House Build

Insulating Concrete Form

In the design of our home I have ceded almost all territory to Kate. The bedrooms, bathrooms, general living areas, and kitchen are hers to design and rule. I have asked for 3 things: a full basement, a large garage, and a large section of southern facing roof for solar.

Of these 3 things the basement has me the most excited. In the house I grew up in we had a basement and my bedroom was down there. The insulative properties of a basement cannot be overstated. Light, sound, and heat are all better kept in a basement as the walls are concrete and the earth is a massive insulating barrier.

Over the last few years I have worked on a few construction projects. Specifically I have worked on building foundations and crawl spaces. In these projects I was introduced to Insulating Concrete Forms aka ICF. With ICF traditional metal forms are replaced with lighter forms generally made from Styrofoam. These are much easier to construct and after the concrete is poured are left behind to serve as insulation.

Our designer is familiar with ICF and has worked them into our basement design. For a moment we considered doing ICF for the walls of the house as well. We cancelled that idea due to cost and practicality. With ICF you have a concrete wall so remodeling is more difficult. Additionally while ICF does add insulation to the concrete wall it is only an R-17. Our goal is a minimum of R-20 with the walls. I will talk more about the walls in another post.

Now we need to find builders who are familiar with ICF. We don’t want to be someones first time. It seems like a win-win for the builder as ICF requires considerably less skill to install. I am an example of this. Its pretty much like building legos.

As the blocks are installed on top of the foundation reinforced bar (rebar) is added to give tensile strength to the concrete. Then concrete is poured at 4 foot levels to build up the wall while avoiding the dreaded blowout.

A blowout is when part or all of the form fails and concrete pours out. As you can imagine this is a disaster and to be avoided at all costs. Hence the saying of respect: “Concrete waits for no man.

We will have a few windows in the basement but for the most part its gonna be dark and awesome. The main floor of the house will be built with BCI Joists which will be able to span the width of the basement. This will allow us to avoid needing any support walls or posts in the center of the basement. I am thinking it might be a nice space for an ice rink or tennis court 🤪.

House Build Off the Bike

Put Solar on it

For a second we didn’t think we would put solar panels on our new home’s roof. We had forgotten about doing the same thing on our home in Phoenix over 10 years ago. We had forgotten about living off grid in our trailer for 6 years and we had forgotten about putting solar on our cabin just a few months ago.

It was a lot of forgetting, and it was because we were overwhelmed with everything else that goes into building a house. Now that we have gotten 80% or more into the design stage, we have been able to think about more than just walls and a roof.

Before I had forgotten about solar for the house I did have Arizona Wind and Solar build a proposal for a grid tie and off grid systems. The off grid is over $25k with lots of batteries. The issue is that we would not be able to run a dryer or hot tub, and eventually charge an electric vehicle (I want a Cybertruck).

Grid tie just makes more sense at this point. We are still budget conscious and probably will be the rest of out lives. Even though we will pay a lot to have a transformer brought back 800 feet by the power company it will give us the ability to setup shop. With grid tie solar we will put up enough panels to cover our usage but the grid will handle the Amps.

The grid tie solution from AZ wind and solar is just under $10k for the equipment. The question is do I want to put the rock system on the roof and run the wires to the disconnect? If I do all of that I will save myself about $9k based on the proposals I have gotten from solar installers. That seems worth it. I just need to learn more about solar racks.

One of the major players in solar racks in the USA is IronRidge. They have been doing it for a while and their systems are very strong. In southwest Colorado we have wind and snow load that can either rip a system off the roof or crush it.

IronRidge has a very well done design system on their website. You give it location and it looks up the data for the area: solar exposure, wind, snow load, etc. Then you tell it about your roof and the solar panel array you plan on setting up. From there it gives you some product options and spacing parameters. Then it builds the system and even gives you documentation if you need to pass an inspection.

There is another roof mounting option for metal roofs that I am considering by S-5. With their system you have attachment points to the roof and then the solar panels mount directly to the roof attachment. There is no racking involved. This system is much more simple to install and cheaper because there is a lot less material involved. My concern with S-5 is overall strength of the system.

I may end up using the S-5 roof mounts to connect to our metal roof but then use IronRidge’s racking system to mount the panels. This will give us a really strong setup that is well bonded to the roof itself. Apparently there is more than 1 way to mount solar panels to a roof.

Solar electricity is really high tech stuff, but installing it and using it is boring. I say this to help people become more comfortable with the idea of installing it themselves. From talking with various solar installation companies they are roofing contractors with either an electrician running the company or they hire one to handle all of that. It is complicated but seems easier than painting to be honest.

My recommendation is to handle the mechanical installation yourself. Then hire an electrician to do the final connection and help get inspected. You will save a load of money and probably do a better job of installing everything.

House Build Off the Bike

Green Home Building

Earlier today we had a call with our designer and it was very productive. We are both happy with how it is progressing and the designer is providing good feedback to help us along. One goal with the design is to have a complete set of instructions for building our home. There will be a complete list of materials needed and images of how they will be poured or connected.

This means that if we want the house to be built environmentally friendly we need to start speaking up now. So we have been pouring over the books tonight and my assignment has been the Green Home Building book.

Green Home Building is one of the books we have been reading for getting our home building education. It’s some 400 odd pages about various techniques and technologies for making a home that is more environmentally friendly.

This is a well written book that for the most part cuts to the chase. I do wish they had more graphs and charts showing how different building techniques measure up. While environmentalism is important we do not have an endless budget, so it would be nice to see relative gains based on expenditure.

In chapters 11 and 15 the rubber really hits the road with their actual recommendations. Chapter 11 covers the Net Zero Energy home and 15 is the Zero Cost Premium. Net Zero is the focus on having a home where all energy used is offset by photovoltaic (PV) solar power. This does not mean the home is powered directly by the solar, but rather that the power used from the grid is returned by the solar system. Zero Cost is the focus of getting as environmental as possible while still spending the same as a typical US built home.

In a few areas the book has introduced us to something new (ERV), and in others is has cemented things we have learned elsewhere (stained concrete first floor). Overall if you are new to green building concepts I think this book is worth your time. If you are already familiar with passive house building techniques then you can skip this book.

One of the more interesting things that they promote is spray foam insulation. We did this on the cabin and felt a little guilty because of the chemicals involved. But the Green book promotes their use since they are far superior at insulating and will be with the house for its lifetime.

It turns out that a lot of what we did in the cabin is going to be good for the house. 2×6 framing, sprayfoam insulation, and extended roof for seasonal shading. For the house we will upgrade the windows and look at the U-value and SHGC to get better efficiency.

One new thing we are learning about is Advanced Framing. Rather than using traditional framing of 16 inch spacing AF uses 24 inch spacing. It also makes other recommendations that result in less material used which improves insulation by reducing thermal bridging. Here is something that helps the environment, reduces costs, and improves the structure. The issues with this technique are that most house plans are based on 16 inch stud spacing, and its original intent was to reduce materials used, not improved insulation. Based on this we are going to follow our designer and builder recommendations.

In regards to designing the house the Green book has a few suggestions that we like. They suggest putting the kitchen on the north side of the house. Since the kitchen is a heat source placing it on the north side, in the northern hemisphere, will help balance heat generated by the hot summer sun on the south side. In the winter it will add heat to the cooler north side of the house.

The bedrooms are going on the south side as they are mainly used at night. This means they will heat up during the day and retain that heat when we go to bed at night. Since we work from home we plan on spending 99% of our time in the central/northern living grand room area. The master will be on the second floor with a large landing area that looks out over the first floor great room. The house will be oriented to take advantage of the view to the east:

The La Plata mountain range.

We are going to have a 2 bay garage that we can put the truck and Honda Element in. The roof of the garage is where we will probably put the solar panels as well. Since we have dirty dogs we are also going to put a shower in the garage for quick cleanups before entering the house.

Overall the project is moving along and we are starting to collect bids from various contractors for everything that needs to get done. The plan is to break ground no later than October 1st!

Interesting video about passive building techniques. This Youtube channel has a lot of building sponsors so take all the recommendations with a grain of salt.

House Build

Here we go!

The Grassland house project is underway! We had a great Zoom call with a designer/structural engineer this morning for over an hour. Based on the call we are going to move forward with him and his team to get architectural drawings of the house fully designed over the next few weeks. At the end of the process we will have what we need to begin engaging various contractors to get the home built. On top of that we will also have 3D renderings and a walk-through of the entire home.

For 2 months now we have been spinning our wheels looking for house plans that fit what we want. We have also taken a stab at making our own drawings. Over the course of that time we have not made much progress, and in fact were becoming disillusioned with the entire ordeal.

The biggest decision was that we are going to be our own General Contractor or GC. This means we are going to have to be much more involved and that we need to step up our construction knowledge a bit. While we don’t need to know how to setup a concrete form we are going to need to know when one needs to be setup.

The good news is that we are going to be living on the job site. This means we will be talking with the various contractors everyday. We will be checking on progress daily and asking questions and checking budgets. Its going to be a lot of work but its also going to be our home so it will be worth it.

Currently we have invested in 4 books to help bring us up to speed:

Between those books and the designer we feel really good about how things are heading now. We are already talking with our excavator, who built the road and septic system, about digging out a basement. Next steps will be finding a builder to get the basement, walls, and roof up. From there we will get electricians and plumbers. Then drywall and finishing. It almost sounds easy but the truth is that this is the largest most expensive project of our lives. Its gonna be awesome!