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We have spent about 2 years on our farm now and have gotten to the point where we are ready to build a house. It took about that long to get a feel for the best siting and to get various other prerequisite projects completed, such as a barn to store the straw bales. This has given us some time to think about what we really want. Here are some of the things we considered in our design:
One of the first considerations was insulation. We both wanted a highly insulated house that was easy to heat and cool. That coupled with a love of the funky look led us to straw bale construction. Really, that is a bit of a misnomer. We wouldn’t refer to a house as pink fiberglass construction and likewise it isn’t really appropriate to label straw in that way either. We are building a post and beam framed house that will be insulated with straw bales which are covered by plaster. We’ll use lime plaster (NHL) for the exterior and clay plaster on the interior. The walls will be about 21″ thick once they are plastered and no, the straw will not be visible (any more than the pink insulation is visible in a typical house). Just to head off questions, it isn’t quite like the 3 little pigs, fire is not a problem (more fire resistant than a typical house), insects are really not a problem, rodents are no more of a problem than any house, and the straw does not break down when sealed inside the wall. Straw as insulation actually has a fairly long, successful history, but isn’t for everyone either.
We had the pleasure of living in a house in Colorado that was equipped with solar hot water. That really got us spoiled after experiencing near free heating, near endless hot water, etc. So, solar hot water was an absolute must for us. However, we need backup for cloudy days, so will have a propane boiler as well. Given how much wood is available here, we also hope to add a wood-fired outdoor boiler at some point, so are planning for that too. Our heat will be all radiant hot water (in-floor heat) as we loved that in our last house. That fits nicely with the solar and wood boiler systems.
We definitely want to make use of our grey water to keep the landscape hydrated. It is a big waste to treat all the sink and shower water as black water when it could be put to some practical use instead. We situated our house above our food forest (orchard++) for this reason. The plumbing is designed to separate the grey water and black water (toilets). There will be a valve to direct the grey water to the septic system just in case, but we hope never to use it.
On the incoming side, we intend to use collected rainwater for much of our water. We will have well water (the well already exists), but it will be used mainly for drinking water. Sinks, toilets, and showers will be fed from the cistern. We built the barn at a higher elevation than the house to provide gravity flow water from the cistern, but will likely end up using a small pump to pressurize the water in the house. Using the collected rainwater for showers and toilets should give the added benefit of not dealing with the hard water scale that builds so quickly here.
What better place to be than sitting in the shade of a porch, gazing at the beautiful landscape that graces the Ozarks? A lot of porch sitting happens around here and it is understandable given the weather. Spring and Fall are perfect for sitting outside. Summer can be hot and humid in the middle of the day, but tolerable in the shade with a fan. Typically morning and evening in the summer are great times to be outdoors on the porch. We are designing the house with a porch on 3 sides and really hope to structure things so we have at least some time to enjoy the porches.
We both love to be surrounded by plants and have loved some of the designs that incorporate a greenhouse, such as Earthships. Therefore, a greenhouse was a must for us. We will have a greenhouse spanning the entire south side of the house. The overhang/window placement on the south side is such that the sun will shine in during the winter months, but for fewer hours in the summer. This should provide solar gain for the house in the winter and most importantly, allow us to raise some more tropical plants such as pineapple, citrus, and ginger.
The house is designed to benefit from passive solar. As mentioned previously, the south side is a greenhouse. That can either be closed to keep the heat out in the summer, or opened to help heat the house in the winter. Living areas are on the south side of the house and bedrooms that we will keep cooler are on the north. Windows on the north will be minimized to prevent winter heat loss. Windows on the west will be minimized to prevent excess solar gain from the hot afternoon sun.
We have hot, humid summers, so cooking and canning inside really doesn’t make a lot of sense. To keep the heat outside, we will do most of our summer cooking outside. We started canning outdoors last year and will never go back. This summer, we have done most of our cooking outdoors too and love that as well. We will have a simple but fully functional kitchen outside, for both cooking and canning. It will take time to get it all built, but eventually we would like to incorporate a wood-fired oven, smoker, rocket stove, solar dehydrator and more.