Learning about High Performance Homes...by Building One


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From 2001 to 2003, I spent most of my spare time building a house. I'd never built anything bigger than a bookcase before this, but I took on the project anyway, and it turned out great. It's a high performance home made of structural insulated panels, passive solar features, a greywater system, composting toilet, and more.

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Learning about High Performance Homes...by Building One

  1. 1. Learning about High Performance Homes …by Building One Allison A. Bailes III, PhD President of Energy Vanguard
  2. 2. Before & After With 66 acres of land and a construction loan, I built a 2000 square foot house out of structural insulated panels (on top of an 1100 square foot basement). See the rest of this slide show to find out more.
  3. 3. Passive Solar Design The first stage was figuring out what to build and how to do it. I took the 3-day Homebuilding School at Southface in Atlanta and proceeded with the design. As you can see, we went with passive solar to minimize summer heat gain and bring in extra heat in the winter.
  4. 4. Passive Solar Reality These pictures show that the front of the house with all its window area is completely shaded in summer and gets full sun in winter. It worked! Summer solstice Winter solstice
  5. 5. Getting Started Seeing that hole in the ground and the concrete going in the footing trenches were some of the most exciting parts of the project.
  6. 6. Framing with SIPs After getting the first floor framed, we laid out the structural insulated panels (SIPs) in the front yard and started putting up the walls. SIPs are really cool! They’re a sandwich of expanded polystyrene (EPS) and oriented strand board (OSB), and they make a really tight, well insulated house.
  7. 7. Building a Box Once the walls were up, we called in the boom truck to lift the ridge beams and roof panels (~200 pounds each) into place. Pulling the roof SIPs tightly together was far more difficult than the walls. And those two loose panels sitting on the roof were the hardest of all.
  8. 8. Getting Dried In After we had the house framed and wrapped with felt, the roofers came and put the silver galvalume roof on top, and another crew came and put in the windows for me, all on the same day.
  9. 9. Working inside the Box Shortly after we got dried in, winter was starting to come on, and Georgia gets so much snow that we shifted our attention to the interior. (Just kidding. We did get about 6” on this day in early January 2002, but that’s the most I’ve seen since I’ve lived here.)
  10. 10. Back Porch & Carport The back porch, with exposed rafters and tongue & groove pine roof decking, is a great place to sit outside and enjoy the back yard. The carport was framed with trusses. (OK, I’ll admit I’d never make it as an architect, but those two appendages ARE functional.)
  11. 11. Siding with Hardiplank I can’t tell you how many times during the process I said, “It’s starting to look like a house.” Seeing the siding on the outside was one of them because we’d been looking at that black felt for about 4 months.
  12. 12. Wiring to Die for …or from Actually this was just a little joke that my friend and electrician Zot left for me. When the inspector came for the rough-in inspection, she didn’t even go into this room, so I had to take her over there to see it. She was a good sport about it, though, when I started pulling some of the extra wires out and asking her if it would pass then.
  13. 13. Solar Water Pumping The well pump is powered by this single 75 watt panel. It pumps at about 1 gallon per minute while the Sun is shining, so we installed a tank to store water by the house.
  14. 14. Maggie Was a Happy Dog! Maggie spent a lot of time out there with us during the construction.
  15. 15. It’s Looking like a House! Watching the drywall guys work was pretty amazing. I can’t believe I ever entertained the idea of doing it myself. OSHA approved?
  16. 16. Reclaimed Hardwood Flooring The hardwood flooring came out of an elementary school that was torn down at the time I was getting ready to build. I got it for a dollar a square foot, denailed! The sanding took a long time, but it refinished beautifully.
  17. 17. Tongue & Groove Pine Ceiling That ceiling was so much work! I nailed the boards up there (yep, that’s me on the scaffold), sanded, stained, and put three coats of urethane on them. It’s really beautiful, though.
  18. 18. The Loft, Finished A view of the loft with refinished flooring, pine ceiling, and built-in window seat.
  19. 19. Woodstove I love the woodstove, but installing the flue was NOT easy. Placed in the center of the house, this little heater keeps things toasty.
  20. 20. Greywater System The house has no septic tank or sewer hookup. All the greywater goes out into the backyard and drains into 5 gallon buckets buried in mulch basins. Each basin has 4 outlets and a tree planted in the center. It was an interesting experience getting the greywater system permitted, but it has worked exactly as designed with not a single problem. If you’d like to see the proposal I submitted, let me know.
  21. 21. Composting Toilet The composting toilet is made by Advanced Composting Systems and is the Phoenix. The tank is in the basement and wasn’t emptied for the first time until it had been in use 4 years.
  22. 22. About the Author I’m a recovering academic, having earned a PhD in physics from the University of Florida and taught at the college level for 6 years (including the two during which I built this house). My recovery has taken me into many crawl spaces and attics as I’ve assessed and worked on low-performing homes as well as new homes going for EarthCraft House and ENERGY STAR certification. I now spend more time doing training and consulting, and my company, Energy Vanguard, is an accredited home energy rating provider. Please feel free to contact me if you’d like to know more about this house or the services that Energy Vanguard provides. [email_address] See energyvanguard.com for more about the house. Allison A. Bailes III, PhD