I often tell people the first step in building a straw bale house, or any house for that matter, does not actually take place during construction but rather in the design room. In truth, this is not quite accurate. For a really good design, the first steps must take place in the field during site evaluation.
Every site is different and therefore requires attention to different details. For example, does your building site have drainage concerns? Where does the sun travel during the day? How much organic material and fill will need to be removed from the site prior to construction? These and other questions like these need to be addressed early on in the design process in order to yield a home design that truly incorporates the house into the site. In the following video, I walk you through a sample site evaluation. This evaluation is obviously truncated for time, but gives you an idea of what is involved in performing a site evaluation. Take as much time as you can spare for the evaluation. You will be happy you did in the end.
People often contact me asking for stock straw bale house plans. I tell them that I can offer them several options; however, the best option is a custom design for their specific site. Although it is possible to use plans from a different site on your property, it is not ideal. Consider that the subtle differences in topography, wind, solar access, drainage, and more can have a huge impact on the efficiency of any home, even a super efficient straw bale home. If the original design depends heavily on prevailing winds for cooling and solar gain for heating and both of those aspects are missing or limited on your building site, the home will not perform the way it was designed. For that reason, it is always best to design the home for the site you are working with. In order to best design that home, a site evaluation must be performed so that all of the assets and short comings of the site are known from the beginning.
How much time is needed for a site evaluation depends on the site itself and the amount of detail you want to collect. Some of my clients have spent a year or more living on their land in a yurt, tent, or mobile home so that they can get to know the ins and outs of the property. In the end, the site that one of my clients had originally chosen for their home was abandoned and a second site was used. Had they not spent the time they did on the property prior to building, they would have made a fairly significant mistake in the placement of the home. Although not always as drastic as this first case, all of my clients who spend time on their land before they build have reported gratitude for doing so. Of course, spending a year or more on a piece of land before starting design and construction is very often not possible. Just keep in mind that the more detail you can gather about the land before you break ground or even start designing, the better.
Here’s a cool tip I learned several years ago.
The full moon follows the same path as the sun will 6 months and 12 hours later. In other words, if you want to see how the winter sun will enter your home, watch the full moon in a summer month. If you want to know how to keep the sun out of a building during the summer, watch a full moon in the winter and see how it travels across your land. This simple tip can save you thousands on your heating and cooling bills.
Another tip along the same lines is this: contact you local power company. Boring you may say, but it is actually very powerful. Some companies will provide a free service and give you a disposable heliodon. This device is used to simulate the path of the sun across the sky on a model of your home. The value of this is that you can place a scale model of your home on the site or even on a desk with a small, stationary spotlight and investigate how the sun will play into the house at different times of the day, month and year. This simple tool can help you make adjustments to your design before you break ground…very cool!
Be sure to perform your site evaluation early and gather as much detail as you can. The more you learn about your land before you start designing the better. You may even discover new things about your property you had not previously noticed. One thing is for sure, you will know in the end that the site you chose is the best one available and you will know how best to take advantage of all the assets your land has to offer. When all is said and done, you will have a house that becomes part of the site, rather than a house that simply sits on top of the site. There is a very big difference between the two!
For more information on this topic please click this link to enjoy the article on Site Evaluation written by my design colleague Chris Keefe.
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