Construction Report: A Little Walk-though

It’s been a while since we had a walk-though of the house, and things have changed since I shared anything like a general look at the project. Also, I’ve made promises to put up some views. So, my friends, here’s a little peek inside. I apologize to those on slow connections. This issue is heavy with pictures.

Of course, you need to come up to the front door first. This is the west side entrance. The colors of the house reflect, in part, the earth beneath it. We knew we had iron-red soil, but as we excavated for the house foundations, we found a sampler of mineral colors beneath. There were bands of ocher and green, swaths of mysterious deeper reds and purples, and layers of ancient charcoal. We chose the earth-reds for the primary color of the house, and used some of the secondary colors in the arches and for surrounding ramps and walls.

Come on in. Here's the front door.

While we’re still under construction around there, you can perhaps imagine what it will be when we have some gardens. On the left is a little front-door patio where we can set a small tea table and a couple of chairs. On the right are the greenhouse buttresses and the scaffolding under it. The buttresses are just getting their final touches of paint now. You can’t really tell in this shot, but the ironwork as well as the window and door trim on the south side are a wonderful, deepest purple. Like this:

Peeking under the scaffold

Here, where a door exits from the master bedroom suite, we will have a small deck. You can see the framing for it in the foreground. This attached, south-side greenhouse is the primary collecting engine of the passive heating system of the house. Additionally, of course, it’s a greenhouse. We plan to use it as  our extension of the vegetable garden through the cool season as well as a pleasure garden.

So, now you’ve come in, turn around and take a look at the entry from within:

Ground floor entry foyer.

Windows facing south, look out through the greenhouse.  You can see the window moldings of salvaged old-growth fir I wrote about in an earlier post . That’s the elevator door on the right. To the right of that, not visible in this view, is a small bedroom. It’s difficult to make out color distinctions in these shots, but all the south-facing walls are painted in dark hues, to increase their value as heat sinks.

Turning back into the house, you see the music room and the stairway up.

Home of piano, ukuleles, a theremin, perhaps? Come on and sing along some evening.

On the left is the downstairs ‘wet utility’ room. Straight ahead is the entrance to the master bedroom. Doors: except for the elevator, which requires a positive closure interlocked to the lift mechanism, and one coat closet where we couldn’t work it out, all the interior doors are pocket doors. With pocket doors we give up no floor space to the arc of a swinging door.

Notice the stained concrete floors. Both downstairs and up, the floors are concrete. They are the main heat storage feature of a passive solar house like this. You might ask why the house doesn’t overheat in summer, then. If you would parenthetically step outside with me, you’ll see we are earth-sheltered to the level of the attic entrance on the north:

Ramps conceal the cool air system.

That ramp, which also provides stair-free access to the attic, conceals a worm-way of culvert that conveys cool air from the earth into the house. As I write this, we are just coming off 3 days of exterior temperatures over 90°F (32°C), and the temperature inside the house, relying only on this cooling from the north-side vents, is 71°F (21.6°C).

Close parentheses. We’re back inside.

Cross the music room and enter the master bedroom suite. On your right as you enter is: The Library and Reading Room. There is more ancient wood framing the window here.

Shelves both sides and room for a chair with light from over the shoulder.

Continue straight ahead and enter the bedroom:

Master bedroom: wide-angle huge!

It isn’t as big as it looks with the wide attachment on the camera. But it does have 2 walk-in closets. Imagine! When asked, early on, what I wanted in a house, I replied, “Storage, a decent laundry with room for a folding table, and a bathtub.” I have been given all three. Also, one of my favorite features of the bedroom is in one of the power connections in the center of the wall: a plug-in for earphones so whoever is watching late-night television (who will not be me, I can assure you!) watches it privately. That wasn’t even on my list of things!

The master bath gets light through the greenhouse. Natural shale tiles all over the place!

It’s hard to get nice photos of this, but here you can see the important bathtub and the still empty throne room. The tile man did a lovely job setting the natural shale. From the bathroom, you can step out to the little deck you saw above, where you’ll find the The Endless Pool®.

Here’s a close-up of the obscure glass of the bathroom windows:

We thought it looked like rain and seemed to belong here.

OK, back out to the foyer, and up the spiral stair (or up the elevator, if you happen to have an armload, or feel weak), and into the great room.

Join us for breakfast at the kitchen counter!

This is the view from the top of the stair (or from the door of the elevator). That’s the kitchen on the right, and the back door on the left. At the far left, which cannot be seen well in this photo, is the pantry door. Note, the concrete floors even on this upstairs level (contractors’ footprints). The  kitchen floor is natural cork tile over concrete.

You’ll have noticed, perhaps, a change in temperature now. The color scheme we chose calls for cool colors downstairs and warmth upstairs. We wanted our sleeping room, our arts and thinking rooms, to be deep and comforting, to welcome a visitor into the coolness of the earth-sheltering of the house, and provide a transition from the earth colors of the exterior. We wanted the upstairs living floor to be vibrant and full of energy. There is light everywhere in this room, even though, as you can see here,

we maintained the practice of deeply colored walls facing south. From left to right, that’s a coat closet (the one with the swinging door), the elevator, and the office/den/spare bedroom. Under the windows, all concealed right now with protective stuff, is a bank of low shelves suitable for books and other things, and for sitting on a cushion on top.

If you turned around right now, you would see the hearth corner and the little stove.

Pull up a chair by the fire...

We’re hoping, and we do believe based on the performance of the house last winter when it was still full of gaping holes, that the fire will be for comfort of the mind more than warmth of the body.

Let’s step outside again, turn right out the back door, and go around to the south aspect. From here you can see the array of photovoltaic panels on the roof:

It’s 6300 peak watts. We’re just about to pass 6300 kilowatt hours, which was our 12-month target, completed in 11 months. Suppose, instead, this was electricity generated at the Boardman coal plant up the Columbia from us. Five tons of carbon dioxide have not been released in the creation of that power. Furthermore, PGE buys power from us on days when we generate more than we use.

To the left, note the ramp down to the greenhouse entry. This is more stair-free access, intended to make life easy and continuous here if either of us should become disabled. We call this sustainability in a very personal sense. The house is designed to accommodate us even as time goes by and, one day, we might not feel like climbing stairs.

At the very far right of the greenhouse frame, you can see the corner of the flat plate collectors that drive the domestic hot water system. They have provided as much as 160°F (71°C) of hot water in a 250 gallon storage tank. We have, as well, a point-of-use, tankless water heater. Though it can heat water instantly when the tap is opened, these panels feed already tempered water through the system, saving electricity needed to get hot water at the tap.

What you cannot see here, because we’ve been working on it all weekend and it isn’t installed yet, is the solar mat that will heat the pool. It will hang on the lower part of the roof, to the right of the photo panels. Expect an update on that when it goes into service.

So there you have it, as it stands today. We’re not in yet, but it feels like it’s getting close.

Published in: on July 10, 2010 at 8:04 pm  Comments (13)  

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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Stunning!! And – the only word I can think of is “wise”. Each time I saw something that appeared to show lack of foresight, mainly the spiral staircase, you followed up by explaining that the house is actually very well prepared for your elder years.

    And – at least on my computer – the house beautifully matches the border of this blog. That’s the kind of all-round foresight that truly impresses me!


    • Hello, George — So glad you appreciate the consistency of style and presentation! (I’m thinking, ‘That was clever — wonder when I thought of it? Must have been subliminal.’

      As to the stairway — it’s no more challenging to mount than a conventional stair. Really. It isn’t one of those little skinny ones where you have to turn yourself around in a shoebox as you go up. Further, one compelling reason for the spiral is that it consumes less square footage than a staircase. It was manufactured locally and loaded into the house through the south-side windows, on a very exciting day.


  2. Beautiful home! I have a google alert set for earth sheltered homes and yours entered my radar today. I have spent the last few hours skimming through your blog. I have recently started a website to follow current projects. I have future plans to build an earth sheltered home and to pass the time and channel my energy I put together this site. I would like to add your home. Could you reply with a brief description of your project? For instance, sq footage, etc. Also, if you could grant me permission, I would love to use a photo of your home with a link to this site.

    Thanks in advance,

    • Thanks for the invitation, Michelle. Best of luck with your long-term project!


  3. It is beautiful and remarkably practical. You all are so smart to make the house aging friendly. Nothing can take the joy out of a beloved home like not being able to access it because of age or injury.

    I love the colors and openness of the house. I am looking forward to seeing it finished and the greenhouse full of greenness. In fact, I can’t think of a thing I don’t like about the house and am having a great time imagining it in all sorts of weather, while it remains a cozy haven inside.

    • Thank you! Is that you, SockPuppet? Glad you came by for the tour.


      • Yeah, s’me.

  4. It’s stunning. I love the color choices and I adore the fact that you can grow old in it. What an amazing house!

    • Hi, Ruth — Glad you enjoyed it. We’re hoping to, too…


  5. I see that I’ll have to come inspect in person, one of these years 🙂

    It looks absolutely stunning. Well planned and executed, you two!

    • Thank you, Hetta — So good to hear from you. Yes, indeed, you will have to come for an inspection. And bring the clan as well!


  6. What a lovely home!

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