The Start of our Dream Home

After over 34 years in the US Air Force and retiring early this year, we can now realize our long-held dream of building a house that fits our lifestyle.  We have lived in small houses in all types of climates including Massachusetts, Albuqurque, Northern California, Hampton Virginia, Minot North Dakota, Virginia Beach, Belgium, Washington DC, Mongomery Alabama, San Antonio (twice) and the United Kingdom.  We have lived in some very nice houses and some that we look back at and laugh at what we put up with.

  One of the advantages in living in so many climates and styles of houses was that we developed a list of things we liked and things we would avoid at all costs.  Our first house was built on a slab in Eastern Massachusetts with single pane doors and windows and walls that were probably R-2 at best.  As an example, the sliding door in the family room would develop several inches of ice that looked like Niagara Falls in ice every time the temperature dropped below about 20 deg F.  While living in Europe we developed a keen liking for the tilt and turn windows and the ductless mini-splits (there's something you learn from cleaning ducts each time you move into a new house and find various non-desript 'things' that are tainting the air you breath).  We also have acquired a number of pieces of European furniture that we simply couldn't part with so that helped set the style for the house as well as the size of many of the rooms.

This house was designed by Hobbs Architects, PA (LEED Certified) in Pittsboro North Carolina and our prime builder is Anchorage Building Corp (GREEN and Passive House specialists) of Chapel Hill.  We chose this team late last fall and started designing the house in November.   Over the course of the design we have migrated to a larger house than originally envisioned, due in large part to the contours of the land and cost and ease of construction to expand to a full basement.  One of our goals going into this house-build was to not sacrifice important parts of our lifestyle while attaining high-efficiency in the house. Our original timeline was to begin the design in the next 12-18 months and construct the house starting in 2013 but a change in our retirement plans accelerated that schedule to the current plans where we hope to finish construction by the end of this year.

   The picture you see at the top of this blog is as of 15 March.  We have made some adjustments to the plans since that time based on contours of the land, adjustments to the layout, and of course, budget.  The building lot is a completely wooded 6 acre lot with about 95% of that being deciduous trees which are ideal for passive solar heat gains in winter and shading in summer months.  Our goal is to minimize the amount of clearing we do on that land and to take full advantage of the natural contours of the land.  There is a slope of about 40 feet from the street to the building site 300 feet into the trees.  Placement was also driven by setbacks from an intermittent stream and a steeper hill that sets itself up well for a walk-out basement.  Our HOA covenants require no more than 2/3  acre clearing for the house and there must be an attached garage of no less than 600sf.  The house will have 4 bedrooms based on the septic permit and about 50% of the basement will be unfinished space while the other 50% will house a spare bedroom, a full bath, an office, a workout room, and the mechanical room.

Our intent in writing this blog is to share our experiences in building a PassivHaus in the US.  Currently there are very few of these certified houses in the US but there is building momentum.  At last count on the order of 15 houses were certified by PHIUS while in Germany there are hundreds if not thousands.  In North Carolina we know of  one certified house in North Carolina, a second is under construction, and several are on the drawing boards, including ours.  We hope that by sharing our experiences we will encourage more people to consider some of the methods we are using to build energy efficient homes and that will in the end reduce the costs to a level like that in Germany.  The overall benefit is reduced energy consumption (net-zero energy or better) which in turn reduces carbon footprints and costs of living in these houses.  One of the things we are discovering is American manufacturers are lagging behind in their energy efficient designs for everything from doors to windows to clothes washers and dryers.  We are encouraged to see Habitat for Humanity in several locations building to Passive House standards which would be a great proving ground for US manufacturer's to donate goods and demonstrate their commitment to high-efficiency lifestyles in America.