Green Dream Home: Things to Consider

Before you hire a contractor or start building your green dream home, consider this expert advice.

  • Green Dream Home
    Doing thorough research and having frequent conversations with your contractor are important aspects of making your dream home a reality.
    Photo courtesy Steve Maxwell
  • Green Home Construction
    There is no substitute for practical experience. If you’re not familiar with construction, then learn valuable lessons by building a shed or office.
    Photo courtesy Clarke Snell
  • Green Home
    That’s a small, simple version of your house.
    Photo courtesy Clarke Snell
  • Contractor
    Whether you build your own house or hire a contractor, get involved in the process, says author Clarke Snell.
    Photo courtesy Lisa Madell
  • Straw Bale Home
    The owner-builders of this straw bale home in western North Carolina took a patient and deliberate approach:gaining experience through other projects, getting to know the site beforehand and focusing on details during construction.
    Photo courtesy Clarke Snell

  • Green Dream Home
  • Green Home Construction
  • Green Home
  • Contractor
  • Straw Bale Home

In 12 years of home construction, I have never talked to anyone who had realistic expectations about building a house. We green building types usually are even worse because our goals are so high that we don't simply want a good house, we want to transform our lives and save the planet in the process. These are wonderful aspirations. I have no desire to denigrate them, but I would like to inoculate the dream with a bit of realism while also providing tips for grabbing that dream by the horns and dragging it into the light of day.

The first hard lesson is that you and only you are responsible for your house. You may need the help of professionals, but ultimately only you can figure out how to integrate your idiosyncratic personal needs with your exact spit of land.

The point is that a good house is the symbiosis between specific people and a specific place. If you agree with that sentiment, then you have no choice but to get involved in the creation of your house. The only question is, how far should you go? Build it yourself, or write checks and watch from the sidelines?To me, the only imperative is that the house comes from you. The number of people you get to help with the building is unimportant. Even the most rugged individualist with only a few hand tools and a pickup that hauls soil and straw (for making cob) has enlisted the help of hundreds of people: those who designed and built the truck, manufactured the tools or grew the straw. Enlisting the help of architects and builders is no different — we all need help. The important thing to realize is that the building buck stops with you. The house is your dream, and its your money.

Learn the Basics

None of us are indigenous builders with an intuitive understanding of the materials we'll be using and how they can come together to create a complete entity called a house. (If you are, then stop reading and start building!) Its not enough to say that youre going to build a house with straw, earth or wood. You have to understand how those materials will interact with your particular outside environment in a way that creates the inside environment that you need to be comfortable, happy and healthy. To do that, youll need to research four basic topics and how they relate to your particular situation. Whether you're going to build it yourself or just take responsibility for the process, you need to understand:

Structure. The manner in which your building will hold itself up.

Temperature. The mechanism by which your building will maintain a basically stable interior temperature in the face of fluctuating outdoor temperatures.

6/26/2010 12:59:15 PM

One thing people need to remember is being self sufficient is about learning to do new things. My husband and I plan on building our own home. We did a room addition together so we feel somewhat comfortable taking on this task. What we will do is alway seek help when needed!

Betty Saenz
3/7/2010 6:48:19 PM

My late husband and I had plans drawn up by the then President of the Coastal Bend Solar Energy Society, Dietrich Braun. We never got to build that home. Now, I want to save up to try again, this time with the new construction methods that have evolved since then.

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