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Building Science

Ten Essential Steps to a Pretty Good House

Going above code isn't hard if you do these things

Get the most out of your insulation. Use enough. Reduce or eliminate thermal bridges. Make sure it's distributed properly.
Image Credit: Energy Vanguard

My friends up in Maine came up with the concept of the Pretty Good House a few years ago, and I love the idea! Not everyone can or wants to build a LEED Platinum, Living Building Challenge, Passive House. But a lot of architects, builders, and home buyers would like to design, build, and live in houses that are better than the barely legal, code-minimum houses that populate the market.

The Pretty Good House, then, is the way to go.

The 10 essential steps

If you’re interested in designing, building, or living in a Pretty Good House, here are what I consider 10 essential steps you need to take to make it happen. Martin Holladay also came up with a list of 10 items in his article, Martin’s Pretty Good House Manifesto, but you’ll find the list here has a different flavor than his.

It starts with applying the principles of building science, as I’ve been writing since I got into this field. Just put it all together, and you’ve got yourself a Pretty Good House.

1. Spend more time on planning. This was my biggest mistake in the house I built. I got rushed and ended up spending more time building the house and it cost more money as a result. Take all the time you need to get the details right before you move any dirt or lift a hammer. It’ll pay off in the end. Think about everything: orientation on the site; window area, placement, and overhangs; doing things in the proper order… This is especially true for getting the HVAC done right. Most designs don’t leave enough room for proper distribution of heating, cooling, and ventilation. Integrated design is where it’s at!

2. Hire a third-party building science consultant. And…

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One Comment

  1. Dan Kolbert | | #1

    Further PGH discussions
    We just had the first session of our 2015-16 Building Science Discussion Group (from whence PGH sprang) last night. One of the ideas we talked about last spring was creating a separate budget for the shell and the rest of the project, as a way of protecting the shell details as budgets tighten.

    One of our regulars came up to me after the session and told me he'd had a successful outing with this approach over the summer. I think it's a good strategy both for designers and contractors working with clients who may not have a good grounding in current best practices, and also for clients who are concerned their contractors may try to sacrifice details to make the numbers work.

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