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Old 04-30-2013, 08:08 AM   #1
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Building unusual home


We are getting ready to downsize and plan on building a rather unusual home. The general idea right now is to build a large garage (4 cars and a tractor, we like cars) with small apartment and store stuff and live there while house is being built.

We want to control costs by deisgn and build efficiency since we're both retired; we'll be using equity in our currently nice home to finance the new place and the desire is to be mortgage free at move in time. We do not want to sacrifice quality. So, I'm here to learn as much as I can about just about everything, from self contracting to the most recent building materials and methods. I've finished a basement in a townhouse and wife has been involved in many commercial real estate sales transactions in her jobs.

As of right now, we are leaning towards the following, because we want fire proof, falling tree proof, rot proof, no painting, insect and pest resistant, as maintenance-free as possible.

-- electrically heated concrete slab floor, maybe in garage too depending on $
-- steel beam superstructure and roof of SIP type panels, e.g. Eco-Steel
-- two story garage with entries at both levels (property is fairly steeply sloped)
-- square footprints on both garage and main house
-- 14" thick pumicecrete walls
-- garage and main house to be connected by roofspan (apartment to act as bridge to house?)
-- lots of glass along some walls for views (lot is completely and heavily wooded)
-- roof mounted air conditioner
-- green roof desirable if feasible and not too much $

So, I guess my first question is about general construction. Anyone done anything similar at all? Blu Home, Monolithic dome, etc?

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Old 04-30-2013, 10:44 AM   #2
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Building unusual home


I think my first question would be, what kind of budget are you working with? Because some of the stuff you listed spells out nothing but $$$$. Unless you install some sort of elevator, those stairs are going to get you in a few years. My parents are only 51 and the one set of 15 stairs in their house is starting to be too much. Having to climb stairs every time you enter your house is going to get really old, really fast, especially when carrying in groceries and moving will be a real pain. I would rethink the entry way.

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Old 04-30-2013, 12:30 PM   #3
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I actually live not far from you (Harpers Ferry, WV) I have never built anything as "unusual" as you describe, but my wife and I did design and build our log home almost entirely by ourselves. She was the GC and I was all the subs (at least that's how she tells the story). We are also retired, and lived in our RV on the property while doing the work. The first thing I would ask is how much (if any) of the construction do you intend to do yourself? Your plans don't sound very DIY friendly, and MD has some rules about what a homeowner can and cannot do. That will greatly affect your cost.

I suggest you hire an architect to draw up plans for your dream. Unusual designs often have issues with getting a building permit because the building officials aren't familiar with the construction techniques, energy efficiency, etc. We went through some of that getting our permit because, obviously, log walls contain no insulation and we had to prove they would meet local code. In addition, the wife wanted a circular staircase up to the loft, and inspectors truly do not understand how those meet code. There may also be local restrictions on what you can build based on maintaining the character and aesthetics of the neighborhood. I know a bit about New Market, and it is "different." I have also lived in MD (Frederick), and it is so screwed up I will never do so again.

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Old 04-30-2013, 01:12 PM   #4
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Thanks all for the quick replies.

First, regarding a single level, been there, doing that. We have stairs now and are both 65 and, though not a problem yet, agree that at some point they'll become an inconvenience. So, we plan on the actual house to be one level, and not that large, probably 2 bedrooms, 2 baths and most likely that extra bedroom will serve multiple purposes. The apartment with the garage will be a single bedroom and bath and on the upper level of the garage. When coming onto the property, we'll encounter the upper level garage first. Continuing the drive to one side and down will get to the second, ground or house level. The apartment will be used strictly for guests after we move into the house, maybe eventually for a renter or someone to help us out if we're still there, not sure yet. We have made a cash offer on the property which is 5 acres in Thurmont, no covenants, no restrictions, well is in and perc done. Based on equity in our present home, we're probably looking at a budget of 300,000.

md2ygyk, we don't have a camper but thought about that and decided if we can work the garage and apartment, that might work out better for us in the long run. My wife is a super organizer, on top of every little detail. I'm more the technical type, have done wiring, some plumbing framing on a remodel some years ago. So, there might be some things I could do but it would be limited because I have a destroyed back (L2 through S1 completely shot). But we are considering acting as our own contractors since I understand that can save a fair amount of money. Keep the suggestions coming, I'm very interested in hearing about people's experiences, potential pitfalls, the whole good, bad and ugly of it.

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Old 04-30-2013, 01:17 PM   #5
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I hear ya about Maryland. I like Frederick, the only problem with it is that it is in this state. We did look for a bit at Virginia (my home state) but my wife is Maryland native and all her friends, family, etc. are here and she prefers to remain near them for as long as she can. I'm a loner pretty much so social things don't matter to me.
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Old 04-30-2013, 01:28 PM   #6
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This sounds like a fun project to design and draw... and building it would also be a blast. But I sure wouldn't want to foot the staggering bills I see looming on the horizon for you, in everything... design, construction and energy costs with so much glass. I don't care what they tell you, a glass wall is not energy friendly. Just go touch one in either winter or mid summer.
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Old 04-30-2013, 04:33 PM   #7
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It appears that pumicecrete use is limited almost entirely to builders in the Southwest. There seems to be nada around here. Bummer, bummer, I really liked that it was a totally inorganic, non-combustible, flame proof material.
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Old 04-30-2013, 05:01 PM   #8
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I was wondering about pumicecrete. I've owned ten houses in several different states (East Coast, West Coast, Midwest) and have never heard of it before. It must be something like the adobe-looking stuff we saw used in great quantities in Santa Fe, NM. That's my wife's number 2 dream place to live. If we weren't living in a house we built by ourselves, I'd consider it as well.
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Old 04-30-2013, 05:39 PM   #9
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I doubt very much you'll find any suppliers of it where your located,as volcanic activity is needed to produce it,and that just did not happen where your located or anywhere near you for that matter,so you can rule that one out.
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Old 04-30-2013, 06:42 PM   #10
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I just stumbled on some more information by expanding my search terms. It appears, for some reason, that Perlite concrete is the preferred similar product on the east coast, not sure why. It sounds like it might not have quite the strength of the pumicecrete mix but I've already written nearby company to ask.

http://www.schundler.com/perlcon.htm
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Old 04-30-2013, 08:10 PM   #11
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Pumice block were readily available and desirable for insulation, fire and sound purposes a few years ago.

The pumice aggregate for block was a great material and imported along the East coast from Greece (not Italian pumice) and it was the a preferred product.

Unfortunately, the weak dollar made the cost higher and it was discontinued in many markets. It can actually float in water (I had some floating in an aquarium for over a year), not like the domestic American pumice.

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Old 04-30-2013, 08:12 PM   #12
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perlite's used as coarse aggregate in concrete - lightweight, fire resistant, insulating concrete is produced that is ideal for roof decks & other stuff,,, can also be used as gypsum plasters for ext use incl beam/column fire protection,,, other uses are under-floor insulation, chimney linings, paint texturing, gypsum boards, ceiling tiles, & roof insulation boards,,, for structural use, be certain your pesigns off ondesign AND method,,, in my experience, this is NOT a diy-friendly item

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Old 04-30-2013, 08:19 PM   #13
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Use ICF blocks for all your exterior walls, it'll get you what you want.
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Old 05-07-2013, 10:31 AM   #14
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We are just getting started on an ICF home that uses Faswall block. It is 15% cement and 85% recycled wood fibers. It doesn't blow around like styrofoam. Good insulation and fire resistant. We are building in a forest also. In Oregon.
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Old 05-07-2013, 01:33 PM   #15
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...and now waiting for boundary survey. Should settle in June if no problems. Wife and I were also up at local Kubota dealer looking at BX25D utility tractor. That will be for some routine brush and fallen log clearing, hauling firewood and plowing about 450 ft of driveway during the winter.

I've made contact with architect I knew from the development where we live now, he did some really nice work on some custom homes here. We'll meet with him later in June to see how realistic our ideas are vs. our anticipated budget.

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