Reaching our goal through a succession of short steps and stumbles.
Here are all the constrction phases:
Great Green Adventure Timeline
We converted our "Walk Out" basement into a large office for my hardware/software consulting work. The
house is built on a slope so the bulk of this level is below grade. The back of the basement opens out
to the back yard with a French door. The walls were all insulated, but
I don't think the concrete floor is. It stays
cool down here all year long. This was one of those
things that made me go: "Hmmmm."
I started researching a somewhat alien concept for me: Earth Covered
Houses (sometimes called Earth Sheltered, or Underground). I purchased a series of Books online,
and I started visiting the "Architecture" section of bookstores
whenever I was picking up my StarTrek paperbacks.
began on the www.GreenPower.com.au Web site. This was my first
real introduction to the "Green" philosophy. I quickly
found out that in addition to being expensive to keep a typical two level
house warm/cool all year round, the impact of generating the required
power using fossil fuels was significant.
The idea of building a new home, and going into early retirement
had caught on with me (as if I'd ever stop programming).
All I had to do now was convince Lisa :) Part of this adventure was going to be deciding on
where to build this new home,
so Lisa and I started discussing options. Since I'd already moved from Australia,
I didn't have any pre-conceived idea of where in the USA I'd want to
live next, so it was a matter of finding somewhere Lisa would be
happy. I found a great online service called TerraServer.com
which let me look at topographical maps and satellite images of potential sites.
While searching for suitable land to build, I discovered Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland.
Everyone we talked to had great things to say about the area.
I even found a several large lots at reasonable prices. We took a day trip to the area loved it.
Three days later we had a contract on a great
lot. One acre of south facing hillside with year
round view of the lake.
Settlement is set for the 15th of July.
YAY... We are finally new property owners. The check has
been sent, and now we are just waiting for the Deed (free and
clear). We paid another visit to the lot with the basic
intention of marking the boundary and scop'ing out the likely
view. After spending an hour tagging the border with tape, we
realized we were marking the wrong lot (oops, well it was very wooded
:) We met some of the neighbors, and saw some of the other new
construction in the area. We also asked about local architects
and builders and got some good tips. It seems like the thing to
do on a new construction is to scope out an architect who is
compatible with your home goals, and make sure they have good working
relationships with local builders.
Well, we've been invited
to the first Homeowner's Association meeting for our
development. There are actually only 3 homes built in the
development so far, so it's more like a Land Owner's
Association. We'll be heading up on a Friday night and spending
I just discovered a
great new toy that will help me map out the lot. I've been
exposed to GPS (Global Positioning System) for quite a while, but
I've just discovered the latest GPS model from Garmin. It's called
Summit, and it's a tiny unit designed for hikers. In
addition to all the usual GPS navigation features, it also has a
Compass and barometric altimeter built in. This will let me
walk the lot and collect height reading to 1 foot accuracy.
I'll then download this data and produce myself a topographical
contour plot. This plot will enable me to accurately locate our
house to require the least amount or earth movement. With any
luck this $220 unit will save me much of the cost of a professional
I've started doing some
tentative home designs.
The first couple were just to see how things could fit
together. I wanted to experiment a little with room layout and
sizes, and see what various concepts looked like. I especially
wanted to try some Kitchen / Living room
combinations. Although I'm completely happy with a
final design, I really started liking the concept of a kitchen that
was simply an extension of the living room. That's how we use
it 90% of the time, so why not design it that way. More to
The weather is cruising
into Fall, and so the tree cover is starting to thin out. We
want to see how the views change with the seasons, se we headed up to
Deep Creek for a day trip. We also brought an industrial
"Weed Wacker" with us (one with a blade instead of a cord)
so we could clear a few paths through the brush to better explore the
It turns out that they
got about 1/2" of snow earlier in the week, but it disappeared
quickly. Well, the views had opened up considerably, and it
turns out we can see about the lake for about 160° (from W to
S/E). We spent the day taking turns with the Weed Wacker till
our hands were numb from the vibration. We ended the day at a
friend's rental where we experienced a preview of lake living.
A quick dip in the hot-tub and then a wonderful dinner. I could
get used to this.
Back home I'm refining
the house design. I've
departed from the purely rectangular floor plan I started with, and
I've now moved on to a more interesting shape. I realized that
since I have to excavate a greater depth of soil (rock) at the rear
of the house, it's in my interest to have the house wide at the front
and narrow at the back. I also discarded the non-functional
upper "Loft" level, and replaced it with a cool on-roof
deck area. Go Hot-tub.
While also trying to get our taxes done, Lisa and I have been getting a feel for the new house design.
I laminated the drawings (1/4" per foot scale), and we are using set
of scaled furniture "stickers" to do room lay-outs. This way we can try out different furniture configurations
and make sure the rooms are right-sized.
Pretty soon we're
going to have to bite the bullet and start on the next phase of the
design.... Engineering drawings :)
Lots of fun stuff happened in May. We took a day trip (1 day 1
night :) to Deep Creek and planted some English Ivy on the slope that
leads down to the road. The slope is very steep and looks like
it's going to be an erosion problem, so we figured the sooner we get
some ground cover planted, the better. We also spoke to Dave
Kennedy (one of the lot owners in our development). He's a
builder and is building a spec' home on his lot. He's a
candidate for building our home so it was fun showing him the
preliminary design and getting feedback. Dave was the guy who
suggested using a chilled water feature (fountain etc.) to control
humidity in the summer. I've received skeptical responses to
this Idea from others, but the physics seems sound to me. It
will be interesting to experiment with this.
I also started
building a scale model of the house to
help me try out different ideas. I tried to think of an easy
way to also model the lot contours, but I couldn't.
We met with the
architect again at the end of the month to go over the Structural
I've started working on defining the operation of the HVAC system for the house.
I'm unconvinced that anyone has really put together an integrated HVAC system for a true energy efficient house.
Individual manufacturers are all concerned about designing systems
that can be sold as a single component, abut no integrated energy
management system can be thought of in those terms. SMART whole
house energy management my goal.
for fun, I've coined an Acronym for my ideal HVAC system. It's
which stands for Geothermal,
Radiant, Efficient, Energy-Network. Check out my HVAC component
and network pages.
Well, I spent the mild winter (while the ground at Deep Creek froze and then thawed) redesigning
my house to have a more conventional roof, and locating a builder I felt comfortable with.
As I expected, the flat "Green Roof" design didn't lend itself to being adapted to a more
conventional pitched roof. Any significant pitch of the main roof, ended up obscuring the
windows on the tower/loft. Also, since any new design was going to call for less vertical
penetration into the hill at the back of the house, I was going to have to relocate the footprint to a
position in the lot with less slope.
I ended up holding the
main roof pitch at 4:12 (the minimum area builders seemed
comfortable with) and raising the floor of the loft 1
foot. This just required that I extend the spiral
staircase and will probably make the interior gallery section
I also found a builder that I'm pretty comfortable
with. Gary Young and his wife Connie, run a small
construction business (G & C Construction) that's been renovating and building homes
in Deep Creek for many years. Gary is very "hands
on" and his estimate seemed more in line with what I
thought was reasonable for my project. I also like Gary
because he seems comfortable working with less detailed
plans. I expect his framing expertise, and history with
renovations makes him able to adapt to less than perfect
We're almost ready to sign a contract and start
construction. Look... I can see the light at the end of
the tunnel. I hope it's not a train :)
We've signed the
contract, and construction has begun with clearing the
lot. This seems like a great point to start a new timeline
For the next phase,
please jump to my Construction
Timeline. This page will be lots of fun because it will
include pictures :)
© 2000-2015, Phil and Lisa's relaxed lifestyle home.
An exercise in Energy Smart, Not So Big living.
www.OurCoolHouse.com - Ideas@OurCoolHouse.com
This site is all about building a cool, energy efficient house,
that makes maximum use of earth sheltered design, passive solar heating and cooling,
geothermal exchange energy management, and right sizing of the house for it's designated use.
The home's placement is on a south-facing hillside in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland.
This site describes the design process, the technologies used and the expected results.
We also have a comprehensive Links Page for anyone who is also interested in designing a