My wife and I are doing our part to stimulate the economy by building a house. The construction will take about a year, but the planning, design, and approval process took about three.

Financially, it's the worst timing in the world because buying an existing house is getting cheaper every day. But we wanted some specific things in a house that just weren't available, notably my studio.

Arguably, this process started back when I designed what was known as the Dilbert Ultimate House. That home only existed as a computer simulation that the user could "walk" through, and it included lots of features that had been suggested to me by readers. I thought you might be interested in some of the ideas that made it from the Dilbert Ultimate House into our own house design.

First, we're building the greenest home in the area, at least for its size. Obviously the greenest home would the tiniest house you could build. But my definition of green isn't about giving up what you want so much as finding the greenest way to do it. Some of the energy-saving features include:

- Solar panels

- Clay roof with lighter colors for best reflective properties

- Thermal barrier in roof

- Windows minimized and shaded on the hot West side

- Lots of thermal mass inside house

- Argon filled windows

- Chimney effect airflow (warmer air goes up and out)

- AC unit on the shady side of the house

- Efficient lighting

- Energy Star appliances

- Heat and AC ducts inside the house envelope

The list goes on. Our goal was to get our use of AC use down to a few days per summer. This design should get us there. (For comparison, my current office is in a townhouse that is only 5-years old and I have to run the AC full-blast for about 9 months a year.)

As far as the living spaces, we did some interesting things there too. We built a small cat's bathroom for the litter boxes.  And we have a Christmas tree storage closet just off the room where the tree will be displayed in December. Now I just need to talk my wife into using an artificial tree and we're all set.

We don't have a fancy foyer inside the house. That would be a waste to heat and cool. No one lives in a foyer. Instead we have a turret around the front door, so the initial visual appeal comes before you enter the conditioned part of the house.

We didn't want a formal dining room that only gets used twice a year. Our dining area will be relatively informal and just off the kitchen, serving as both the everyday table and where we entertain. I don't want any visitors who feel they are too fancy to eat where we eat.

My office will be in the house. I won't be driving to work every day and adding to the carbon overload.

The back yard will be artificial turf. Water is a big issue in California. The newer artificial grasses are impressive.

Those are a few of the features. Maybe someday you'll see the rest on Cribs.

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +12
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+21 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 14, 2009
Has the Dilbert Ultimate House been removed from the website? I can't seem to find it anywhere! What happened to the virtual tour? Please help! I'm looking to potentially build myself and I wanted to use some of the Ultimate House ideas...
Jul 29, 2009
I love the whole green idea. I've been researching on how to put solar panels on top of my storage shed. I built the shed my self last year with some plans I got from <a "http://www.buildingashed.org">building a shed</a>. I'm still looking the right solution. I would like to use the solar panels to light up my backyard.
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 11, 2009
This is great idea. Hats off to your effort. We as a consumer should do something to stimulate the economy. Think what we can do?

Mar 15, 2009
you should look at this : http://www.cbc.ca/canada/edmonton/story/2009/03/15/edm-net-zero-houses.html?ref=rss
Mar 12, 2009
I don't know if such a thing is available in the US, but here in Germany you can have a small urinal installed in your residential bathroom. You can do your business standing up and avoid the possibility of annoying your wife by leaving the toilet seat up. Also flushing a urinal uses much less water than a toilet.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 6, 2009
Two suggestions.

First, you may want to look into aerogel as an insulation material for the house. It's expensive, but it's very high tech, fairly green, and boasts an R-factor of about 20 per inch. Compare it to fiberglass, which is much less cool and high tech, with only about 3 R-factor per inch. This would lead to either thinner walls, or normal walls with insane insulative properties.

Second, there's this company that makes a nifty way to reduce energy costs on air conditioning: I don't know if they have a residential version, but it's still a nifty idea. http://www.ice-energy.com

Mar 1, 2009
i lived in california and was under tight water restrictions in the 1980s, things do not change over time.
please do not use artificial turf as a lawn, for it will be hotter than hell in the sun. do what we did in the past, forget grass, takes too much water, and use the right kind of ground cover that takes very little, unless it rains then it takes none from the pipes. wild strawberry is what we used for we found that it grows well at the beach where freash water was nonexistent. the plants are put in as a patchwork and then spread out as it grows.. occasionally there are even small strawberries to eat.
there are many other ground covers that can be used. we just chose the most convenient for us.
Feb 27, 2009
I would be happy to offer my services as a kitchen and bath designer to you. It would be an honor to design your kitchen in all green materials. Send me some dimensions of the rooms in question and I'll see what I can do.
Feb 26, 2009
You had me up until 2 things: "no formal dining room" and "artificial turf". Call me old-fashioned, but I like to have a formal dining room at least for Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, & other celebratory occasions where we pull out all the stops or at least for Sunday dinner. That's my favorite meal of the week, I remember when Mom would do a roast of some sort every week & then we'd eat the leftovers for the rest of the week. Sounds very English, and it is (we do a suet pudding every year for Christmas), but what the hey.

Also I have never ever watered the lawn & i have never ever had an artificial turf lawn either & it has always been fine. So what if there are a few dandelions? It's part of nature--and a whole lot greener than astroturf.

Otherwise it sounds very economical & efficient, I'm (nearly) sold
Feb 26, 2009
I SWEAR this is not off-topic, but all the "this will save you 10% off your energy costs" products remind me of an old roommate's golf magazines. It had ads for dozens of products that guaranteed taking 5 strokes off your score, or two strokes, or whatever. I suggested he buy them all. Then he could walk up to the first tee, write down "-2" on his scorecard, and head for the clubhouse bar.

So once you have all these energy savers installed, I figure you can heat the house by lighting a match next to a vent, and cool it by tossing an ice cube up in the attic.
Feb 26, 2009
"My definition of green isn't about giving up what you want so much as finding the greenest way to do it."

How convenient. By that definition, almost any activity or lifestyle could be called "green." E.g., "I drive a Hummer, but that's OK because I coast on the downhills."
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 26, 2009
That sounds great. I have a cat batroom in my house too! ...Well, in my cardboard box. ...OK, box/cat bathroom.
Feb 25, 2009
Wow, Scott this sounds totally cool. I loved the "Dilbert" House and enjoyed seeing the blueprints that came up later on the blog. (I was definately inspired by the idea of a "cat bathroom" and would like one of my own.)

A quick question: Why did you not choose to have geothermic heat and air in the house? This seems to be pretty interesting technology and I'd like to hear your comments.

P.S. Would LOVE to see pictures of some things, especially the fake grass. I'm from Kansas, so there's plenty of grass here.

[Geothermal systems are only cost-effective in more extreme climates than California. -- Scott]
Feb 25, 2009
You could move to the western part of the East Bay. I live in Alameda, don't have AC, and rarely miss it. Maybe 3-5 days a year I'm tempted to whip out the portable AC unit, but I don't think I did so at all in 2008.
Feb 25, 2009
Mark my words. That Christmas tree closet will end up storing anything but the tree.
Feb 25, 2009
Good project, only "argon filled windows" are usless. Within tree years they turned to "air filled" anyway.
Feb 25, 2009
i understand the desire to save the environment, and i think its benevolent.

that said, the amount of resources it takes to 'global warming weatherize' your home is great.

i find it hard to justify such an expense. the environment isn't the only way to make the world a better place. humanity would be better served by more equitable distribution of resources.

the gross waste of 'weatherizing' could feed the starving 3rd world, and go a long way doing it. i think its easy as americans to look around at our poor(here in america) and justify living high on the hog cuz we work harder than them. they are extremely rich by the world's standards.

i'm not saying you shouldn't do it, cuz its a free country, but i think the enviro morality is crushed by the economic morality. if morality is your basis for such things, i disagree with your choice.

money is power, and poor people cannot have liberty and equality. they are in bondage to their debt and constant search for resource stability. consuming more than your fair share of resources decreases others potential for liberty. i guess important leaders of mankind could justify excesses for PR purposes or to focus on problems without thought of having needs met, but average joes who burn thru $10 million/year are just selfish.

is the green movement hypocritical or just an environment nazi that doesn't care(or even claim to care) about economic inequity?
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 25, 2009
So it seems you are a believer in global warming. Wouldn't the greenest thing to do though be to buy an existing house and convert it for your needs? That would get rid of all the energy used to make those reflective tiles etc.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 25, 2009
As someone who has built a house (or rather, paid people to build it for me), I wish you luck. No one I know who's been involved in that has come away unscathed. No matter what, double any estimate - you'll be lucky if it's done in two years!

Here's my one piece of advice: If you are ever in a situation where the subcontractor you'd planned on is unavailable and are thinking of hiring someone else instead to take that piece because they're available sooner, DON'T DO IT! You're better off waiting for the first guy to be available. If someone else is available sooner, it's because they're not very good and no one else will hire them.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 25, 2009

I'm an expert induhvidual on this subject, so I offer the following suggestions for your DUH, the next generation construction project:

- Solar panels
WEB SAYS: Make sure you buy the "green" solar panels. The black ones are far less energy efficient.

- Clay roof with lighter colors for best reflective properties
WEB SAYS: Better ... use those 12 inch mirrored wall tiles that they sell at Ikea. Cheaper and much more reflective than clay tiles.

- Thermal barrier in roof
WEB SAYS: Do NOT use asbestos or experimental anti-gravity force fields (unless they carry the UL label).

- Windows minimized and shaded on the hot West side
WEB SAYS: Just tell the architect that you don't want a west side. It's a challenge, but that's why they earn the big bucks.

- Lots of thermal mass inside house
WEB SAYS: I hope your wife doesn't read this blog.

- Argon filled windows
WEB SAYS: Fluorescent windows! Cool.

- Chimney effect airflow (warmer air goes up and out)
WEB SAYS: Is there some way of stopping warm air from going up?

- AC unit on the shady side of the house
WEB SAYS: Where are you putting the DC unit? Note that the 'west side' is no longer an option.

- Efficient lighting
WEB SAYS: Candles are good, particularly in the winter months. Several jars of fire flies are better for the summer months.

- Energy Star appliances
WEB SAYS: No no ... you don't want Energy Stars. You want Energy Misers. See the experts at your neighbourhood Big Boxes R Us.

- Heat and AC ducts inside the house envelope
WEB SAYS: Don't forget to completely lick the envelope before closing.
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