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stroker
stroker Reader
11/20/10 9:42 p.m.

In reply to Big ego:

Once saw a segment on the CBS Sunday Morning show about a guy who converted a church into a recording studio. Fabulous acoustics.

Just a thought if you like to listen to yourself play an instrument of some kind...

curtis73
curtis73 GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
11/21/10 5:00 a.m.
914Driver wrote: What's the zoning like in Austin, will they let you do something not Ward & June? Dan

Not too sure on the finer points, but put it this way... Austin's Motto is "Keep Austin Weird" and there is some very alternative architecture. If the precedent has been set for a certain type, it will be gravy. If it has not been set, I'm in for a long time of hearings and redtape to get it approved.

curtis73
curtis73 GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
11/21/10 5:03 a.m.
DILYSI Dave wrote: Or you could just not buy into the carbon footprint BS, buy a normal house, insulate it, recycle, plant a garden, and not dump your oil in a hole in the backyard.

The "carbon footprint" thing just pisses me off.

There have been numerous studies that confirm the greenest houses are the recycled ones... and I don't mean building a home with recycled materials, I mean bringing an old house up to green specs. If you subtract out the environmental impact of all the new lumber you don't use, all the steel, asphalt roofing, copper wiring, plastic and copper plumbing, etc, using an old house and just making it green is far greener than building a new home.

curtis73
curtis73 GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
11/21/10 5:43 a.m.
SVreX wrote: Here we go again... I spent a lot of years designing and building appropriate technology houses all over the world. I've built EVERY SINGLE form mentioned in this thread, except for papercrete, and several that are not mentioned (like thatch, pressed earth brick, woven stick, and recycled tires). I can give the pros and cons on all of them. First off, let me focus on what you said you are looking for. You said you are environmental freaks, are concerned about your carbon footprint, and that the focus should be on cheap and energy efficient. But you also said land is cheap, and that you are willing to consume additional new resources to build something new. These points are a contradiction.

Um... of course their will be consumption of something, but I'm trying to limit it. I would be building with bales of straw - a basically waste by-product of grain harvesting. It has very little nutritional value as feedstock. Its also renewable in 3-6 months instead of new lumber which takes at least 15 times that long.

If I were to build a straw-bale house, it would be a modified post & beam using reclaimed lumber. Every day on CL there are hundreds of listings for used lumber. Scrounge long enough and you'll get what you need (which in my case would be some 2x8, 2x4, and some old telephone poles)

Unless you were saying that I would be consuming land... in which case, yes... about 900 sq ft of it. The rest of the property doesn't have to be "consumed."

There is never anything more "green" than an existing house, nor one with a smaller carbon footprint.

Agree completely. Instead of spending 250k on a new "green" house, spend $150k on an old house and spend the rest of the money making it more energy efficient. I agree. But when you're talking about buying a house for a long-term and large investment, the payoff isn't as rewarding for me than A) building your own home with your own two hands, B) using waste (or rapidly renewable) resources, and C) doing it all without contributing to the urban pavement jungle. Plus, initial figures point to the fact that the house itself may cost as little as $12k in supplies to build.

But maybe you aren't quite as big an environmental freak as you think, and simply WANT to build. That's OK.

I think you misinterpreted my post... I want to build AND make it as little impacting as I can.

If so, the next question is, what do you mean by "green", "grassroots", or "environmentally friendly"?

Perfectly fair questions in this era of definition abuse

  • Green: Something that does a good job of conserving energy as a co-product of reducing the amount of carbon that has to be sourced from below the biosphere and focuses on wisely selecting sources of carbon within the biosphere appropriate for its geographic surroundings. To paraphrase - Something that favors using carbon that is already in the biosphere instead of from miles beneath it, while also tailoring which types of renewable resources are appropriate for your area. For instance, I doubt making Corn Ethanol is a wise choice in Siberia since corn doesn't supports the local ecosystem - financially or environmentally.
  • Grassroots: New and innovative ideas that work and don't necessarily come from mainstream constructs. The very origin of the word was chosen to reflect original thought and natural selection. Planting your new idea in virgin dirt. Those that survive will root and take hold.
  • Environmentally friendly: Something that some douchebag came up with while eating shrooms.
There is no such thing as a "formula" that makes a house "green". It has EVERYTHING to do with what is important to you, and which specific areas are of concern to you. Kinda like the total electric car debate. Sure they don't emit emissions locally, but is the electricity generated by burning coal? How about battery disposal?

Agree... How about the source of the battery itself? Most of them come from areas with little or no emissions regulations because they are too caustic to manufacture here. Not only does the production of the battery have a large impact, but then it has to be shipped.

After you get past those "philosophical" issues, the first thing I think defines an appropriate technology is the local climate and available resources. If you are building in the midwest where there are lots of grain fields, straw bales might make sense. But don't use them in the NorthEast (the trucking will kill you), or the NorthWest (too wet a climate). Log homes are nice, but definitely NOT "green" if you are building in FL.

Agreed. I've been researching that indeed. In many areas, straw is in high demand due to modest grain production and large livestock. The opposite exists with areas of mostly grain production and little to no livestock. Central Texas falls somewhere in between, so I need to find the appropriate source for bales if I decide to go that route.

Big ego
Big ego SuperDork
11/21/10 6:07 a.m.
SVreX wrote: True, except for the MAJOR potential of soil contamination. Get a clean inspection report first.

yes and the way the EPA rules are written. Liability for cleanup falls to the person who owns the property at the time of contamination.

Big ego
Big ego SuperDork
11/21/10 6:08 a.m.
curtis73 wrote:
DILYSI Dave wrote: Or you could just not buy into the carbon footprint BS, buy a normal house, insulate it, recycle, plant a garden, and not dump your oil in a hole in the backyard.
The "carbon footprint" thing just pisses me off. There have been numerous studies that confirm the greenest houses are the recycled ones... and I don't mean building a home with recycled materials, I mean bringing an old house up to green specs. If you subtract out the environmental impact of all the new lumber you don't use, all the steel, asphalt roofing, copper wiring, plastic and copper plumbing, etc, using an old house and just making it green is far greener than building a new home.

umm.. You people misunderstand carbon foot print.

If you buy a home and bring it up to specs, you are reducing your carbon footprint.

carbon footprint is merely a unit of measure.

SVreX
SVreX SuperDork
11/21/10 7:43 a.m.
Big ego wrote:
SVreX wrote: True, except for the MAJOR potential of soil contamination. Get a clean inspection report first.
yes and the way the EPA rules are written. Liability for cleanup falls to the person who owns the property at the time of contamination.

Absolutely.

SVreX
SVreX SuperDork
11/21/10 7:44 a.m.
Big ego wrote: umm.. You people misunderstand carbon foot print.

I think I agree. Maybe "carbon footprint" is another one of those words we need to define.

What's the objection??

SVreX
SVreX SuperDork
11/21/10 7:50 a.m.

Curtis73:

Sounds like you are well on your way. You know what you want, and what it will take.

You are not building a straw bale house, you are building a pole building with infilled bales for insulation. There's a big distinction from a code and engineering perspective.

Is there any precedent in your area for pole constructed residences utilizing recycled lumber? Pole barns don't count (gotta be a residence), and the recycled lumber question is important. The code requires grade stamps for structural components, which don't exist on recycled lumber. Some municipalities are butt heads on this, some don't care at all.

Jensenman
Jensenman SuperDork
11/21/10 8:41 a.m.

The term 'carbon footprint' was invented so the Birkenstock greenie weenie crowd could have something to point at to help them feel even more superior to the proletariat. As pointed out concerning hybrid cars and other 'feel good' so called energy efficient green technologies, many times all Mr or Mrs Birkenstock have done is move the source of the pollution, thus not 'reducing their carbon footprint' at all. It's merely another form of NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard. But that doesn't alter the fact that it is definitely more 'sustainable' to use recycled materials or retrofit an existing house than to build completely new.

Back to the subject of the thread: building your own home from recycled materials is certainly possible. It's been done before. I've even looked into it and on a smaller scale done it: building the Garage Majal was a dry run of sorts for a much larger possible project, even though it was not done with recycled lumber. (BTW, the GM cost me about $8500 between the slab and materials.) I discovered there's the dreaming part of such a project and then there's the reality part.

In the following, I'm not trying to rain on your parade, just pointing out some real life concerns.

The major drawback: it eats up a lot of your time. If it turns into a full time thing for you, figure roughly a year. During that year, you have to eat, have a place to live etc and if you are an average schmuck like me that means you have to work. If you can go a year without a paycheck, then you are in pretty good shape to start with. If you have to work and do the building in the evenings, on the weekends etc you probably will need to figure 18 months to two years.

But if you don't have to work you will still need a source of funds for the materials etc. You will need to factor in things like the sewer connection fees (in some areas the tap on can be as high as $6,000!) or putting in a septic tank (will you need a leach field dug?), the various inspections (assuming you are in a municipality of some sort), the construction license fees, etc. In many areas, only a licensed electrician can install a breaker box, etc. and if you don't get that approval you can't legally move in. It doesn't matter that all the work may have been done correctly, if it doesn't have the gov't squeal of approval you are boned.

Along those lines, you mentioned that you really have no plans to ever sell the house once completed. Take it from me, plans were made to be changed. Sometimes that change is definitely NOT what you wanted or expected but there it is anyway and now you have to deal with it. That means, for instance, if the house is passive solar and doesn't use a single watt off the grid to heat it, you still need to figure in a heating system. Why? A bank won't touch it unless it has conventional heat and without that built in you have just shrunk your pool of potential buyers to a miniscule fraction consisting of those with enough liquid cash they don't need to finance.

Unless you are a soils engineer, you really want a pro to do your foundation. This is one place you do NOT want to guess or cut corners. On that subject: avoid slab foundations like the plague. While it can certainly be done, if something goes wrong fixing it is a MAJOR undertaking. There is an entire neighborhood down here with improperly poured slab foundations which is 1/2 vacant because the houses are literally pulling themselves apart as the slabs bow and crack. You can't give one of those houses away and the (nationally known) builder, homeowners, lenders and lawyers have been fighting over this for about ten years now. I once saw an older slab house with a broken pipe underneath, they had to jackhammer a 8x8 hole in the bathroom floor to access the pipe. The water blasting out of the pipe had worked its way to the back of the house, carving a hole under the slab as it went. The back yard was so mushy the concrete truck got stuck and they had to bring in a bulldozer to drag it out. IIRC the final tab was somewhere around $10k (and this was about 15 years ago). Talk about a MESS. Give me a crawl space foundation any time.

There are some things which can't be done safely by yourself, for instance handling roof trusses or, once those are in place, fitting the sheathing. Take it from me, handling a 4x8 sheet of OSB ~20 feet off the ground in a mild breeze (7 MPH) is NOT an easy task by yourself. So you will need to hire temp help for that.

All this stuff adds up. For the average, say, 1500 square foot house an off the cuff estimate would be somewhere around $40-$50k.

From the timing aspect: while the house is being built, if it starts pouring down rain you will find that some of your materials will be ruined if they get wet, meaning you will have to do it over. Take OSB or plywood, for instance: if they get really soaked a few times they will begin to delaminate and warp. Mold will grow between the laminate layers. The last thing you need is mold deeply embedded in the sheathing. So there will be a real push to get things protected from the weather as quickly as possible. Again this will probably mean having assistance which will mean paying people. That's not a bad thing nor is it insurmountable but it certainly bears thinking about.

Then there are the things which happen caused by someone who built a house with the best of intentions but things went badly awry, usually through not knowing any better. One of my dirt biking buddies bought a big house on 10 acres outside of Chucktown, he has two cinder block barns, an elevator, a pool, you name it. Got it for a decent price too, all things considered. The house was 'owner built', after he had been there about a year he was looking in a kitchen cabinet for something and saw a spot on the wall which he was easily able to poke his finger through. Further investigation revealed that the flashing at the top of the outside walls and around the windows was non existent and there was no 'house wrap' (Tyvek) under the siding. So water had been getting into the walls for a long time and there was mold EVERYWHERE. That was about eight years ago, he's still fixing it one section at a time as money permits.

In reality, for the vast majority of us the best way to approach the whole 'build it yourself' thing is to have a pro build the foundation and put up the house shell ('dry it out'), then you come in and do the mechanical, interior finish etc to complete it.

Zomby woof
Zomby woof Dork
11/21/10 9:36 a.m.
SVreX wrote: I really am interested in more input on why some of you consider log homes to be green.

I never said it was. I don't even know what green is, if it's anything at all.

This was his question

curtis73 wrote: 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.

Log fits the bill.

Log construction is simple. You can DIY, and it can be very inexpensive. The R value of logs is not exceptional, but it's not bad, and there is the thermal mass thing, which is worth something.

I don't know what it's like in Texas, but here, logs are cheap, and plentiful, and resale value is not matched by any other building material. If you season them for a year, they'll build, and stay straight, and tight. The store where I buy my computers is in a log plaza. I was there everyday while he was building it, got to know the builder well, and looked at a bunch of his other buildings. Almost 20 years later, it's as square, and tight as the day he built it.

While we're ranting, I do find a lot of the greenie movement kind of funny. In the 70's we went through exactly the same thing, the alternative fuels, diesel cars, solar, wind, geothermal (how many heat pumps were ripped out of the ground, before they changed the name, and started reselling them?), etc. I have a whole collection of back to the land magazines from 40 years ago, that show off all the technologies that were ignored for 40 years, and are 'new' today.

It makes me laugh.

Big ego
Big ego SuperDork
11/21/10 9:43 a.m.
SVreX wrote:
Big ego wrote: umm.. You people misunderstand carbon foot print.
I think I agree. Maybe "carbon footprint" is another one of those words we need to define. What's the objection??

carbon foot print is merely how much equivalent carbon your lifestyle consumes. Most people just think about what they physically emit, driving, flying, etc. But, I believe it is more correct to include the foot print of the actual generation of the item you are consuming. If the item is already existing, then there is effectively 0 footprint.

Look at the definition that Jensenman has above, obviously he was suckered in by the anti prius crowd. Sorry he feels that way, because what the "greenie weenies" are doing is helping the save the planet for him and his daughter.

And this stuff isn't new for me. I was on jobsites of solar homes when I was 5.

Jensenman
Jensenman SuperDork
11/21/10 11:37 a.m.

If by 'saving it for my kid' you really mean 'digging nickel out of the ground with petroleum powered equipment' and then making batteries with it which use a lot more fossil fuel generated electricity to recycle, why then I guess the Prius owner really is taking the high road.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I do not advocate fouling our nest, it's the only one we have. I recycle and I am SO glad things like the Cuyahoga River fires don't happen any more. But there are common sense environmental protection methods and all this yak about carbon footprints and carbon taxes ain't it.

Now back to grassroots housing discussion. Reworking an existing house is more 'sustainable' than building new since it's recycling. It's also easier in some ways since you don't run into the problem of drying the house in to prevent damage.

But it has its own set of pitfalls. It's possible to run into things like asbestos insulation, lead based paint, knob and tube or aluminum wiring, non grounded electrical, poorly done additions and repairs, termite damage, all kinds of stuff. In some ways it can be more time and money consuming due to things like this. As I said, not insurmountable. Just things to be aware of.

Big ego
Big ego SuperDork
11/21/10 1:31 p.m.
Jensenman wrote: If by 'saving it for my kid' you really mean 'digging nickel out of the ground with petroleum powered equipment' and then making batteries with it which use a lot more fossil fuel generated electricity to recycle, why then I guess the Prius owner really is taking the high road.

yawn. Prius hate is overdone.

If you read my post you would understand that my definition of carbon footprint includes the manufacture of said goods. Another example is the new water based paint for cars that is probably worse for the environment than the old oil based stuff.

I just did a project for a large multinational that got multiple millions in savings + a couple thousand metric tons of c02 reduced. All by benchmarking UPS and what they do for route optimization. No cost outlays, no reduction in people. Just gravy and it hit the triple bottom line.

paul
paul Reader
11/21/10 2:37 p.m.
Big ego wrote: yes and the way the EPA rules are written. Liability for cleanup falls to the person who owns the property at the time of contamination.

But then layers & the court process get involved, and the blame can literally be place on anyone's head...

Jensenman
Jensenman SuperDork
11/21/10 5:59 p.m.

There was an incident down here where a bank bought a piece of property which used to be an Exxon gas station. Turned out the property was contaminated with gasoline (duhhh) so all building came to a screeching halt. As it turned out, the station was a company owned (as opposed to franchised) station and Exxon wound up footing the cleanup bill. But it was a while getting sorted out, the property had changed hands a couple of times since the station closed down.

Title insurance on a piece of property is also a good idea. Most of York County, SC was originally Catawba Indian (sorry, Native American) land. The tribe filed a gigantic lawsuit against a whole bunch of private landowners which several title insurance companies paid off on.

Trans_Maro
Trans_Maro Dork
11/21/10 7:52 p.m.

This is making me want a new home with no insulation and a furnace that burns whale oil.

MrJoshua
MrJoshua SuperDork
11/21/10 8:22 p.m.
Trans_Maro wrote: This is making me want a new home with no insulation and a furnace that burns whale oil.

Igloo.

SVreX
SVreX SuperDork
11/22/10 6:59 a.m.

Big E:

I agree with most of what you are saying until you get to the "saving the planet" part.

Take a look at Zomby's post above. You are slightly young to remember, but he nailed it. We've been here before. Absolutely nothing has changed, and look! The planet is still being saved.

You are right that the Prius hate thing is overdone, and that carbon footprint is just a measure (good or bad). But don't kid yourself on the saving the planet thing.

I'm staying out of most of the construction discussion, because Jman's doing a pretty good job. I concurr with most of what he is putting out there.

curtis73
curtis73 GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
11/23/10 4:47 p.m.

I understand that the term "carbon footprint" is a viable and somewhat quantitative description. I just hate what it has become in spirit. It has A) made carbon into satan, and B) made every jackoff think that they are saving baby seals by driving a hybrid E-85 Escalade. It is one buzzword that has been taken to extremes and I hate it.

Carbon Monoxide, Carbohydrates, Carbonic Acid in the rain, blacklung... the world villifies carbon. Hybrid batteries save you some gas and don't pollute as much from the tailpipe, but how much diesel was used to ship the batteries over from China on a boat? How much Crude oil was used to make the plastic fenders? How much Sulpha-whatever compounds were dumped into the atmosphere to produce the batteries themselves? Buying a "green" car these days just means that you have placed the "carbon footprint" in another geographic location so that you can sleep well knowing that your new car gets 50 mpg.

People use the "carbon footprint" term to look at current consumption but fail to look at the larger picture.

That's what pisses me off about it.

There is plenty of perfectly good carbon up here without having to dig up crude oil and spew it into the atmosphere.

curtis73
curtis73 GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
11/23/10 4:50 p.m.

On the topic of house construction...

Another option is to find an older, inefficient house and retrofit it with in-fill bales on the exterior. The R50 of the bales plus the R-whatever of the house might be an inexpensive way of doing a similar project. I think it would be ugly, but its been done before.

Jensenman
Jensenman SuperDork
11/23/10 7:25 p.m.

I'm not real familiar with the bale construction. My biggest question: what about fire resistance? Again, not raining on your parade, it's a question that bears asking.

Big ego
Big ego SuperDork
11/23/10 7:58 p.m.
SVreX wrote: Big E: But don't kid yourself on the saving the planet thing.

Goals should never be lowered from the Ideal..

MrJoshua
MrJoshua SuperDork
11/23/10 8:01 p.m.
Big ego wrote:
SVreX wrote: Big E: But don't kid yourself on the saving the planet thing.
Goals should never be lowered from the Ideal..

Unless you are a fan of reality.

Big ego
Big ego SuperDork
11/23/10 8:04 p.m.
MrJoshua wrote:
Big ego wrote:
SVreX wrote: Big E: But don't kid yourself on the saving the planet thing.
Goals should never be lowered from the Ideal..
Unless you are a fan of reality.

ahh yes..

but without outrageous goal setting and the subsequent achievement it drives.. We wouldn't have many of the great inventions, products, companies and technologies we enjoy today...

but maybe those guys who started google should have brought their goals down to reality. cause the goals they set for themselves were really just too hard.

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