Guidance for designing and building a low-lifetime-cost home in North Texas
My wife and I want to build (or buy) an energy efficient home in North Texas sometime in the next 5 years. We are not strongly attached to certifications, R-value-comparison-contests, or even a particular style of home. We just want to build something cost-effective that we can live in for the next 40 years without having to maintain high-income jobs to pay for the utility bills and mortgage. I have been doing a lot of research, but I wanted to get some expert opinions to help guide me in the right direction. I have a tendency to want to over-engineer things, because it’s fun, but at the end of the day I just want to live comfortably for a reasonable amount of money. I am also interested in the environmental factor, so I’m ok with spending money on a more efficient building, even if the reduced utility usage is just break-even. However, I am definitely not into spending incredible amounts of money so that I can have the most energy efficient home on the block.
- Budget for land+building should be under $300k.
- I am thinking between 800 and 1600 sq ft for the house.
- Larger lot (3-5 acres) preferred.
- Within 3 hours drive of downtown Dallas, closer is better, but only moderately important.
- Interior temperature set-point of 68-69F. This is an important issue for me, as I sweat very easily.
- No significant preference on architectural style or building materials. Whatever is most cost-effective over a 40+ year lifespan.
- Needs to house two adults, two 60lb dogs, and one child.
- No requirements for dining, entertainment, or guest quartering. We’re trying to escape from people, not have them over all the time.
- Open plans are preferred.
- Don’t need a garage.
- Don’t have a particular plot of land in mind, so I can shop for land with the best qualities for cheap building and cheap operation.
- I like the idea of solar PV, net-zero, and off-grid, but not if they significantly increase the lifetime costs.
- I am fairly handy and I have an engineering (electrical) background, so I’m interested in doing some or all of the design work, general contracting, and subcontract labor, as feasible and cost-effective.
Conclusions and questions from the research and analysis I’ve done so far:
- Solar PV seems to be a waste of money, considering electric rates in Texas around $0.10/kWh. It also seems that waiting a few more years for the price to continue dropping is likely to be an effective money-saving strategy.
- It seems that very high insulation values are not going to break-even in this region; what is an appropriate R-value to shoot for in the walls/roof/foundation in this environment?
- Building design appears to be very important. Complicated exterior walls are bad. A cube is good. An octagon is looking like it might be a bit better, but I’m not sure if the improved volume/surface area ratio is worth the increased construction complexity. Thoughts?
Any other advice, direction, links/books, etc, quite welcome.
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