Thank you for your input. This process is evolving significantly and so are my ideas. I have pretty much scrapped the idea of using steel. We don't have hurricanes or earthquakes in Texas but we do have 2 seasons of tornadoes. So, whatever structure I settle on there will be a safe room somewhere in the house. That's another conversation. Glad you mentioned using concrete blocks. I am seriously considering the use of dry stacking the blocks with fiberglass reinforced stucco inside and out. My research shows this type of structure is much stronger that the conventional block and mortar and does not require a brick mason to lay. Still a lot to learn about this but still seems very promising. Bets and I lived in an all cinder block house when we first married and it was ok but not great. It certainly wasn't built with energy efficiency in mind but just a cost savings measure. However, it wasn't a horrible experience either.
I've looked at other sites talking about the challenges and disadvantages of using concrete blocks. So, I'm open about these issues. I've read about insulating and not insulating, which side of the wall to insulate based on the climate, etc. Lot to digest.
I also have a long time builder who is working with me as my consultant to keep me on the straight and narrow.
Whatever Bets and I decide on, we intend to build the garage first with the same concepts as the house. We will live in the garage for probably a year so we can prove or disprove our ideas before we spend the big dollars on the house. We are both retired so we can devote the time to this endeavor.
cinder / cynder / sinder blocks (i.e. concrete blocks), if you're really serious about using them, then have concrete placed in the holes and filled so that the blocks take on a stronger stature, especially if used in the sub-basement foundation, basement and/or first floor. Weight becomes an issue when considering usage of these above the first floor, such as the second, third or free-standing frame walls (i.e. non-load bearing).
spray-foam insulation in-between the rafters on all floors and attic / roof segments. talk with your local builder or guild for advice and best practices, but this is all the rage, and slightly more expensive than bats, but substantially more effective in eliminating drafts, gaps, holes and such. See if to what extent you can get your plumbing, wiring (in pipe chasers, for future expansion or whatever) needs be done in conjunction with its usage.
unified drainage pipes tied in and directed to a collecting pond or recycling area.
location and angle of the house plot for southern exposure with the goal in mind of using roofing shingles that maximize the potential for solar collection, or simply design in solar panels into the original drafts
all the best,
these methods and thoughts are all the rage in the northeastern region of the country under the heading of green construction and housing.
let us know how things develop!
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ICFs are not concrete blocks; rather they are foam blocks or forms that you stack up, install reinforcing steel inside, and pour concrete. So you end up with walls that are insulated well inside and out, with a nice thermal mass. The result is a very good structural and insulating performance. Also very soundproof. Much better in tornadoes than wood frame.
I really think it's the ultimate way to go for residential construction, all things considered. We couldn't do it here because it's not covered under our code. But I really do think it's a lot better and more cost effective than normal reinforced concrete.
There is an alternative kind of concrete block, too, made of aerated concrete blocks. But that is another story.
Anyway, in building your house, you cannot do too much homework. I think the best sites for building science information are:
Lots of books out there on design. But what is it about a house that we really enjoy living in? You can always remodel the finishes that the kitchen/bath later, add solar panels, etc., but the basic space is set in stone. So you want to get it right.
Christopher Alexander's "A Pattern Language" attempts to address the universal things that make a home good. It's an expensive book, but it has a vast number of very deep ideas that will change your requirements profoundly. This is a book architects are required to read in school, and no doubt Steve Jobs read it, and from all accounts he lived in a house right out of this book.
For instance, in one of his chapters he talks about how windows make a room. Each room must have windows on at least two sides to be a good space. Three sides is even better. The quality of the space goes up. Four sides is the ultimate. Now, this is not an obvious point to the layman, but once you get to thinking about it, it changes everything. If your takeaway is just one of the fundamental hundreds of ideas in this book, it's worth the money.
In another place he talks about how balconies and verandas must be at least six feet, but better yet eight feet deep. Well, why would that be? All sorts of rules of thumb like this.
There's a nicely updated, simplified version of this called "Patterns of Home," also by Max Jacobson. But I would get both.
I also like "The Not So Big Home" -- again, the emphasis is on quality of space, not quantity. You reduce the square footage of the house some, and spend that part of the budget on higher quality finishes, built-ins, lighting, windows, etc.
Also, here's the ICF manufacturer that I think has the coolest products, TF Systems.
I'd drill down into the product brochure for their TransForm system. They also seem
to tout their tornado resistance and safe rooms
I build-ed a heat exanger like in the picture above. I build it my self because the actual model is not for sale on the market. It is a fire place with a blower that gets fresh air from outside into the carter of the fire place, it turns on automatically with a thermostat that I can regulate but it is always sitting at 50 deg celcius. I build a carter around the fire place with 4 ducts that heat up 6 compartments of the house (130m2). It is fantastic! In 30min I have my house heated up and the system is always getting fresh air in the building.
Normally with a fire place, after about 1 hour you feel sleepy because of the lack of oxygen but with this system not. It is always getting fresh air into the building.
Here you can see some pictures of a similar systems. The steel fire place is sitting on a concrete box with 3 holes in it the duct that is getting fresh air from outside is in that concrete box. the air comes in from below the fire place and has to travel to the top of the fire place as a result you get really hot air coming out of the ducts that are distributed. Sitiodaslreiras.com - Desenhos Tecnicos
If you are building a new house definitely think about this system!
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Awesome! That is the sort of firebox I've been looking at. One that attracted my attention is ecofirebox.org. 97% efficient. Haven't seen one for real. So hard to know if what they say is accurate. However I like the concept a lot.your description seems to have all the features that I want in my solution; fresh air, thermostat controlled, and heats the whole house and not just the room where it is.
What do you use for cooling?
the central theme of my design so far is passive heating and cooling and supplement with other heating and cooling measures.
I can look here for pictures when I was building it and then post the pictures.
For cooling I use the same duct system, but I have to close the hole that goes from outside to inside of firebox and I attach the heat pump that warms my water on the system. Instead of trowing that cool air to the outside I use it for inside the house and cool it at the same time. And in the winter I open the hole that goes inside the firebox and de-attach the hose from the heat pump and attach that to the outside.
I have no airco and do not need it. house is well isolated and double glass and isolated exterior blinds so in the summer I only have to keep the blinds almost close so that the sun is not heating the compartment´s.
There is glass that can keep out the sun from heating up the compartment´s but than you can not use the sun in the winter to help heat up your house.
When you are building a new house just keep in mind that you place the fireplace in the middle of the house and not in a corner like most of the people do. If you have rooms upstear´s just pas the duct that transports the exaust true one of the rooms. You can use that passage to heat up that room so you have one more room heat up by the system. The room where the fireplace is is heated just by the traditional form of the fire place. Now you can heat up 4 more compartment´s. A total of 6 or 7 compartment´s can be heated up by this way. And you are always getting fresh air in the house!
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