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
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
Feb 25, 2009
If your heart isn't set on artificial turf for decorative spots (as opposed to places people walk), take a look at <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xeriscaping">xeriscaping</a>. My front yard is green all year round with a mixture of the lower-growing, less spiky varieties of iceplant, and has brightly colored flowers much of the year. My curb strip is the only green one on the block, and it only gets water when it rains...
Feb 25, 2009
Any chance you'd repost Dilbert's Ultimate House? Reading this blogpost has me wanting to exlpore it all over again.

Also, would you consider a similar autocad and 3dsmax realisation of this new house? To sate the curiosity of all those nosey types all over the 'net...
Feb 25, 2009
Wait, you NEED an AC? What about using none and relying on isolation, or passive cooling via a heat pump in reverse mode? Yeah, it uses electricity, but you can heat up the ground and use that heat in the winter.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 25, 2009
What type of insulation are you using? Or are you going with ICF or SIPs? My wife and I had planned on building a house, but ended up buying one instead. We were looking at SIPs, ICF, radiant heating, concrete floors, good windows,etc. However, I wanted energy efficiency to save money long term, not because I had delusions about saving the planet.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 25, 2009
Have you thought about a gray water recycling system for the lawn? I've thought about pretend turf, but it's expensive, and doesn't last forever. When it's worn out, that's a lot of plastic to dispose of, which is going to take the next hundred thousand years (or so) to degrade into some toxic chemicals. (Unless there's better pretend turf, that I'm not aware of).

[Gray water recycling isn't approvable in my area. Apparently it has its own problems. -- Scott]
Feb 25, 2009
Insulation is very important if you want to keep your house cool in the summer and warm in the winter(don't know if that part is a problem for you). Up here in the Yukon the new green houses are built using 2X6 studs in the exterior wall so they can use thicker insulation, spray foam insulation is also used because of its very high R-value. Hope this helps.
Feb 25, 2009
Scott, can you post a link to the DUH? I remember all the talk and blog posts, but I haven't seen the finished "walk through" version, only floor plans.

...and I love the turret!

Question: Is your air conditioning power use really a concern if you just install more solar panels. On hot sunny days when you need the AC the most, you would have the extra juice from those solar panels. But you wouldn't need any increased battery storage (the environmental part) because the extra juice would only be used during the day when the energy was required.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 25, 2009
RE: the comment to have real grass instead of artificial turf and water it with run-off. I live in the same area as Scott and we get about 20 inches of rainfall a year. And that is usually distributed as 5 inches in January, 10 in February and 5 in March. So for three months you get free water and for 9 months you have to pay our local water district by the gallon to keep the grass green. I have a lawn in my backyard which I am probably going to let die. Last summer it cost me $200 per month for water. In the winter I pay about $50 per month. So the landscape is costing me $150 a month in water most of the year.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 25, 2009
I just wondered if you'll go for the upstairs, centrally located laundry room that I think was part of the Ultimate House. It didn't seem to be a great idea to me, but, just curious...
Also, you say you won't have to drive to the office. I remember you saying your office was just across the street from your house.... You've become lazy or you have a new office??
Feb 25, 2009
Would grass in the yard with rainwater runoff from the house/property to keep it green make more sense? That way, there's the added benefit of carbon absorption from the grass. May not make a huge difference, but artificial turf will just create more runoff and, thus, waste more usable water. Landscaping with plants that aren't water hogs (but still provide carbon benefit - and less runoff) is another idea.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 25, 2009
Is your house being LEED certified? If you are claiming the greenest house in the area you must have some proof.

PS: I just received my copy of Dilbert 2.0 from Amazon, I went ahead and ordered it online when my local Border's bookstore refused to negotiate price. It makes me very happy.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 25, 2009
I'll set my TIVO for that episode of Cribs!!! Can't wait to see what you have come up with....
Feb 25, 2009
I hope it goes w/o saying you're using tankless waterheater(s). don't know how much sun you get (sounds like quite a bit) but there are solar ones that are very popular in Hawaii. I would think you could feed a solar unit into a tankless and it would be smart enough to boost the temp only as needed. I know ours (a Rinnai R53) adjusts its burn rate based on the amount of hot water being drawn.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 25, 2009
For some reason, Scott, I am envisioning you out in the backyard, running a lawn mower over your artificial grass, just like in the Brady Bunch.
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog