New Non Electric Home...Need Advice
My fiancé’ and I, along with my 27 year old daughter and a 72 year old friend, are building my dream home. The problem is, Jimmy, the friend and father figure, was the leader of our group and the only one with experience. He passed away last week, so now it is the three of us….with no building experience at all.
I bought 22 acres of land from Jimmy, prime farm land in East Tennessee. We made the decision to follow a dream to see if the dream was really what we thought it would be. We chose to build a home, one room, 28’x28’. This home has no electricity or indoor plumbing. We have an outhouse. We have a slant “lean-to” style roof. We collect rain water for laundry, baths, dishes and animals. We are trying to make the farm as self sustainable as possible.
We are now putting the insulation in. The home so far has cost $5200 (we are trying to build without going into debt). I got a great deal on white Styrofoam insulation sheets, 3” thick. I got enough to do the entire house, including ceiling and floor for only 300 bucks. I was excited about this and thought it would be prefect, but someone has now told me it would be a big mistake to use that as insulation because if it catches fire it is highly toxic? And…they said it does not insulate well. With such a small house, and wood heat being used, I am not worried about staying warm this winter to be honest. But I am worried about this insulation investment. I don’t know what to believe and Jimmy is not hear to ask. This person is a contractor and has complained about every single thing we have done with the house so far, mainly because we are doing it all ourselves with no contractors, building inspectors and such. Everything he said is wrong from the ground up. However, we have been living there now for over 3 months and have absolutely no regrets and love our little home.
I am just worried about the insulation. Is white Styrofoam OK for this or did I waste my money? We have already started installing it in the ceiling and one wall. If not a good idea, we can take it out, but gosh I do hope I was not snared by someone who knew that I am naïve and gullible without Jimmy’s guidance.
Can anyone give me advice and opinions on this? Pics of the house are below.
From the front, we got the porch roof on a few weeks ago
We have just started the railing for the porch
Got the wall insulation started today
Worked on the ceiling insulation yesterday
One of our water collection systems, where we take our baths
I'm sorry for the loss of your friend.
When the east Tenessee winter strikes, you'll find that foam insulation quite ineffective. Personally, if it is in the stud spaces I'd remove it and install fiberglass batts with kraft paper facing in the stud spaces and rafters. That roof is going to be incredibly hot as well, so you'll need all the insulation you can get...Which isn't much. Here, an R38 is required as a minimum standard. I bet you've got about R8, give or take. Foamboard is typically installed on the outside of the studs and wall sheathing, under the siding...Leaving the stud spaces open for insulation. You are installing some sort of siding, aren't you?
Insulative value aside, if you don't intend to sheetrock the walls, the foam needs to go. It is highly flammable, ignites easily, and the vapors it produces when burning are mega-toxic.
I'm not trying to chastise you, but your contractor friend is probably making some good points and you might consider hearing him out. This structure lacks the basic needs for a family in the modern era (plumbing, heat, electricity, safety), and is not in compliance with any of the minimum standards for habitable space. If you're in an area where building inspections are required, I'd keep this project under wraps if I were you. It would be condemned by most jurisdictions for habitation until the minimum requirements are met. I'm a building inspector, and would not allow people to reside in this sort of structure. It goes against my good conscience to offer advice on such a project but we can do it with the approach of making it as safe and livable as possible. So, ask those questions and we'll help where we can.
All I want to say to you is that styrofoam produces toxic gases when it catches fire...
There are no building codes here and no inspections needed. It lacks basic modern conveniences, because we are making the choice to live this way and have been rewarded more in the past 3 months than can be put into words.
The house did get hot this summer until we got the front porch and roof on. After that, it cooled down at least 10 degrees. The way we built the home, with the windows mostly west and east, has really helped (a tip we got from our Amish friends) and we have triple pane windows in it as well (another tip from the Amish). I was curious about this insulation, because again, our Amish friends down the road from us, well that community has about 10 homes with this type of insulation in it. That is why I was so confused. We use to keep our old home that we rented at about 55 degrees in the winter months. We like it cold honestly. But not freezing for sure. Perhaps I should consider removing it and calling it a loss before we work further on installing it. Now I am in a mental pickle for sure.
You said you are an inspector and would not allow people to reside in such a structure. Can you elaborate on that? Why would you not allow it? We have weathered some very severe storms in that home this summer and the house did not budged, leaked or caused any problems. It is sound and stable. I am curious about that statement though.
As for the siding, we are doing board and batton, that is our next priority. As soon as we get the money we will start putting it up. Then I plan to make my cedar bed frame to match the two huge cedar poles I stripped and put in the home to help support the roof.
Thanks for the replies, I have much to consider.
I wouldn't approve a structure for human habitation is if is lacking in any area that has to do with the well-being of its occupants. Aside from being a personal opinion, it is a code requirement in the International Residential Code, which is law in probably 90% of the country. The code is a benchmark and a minimum standard that sets the bar for habitable construction. This is 2008, and basic amenities, utilities, and measures must be in place to provide an adequate residence. When you can't get your house warm in the winter, you don't have water, can't cook a meal with a modern cooking appliance, can't take a hygeinic bath or shower, can't plug in a weather radio, or can't call 911, your home isn't safe for occupancy in the modern era. You're an adult and can make those decisions for yourself, and I can respect that. If you have kids living there, it is my opinion that the minimum services, safety measures, and facilities must be in place for the kids' well-being (the code, the state, the county, and most other people in modern society would probably agree with that). I haven't even mentioned structural safety. Homes should obviously be built with the occupants' safety in mind. However, the code is also in place to protect the lives of emergency personnel that might need to get you out of your home if it is on fire.
All that being said, we can learn a lot about construction from the Amish. I've dealt with a few Amish framing crews that work in the city from time to time.
Back to insulation. Are you covering the walls with sheetrock, paneling, or something? The foam insulation is better than nothing, but basic fiberglass will perform a lot better than foam will. It would likely be a noticeable difference in the winter and perhaps in the summer.
Please consider using drywall to covered the Styrofoam in your walls and ceiling.
The astm test for flame spread takes a small block of material laying horizontally and uses a small candle. Styrofoam passes this test with flying colors, BUT......
Styrofoam and most polyurethanes can burn so fast...well its more like an explosion. And lots of nasty smoke...
Test some for yourself. Lean a 4' high piece in an area void of other combustibles.
Also please consider an old time root/ storm cellar.(Very Green).. If high winds come you will want a place you can go.
I am curious about why you would want to replace the styrofoam in the wall cavities with fiberglass?
You mentioned that it would be quite ineffective as an insulation, but EPS (styrofoam) is the most widely used fill material for SIP houses and from an energy performance standpoint has a much better R-value than fiberglass. In addition, if foam is properly installed in the cavities the homeowner can avoid the problems of convection currents that are pretty much common with fiberglass batt insulation and ultimately end up with better overall insulation performance.
Of course using a fire resistant drywall in this application would be a must, without question.
I am really interested in your professional thoughts on this one.
I am also very sorry to hear about the death of your friend. I suspect he was a wonderful guy from the way that you described him.
You make a good point about SIPs. SIPs utilize much thicker foam and incorporate no airspace. The true advantage to SIPs isn't the insulation, it is the time savings achieved due to the SIPs' modular nature. With EPS foamboard, a best-case R value is 4R per inch of thickness after installation. A 6" SIP will probably give something like R20, which is certainly respectable, especially with no air infiltration.
It is impossible for the OP to fill the entire thickness of the stud space with the foamboard she's using. That is the issue. The voids in the wall are the problem, and will be a real disadvantage to the building.
When someone installs a sprayed-in foam insulation such as Icynene, the wall cavity is filled in its entirety with a high-efficiency foam, therefore, superior R values are achieved and air infiltration is effectively dealt with.
It is critical that the wall be filled with something. Even fiberglass batts will give an R13 in a 2x4 wall. But to do that, the fiberglass must have plenty of loft and must occupy the entire stud space. Some people over-insulate and jamb extra fiberglass in a space, which totally eliminates its insulative properties.
thekctermite: I appreciate your comments and concerns. I also have no problem in agreeing to disagree. I guess things here in the mountains of East Tennessee are a bit different than some areas. Well, to be more honest with that, I am not the norm here as well (nice modern homes are popping up everywhere), but I prefer to hold to the old ways as much as possible. I feel that “modern conveniences” has been the downfall of the American family. That is a personal opinion and for sure not the majority I know. As for some of the issues raised: When you can't get your house warm in the winter, you don't have water, can't cook a meal with a modern cooking appliance, can't take a hygeinic bath or shower, can't plug in a weather radio, or can't call 911, your home isn't safe for occupancy in the modern era.” The house is small and easily heated with wood, there are many larger homes in the area heated with wood, including all of the two story homes of our Amish friends. So being warm won’t be a concern for us. We have plenty of water. We collect about 200 gallons of water with ½ inch of rain. 200 gallons last for about 3 weeks. If something happens and we don’t have to rain to rely on, we have several natural Springs on the property that provide good water as well. None go dry in the summer. The meals I cook are delicious (or at least my fiance’ says they are lol) I cook on a propane grill, a 4 burner propane stove, a fire pit and even make stew at times in a hole in the ground with my dutch oven. My fiance’ gets his hot coffee every morning and we have 3 well balanced meals a day. We have warm showers, thanks to the passive solar water heating system. We get baths every single night before bed, have the option to shower beneath the overflow and will have a portable tub for the winter to take hot baths in the kitchen floor. I never had a weather radio when we were living with electricity. As for calling 911, we both have cell phones and my house is listed with the County 911 Center. I am also connected to the local TV station in Chattanooga and receive weather alerts via text on my cell phone.
I should make it clear we have not made this decision to be radical or different. I missed the way things were when I was growing up. My mother did to, she dreamed of having a one room home with no electric. She died with that dream and told me it was her only regret in life, not at least trying it. I chose not to have that regret. I am trying it, if it does not work out, then we go modern. I do not have any small children, my daughters are 27 and 28 years old. I do have 3 grandchildren, ages 9, 5 and 3. This has been the best thing I could have ever done for them to be honest. They are seeing life as it is, not through a TV, computer or video game. I thought they would not want to come over anymore. I was so wrong. They all want to move in! We have one or more of them almost all the time. My fiance’ babysits the 3 year old all day. Trotting to the outhouse, taking a bath on the back porch and getting a bedtime story via light from an oil lamp just seems natural to him now. As stated, we are going on 4 months in the home, and there are no regrets. It may not meet modern standards, but has proven to be a safe, healthy, peaceful home to live in during these “modern times”.
As for the insulation, the drywall sounds like a must and we certainly will do that. The word “flammable” does concern me and since we have decided to go ahead with the Styrofoam insulation, we will cover it with drywall and then put the walls up. The walls will be cedar or pine boards. We are trying to decide on which one to use. We have plenty of both that was cut from the farm and are all in prime condition. We are going to nail them up horizontal on the walls and put them on the ceiling as well. We will be doing board and batten for the siding on the outside. We will wrap the home in weather wrap prior to the board and batten. We plan to put a heat resistant flooring down below the wood stove and set it on bricks or tiling made for that purpose.
Big Bob: “Also please consider an old time root/ storm cellar.(Very Green).. If high winds come you will want a place you can go.”
We almost have the root cellar done. It is just down the hill from the home. We dug about 15 feet into a hill. We put the floor at a slight slant and covered it with concrete blocks (half blocks). The walls are concrete blocks and we will have 4x4’s across the top with metal roofing over it then covered with a nice huge mound of dirt. It will serve as a root cellar/storm shelter. The door will be the only thing visible, it is facing north just 15 feet from the woods and branch. The inside will be about 10’x10’.
Thanks for all of the advice and opinions. Feel free to contribute more as this is a learning experience for me and Chris and although we may not use all thoughts and ideas, we do discuss them and weigh them heavily.
Fair enough Forest Breath. We can disagree, but I'm still more than happy to assist you where I can. I'm truly glad that you're open to installing sheetrock on your walls over the foam insulation. Good move! :thumbsup:
One option that you might consider is to get a few cans of window/door spray foam (non-expaning kind - which actually does expand a little), and fill the voids and cracks in your EPS with the foam. If possible, try to get some foam between the studs and EPS in order to seal the panels in place and block some potential air leaks.
This should help to keep some of your indoor heat indoors during the winter.
Best of luck with your "unconventional" home!
Forest Breath, I am a newbie to the forum but I am a retired woodworker and home builder. In one of your pictures it shows you have the insulation between your rafters. You will have some problems with this a little later down the road as your decking will not have any ventilation unless you have channels under your decking and above your insulation. Without ventilation for your vaulted ceiling your decking will sweat and deteriorate especially in the winter months. I have to admire you for living a more simple life out in the country. I was raised in the country and lived like you do now and I too miss it.
oberon: I will mention to Chris about the spray foam to be used where needed. Thanks so much.
jiju1943: I am so sorry, but trust me, I am clueless on a lot of things concerning building. What do you mean when you are referring to "decking". Sorry, but I have no clue what part of the roof you are talking about. Do you mean we should not push the insulation all the way up to the plywood on the ceiling?
Not pushing the insulation up all the way against the decking is what I was talking about. You need a space above the insulation for airflow. You will need to have some type of vents across the ends of your rafters so air can be drawn in from the lower end and flow out at the top end of the rafters.
I had a friend that had his insulation installed like you do and he didn't have any way for the air to escape (no vents anywhere), on a cold Christmas morning while fixing Christmas dinner the heat built up in the ceiling and it looked like it was raining inside their house.
I wish I had enough posts so I could PM you but I don't, I would be happy to give you advice on some of your projects.
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