I am back doing my favorite thing – designing a house, this time for my partner and me. I swore I’d never build again after building one house new and extensively remodeling another. I guess the trauma has worn off, and I’m ready to tackle another project!
It’s so much fun to design for myself again! The final product will be the result of our needs and wants. We have talked about this extensively, and I am clear on how to satisfy our needs.
Our own green built custom home – thinking about what we need
We want a compact one-story house, easy to heat and maintain. We want it to be as inexpensive as possible. This means few angles, which get costly to build. The house will be a rectangle with a simple roof and a concrete slab floor. All our kids are grown, so we only need one bedroom.
We each need a small office. We don’t need a huge living room, since we are either outside, at the kitchen table or at our desks. Neither of us has ever spent much time in the living room.
Green built custom home: light exposure, solar energy, and passive heating
We want the kitchen and bedroom to get morning sun, so they need to be on the east side with big windows. We want a covered porch on the east side off the kitchen to watch sunrises and one on the west side for sunsets. We want a window in the bathroom, so it needs to be against a wall. We want it next to the kitchen to save on the plumbing installation costs. In the future, there will be another building on the north side that we will access through a hallway/entryway, so we need to plan a doorway.
We want passive solar heat, so the house needs to face due south, which is the orientation available. We want solar hot water, so we need space for a mechanical room. In the future, we would like solar PV, so we need to site the house to make room for it on the ground, or design a roof that will accommodate it.
Fixed objects to work around
There are existing features we need to work with:
- The driveway is on the west side, so we need a west entrance.
- Since there is a temporary mobile home to the north of the building site, we need to work around the well, septic and plumbing stub-out that are already in place.
- There are tall deciduous trees to the west.
Site planning our custom green built home
- Fence around the house for privacy, since this is on a vegetable farm with employees five days a week.
- Native plantings within that fenced area, as well as strawberry, raspberry and herb beds.
- Southside patio.
- Room for a clothesline.
Planning roof of our green built home
The only thing we are undecided about is the roof style. The choices are flat, pitched or pitched with a clerestory. I have drawn each one out, and all are doable. It’s just a matter of more drawing and taking the solar into consideration. We will talk to a solar installer before we make a final decision.
This is the first step in designing a home, or even a remodel – asking lots of questions, examining your daily life, thinking about the future and being realistic about a budget. Clients aren’t always aware of their daily patterns, but once I ask them a bunch of questions through several conversations, I have a pretty good idea of what they need.
Financing your own green built home
Financing is critical. Get approved through a bank or mortgage broker to find out what you can afford. That information coupled with your needs will get you a house that is livable and affordable.
If you are looking for land to build on, the design process will be a little different. You want to think about your needs in a home, then find suitable land. If you want a passive solar house, you don’t want land that is down a northern slope. No matter how beautiful that land is, if it does not suit your needs, it’s not so pretty.
How to match your green built home with the surrounding area
A house should mimic the surrounding area. If you want a two-story house, you do not want a flat piece of land. Two-story houses belong in the trees or in neighborhoods of other two-story homes. One-story homes fit in best where the vegetation is low-lying. It’s a complete picture – house, site, personal needs.
Our custom green built home in process
Once Daniel and I decided on what we needed, the sketchpad came out. Probably thirty drawings later, I opened AutoCAD and got serious. So far, I have drawn six plans in CAD. We have a really good idea of what the house will look like, because we carefully examined our needs.
Now it’s time for details. From here on in, we need to remain flexible and be prepared for stress.