In the early 2000s, I was deep into my computer programming career, traveling across the country. It was during that time that I decided to build my dream house—a log home in the mountains of North Carolina. But after poor luck with contractors and design problems, I knew there had to be a more sustainable way to build a home.
My wife Diana and I were both in the technology field, so we had the option of working remotely from anywhere. We chose Colorado and launched our new dream.
Over the next two years, I spent as much time as available researching, planning, and designing our new home. We came up with a set of lofty design goals (see sidebar), and I knew I needed to be the general contractor to ensure the necessary attention to detail by all construction contractors working on the project.
Planning & Design
There was still a lot I didn’t know, so I enlisted Jim Riggins, whose superinsulated solar home, Heliospiti, was featured in Home Power (see Web Extras). We discussed house shape; orientation; foundation/wall/attic design; insulation profiles; air sealing; advanced framing; green building materials; efficient windows and doors; and efficient water and electrical fixtures. We went over his experiences and what to expect, which led to more research and even more questions.
Once I felt I had a solid understanding, I designed the general house layout and started incorporating the various systems. Including some of the systems was straightforward, but others were more experimental—like the water cisterns also used for passive heating and cooling, an internal greenhouse, and a “cool pantry” room that would use only fans and a differential thermostat.
Once in a final version I modeled the house in 3-D using Home Designer Pro software, laying it out in complete detail down to the locations of every electrical outlet and light switch. I also created several supplemental construction documents for various trades to remove any interpretation or ambiguity. This included the wall design, ERV ducting layouts, PV module locations, subslab plumbing and electrical, and the rain harvesting system.