Grove in the Glen: Sustainable Architecture Pt. 1

I got to thinking that people who are interested in homesteading-type things might be interested in sustainable architecture practices too.  I have a degree in interior design and I’ve had a life-long love of architecture so I’m going to share about a current project that is close to my heart.

This past year, my parents have made a big scary shift in their lives and have:

  • Left jobs
  • Sold their house
  • Moved to a new state
  • And are building their dream house in the country

Since Fly Guy and I are still marking time until we can move into a house we own after the Marine Corps; I have looked on in envy, excitement and a little trepidation.  Although there has been a TON of work for Mom and Dad, this has been a great change and it’s been nice to see the freedom that has come with it.

In America, when you hear the words “dream house”, you often think of something like this, don’t you?

New American Style
Picture from

But, there has been quite a grass-roots movement these days towards building homes that are not only smaller and more practical but efficient, sustainable and beautiful.  My parents, Mark and Tammy, are definitely going this route.  They found a great architecture firm, Acre Designs, whose mission is to build smaller, efficient, well designed & sustainable homes.  It was a perfect fit.

This is Mom and Dad’s dream house.

Picture from
Picture from

Cute, huh?  It’s a ~900 sq ft cabin with ~200 sq ft loft over part of it and a screened-in porch on one end.  The simplicity of this design lends it a homey, cabin feel but with a nod to clean, modern lines.  Although, at first glance, this is a traditional timber frame home, there are several features that make this house new and exciting.

SIPs Panels 

Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are a high performance building system for construction. The panels are made of an insulating foam core sandwiched between two structural boards, typically oriented strand board (OSB).

These panels are both the structure and insulation for the house.  The architect draws up the house plans and sends them to the SIPs company to have them build the panels for the house.   The SIPs panels sheath the house and are supported by the timber frames.  What’s really neat is that they fit together like puzzle pieces (or, as my boys like to think of it, like Legos!) and are able to go up very quickly once they arrive.

Beyond the ease of construction, SIPs panels are extremely strong.

Image from

Another plus to using SIPs is that the insulation (r-value) is much higher than using traditional stick-built construction.  Since my parents’ house even has SIPs panels on the roof, they should be able to have a home that is heated or cooled with very little effort or energy.

Passive Solar

The amount of thought and planning that the architects of Acre Designs, Andrew & Jennifer Dixon, have put into the design of this passive solar house is amazing.

This article from Home Power Magazine describes what goes into building a passive solar home:

A passive solar home requires five elements to take full advantage of the sun’s free heat: apertures to let in the sun’s warming rays; a means of preventing too much solar gain in the summer; an absorber surface that minimizes reflection; thermal mass to store the heat until it’s needed; and a distribution system to move the heat to where it’s required.

The apertures are the energy efficient windows that are used throughout the house with more on the southern side to allow warmth to come in during the winter.

The absorber surface is the concrete slab/floor that will be able to absorb the warmth from the sun and there is passive heating/cooling tubing that runs throughout the concrete that distributes heat from one area throughout the whole house.  As I understand it, this keeps the floor at a steady temperature that helps the floor stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. This is all done without machinery involved, thus the “passive” part of the phrase.  The beauty of this kind of design is that there is very little upkeep or maintenance that will need to be done in the future, freeing up both time and money for other things.

Dream Home

So what really makes this a dream home?

The fact that there won’t be a mortgage to have to pay off for years to come.

Mom and Dad are using the money from selling their previous house and building this smaller cabin (it’s just the right size for the two of them!) so that they’re not going to have a large debt to pay off.  By downsizing, they are able to have a beautiful, affordable home with quality materials.  This frees them up to work a lot less and enjoy life a lot more.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Check back, I’ll be posting some construction updates and pictures soon!

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