Playing with house plans

Passive solar ala The Natural Home

Every couple of months I research new house plans. One of the site I love cruising through, even though not much changes there, is The Natural Home. I love the feel of those houses, though I can tell from the pictures I would need taller ceilings. I have a problem with claustrophobia and space over my head helps a lot. I am not comfortable with ~8′ ceilings. <shakes head> I feel like the world’s pressing down on me. Terry doesn’t mind small dark spaces and low ceilings. <shiver> For me? No thanks. Our current living room ceiling is 9’6 ” high and that’s pretty close to perfect though another six inches wouldn’t hurt. I know the additional height effects heating but for my comfort, it can’t be helped.

So let’s take the “natural home” style of house and see what I’d do with it. Here at our location our snow load is 64lb/sf. You might wonder why it’s that high when Boulder Colorado is somewhere between 30lb/sf and 60lb/sf depending on where you look.  We can get three foot of snow (seldom but it does happen) followed by inches and inches of rain which is soaked up and held by the snow making the snow VERY heavy.  The roof structure has to be engineered to hold that weight.

As the front part of the roof is fairly flat, I would run 6×8’s or 6×10’s from side to side where the beam marks are located held up by 6×6 posts. Spanning the beams I would use 2×10 rafters on one foot centers with the spaces between filled with papercrete. I’d need to talk to my permit guy at the county to see if that would be adequate.  I’ve got a local guy who can cut me #1 clear lumber in full dimension, I just need to know the sizes.  Rogerson cut full dimension 2×10 joists for the floor of the loft in the shop.

When looking at the inside images from The Natural House there are things I like and things I don’t.  I think the clerestory is a great idea.  For a house buried into the side of a hill, the clerestory brings light and air into the back half of the house.  Sizing the overhang correctly keeps the heat out in the summer and in during the winter.

I don’t much care for the sloped glass in the front, though I understand it’s an essential element of that design but for me it adds a crowded feel to the planter area.  I’d rather put in some form of in-floor heating (PAHS is my first pick) and have the luxury of vertical glass with a glass roof above the planter bed.

Because we have a lot of cool gray days (little solar gain), I’ll need to find a way to moderate the heat loss without covering the windows in quilts.  I saw an episode of This New House on DIY TV on super efficient windows.  The frames were closed cell foam insulated fiberglass and the glass panels had suspended film (up to three layers) inside.  A good example of this is the zero energy house using Southwall’s Heat Mirror technology.  While I’d love to use recycled glass panels, for our home, I don’t think that’s a smart solution.  Recycled panels are a real craps shoot.

Another of the things I don’t care for about the Natural Home is the rectangular bays front to back.  I’m an art deco gal and I like angles and curves.  In playing with the Natural House concept, I’ve fought this for the last couple years . . . loving the concept of the Natural Home but hating . . . despising the rectangular bays so much there was no way I could consider building/living in one.  Last night it finally occurred to me to angle the interior walls.  I can’t do anything about the posts needed to hold up the beams, but I can do something about boxy rectangular rooms.  By angling the wall I can get the closed in feeling where it’s needed (bedrooms and utility) and the open feeling where it’s needed in the kitchen and main living space.

One more change . . . to the planter just inside the front windows.  I have two options.  If it’s raised I can sit on the edge and garden.  It would need to be about 20″ tall which means the windows would need to be set about 24″ from the base/floor level.  If I don’t raise it, I would want it curving into the living space with stones set for walking through it with a strategically placed pond for feeding a grow wall partition in place of the south wall of the bedroom.  I really like the idea of that . . . hmmmm.  I love the idea but that may be a little ambitious.  I can always keep it as a future enhancement.

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