A step-by-step look at building our house.
From a functional angle, my goal is to create a home that functions as a versatile workspace, is inexpensive to build, heat and cool, and is practically maintenance-free.
The main factors in the design are the floating slab, a masonry heater and the placement of the windows for passive solar heat, light and the spectacular view of the river valley and mountains.
Building Site and Plans
We chose a site on a ridge overlooking the Picanoc River to the west, and it gently slopes away to the south - perfect for passive solar heat. The house design was driven by its location, the landscape, feng shui and thirteen aluminum clad, pine windows from a demolished mill.
Site Prep for Floating Slab
With the engineer's approval for placement of the well and grey water drain field, preparation for the concrete slab-on-grade begins. We mark out everything and I work on plumbing drains, that go in first while Craig gets started on the concrete forming.
Frost Wings & Xerascape
Frost-wing insulation is perfectly suited for slab on grade construction. This has a two foot width of 2 inch thick EPS insulation in a horizontal wing around the perimeter for frost protection which will keep the floor a comfortable room temperature.
12ft x 20ft Porch
Our pal Aila says "Canada has two seasons, winter and bug season." A screened-porch makes a nice workshop. 6"x8" pine beams, a mix of 6" pine and cedar square timbers and poles & balsam pole rafters. Colin donated a 20 foot metal I-beam for the centre of the deck. Roofing metal $600. For milled cedar decking and posts with enough leftover for a picnic table, $800. Concrete for sonotubes was leftover from the slab. Cheap!
The north side of the house will eventually be bermed with earth to maximize thermal capacity. Instead of cordwood masonry, the lower section of this wall is composed of dry-stacked 16 inch block treated with a super strong application of Surface Bonded Concrete (SBC).
The primary structure is timber frame, composed of 8"x8" posts and 8"x12" beams, 4"x10" floor joists and 6"x10" rafters. All milled locally from white pine, the design has vclose to 200 pieces in total. To tie it all together, our friend Daryl provided us with 147 hefty iron brackets.
Living Earth Roof
The general idea – cover the roof with topsoil from the building site and plant sedums and other drought tolerant native plants to lock the soil in place. Once established, low-maintenance earth roofs are beautiful and ecologically friendly. “Earth” or “green” roofs are excellent insulators. Target $3/sqft.
Windows & Doors
Windows drive the design and function of our passive-solar home. Salvaged or crafted from existing materials, doors & windows will be set into 26 inch frames from our own pine trees. 16 premium double glazed, pine/aluminum windows and 6 solid cedar windows for $2820. Cash on the barrel head.
The exterior walls are infilled with a mix of balsam, pine, spruce and cedar split logs and coloured bottle ends. Walls are 24 inches thick and are held together with with Rob Roy's portland/sand mortar recipe. The inner cavity is sawdust and builders lime. The majority of logs came from the surrounding woods.
Black & Grey Water
Our Sun-Mar Excel composting toilet has a simple overflow drain to a mulch basin. I was hoping to install a mulch pond for grey water recycling, but Quebec code mandates the installation of a small grey water septic tank and field. We hired a local engineer to draw up the plans and will install it ourselves.
The insulated slab-on-grade is a heat sink. It absorbs sun rays and slowly releases the heat while warming the house. The perfect low-cost, low-maintenance, solution for finishing is an earthen floor. This ancient technique is labour intensive but the end result is well worth it, in both beauty and functionality.
Eventually, the north wall will be covered with waterproofing membrane and 2 inch EPS insulation, then bermed up to 8 feet high with earth. Shrubs and perennials will be planted into it, acting as a wind break. The berm itself, will insulate the north wall, helping maintain a constant temperature, making it ideal for the pantry and storage cupboards.
The kitchen was designed around a 14ft long commercial-grade, stainless steel counter. Other countertops and stair treads will be custom made from live-edge pine, milled from 2 diseased trees that were culled. The sleeping loft has space for an office or entertaining with a door out to a 4ft x 20ft balcony.
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