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Check out my design, offer feedback, recommend consultants or builders in upper midwest?

Posts: 17
Location: Upper Midwest USA
duck food preservation bike
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Greetings premies. What a great resource this website is!

My wife and I are pursuing smaller, simple, energy efficient living quarters on raw or degraded property, probably in Southeast Minnesota or western Wisconsin. Cold winters with prevailing northwest winds, humid lush summers. We like designing and building things. I built a passive solar duck house about a year and a half ago here in Minnesota and it's been awesome, like 30-40 degrees warmer than outdoor temp on a sunny day, and it isn't anywhere near airtight as duck entry to the run is always open, and doesn't even have any thermal mass to speak of. Kinda sold me on passive solar...

Anyhow, we're hitting the property hunt quite hard at the moment, and when I look at anything but fixer uppers I really ought to begin being as realistic as possible about what it's going to cost us to build something modest but efficient on raw land. I've done research here and there, and have a design in mind, which I'll get to, and which I have some preliminary sketches of attached. Note that all features of the sketches or description below are open to modification or compromise etc. I am hoping for big picture (or narrow I suppose) input of any kind really, and or any leads on eco/alternative builders or design consultants in the southeastern Minnesota / western Wisconsin area.

We're not necessarily going all natural on this. There is certainly going to be some concrete and probably a metal roof. We will consider straw bale or compressed earth block or bags, or (anyone have experience with ICF "insulated concrete form" construction?) whatever honestly, but am not ruling stick frame out by any means either, and it even seems likely given cost constraints. Maybe thicker studs with more spacing yea? Anyhow what I THINK I need is also referrals to consultants/designers/builders of any kind in this area (or those who consult remotely I suppose) who can help me determine what is going to fit our budget when the time comes. Need to know how much I can spend on land at this point essenetially. I would also just love feedback on if others who have gone this route before me think of my aspirations with respect to the budget or design practicality...

I've seen smaller homes that supposedly cost like 20K... I don't expect that to be realistic for us. BUT, if access is good, and a well doesn't have to be prohibitively deep, and we implement the smallest possible septic, etc, is it unreasonable to expect to be able to build something around 800-1000 square feet for like 60-80K? IS IT? Im hoping it could be possible... I mean all I really want is a glorified (passive solar) hunting shack... Relentless utility, and simplicity would abound.

Following are the design considerations I'm kicking around:
-Passive-solar, mono pitch metal roof (one big gutter on the back to collect rainwater in) one OR two story home with a simple rectangle footprint, actively heated primarily with wood fuel, but with backup heat enough to prevent home from freezing if left vacant for a few days. Could be electric or propane, whatever.
-This actively heated portion of the home would include one large kitchen open to one moderate sized living/dining area, one full bathroom, one small master bedroom, and maybe small utility room if necessary, all on the main level.
-The home will also need two more very small bedrooms, but they can be lofted or on a second level or on the main and only floor too, whatever proves more most cost and or material and or heat efficient.
-Solarium/corridor off south side of the home, acting as greenhouse/mudroom and with the aim of also adding insulation value to window side of the home. Likely self built and with salvage materials, but likely needs footings/foundation at time of initial build.
-Earth-bermed or submerged (depending on terrain) cellar/utility/storage-space/corridor on the north side of the home, also not actively heated (maybe a wood stove in there for coldest days of winter), also with the aim of adding insulation value to the home on the cold side, and being the closest thing to a basement for storm safety etc.
-Just finished concrete floors for the main (and maybe only) level (we'll use rugs)
-No closets
-Minimal plumbing (one kitchen sink, one tub, one bathroom sink, one washtub, all on a small on-demand water heater) and maybe one hose line (might just have a shallow well or spring/pond pump outside home for outdoor water)
-Composting (bucket n wood chips) toilet.
-Minimal electric routing, could even be exposed industrial conduit style
-Whatever interior wall finishing is cheapest while not compromising insulate value of that matters there. I'd even do plywood if it were cheaper than drywall. Non stick frame stuff to suite of course.
-Self built rocket mass heater likely near center of main floor (part of the reason I'm thinking 2 stories might be most heat efficient)

Lots of ideas here, curious to know if people with experience see any holes in the plan as of now, if there are any recommendations, or if I can get any leads on builders or designers to work with in MN/WI. Also, I hoe this is safe to do here, but you can email me personally at nathanpieper22@gmail.com with any recommendations or considerations. Thanks for any help!
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Posts: 492
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I too am hopeful(prayerful) of building a somewhat simple designed home with active
passive solar features, thick walls that create thermomass and can be built by myself
with minimal outside help requirements other than friends and family.

Your design is so close to "clerestory" that I am going to show you some websites and
designs that will give you some helpful ideas. Images from google images of clerestory

I also want to share a video that I found awhile back on Youtube of a Living Roof Farmhouse
that takes in probably a southern sun exposure for winter suns heat gain, the living roof for
insulative properties plus it just is so gorgeous. It also appears to have cob walls for more thermal
mass, it utilizes wood in the beams that support the ceiling which is good for a Wisconsin?Minnesota
area home as you have lots of wood around you. The floor is either concrete or more probably
packed earth, it can be colored. It is just a simple but gorgeous home. The homes in the video are
all beautiful but the one I think would fit my wants and maybe yours starts at about 4:03 minutes
into the video. There are design element in all the homes that would be great to implement.

Here is the link to the clerestory style homes that your design reminds me of, those homes can
utilize the flow of hot air rising and cool air coming in lower windows to help cool your home.
Clerestory Frame Design

Clerestory Design

From previous searches I knew I had seen straw bales integrated into the designs of clerestory style
homes so I am including that link too. Clerestory Straw Bale

Clerestory Timber Designs

Clerestory Cob

One designer show their clerestory version with the interior layout, it is a three
bedroom but I think it is a good design, nice layout. I would probably expand
the living room vs. having the 3rd bedroom. It shows a central wood burning
stove. The designer has other styles that are also very nice including an
underground version.
Clerestory Design "Sweet Spot"

Clerestory Container Homes

Clerestory Container Style Search

Pinterest is always a great source of inspirational designs and ideas Pinterest Shipping Container Homes Link

And your cool room a Prefab Cellar

Mike Feddersen
Posts: 492
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I also like the cordwood style homes for their beauty and economy, here is a nice
article from Mother Earth News on Cordwood Construction


Compressed Earth Block (CEB) Flooring

CEB Style Home Photos

Here is a great video on CEB for building.

Nathan Pieper
Posts: 17
Location: Upper Midwest USA
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Thanks for the input Mike. I especially liked the video on ceb. I do know of a ceb builder in the area, and might end up using it for portions of exterior walls. I also liked that "sweet spot" floor plan for a single level structure. I've visited and talked with owners of a few cordwood structures. Probably won't go that route just for maintenance and time to build reasons, but might try guest house of cordwood or something eventually for the economy of it it.

Clerestory eh. Well now I know what it's called I guess. I've definitely seen plenty of homes and sheds with that roof style, usually pointing some direction other than south which seems a shame haha. Anyhow I've wondered about the function of that design. It would obviously add additional light to the interior, but I would suspect, especially without covering them when the sun is unavailable, that the fact that they create a loft and are near the top of the structure, could mean that they would be a net loss with respect to solar heat. Unless there is some structural disadvantage to having a monopitch roof, I really don't understand why in cold climates, you don't just push all windows to the south side and actually utilize that lofted space for living where the heat gathers, either with loft or a full second story. No reason you can't still have overhangs for each level to manage summer sun entry. My idea if you can see in the sketch is to make the shade over the lower set of windows a shelf inside the solarium, for walking or storage or potted plants etc (assuming I had a solarium actually go to seconds tory like shown in my sketch. I think it's more likely, for budget reasons, that I would build a more or less traditional insulated roof sloping slightly forward from above the first set of windows, to give the top of the solarium more thermal retention, requiring less glass, and bing less fragile. It won't insulate the upper windows as much, but hard to say just yet. Still trying to get an idea of this is a reasonable build even in the slightest within my budget.
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