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Green Building Curmudgeon

Finally! Starting Construction At My House

Not new, not green from the start, but it's happening

As requested by a faithful reader, I have attached a photo of the front of the house. There will be no changes to this elevation, all the work is on the rear and sides.
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As requested by a faithful reader, I have attached a photo of the front of the house. There will be no changes to this elevation, all the work is on the rear and sides. Instead of building a new home, I'll be building an addition on my house. The new office and storage area will be placed in this corner of the house.
Image Credit: Carl Seville
The updated layout includes a small office, an exterior storage room, and a porch that shades the west-facing windows and doors. The rear addition improves the rear and side elevations without affecting the front. The current office/breakfast room will be incorporated into a new, larger kitchen. The shed-roofed addition will be removed and rebuilt and the porch added at the rear.

After paying for two home designs, with one turned down and one approved by the local historic commission, I ultimately decided not to build a new house, mostly for financial reasons. Instead, I am renovating my existing cottage and adding a small office, a storage area, and a screened porch (an excellent feature in the South).

The financial reason that I’m not building a new house is that I’m unable to obtain a mortgage for construction. It has been a while since I applied for one and, apparently, you now need not only a pulse, but you actually have to show that you earn enough money to make all the payments. I’m self-employed, and while I have what feels like a very comfortable lifestyle, the banks didn’t like my position enough to lend me the money.

Holding the conditioned area to 800 square feet

So, looking at my options, I came to the conclusion that fixing up my existing house made the most sense. It is small (750 square feet), but having lived in it for almost eight years now, I realize that I don’t really need much more space, nor do I need to increase my debt at this point in my life.

My goal is to keep the house small enough that it could be the accessory building for a future new house in the front of the property. This required me to keep the conditioned space to a maximum of 800 square feet, although I will be able to add unconditioned storage and porches. I did consider making it larger, but I didn’t want to limit the opportunities for the property, either for myself or a future owner.

The plan is fairly simple: an office and storage room will be added at the back, the kitchen and bathroom will be renovated in place, and a porch will provide very useful year round unconditioned living space and shade the west-facing kitchen windows.

Zip sheathing, Home Slicker, asphalt shingles, and minisplits

I was looking forward to trying some new/old techniques on the new house I was planning to build, including using no spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation. I also wanted to use mineral fiber exterior sheathing, metal roofing, and minisplit HVAC. But since I installed SPF on the roofline and floor of my house many years ago, it doesn’t make sense to change products or the thermal envelope location for this project.

I would like to install a thermal break on the walls, but since my size constraints are so tight and since local authorities measure a building to the outside of the exterior wall finish, I am forgoing any added exterior insulation on the few new exterior walls I am building.

The historic district board turned down my request for metal roofing on the new house, and having recently replaced the roof with fiberglass shingles, I will be sticking with the same material for the addition. Since I have already installed minisplits in the house, I have gotten to experience how well they work

I will be using Huber Zip Wall for the first time on this project. Combined with Home Slicker to make a vented rainscreen, this should improve the durability of the solid wood siding that needs to be installed to match the existing.

A tankless water heater

I went around and around on my thoughts about a water heater. I considered installing a heat-pump tank model, a high-efficiency electric tank model, and finally settled on a Rinnai tankless unit. Since space is so tight and my hot water use so small, installing the heater on the outside of the house frees up a lot of storage area and will meet my needs efficiently.

One product I am very excited in trying for the porch floor and railings is Perennial Wood, a heat and chemically modified pine that is resistant to rot, warping, cracking, expansion, and contraction without the toxicity of traditional pressure-treated wood.

First on the agenda is relocating one of the minisplits I installed last year, when I didn’t think I would be renovating. Then the new water heater and new electrical service will be installed. Once those prep items are complete, the demolition starts. Stay tuned: there will be lots of pictures and comments.


  1. LucyF | | #1

    Sounds like a great project.
    We look forward to reading about your renovation.

  2. Robert Swinburne | | #2

    A most excellent project. I love this sort of thing. Banks don' t talk to self-employed people unless they have a long history of relatively uniform earnings.

  3. user-946029 | | #3

    Metal roofing

    Did you submit a standing seam metal roof or metal shingles to the historic district board? Because I can't see what their issue would be with metal shingles.

  4. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #4

    Metal Roof
    In earlier designs for a new house on the lot, they shot down standing seam metal, although they were fine with flat seam metal. I didn't submit metal shingles - they are not very common around here. On the renovation that I am going with, I had already reroofed the house with fiberglass shingles since that is what they prefer. My little historic district seems to think that if they can't see it from their house it shouldn't be allowed. And there aren't any metal roofs.

  5. atlarchitect | | #5

    Ceiling Fans!
    Looks like a nice project, but there sure are a lot of those evil ceiling fans on the plans! I think you'll really like the exterior mounted Rinnai tankless - we love ours, except for the distance we installed it from the fixtures. It doesn't look like you'll have that problem, as you can mount the water heater just outside the bathroom and have really short plumbing runs.

  6. user-946029 | | #6

    Response to Carl

    They aren't common in my area either, but after I saw a sample firsthand, it didn't matter. I was really impressed with how "normal" they look... and feel. I was/am working with a boneheaded architectural review committee head, and even he allowed the metal shingles after we provided a sample.

    Just trying to help you accomplish your durability goal. Good luck, sir.

  7. KROregon | | #7

    Small is super
    Glad to hear you're staying small. 800 sq ft truly is small - unlike many 'small cabins' of 2000+ sq ft in resort areas nearby.
    I have a part-time apartment of 400 sq ft that is quite liveable. I have found that since one person can only occupy x amount of space at a time, the biggest need for space is for storage of stuff. I have also found that a small space with good storage is actually more comfortable - you don't have to run upstairs to get something, the phone is always close, and a nap is just steps away from the computer.
    I look forward to hearing more as you progress .

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