Thanks for the detailed reply (and thanks to Nick as well).
I'm trying to "build green" on a continuum. 100% green would be too
expensive. 0% green build be irresponsible. How much can be achieved
just by having a south-facing orientation?
I think by designing a small, interior space I'll be doing my part
simply by having less space to heat or cool. And by choosing to
insulate with material having a high, but not top of the line /
exhorbitantly expensive super-insulation, R-Value.
Speaking of which, I've been looking into log homes / cabins. Log
homes / cabins seem to get a bad rap for being energy efficient; that
the logs themselves have a low R-Value. But I've also read that hewn
logs have a large thermal mass, and that perhaps "R-Value" doesn't
tell the whole story about insulation and energy efficiency or
inefficiency. Do you know where I can read more about this
controversy, or what the story is on the efficiency or inefficiency of
a log home using effective chinking material to seal the gaps?
Or if I can't find an affordable south-facing lot, perhaps it would
make more sense to spend a lot of money on super-insulation.
I'm in Western, North Carolina at an elevation of around 3000 feet.
Though it's the South, we have real winters here - but they're shorter
and less severe than New England winters thank goodness!
My idea at the moment is to build two small detached cabins in the
vernacular Appalachian style; 1.5 stories, though preferably two
stories. Or build one cabin to live in and a second structure to have
as a rental units; perhaps something like a corn crib or tobacco barn
style. This way, the property wouldn't have a "development"
cookie-cutter look, even though two cabins of the style of what I have
in mind would be extremely charming anyway, I think.
I really like the look of the Appalachian cabin, but am worried about
energy efficiency. I wonder if I can make the exterior look
traditional, yet use regular walls inside the place. Does this seem
reasonable to you or anyone else here? Can it be done? Should it be
done? Someone, somewhere recently mentioned something about the
badness, of, say, using brick as a faux exterior; that it never looked
right no matter how much skill you had in doing it. I wonder if the
same could be said about the log cabin. I don't want rounded logs; the
appalachian cabin style I'm thinking of has a flat hand-hewn look.
Apparently the logs were hand-planed to make them light enough that
two people could easily lift them.
I do like the idea of bringing the outside into the home with large
windows, and that definitely seems part of a passive solar strategy.
The one downside I presently see to my appalachian cabin idea is the
roof -- I think most these days are outfitted with metal roofing; I
think that's the least expensive roof option for a cabin, and I doubt
you could easily weld-through such a thing to install skylights for
daylighting and/or passive solar. The metal roofs are alleged to be
low maintenance and also low cost (less manual labor needed) so they
are something I have an interest in.
I've been meeting some opposition to this in other newsgroups; being
an owner-builder. Or at least I've been perceiving advice as
opposition and I may be wrong about that. I want to know, for
instance, what the GC mark-up is on materials, and that seems to be a
"no no" question to ask the construction community. Many are saying
it's irrelevant to ask what the mark-up is on materials and that one
should simply shut one's trap and look at the final dollar amount of a
bid; I don't think that's right, because what if a GC uses low-paid,
less skilled labor to come in at an attractive / low bid price?
I don't think it's a crime to learn as much as I can before going the
GC or owner-builder route.
What I'm trying to figure out is if straw bale construction has
something unique, something inherent that makes it more amenable to
volunteer construction efforts. If, for building a small home, the
wall raising isn't much easier for straw bale than traditional
construction, my interest in it will be considerably less. But I'm
still keeping it open as an option. I do like the high R-Value of
I guess I'm trying to balance cost and performance.
True, but the more I think of it, the more others ask questions of me,
I guess I'm less interested in resale value than I previously though.
I want to build a duplex and/or two tiny freestanding structures. I
intend to live in one half of the duplex or one of the freestanding
units throughout my grad school experience; just starting a Masters
and may continue all the way on a PhD. That's a good five years or
I live in an area with substandard, scarce, and highly priced student
housing. So I feel I can contribute something to the community with
high-quality, new, energy-efficient vernacular construction. The
Unviersity will always be here. There will always be good tenants
who'd enjoy renting a place like what I have in mind. We also have a
sustainable development, appropriate technology, and a
sustainable-orientated Construction department so I'm sure I'll always
be able to find good tenants. Hopefully the place I build can also be
a learning experience, in energy efficiency, for tenants.
The original poster c'est moi. :-) I'm thinking of townhouse style for
a duplex. Attached two-story units. Most likely I will have to build
outside city limits where, in the rest of the county, there is no
zoning whatsoever; a local controversy because, of course, someone
could build a hog farm next to my cabins given sufficient abutting
I'm trying to figure out the economics of a duplex versus two
freestanding structures. For rental purposes, a duplex is more
attractive to most renters than a large apartment complex (e.g. only
one shared wall and no shared ceiling, versus potentially getting
stuck with other units above and below one, left and right). I'd say
detached living comes next and highest up in desirability. So there's
that to take into consideration.
Anyone know if there's a significantly greater cost to building to
small cabins versus one small duplex? The amount of concrete, I
reckon, would be much the same for a single duplex versus two cabins
that total the size of the duplex.
What economic factors do I need to take into consideration, and are
there any good books devoted to these sorts of calculations?
Excellent! I'm also finding that baby boomers are increasingly looking
to small, single-story Universal Design homes. I'm very reluctant to
give up my dream of constructing and living in a 1.5 or two story home
(having lived in what I perceive to be dull single-floor ranch-style
homes all my life), but I can see the draw of one-story / Universal
Design. But I don't intend to live in the structure all my life. In my
community, I will be able to rent a quality duplex or two freestanding
structures essentially forever.