Kate and I moved into our new home almost 3 weeks ago. Awesome is the word that sums up the entire situation. We designed the home to be exactly what we wanted based on a few criteria: It will be our forever home, we wanted to highlight the views of the La Plata mountain range to the east, it should be highly efficient and follow Passive House design concepts, and we need to be able to work full time here.
How can we say that this is our forever home? We cannot but we went into the project with that mindset. We are not trying to build something that we flip in a few years and then move onto the next project. Instead we want to have a home that we can see ourselves aging into in various ways. The first design that this influenced is the guest bedroom.
2020 made a lot of realities hit really hard. The idea that we will always be in good health and fully capable is much more fragile now. When we thought of our parents the reality felt even more immediate. This caused us to think of the guest bedroom as a place that needed to accommodate someone in almost any condition. So it follows the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines for making a bedroom and bathroom accessible. There is at least 30 inches of clearance throughout the room. The doors are 36 inch pocket doors which are easier to handle from a wheelchair. We have also added extra blocking in the walls around the shower and toilet for pull bars.
We also built the guest bedroom with the same dimensions as our master bed upstairs. If at somepoint we get tired of climbing the stairs, we can move into the guest room on the main floor. It still has a great view of the mountains too.
The kitchen was designed so that multiple people can operate in there at the same time without causing conflict. We put plenty of walking space between the counters and built a large pantry so someone can even work in there. We did not follow ADA guidelines with the countertop heights. Kate is 5’8″ and I am 6’2″ and most countertops are too low for us to work at comfortably. We had them built at 39.5 inches, about 3 inches taller than normal.
Finally we wanted a home where we could host guests and have other people enjoy themselves. For this we have multiple guest rooms and plenty of restrooms. The dining room and living room allow us to bring a lot of people together and connect.
Views of the La Platas
One of the first things we recognized about this land when we bought it was the views of the La Plata mountain range to the east. We knew we wanted to see them from the new house but Kate took it to another level. We have 11 windows on the east side of the house, each giving us a different way of viewing the mountains.
There is a lot of exposure to the morning sun which helps wake the house up really quickly. We built the eave of the eastern roof long enough to provide shade to these windows as the sun rises higher during the day. This should help prevent too much solar gain, and overheat the home. We will probably need to add some type of window coverings in summer, but right now in winter the solar gain is very nice.
Passive House Design
When we started designing and researching how to build our home we learned about the Passive Home(PH) design concept. In a nutshell PH design focuses on using as little energy to heat, cool, and power a building, and sealing the home tightly so that it does not lose the conditioned air.
As we learned more about PH design we quickly realized that we were going to want to work with someone familiar with the concept. We weren’t necessarily interested in spending the money to be PH certified, but we still wanted to follow the concepts and practices involved. This was also the main reason we reached out to the builder who would eventually become our builder, they had build a number of PH homes and were well versed in the concepts.
Since the home would be sealed very tight it needed a ventilation system, so that we get fresh air in the home. The solution to this issue is installing a Heating Recovery Ventilator(HRV) or Energy Recovery Ventilator(ERV) system. These systems pull air from places like bathrooms, the kitchen, and mudroom and sends fresh air into the bedrooms and living spaces. In the mid point of the system lies an exchanger that pulls heat from the exhaust air and adds it to the incoming fresh air. The difference between and HRV and ERV is that the ERV also pulls moisture to help keep humidity at a constant level.
In addition to saving energy by keeping the heated air in the home these systems are designed to run on very little power. This helps keep the overall PH design principles in mind.
We went with an ERV system since we live in a dry climate and want to keep as much moisture as possible. If you ask 9 people who work with HRV and ERV systems which one you should use, based on your climate, you will probably get 11 different answers.
We will also have solar photovoltaic panels added to our southern facing roof. This will be grid tied and offset all of our power usage and then some. Eventually we will end up with an electric vehicle and have wiring setup for a Level 3 charger in the garage.
Full Time Workspaces
Kate and I both work remotely for our jobs. We needed spaces that allow us to focus and be on calls without interrupting each other. We knew early on that Kate would be using the Loft as her Loftice. It has all the views she wanted but is still a separate space from the main living area. Personally I do not like having natural light when I am working on my computer. So part of the purpose in building a basement was for my office.
For internet we use Starlink since we are in a remote rural area. There are other options, but Starlink is far and away the fastest and most reliable connection. Dishy is mounted on the NorthWest corner of the Garage roof. This gives it plenty of sky with zero obstructions, and makes it easier to access versus putting it two floors up on the main roof.
Dishy’s PoE Cat 6 cable runs through the garage attic to a centrally located closet by the Kitchen. From there we have Wifi to the above ground parts of the house, and a switch that carries Cat 6 to both offices and the theater room. A second Wifi Access Point is in the basement to give better signal down there. So far everything is great with all areas of the house getting full Starlink speeds wirelessly.
How’d we do?
Overall the builders hit all of the marks that we wanted, and we are enjoying our home immensely. We are incredibly fortunate to have been able to do this at any time in our lives. When we hit the road full time 7 years ago this was not on the roadmap, but things change and here we are. I cannot say if we will live here forever but right now I feel like we could.