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Prefab Modern Net Zero House Kit: The Temperature Drops

I just love this time of year here. During the drive to the modern passive solar prefab house kit, I look at each repeated scene, field, and farm we pass, over and over through the seasons and years, and I never tire of it, never fail to be amazed again and again by each moment of beauty.

In the pinks and golds of dusk, you really understand O Purple Mountain Majesty / Above The Fields Of Grain...

Ok so maybe I mangled our national anthem a bit, but that's what I see: the brown tinge of autumn, bales of hay still in some fields, the silvery wood of old barns in the slanted winter light... and in the distance, the blue ridge mountains, and they ARE purple.

Being here now means the temperature drops to 30, so we dragged in a propane heater from the shed to help the passive solar prefab during these bitter black nights. And yet, arriving as the last light waned, we found the prefab to be a comfortable 61 before we added the heat!

Oh the stars... the winter stars, so clear and gorgeous no pictures can show you so I don't even try.
When we awoke, the soil was ice.
Inside, it was 57/58. We fired up the heater and quickly it rose to 64.

Thanks to our solar cooker, I served a hot meal to friends without having to stand over a stove.

(Check it out! Passive solar house + passive solar cookin' = I can have more fun!)

It was a good thing we packed a lot of food (we served butternut squash soup made by Handsome Husband, a casserole I made the night before, and homemade bread/butter), because Mrs. Esh had her store closed, which led to lunchtime speculation over a possible Amish wedding this weekend... : ) (November is when Amish wedding season begins.)

Living like this makes you appreciate systems so much, but I admit I savor the edge it brings, just as I remember what it was like to camp here in our 1960s teardrop camper just a year ago.

Speaking of systems, Handsome Husband will guest blog for you technical people this week on Everything You Wondered About The Systems And How The Heck They Are Fitting In The Net Zero Off Grid Prefab. As for myself, I am off to take my first shower in three days.
Yes, I want my net zero prefab systems too. : )

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Lovely Thanksgiving, I am thankful.

Lovely Thanksgiving, I am thankful.
I am even more thankful that my children are spending the night at Grandma and Granddaddy's tonight. : )
I am thankful for adult time: No whining, pure relaxing, before we head to the prefab house kit tomorrow!
...I hope you all had a lovely day.


I am playing with Posterous + Google Wave while killing time to go to my parents.

I am playing with Posterous + Google Wave while killing time to go to my parents. Here's a pic from last year's Thanksgiving there! : )

Bienvenue (yes, I named one of the Prefab Cottages after their house, in honor of them) was built in 1801 on a farm in Hanover county, then moved to Richmond in the 1920s.

Oh wow. In looking for a pic of my parent's house I just found a bunch of prefab house kit pics - it was this time LAST YEAR our mod prefab house kit arrived!!! The house kit / shell / windows & doors went up in about a week. And here it is a year later and I haven't done the interior. We're doing it in stages because we won't move there until the children finish 5th grade because they are in a special educational program.

In the meantime, we're certainly having fun camping in it!

So, for fun, here's some pictures of the prefab modern house kit from last year arriving and being constructed on the land! (More videos, etc. here in the October / November / December 2008 archives:

Amish forklift

The SIPs house kit panels are unloaded

Putting together the prefab...

Prefab house walls going up...

Prefab construction...


A storm approaches...

On the roof...

From the north...

Getting weather tight...

Interior... clerestory windows...

Windows go in...

Week 1: We have shelter!!!!

Well, there's some pictures from week 1 of our modern prefab net zero house kit! After years of camping in that 1960s (still beloved) teardrop camper, I am grateful for the shelter and energy efficiency of the prefab passive solar house.

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It Didn't Happen! No Visit To The Modern Prefab House Kit.

 (If you're wondering, she's holding a bird she made. I think.)

The children awoke with sore throats, sniffles, and fever.

So... there was no weekend taking videos and pictures and observations in the modern prefab house kit.

Somehow I escaped the sickness. (Must be all that burnt garlic I eat out of the pan that no one will touch...)
I felt fine; the weather was beautiful... I hated to see the gorgeous weather here, and not be at the prefab house kit so... I played music and... cooked the entire weekend.
The dogs kept the sick children company, snuggling with them on the beds, couch... keeping the cranky children soothed with big eyes of empathy (as they stealthily stole their bed covers).

I realized how much I had forgotten what it's like to just cook for the joy and inventiveness of cooking, under no time or entertainment restraints - we are not used to having access to a stove on the weekend! When we *are* in Richmond, it's because we're in town for a reason and scheduled out tremendously.

Even in fever, the children whined, "We want to go to the land..."
We all miss it, when we're not there, despite the crazy suitcase lifestyle, the hectic workweek to get there, the meal planning (I cook everything the Thursday prior to the weekend), the incredible survival packing we've done for years through tick season, high summer heat with no shelter, the dark and quickly plummeting cold, then...

A light:
The prefab house kit construction this past year: exterior weather tight, yet still a lack of interior walls, restrooms or cooking stoves (or heat, and despite the fabulous passive solar design and super efficient insulation: I want heat and a stove!).

Regardless of its Coolio Net Zero Passive Solar Prefab House Kit status, our prefab modern house is still currently without systems.

The lanterns must be charged, down sleeping bags packed, multiple changes of ALL clothing items to accommodate muddy cold children, enough water, a *list* of items to have washed, charged, cooked, ready; otherwise you will be at a severe comfort disadvantage! And with that basic survival list, each week we have Important Items and Tasks - to bring out a certain drill, the chainsaw, an axe, to bring extra shovels to plant trees, sheets to drape, VMI basketball floorboards to sort,  tools to...
It never ends.

It's not so bad now that we have 1.exterior walls and 2.the children are out of diapers, but... you can imagine the routine: car packed / dogs loaded / chickens moved / wild cat fed / food cooked and in the cooler; clothes packed (and then unpacked, covered with mud)... for years now.

Hearing the children miss it terribly, despite being ill... reminds us we're doing the right thing, regardless of the stress of never doing one place well. 

(Note: that will change, new readers. We do not aspire to have multiple homes. This is not a weekend house, this is a Slowly Build Your Farm Out Of Raw Land While Holding Down Jobs In A Near City project.  You may have heard the phrase, "Makin' Somethin' Outta Nuthin'?" We embrace that. We are slowly building to our What And Where We Want To Live And Be.)

The 7year old wanted to discuss Animal Plans and informed me he has Big Ideas on how to do things, saying he does not want an electric fence like so many of our farming friends have. Although I grew up with a family farm, I too question some things, and have looked at ways to address the Fencing Issue. Solar electric fencing is a practical, effective way to protect livestock. (Did I mention the coyotes are the size o' shepherds here? The bears? Copperheads? The mountain lions no one has quite documented except for my cousin's friends who DO have a crazy photo? HECK YA, welcome to the country! If ya don't embrace it, move out! And far away! And don't make suburbs near the country!) Electric fencing is much better than the barbed wire with which I grew up unfortunately acquainted.

Re-thinking and exploring fencing (at this moment I pulled "How To Build Fences" out of the bookshelf) is educational. So I handed that sick chile' a book and told him to get back to me with a better solution.

In the meantime, I have my own research to do outside of the prefab house kit project: better energy-efficient, practical, modern design appliances.
My latest find is a stylish smoke detector that snaps on to a lamp cord vs. sticking to your ceiling...

What consumers need to understand is this: The house kit was finished long ago, and now we, as a family, are finishing the interior to our own family's needs.  So you can do with it, yourself, whatever you want.

I'm looking forward to documenting this prefab project's completion, but... it's a never-ending process.
The systems will snap on, the interior will be built; but... we have years of adventure ahead creating a sustainable farm.

P.s. Send in house kit photo / video requests via comments if you have any. I am missing it so much, can't wait to return and... dig holes. Lots of holes, for trees, as if we already didn't have any, having *not cut down a single tree for the home site*... we'll be planting more.

P.p.s. We *will* be having another Prefab Open House the weekend of April 11th, to coincide with Appomattox's History Weekend, more on that soon.

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Another Net Zero Off Grid Weekend In The Prefab Modern House Kit

After a week of rain, the sun broke out and the skies were blue as we headed to the net zero prefab modern house kit!  Still with no systems installed, our net zero off grid prefab was cozy, and lovely to visit.

I know better but I did it anyway: I am starting to slowly drag furniture out there, knowing full well the construction dust that will soon ensue.  Years ago my Handsome Husband discovered this stackable bookcase in a thrift store. He thought it terribly expensive ($30), but loved its soft curves and that it was solid wood.

It was then reused in my home office, then reused in an infant's room, now to be reused by all of us in the prefab house!  I will give it a fresh coat of paint this spring, but in the meantime it anchors the east side of the south room, beginning the interior design and use of that area as I envisioned: the reading corner. 

When I thought we would have a wood stove (no longer necessary as we installed radiant heat in the polished concrete foundation), I mentally placed the stove against the center wall, then a circle of floor pillows and books within cozy, languid reach.  The bookcases you see are open on each side; so I envisioned mid-century Popular Mechanics, books on "How to do XYZ (insert something fun, educational, practical here)" and Countryside Mags facing the casual reading area, then on the other side of the bookcase and facing the south view grouped with the more adult furniture, you can discover high design / architecture magazines and books.

I am still mentally working on these groupings... In the meantime the bookcase will stay against the wall and be a bookcase / kitty cat climbing cave for a certain 5 year old.

The purple Steelcase chair was found for $3, a 1970s contract furniture piece. We have two in purple, and two in mustard.

I added books that we have been collecting:

- Mid-century volumes of encyclopedias and United States history for children (the illustrations are *incredible*)
- Old Countryside Mags (full of reader tips and wisdom!)
- Mid-century Popular Mechanics (again, the graphics rock AND it's fun to learn!)
- Lots of Civil War and Virginia history books, written from many perspectives
- A large volume on historic Charlotte County
- Brochures and guide books on cool Virginia state parks and history sites to visit
- The usual Dwell and Metropolis Mags

Without my having to explain my interior design intent, I turned around and the furniture and area were being used exactly as I imagined.

On Saturday we emerged out of days of cold and rain to see highs of 60ish, and dropping into the low 40something. (40-42)  Inside the modern prefab, *still without systems*, we arrived to find the temperature reading 62; and, after an evening of 40ish, awoke to find the house at 59.

We will further insulate the passive solar prefab by adding foam around the exterior of the foundation before infilling the earth around the prefab house, and adding sealant around the windows before finishing the interior walls.

Next we will add more recycled, reused furniture little by little, bringing something out with each trip; and of course start the interior walls and systems.  We thought our first quote for finishing the off grid electrical / plumbing to be high, so we are still gathering quotes. Stay tuned...

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Construction Waste: What A Waste!

I could not help but recall our own prefab house kit construction when I read in the paper that a local landfill wants to quadruple the amount of construction debris it receives.

Here's an idea: Instead of increasing landfills to accept more waste, how about if we get the construction industry to WASTE LESS?

"The landfill can currently accept a maximum of 900 tons of waste per day. The proposed modifications would allow up to 3,500 tons of waste per day and increase the capacity by about 25 percent to 2.6 million cubic yards."
The majority of  the landfill's intake is construction and demolition waste. WHAT? What ever happened to
1. creating less (how about zero?) waste, and
2. re-purposing and reusing materials instead of just demolishing?

I called the modern prefab house architect David Day to have him weigh in.
"In new construction, you can recycle leftover drywall, concrete, etcetera; there are a lot ways to recycle materials instead of putting it into a landfill. Better yet, don't buy and cut unnecessary materials.

There are standard material sizes. If you work within those dimensions, there is no need to cut or waste material. If there IS waste, often it can be reused on the same site or repurposed for something else. There's a whole section in LEED standards about reduction of construction waste.

Copeland's husband mentioned to me the door landings on their prefab house kit were built from the small pile of leftover wood that they reused for the prefab modern house! Even that pile of wood could have fit into the trunk of their car if they wanted to repurpose it elsewhere.

Do we need to tear down buildings to begin with? How often can we rehab and reuse buildings? Think of Habitat for Humanity's Restore Richmond or Caravati's - often there is someone looking for that exact material you want to throw away!

From a builders standpoint, it's a money-saving, good business decision."

It's not just construction waste.
In the U.K. (I can only imagine what it is in the States) more than £12 billion in food waste goes in the garbage every year.  I think everyone needs to rethink waste.

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We Have The Affordable Green Energy Efficient Prefab. Where Are The Affordable Energy Efficient Appliances? Part 1

Honeychile, this is not about Energy Star.

Remember the super, practical cube freezer I found that has drawers I could then convert into a fridge? The rectangular shape allows the cook to quickly scan and withdraw items, the drawers open at the top to keep the cold air from falling out like it does in conventional refridgerators and freezers.
I would simply convert it into a super energy-efficient fridge like this guy did! And you would be able to do it too, yet still look sleek and mod for not too much money!

...Except they don't make this affordable, practical, dual temperature freezer anymore.
Oh no, they don't.

So I started researching.  And researching.

Here's what I learned about this industry:

  • Lower price points only offer the door-on-the-side, not the more effective door on the top
  • The average price for a smaller, traditional door-on-the-side under the counter fridge at the big box stores is $89 - $200
  • I discovered drawer refrigerators - utilizing the same efficient design concept, with the opening on the top
  • Drawer fridges and freezers are a "luxe" item (who knew practical was so luxurious)- so you can only afford one if you're willing to shell out $1,000 - $2,500 for the same cubic feet!
  • Yes. $1,000. Yes, $2,500. Yes, the same amount of cubic space.
  • Really. Yes, really. This is where this industry is today.
So, like much architecture / available housing, consumers are restricted to poorly designed, inefficient fridges unless they can afford a price point that is beyond most people's reach.

I mean, Tree Hugger's Lloyd Alter and we can't be the only ones that have embraced the efficient top opening, smaller refrigerators!  There have to be plenty of energy efficient, affordable, top opening drawer freezers and fridges out there... right?

Now here's some affordable evaporative coolers Mr. Alter mentions... affordable, sure, but swamp coolers and anything with high, constant humidity is not practical indoors... hello, mold.

Our prefab house kits are made with SIPs (structural insulated panels) that make the house incredibly tight, therefore energy efficient. Even with air exchangers that are a must for any tight, well insulated home, I still don't want to have a huge pot o' water sloshing around emitting water vapor all day and night...

Again, it's like the prefab house kits: Once you understand how a design element makes something function better, more efficiently, why would you ever go back?  Sometimes I speak with enthusiasts about our passive solar house kits and they say, "Well, the view of the lake is to the north, so can we just switch the house to face that way?" I explain how passive solar works, how it helps the prefab house to function. Even if you don't want our prefab house kit, why would you build a Florida Room or glass-filled entrance to the north, knowing you'd be literally watching your hard-earned dollars float out the window?

So, now I know how efficient and better-designed a top-opening refrigerator is, how it keeps the cold air in instead of spilling out like your traditional side door, and... and I just can't spend money on something conventionally designed, knowing there's a better way.

What I find amazing is that the big box stores will offer wine cellars and drink coolers (kind of a frivolous niche...) yet none of them offer top-opening affordable compact fridges (kinda practical?).

Now I might be able to snag some amazing crafty deal where *I* get what I want for a good price, but that's not going to help YOU any, no?

So... stay tuned. 
It might take awhile, but I'll be back with an affordable, practical answer for all of you.

(And more prefab modern house kit pictures and video coming next week...)

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