Monday, November 30, 2009


Here are a few examples of designs I find inspirational for our house project. Each is fairly simple in form with inviting entrances, generous overhangs and interesting windows. They are not particularly edgy designs, but each house looks like a place I would want to live.

And this is what I do not want the house to look like. (With apologies to the owner, it's not horrible, just not what I would choose to create.)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Timbered Floor System

This will sit on top of the concrete basement walls and become the first floor of the house. In the basement looking up you will see the 6x8 joists and 8x12 girts that make up the floor system-- so the burliness of the structure will be visible even in the utilitarian space of the basement.

We took some time out on Thursday to make and enjoy a Thanksgiving feast, but then worked through the weekend cutting the timbers for the floor system. While creating something for myself is so fulfilling that I don't mind stepping up the work pace, I am starting to look ahead to a mid-winter ski trip once the roof is on.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Windows: Part II

Fortunately we started planning this house last spring because things are happening very quickly now that we have finally commenced construction. A huge excavator is on site making a real driveway, stumping the lot, putting in the well and digging the foundation hole. I'm hopeful that we will have concrete next week. We got the wood for the timbered floor system yesterday and today I moved the timbers into the shop and laid them out. I should be getting a finalized quote from the panel company tomorrow and am hoping to have panels delivered in three or four weeks-- which means the timber frame needs to be up by then! The timbers were ordered today and hopefully we'll get some key members next week (like the posts) and basically we'll totally crank and hire some help to get it done. It's certainly an ambitious schedule!
My time in the building world has taught me that the more you can plan ahead the better-- both in terms of cost and ease of creation, as well as the quality of the final product. So while I wasn't completely sure this project would happen, I worked on the design all summer. There will no doubt be some surprises along the way, but right now as the pace begins to accelerate I am very glad for every decision that has already been made.

The window schedule, however, has yet to be finalized. This is what I have right now:

The windows are much larger than they appear in the drawings (or the house is smaller than it appears, depending on how you look at it). For instance, the windows in the lower left of the south elevation are approx. 6-6"x3'-10" (pretty big!).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Here We Go

We're done (for the moment) clearing the lot and are ready for the big machinery. Since excavation is such a large chunk of the house building budget, and because it is the first big check we will write, we are trying extra hard to keep the cost down at this point. We have met with six people about excavation and are hopeful that we have found someone who will let us work with them so as to cut down on the cost. Our first attempt at saving money on the site work did not go so well, so hopefully this time things will work out as we plan.

Initially we had someone come up with a small excavator to rough in the driveway, but we ended up with a colossal mud pit that we then proceeded to get the the wood chipper and the Bobcat we have on loan stuck in again and again. We used the Bobcat to move cut up trees to a big firewood pile, but I am pretty sure we could have carried it all by hand in the time we spent trying to get the machinery out of the mud.

I do not particularly recommend the extreme miserly method of house building, but sometimes it is necessary. By the end of this process we will almost certainly have burned through our construction budget, yet still have some necessary purchases remaining. Perhaps by being super stingy in the beginning we will at least delay that point. This method will most likely mean we will spend much more time "stuck in the mud" than if we just decided to pay the going rate for things and have it done the normal way.
Whatever happens, we will have firewood for the next few years...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Site

Here are a few pictures of the house site. We have 22 acres of mostly hardwoods- oak, maple, ash, birch- on a south facing slope. It is a corner lot with a paved road along one edge and a dead end dirt road along the other. We have sited the house at the top of our property on the dirt road. Hopefully in the future we will build a timber frame shop at the bottom of the lot on the paved road.

The view earlier this fall.

This is the view right now.

Jence felling an oak.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Windows, Windows, Windows...

They have such a huge effect on the overall look of the house. It is all too easy to adhere to a typical window layout- centering windows in rooms and stacking them next to and on top of eachother. To me, windows should be balanced, but not necessarily symmetrical. They should express the interior spaces on the exterior of the house. So in living spaces large windows express the public nature of the space on the outside. Perhaps smaller windows are appropriate upstairs for the more private areas of the house. Or horizontally oriented windows for sleeping spaces. Check out how completely different the window openings in the below sketches effect the appearance of the "house".

We are putting almost all of the windows in our house on the south to take maximum advantage of solar gain. According to "The New Ecological Home", by Daniel D. Chiras, there should be 7-12% of the total square footage of heated space in south facing glass in a passive solar home. So a 2000 sq. ft. house would have 140-240 sq. ft. of south facing glass.

Beyond the actual layout of the windows is the type of window. Double hung, casement, awning? And beyond that, how should the windows be divided? Two over two, cottage style, no divisions? Each choice will drastically effect the overall look of the house.

I came across a great book the other day in a book store called "The Face of Home", by Jeremiah Eck. It is about much more than windows, but is full of pictures of houses with well thought out window designs. Many are reminicent of New England vernacular architecture, but with modern living in mind. I personally am enamored with this type of aesthetic, though I realize not everyone is. My issue with this book is that the houses all seem to be very high-end, and not at all accessible to the average home buyer or builder. It makes me want to write my own book some day about affordable houses (in my own completely unscientific reasoning these are houses under $200K) with well thought out exterior designs that say something about who inhabits the building and how they live.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Pre-Closing Jitters

This is our chance to put all our own ideas into a house-- that second step bench I've been thinking about for awhile, built-ins to our hearts content, a light and airy kitchen. It's also our chance to feel what it's like to have to make decisions that we will have to look at every day (and possibly regret).

This house certainly won't be the perfect house. We've limited ourselves to a pretty small footprint and to a rectangular shape- both for cost and time considerations. I've worked to make the house feel bigger than its 1600 sq. ft. and to give it some visual intrigue despite its basically rectangular shape.