I want to encourage people to put a lot of time and effort into developing an effective building plan, and I think Cliff’s approach, described below in his words, is the right one. We’ve had an ongoing email discussion for months. Numerous ideas from discussions with Cliff and others have found their way into this blog, so I want to take this opportunity to thank all those who have freely shared their ideas.
“I was a professional project manager doing multi million dollar projects. If you ever failed, even once, your career was over, no second chances ever. People would ask how do you do something so complex that can take years to complete? Very simple, the same way for anything you build however big or small. Have a plan of the finished product, break it down, do one piece at time. Finish that piece then go onto the next task until done. Sometime along the way reevaluate your plan is still valid as things change over time.
Anything can look daunting but not when broken down into each piece. If you can’t do something yourself get a resource that can, be it dig a ditch, wire electrical, or even make the plan. If it is over your head bring in a consultant to explain it. They may look expensive but can actually save you thousands. What you can’t afford to do is make a mistake. Now that is bad news. I put it a different way. Something to be done is a task, tasks can become projects but don’t let a project ever become an “oh shit”. You can never fix design, get the basics or foundation right.
Anything can be easy and cost effective if you do the planning right. Plan it to the final degree. Tons of research. Know it so well you are bored with it then do it again. The right decisions will float to the top every time. Research EVERY alternative, not just the one you think you want but check on things you don’t know about or even want. You may be surprised what you find out.
Sticking to your plan is all you need to do and that is the hard part. Do you know the term “scope creep”? Little changes add up quick both in time and money. That is where most people and even projects fail. You have to run a project like a tyrant or you will be over budget, you get shot quick for being over budget.
I still come back to it is all about the plan. Plan your brains out. A project should be boring if you did your plan right. No gambling, no excitement. A plan is not granite but a living thing. It can be changed but you need to know the impact of any change. Changing a sink from white to blue is no biggie given there is no time or $ impact but moving a sink to different wall where there is no water is another issue altogether.
I am guided by what you have said – “use what you have local”. So I ask myself on each part “what do I have local I can use” and as important what did the locals do in the past. They were forced to use what was local and they also knew what did work.
Because I have no timeline I can ponder the options at length instead of being pressured to make a decision. Most people I think ponder the floor plan and esthetics or as I think of it “form over function”. I am the opposite a “function over form” person. I look to find the best compromise for me – price vs longevity vs seismic resistance vs environmental consciousness. In my mind I try to use a 50 year life cycle design. I am 52 so I doubt I will live to 102 so planning for a 50 year life should be fine. I will accept something that has a shorter life cycle than that but it’s a conscious decision knowing it is on purpose designed to be replaced or not planned to last.
I feel geopolymers are the future but I think they are 5-7 years away. This also gives time to the powers that be time to try and take control over it. Not doom and gloom but reality. [Ed. Except for people who make their own geopolymer with local materials.]
Even after a design decision is made I will do a base case or sample to prove it is right and works. It will be my home for the next 50 years and I want to get it right even if using something a little non-standard.
Current thinking on some systems but no final decision:
1. Composting toilet like the bioloo.
2. Prefer mesh earth bags wall structure but keep a very open mind. I constantly compare to other methods but I keep coming back each time.
3. Using earth tubes for natural cooling but not for heating
4. Possibly like to use a wood cook stove for heating, cooking, and water heating. Jury is still out on this one. It is hard for me because I want to subscribe to the teaching “never burn anything”. It is not impossible it just makes it a bigger challenge.
5. Brick floors.
As I evolve so does the design.”