Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reflections on a Home

After numerous snow days, I've had quite a bit of time to think and reflect on our life as a family and decisions we've made, and continue to make. One of the things I am most grateful for is our home, which we tried to design with our planet and wallet in mind. While there are many things that we wanted to incorporate into our home, our initial building budget just couldn't handle them all. Here's a run-down of what we did thus far, and where we'd like to go in the next few years.

First, we knew that we could only build within a certain footprint because of the building site, so we only looked at plans that fit these requirements. Since we wanted to make the most of our space and our money, we decided to go with a modular home and basement system. This meant that our home was built in a factory, largely, and not subjected to the elements, it meant that we didn't have to worry about moisture issues in the framing. It also meant that the house went up quicker, meaning fewer days we had to pay crews to work on the site and fewer months of interest on the construction loan. We chose a two story Cape Cod style house on a basement foundation to make the most of the vertical space, meaning that we had to remove less topsoil than if we had chosen a ranch or other sprawing design. Our floorplan has the master bedroom on the main level, so this means that until we have kids, we don't have to heat or cool the upstairs, saving us money on energy bills and saving the planet by using less energy from coal fired plants.

In choosing a modular home, we had maximum flexibility with where we wanted windows, the fireplace, decks, and other features. We chose to have the house face south to take full advantage of the passive solar lighting and heating. In the years to come, we plan to add solar panels to the roof, which will be ideal with our southern facing roof. We added windows on the east and west sides of the house to allow for as much daylighting as possible, meaning that we had to run our CFL lighting as little as possible. We also tried to make the windows on the north side of the house as small as possible, so that this colder side of the house would lose less heat during the winter. Earlier this winter, we added curtain panels that are lined to allow the daylight in, but we can easily close them at night to keep the heat in. During the summer, these will allow us to block the glaring sun during the afternoon, keeping the house naturally cooler.

For flooring, we chose an eco-friendly bamboo for the main level, even though the modular kit came with carpeting. We had the carpeting installed upstairs for now, although one day, we would like to add bamboo upstairs as well. The bamboo flooring is eco-friendly because it is a grass, growing rapidly and sometimes invasively. (When purchasing bamboo, it is key to make sure you purchase from a reputable agency. Unfortunately, because of the rising popularity of bamboo, sometimes entire forests are cut down and replaced with bamboo--hardly an eco-friendly move.) Our bamboo flooring is the natural finish with the vertical grain, looking more like a standard hardwood floor. In order to save money here, we purchased our flooring from a friend through his hardware store, meaning that we got his wholesale price for almost 1000 square feet of flooring. Then, my husband and father-in-law installed the flooring over the Thanksgiving holidays, saving us several thousand dollars in installation fees.

Because of our budget, we did choose standard insulation and sheetrock, although we may do things differently when we decide to finish out the basement. To save a little more, my handy husband and father-in-law, as well as several friends, helped to hang most of the drywall upstairs (that part of the home was not finished in the factory).

We got a deal on paint, since Benny (my husband) works for a local Benjamin Moore retailer. In keeping with our earth conscious mindset, we opted for the Aura paint, a low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint in an eggshell finish. Even if you don't get the family discount, I would highly recommend going with a low VOC paint, as it means that the overall air quality in your home will be better because those nasty compounds won't be in the air you and your family are breathing. If you're painting new sheetrock, Aura is a great product because it is self-priming on new drywall, meaning that we only had to paint the rooms once, not two or three times. (I think we did have to paint the burnt orange in the office twice, due to the deep color.)

My uncle worked for a building supply company at the time and had several materials he could give us, as they were slightly damaged and could not be sold through the company. This meant that we acquired 7-inch baseboard for the upstairs rooms, as well as his help in applying the beautiful wood edging on our laminate countertops. He also took some of the scrap wood from the lumber yard and built some wonderful benches for us to use on the deck. The design is very simple, yet functional. It's great to know that we kept these materials from ending up in a landfill somewhere.

As far as plumbing and fixtures goes, there wasn't a lot that we could negotiate with the factory, other than style for the main level. However, upstairs we were able to install a low-flow toilet, which uses less than half the water required by conventional models. To retrofit our downstairs toilets, we've added plastic containers filled with water to displace the water in the tank, meaning that we use less water per flush. We've also made sure that each sink in the house has an aerator, meaning that it uses less water, and we've installed low-flow shower heads.

I'll post more later, along with some pictures. I hope you find some useful tid-bits here and come back for future postings.

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