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Homemade Home

Introduction to our Metamorphoses…

I want to apologize to fellow readers, we have been tremendously occupied, hence the reason for not updating anything new.

The past few months have been very challenging in many ways. After our house has been on and off the market for the better of 3 years, which is difficult in itself, carried by a load of emotional tribulations, we finally got an offer and accepted it. You’d think after three years of preparations, we would be ready for our transition. We were to a degree, we knew we wanted to build our next house, desiring a home a little out of the ordinary. Our primary focus was to build an ecological house that had no harmful materials that could potentially poison the quality of air we breathe. To be respectful of the earth and it’s precious resources, using materials that either are reused, are a product waste or can simply biodegrade after it’s natural life cycle without burdening the overflowing landfills. We also were looking to get closer to our homeschool group and to loved ones living in Montreal, isolation is good for a time to stimulate creativity and to better understand yourself but eventually you need community and comradeship. A feeling of unity with others and dissipating the thoughts that you don’t belong in civilization!

After visit upon visit with no offer, doubt settled in, questions arised and dreams faded away. Countless times we had to rebalance our emotions, center our thoughts and align ourselves with positive energy. We understood that by inviting despair in, we would be taking backwards steps on progress. It was hard to keep focused on our dreams when what we were feeling was imprisonment, we felt somewhere we had lost control of our lives, and something dark had taken over the driver’s seat. Here’s something Dave had wrote on a friend’s website called that clearly demonstrated the mindset we were in at that time, just before the turn of events, the consequences to bringing our asking price down.

  “ Beaten down, programmed, drained and insecure, life becomes a disconnect from the soul as productivity takes the helm and dreams die in a sea of monotony. The four walls to our mind prison are high, the windows are so tiny and the doors invisible to the naked eye. We get but a glimpse of what our heart desires only to have our leashes pulled tight to correct our yearn to wander. We sit, we work, we wait and repeat , yet secretly we are constantly hoping that some powerful outside force will come and destroy all that has been built up around us. How sad it is that we can only imagine freedom in disaster, staring out the window waiting for tornadoes.”

   This was written a week before Dave got laid off from work and two weeks before Christmas. His ‘tornado’ had come because he could not see the doors to his prison, life pushed him through. Well, that’s how we interpreted it anyhow. By mid-January, no visits since September, we took the difficult decision of lowering our asking price by another 15 000$ more, this was the second time we had done this, totaling a loss of 25 000$ from the 225 000$  we paid for our house. We knew by accepting it, buyers would be pushing to lower it furthermore. Unfortunately, in order to move ahead with our future life, our reasoning was we had to ‘let’ go completely of this one. The offer we got was another 10 000$ less then our asking price, along with cloudy thoughts, we knew we were on our own with this one. The simple thought of spending another year on the treadmill was enough for us to take the plunge.                             

A few years back, I drew the house we envisioned. My father’s girlfriend Mara, an architect, had asked me to send her my sketches so she could take a look and give us her opinion . To my surprise, she did more then just look at them, she had transformed my rough sketches into official elevation and floor plans, she even added two other design options maximizing the square foot. I had not felt blessed like this in so long it brought me to tears. Back then we were focusing on building a straw bale construction, so the plans reflected the 2′ deep walls. We had studied with numerous books (The Strawbale House, Serious Strawbale, articles in Maison du 21e siecle), we had also attended a full day seminar with Michel Bergeron, author of Serious Strawbale, a Quebec pioneer on Strawbale building in the late 70’s. He is also one of the founders of ArchiBio, a site dedicated to alternative living. The fact that someone had overcome the particularities of Quebec’s climate and succeeded building in straw with no set backs, felt like such an advantage. Last summer we had the opportunity to assist in building someone’s house, while attending the conference, the participants had all exchanged emails in order to help one another when the time would come. The problem we were faced with attending their construction, was distance. They were building 4 hours away from where we lived and we lacked babysitting, being isolated. I really tried to make it work but it fell through like most things back then, I had become used to the disappointment. Strawbale building is very economical and ecological form of construction because it employs farm waste, straw that is neither consumed by humans or animals. Therefore taking precious barn space that can be otherwise used to store hay consumed by livestock over winter. The thick adobe style walls offer a superior insulation surpassing any of the “novoclimat” (Quebec insulation standard) ratings at half the cost of batts, cellulose or urethane. The organic shape these walls create give a ‘old world’ charm, block outdoor sound and are continuously breathing, keeping warm air in during winter months and keeping hot air out in summer months. Eliminating the need to install an air exchanger or air conditioner, two energy hogs! The problem with building it is time and man-power. We have the time but we don’t know enough people that would be able to undergo a two week building spree. When your building with straw, water is the enemy. Once the bales go up, you need to instantly cover them with lime, if rain gets in before they are sealed, the bales will rot. It is crucial at the beginning stage that you have enough hands to stack the bales and seal before the weather changes on you. Hence the reason why we gave up on the idea.  
  Our second choice was to build the house solar passive, although initially more costly, the extra cost will pay for itself in low utility bills over the years. Orienting the house with southern exposure through large glazing on the south side and minimizing heat loss with little to no windows on the north side. A new design immerging from Germany, called the Passivhaus institute, rating air tight and highly insulated homes at near net zero, which means it heats and cools itself without the help of electrical parameters. Making your home self-reliant. But in order to achieve this certification, like Novoclimat, you must get it built by a certified contractor which will carry a certified price tag. We still would love to get the benefits of the Passivhaus, so our intentions are to follow the instructions which are tight insulated shell with no thermal bridging and top quality glazing (windows) and doors to not lose any heat. The windows should be at least double glazed, argon filled with low emissivity (bounces summer rays out, and carries low winter rays in). To keep our quality of air clean, we chose to go with wooden windows with aluminum cladding on the exterior. We have bought a beautiful south facing wooden lot and prepared the search for excavators, foundation layers, plumbers, electricians and so on. We have a tight budget considering our recent financial loss, and have decided to undertake 70% of the work ourselves. Follow us with our adventure as we undertake our solar passive “Home Made Home”!    


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