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Taking the best from many energy-smart systems, and combining them into my ideal not-so-big home.

So.. lets get started with some of my basic no-brainer design decisions:

Goal 1:  Single level living
I don't see any real reason for constructing a multi-level home.  None of the reasons anyone has ever given me for building a multi-level home has ever made any real sense.  They are awkward to live in, wasteful of interior space, and hard to heat and cool.  On a small building lot, they do permit you to have more floor-space, but if I can't fit my ideal home on a 1 acre lot, then someone please shoot me.  My home will be single level, which will have the immediate benefit of being wheelchair-accessible for my programming buddy Ken, and maybe for me in my old age :).

Goal 2: Keep the living space down at a reasonable level   
I don't need a 4000 sq ft. (375 sq m) home.  Sure, I like plenty of space, but Lisa and I don't need extra rooms with names like "The Great Room" and the "Formal dining room" or "Bedrooms 3,4, and 5".  We have very specific needs, so I'll be designing for them, and not for future "Resale Value".  Like Lisa says, "The bigger the house is.. the more there is to clean.".  We'll both still need home office spaces, but they'll be designed specifically for that purpose.  We also do want some of the standard luxury items like whirlpool tub, pantry, walk in wardrobes and fireplace (no, not a walk-in fireplace), but these all have a real purpose for us, and don't require a ton of extra floor space.  I think 2000 sq ft is a good target for livable space.  Check out our Room Guide page for individual room descriptions.

Goal 3: A moderate sized garage  
With an average of 80 inches (2 m) of snow per year, we will definitely need covered parking in the form of a garage, but I'm still not sure we need a 2-car garage.  Maybe 1 1/2.  We'll need enough extra space for the Snow blower and maybe the Snowmobile :) 

Goal 4: Use the earth and the sun to advantage 
I want to use a south facing hillside to build the ideal in-ground passive-solar heated home.  Not a greenhouse, and not an earth covered home, but a mixture of both. The house will basically run East-West with the North wall fully earth covered, and the South wall fully exposed.  The actual construction will be very similar to a walk-out basement home, but without the other floors.  An open space design with a series of skylights will be used to provide lighting to the rear of the home.  

The floor slab and walls will be externally well-insulated from the earth.  It is not the intention to keep the house at earth temperate.  However, by keeping the temperate differential across the insulation low (house:earth rather than house:air), heat loss is minimized.

A long veranda on the south side, with a full overhanging eave will minimize summer heating while still permitting good winter heating.  Low-e, high gain windows will be used for this purpose.

Goal 5: Use water filled tubing embedded in the floor to provide radiant heating and cooling 
Although radiant heating is common, radiant cooling is not.  However, the fact that a typical basement provides a cool place in a hot house is proof enough to me that radiant cooling works.  The major concern seems to be that an excessively cool floor in a hot humid environment will cause condensation and ultimately mold and mildew problems.  My solution is to provide an appropriate dehumidification system to remove any excess moisture from the air.  The key reason to go with both radiant heating and cooling is that the same distribution system can be used for both.  This eliminates all the typical ducts and fans required for a forced air system.

Goal 5: Use Geo-Thermal exchange for heating and cooling 
Either a vertical or horizontal geo-thermal exchange field will be used to permit Heat-Pump heating and cooling. A single indoor heat-pump unit can be used to supply hot water for radiant heat and domestic hot water (at two different temperatures). Since the ground loop will normally supply water at a source temperature of 45-55 Degrees F, it should be possible to also use this primary loop to feed the in-floor tubing for passive radiant cooling (just as if the floor was in contact with the cool earth).  If this mode of cooling is possible, the only power demand is the pump to cycle the water.

Goal 6: Use indoor fountains to control humidity
Just as a fountain can be used to increase humidity in a dry environment, a fountain circulating chilled water can extract moisture from warmer humid air. I hope to be able to utilize one or more cascading rock wall fountains to control humidity.  These fountains will be placed in a green setting which will have the additional benefit of improving the air quality and making the house feel more natural.  In summer the rock wall can be chilled using the same ground water circuit used to cool the floor.  If need be, a small marine air conditioning unit can be used to super chill the fountains, once again using the ground water loop to dissipate waste heat.

Goal 7: Also feed the radiant heat circuit from a fireplace loop
Another potential heat source for the radiant floor loop is a fireplace.  A copper loop built into the structure of the fireplace (even around the chimney) could extract additional heat that might otherwise be wasted.  This heat would then be distributed to the rest of the house and stored in the floor slab.  This method of storing heat generated by the fireplace would provide a more stable home temperate for a longer period. 

Design Concepts
Earth - Sun - Water - Hybrid
© 2000-2018, Phil and Lisa's relaxed lifestyle home.
An exercise in Energy Smart, Not So Big living. -


This site is all about building a cool, energy efficient house, that makes maximum use of earth sheltered design, passive solar heating and cooling, geothermal exchange energy management, and right sizing of the house for it's designated use. The home's placement is on a south-facing hillside in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. This site describes the design process, the technologies used and the expected results. We also have a comprehensive Links Page for anyone who is also interested in designing a similar project.