Positioning your home the right way

One big advantage of building a custom eco-friendly home on a lot that hasn’t been built on is that you can control nearly every detail and plan your home to come out just the way you like it.

When it comes to energy efficiency, the devil’s in the details. One item that many people over look is the positioning of their home on the land that they plan to build on. If you have a few acres, like we do, you’ve got some wiggle room as to what direction you’d like your home to be facing.

Since the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, we’ll be placing our home relative to the position of the sun on our land so that when the sun rises, we can capture and store as much of the sun’s energy as possible.

Right now, I’m not really sure what the particulars are for this part of our project. To accomplish this, we’ll be needing the expertise of a solar expert as well as our architects - we’ll explain what decisions we ultimately made in an upcoming episode.

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Getting the best deal possible for your project

When I first began considering building an eco-friendly home, one of the first things I did was do some research on the cost of adding energy-saving features into our new home. The bottom line is important for any homebuilding project, because many times your budget dictates what type of features you will be able to add. I plan on putting photovoltaic solar panels on the roof to help us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. A four-pack of 265-watt polycrystalline PV solar panels costs $1,399 at Home Depot – that's a cost that not every homebuilder includes in their budget, but there are some important things to know before you make a final decision about what eco-friendly features to include.


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Q&A: What "shade of green" works for you?

When all is said and done and our new eco-friendly home is finished, I want anyone who visits our home to feel physically comfortable - not too hot, not too cold, but just right so that they’re not fixated on adjusting the temperature or scratching at their skin because the air is too dry.

The decisions we make about which comfort systems to install and the way we construct the skeleton of our home will ultimately have a big impact on our overall comfort level. My goal in this project is to balance being comfortable with sustainability by using comfort systems and construction methods that maximize our home’s use of its natural surroundings, and that minimize our use of fossil fuels or other non-renewable energy.

One item that’s really important to me in this project is balancing the eco-friendly aspects our new home with a good quality of indoor comfort, but not sacrificing either. What would you do if you were in my shoes? Let us know!

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Don't be afraid to ask questions

In a way, each part of the homebuilding process is like a self-contained module, each with its own unique set of opportunities, challenges, and things to learn about.

If you’re building an eco-friendly home for the first time, learning the language of homebuilding can seem like a daunting task. Most of the time, however, the licensed professionals you work with are aware of this and should help you if there’s a term you don’t understand or if you need clarification on something. If they don’t or they deliberately try to confuse you, that’s something to look out for.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions - the more knowledge you have during the various stages of your project, the more likely it is that your homebuilding project will be a success.

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The planning stage of our homebuilding process

I finally had time to take a break from the undertakings of planning out the particulars of our new eco-friendly home, and think about our progress and some things to keep in mind going forward. So far, we’ve selected a 2.2 acre lot in Eastern Connecticut where we plan to build, and we’ve consulted with an architect firm, Point One Architects, who are beginning to draft blueprints and 3D models.

The planning stage of our homebuilding process is a series of conversations more than anything else. I’ve spoken with the architects about nearly everything — the features of our land, what the home will look like, and the potential for its inner workings. My meetings with the professionals who are helping us build our home are something I enjoy the most — each time I’ve built a home, there are takeaways on both sides that stretch beyond walking through a brand new front door.

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On knowing what you want

Even if you don't have much building experience, it's a good thing to have a good idea of what you would like to get out of a home building project. The goal might seem obvious (to build a home), but building a quality home according to your wants and tastes will require you to have an idea of what you want to include in your new home, what you want it to look like, and have a rudimentary knowledge of the building materials you want to use. If you do your research beforehand, you can walk into the home building process well equipped to deal with things that may come up during the project.

The more knowledge you have, the more you will be able to work closely with the professionals that will be building your new home. Setting expectations and doing research before you start will help ensure that the home you build is a quality structure built according to your wants and tastes.

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Q&A: What would you do?

When my wife Debbie and I met with Point One Architects for the first time to talk with them about our home building project, we already had an idea of some features that we want to include in this new home. This may be our retirement home, so we want our master bedroom to be on the first floor, with a nice view of the mature forest that will be the backdrop to our home.

We want to include energy efficient HVAC and electrical systems, a tight building envelope and photo-voltaic solar panels on the roof. I still need to work out what kind of insulation we’ll be using and a lot of other details about the home’s construction, so I’d like to put this Q&A out there and get some advice from you about what you think would be good features for our new home.

Please comment below and let us know! So far, your emails and comments have provided us with some useful information, and can be a learning experience for everyone.

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When my wife and I selected Point One Architects to help us plan out the details of our new eco-friendly home, we chose Rick Staub and Greg Echtman because we'd heard that they were good listeners. They've been mindful of our ideas and goals for this new home from the very beginning, and they've consulted with us every step of the way so that the plans come together just the way we want them to. If you're building a custom, eco-friendly home, it's really important to find someone who will work close with you to help you achieve your goals, and who you enjoy working with.

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Meet the Architect

Anyone who’s building a custom home knows that an architect is a cornerstone to any custom building project. Even if you’re designing a home yourself, an architect can provide invaluable advice and a second set of eyes and ears for your plans.

In our case, we’ve been consulting with an architectural firm from the very beginning. I’m pretty knowledgeable about some portions of the building process, but I’ve decided to trust an architect to plan out the logistics of what I’m trying to accomplish with this home. We’re trying to build something that’s as energy efficient as possible, without sacrificing comfort - we'll need the help of a network of knowledgeable experts, of which the architect one of the most important.

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Q&A: Homebuilding harmony

Now that you’ve gotten a chance to have a look at the 2.2 acre lot where my wife and I will be building our eco-friendly home, you may have noticed the fantastic features of the lot where we’ll be building. Our lot is situated in the middle of a large forest that has assumed old-growth characteristics - some of the trees on our land are over 50 years old!

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