium.

    Also, I strongly suggest looking at architects in your area/region. Look at their web sites and what kind of buildings they've produced. Go and visit some, and meet the architects and, if possible, the clients if you see examples you like. Talk to the local chapter of the New Zealand Institute of Architects and seek their advice. Also look at builders and what projects they've completed.

    Get a fixed lump sum fee for the architect and an 'all-in' fixed price from the builder using a proven form of contract that covers issues like variations, contingencies, building standards (which should also be provided for in the construction documentation drawings and specification) and if timing is an issue, a liquidated damages clause, as well as contract retentions, which are usually set at 10% of the total before practical completion and 5% until final completion. Warranties should also be issued on the build.

    Good engineers that understand and are sympathetic to designers and designs are gold, since they will help your architect fulfil your design brief.

    Drop me a PM if you want me to call and talk to you if you'd like to discuss anything, as I have a plan for my mobile phone where I can make IDD calls up to 300 minutes for free per month.
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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    I've been quite taken with steel frames buildings the last few years. There are companies that started out putting up agricultural style buildings, that now erect 'homes'. They have very good insulation and window systems. All piping is internal, as is electric. Very quick to put up, lasts many years and easy to put in extra floors / stairs etc as an afterthought. Earthquake / hurricane / fire proof. That technology in the hands of an eco designer would work well IMHO.

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Wells and Woods wrote an interesting book entitled The Earth-Sheltered House or something like that; it might be worth a look. Susanka's books are great too.

    What are you doing about it?




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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    I am currently framing 16 "net zero" townhomes in industrial Portland. Net zero refers to the total energy used versus energy produced.

    They are silly expensive to build, but all 16 units have been reserved, 18 months out from occupancy.

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    When I was considering building a house a few years back, I looked into SIP construction and was quite taken by the technology. I was also interested in a "dog-trot" house style for its ability to separate guest/kids bedrooms from the main living space (but I would have used the separate space as my office). This is one of the designs I looked at as the jumping-off point for what would have been a semi-custom house design:





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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    SWMBO and I moved from a 1200 square foot home to a 2400 square foot home after the arrival of sprog #2 - the old house just didn't work for us anymore. The new house is very nice, but far to large for us once the sprogs are fully fledged. DD is 18 and currently working as an au pair in Germany for the year, but will be back again to go to college and will be living at home. DS is 14, so we've got a bit of time to go yet.

    That said, once they're out of the house, we'd like to build our "retirement home" - much like John's thinking, we're looking for something that is smaller, easier to maintain, and will be able to deal with the consequences of growing older. Our thinking is to have a well-designed small home that is either "Net Zero" or "energy positive" in that we generate more power than we utilize. As Lee points out, they're much more expensive to build than a standard home, but the up-side is that you have control of your energy costs, which I view to be pretty important in retirement. I may not have control over the growth in cost of property taxes other utilities, but at least heat and light will not be one I need worry about. In thinking about it, we've got some ideas, but well-organized storage and multi-functional spaces in the house to allow for guests, entertaining, etc. have been on our mind as well.
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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Alternative designs and materials have an appeal, and I would really like to build that way, but at a certain point realities must be faced. Could we get it past the local building department, meet the provincial building code, probably with enough cash and a good architect. An in town infill lot kinda means no straw bales or tires, so conventional construction it is, poured foundations and stick built walls with maximum insulation. Steel roof tiles and some sort of engineered clapboard siding is about as far as we'll venture from the norm. We thought of not putting in a basement, but that's a non starter here, digging down four feet for footings anyway, so what's a few more feet. So that leaves us looking for a clever design that works for us but not too far out of the ordinary because resale is always a factor.

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    I bought a 750 sqft 1950's rambler (a simple box) that needed to be gutted anyway. I doubled the exterior walls with staggered studs so I have 7" of insulation. I'm in a climate that needs a little bit of heat (passive solar doesn't work very well in Seattle area winters) which I accomplish with a wood stove or an in-wall electric heater. I put in three of those heaters but I've only ever run two at once, when there was a high-pressure cold snap (16°F) and a burn ban on for air quality issues. Cooling is accomplished with operable skylights.

    Some thoughts on living small in a moderate climate:
    1) You will want outdoor work space. Covered, and with power available. If you have bugs a screened outdoor living space is great too and you can sleep out there on the few days per year when windows and skylights don't cool the house down enough before bedtime.
    2) If it's in the budget, a full basement below grade is glorious. It's cool year round, enabling non-refrigerated food storage, and gives you space to do something other than read and sweat on the hottest days of the year. The house I grew up in had a dry dug well in its cellar and my dad ran ductwork to the bottom and used a small fan to suck cold air up into the kitchen...a poor man's heat pump.

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Quote Originally Posted by PeterSibley View Post
    I submit my place, built from recycled building materials (with the exception of the new colourbond roof)
    and home to 5 people, 2 teens and 3 adults. Our power bill is 1/3 the local average for a dwelling with the same number of people.

    house.jpg

    Peter your house looks awesome!
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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Quote Originally Posted by PeterSibley View Post
    I submit my place, built from recycled building materials (with the exception of the new colourbond roof)
    and home to 5 people, 2 teens and 3 adults. Our power bill is 1/3 the local average for a dwelling with the same number of people.

    house.jpg
    Will you please STOP posting this picture!
    I think your home looks so dreamy, Peter. It looks “right”, like it fits there, and it sure seems to suit you.
    It’s is so lovely.

    Peace,
    Robert

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Quote Originally Posted by mmd View Post
    When I was considering building a house a few years back, I looked into SIP construction and was quite taken by the technology. I was also interested in a "dog-trot" house style for its ability to separate guest/kids bedrooms from the main living space (but I would have used the separate space as my office). This is one of the designs I looked at as the jumping-off point for what would have been a semi-custom house design:





    I like this style house very much. Modern and open concept. Solar and hot water panels on roof.
    Be wary of your critics, at peace with your decisions, and work hard to be a better man.

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Our last home had passive solar water heating on the roof.

    It made water so hot it melted through our house! Really, though, during the summer we would have a few hundred gallons of tea brewing hot water ever day, just by parking it on the roof in clear cylinders with reflectors beneath...

    Our house now is quite small, really, but old and drafty.

    Really, If I had my druthers, I’d take it all down but the southern wall with the enourmous window span, and I’d start over. Here, I’d do a straw or rice bale home, stuccoed outside to match the rest of the houses around here, but with a corten roof.

    A basement, even just a root cellar, would be dreamy.

    I’d have a rudimentary kitchen and shower outside, both supplied with passive solar hot water, for use when the weather is nice. Or maybe when it’s not nice?

    And no flush toilets. Composters.

    Peace,
    Robert

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    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Quote Originally Posted by amish rob View Post
    Really, If I had my druthers, I’d take it all down but the southern wall with the enourmous window span, and I’d start over. Here, I’d do a straw or rice bale home, stuccoed outside to match the rest of the houses around here, but with a corten roof.

    A basement, even just a root cellar, would be dreamy.

    I’d have a rudimentary kitchen and shower outside, both supplied with passive solar hot water, for use when the weather is nice. Or maybe when it’s not nice?

    And no flush toilets. Composters.

    Peace,
    Robert
    I saw that design in nature... Now that is getting back to your roots and natural root cellar. When it rains, take a shower. subsistence farming is a bonus.

    Be wary of your critics, at peace with your decisions, and work hard to be a better man.

  35. #35
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Location
    central cal
    Posts
    10,030

    Default Re: Architecture, small energy efficient houses

    Quote Originally Posted by Ted Hoppe View Post
    I saw that design in nature... Now that is getting back to your roots and natural root cellar. When it rains, take a shower. subsistence farming is a bonus.

    You really do need to come check out this joint. We are getting close to our old spot. Baby steps.

    Peace,
    Robert

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