How would you design your house?

How to avoid signing your life over to a mortgage
theanimal
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by theanimal »

Also, I wonder if JMG has used wind before. I don't think it is that useful outside of very windy places (which there are few). It's a lot less windy in most places than people otherwise believe and the turbines have to be moving at something like 7 mph before they start generating electricity. My neighbors who had them had nothing but bad things to say about them. They didn't generate that much power, are crazy expensive and were a much bigger pain maintenance wise due to the moving parts. If I lived on the coast, plains/tundra or on a ridge top I'd probably think differently.

Riggerjack
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by Riggerjack »

Are you going to be able to build this as you want, without too many permitting hassles? If so I have some crazy ideas for you.

Look into wofati, let me know what you think.

Wood heated hot water can be done with soft copper tubing on the outside of the chimney pipe. Run it to a buffer tank, plumbed in before your main tank. Do not skip the expansion tank!

If you want to build an ice cellar, drive grounding rods into the walls, just about the permafrost level, then heap extra earth over the whole area, raising the permafrost level. Insulate above, if necessary. No reason to use power for cold in AK.

If you like the wofati, I have some ideas to make it more efficient in your climate.

I love wood heat, and the smell of wood smoke, but I would choose a boiler/woodshed combined with earth sheltering. Woodsmoke has lots of carcinogens, and keeping the mess outside of the house is always a good thing.

If you want to go with passive solar, remember the angle of the sun you are working with. Think patio on the south side. Also, the best windows are around R-4 (U-25) so I would think about insulated shutters.

Other concerns not previously discussed. I have lived with an outhouse. That's where you want windows. It also adds a whole other level of misery to having a stomach flu. You won't always be in and out. Plan for that.

I would look at ADA design. When you are in a cast or wheelchair is the wrong time to think of blocking for adding handles and supports. We all get hurt sometimes, and we all hope to get old. Cheap to deal with in the framing stage, a hassle to retrofit. Wider doors aren't much more than skinny doors. It the swing will eat too much space, think pocket or sliding doors.

theanimal
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by theanimal »

I'll have almost zero permitting hassles. There is no building code for where I'm at.

I like the wofati but I had ruled it out before due to poor ground. Most houses here (as I'm sure you've seen when you were here) are elevated off the ground to avoid any possible issues with shifting ground. Even on lots that have little to no permafrost. Would you still continue with the wofati in such a setup?

The cabins I've lived in the last 5 years have all had outhouses as sole means for bathroom. I've had no issues thus far.
'
Thank you for the suggestions.

Add: The land is ideally setup for something like a wofati. There is a gentle slope from the back of the lot towards the street. All south facing.

Gilberto de Piento
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by Gilberto de Piento »

Try to build it such a way that you won't be continually having to catch mice. Keeping them out in the first place is the way to go. Some materials and designs are better for this than others. All the cabins I've been in have had mice problems to some extent.

Riggerjack
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by Riggerjack »

I have a number of specific issues with wofati. Like many ideas over at permies, it seems powered by woo and good intentions, and shored up with a huge dollop of stoicism. It seems better than a tent. If that's one's point if reference, I think it's pretty nice, but that can be a hard sell in America.

Though I could be just as wrong as folks who come here and claim nobody could live comfortably on a JAFI. :oops:

But I can think of workarounds for those shortcomings, if you want to spend the money, and do the work. Wofati seems optimized for minimal cash outlay, but that introduces some limitations I'm not comfortable with.

If one is concerned about ground shifting, building adjustability into the design is the way to address that. This isn't difficult. But it can add some expense.

But first I have a few questions.

How much will premix concrete run you? The further it has to be trucked, the more expensive it will be. And how far is it?

How far away is the nearest quarry, and what do they provide?

What are your soils like?

Are you building with cash?

Are there access issues? Could a semi deliver a 40' container to you and get back out?

Can you get heavy equipment on site? A backhoe or mini excavator should work.

How much of the build are you planning to do on your own? Or more to the point, are you planning to hire any work out?

How much of your land are you willing to clear?

How much direct sunlight do you get in the summer?

Where does water drain off the land, and where does it come from?

Speaking of water, if I remember right, water was a problem in the area, how are you going to address this?

And that's probably more questions than you wanted to think about at this stage.

theanimal
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by theanimal »

I'm similar. I like aspects of the permies site but they aren't open to evidence that goes against their narrative and can get very combative/aggressive. I don't really leave with a strong sense of trust/belief in what they're saying when I come across that stuff.

That being said, I have been fascinated with Mike Oehler's designs for a while and the wofati of course is just a spin off of those.

I'm not so sure about the low costs and minimal cash outlay. I think there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that is left out. For example, this is the top comment on a video tour of the wofati on Paul Wheaton's land.
I helped build both the wofati and the rocket mass heater when I was a gapper at wheaton labs. Very surprised to see this in the video list as I was researching tiny houses (Seeing the front I thought 'well that looks familiar!'). I also helped bury wofati 0.7 in the excavator seat for a month or so. So I think I can grant some insights into this structure.

It may be true that there are only 200 dollars worth of materials in the wofati itself (excluding the rocket mass heater (which I'm pretty sure has some brand new components) and possibly any plumbing or electrical that went in after). All the lumber was sourced from Paul's 200 acres, the waterproof layer is made from free used billboards, and the poles are secured with crushed rock from on-site. The only components that had to be purchased then for the frame were several hundred feet of rebar, used to make timber nails. (Then again, to what extent can you call the lumber free if Paul had to buy the land it came from?)

The material costs however do not take into account many many other costs associated with this structure. A huge collection of tools were required, including chainsaws, a sawmill, bark spuds, logging arch, drills, hammers, straps, shovels, carpentry tools, etc. Not to mention the 14-ton excavator, the 500+ horsepower dump truck, the electric Polaris utv and the solar charging station. Neither is considered the cost of fuel which I imagine is in the range of hundreds of gallons (that excavator has a 300-gallon tank as I recall and sucks up fuel like you wouldn't believe). And of course there are the 'hidden' costs of maintaining and repairing all that stuff.

Another factor not considered in the $200 figure is the human labor. I'm talking hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of man-hours. You almost wouldn't believe the amount of work that went into this thing. I estimate that 400 logs went into this structure, and every single one had to be felled, limbed, stripped, transported, and meticulously shaped and installed. Simply prepping the roundwood took several months. I personally stripped at least 100 trees over the course of 5 or 6 weeks, some pretty hard (and often tedious) labor. The majority of the actual construction happened during a four-week workshop where 8-10 of us worked ~35-hour weeks in the heat of July. After the workshop Paul's brother Tim spent an uncounted amount of time trying to finish it. And of course all those people have to be fed.

On to your questions...

Site access is not a problem. it's off a state maintained road, not far from town and would be accessible by all types of machinery. A container could be dropped off no problem.

As of now I am building with cash but do have means of credit I could pursue if it ended up something higher cost that'd be worthwhile. I'd like to do most of the work myself. I have a number of friends who have said they will help. I would be willing to contract specific parts out if I thought they were too complex or would take too much time. One of my friends runs his own business building/selling log cabins. He offered to build me a cabin in the size I mentioned for around $30k but I'm not sure about that. He lives right down the street from this property and has offered to let me borrow any tool I want as long as I'm not using it. He has a skid steer, a sawmill and some heavy machinery as well.

Some of the land is already cleared. There is essentially a spot for a driveway and most of a spot where a home would be placed. I'm content with the location of the clearing and think I'd build in that spot but would be open to clearing more. Building is somewhat restricted as some of the outer portions of the property are more low lying and likely have permafrost. As of now I have an agreement for a gravel driveway and building pad to be put in come summer. The pad as of now would be 35 or 40 ft sq.

It gets a lot of direct sunlight. I don't know an exact number but using my current home as a comparison (new property gets more), I'd estimate around 16 hours out of the 20 at the height of summer. Possibly a little more.

I don't know much about soils other than some spots likely having permafrost and others not/it is very deep.

Water- I'm thinking of having a small tank in the loft and having a gravity fed system. I considered having a tank put in underground but it's more expensive than I'd like and would necessitate the use of heat tape which uses a ton of electricity. If I were to follow your idea of having heating in a separate shed, then I could place water there as well. But that idea doesn't interest me too much at the moment.

I don't know the answer to premix concrete and quarry.

basuragomi
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by basuragomi »

On an unimproved lot with public services (roads, sewage, water, grid power, telecommunications) available. Biking or walking distance to groceries and public transit. Low seismic and hurricane risk and on the cold end of temperate.

This design is meant to be buildable by a single person, without an excavator or heavy machinery (renting a small skid-steer loader for a few days would help lots though). It is heavily insulated, meant to require minimal maintenance and relies on public services to function. A lot of the design is driven by the use of helical piles, which are minimally disturbing and can be installed by hand but have several major drawbacks compared to conventional slab basements.

Foundation: Stripped topsoil. Helical piles driven below the frost line with sleeves and void spacers to prevent frost jacking. Services maybe enter through a central mini-basement - a prefabricated concrete sewage pipe driven vertically below the frost line. Deep wooden joists strapped to the piles form the base for the floor and framing. Fibreglass batts or blown cellulose insulation between joists, and rigid foam panels below. Taped and sealed seams on foam and weatherproofing, and rodent-excluding mesh on the outside. Skirting driven into the ground to exclude animals from the crawlspace and provide an additional thermal barrier.

Floor: Radiant electric heating over insulated subfloor, segmented so that individual rooms can be heated to different temperatures. Tile floor in wet rooms (kitchen/bathroom/entrance) and hardwood floor elsewhere.

Walls: Conventional wood framing, with insulation between studs and on outer face. Sealed seams and weatherproofing as well. Penetrations for insulated windows, doors and utility room vents. Metal sheathing. Drywall on the interior.

Layout: Bungalow with bedroom, kitchen, living room, utility room and bathroom with shower. Kitchen and bathroom adjacent to the utility room to minimize piping lengths and allow large vents. Living room faces south. Closets and food storage close to the exterior walls. RGB LED lighting in drop ceiling with diffuser panels for diffuse light keyable to sunrise/sunset colour temperatures.

Roof: Hipped stick roof, or prefabricated truss gable roof. Large overhang, insulation and metal sheathing. Blown insulation in attic. No penetrations.

Access: Wooden stairs and ramp. Garden/grass driveway with paver walkway.

Utilities: Grid electricity, water, sewage, fibre optics. Clothes washer, dryer, fridge, oven/stove, split ductless air conditioner, microwave and HEPA filter. No gas, oil or wood-fired devices.

Outbuildings: Uninsulated but powered workshed/pole barn anchored with helical piles. Bonus points for using the outbuilding piles to help erect the frames and roof on the house. Maybe a greenhouse and root cellar.

Riggerjack
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by Riggerjack »

Well, I disappeared down an odd rabbit hole today, looking at septic design in the Arctic. Really puts the yuck in Yukon. Manure lagoons work, but I would want a really, really big backyard...

Fairbanks is on the periphery of effective onsite sewage. Again, there are ways to do it better, but it's clear the out of the box thinking here has gone in industrial directions. Dumping effluent into thaw bulbs is just foul.

Not as foul as urban sewage "treatment", but still, foul.

It seems that you are on the border of permafrost. There are septic systems in Fairbanks. I know this, because there are septic installation and service companies. But they also recommend yearly pumping, because they don't work well.

All of this is because you are on the edge of permafrost. And I found it really odd that nobody seems to be doing anything about it.

So let me describe how I would deal with it.

5/8 inch grounding rods. Available from your local electrical supply house or home Depot. Get an old rotohammer off of Craigslist. Get a ground rod driving bit off of eBay or Amazon.

Mark out the ground you want to alter, and in late spring, dig out the thawed layer of soil. Come back in a week, and vertically drive the rod. It won't penetrate far until you hit ice. That's fine, you just want it to stick. Repeat as often and as far as you want. The more densely you drive them, the more the ground temperature will change. Every week, come back, drive it more.

What you have, is a 10' conductor, moving heat into your permafrost. Get it as deep as you can. Ideally, the top of your grounding rod will be at the top of your typical permafrost layer by the time you are done. Now measure how far you are from the surface. Cut a section of PVC pipe, one inch, or inch and a half. You want to check the fit for grounding rod couplers. Then bury the PVC pipe until it sticks out vertically from grade. Not very far.

At this point you have a bunch of PVC pipes sticking out of a field. At the bottom of each PVC pipe is a grounding rod, with a coupler on top. Soil level should be slightly below the coupler inside the pipe, and near the top of the PVC pipes, outside of the pipe. Now your conductor is in place.

If you want an ice cellar; in the winter, go place a second ground rod down the pipe, into the coupler. All winter long, as cold as winter gets, will get down deep. You have built a radiator to get rid of any ground heat. Pull the rods in spring, cap the pipe, enjoy your free freezer.

If you want to thaw, do the same thing, but install the second rod in the spring, remove in the fall. You have added heat. How much heat you add is a matter of how many rods you use. Temperature change is dependent on rod density. The edges of the field will be closer to natural ground temperature.

Paying for cold in Fairbanks seems silly. Having a sub optimal septic system seems gross and downright unhealthy. Depending on pump trucks is just poor design. The environment is different than the lower 48, design should be, too.

I know you were planning on an outhouse, but a septic system isn't very expensive, (it's just pipe and gravel, after all) if you install it yourself. And indoor plumbing is worth the effort. I think halfmoon will back me up on this.

Alphaville
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by Alphaville »

Fairbanks! Ok...

Not sure if this is true, but you could check it out:

https://greywateraction.org/faq/can-i-u ... g-climate/

I have limited experience with composting toilets, and it wasn’t great, but here’s someone who claims superior results:

https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/ar ... your-house

theanimal
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by theanimal »

@RJ- This seems brilliant. What purpose do you see for the rods? I get the freezer aspect but are you saying this as a means to thaw permafrost? That would seem practical if I were to institute a septic system. I see that is feasible but I still have the water issue.

@Alphaville- Interesting, thanks. I had written off composting as I'd read previously of places around here and further north of trying composting and just ending up with frozen blocks come mid winter. Yet after reading your post I did some googling/reading and apparently there are people who do it successfully. It seems mostly on a large scale though so I think if I were to do this I'd just want to ensure I have a large enough mass to keep the heat up come winter. I have friends in southern AK on the coast who used a composting toilet (a bucket with wood shavings) in their house for a while. It was just off their kitchen and they had no issues with smell or anything else.

theanimal
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by theanimal »

Good points. I had read about insulating with foam panels and that seems like a good way to do it during winter. Unfortunately the sun doesn't really help for the coldest periods of the year because 1. Its only up for 3.5-5 hrs/day 2. During that time (roughly 2 months) it isn't putting out any heat at my latitude

Riggerjack
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by Riggerjack »

I get the freezer aspect but are you saying this as a means to thaw permafrost?
Yes. To warm the ground, for whatever reason. Digging out permafrost must suck. Warm the ground you plan to plant a garden in, or what have you. Cool the ground around your ice cellar.

I was thinking septic, but without running water, that would be of limited value.

How deep does the permafrost go where you are? I know it can go half a kilometer up on the north slope, but I don't remember it being much of an issue in Fairbanks, but I wasn't digging, either.

While I was looking at Fairbanks on Google maps, I found my old apt on 7th and Chase. It has not changed much in over 30 years. The town has grown some, not so much separation from North Pole.

You have a few redi mix concrete suppliers in town, that is all to the good. Several quarries and a few close by mining operations. Sourcing gravel should be cheap. My gravel comes from the mainland, and trucking is far more expensive than the gravel.

My memories of Fairbanks were that some things were just hard to get, like used cars and fresh fruit. But I was 16, and used cars and food were on my mind... I'm thinking most supplies will be available, and with less of a price difference than I remember.

I'm going to kick this around a bit, and see if I can come up with an idea for a place you like and can use. Fairbanks is a challenge I haven't considered.

Alphaville
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by Alphaville »

Ssssssso... I started searching and brainstorming the problem a bit and ended up in a nice mental excursion. I’d like to retrace the steps so please follow me here a bit— I think there’s potentially a nice conclusion to it.

First I started looking at composting in freezing temps and I found Bigato’s suggestion in reverse—some gardeners in Alaska use composting to heat up greenhouses. See: https://alaskamastergardener.community. ... y/compost/

Furthermore, people are composting in Fairbanks year-round. This means not only available documentation (downloadable pdf here: http://cespubs.uaf.edu/index.php/download_file/1378/ ) but also, potentially, human technical expertise you could consult in person. (They say “no” to human manure but... it depends on what you want to do with your compost I guess.)

Anyway, this might not be applicable to you for sanitation purposes, as generally a large mass is required to compost, etc. But I thought I’d mention it for your future use.

Then pondering how to keep feces from freezing I thought you might build a bathroom on/around a rocket stove. The mass heater would keep things nice and toasty, the riser could heat water for a Japanese style soaking tub.

Then I remembered Peter Greenaway’s “26 bathrooms”: https://vimeo.com/66720845 - a great inspiration for a most important room, especially when cooped up in miserable weather. [see warning at the end of this post]

Then on the permies forum I found this hilarious but very useful discussion about the struggles of composting toilets :

https://permies.com/t/67745/composting-toilets

It mentions things like “the shit flies” (lol), performing maintenance in old age, taking out buckets in wintertime... seems like it works for some people, but it’s clearly not fool-proof, as you can see from the complaints.

Please note also in that same thread the mention of micro-flush toilets, with a link to this paper about them: https://www.witpress.com/Secure/elibrar ... 010FU1.pdf

And then, finally, a website that’s a couple of decades old but looks VERY PROMISING. Composting toilet based on worms plus some optimizing mechanisms: http://www.alaska.net/~rcrosby/compost.htm

Note that a multiplicity of toilet options for this system includes the “indoor outhouse” setup as well as low volume toilets etc.

I think you should be able to figure out something from all these elements. Don’t skip the Greenaway movie-- it’s great for aesthetic enjoyment, but it also makes you think about the bathroom as an important and useful room one can fully inhabit--not just a place to hide one’s shame, lol. So maybe some elements could be part of your main room, especially if you live alone in a one-room cabin and don't want to build additions.

ETA: I should warn everyone that, due to some natural nudity in the film, watching it around mentally deranged people (e.g. "at work") should probably be avoided.

ZAFCorrection
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by ZAFCorrection »

@theanimal

Re: thermoelectrics

An interesting point is the performance factor that researchers cite when describing a material's thermoelectric potential, ZT, basically assumes a stupid-high temperature differential. The cutoff for materials that are worth considering for potential future commercial application is usually taken to be ZT >= 1, which is stated without explanation as corresponding to an efficiency of approximately 10%. The efficiency equation, which is a function of ZT, T_h, and T_c and basically just the carnot efficiency at the ZT = infinity limit, shows the need for a temperature differential of like 220 C assuming T_c = 295 K, ZT = 1, and 10% efficiency.

220 C using a high-quality device just to get 10%. I don't know why anyone funds this research. Thermoelectrics are a total waste of time.

Alphaville
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by Alphaville »

this picture approximates the design idea i’m trying to convey

http://cdn.decoist.com/wp-content/uploa ... or-pad.jpg


alternatively could do away with the tub. notice the simple stall in the back corner. you could hang a shower bag from the wall (filled manually), have sink too. the toilet could be the “indoor outhouse” type.

with such a setup, your only “plumbing” would be a shower drain pipe pipe through the wall towards your greywater pool (maybe compost-heated in winter to keep from freezing?). (the sink could drain into the shower drain.)
Last edited by Alphaville on Sat Feb 01, 2020 4:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

SavingWithBabies
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by SavingWithBabies »

I'm somewhat obsessed with insulated concrete forms (ICF) and the efficiency and quiet that building approach can bring. There are some downsides though like increased cost (partly due to the ICF+concrete itself and partly due to making the rest of the house as efficient too -- high-efficiency windows, insulation under slab, etc). Building in ICF also requires the site be accessible by cement trucks and a pump truck. So for your Alaska site, maybe not an option?

My dream would be ICF-based house at least up to the top of the walls from the basement. Probably metal roof although you can do ICF (just gets complicated). Single story with basement ranch. Lots of light. Aligned for optimal sun exposure in winter to reduce heating costs. Living room and kitchen combined open space. Separate space for reading/television/?. Attached garage with some workshop area. Way to vent cooking smells however I've read this is a huge efficiency loss in high-efficiency homes so I'd lean towards something like a way to easily cook outside of the house/shell so one could cook smelly things without being directly outside in the winter. Still debating on heat -- ICF houses can be so efficient that under floor heating is too strong (have to verify true). In any case, the heating demands are low so it opens up options that would not be as practical in more demanding situations.

theanimal
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by theanimal »

This site is such a treasure. The amount of research/help others offer is something I've found nowhere else and this thread is emblematic of that. Thank you all!

@RJ- Not much has changed. Prices are still high for both and quality is still low. I don't think it goes much more than 60 feet in the coldest spots and I'd imagine it's far less on the property.

@Alphaville- The link to that picture is broken. I'll have to take a look at those links when I have some time but the idea of combining compost with a greenhouse is interesting. There's tons of sun here in March but it's too still way too cold to actually grow anything. Having some sort of compost heap offsetting night time temperatures could be huge in terms of lengthening the growing season.

Alphaville
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Re: How would you design your house?

Post by Alphaville »

Pic was working, I don't know why it broke. Appears in my duckduckgo search ("bath tub in bedroom") but won't open anymore.

Anyway after I dug a little here is the page that features the image:

http://www.decoist.com/bachelor-pad-bed ... helor-pad/

Let me know if it works, if it doesn't I might screencap it.

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