Things I would do differently…

Not to be a downer, as the house is really AMAZING, appears to be performing right in line with estimates we made for heat load and UA and the more detailed PHPP workup. But I can’t help it, there are definitely things I would do a little differently if I were to build a house again.

  1. Our property has a 2-bedroom deed restriction, which we knew going in, and it’s totally fine, but if I were to do it again, I would have been in communication with the town’s building inspector (who is also the zoning enforcement person) early on in deciding — show him our rough plans, what we were going to build — instead of waiting until submitting formal plans. Novice mistake. Luckily things turned out fine.
  2. Don’t be afraid of stock plans. I don’t think one necessarily needs custom home plans to build a superinsulated house. Certainly if you are trying to do passivhaus then you probably do since it will mean really messing with window sizes and placement, but otherwise, I would advise that, if you already have a plan that you really like, just go with it, and ask your builder to build 12″ or so double walls, rather than the 2×6 walls shown in the plans. Spend that money you save on something else!
  3. If I were to do it again, I might not be quite so enamored of strict strategies for reaching/approaching passivhaus in New England. A passivhaus would use 2.5x less energy than our house, approximately (assuming the same TFA) but we’re talking maybe $200 in heating PER YEAR vs $600 PER YEAR. I am not at the moment convinced it is worth the substantial extra effort/expense due to slightly unusual methods needed and products. It’s still tricky to do this stuff and so it means having a team — a builder and architect — who are obsessed I would say. Correct me if I’m wrong! So, do all of the items on the passivhaus checklist that are low-hanging fruit, but pass on items that are stretches. Might as well do 6″ of foam under the slab and edge, for instance. But have nice views on the North, East or West of your house? I would say not to feel bad about putting in nice windows there! That’s me. (I would aim for R40 walls including basement, R80 roof, R5 windows, R20 slab)
  4. On the other hand, I would also ENCOURAGE everyone to VERY EARLY in the project to seek out a Certified Passivhaus Consultant (such as ours in the Boston, Massachusetts area: DEAP GROUP) and have them model your house plans in PHPP. Even if you don’t follow all the Passive House advice, you will be very well informed!
  5. On Solar PV panels: I really like the Enphase microinverter approach we took, but I can’t help but think that the grass-is-greener — IOW, a central inverter. I like that a central inverter approach would have 1) been a little cheaper, and 2) allowed for a “hybrid” grid-tie AND small battery approach, and 3) w/ battery, allowed for some degree of “off-grid” use in case the grid goes down during storms and such. Ah well, I probably would be wishing we had microinverters had we gone with a central inverter approach! I am remembering that I think part of my decision for microinverters had to do with worrying about shade. I should have trusted the solar survey more! We are pretty much totally shade free except at the beginning and end of the day. Which microinverters don’t help much with I don’t believe.
  6. I would probably try to use as little foam as possible. Cellulose all the way! And generally, vapor-open envelope assemblies seem like a Good Idea. I now like this thinking better than the Lstiburek “perfect wall” approach which is closer to what we have. Ah well, grass is greener…
  7. I would use bigger windows in some spots and remove them in others. I guess trying to be a bit more site-aware. Where are neighboring houses… where are views, etc. We did this to some extent, but there are a few misses where I wish there was a double bank of windows. That sort of thing.
  8. I would have looked into unusual choices IN PERSON a bit more. I think it would have helped, for instance, to visit a house with had the Thermotech windows we were considered upgrading too. We were feeling stuck on using double hung (which we love) vs casement (which we do not). But maybe we would have been swayed seeing them in person?
  9. Sorta related to that… I would have in some cases gone with the experience of the subcontractors (on paint brand choice) but in other cases, considered using a different contractor who had specific experience using an uncommon but greener product (OSMO Poly-X floor finish). So there are 2 alternate sides to the same issue of trying too hard to use a product that is maybe greener, but if it also gets installed wrong might mean expensive undoing or redoing. And “wasting” green ($) is not green! 🙂
  10. I said not to worry about custom house plans, but on the other hand, I will admit that it is a Very Good Idea to have it worked out ahead of time exactly where the HVAC ductwork will go. I think it is wrong to leave it to the contractors. Better to have it worked out ahead of time.
  11. I might have considered more seriously a “backwards saltbox” approach (we face south, so the long roof would be in front) since it would give more room for panels.
  12. I think everyone who builds a house feels this way, but there are definitely a few spots where I wish a light-switch or outlet was in a different spot. Our electrician did a great job helping us with this, but maybe there is a way to get this even MORE right. Not sure how without living in it first.
  13. OK, that’s a pretty short list actually. More as I think of it…
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