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Second Design Meeting (this time with our builder)

by Chad Ludeman on December 9, 2007 · 15 comments

in Design,process

On Friday we had our second design meeting for the 100k house. This time we invited Scott from Level 5 to join us in order to give initial feedback from a cost standpoint on our initial design. Overall the meeting went very well and we all agreed that we got a lot accomplished. We left the meeting with the following assignments for the next week:

Scott (Level 5) - provide a rough estimate for the cost to build the shell of our house plus and estimate for the remaining interior work. This will allow us to see if we are on target as well as give us a baseline to adjust different features until we end up with a design that meets our budget.

ISA – Make some final changes to the floorplans and elevations for final approval before moving on to a dimensioned bid package for Level 5 and other vendors such as SIP manufacturers.

Chad (postgreen) – Start calling and getting quotes from every SIP manufacturer within a 500 mile radius to see if we can afford SIPs for both houses.

Cost Discussion

Scott brought up a lot of good points on the budget that made for good discussion points. Probably the first was related to exterior cladding options. If we went with a cement board type of product with a warranty then it seemed like it would cost us a minimum of $10 psf installed and concrete block for the base of the corner home as well as the wall for our 100k house would come in around the same point. If we used the generic Hardi-Backer sheets the cost would be lower but there would be no warranty and we would most likely have to paint the panels which everyone agreed would not be very sustainable in the long run. In the end, we agreed that a smooth stucco finish would need to be our baseline exterior cladding finish for now as it could be installed for less than $5 psf in Philadelphia.

Next, we discussed using radiant in-floor heating as the heat source for the house. While radiant is usually a premium feature or an upgrade option in homes today, we felt like the design of the 100k house could incorporate it with very little additional cost. First, the radiant would only be installed on the ground floor of the home which would limit the installation to one, 600-700 sf zone. Second, the finish for the ground floor will simply be the polished concrete slab foundation which eliminates a minimum of $5 psf to install a finished floor over the concrete. This savings should cover the cost of having a local plumber run the PEX tubing during the pouring of the slab foundation to eliminate the high cost of more complicated radiant installation systems on the market that can run as high as $15 – $20 psf. Lastly, since the house is so small we may be able to use only one boiler to heat both the home’s hot water as well as radiant heat. By the end of the meeting we agreed that radiant was no longer an option and we have to make it work in the design and budget. Brian was especially happy about this as he has quite the distaste for forced air and all the discomfort and unsightly ductwork that comes with it. He was also excited to be able to demonstrate radiant as a economical option for heat in a low-cost home.

One discussion that caught me a bit off guard was regarding electric vs. gas utilities. I had always assumed that the stove would be gas and possibly the water heater and that this was no big deal from a cost standpoint. As our discussion progressed we felt we would end up with a home where the only gas appliance would be the stove as it is traditionally much preferred by people who really like to cook. I feel the probability is high that our target market is going to like cooking on a gas stove so this was important to the design in my eyes. Scott informed us that that additional cost of running gas hookups for only one appliance is hard to justify. First, we have to pay the utility company around $1500 just to hookup the gas to the house, and that’s a best case scenario. Then we have to pay for the extra gas runs in the house to only one appliance. Forgoing this for an all electric house could end up saving us a minimum of $2K – $3K in the end which is a lot considering our budget. This was probably the saddest moment of the meeting for me. Scott did mention that there are new electric stoves that use halogen burners that respond to changes in heat immediately and are very similar in performance to gas burners. This requires more investigation and a sliver of hope for me…


Scott had to run to another meeting so we finished the meeting going over the floorplans and overall design. We were very close to our final design and focussed on a few items such as:

  • making the ground floor as open as possible
  • incorporating a small, storage closet on the ground floor in addition to possible storage underneath the stairs
  • reducing the size of the half bath on the ground floor to as small as humanly possible and the same for the utility closet
  • creating two seperate bedrooms on the 2nd floor
  • adding a small rear deck to the second floor off of the master bedroom

The most interesting part of the design discussion centered around the 2-story bathroom and utility core that ISA had come up with in their original sketches shown below.
Labeled Component Diagram
It seemed that if we could successfully contain both bathrooms, the utilities and the washer/dryer in this one core that it could be clad in something unique and appear as if it was actually dropped into the home as a separate component upon entering the home and viewing it from the 1.5 story entrance. Adding such visual interest seems important in such a small and low-budget home. We also played around with the concept of actually having this core prefabbed offsite at the same time the site work was being done in order to drop it right into place at the same time we had a crane or hoist on site for the SIP walls. This could drastically cut down our overall construction timeline but we are unsure of how it will ultimately impact the budget due to traditionally high prefab costs.

That’s all for now. Hopefully we will have some new images to share soon as well as some of our first budget and quoting spreadsheets. Please feel free to contribute comments on our meetings as this is a critical time in the planning phase…

If you enjoyed reading this post I can promise you'll love our new writing over at Postgreen Homes. Yeah, we know that's the same thing your favorite band said and their new album is nowhere near as good as their early stuff, but seriously, we are actually still getting better.

There also isn't much conversation to be had here . . . at least not with us. So come on over to the Postgreen Homes Blog and tell us what you think of our new(ish) digs and crazy ideas. We will be sure to tell you what we think of your opinion.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Taking ISA’s “Core” Concept to the Next Level? |
December 13, 2007 at 9:24 pm
Radiant Heat is Affordable! - Who Knew? |
December 17, 2007 at 7:39 pm

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 lavardera December 9, 2007 at 6:44 pm

I was going to suggest the halogen element cooktop, but by the time I got to the end of the paragraph it was suggested! Probably a premium appliance but less than gas service.

2 chad December 9, 2007 at 6:53 pm

sorry for the length. At first glance its not easy to find on the market. It may be easier to find in Europe. If anyone know of one in the US please post a link. Thanks

3 Jay Gifford December 10, 2007 at 8:19 pm

Due to the size of the radiant floor area, have you discounted the possiablity of using Electric Radiant flooring? I have always been under the impression that hydronic heating is more economically viable in larger spaces. I have enjoyed watching this project as it unfolds, and look forward to seeing it into completion.

4 chad December 10, 2007 at 9:38 pm

Thanks for the comment Jay. I’m not too familiar with electric radiant systems that can be installed within a concrete slab. We would not be able to use the mats or systems that install above a subfloor as we will be leaving the concrete exposed.

I did a bit of research last night and found some ballpark pricing ( that looks like we could get a system for as low as $1K-$2K and should be able to use the same water heater that we will use to heat the home’s hot water. Running the PEX tubing prior to the concrete being pored is something we can add to the sweat equity list as well if we decide to go this route to cut costs as suggested by another commenter in an earlier post.

5 Brandon December 10, 2007 at 10:25 pm

Could you tell me what is your estimated cost per sq ft for the radiant heating? The reason I ask is because I’m looking into buying a new house now and hydronic radiant heating is the #1 must have on my list. The numbers I find on the internet vary so much I have no idea what to think. Your project is very comparable to what I’m looking to do as far as size is concerned and I’m in Philly too. Also by only heating the 1st floor will that provide enough heating for the 2nd floor?

Bummer to hear about the gas appliance issue. I had no idea that would cost so much. One more thing for me to take into consideration I guess.

On a side note I really love this site. I don’t even remember how I stumbled upon it but I’m glad I did. There is some useful information here and it’s all very similar to what I am trying to do in the near future. Keep up the good work!

6 chad December 10, 2007 at 11:23 pm

Check out the link in my last comment for a lot of useful pricing info for different applications. I am early in my research so I can’t offer an in depth cost analysis yet…

I can tell you that heating only the first floor will work in a well-insulated 2-story home. I have seen it done firsthand from a friend I know who lives in such a home as well as confirming this from an HVAC professional. The keys are having both a well insulated home as well as open pathways for the heat to travel up to the second floor. In our case we will have both so it is not an issue.

To the gas point, I spoke to another builder yesterday who said that the gas company may provide the hookups for free on such a small project so there is still hope for a gas range. I’ll post on this when I have a more definitive answer.

7 Brandon December 11, 2007 at 7:16 pm

Thanks for all the advice and info. What are you planning on doing for cooling? Would running cold water through the hydronic system be enough to cool a well insulated house in the summer time? Central air seems the easiest and most obvious if cold water doesn’t work but then that goes back to the problem of forced air and ugly duct work which you said Brian wasn’t a fan of.

8 lavardera December 11, 2007 at 8:35 pm

See earlier posts Brandon – they are going to use passive cooling techniques in place of electric cooling.

9 Brandon December 11, 2007 at 9:33 pm

Ahh I must have missed that. Sorry.

10 chad December 12, 2007 at 3:00 am

Sorry not to get to your comment earlier Brandon. As Greg said, we may go only with passive cooling methods due to our location and design. Opening the windows at night and closing them during the day when it is hottest should work for 98% of the days in Philly.

Another consideration is a ductless air conditioner placed in the upstairs master bedroom to supplement the cooling on the hottest nights. Something that costs $2K-$3K and would be easy to install. I like some of the products that Mitsubishi has on their site and something in the Mr. Slim line like this might work.

11 Nick Allen December 13, 2007 at 4:02 pm


Fantastic Blog!

You’re my daily read on the train ride home.

I think the kitchen/bathroom pod is a great solution. Prefabbing would be good too.

I thought these might be of use, some old links I had about kitchen/bathroom pods:

and star endorsements too: Jade uses them in her apartments…..

I’d be having the same dilemma as well. I love gas and the gas central heating in my apartment, and I think radiant heating in the floor is the best way to go.
Yet solar heaters, or solar panels running a boiler for the heating would mean you’d only have gas of cooking, so maybe the halogen cooker or even and induction cooker would be a good alternative.


12 chad December 13, 2007 at 7:02 pm

Nick – I love the pod idea and think I’ll dedicate a post to it shortly. Thanks for the great links!

13 Kris November 28, 2010 at 7:41 am

I am late to this site and am working my way through all the posts. Very interesting. We are currently building a house for ourselves and it will be all radiant infloor heat since it is easy for us to run the tubing ourselves. We also are leaving all the floors as polished concrete (possibly acid stained if we decide we can afford it). We also have designed the house for no AC, plenty of cross ventilation and a “heat chimney” stack effect type cooling. But we will also have a ceiling fan in each bedroom and in the main living space. I have traveled a lot in tropical countries. I never pay for a hotel room with AC and have never spent an uncomfortable night with a good ceiling fan blowing over the bed.

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