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curtis73 HalfDork
11/14/10 1:43 a.m.

My wife and I have been trying to buy our first house for about 5 years. We keep finding great bargains on nice houses, but.....

...We're environmental freaks. We look at these great values and start evaluating our carbon footprint versus cost to upgrade to double pane windows versus actual cost of sustainable materials.... I'm exaggerating, but you get the point.

Land is cheap, so we've considered building our own place. Of course that means we won't have much bank help, so cost is an issue. I've looked at all kinds of construction from subterranean homes to treehouses. SIP's, structural paneling, poured concrete, SSP.... the list continues.

I recently bought a book on Hay-bale houses and it brings up some interesting counterpoints.

Can y'all suggest some grassroots home construction techniques? Focus should be on cheap and energy efficient. Resale value is of little concern, because if we do this it will be a long-term home.

PubBurgers Dork
11/14/10 6:20 a.m.


Big ego
Big ego SuperDork
11/14/10 6:41 a.m.


Derick Freese
Derick Freese HalfDork
11/14/10 7:47 a.m.

Monolithic concrete dome construction would be great. Heck, the Xanadu house was incredibly energy efficient. The one in Orlando stayed cool in the Summer, well after it was abandoned and power was cut. The Xanadu houses were foam and not concrete, though. None of the attraction houses still exist, but there are supposed to be a few private residences that were built.

BTW, monolithic dome construction is VERY strong.

You could also look into earthships. Rammed-earth construction is also VERY strong. Also look into tire houses.

Jensenman SuperDork
11/14/10 8:16 a.m.

American Ingenuity has prefab domes. http://www.aidomes.com/ Not cheap, but their construction methods look a lot better than other dome kits out there. The panels, once installed, are the roof/insulation/inside wall. That means in, say, two weeks you can have everything done except the inside finishing and mechanical.

Timberline Geodesics http://www.domehome.com/ has less expensive kits, but they are wood. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you are aware that due to the different shapes and angles involved it takes a real pro to roof it properly to prevent leaks. What you might save in kit costs comes back in roofing.

The biggest problem I can see with one of those is that banks typically are not bonkers about financing unusual houses. The reason is that if there is a default the bank will have a hard time unloading it since it's not the typical suburban cookie cutter house.

You might also look around for one of those 'house for a dollar' deals. Here's how it works: someone buys a piece of property with an existing house on it. For whatever reason, they don't need the house. So they sell it for a dollar, but the catch is you have to move the house by such and such a date. That takes a fair amount of planning. There was an article in the Mother Earth News about a guy who did this, he marked every board in the house with a coded number that said where it went. He then disassembled the house board by board and reassembled it on his property. That was obviously a very time intensive project, IIRC it took him about two years working on it every day.

Another angle you might consider: contract someone to 'dry in' a house for you. They build the foundation and exterior walls, then put the roof and doors in. You now have a dry box which you then finish out as you get time. Again, banks aren't bonkers about this since if it defaults they are stuck with an unfinished house.

Zomby woof
Zomby woof Dork
11/14/10 8:36 a.m.

It's hard to beat log construction.

Jensenman SuperDork
11/14/10 8:39 a.m.

Log is pretty easy to do, but there is something to be aware of: the logs will continue to dry and shrink after building is completed and this can lead to some really weird stuff happening. That's why there are a couple of companies doing a hybrid: something similar to an SIP panel with a log sheathing over it.

924guy Dork
11/14/10 9:14 a.m.

my next home is going to be one of these....

topsider homes

i like the dual pedestal versions.

carguy123 SuperDork
11/14/10 10:02 a.m.

Log homes are also difficult to get financing for which means they are next to impossible to sell unless there are lots of other log homes in the area.

I built my own house and I used the 80% of the energy efficient items and green stuff that is easily and readily available at a cheap cost. You can get about 80% of the green and energy efficient items at a cheap price, but the other 20% either isn't available or is super costly.

This way it was easy to get bank financing, cheap to build and very energy efficient

Whatever you build you really need to make sure it's something that someone else will want because someday you or your heirs will need to unload it.

Zomby woof
Zomby woof Dork
11/14/10 10:05 a.m.
Jensenman wrote: Log is pretty easy to do, but there is something to be aware of: the logs will continue to dry and shrink after building is completed and this can lead to some really weird stuff happening. That's why there are a couple of companies doing a hybrid: something similar to an SIP panel with a log sheathing over it.

If you don't build with green logs, there's no problem.

I don't know aout log homes being difficult to sell. Around here that's certainly not the case. They sell quickly, for a premium.

BoxheadTim Dork
11/14/10 10:14 a.m.

We currently rent a log home and I don't think it would be that hard to sell, but then I again I like houses that are slightly different.

If I've deciphered the construction method correctly, it's not a "pure" log home - the logs are split in half and used as panelling; the center/air gap between the two halves is filled with additional insulation. Seems to work really well, with some other intelligently designed features (a wrap-around porch that is wide enough to ensure that the sun will not shine in the windows during the summer) this place doesn't need aircon in the summer and seems to be warm enough in autumn so far. Then again, it hasn't got that massively cold out here yet.

Giant Purple Snorklewacker
Giant Purple Snorklewacker SuperDork
11/14/10 10:29 a.m.

I live in a new home now, having moved here from an old field stone farmhouse that I spent 10yrs restoring, upgrading, etc. I spent all kinds of money on efficient thermal glass, insulation, furnace, etc... but at more than twice the sq footage - the newly built place has just over half the energy bills in the winter. I still hate it because it looks like everyone elses' house but I don't miss re-pointing stonework.

This story really does not help except to confirm that you will be greener if you build using new materials. It will lack character and feel like cheap crap but... it will be more efficient.

carguy123 SuperDork
11/14/10 10:41 a.m.

All the log home derivatives have very limited marketing and consequently financing appeal in most of the country. Where they are the norm or at least very common is where they'll have the most value. An appraiser must use comparable homes to establish value. If there are no "comps" then it's very tough to prove the value and therefore problematic when it comes time to get a loan.

Also, while I like different, most people don't.

Ditto Giant Purple, new materials are the easiest way to get energy efficiency. My old home was built in 1982. It was 2500 sq. feet and it cost me $600+ each and every month in utilities. My new home is 5100 Sq feet and my highest utility bill was just over $200. I could have made the house more energy efficient but at a great cost. I used all the cheap energy efficient materials and techniques and stayed away from any of the high cost energy efficient things such as geo thermal A/C.

petegossett SuperDork
11/14/10 10:52 a.m.

Around here there seems to be a growing popularity for pole-barn houses, and apparently in Indiana if you have an attached shed/garage/workshop, the whole structure is considered a "barn" and has lower property tax.

Derick Freese
Derick Freese HalfDork
11/14/10 10:57 a.m.

I'm truly surprised more people don't DIY a geothermal HVAC system. People do it with computer watercooling loops, so it really surprises me that there aren't many kits out there for HVAC. I know the scale is orders of magnitude larger with HVAC, but a lot of the same principles apply.

carguy123 SuperDork
11/14/10 11:15 a.m.

I tried to DIY the geothermal HVAC but the cooling demands far exceed what most people have access to water. I have 2 ponds very close to my house that I wanted to use, but here in the south there's not enough cooling capacity especially in the summer when ponds are low and water is hot.

My ponds aren't little and they still weren't sufficient - and then there's the silting issue which lowers efficiencies so you need to clean them which leads to a well, but it typically requires a deeper well than you'd use for water to get the cooling capacities that you need.

Streetwiseguy HalfDork
11/14/10 12:32 p.m.

Straw bale houses are not uncommon around here. A friend of mine built one over the last couple of winters. I have a bit of a hard time with the longevity claims, but he's happy- you can heat it with two candles and a menopausal wife.

chknhwk Reader
11/14/10 12:54 p.m.

Those Topsider homes look expensive, ordered a brochure.

oldtin HalfDork
11/14/10 1:05 p.m.

Since nobody's mentioned it yet - cargo containers... pretty cheap for the raw space. Insulate, stack and configure to suit.

stroker Reader
11/14/10 2:21 p.m.

In reply to oldtin:

I have to wonder what those sound like in a hailstorm...

Derick Freese
Derick Freese HalfDork
11/14/10 4:39 p.m.

In reply to carguy123:

You can do a coolant loop instead of a pond setup. They're not even all that expensive compared to a traditional phase change system.


Jensenman SuperDork
11/14/10 5:30 p.m.

I did a lot of research on log homes recently, along with other options. It seems that the single biggest problem with true log homes is that when drying the logs, it only dries about 2 inches or so into the wood, leaving a green core unless the log is dried for a long time (like years). This green core will eventually dry out several years into the life of the house and as it does it twists, warps and shrinks leading to all kinds of weirdness. Ambient temps and average humidity have a lot to do with the eventual drying, meaning it varies in different parts of the country. Some areas may not see the problem at all, so if thinking along those lines it definitely pays to do your homework.

There's been all kinds of efforts made to dry the inside of the logs such as drilling holes in the logs, splitting them then drying and then rebonding them, etc. with varying degrees of success. Given the amount of aggravation involved, I think I'd go with conventional stud and sheathing construction instead but use 2x6's (or 2x8's in really cold climates) instead of 2x4's. Thicker wall = more insulation = less energy useage.

There are heat reclaimers made for fireplaces that can heat an average house pretty well. Their main drawback is they are generally a bitch to clean. That's a big problem because as the heat from the flue gases is transmitted away, creosote builds rapidly leading to a chimney fire. If not correctly sized, they can prevent the chimney from 'drawing' properly also. But it's not an insurmountable problem.

914Driver SuperDork
11/15/10 6:08 a.m.

What's the zoning like in Austin, will they let you do something not Ward & June?


TRoglodyte Reader
11/15/10 7:09 a.m.

Adobe? Doesn't get much more grassroots than mud !

Ian F
Ian F Dork
11/15/10 8:12 a.m.

One way to reduce your carbon foot print is to reduce the actual foot print as much as possible:


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