Helpful? 0

cold-weather house plans from The National Affordable Housing Network

I found that The National Affordable Housing Network sells inexpensive plans for four different cold-weather, well-insulated houses. They are designed for use by Habitat for Humanity, so they might appeal to owner-builders who have more time and fewer skills.

http://www.nahn.com/hplan.htm

We offer two-bedroom, three-bedroom and four-bedroom houseplans for low-cost housing in cold climates. These plans represent housing performance at its best. Our highly detailed plans include the following resource efficiency features:

* R-40 double wall or structural insulated panel construction for increased insulation levels
* high performance windows and doors
* sealed combustion water and space heating appliances
* balanced, controlled heat recovery ventilation for the whole house to ensure high indoor air quality

Our houseplans are based on detailed field research results from the award- winning Montana Superinsulation Project and on the experience of a critically acclaimed and highly successful series
of house plans for low-cost, high performance homes.

These earlier plans were acclaimed by Ned Nisson who wrote in The Superinsulated Home Book, "Their houseplans are considered the best available."

All of our detailed plans are designed with Habitat for Humanity affiliate partner families and homeowners in mind.

Asked by John Hess
Posted Sat, 01/01/2011 - 18:48

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23 Answers

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1.
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Ned Nisson who wrote in The Superinsulated Home Book, "Their houseplans are considered the best available."

Be aware that Ned wrote that book in 1985, and the houseplans seem to be of that vintage. They are designed for all electric heat and hot water with "electric fireplaces".

Answered by Riversong
Posted Sat, 01/01/2011 - 18:55

2.
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Robert, do you have any other ideas how these plans might be inferior to current superinsulated house practices? Do you think that they could be easily upgraded? Are you aware of more current plans aimed at simple housing built by less-skilled builders, other than the BrightBuilt plans?
http://www.brightbuiltbarn.com/our-brightbuilt/gallery/

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
[I am adding these comments much later, to correct some of Riversong's implications]

Robert Riversong quoted my NAHA quote saying:

Ned Nisson who wrote in The Superinsulated Home Book, "Their houseplans are considered the best available."

Then Robert said:

Be aware that Ned wrote that book in 1985, and the houseplans seem to be of that vintage.

Robert did not quote the whole sentence, which actually read:

Our houseplans are based on detailed field research results from the award- winning Montana Superinsulation Project and on the experience of a critically acclaimed and highly successful series of house plans for low-cost, high performance homes. These earlier plans were acclaimed by Ned Nisson who wrote in The Superinsulated Home Book, "Their houseplans are considered the best available."

Ned Nisson was actually praising "earlier plans" that had been developed from the "Montana Superinsulation Project". The current plans offered by The National Affordable Housing Network are, in turn, developed from these "earlier plans"

Then Robert said:

They are designed for all electric heat and hot water with "electric fireplaces".

However, in my initial quote from the NAHN website they state that their houses are designed for:

* sealed combustion water and space heating appliances

And elsewhere on their website pertaining to Plan 901:

What if I want a fireplace?
Only SEALED COMBUSTION GAS fireplaces are appropriate for these homes. If you want to replace the home's heater with a sealed combustion gas fireplace, choose a model that is designed as a space heater, not a decorative appliance. This option adds both ambiance and additional costs.

And pertaining to Plan 1092:

Our plans show all-electric heating systems consisting of electric radiant cove heaters and an electric fireplace. Overall, the house performs as a system. If any system changes are made, care must be taken to ensure compatible choices are selected. Using gas, oil or propane for space and water heating is possible, but only sealed combustion heating units must be used with this type of construction. We do not recommend using wood stoves or wood-burning fireplaces to heat these homes.

I believe the foregoing presents a more complete picture of the NAHN house plans.

Answered by John Hess
Posted Sat, 01/01/2011 - 19:06
Edited Tue, 03/08/2011 - 13:31.

3.
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There's not enough information on the website to evaluate the plans and I don't think any pre-packaged plans make much sense, besides the fact that almost none of them are really green.

While an architect is unnecessary for most residential projects, a livable house should be designed to meet both the dictates of the particular building site and the legitimate shelter needs and budget of the occupants.

Even back in the days of hand-hewn log cabins, not everyone had the skills to build one. Today's houses are so complex, and our building codes so demanding, that very few professional builders have sufficient knowledge to build one properly.

There are all kinds of building systems that might make erection easier, such as SIPS, panelized, modular, straw bale, cob or earthship. Some are markedly less green than others (including any that rely on foam insulation).

But I think the most sensible way for an owner-builder to approach such a project is with a personalized design and building system and an experienced lead carpenter or advisor/consultant (depending on experience and skill of the owner/builder).

Half of my building career has been in the non-profit sector, creating truly affordable and efficient homes, and I've supervised hundreds of volunteers as well as owner/builders. But I've yet to see a green building system that can be properly assembled by unskilled or low-skilled people without constant supervision and guidance.

Answered by Riversong
Posted Sat, 01/01/2011 - 19:53

4.
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I agree with you that having an experienced lead carpenter or an adviser/consultant would be most beneficial for most owner-builders. What I don't understand is why complete blueprints for generic conventional structures can be purchased by the thousands, yet you apparently feel that a range of comparable blueprints can't be produced for a superinsulated "green" house? I can understand that not every house design, conventional or green, can be built on every conceivable lot, but I don't understand what the problem is of producing a handful of generic green house designs, which provide a range of sizes, shapes, and options? A potential owner could sort through these plans to help them better understand what their options and limitations were, just as they might with a group of plans of conventional house designs.

Answered by John Hess
Posted Sat, 01/01/2011 - 22:21

5.
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I don't think that any generic houseplans are useful, and truly green house designs need to consider the construction system right from the start of the design process to make sure that it's buildable and that all elements are properly integrated.

In my experience helping people design their homes, it's always problematic when they come with preconceived ideas from looking at generic plans or other people's houses, particularly if they want a very green, super-efficient home on a very small budget (which is the clientele I work with).

The ideal design process starts with the limitations and assets of the building site (I never do a design without first having a site), then explores the lifestyle space needs of the client, their relative priorities and how they relate to each other and to the site features. From that set of abstract spacial relationships, a floor plan emerges - within the inherent limitations and requirements of the structural and energy systems (e.g. center bearing walls, open floor plan with southern exposure, thermal mass floor), and from the floor plan and structural system a building aesthetic is generated and transformed into elevations and - lastly - finish details.

This is an excellent way to manifest a design that fits the site and the occupants' essential shelter needs without the limitations of preconceptions or the baggage of excess amenities which then have to be shaved off to fit the budget.

Answered by Riversong
Posted Sat, 01/01/2011 - 22:38

6.
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You can learn a lot from the free plans at http://freegreen.com/
It was only $10/yr for access to several more of their newer plans.

I have to say Robert is correct in that you can't easily take stock plans and just build for your site and jurisdiction. Some design work is required.

Greg Laverdera also has a good approach at Lamidesign.com

Answered by Kevin Dickson
Posted Sun, 01/02/2011 - 10:55

7.
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I think that this site provides a more broad spectrum of green building information than any set of generic green build plans. It's free to those interested in study.
The Key- "manifest a design that fits the site and the occupants".
The first, and most important step to a build should never be slighted. It would seem that with pre-made plans the first step is making changes. ? You start by placing yourself "in the box" with mass produced planning. They sell though.

Answered by ROY HARMON
Posted Sun, 01/02/2011 - 11:46

8.
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Build to the site and take advantage of the Sun! A well designed home will have a low surface to volume ratio, square is good.

Answered by Doug McEvers
Posted Sun, 01/02/2011 - 13:09

9.
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rectangular with long sides facing North & South is usually better than square

Answered by John Brooks
Posted Sun, 01/02/2011 - 13:17

10.
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John Brooks, Prove it!

Answered by Doug McEvers
Posted Sun, 01/02/2011 - 19:54

11.
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Doug,

You gotta be kidding! An elongated south facade has always been a primary principle for efficient passive solar building. The opportunity for more south glazing far outweighs the very slight increase in surface area to volume ratio. Unlike any other part of the building envelope, south glazing is a net energy source rather than sink.

A 2-storey square-based house has only 2% less total surface area and 3% less wall surface area than a Phi-ratio rectangular house (1.6:1 aspect ratio), but 27% less south face for solar gain.

Answered by Riversong
Posted Sun, 01/02/2011 - 20:10
Edited Sun, 01/02/2011 - 20:26.

12.
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Robert,
I disagree with your statement, "I don't think that any generic houseplans are useful."

When I was a builder, I offered design/build services, and often designed the houses I built. I have also built architect-designed houses.

But neither of these options are available for the vast majority of my neighbors. If someone wants to build a new house in this part of Vermont, they call up a modular company who delivers the house on two trucks and joins the two sections together. That's a reality.

I think stock house plans could be very useful, especially if these plans included above-code insulation and good air sealing details.

Answered by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor
Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 05:43

13.
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Robert,

Are you saying the entire south facade should be glass? I stand by my statement, a square building is the most efficient, the least surface to volume ratio.

Answered by Doug McEvers
Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 11:48

14.
Helpful? 0

I think
The shape and size of a building should be dictated by the flow, the functions and orientation.
If the shape turns out to be square and the windows are well oriented.... then Fine.
I don't think we should "round-up" until the building is a Cube.

Answered by John Brooks
Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 13:14

15.
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Are you saying the entire south facade should be glass?

Of course I didn't say that. I've always argued for the appropriate ratio of glass to floor area and glass to mass, and have argued vociferously against excess glazing.

But more south facade offers more available wall surface for distributed glazing without having to resort to a glass facade with little to no structure or wall space. And, for that reason, every text on passive solar design specifies a shape with an elongated south facade.

I stand by my statement, a square building is the most efficient, the least surface to volume ratio

You were the one who demanded proof, so where is yours. I offered mathematical proof that you are flat wrong. There is very little difference (2%-3%) in the surface area to volume of a square house and a rectangular house. But the rectangular house is not only more aesthetically pleasing to most people, it also offers better functional space as well as much better passive solar gain.

If you were only concerned with surface to volume ratio, then you should be advocating geodesic domes.

Answered by Riversong
Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 13:32

16.
Helpful? 0

Robert, I am surprised you are arguing this point, surely you can't be serious? 2 buildings with the same square footage, one square, the other a rectangle, the square building has the least wall surface, the rectangular building has more wall surface. Which building will use less energy?

As for the geodesic dome, I was thinking about that today, they were an oil shock phenomenon with a lot of wasted space and odd corners. No new domes in my part of the world, The two Passive Houses I toured in 2007 were very square, they did not follow the Geodesic dome principle.

Answered by Doug McEvers
Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 20:47

17.
Helpful? 0

Doug,
there is more to it than just surface area

If you are looking for a quote from a text book.....
Concepts in Thermal Comfort by M. David Egan

Concerning Building Shapes
"Note: that the optimum shape in all regions is elongated in the east-west direction."

Answered by John Brooks
Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 21:10
Edited Mon, 01/03/2011 - 21:11.

18.
Helpful? 0

I would suggest that optimum is site specific.

I design around outdoor living spaces and good cross ventilation and will often locate the trees on the site so the design can relate to the trees and the air flow channeled by the landscape. Not surprisingly none of our North Carolina homes are square, but they may be assemblies of squares spread across the landscape with different functions per the clients needs.

Rock musicians, for instance, need redundant soundproofing beyond what can be achieved in a single square. Writers, artists and people running home-based businesses and non-profits with employees and volunteers need detached studios. Not debating here, just adding a little context.

Answered by Michael Chandler, GBA Advisor
Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 21:30

19.
Helpful? 1

Michael,
your comment is similar to my #14
The OP is looking for Affordable Low Energy
The type of homes that you seem to favor have large surface area to floor area.
I have designed many homes with your style floor plan
they are organic plans and I understand the appeal
They are not what I would call affordable.

Answered by John Brooks
Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 21:40

20.
Helpful? 0

John
Ah yes Cold-Weather House plans. My bad.

I am stuck at the computer with a huge deadline and procrastinating by poking my head in on GBA every time I take a break.

Answered by Michael Chandler, GBA Advisor
Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 21:46

21.
Helpful? 0

I certainly agree that the plan must be site specific
Most of the homes that I design(large&small) in the city ... the shape is dictated by the buildable area.

Answered by John Brooks
Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 21:51

22.
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I guess it is kind of silly to even talk about the shape of a house without a site.

Answered by John Brooks
Posted Mon, 01/03/2011 - 21:56

23.
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Robert, I am surprised you are arguing this point, surely you can't be serious?

Doug,

And I can't believe you would persist in making an argument with no supporting data or proof of any kind.

I gave the numbers, twice. There is a 2%-3% difference in surface area to volume ratio, wall area to volume ratio, surface area to floor space ratio or wall area to floor space ratio. But there is a 27% increase in available south wall for solar glazing for a very significant reduction in net heating demand.

So where the hell is your argument? As far as I can tell, you have none other than your own misperceptions. Perhaps you're comparing a cubic 2-storey house with a spread out 1-storey ranch. That's comparing apples to oranges. Given the same floor space and the same volume and the same 2-storey structure, there is virtually no difference in envelope heat loss.

What makes a significant difference in building geometry heat loss is not simple square vs simple rectangle, but in simple shape of any kind vs complex shapes with lots of offsets, varying wall and roof planes and angles, etc. Those geometries are inherently inefficient (yet architects love them).

Answered by Riversong
Posted Tue, 01/04/2011 - 11:52
Edited Tue, 01/04/2011 - 11:55.

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