Tough Choices in Green Building
As we break ground this month on our new at home at 12 White Hawk Ln, I can’t help but reflect on the beginning of our process and how far we’ve come already. Designing my own house is not something I expected to do in my lifetime, but since we first visited White Hawk and learned that only lots were available, my partner and I have been dreaming and learning about the process. Like most people I’m sure, our dreams were bigger than our budgets – we are a one-income family, my partner is in school and we have a toddler that seems to eat money.
We looked into solar panels, geothermal heat pumps, and other green technology to power our house with sustainable energy – all exciting options that we knew might not be within our budget, at least right now. But there were some surprises too – some that we thought would be ‘money saving’, environmentally friendly options that turned out have hidden costs.
A beautiful hand-sculpted eco-home
that I found on the internet
“Build Your Own Beautiful Strawbale House for Under $100 in Less 48 Hours!” – yeah, we clicked on that link, and a hundred others just like it. We ogled over hand-sculpted, earthen-finished walls and floors. We took books out of the library on green building and eco-homes. What could be expensive about locally grown straw bales and cob from the clay-filled soil at White Hawk? Especially when compared with factory-made dry wall and chemical-filled paint shipped from across the world? Well, in the real world, far away from the beautiful photos and clever headlines of the internet, there are trade-offs that we learned about. What you save in materials, you spend (two-fold? ten-fold?) in labor hours for all the careful, one-handful-at-a-time work of building with cob. And, in response to a building permit application, the local zoning official might just ask, “a house made of straw?!”
That’s not to say that these material and techniques are not possible – they are! And they are incredible! But on our budget and our timeline, they weren’t feasible. White Hawk would have supported us every step of the way and maybe the cost savings would have worked out and maybe the zoning official would have come around, but we personally couldn’t risk all that.
One of Barn Livin’s barn-style homes
We found compromises, but thats not to say that we ‘settled’ in any way. We are building our real world dream home, instead of our fantasy land dream home. We found Sue Oliver, of Barn Livin’ LLC, who builds beautiful, affordable, energy efficient, rustic barn-style homes. Here are some of the features we are excited about in our new home:
- Lots of exposed beams of locally grown, rough-hewn hemlock;
- Super efficient in-floor radiant heating in a concrete floor;
- Passive solar design: lots of windows on the south-facing wall to maximize solar gain, combined with the concrete floor to capture that heat;
- Spray-in closed-cell spray foam insulation, which has a very high R-value;
- Wood stove to allow for a renewably-sourced heating option;
- High efficiency, low heat-loss windows and doors;
- 2nd floor balcony with a view of the center circle and the valley below White Hawk
First floor plans of our home
We could not be more excited to see our house come together – we already know it will be beautiful and functional in all the ways that are important to us. I didn’t write this post to ‘complain’ about what we couldn’t do, but more so to talk about the difficult choices that we face when trying to balance short term wants with long term needs, our desire to limit our environmental impact now while reducing our energy use over time, and, of course, our very immediate need to somehow afford it all.
If you have any questions or thoughts about our home design or the decisions we made, feel free to reach out to us on Facebook, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or stop by #12 White Hawk Ln. If you give us a few months to build it, we’ll be glad to host you in our brand new living room :).
– Mark Pruce, Future homeowner of #12 White Hawk Ln
Have you already built your own green dream home? Have you tackled the local zoning laws in your town to build with straw bales or cob? Did you find ways to save money when building green?
Let us know on our Facebook page, we’d love to hear about it.