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Design Timeline:
Reaching our goal through a succession of short steps and stumbles.
Here are all the constrction phases:
Other Pic Pages: Foundation - Radiant Slab - Geothermal Loop - Wood Framing - Mechanical Systems - Equipment Room - Monitoring - Interior Trim - Exterior Trim

The Great Green Adventure Timeline
Sep '98   We converted our "Walk Out" basement into a large office for my hardware/software consulting work. The house is built on a slope so the bulk of this level is below grade. The back of the basement opens out to the back yard with a French door. The walls were all insulated, but I don't think the concrete floor is. It stays cool down here all year long.  This was one of those things that made me go: "Hmmmm."
Jan '00 I started researching a somewhat alien concept for me: Earth Covered Houses (sometimes called Earth Sheltered, or Underground). I purchased a series of Books online, and I started visiting the "Architecture" section of bookstores whenever I was picking up my StarTrek paperbacks.
  Mar '00 My work began on the Web site.  This was my first real introduction to the "Green" philosophy.  I quickly found out that in addition to being expensive to keep a typical two level house warm/cool all year round, the impact of generating the required power using fossil fuels was significant.
Apr '00 The idea of building a new home, and going into early retirement  had caught on with me (as if I'd ever stop programming). All I had to do now was convince Lisa :) Part of this adventure was going to be deciding on where to build this new home, so Lisa and I started discussing options.  Since I'd already moved from Australia, I didn't have any pre-conceived idea of where in the USA I'd want to live next, so it was a matter of finding somewhere Lisa would be happy.  I found a great online service called which let me look at topographical maps and satellite images of potential sites.
Jun '00 While searching for suitable land to build, I discovered Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland. Everyone we talked to had great things to say about the area. I even found a several large lots at reasonable prices. We took a day trip to the area loved it. Three days later we had a contract on a great lot. One acre of south facing hillside with year round view of the lake. Settlement is set for the 15th of July.
Jul '00 YAY... We are finally new property owners.  The  check has been sent, and now we are just waiting for the Deed (free and clear).  We paid another visit to the lot with the basic intention of marking the boundary and scop'ing out the likely view.  After spending an hour tagging the border with tape, we realized we were marking the wrong lot (oops, well it was very wooded :)  We met some of the neighbors, and saw some of the other new construction in the area.  We also asked about local architects and builders and got some good tips.  It seems like the thing to do on a new construction is to scope out an architect who is compatible with your home goals, and make sure they have good working relationships with local builders.
Aug '00 Well, we've been invited to the first Homeowner's Association meeting for our development.  There are actually only 3 homes built in the development so far, so it's more like a Land Owner's Association.  We'll be heading up on a Friday night and spending Saturday there.  

I just discovered a great new toy that will help me map out the lot.  I've been exposed to GPS (Global Positioning System) for quite a while, but I've just discovered the latest GPS model from Garmin. It's called the eTrex Summit, and it's a tiny unit designed for hikers.  In addition to all the usual GPS navigation features, it also has a Compass and barometric altimeter built in.  This will let me walk the lot and collect height reading to 1 foot accuracy.  I'll then download this data and produce myself a topographical contour plot.  This plot will enable me to accurately locate our house to require the least amount or earth movement.  With any luck this $220 unit will save me much of the cost of a professional land survey.

  Sep '00 I've started doing some tentative home designs.  The first couple were just to see how things could fit together.  I wanted to experiment a little with room layout and sizes, and see what various concepts looked like.  I especially wanted to try some Kitchen / Living room combinations.    Although I'm completely happy with a final design, I really started liking the concept of a kitchen that was simply an extension of the living room.  That's how we use it 90% of the time, so why not design it that way.  More to come. 
Oct '00 The weather is cruising into Fall, and so the tree cover is starting to thin out.  We want to see how the views change with the seasons, se we headed up to Deep Creek for a day trip.  We also brought an industrial "Weed Wacker" with us (one with a blade instead of a cord) so we could clear a few paths through the brush to better explore the property.

It turns out that they got about 1/2" of snow earlier in the week, but it disappeared quickly.  Well, the views had opened up considerably, and it turns out we can see about the lake for about 160 (from W to S/E).  We spent the day taking turns with the Weed Wacker till our hands were numb from the vibration.  We ended the day at a friend's rental where we experienced a preview of lake living.  A quick dip in the hot-tub and then a wonderful dinner.  I could get used to this.

Back home I'm refining the house design.  I've departed from the purely rectangular floor plan I started with, and I've now moved on to a more interesting shape.  I realized that since I have to excavate a greater depth of soil (rock) at the rear of the house, it's in my interest to have the house wide at the front and narrow at the back.  I also discarded the non-functional upper "Loft" level, and replaced it with a cool on-roof deck area.  Go Hot-tub.

  Apr '01 While also trying to get our taxes done, Lisa and I have been getting a feel for the new house design. I laminated the drawings (1/4" per foot scale), and we are using set of scaled furniture "stickers" to do room lay-outs. This way we can try out different furniture configurations and make sure the rooms are right-sized.

Pretty soon we're going to have to bite the bullet and start on the next phase of the design.... Engineering drawings :)

  May  '01 Lots of fun stuff happened in May. We took a day trip (1 day 1 night :) to Deep Creek and planted some English Ivy on the slope that leads down to the road.  The slope is very steep and looks like it's going to be an erosion problem, so we figured the sooner we get some ground cover planted, the better.  We also spoke to Dave Kennedy (one of the lot owners in our development).  He's a builder and is building a spec' home on his lot.  He's a candidate for building our home so it was fun showing him the preliminary design and getting feedback.  Dave was the guy who suggested using a chilled water feature (fountain etc.) to control humidity in the summer.  I've received skeptical responses to this Idea from others, but the physics seems sound to me.  It will be interesting to experiment with this.

I also started building a scale model of the house to help me try out different ideas.  I tried to think of an easy way to also model the lot contours, but I couldn't.

We met with the architect again at the end of the month to go over the Structural Engineer's recommendations.

  Jul '01 I've started working on defining the operation of the HVAC system for the house. I'm unconvinced that anyone has really put together an integrated HVAC system for a true energy efficient house. Individual manufacturers are all concerned about designing systems that can be sold as a single component, abut no integrated energy management system can be thought of in those terms.  SMART whole house energy management my goal.

Just for fun, I've coined an Acronym for my ideal HVAC system.  It's "GREEN", which stands for Geothermal, Radiant, Efficient, Energy-Network.  Check out my HVAC component and network pages.

  April '02 Well, I spent the mild winter (while the ground at Deep Creek froze and then thawed) redesigning my house to have a more conventional roof, and locating a builder I felt comfortable with.

As I expected, the flat "Green Roof" design didn't lend itself to being adapted to a more conventional pitched roof. Any significant pitch of the main roof, ended up obscuring the windows on the tower/loft. Also, since any new design was going to call for less vertical penetration into the hill at the back of the house, I was going to have to relocate the footprint to a position in the lot with less slope.

I ended up holding the main roof pitch at 4:12 (the minimum area builders seemed comfortable with) and raising the floor of the loft 1 foot.  This just required that I extend the spiral staircase and will probably make the interior gallery section more dramatic.

I also found a builder that I'm pretty comfortable with.  Gary Young and his wife Connie, run a small construction business (G & C Construction) that's been renovating and building homes in Deep Creek for many years.  Gary is very "hands on" and his estimate seemed more in line with what I thought was reasonable for my project.  I also like Gary because he seems comfortable working with less detailed plans.  I expect his framing expertise, and history with renovations makes him able to adapt to less than perfect specifications.

We're almost ready to sign a contract and start construction.  Look... I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I hope it's not a train :)

  June '02 YAY !!! 

We've signed the contract, and construction has begun with clearing the lot.  This seems like a great point to start a new timeline page.

For the next phase, please jump to my Construction Timeline.  This page will be lots of fun because it will include pictures :)

© 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.