It's been 4 weeks since we first broke ground and work has been progressing steadily. The entire foundation has been excavated and footings are starting to be formed. The outlines of the house are becoming more apparent. For a smaller home, the structure commands the site with its presence and nestles into the rocky landscape like it was always meant to be there. Siting a home is the first important design decision to be made, particularly for a high-performance home like ours. Luckily, we have a site with features that allow us to both capture the water view and orient the roof for good solar exposure; two reasons we fell in love with our lot immediately.
When we first began designing our home, we made the second important decision for an energy-efficient home: make the square footage as small as possible to reduce the energy load while giving us a spacious open floor plan. An important part of this process was value engineering. Having both a ZERH builder (Bellingham Bay Builders) and an energy consultant (Elizabeth Coe) on board early in the design process gave us the ability to make qualitative design decisions with corresponding quantitative impact. We highly recommend this "team" approach to designing and building a home. A major breakthrough came when we decided to eliminate the second floor and go with a single-story structure: foundation members became smaller, framing became more straightforward and a tight building envelope became easier to achieve. We were able to fit all of our needs into 1,632 square feet.
In Zero Energy Ready homes, the building envelope is absolutely crucial to the performance of the home. Getting certified as a Zero Energy Ready Home can be accomplished in many ways through decisions made about the primary elements of the building envelope: framing, insulation, thermal breaks, windows and air sealing. One of the reasons we like the Zero Energy Ready Home program by the US Department of Energy is that it allows owners to consider an 'a la carte' menu of high-performance details and (with the help of the design team) lets them select the ones that best fit their needs while satisfying the requirements of ZERH certification. That kind of flexibility allows for differences in climate, square footage and budget.