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4/24/09

Green Building Virginia Architect, David Day, Shares His Thoughts On The Zero Energy House.

It will be in the mid-90s this weekend and, as there is no new construction to see in the zero energy house kit, we will be instead heading to the river. (That's what we call the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. It's weird, I know. At least I'm not calling it "The Rivah" as some do...)

Just when I thought I had nothing new to say about our modern house kit, here comes the amazing, green building Virginia architect, David Day, to share his thoughts on the off grid house!

So I now present, the LEED certified, sustainably-conscious, amazing modern designer / architect, David Day!

He writes:

"seeing the casa ti in person for the first time, all the original concepts came back full circle. our goal was to design a shell that could be inhabited and personalized into a home. a blank slate in a way. part of this involved designing without specific site features being known, other than solar orientation and prevailing winds. normally, specific views would suggest window placements etc.

simplicity was desirable on many levels, and has come through in the built home. first, the efficiency of SIP modules, straightforward slab on grade construction gave an economy of installation costs and very little construction waste. it also complements the complex, wild site - farmland partially returned to forest - as a simply structured visual rest space in the landscape.

the efficient shell has only a single load bearing line separating the upper and lower roofs, so interior layout/design can be totally flexible. speaking with copeland and christoph, we could even remove all the interior walls except surrounding the bath space and some storage/utility spaces (christoph even suggested no built in closets, only movable storage pieces as room dividers, and i totally agree). what struck me most about the interior so far is it's comfortable volume and balancing of light, along with the framed views out to the site.

lastly, the way the house sits in this particular landscape suggests its integration: a small natural amphitheater occurs on the east end, with the east walls available as a screen/backdrop. the large oaks 50' or so off the south side form a natural end to an outdoor room of plantings - a slightly tamed version of the meadow landscape on the other sides. some walls as a backdrop for a specimen tree, a place for a snow camouflage summer shade terrace, and so on.

we've been discussing finding a large beer or wine fermentation tank for rainwater collection off the south roof. now is when the house becomes a home, as it fills in with plantings, furniture, color, a reclaimed gym floor as wall finish - the family. exciting times."

We too are looking, excitedly, at the next steps, and look forward to having the Day family back very soon so we can not just focus on the architecture and design, but the friendship between our families and the rest of our life spent there, living.

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4/20/09

Zero Energy Prefab House Kit Update: We Look To The Land.

The zero energy prefab house kit exterior is complete.

In about 2 weeks we move on to the next steps: interior walls of the modern house, off grid systems (solar energy, solar heat, and rainwater collection and filtration), and with it all, stepping back for a larger view: the land, and how we will encourage its health while bearing sustenance for our family.

Heather Barber, ASLA, of Topos met with us last week to discuss the land, and landscape architecture.

From the beginning, here are my thoughts about the land:
  • I love the fact we did not have to cut down ONE TREE for the home site.
  • However, we are big believers in crop tree release to help the woods become healthy. What that means, in short, is removing weed/competing trees to let the native, desirable trees grow strong and healthy. Along the field we have a mixture of poplar, hickory, oaks, walnut... mixed in with cedar, red bud, pine, a few dogwoods and... non-native evil ghetto palms! Ghetto palms, I'm out to get you!
  • The 8 acre field can be rotated with
    • cover crops of warm season grasses that encourage the quail habitat (as well as leaving strips here & there in the fields, and other quail / wildlife management practices)
    • potatoes, garlic, onions: With friends we can plant the field, then harvest it together, keeping enough for our families and donating the rest to the Society of St. Andrews. I mean, why glean (although I do look forward to doing that with my friend Peggy, what fun combined with hard work on a gorgeous weekend!) when you could actually plant a field for hunger? (Also note: store bought potatoes have one of the biggest carbon footprints as they often travel quite far to reach the consumer. They're so easy to grow, try growing your own in your back yard!)
    • eventually move to the Rodale Institute's cover crop roller. Currently we have a tractor with a bush hog and blade.
  • There is a smaller field downhill from the home site we could irrigate with rainwater... we've tossed around ideas of growing some kind of crop there, like asparagus... but the reality is that as it is much deeper in the woods it will be much more accessible to wildlife... but it's something to think about...
  • I would love a root cellar in which to store food.
  • ...and, I admit, we have a hankering for mid-century coolio functional cooking grills- purposeful practicality with kickin' design. YES I realize this is a murky area, in which I struggle. Half o' me is survivalist (heck my family has survived here for hundreds of years), half of me is forward thinkin' design, and half (fine I never said I was good at math!) o' me wants a third option from the solar cooker and propane marine stove. I mean, if the weed tree is felled, why not use it? (Or not? Considering.)
  • Handsome Husband and the casa ti green building architect, David Day thought it would be plenty fun to have our friends hang on the slope next to the east side of the house in the evening and project old movies onto that north-east side of the house. They were even tossing around words like, "amphitheater." We'll see.
    They're such romantics. Which is why I love 'em. Which is why they're both more talented than I. : )
  • We've already planted apple trees around the shed, and I was pleased to see they are all in bloom and healthy! In a few years we can invite friends over to pick apples!
Now I also must remind myself that we are on a STRICT BUDGET. So maybe most of these ideas will not happen for years. But in the meantime, here are a BUNCH of land pictures, so that the Virginia landscape architect Heather Barber can get a better feel of the entry, field, and area surrounding the modern house kit. I commented on many of the photos, so if there is something that interests you, click on it to see it larger, and with commentary.



We also met with Ron Bernaldo, also known as The Most Fabulous Contractor In The History of the World about our next steps. I can not re-iterate enough how critical having a knowledgeable, experienced contractor has been to the success of our house kit completion. The house kit itself erected easily; but the decisions we had to make as consumers, making the modern off grid house kit "our own"- could not have been affordably or successfully achieved without a contractor like Ron.

Regarding our green building progress, as I mentioned we start again framing the interior, then move on to solar and rainwater collection integration. And THEN we move to interior design of the house kit. Married to a fellow design enthusiast, living our role as house building consumers, I suspect there *might* be design fights ahead.

The first hint came when Handsome Husband nailed up some old sconces. Yes, they do help light the interior of the unfinished SIPs - exposed house kit, but... um...
Fortunately they dribbled wax onto his pristine-just-polished concrete floor so I suspect that will be that. But we shall see... never underestimate Handsome Husband.

So maybe I should start a new blog category, called, "design fight" just in case...

In the meantime, here are a few more pictures of the zero energy modern house, it was a *lovely* weekend on the land!

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4/15/09

CHICKUNZ Went To Visit The Board of Supervisors.

CHICKUNZ went to pay a visit to Henrico's Board of Supervisors last night. We waited over five grueling hours to be heard. You see, last year when I raised the issue for Henrico county to consider more sustainable strategies and allow residents to have laying hens, the response was a resounding, "We will not address this issue, it has been decided."

So here it is, spring again, and I decided to take another tactic: use the public comment period to show that their constituents really do want laying hens and more sustainable rights to produce their own food, responsibly, in residential back yards.

Of course the night in question was one of the most contentious, emotional, and long meetings of the year! Yes it was loooooooooong. And I had a fever. But ultimately I was glad to witness the large participation of citizens, having public discourse with their representatives, and, even when I differ in opinion, give kudos to the Board of Supervisors for all their hard work and deep commitment to their community.

As I mentioned, it was AFTER ELEVEN P.M. when we finally rose to speak.

By then, there were about ten of us. I only knew two of the parties, so please, if you were there, please comment and introduce yourself so we can find you again, and please join FaceBook's CHICKUNZ page to stay connected and aware of next steps locally.

First, I spoke. Fortunately for you I can't remember what I said. I do recall I mentioned that like many of the families there tonight, I too was a mother, there to speak for her family's best interests, that it was critical to feed the mind with good education (many had spoken in favor of new schools), but to not forget it was just as important to feed our bodies with good food, and that in these dire economic times constituents deserve the right to be as sustainable as possible.

I mentioned that they needn't re-invent the wheel: just copy zoning that is in effect in cities and counties throughout the United States- including L.A., Brooklyn, Atlanta, Portland, Seattle, and more!

Next, George Lansing spoke about the awards his family company, Days of Old Herb Farm, won at the Maymont Flower and Garden Show for his Victory Egg Garden which contained, yes, a coop and hens. Thousands of garden enthusiasts saw that award-winning garden, yet most likely none of them could legally have that sustainable, egg-producing garden!

Next, (please forgive me I did not write your names down and if you contact me I will change this accordingly!) a woman spoke about her desire for poultry, that it didn't make sense that zoning requires a coop to be set back from homes 400 feet away (over a football field length!) when a chicken only needs 10 square feet of space.

A gentleman spoke about how, in his public policy class at the University of Richmond, he chose the topic of local food production and was concerned about our community's sustainability, that while studying hunger and disaster preparation, he believed that by allowing residents to be sustaininable they would be preparing their constituents for the coming years of tough economic times and threats to food production globally.

A woman stood up.

"I want to tell you that those predictions of which he just spoke are not in coming years, they are NOW. I have lost my job. My husband has taken a ten percent pay cut to keep his job. We want to eat well. We can not afford organic eggs. Please allow us to feed ourselves by granting us the right to have chickens, to provide ourselves with sustenance."

This woman and all the others in our community in the same situation are why I'm fighting.

It would be easy to surreptitiously have my laying hens. But the larger issue is that our community NEEDS and deserves the right to be sustainable and self-supporting as possible.

Our comment period closed with Mrs. Lansing reminding the board that there have been no avian flu cases transferred from chickens to humans, and that we ask for responsible zoning, not large flocks of messy birds.

Well, we spoke. The Board of Supervisors listened. Now let's make sure they heard.

As Mr. Lansing points out in his email regarding last night:
"I didn't get in until 1am. The Henrico Board of Supervisors heard about five of the dozen people who attended, but we had to wait until 11pm to speak.

I closed by asking them if any of them wanted to lead the other metropolitan areas of central VA by making a motion tonight to amend the zoning laws. The Chairman of the board seemed a little surprised at my assertiveness and said that would be subject to the zoning boards recommendations and no one made a motion. I do believe we have some real support here but I also do not believe anything will happen until enough noise is made by Henrico citizens voicing their concern about changing zoning guidelines.

The time is NOW to get Henrico to make these changes, take this momentum to the other counties and watch free Americans take greater control of their gastrointestinal future! ; )

Here's what we need to do:
  • When I or one of you have time, post the names, emails, and phone numbers of all the members of the board.
  • Generate grass roots efforts NOW to contact the county supervisor in your area to make these changes.. This can be email, snail mail, phone, or in person. Be polite and give some solid reasons why this would benefit both the county and their citizens.
  • If you don't live in the county, try to call someone you know who does, and have them contact their supervisor.
We have a base of activists to help direct this change throughout central VA. The momentum is building, but we need the help of many more. Everyone does not have to attend board meetings into the night, but please do what you can. You would be surprised to realize how few people it takes to make real change. I will try to comment with more detailed info in a couple of days when it is not 1am.

George Lansing"
Copeland's note: The list of Henrico Board of Supervisors and their contact information may be found here: http://www.co.henrico.va.us/supervisors/

Please contact them now, tell them what sustainable urban livestock means to you, how it can help our community, and that their constituents DO support the right to responsible, small scale food production!

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4/6/09

Modern House Kit Update- Architect David Day & Family Visit The casa ti!

We were SO excited for David Day and his family to visit! As you may know, the green building architect David Day is the designer of our zero energy, passive solar casa ti house kit.

Now finding our land is not easy. I had emailed a map, but felt it best to take my new recycled dirt bike from Richmond Re-cycles and pedal down the drive to the road for a trial spin to see how visible the yellow rope we hung as a marker was for a car. Imagine my surprise when, as I returned to the house kit, I heard a gentle beep behind me, turned around, and there was the Day family right there, already on the land!

They tumbled out, and the children promptly found the dirt hill, sand, and creeks. They have been very busy making "a campfire," "a kitchen," (on the sand pile) and "food." Yes, sand, twigs, and rock food which was served to us and was *absolutely delicious,* while David Day and his lovely wife Kerri sat down with Handsome Husband and myself for a beer at the picnic table to discuss the off grid house.

David was very, very happy with how the house kit had been completed, by the way, and I have asked him to give an architect's response some time later this week to share with you. I just loved seeing him smile as he walked around the modern house he designed, and when he got HIS camera out and started taking pictures... that was a moment I'll always cherish.

Now that we have a little more shelter than my beloved aluminum teardrop camper in which we have camped for four years through all seasons, we are starting to finally meet more neighbors. Earlier that day, we met Peter Scott, a neighbor whose family bought over 100 acres on our road over three generations ago. He met Handsome Husband on the road as he was trying to make the driveway more noticeable for the Day family to find, and we invited him in for a tour of our passive solar house. I was wondering what an old school guy would think of the off grid house but... he loved it! He totally got it! He walked around and nodded his head as we explained the passive solar functionality, the practical concrete floors that also provided thermal mass, our plans for landscaping. We loved his deep knowledge, ready smile, and stories of the generations of families and land along our road- we learned his family used to farm what is now our land, and that it was traditionally planted with grasses and corn. We really hit it off with Mr. Scott- especially when he started talking about barbecue, and how his family starts at 4 a.m. to begin their roasts, and the detailed traditions they have in creating each community barbecue... I know we have found a good friend and look forward to having his family over when we have friends over and cook for a crowd!

Now this was also the first time we had visited since Handsome Husband sealed the floor. It made ALL the difference- I will never need a vacuum cleaner, a push broom EASILY cleaned the dirt and dust after a busy weekend neatly into a pile, easily finished with a dustpan and brush. We will probably add one more layer of sealant after the inside construction is finished, but really, it could last for years as is. David Day also mentioned we could wax it as well, something we might consider.

The weekend was mild, but at night it went down to the 30's. Inside the house kit, still with no systems installed, it remained 58 degrees. According to Handsome Husband, the zero energy house lost only six degrees from sundown till sunup. By 8:30 the next morning it was already 60 degrees. I wonder if that was not so much due to the sun rising, as it was still early, as much as the fact that little children and dogs were racing around like atoms colliding in the zero energy house! You really do understand the passive house reports where body warmth is pretty much all that is needed. With warm blankets and comfy clothes, we could easily not have to use our solar energy to heat the house except for very few times of the year.

We had a lovely weekend, but again felt the deep desire to "just move in!" The good news is that the interior begins again after Easter - and no, we can not wait. : ) In the meantime we dragged out an old trunk I have used since college in New York to keep kitchen things in, and a portable closet given to us when friends moved away to store coats and pillows and sheets in, so that we don't have to keep carting everything back and forth.

In the pre-dawn, as I listened to the coyotes howl (coyote here are the size of shepherds), I admit that as much as I miss camping in my camper it is nice to have my family safe within the modern home's strong structural insulated panels...

Oh, by the way, I have some good news regarding house kit tours / annual open house days! Keep September 26-27th on your calendar, because I am going to line up some fun farm tours, a house kit open house and more around Charlotte County's Heartland Bike Tour. There is so many history sites and cultural things to do, and you can even ride your bike, camp out, and more! I also plan to have regular "open house" days seasonally where I choose a date where interesting, fun & historical events are going on in the community so you can not only tour the house kit but make it a destination weekend in Virginia. Within fifteen miles of the land there is founding father (Patrick Henry's Red Hill), civil war, and civil rights history so plenty to see and learn.
So stay tuned...

On our way home, I thought it would be fun to take some photographs to show y'all our little town...

And on the drive home, I took pictures of the landscape, reminding us all why we all need to preserve and value these landscapes and see it as a national resource. Just an hour away, development encroaches with mass grading, ticky-tacky inefficient developments, and no respect for what may be our most valuable asset, our land. Remember: without local farms there is no local food...

So here are our house kit, little town, and driving home pictures, below! I hope you enjoy!
(I added lots of comments to the pictures so if you see something that interests you please click on the picture to see a larger version with comments.)



Our little town:


And the pretty scenes we pass:

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