Innovative solutions for creating healthy, efficient, eco-friendly homes

House Contractors Mandan ND

Outdoor living space is cheaper to create than indoor space. Also, by annexing the outdoors, you can build a smaller house in Mandan. Unfortunately, it's so hard to get into and out of many houses that any effective use of the outdoors is negated. A home's layout should make it easy and inviting for homeowners to go outside, an important design feature for sedentary Americans.

Advanced Mechanical Inc
(701) 222-0352
1415 Airport Rd
Bismarck, ND

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Melby Construction Services, Inc.
(701) 426-9858
Bismarck, ND
Site-Built Homes

Insulated Concrete Buildings
(701) 400-3142
1008 E Central Ave
Bismarck, ND
Capital City Construction Inc
(701) 255-4002
1501 E Calgary Ave
Bismarck, ND
Cardinal Home Improvements
(701) 255-6330
PO Box 7365
Bismarck, ND
Abc Seamless
(701) 224-9509
1316 South 20Th Street
Bismarck, ND

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Edgewood Development Group
(701) 751-2761
Bismarck, ND
Site-Built Homes

Bergstrom Electric
(701) 221-0783
3554 E Divide Ave
Bismarck, ND
Morton Buildings Inc
(701) 222-2555
6950 Aurora Loop
Bismarck, ND
Northwest Contracting Inc
(701) 255-7727
3420 E Century Ave
Bismarck, ND
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Building A Better House

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1. Garden Orientation

Outdoor living space is cheaper to create than indoor space. Also, by annexing the outdoors, you can build a smaller house. Unfortunately, it's so hard to get into and out of many houses that any effective use of the outdoors is negated. A home's layout should make it easy and inviting for homeowners to go outside, an important design feature for sedentary Americans.

A garden orientation specifies that the house sit on a level pad graded for drainage in all directions. Before the invention of the bulldozer, people searched for just such a natural site, called a knoll.

Perfect drainage is the first requirement for the durability and health of a house; it also prevents mold and mildew. Many new house sites have water rushing straight down a slope to the foundation, which is defended inadequately by waterproofing and drain tiles.

An irregular site also spoils the look of a house, making it appear perched rather than grounded. A tall, complicated, stepped foundation and crazy stairs make a house look too much like a mobile home, haplessly plopped down on a ragged site.

We learned this the hard way once, by building just such a house for ourselves. Circumnavigating it was a tiring hike that nearly required crampons and ropes!

We now build all our houses with just one step down to the outdoors. This not only makes the house and garden continuous, but also means the old or infirm can remain in-residence much longer.

Passive solar design elements like overhangs, shading and trellised entries keep homes cool in summer and allow natural warming in winter.

2. Autoclaved Aerated Concrete Walls

Although AAC has been available in the United States for only a decade, it was developed in Sweden in 1914. Aluminum powder was combined with sand, lime, concrete and water to create a mixture that expands dramatically, creating a foamed, lightweight concrete that is 80 percent air. It is formed into blocks using molds and cured in a pressurized steam chamber called an autoclave. The resulting building material is structural and self-insulating. As a bonus, no pollutants are generated to manufacture AAC.

More than 200 plants in 35 countries produce this product in a variety of forms. In the United States, it is marketed primarily in 24-by-8-by-8-inch blocks; it is also available in a 12-square-inch block. We use a block made by Aercon, one of four manufacturers in the United States that supply a variety of AAC products.

We prepare a standard footer and CMU (concrete masonry unit) foundation that is filled solid with concrete imbedded with 5/8-by-24-inch J-bolts. A 34-by-50-foot foundation, for instance, requires about 14 J-bolts. Threaded steel rods are coupled to them after the AAC walls are built, passing through factory-cored blocks in every course and connecting the foundation to a concrete-filled continuous-bond beam at the top of the wall. Our houses are thus engineered to withstand 140-mph winds, a necessity in hurricane-prone North Carolina.

The first course of AAC is set with type S cement, which creates a high-strength mortar. Subsequent courses are laid with a thinset mortar similar to that used in tile work. Openings require bond beam lintels to form structural headers, and treated wood bucks for attaching window and door units.

Jim and I built the walls for our first AAC house client, so we have a good idea of the difficulty first-time builders have working with these materials. We also appreciate how expert professional AAC masons, like Martin Noble and Roger Connett of Stonebridge Construction, make the job look easy. They charge about $8 per square foot for materials and labor.

Noble cautions, Keep your plans simple, especially your foundation. Work in rectangles. Windows should all be at the same height at the top. We need a clean, backfilled site with staged pallets of AAC, or an AAC house will cost you more to build!

Thick AAC walls with real stucco outside and mineral plaster inside make for a classic look. Stucco does not need painting or repainting in its long lifetime; off-gassing of painted surfaces is reduced by using no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) water-based paints, such as those made by Pittsburgh Paints.

High ceilings are another classic feature that's easily achievable with AAC. We use 15 courses of AAC to make an insulated floor and a first-floor ceiling that's 9 feet 4 inches high.

3. Passive Solar Design

We build only passive solar houses, which are not only energy efficient but also feel really good to live in. They are cool and shady in summer, and sunny and warm in winter.

Our climate in North Carolina swings from 0° to 100° F, but thanks to passive solar design, our Heirloom Houses fall to interior temperatures of only about 55° and rise to about 78° with no heating or cooling systems in operation. In addition, many people report that their winter depression is cured in their passive solar homes. After living in a properly made passive solar house, few would go back to the conventional variety.

We come across people who have seen or worse, lived in bad examples of passive solar houses. They think the concept doesn't work or is intrinsically ugly. The rules for making a passive solar house are simple, but deviations can be disastrous. Design mistakes cause unpleasant temperature swings, overheating and glare. Among the most egregious are south-facing windows that are sloped, too tall or don't open; uninsulated slabs; skylights; and improperly sized overhangs with no shading.

Often, these houses also use the cheapest, ugliest design features of modernism, giving the impression that this is the only style available. But any type of house can be made passive solar, incorporating overhangs, shading, trellised entries and other passive solar principles.

We love classic houses because they are so comforting in a time of rapid change. They also can be loaded with charming design elements. Queen Anne and Victorian wedding-cake-style houses may be out of reach as design models, but the farmhouse, bungalow and Southwestern-style house are easy to adapt to passive solar design.

4. Concrete Floors With Radiant Heat

Wow, what is this? visitors wonder. Our floors look like waxed stone slabs, but they are humble concrete, scored and grouted. These floors are both passive solar thermal masses and radiant hydronic heat systems. They feel so good to bare feet in both summer and winter.

We pour these 4-inch-thick floors after houses are roofed, and before windows and doors are installed. Dry pigment, available in many colors, is added to the concrete mix while it swirls in the truck. The colored concrete is finished over the radiant floor system, which is made from loops of oxygen-impermeable pex tubing clipped to 1-inch rigid polystyrene insulation.

An 1,800-square-foot house requires five or six zones of pex loops; they return to a central manifold supplied with warm water from a storage tank and a gas-powered on-demand water heater. This is also the source for domestic hot water.

A couple of our clients have used solar energy as a way to heat water for a radiant floor system, but there are cost issues involved with this approach. If a client can't afford solar panels at the time of construction, we set up the radiant floor system so solar energy can be attached later.

In the meanwhile, many of our houses are heated comfortably with sunlight and firewood. In North Carolina, a 1,800-square-foot house can be kept snug with only a cord and a half of wood. The houses are so cool in summer that air-conditioning systems are used only occasionally, and mostly for dehumidification.

Finished AAC walls cost less than brick construction, but they are more expensive than conventional 2-by-4-inch stud walls with fiberglass insulation and wood siding. We offset that cost with other components that are less expensive than their conventional counterparts, such as engineered attic and room trusses with skip-sheathing (1-by-6-foot pine on 16-inch centers) and galvanized steel roofs. We use both painted and unpainted 3-foot-coverage galvanized panels on our roofs; the unpainted variety is widely used on new houses in our region and in the Southwest.

Steel roofs are not only an affordable option, but they also outlast asphalt shingle roofs. In the 100-year life expectancy of a steel roof, perhaps five asphalt-shingle roofs will be sent to dumps. Hydronic radiant concrete floors are similarly long-lasting and less expensive than conventional counterparts.

These materials and techniques are available to any homeowner who wants to create a better home at no greater costs.

Houses are the biggest investments in most of our lives. They cost too much to be anything less than long-lasting and wonderful to live in. A house should be a beautiful gift to the future an heirloom. And that's what we believe our homes are.

Based in Pittsboro, N.C., Kathleen Jardine works with her husband, Jim Cameron, in operating their company, James Cameron Design/Build Inc

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