What I Did On My Winter Vacation

Submitted by Andrea on March 11, 2011

It's a good thing we didn't set up a webcam on our building site last autumn, because it would have shown nothing more than snow falling (and now melting). This is because we opted not to put in a foundation before winter. Yes, we had naively hoped to be living in the house by now, but things didn't quite work out that way.

There's an old saying about project management: "Fast, inexpensive, or good -- pick two." Hopefully this means our house will be inexpensive and good! We could have rushed last autumn to get the foundation dug and poured, but it hardly seemed worthwhile to pour a foundation which we'd only worry about all winter. So we decided to kick back and aim for spring, which is almost here.

The good news is that our plans look great! I spent much of the last six months working on our plans in Google SketchUp, a free 3-D modeling application which will surely get its own blog post. This process has allowed me to nip all sorts of problems in the bud, and Ted and I feel very confident about the design.

I uploaded new drawings to the floor plans page. Sorry, they're only 2-D floor plans and not 3-D SketchUp designs, but they reveal the changes we made this winter:

  • We added a doorway between the main entry and the meditation retreat area. Originally the retreat space was only going to be accessible from outside and from a secret door in the master bedroom, but we decided instead to have a sliding/pivoting bookcase in the main entryway and hide the door behind it.
  • We removed the ground-floor guest bedroom. This had been a requirement, because we anticipate having guests who won't be able to climb stairs. But it was eating up too much space on the ground floor, at the expense of the kitchen and living room, so we decided to use the meditation room as a ground-floor guest bedroom when needed.
  • If someone with a disability moves in full-time, they will need to access a bedroom upstairs. We are therefore leaving room for a elevator next to the staircase. I hope we'll never have to install it, but it's good to have the option. And check out the awesome pneumatic elevators we found online!
  • Removing the ground-floor bedroom allowed us to enlarge the kitchen, living room, and dining room. In the old plans they were mashed into a single room, but now they are quite clearly defined.
  • We added a mud room! It's next to the kitchen, and I suspect it will be our usual entrance since it's closer to the garage.

There are many more changes and improvements, but I'll save those for the SketchUp post, since they'll be easier to explain in 3-D.

BTW, for the sake of honesty I changed the site name to "Almost Passive House" (from "DIY Passive House"). The house will not be an official Passive House, but we hope it will perform nearly as well. I like to think of it as the green-building version of "Kosher style" or "Be a model, or just look like one!"