This is the first in a series of videos on passive solar home construction, we begin with passive solar design basics, orienting the future house on the site to take full advantage of the free heat available from the sun while keeping it cool with natural shading in the summer.
This is the first in a series of videos on how to build passively-heated homes.
What is the best option for building our next resilient home?
Our recommendations to everyone building a home is for the same, aim for energy efficiency, durability, safe indoor air quality and responsible material choices etc. All that would apply still in our minds when a house will be left to sit unattended for a winter, so look through our green building guide for high performance construction techniques, and on top of that, we would suggest you take extra time on resilient home design. Since you won’t be there a lot of the time, try to foresee any issues your home may face and add design features to deal with them passively.
Here is a short list of measures you might want to consider that will help protect your home while you are away for long periods, and we have included as many relevant links as we can think of:
Choose a suitable lot to build a home with consideration put towards soil quality, water tables, emergency service access, and close enough to a community so you could have someone on call that can attend to your home regularly.
Super-insulated homes such as passive house, and designing a home for passive solar heat collection will keep your energy costs at a minimum and also help it stay warm in the event of power failures.
When you suggest a basement, my first thought would be to avoid that and stay above grade. Building a basement is typically a more expensive way to build, and even if you take measures to protect it against flooding, you will still be at risk. A slab on grade house on high ground will safeguard your home against extreme weather events in a changing climate.
If you do choose to go with a basement, please see our guide to durable and healthy basement construction, and take extra durability measures such as installing a sump pump, possibly a second one depending on water tables, and even a battery backup.
Choose durable roofing materials to protect against high winds, such as a professionally installed and well-fastened metal roof, or a living green roof. Asphalt shingles are the least durable and are susceptible to damage from wind and hail.
Smart homes and home monitoring with devices– control the systems of your home remotely, and monitor for intruders, temperature swings, and get smart phone notices for leaks from basements and or appliances.
We make no secret of the fact that we prefer slab on grade homes over basements, and particularly in your situation. Aside from what we mention above, it’s great to have a retirement home on a single level so you can avoid the need to negotiate stairs if you have mobility issues in the future. That said, we also have information on downsizing and home design for seniors, that you may want to consider now for when your travelling days end.
For additional inspiration, we have a few demo homes we have built that meet much of the criteria described above; the LEED V4 Platinum Edelweiss House, our LEED Platinum Kenogami House, and our newest demo house in Wakefield QC has a feature that may be of interest, we installed a solar air heated floor. That way a large portion of your heating demand could be provided by a small solar panel running a fan, to help keep your home warm during extended power failures. You might also want to read up on Passive House certification - as having an official certification for your new home has been shown to increase it's value in the future.
Finally, to address the issue of cost – yes, you will put more money into a durable and efficient home, but they pay for themselves in the long run. As you plan to stay in this for the long term, we truly believe that the added investment for a greener home will pay off. The best way to keep costs down is to keep the size down and the design simple, so take time to consider how big a home you really need.
And given that you aren’t starting to build right way, keep an eye out for more information on our site in the near future about high performance and affordable prefab kit homes.
We hope that helps, good luck John!
Where do I start to build a small, affordable, low-maintenance house?
This reply will be equally long, and time consuming to read, enjoy! Thanks for laying out your lifestyle and goals, what I can do is give you a list of things to consider and things you will need to decide on. I will load a ton of links to relevant pages, some you may have read and some maybe not, some are a lot of fun to try if you are looking to live off grid. This is at least a starting place, feel free to ask follow up questions about any of it, here goes!
A ‘Tiny House’ is typically on wheels, but in our opinion, immoveable homes are better. If you are looking for a mobile tiny house, here are a few links to check out:
If you are looking for a stationary house, you need a piece of land to build on. I’m not sure, but do you have that land already? Great if so, but before purchasing a building lot I would check with the local municipality if they have a minimum home size requirement, and if that is a size you are comfortable with. Here are some pages to help.
Choosing between a slab on grade and basement – slabs are cheaper, more ‘eco-friendly, healthier and more durable. You can buy a prefab slab kit, or you can have one designed by an engineer and build it yourself (with your army of helpers) Keep in mind, depending on site conditions an soft costs such as engineering and permitting, one isn’t always cheaper than the other between prefab and hand made, so price them out.
- Slab on Grade or Foundation and Basement; Which is Best?
- Slab-on-Grade Raft Foundation Insulation Detail, Prefab ICF Form Kits
- Slab-on-Grade Foundation Detail & Insulation, Building Guide
To stay on budget when building a home, you need to carefully plan the steps ahead, see below.
We will have more news in the near future about innovative prefab kit homes that are LEED Certified and Passive House ‘ready’, in that they are of a quality that can meet those requirements. That’s a good thing for living off grid because it keeps your heating costs down, which In your case I imagine is likely firewood? Some solar heating options are linked below.
- Solar Radiant Heated Floor Kit - Slab on Grade for LEED, Passive, ZNE
- Wood Pellet stoves that don't need electricity
- How to build a solar air heating panel DIY video
- Using a compost pile to heat domestic water
That is really just a start, you still need to choose a wall assembly, here are a few pages of material types that are available.
This is probably waaaayyy more info that you were expecting, and some you may have read before but I just wanted to make sure you found a few of our more obscure and interesting off grid articles. You can find all that stuff and more in the Ecohome Building Guide Pages, but also pop in any keyword like 'off grid' in the search box at the top of every page and you will find even more. Good luck!
How well do Legalett slab on grades work?
That's quite a complete list of questions! I'll address them one at at time here, and if you (or anyone) is interested in the Legalett raft forming system, drop us an email at email@example.com and we can get a quote organised.
1) What are some potential issues with the approach?
None really. In certain cases this system can be more expensive than others, in other cases it can be cheaper when you factor labour, excavation and other soft costs. Legalett fully engineers a solution to match your plans and conditions. So in virtually all cases, the best part is, it will likely be a better build. Meaning - structurally stronger, less susceptible to differential settlement and cracking than a traditional footing / frost wall foundation, and much better insulated. If you are building directly on solid rock and have no drainage issues or had no clay, building with a footing could be a bit cheaper, but not better. In your case Steve, Legalett may actually be the most cost-effective option because when you build on expansive clay soils it often requires soil remediation in order to build a slab with a footing and frost wall, Legalett should probably not require such measures. Note: we just built our recent demo house on clay and saved quite a bit of money by building a raft slab using Legalett ICF slab forms.
2) How are those issues usually addressed?
What issues?! :)
3) What is the long term track record of Legalett slabs?
There are about a million and a half square feet of Legalett slabs installed all over North America and there is not a single structural failure recorded - the system originated in Sweden in 1983 and certainly seems well engineered to us (which is why we chose it for our demo house - that and the innovative solar heated floor).
4) Is there any reason you can think of why the County of Prince Edward would have any issues with issuing a permit for, inspecting, and issuing an occupancy permit for the finished product?
The company wants to make it a smooth experience for their customers, so I understand that if you receive any resistance from your municipal inspector that they will go to bat for you. They also say that in all of North America that they have never been refused a permit, so don’t worry, you likely won’t be the first.
5) Is there anything special we would need the home designer to be aware of, as they put together the plans and construction drawings, if we opted for this approach for the foundation?
If you decide to seat your home on one, you just need to provide the building plans and Legalett engineers will provide you with complete stamped drawings and step by step install directions. It means your designer only has to concern themselves with what is above grade only, so let them know early so they don't spend your money on drawing up something you won't be buildling.
6) We would like if possible to use local people as primary constructors, and we are also capable of (and want to add where possible) sweat equity. Is this feasible with the Legalett system? We also believe we have a good local excavator for the septic and foundation work.
That's a great way to do it if you can. The company provides training seminars for builders and general contractors. If you are someone that has building experience and wants to do it yourself, this is hands down the best way to go. What they give you are custom step-by-step directions for assembly from start to finish.
It’s not quite as simple as assembling a couch from Ikea, but if you have some building experience and you know how to read a plan AND you take the training course, it’s a very do-able undertaking. They also do an inspection before you pour concrete (which is included in the cost), so if you screw something up they will at least catch it in time. And they offer tech support, which is great to avoid backtracking and fixing mistakes in the first place.
7) If so, would non-Legalett trained people need any special knowledge, experience or skill beyond what they would normally need to build such a house if it were on a crawl space or basement? What I mean here relates to the part above the foundation; i.e. the main house and garage construction.
That is partially answered above in question 6, and - since Legalett is a structurally reinforced Raft slab it has no footing, so excavation is much more simple. You need a flat surface on which you build rather than digging trenches or building up to accommodate footings. A foundation contractor that has never used it before would need to sit with the plans for a bit to wrap their heads around it, but once they have, it’s a bit of a cake walk.
8) Are there any homeowners we can speak to, for references, for comparable projects? Ideally we wish to understand any issues that might arise during the planning, execution or post-project.
Legalett has an Ambassador Program where there are homeowners that on occasion offer tours of their house and relay how their experience was, with luck there may be one near you.