Gettin’ Techie with It

We’ve made a lot of progress with the house, although most of it has been in my head!  After the Passive House training, I had some important decisions to make before we could move forward with the design.  So I spent a couple of months mulling over different options and comparing prices.

I’ve decided to square off the house and remove the two bump outs that we had in the master bedroom and bath.  This will make it much easier to create a continuous air barrier and continuous insulation without any thermal bridging.

And it breaks my heart to say this, especially after writing a whole post about saving it, but after much deliberating and weighing options and prices, I’ve decided to take down the magnolia tree.  We were planning on putting the house on piers in order to not disrupt the root system of the tree.  The tree would have to be trimmed significantly either way, so the house could fit under it.  But I talked with a foundation company regarding the price, and the piers themselves would cost around $7-8,000, and on top of that we have to get a structural engineer involved, then pay for lumber for the floor joists and the cost of a finished floor.  All of which could cost three to four times more than using an insulated slab for the foundation.  Because the slab will be insulated, we can also use the concrete floors as our finished floor; it creates a cool, industrial look!  And we get the benefit of being coupled with the ground, which can help on heating and cooling costs since the ground is cooler than the air in summer and warmer than the air in winter. And unfortunately because of how far down we have to dig for the slab foundation, I don’t think the tree would survive the trauma to its roots.

A few weeks ago, I was at a gas station pondering my tree decision.  I looked over to my left and saw a big truck that said “Gil’s Tree Service.”  I remembered that they had taken a tree down for me when I was building my first home.  I stopped Gil and asked his advice on the Magnolia tree.   He went and looked at the tree and thought it would be a good idea to take it down.  AND he has a sawmill and can mill the wood from the tree so that I can use it in the interior of the home, either to do some cool trim details or possibly a whole wall of magnolia wood!  Knowing that helped me feel a lot better about the decision!

Another difficult decision has been deciding on the best option for domestic hot water.  The Passive House standard has mostly been used in cooler, dryer climates, so the challenge we face with building this kind of house in the deep south is heat and humidity.  We want the Relative Humidity in the house to stay between 40-60%, and some of the Passive Houses in the south have struggled stay in that range in the summer time.  The Energy Recovery Ventilator and the heat pump mini-split haven’t been quite enough to keep the homes cool and deal with the humidity in the middle of summer.

I’m hoping that I can use a heat pump water heater to help with that.  A heat pump water heater pulls heat and humidity out of the air and uses it to heat the water.  It’s kind of like a water heater and an air conditioner in one because once the heat has been removed from the air, it blows cold air back out into the space around it.  It can be 2-3 times more efficient than a standard electric water heater because it’s much more efficient to transfer energy or heat than to generate it.  And if it’s really cold in the winter, you can change it to electric resistance mode.  Currently the price of these water heaters is around $900, so it’s a pretty affordable option.  The question was then where to put this water heater. They recommend about 1,000 cubic feet of space, which we didn’t really have with our current design!  Originally the office on the first floor was going to be open to above, but we’ve decided to place a floor above the office space and use that as our mechanical room.  We can have the ERV, hot water heater and possibly the electrical panel in that room.

My hope is that the ERV and the mini-split, together with the heat pump water heater and the concrete slab coupled with the ground, will be enough to keep the house cool with the humidity levels under control in the summer!

For the insulated slab, we use a couple of inches of foam underneath the slab.  The foam acts as the form that you can pour the concrete into, and then the foam just stays in place after pouring and doubles as insulation!  We have a layer of poly that runs under the slab and comes around to be taped to the outside of the OSB sheathing, creating a continuous vapor barrier and an air barrier.

The wall that I plan on using for any construction geeks out there is a 2×6 stud wall on 2 foot centers, with dense packed cellulose in the wall cavity.  The OSB will be the sheathing that attaches to the outside of the 2×6 wall.  The OSB is then sealed with a liquid flashing called Prosoco, which creates an air and vapor barrier.

Attached to the OSB, we’ll have 3-4 inches of exterior insulation, probably Rockwool, which is made from industrial slag.  It’s a pain to install but it’s non organic, so it handles moisture well and doesn’t attract bugs because there’s nothing for them to eat! It can also be obtained locally because we have a manufacturer in Leeds!

On top of the Rockwool, we’ll have furring strips, (which are wood strips) that attach through the Rockwool to the studs, so that we can create a rain screen or drainage plain. At the bottom we’ll have a screen to keep insects out and towards to top of the wall, we’ll place another vent so that the air can circulate and dry out the area.  The hardi-plank siding will be attached to the furring strips and that’s it!

So next we have to figure out how to tie the roof into this wall system without raising the overall height of the house too much.  We could do an unvented roof, which means we just have to be extra careful about condensation issues.  We have to make sure that our dewpoint won’t happen on the interior of our house, creating a moisture problem. J

Rebecca is currently working on the window schedule, which is a list of windows and sizes that we’ll use in the house, so that I can get window pricing. I’m comparing prices with a few different window manufacturer’s. She’s also making the changes to the elevations and floorplan, so we can begin inputting all the data into the Passive House Planning Package software to make sure we’re on track with the Passive House standards!

Here are a few pics of some Passive House projects we saw when I went out to the Passive House conference in Boulder last month!  More to come soon!

 

One Year Later

At many times a long the way I’ve wondered if change was possible. Sometimes my old beliefs and habits can feel so ingrained, that it’ll make me question whether or not humans are truly capable of change.

When I started this blog about a year ago, I was hoping to have my new home built by now, but more importantly I was searching for a shift within myself and a different outlook on life.

And a year later, I can honestly say that a lot has changed. My life has become less frantic, and I take time to do things that truly nurture me. I’m saying “no” a lot more, and I have a new overall commitment to my own well being. I cook healthy meals for myself. I take my lunch to work. I’ve reduced the amount of clutter and waste in my life. I take time to write. I spend time most days doing stretches and exercises that help me realign my posture and stay out of pain.

It’s amazing how good I can feel just by taking care of myself.

It’s very different than trying to force myself to live a “healthy” lifestyle or “be good” or “save the environment.” It really comes from a deeper place of wanting to truly live my life in alignment with what’s best for myself and the world around me. And I really don’t believe that those are two separate things. Of course I don’t do it perfectly (not even close!), and I don’t think I would want to. But I’m grateful for what this project is bringing me, and I hope to be able to continue sharing the things that are changing and the ways I hope to shape my professional life to line up with that vision as well.

I watched a you tube video this past week about a family of four who manages to only have one tiny bag of trash every few months. Here’s a link if you’d like to see how they do it.  They say that some people have criticized them and called their lifestyle extreme but that they are truly happier and healthier and their expenses have been reduced significantly by living this way!

Like with so many things, I don’t think it has to be all or nothing. I try to continually, gently incorporate smaller things into my life and see what habits I can gradually change. Things that feel really awkward at first, can become second nature over time. The last time I went to the grocery store, I looked at the conveyor belt and saw how nearly everything I was buying came in a package. So I’ve been saving my packages and buying more in bulk, using cloth bags to put the bulk items into. I keep a couple of tupperware containers in my car or purse to use as to go boxes at restaurants and take my water bottle at work, so I don’t have to use disposable cups. It’s fun; remembering is the hardest part! I’ve also been more conscious about only bringing things into my home that I really want or need. So just a few small changes at a time, that hopefully over a lifetime can make a difference!

Later this week I’ll write more about our progress with the house! I’ve been working on a few construction projects lately, so here are some photos from a Homewood bathroom remodel I just finished, and a screened in porch we tiled in Mountain Brook. In the bathroom, we used a low flow toilet and plumbing fixtures, an LED light fixture over the vanity, low VOC paint on the walls and ceiling, and we re-used the medicine cabinet over the vanity and painted it to match the vanity wood! All of these options were comparable in price to their conventional equivalent.

Here’s a link to my first post around this time last year if you’d like to read more about what this project means to me!

From Alaska to Illinois

I’m headed to Illinois tomorrow for my first Passive House builder’s training. It’s their inaugural builders training and takes place in a college town called Urbana, “the heartland home of superinsulation, air-tight envelopes, ERV, and solar gain principles that underpin the modern passive house movement.” The US Passive House Institute is located there and 8 Passive House projects have been built there in the last 10 years.

The training focuses on general passive house principles, hands-on field focus on the building envelope, HVAC considerations and cost optimization and bidding. I’m really excited about the training and learning more about how to actually build a Passive House (and a little nervous that I’ll be totally under-qualified). Hopefully, I can post some pictures of the Passive House projects there that have already been built!

It’s also fun to be in a hotel for a week where there’s nothing but me to clean or take care of! It’ll be quite the contrast to the tent I was sleeping in last week in Alaska.

Last week, eleven of us spent nine days in Alaska through UAB’s Outdoor Pursuits. We spent a few days in Denali National Park, backpacking in the Denali wilderness, hiking on tundra, which is actually a plant and not a place like I thought.

The views were amazing, and I didn’t suffer nearly as much as I expected. The weather had gotten cold enough to take the mosquito level from intolerable to just annoying. And we were among the lucky ones that were able to see Mount McKinley, all 20,328 feet of it!

The mountain spends most of its time hidden behind the clouds and only about 30% of visitors get to see it in all of its glory. If you get to Wonder Lake on a cloudy day, unless someone told you, you’d never know a giant mountain existed behind the fog. Josh, our trip leader woke us all up at 5:30 one morning when he saw that the mountain was totally exposed.

Early morning Mt. McKinley

In the backcountry part of our trip, we got caught in a freezing 12-hour windy rain storm, which made for a cold, uncomfortable day and reminded us that tents are only water resistant and NOT waterproof! But it also made for some quality time with Xuan my tent partner and made clear sunny days seem like heaven!

After climbing out of the wilderness, we headed south to Valdez, where we spent a day sea kayaking up to the Shoup glacier. It was absolutely beautiful. I even swam in glacier water, and if you know how much I hate the cold, I’m sure you’re really impressed!

We saw every kind of wildlife we hoped to see, from grizzlies to moose to wolves to loons, luckily most of it was from the safety of the park’s camper bus and not on the trail! The landscapes are among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and I hope to venture back some day to do some more glacier hiking and ice climbing.

No matter where you are in Alaska, it takes 8 hours to get somewhere else. It’s one of the few places in the US that has been kept truly wild. And especially in the national parks, they’ve worked really hard to keep it that way. Other than social trails that people have created, there are no trails in the Denali wilderness. No private vehicles are allowed on the park road, and the park rangers work incessantly to educate people on how to respect wildlife and “leave no trace” as they explore the park.

Kayaking at Shoup glacier

So from Alaska to Illinois, it’s been a happening month. I’ll have to miss half of Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival this weekend, which breaks my heart. But I got an early morning flight back on Sunday, so that I could at least catch some of the Sunday films. Sidewalk is one of my favorite local events!

My home hasn’t leased yet, so if it doesn’t happen in the next few weeks, maybe I’ll start working on finishing the basement. David has the house drawings and the climate data for our region and is working on entering the data to run all the Passive House numbers for the Avondale house. Once we’ve entered all the data, we’ll know if we need to change any window or door sizes or anything else with the design before we finalize the drawings to meet Passive House standards.

The Mighty Magnolia Tree

There is a magnificent magnolia tree on the corner of my lot that’s at least 80 years old. My neighbor said he has a photo of his house from the 40’s that shows the tree as pretty large at that time. That tree is part of the neighborhood’s history!

The lot is already small, and initially I didn’t think we could save it without destroying its roots and ultimately killing it during construction. But Rebecca, my architect, went out to the lot to take measurements, and she thinks that if we do a partial porch on the front of the house, we should be able to save that beautiful tree!

When she mentioned this, I was hopeful but skeptical. This whole project is about not causing more damage than necessary, and it would break my heart to tear it down. But I knew from experience that it could be very costly if the tree didn’t make it. There was a tree about 5 feet from my current home that I desperately wanted to save. And against the advice of Shannon, the builder that was mentoring me, I decided to leave the tree. Within a year, it had died from the trauma to its roots during construction. I finally had to pay to have a 50 foot tree taken down, and with a house 5 feet away, a fence and air conditioner another few feet away, it was a difficult and expensive task.

After I talked to Rebecca, I called David to ask his opinion. As well as being a licensed builder, electrical engineer and all around good guy, he’s also a certified arborist. We met out at the lot and spoke with my neighbor, who’s a landscape architect to get his opinion.

David agreed with Rebecca. So unless we run into unforeseen obstacles, the tree shall be saved! It will have to be trimmed by a certified arborist, and the tree will be very close to the house, but it will provide really nice shading on the southwest side of the house, while preserving the beauty and history of the property!

I had planned on using an insulated concrete slab for the home’s foundation, but to make sure we don’t cause too much root damage, I’ll have to use helical piers and an insulated crawl space as the foundation. I’ll also have to be extra diligent at keeping all construction equipment off of the trees roots.

The front of the house will have a partial front porch, which I think really adds a lot to the exterior of the home. It adds some complexity and uniqueness to the architecture. Here are some rough sketches in the works for the exterior. I love the sketch on the middle left! I can see it all coming together!

Scheme 2! The first floor house plan

We’re so close to getting the schematic first floor plan finished. I’m hoping Rebecca doesn’t disown me by the time this is all said and done. I’ve changed my mind and contradicted myself a thousand times since we started. She’s incredibly patient!

Last week she sent me the scheme 2 she had been working on. I told her I was secretly hoping that I wouldn’t like it, making my decision easier. But unfortunately I liked it A LOT. Check out the image of what she sent me here: FIRST FLOOR Scheme 2 version 1

I really like how different this scheme is. I like the placement of the stairs and having the kitchen at the front of the house with the master at the back. It is also cool that you walk in under the stairs and on the second floor there is a catwalk that overlooks and frames the kitchen and dining area below.

But when I spoke with David about the design, he didn’t think it would work well with the Passive House standards. There are still several concepts that I’m understanding as we go along, but with the Passive House, the exhaust is in the kitchen and bathrooms, so it’s best to have the kitchen and bathrooms towards the middle or back of the house. We’re creating passive solar heat gain on the south side of the house through the windows, so we want the exhaust to be further away from the front of the house so that we aren’t exhausting the energy before it has a chance to circulate throughout the whole house.

After David and I talked, Rebecca flipped the kitchen to the back of the house, bumped out a wall to add a few inches to the master bath/shower, and put pocket doors everywhere. With the latest version of this scheme, you can now access the laundry from the master closet, so my future roommate won’t have to watch me run naked across the house in search of clean clothes! 🙂 It’s been a touch decision, but I still think I prefer this design over scheme 1. There’s a little less closet space and a little more square footage in scheme 2, but I think the living space flows nicely, and again, I really like having the master at the back. We’ll have to use sound batts to buffer the noise from the kitchen in the master.

Here’s the latest version of scheme 2 with the kitchen at the back: Scheme 2 version 2

If you’d like to compare it to the latest version of scheme 1, here’s that image as well: FIRST FLOOR Scheme 1

I’d love to hear any thoughts you have! There a few small adjustments left to make, but we’re really close to finishing the first floor schematic, which I think is the toughest part of any design.

‘Tis the season to be excessive

Like a friend of mine once said, unless you’re living in a tree and eating nuts, you’re contributing to global warming. I probably won’t be living in a tree anytime soon, but whether or not global warming is real, or caused by us, it just makes sense to take care of what we’ve got and not destroy things unnecessarily. And to not cram more of anything into our lives if it doesn’t somehow add to our happiness or well-being.

In some ways, I’m the world’s best green hypocrite. It could seem as if I’m a fanatic, since I started a blog about going green. I don’t take bags from the grocery store, I buy organic veggies and try to reuse and recycle; I use fluorescent light bulbs, and my roommates often trip if they get up in the middle of the night because of my energy-saving darkness.

But I also travel, live in a big house, take long showers, and drive an SUV. Those aren’t exactly the greenest of things.

The point isn’t to buy into a trendy eco-friendly movement or to deprive anyone of the comforts and luxuries that life can afford us. I think those things are wonderful if we truly enjoy them and approach them with awareness, which is part of a new strategy that I’m trying out. I’ve decided not to be afraid of spending money on things that really make my life better (as long as I have the money!). At times, by trying to be frugal, I’ve made things more expensive in the long run. That’s why last week I ordered a new Mac book pro, and I’m thrilled! After three years of fighting with this wood-burning computer box (as my boyfriend calls it), I’ve decided that as much time as I spend in front of a computer, I should have one that works!

But when I realize I’m not enjoying things that are supposed to be fun or luxurious, it’s a good time to ask myself: “So what’s the point?”

Our lives have become filled with so much excess (especially this time of year) – excess stuff and debt, excess eating, excess distractions and social activity- which all seem to diminish the quality of our lives. It’s like we’re hoping that buying one more gift, eating one more cookie, finally getting out of town, will be the one thing that finally brings us lasting happiness.

But there’s nothing fun about parties we don’t want to go to, stuffing ourselves to the point of discomfort, or having a cluttered house full of stuff we don’t use. We spend extra hours working to pay for stuff that actually decreases our happiness! It’s crazy, but we do it over and over again every year (myself included). While I definitely understand the fun in giving and receiving a meaningful gift from a loved one, we’ve taken it to the point of suffering.

It seems that the cliché is true! Living on less, often actually makes for more happiness. Gradually, I’ve reduced the things in my life that I spend money on. I’ve discovered that I often have more fun camping in the woods (as long as it’s above 40 degrees) than going on a luxury vacation. And I often like the food I make at home more than restaurant food. It helps that I’m surrounded by starving artists, but I’ve had fun seeing how little I can live on, while still feeling like it’s more than enough!

The building industry is no exception to the excesses of our society. It didn’t take long after I started building houses to see what an incredible amount of waste there is in a construction project. Even the term green building is kind of contradictory because there’s nothing very green about new construction.
I think the overall challenge is to do as little damage as possible to ourselves and the world around us, while still creating comfortable lives and living spaces. With traditional building practices, there’s still a lot of room for improvement in those areas.

With each project, I’ve tried to incorporate more concepts of energy-efficiency and sustainable practices. While the Passive House takes “green” and energy -efficiency to another level, there are some smaller very affordable things I’ve done along the way that I’ll write about in the next post. I’ll show you the green parts of my Buttercup house with pictures and all!

David and I met last week to review the current version of the first floor layout. It seems like we’re on the right track. So far, there doesn’t seem to be anything about the design that isn’t compatible with the Passive House, so that’s good news!

Plan Progress

Rebecca and I have worked hard over the last several weeks on the development of the house design, staring at plans, piecing things together. She’s done an awesome job of showing me different design options while still incorporating all of my ideas!

We wanted to get the first floor finished before we worked anymore on the upstairs or exterior. We’ve gotten one scheme mostly finished, and I really like how it has evolved. Rebecca’s currently designing a second scheme just to make sure we come up with the best of all possible worlds. You can click on the link here to see the most up to date version of scheme 1: FIRST FLOOR_Vs 1.b_120511

With this scheme, a porch runs the length of the house across the front. You walk in to the two story great room that opens to a loft above. The stairs are open, so you can walk underneath them into the vestibule to access the powder bath or master bedroom. The powder bath can be accessed from the master bath, which saves on space and plumbing fixtures! We made some other changes to the master bath and closet area that I’m really happy with. I initially wanted to incorporate two master closets, but it was difficult to squeeze two doors in. With this design, there is a small dividing wall that creates 2 separate areas with only one door. That also allowed us to fit in a small linen closet. I also like being able to see the shower as you walk into the bath. That makes for an opportunity to do some cool tile detail.

The master closet opens to the laundry area. The laundry is a little bigger than what I need, but it is nice to be able to access it from the master.

For the kitchen, we tried a few different layouts, but so far I like this one the best. It creates a very linear, modern feel and keeps the kitchen at the center of things without breaking up or closing off the space. We’re talking about doing a refrigerator with a cabinet face on the wall behind the stairs, which I think would look really awesome.

The dining room is at the back of the house with a door opening to the backyard. On the back side of the laundry room is a flex room that I’ll probably use as an office/ TV room, but it’s also big enough to serve as a nursery or small bedroom in case someone were to stay with me that couldn’t go upstairs. Part of green building is creating spaces that can provide for a variety of needs and situations, which means they’re more likely to be functional long term without having to remodel or rebuild.

So far, we haven’t cut down on the square footage. I feel like there’s a little more space than I need in the great room and kitchen, but design wise, it may work out best to leave them as they are. I want to cut down as much as possible on the square footage, but I also want to make sure that the house will work for me long term. So I’d rather be slightly over than cursing my lack of space in a year or two!

I’m still trying to decide whether to leave the master bedroom on the front of the house or flip it to the back, putting the office at the front of the house. It would be nice to have it at the back for privacy reasons, but it could also be nice to have the office back there. So many decisions! This drawing shows a two car detached garage. Because of the space needed for a turning radius and parking pad, it still takes up a big chunk of the backyard. I haven’t decided yet whether to leave a two car garage or to have a longer, narrow, one car garage that could have space for storage or a workshop at the back.

Before we get too far along, David and I are going to meet to make sure there’s not anything about this design that won’t work with Passive House standards.

I’ll keep you posted as things progress!

David Lee

David Lee is a knowledgeable and experienced local builder who has graciously offered to work with me on this project. He is currently the only builder in Alabama to have completed the Passive House training, and I’m incredibly grateful for his help. If it weren’t his expertise and assistance, things would be significantly more difficult, and I would feel much less confident in my ability to build a certified Passive House.

David and I met in January of this year at a Southface green building workshop that was offered at the old Alabama Power building in Birmingham. Southface is a non-profit organization based out of Atlanta that promotes energy-, water- and resource-efficient workplaces, homes and communities throughout the Southeast. They’re a great resource and have been very active in educating professionals, as well as the public, about sustainable design and practices. They offer tours of their eco-office in Atlanta and also provide support and consultation for anyone who wishes to implement sustainable ideas into their projects. Check out their website at:

www.southface.org

Not too long before the Southface meeting, I had seen a blog by a couple who had built the first Passive House in Utah. You can see their blog at www.ourpassivehouse.org. I loved the idea and their home was beautiful, so I contacted the couple to get more information. They were very responsive and told me that their architect had been the main person responsible for the Passive House design. I inquired about the training but never heard back and felt for the moment that it was a little out of reach due to the time and cost involved.

So when I ran into David at the Southface workshop and he mentioned that he had completed the Passive House training, I was very excited. It took me a few months, but eventually I contacted him, and we met for lunch to discuss ideas and the different projects we had each worked on. David was very open and willing to include me in any design meetings for projects that he and his partners were working on.

At the time, I had begun looking for a property to build another home for myself, but I had no concrete plans in the works. I knew that my current home was more than I could afford and maintain long term, but I wasn’t sure how things would play out.

Several months earlier, my friends Casey and Andres Azuero told me about a property that was available in the Avondale area. I looked at the property but wasn’t sure that it was an area where I wanted to live. I kept an eye on it, though, talked with several of the neighbors, and eventually decided that it would be a great fit for me. It was a small, reasonably priced lot, which meant I wouldn’t have too much to take care of, and it was within biking, if not walking, distance of nearly all aspects of my life.

David and his business partner, Gary, went to look at the lot with me, and we talked about the possibility of building a Passive House on the lot. After doing all my due diligence, I decided to make an offer. We negotiated a little on the price, and I bought the property in June of this year, using a home equity line of credit that I have on one of my other homes.

Needless to say, I’m thrilled to have met David and appreciate that he is so willing to work with me and include me in his endeavors. Here’s a short bio about him and his background:

David Lee began his career as an engineer and later went on to commercial construction, building schools and hotels. In the early 1990s, he found his true passion in historic restoration and the design/ build of custom homes. He had been a proponent of energy efficient buildings since the 1970s and became intrigued by the comprehensive results of the Passive House concept. He participated in the Passive House certification program and is currently working on two Passive House designs. His company is Casey/Lee Builders a subsidiary of Conroy Road LLC. Feel free to contact him with any questions or inquiries at leeconsult@mindspring.com or 205-229-1245.

Aggressively Passive (house)

20111031-135225.jpg

The Avondale property in Fall

Aggressively passive (according to urban dictionary): when someone goes out of their way to be passive

I pondered for some time what the title of this blog should be. I wanted to document the process of building a Passive House on the lot that I recently purchased in the historic Avondale neighborhood of Birmingham, AL. As I did more research, I was surprised at how simple and affordable it could be to incorporate sustainable practices into our buildings and lifestyles, so I thought I could share those ideas with other people as I learned more about them myself. I wanted the blog to serve as a resource for people who were interested in applying these principals to their own projects. But I also knew this project was symbolic to me in ways that went beyond the actual building process, so I wanted to encompass what it meant to me personally as well.

For years now, I’ve wanted to find ways to live a simpler, more peaceful life. On one hand, my life is secure, fun and adventurous with exponentially more comforts and opportunities than many people throughout history. I’m surrounded by many loving and supportive people, and it’s important for me to remember how fortunate I am.

But I also realize that, ironically, in search of simplicity, I’ve made a rather complicated life for myself. I work full-time as a freelance Spanish interpreter for different companies and hospitals. I also manage 4 rental properties, own a small (tiny) construction business and teach a weekly swing class. So by the time I do those things, take care of my own house, try to maintain a social life and contact with loved ones, and then somewhat take care of myself, there aren’t nearly enough hours in the day (which I’m sure is quite a common experience!). I’m a professional multi-tasker that runs around setting things in motion and then tries to play catch up. I often feel an undercurrent of anxiety pushing me frantically towards some unknown destination, and I’m tired of trying to keep up.

So the more I thought about it, the more this title applied to both my house and my life in general. I hope to be proactive about creating a comfortable, relaxing life, full of things I love with very few I don’t. I want to work efficiently and smarter, making money in ways that embody what I value most, increasing the amount of passive income that I have, and doing it in a way that benefits the world around me. Money is important only because of the freedom and security that it brings me. Freedom, security and love are the most important things to me, and it’d be great to know what it’s like to have plenty of those things and more, including time.

It’s a lofty ambition, but I believe it’s possible. Up until now, I have lived thinking that the only way to be successful was to work crazy hard, under a lot of stress. I live based on the self-limiting beliefs that there will never be enough time or money. So I’ve set out to prove myself wrong. As Marc Allen suggests in his book The Millionaire Course, I’m going to “make a compromise with my doubts and fears”, make my life the subject of my own experiment, and see where it takes me.

Building this home is one step in that direction. I want an extremely energy efficient, well-built home that is also beautiful and comfortable, providing everything I need and enjoy on a regular basis without anything that doesn’t matter to me. I want to build with an understanding of the interconnectedness of things, without unnecessarily depleting natural resources or damaging our environment, recognizing that it’s all part of something larger than myself.

I’m estimating that it will cost about half as much as my current house to build, and my utilities will be about 1/3 of my current utility costs. I will also be less than two miles from Children’s hospital where I do most of my work and only a mile or so from most of my social life, which should take about another $150 off what I spend in gas and decrease car maintenance costs. These things combined should cut my total monthly expenses in about half, which means I could work half as many hours, leaving more time for other things that matter to me!

I’ve started working with an architect, who is a wonderful and talented friend of mine. We’re working on some schematic floor plans right now, and soon I will start posting about the different design options.

The home will be based on the specifications established by the Passive House Institute. It’s the strictest standard on the market for energy efficiency, and as far as I know, this will be the first Passive House in Alabama! Here’s a link if you’re interested in learning more about the Passive House Institute. You can click on What is a Passive House? for a complete definition. I’ll also elaborate more on the details of the home itself in future posts.

www.passivehouse.us

Energy efficiency is only one aspect of green building, so I plan to incorporate other aspects as well, such as the use of sustainable building materials, water conservation, rain water collection, and protecting the indoor air quality.

In the next few posts, I’ll be talking more about my background and introducing you to the marvelous people who will be working with me. I will also be looking for salvage and reclaimed materials and people who are interested in participating in the project. I hope to have a story published on the house and would love to find any companies or individuals willing to provide materials or services at a discount in exchange for advertising and exposure. So if you know of any resources, I’d love to hear about them!

There are still many unknowns, and I’m not sure yet how they will resolve themselves. Financing could be a challenge. I need to either sell my current home, or find a way to raise $120,000. It’s difficult to get bank financing right now, so if you see me on the side of the road with some Krispy Kreme doughnuts, stop and buy a few boxes!

20111031-125801.jpg


20111031-135310.jpg