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What do you think of these plans?

supe | Posted in Plans Review on

In terms of thermal bridging, heating, etc…. is there anything you would do to improve them because my wife an I are thinking of building and we like the ideas presented in these plans. Any opinions would be appreciated.
John and Rebecca

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  1. davidmeiland | | #1

    Quick impression... I like it. Small, ultra-simple shape, cellulose walls and attic with the pretty-much-unavoidable sub-slab foam. It would bother me to have the large tank in what would otherwise be much-needed storage/living space, but that may be a necessary evil. Do you have good solar access at your site?

  2. dsmcn | | #2

    In terms of living, the placement of the one bathroom requires every bedroom occupant to traverse the most public spaces, then walk past exposed utilities! The reward is a tiny bathroom. Reminds me of houses that were first converted to indoor plumbing, where the only comparison was an outhouse in the back.
    One of the greenest things a builder can do is create a building that will live a long time. Designing a livable space is fundamental. Creating a space that makes people feel good to live in has a payback that is different from energy calcs, but is possibly more important to a long-term energy efficient future. The two must not be mutually exclusive!

  3. supe | | #3

    Thank you both for your responses. I agree with you both on the layout....not so efficient. We should have mentioned that we were looking for opinions more in terms of the construction I.E. walls, slab etc.. rather than layout. Thanks again keep the opinions coming!! To answer David Meiland yes we have fantastic solar access with plenty of distance from deciduous trees, on South, East and west sides.

  4. davidmeiland | | #4

    Re the slab, it's the un-greenest part of the plan, and I suppose you could consider a crawl space. Read the current sealed crawl space blog for more on that. There are significant downsides to each approach.

  5. user-917907 | | #5

    The roof section shows that you can either use a standing seam metal roof over CDX, or a standing seam metal roof over 2x4 horizontal strapping. Could anyone supply me with a more detailed assemble for the horizontal strapping assembly?

    * Must the metal roof be standing seam, or can it be the external screw-down type of metal roof? My concern is whether the overlapping seams of exposed fastener-type metal roofing is as adequately rain-proof for this type of construction compared to standing seam?

    * For a cold climate is there any other component to this roofing assembly besides
    a) metal roof
    b) 2x4 strapping
    c) rafters or trusses
    d) loose insulation on attic floor?
    No building wrap or felt paper, etc? Could there be a problem with moist air coming in through the soffit or gable vents and condensing on the lower side of the metal roof, as well as any air leaks bringing warm moist air from the interior of the house itself?

  6. davidmeiland | | #6

    Could there be a problem with moist air coming in through the soffit or gable vents and condensing on the lower side of the metal roof, as well as any air leaks bringing warm moist air from the interior of the house itself?

    That would definitely be a major concern for me. I have taken off entire metal roofs that were installed over purlins without felt, and reinstalled them over solid decking with felt (after removing the purlins), to eliminate dripping from the underside of the metal.

    A couple of weeks ago I had to repair a damaged metal roof that was installed over purlins. The felt was run vertically. What a phenomenal headache. The only way I will install metal is over 30# felt and 5/8" CDX ply.

    As to your question about exposed fastener panels, I wouldn't hesitate to install those over felt and plywood. If done according to the manufacturer's instructions (which can be fairly detailed and specific) there shouldn't be a problem. IMO it's wise to buy from a manufacturer that sells a lot of roofing in your region and has reps familiar with the climate.

  7. user-659915 | | #7

    Agree wholeheartedly with David McN. The un-greenest aspect of this house is not the slab but the awful, awful layout, a prime example of a 'technical' house designed around a set of abstract engineering ideas at the expense of any concept of living quality. This is a home to get tired of really really quickly, resulting in a lot of good materials simply wasted. Where do you sit? Where do you eat? Why does the kitchen take up so much space when there's no room for a dining table? Why aren't the utilities in the mudroom? Where does the baby hang out with her toys on the floor that you don't trip over her when you're rushing in with the groceries? Where is the expansion potential when you get sick of living in a three-bedroom home shoehorned into a (barely) two-bedroom volume?

  8. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #8

    You are a little harsh. Many Europeans live in spaces much smaller than this, and it behooves Americans to be a little less quick to condemn a compact plan like this.

    Q. "Where do you sit?"

    A. The furniture is not shown, but you can put a sofa and a couple of chairs, as well as a small dining table, to the south of the kitchen.

    Q. "Where do you eat?"

    A. At the dining table which is not shown on the plans.

    Q. "Why does the kitchen take up so much space when there's no room for a dining table?"

    A. Perhaps because the owners like to cook!

    Q. "Why aren't the utilities in the mudroom?"

    A. There is no furnace because the house is heated with a ductless minisplit unit. The mudroom is subject to occasional freezing, so the water heater is right where it should be.

    Q. "Where does the baby hang out with her toys on the floor that you don't trip over her when you're rushing in with the groceries?"

    A. My parents raised 4 children in a much smaller house than this.

    Q. "Where is the expansion potential when you get sick of living in a three-bedroom home shoehorned into a (barely) two-bedroom volume?"

    A. Oh, come on now, James -- don't you realize that the homeowners will hire you to design their addition?

  9. davidmeiland | | #9

    Re the smaller houses of yesteryear... our house is circa 1923 and 1120 square feet, 2 bed 1 bath. Over the years I have run into a fair number of people in the community who have lived in the house. One of them remarked to me... "I raised my three sons in that house". Go to any working class neighborhood built in the 50s or earlier and you see a lot of ~1000 SF family homes.

    I do agree the layout is not ideal, but that was not part of the OP.

  10. user-659915 | | #10

    Martin & David M:

    OK I was wrong. This is not nearly as tiny a house as it seems - when I measured it out I was startled to find that with the mud room it's nearly 1250 s.f. Even with the 12" outer walls that should be quite ample for a spacious three bedroom home. Unfortunately this plan is not it.

    Re: the furniture is not shown. OK, plot on there the 3' circulation path from front door to kitchen to bedrooms to bathroom. By my reckoning that would leave an irregularly shaped space of about 120 s.f. in the lower left corner of the main room. I'd love to know how to fit a sofa, two chairs and a dining table in that. I know I couldn't, and I do this stuff for a living.

    Re: the mud room - yes I get it that the mud room is stuck out there like a lump on a log, freezing its butt off. We always include mud rooms as part of the main building enclosure, so that it can house the vulnerable but unsightly mechanical bits safely. Why would you not do that? Is there something special about cold country mud rooms (I assume this is in MA, though it's not explicitly stated) I don't understand?

    Re: compact European homes: those would be mostly townhomes and apartments. Context is everything.

    Re: expansion. My point is this would not be fun to do. Better to avoid the frustration and pain and just plan it right in the first place.

    Re: not part of the OP. So what? Fitness for purpose is central to durability and performance and deserves to be considered as critical to building green as any part of the mechanical system or the enclosure strategy - perhaps more so, as it's so much harder to upgrade after the fact. Why would you accept incompetent space planning (yes, it IS that bad) when the carpenter, the engineer, the plumber and all the other participants in the process are expected to be at the top of their game? Harsh if you like, but you guys would never accept a bad flashing detail. Why is this any different?

  11. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #11

    My mudroom is unheated. I prefer it that way -- why should I pay for the energy to heat my mudroom? Of course, your preferred design of bringing a mudroom inside a home's conditioned space is certainly possible. All it really means is that you like to build bigger houses, with more conditioned area.

    I'm not saying you can't do it -- especially if you can afford the energy bills. But don't be so harsh if some people are examining ways to live more frugally on this earth.

  12. davidmeiland | | #12

    I'll definitely agree with James that the floor plan is very lacking. I downloaded the "poster" linked from the house's website and took a 15-second look at the double wall detail, the energy-heel attic, and the simple shape, and make a few quick comments. Most manufacturers of single- and double-wide prefabs have better floor plans, and my house--built by farmers almost 100 years ago--has a much better floor plan and great passive-solar design.

  13. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #13

    David and James,
    OK, I'll concede you're right about traffic paths. But I'm not ready to put the water heater in the cold mudroom. It should be close to the bathroom.

  14. gusfhb | | #14

    My critique of the critique:

    Well, how bout some ideas for these poor souls?

    I grew up in a Campanelli ranch and they were pretty space efficient, in the same basic size, what they did was group the bedrooms in an L in one corner with a bath across, which does create a hallway, but it also creates a public/private zone. The thick walls are squeezing you as I feel 120 sq ft for a bedroom for kids is on the small size. If you enlarged ever so slightly [say outsulated] you could arrange a 10x12, a 10x14, the master and bath with their closets taking up a 30x 24 area, leaving a wide open 18x24 with only the mechanicals to deal with. Actually with the modest[for 2011] master, you still have a say 9x16 space for a bath, washer mechanical, coat closet. My folks house had a teeny master[half] bath......

    Not much storage with no basement ......

  15. gusfhb | | #15!/photo.php?fbid=10150236988836240&set=o.68780060970&type=1&theater

    heh heh, almost the same as my childhood home, only inverted front to back, turquise appliances, that folks is a washer dryer combo under the counter, and the fridge hanging on the wall. Behind that brick wall is a 4 foot cube where the gas boiler lived.

  16. user-659915 | | #16

    Martin: Where did you get the idea that I "like to build bigger houses"? Small houses are much more fun, It's just hard to get clients to commission them or banks to finance them. As it happens I have a two-bedroom in development right now at 960 s.f., and loving it.

    Keith: good idea, let's be positive. I've had a couple of free hours free this afternoon and have an alternative layout sketched out - a house designed for people, not for plumbing. I'm in the process of cleaning it up and I'll post it shortly.

  17. user-659915 | | #17

    Here we go - exactly the same footprint - 1248 s.f., same 12" exterior walls - but a shorter perimeter by 8 linear feet and with two less corners. That should easily pay for insulating the mud room to the same standard as the house. You'll notice there's room for actual furniture, the kind that real people tend to actually own. A full-size dining table for six. Yes the hot water has to travel a little farther to the bathroom and the kitchen - it can do that, it won't get tired. Which house would you rather live in?

  18. homedesign | | #18

    Your design is far,far superior.
    Good Design does not "cost"... It PAYS

  19. user-917907 | | #19

    I'd be interested in the floor plan of your 960 s.f. design, if you'd care to post it too. Thanks

  20. gusfhb | | #20

    See, now that is nice

    Gimme an entry closet and I am sold.........

  21. user-659915 | | #21

    John, thanks, I agree.
    Jack, the 2BR is a custom design for a paying client so I'm not ready to share it just yet.
    Keith, entry closet storage is supplied by the multifunctional mud room, which is also backup pantry, mechanical room and a handy place to feed the dog.

  22. user-659915 | | #22

    Shameless commerce dept: North Carolina readers who are interested in custom designs for small homes which live large: I'd really love to hear from you. To quote John Brooks - good design doesn't cost, it pays.

  23. davidmeiland | | #23

    James hits it out of the park!

  24. gusfhb | | #24

    I get the mudroom, but when the inlaws come over, their coats end up draped over the furniture

    Sorry I live in basically a raised ranch and you have a hard time getting guests in the door without falling down the stairs no less find a place for coats, Call it a peeve.

    I hope everyone noticed how big the bedrooms are for the amount of useful public space there is, very nice.

  25. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #25

    I agree with the consensus -- it's a much better design.

    However, if I understand correctly, you've still increased the conditioned area, since your mudroom is conditioned, and the original mudroom wasn't. But I doubt that the increase in area will result in much of an increase in the energy bill.

    And I'm not sure what that black thing is in the living room -- probably a piece of furniture with a TV. If you get rid of that, your traffic flow will improve.

    But all in all, a much better design.

  26. user-659915 | | #26

    Yes, the conditioned space has increased by 96 s.f. to improve functionality. It has not increased constructed area, there should not be an energy penalty of any significance, and construction cost has almost certainly been reduced by removing two corners from the footprint and allowing a simpler roof.

    The deeper plan potentially offers an increase in roof area available for solar panels - I'm not clear about the reason for the asymmetrical gable in the original plan, nor am I sure which way would be south in that section - presumably the 8/12 slope in that latitude??? Personally I'd go for a symmetrical gable roof locally optimized for solar angle and a flat ceiling at 9' (we like our taller ceilings and ceiling fans in the south). That would allow plenty of room for ERV equipment in the mud room ceiling and for a ceiling duct chase on the north side of the spine wall down through the bedrooms. I'd probably ditch the standing seam for master-rib or something similar - around here there's a big difference in cost which is hardly justified by performance improvements unless you have a really complex cut-up roof.

  27. user-917907 | | #27

    Re the slab, it's the un-greenest part of the plan, and I suppose you could consider a crawl space. Read the current sealed crawl space blog for more on that. There are significant downsides to each approach.

    If slabs and crawlspaces have significant downsides, what are better/greener foundation assemblies (for a cold climate)?

  28. dsmcn | | #28

    James has certainly improved the design hugely, but it is still lacking, because it is divorced from the site. The first question must be, “How can I marry the priorities of the client to the best attributes of the site?”

    John & Rebecca, where do you spend your happiest moments? If sitting in a sunny breakfast nook reading the paper and drinking coffee is the best part of your day, why would you want to build your house without that extra 15 sq.ft.? If sitting around the dining room table with friends and family is your joy and you spend half your weekend there, put that in the best part of the house. Any house that has a living room with an expansive south-facing view will be worth significantly more at resale. Personally, I want a kitchen with good access to the grill, the compost pile, and the garden (even in MN I grilled 12 months a year). One of my greatest joys is to sleep with windows open, listening to crickets at night and birdsongs at dawn, so I always choose a house with a bedroom where I don’t have to keep the curtains drawn.

    I wish everyone could recognize that the interior of a house has real estate that is incredibly more valuable than the rest. The best part of the house is on a corner and faces south. Next best part faces the view (note that a south-facing view is experienced much differently from a north-facing view). The outside corners of a house are especially valuable because they afford windows on two sides, which makes the space happy.

    It is economical to pay someone who is aware of space to review your plans. If they don’t suggest a picnic at the site with you, where you will leisurely consider different times of day in every season of the year, then find someone else!

    An architectural designer will know that an extra six inches between tub and sink, for example, can provide a dramatic improvement in feel (and typically those six inches are easily stolen from somewhere else in the house). Communication among the spaces and flow through the house should absolutely be customized to the client’s lifestyle. Lighting and sound quality are rarely considered, and yet forethought here gives huge returns for a small investment, if done by someone who knows.

    Just saw a new, expensive home with the south side (the rear, in this case) facing a state park, and the builder chose that wall for the closet and bathroom! I wish he could be criminally charged. This is the common crime committed by all who choose a plan without considering the site.

    My pet peeve is a nation full of homes with a two-story entry foyer, and a master bath with a huge window over a tub that is rarely used. One of the best windows in the house therefore remains covered for privacy, and the expensive entry is used only for guests on special occasions. The family who lives in the house sacrifices everyday joy for pretension, because the builder has chosen form over function. (“It’s what sells” may be the most cynical phrase ever.)

    Green builders on the other hand too often prioritize function over form. Please: efficiency and design are not mutually exclusive! In fact, even a Passivhaus that is unpleasant to live in is a waste of the planet’s resources: it will not survive generations, while the house down the street might happily waste energy for a hundred years.

    To really make a difference, we have to offer choices that are attractive to everyone, not just the converted. Science must be married to art!

  29. user-659915 | | #29

    David's comments on siting and orientation are spot on, which is why we do not design spec homes and why no fenestration is shown on the plan - think of it as a proof of concept, a matrix within which a true green home can be developed. It's a rare privilege to place an entire new building on a piece of the earth, our rarest resource. It's easy to get wrapped up in the technology and forget that simple fact. Anyone who aspires to building green should approach that primary act of planning and placement with the reverence and respect that David's comments suggest.

  30. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #30

    Your approach is romantic and appealing, but there's one problem with it: It's impossible to design a green home if "no fenestration is shown on the plan."

    Your approach betrays your apparent belief that windows are an aesthetic adornment and an opportunity to enjoy the view, rather than an essential component of a home's thermal envelope and a contributor to winter heating. Changing the fenestration can dramatically affect the thermal performance of a house. Planning for extensive north glazing requires an entirely different design from a plan with extensive south glazing. You can't just stand on the newly framed subfloor with the homeowner and frame each window to catch sight of a pretty tree.

  31. user-659915 | | #31

    "(my) apparent belief that windows are an aesthetic adornment and an opportunity to enjoy the view"

    Martin, I never suggested such a thing and I have no idea how you got there from what I wrote.
    Any and every wall penetration is, or should be, a mindful act which develops the positive integration of the building into its environment - in every way. Excellent environmental performance is not an abstraction, it is location-specific and there is no reason why there should be a conflict between good solar orientation and the spiritual/emotional/aesthetic benefits of visual exterior connection. In the small house I am currently designing for example I am showing my client how the 'bad' view to the south can be edited quite simply to provide as much emotional comfort and connection to nature as the 'good' view to the north. The north aspect will be developed not as a major view element of the house interior but as part of an outdoor 'room' enclosed on its south side by a sitting porch - which also serves as mud room and protected front entry for this tiny home. Both/and, not either/or.

    Green builders are not in the cave business. Two thousand years ago Vitruvius famously described the great virtues of architecture as Commodity (fitness for purpose), Firmness (durability, stability) and Delight (enriching the human spirit), and those who design buildings of any scale and purpose must account for all three if the building is to be welcomed into the great conversation of human endeavor, and thereby endure. My original critique of the OP was its abject failure in Commodity. David added consideration of Delight to the discussion - I was not going to bring it up but I'm glad he did. That leaves only Firmness, in which I'd include the thermal aspects of environmental performance. The technical focus of this forum toward that leg of the tripod is understandable and not at all unwelcome, but let's not ever forget what all this technical virtuosity is FOR.

  32. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #32

    I apologize if I mischaracterized your approach to windows. But I remain mystified by your statement that when you create designs, "no fenestration is shown on the plan." You never explained how that is possible. It seems extraordinary to me -- so different from (for example) the Passivhaus approach.

  33. user-659915 | | #33

    Martin - sorry I that was unclear. No fenestration was shown on THIS plan, because it's incomplete, for very good reasons. Although I felt it was safe to assume that a) the proposed building site is in the northern hemisphere and b) north was at the top of the original plan and therefore the wall at the bottom of the plan would therefore be our primary location for insolation-controlled south-facing glazing I had no other information about any other specific considerations of the site, including latitude, local climate, neighboring buildings, trees etc. which could affect the specific placement. I would also want the inputs David mentions about the homeowners specific needs, wants and preferences before laying out anything as important as the specific fenestration - I was also rather pressed for time and didn't want to make the design appear more finished than it actually is. To reiterate, this is proof of concept in space planning, not a finished design.

    On the subject of 'both/and' I'd like to give a shout-out to Chapel Hill NC architect Jay Fulkerson's recent achievement of what's claimed as the first Passivhaus home in NC, which ALSO manages to bring the joys and benefits of direct sunlight and south views into every room in the house - even the basement rooms - all this on a steeply sloping north facing site bordered with tall pines. Yes, you can have it all - homes that are virtuoso technical performers can have their full share of Commodity and Delight. And this is a beauty.
    And oh yes, before anyone calls me on it, this is indeed a mid-sized, high-end home. But there's absolutely no reason a more modest dwelling shouldn't get the same loving attention to bring it to life.
    The simple truth so often ignored is that engineering requirements can usually be satisfied in a wide variety of ways, and only a few of those may be optimal for the conditions of the place itself and for the people who will live there. A design which ONLY satisfies engineering requirements, at the expense of other aspects of the full spectrum of human needs, cannot be called a green home in any way shape or form - it's merely an engineering exercise with a limited purpose and (probably) a short life.

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