Priorities - some things have to come first
The three main goals of the house (involving energy, endurance and cybernetic automation) aren't always mutually supportive. When you factor in the secondary goals (security, privacy, safety, survivability, comfort and enjoyment) the trade-offs become even more complicated.
And, we must admit, we also have to limit ourselves to what's possible, what's pragmatic. While this isn't intended as a luxury house, and while there is an admitted luxuriousness to living in a house with greater comfort, lower energy bills, fewer anticipated repair or replacement costs and fewer chores for its occupants, this isn't ever about the posh or luxe life.
What we learned from transistors
Transistors (and other semiconductors) aren't just about where electrons are, they are also about where electrons aren't, known as holes. You could see something very much like holes on every freeway by paying as much attention to the gaps between cars as you do to the cars themselves; we all do that when we pass.
It's a little like the old philosophy class saw: Why are there things and not no-things?
Our second step in our homework on this project was a series of mental exercises, thinking about what we could take away from a house that wouldn't be missed; the first and more difficult step was thinking about the things that aren't there. Much of what you read in our Principles and Plan sections is based on clusters of small discoveries about those missing pieces; what you don't see are the things we decided to do without.
Learning became our top priority
When we started this, we only knew as much about the building trades as most people who know almost nothing. We could, sooner or later, buy the right piece for a project at 84 Lumber or Lowe's or Home Depot, but we had never built a house.
Our builder, Don Cerra, has an extraordinary grasp of what it takes to build an energy-efficient, very Green house. He pointed us, initially and repeatedly, in important and ultimately significant directions in identifying major contributors to achieve the energy-miserly nature of the house.
That led to a great deal of online research; being geeks, some of that focus is always on why and how things work.
Our next step was to get in touch with companies we could identify as being ahead of the curve for those products, and most of them were gracious and generous with their information and, later, with their products.
We attended our first IBS (a trade show sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders) and learned even more.
Heck, we're still learning.
Working the priorities puzzle
There were many alternate solutions to the same challenges, each with its own attributes, each with its own benefits.
Which would best fit the project? Again, it's all about the trade-offs. We can store a one-ton tank of water in the attic (for reasons you'll see elsewhere) but not without reinforcing the joist supports and assuring enough room between the trusses. We can add a fire control sprinkler system to the house but we have to be able to make it work even if there's no power to the well pump. We can use cameras inside the house to determine which rooms are occupied, but not without sacrificing privacy (so we're not doing that). Do we use vented or split HVAC systems? Do we choose PEX or PVC or CPVC for piping, and for which piping uses?
You'll see many of the results of our particular solution to these puzzles in the Principles and Plan sections here, but there's another layer.
We also have to consider chain-of-consequence effects, a sort of domino effect, regarding things that can happen to some things as a result of not paying enough attention to other things. One great example of this is scale in the water supply; scale can clog shower head nozzles, degrade plumbing and plumbing fittings and compel much earlier maintenance and replacement of things like hot water heaters. It's another case of recognizing the thing that isn't there.
Our Newstips Bulletin coverage has devoted a number of Special Report items to these concerns; we're incorporating the relevant items into a page in this section.
But please don't interpret our decision and direction as anything of a Gospel - we're dealing with factors that are always changing as homebuilding materials, techniques and technologies improve, and with decisions, conclusions and priorities that apply to our project's intent but might be a less than ideal answer elsewhere.
Every decision and every direction starts by asking, what's important to you, almost always followed by, what's more important to you? Sometimes we get lucky and find pieces that work across the board; more often we get wrinkled brows from trying to figure out the best thing to do.
This is, in fact, the biggest, scariest project we've ever undertaken; with luck, our work will be of some benefit to you.
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