Finding a natural solution
Sonya Newenhouse, Ph.D. is an eco-entrepreneur who enjoys providing practical and creative solutions to help individuals and organizations live and manage green. Her firm, Madison Environmental Group, provides LEED green building and sustainability consulting services. She is also founder and president of Community Car, a car sharing organization in Madison Wisconsin. Currently she is developing NewenHouse, a business that will provide super-insulated sustainable kit homes.
As of January 14, my mother’s birthday, we finished the 2-by-4 framing of the first and second floors, all the inner walls, sheathing the 2-by-4 structural walls with OSB, and putting the air barrier plywood lid (attic floor) above the second floor. The house looks like a modern cube that will soon be transformed into a vernacular small four-square that is wrapped with a 12-inch Larson Truss remote wall. The framing, by David Romary of Hearth and Sol Construction and Dan Johnson of Midwest Earth Builders, took 14 days for the two-person crew. This timeframe includes head scratching, which future kit builders will be able to minimize. For example, because we modified the design mid stream to go for Passive House certification, there were some changes that needed to be double and triple checked in the field before saws cut newly delivered lumber. It’s fortunate that the building supply store Nuzems is only 5 minutes away as we returned lumber, needing less than estimated. A couple of times we also estimated the lumber lengths wrong, not accounting for framing considerations of a double wall system. It’s clear that a kit approach will make building future NewenHouses more simple and that there will be much less potential for errors that waste time and resources.
The 2-by-4 framing is complete for the first and second story. Photo By Sonya Newenhouse.
Seeing the inner walls go up was a thrill. I pored over the interior room layout for months and then watched the designs on paper turn into a three dimensional reality. A design aspect that was a little hard to imagine was the staircase. The U-shaped staircase in the middle of the house turns a corner as you walk up to the second floor. This staircase design is the most efficient use of space. I like how we placed it in the center of the home and how the west facing 3-foot-by-3-foot window in the stair landing will bring light into the first and second floors.
My most gleeful moment this past week occurred when David pointed out that we could bring natural light from the staircase window into the first floor bathroom by creating a space for a window in the interior wall of the stairwell. We’ll have to use tempered glass for safety and frost it for privacy. While altering our design to meet Passive House certification we needed to remove windows on the west side, sacrificing a window in the first floor bathroom. David’s treasure find is something you could try to find in your home. Do you have a dark room that needs a window? Walk around your home and see where you could place a window in an inner wall to bring light from one room to another. In our office at Madison Environmental Group we have natural light or borrowed light in every room (except the bathroom) and it makes the space feel much more open and bright. Our three story brownstone is located on Madison’s Capitol Square with its exterior walls joining our neighbors’ walls—two larger old buildings. The borrowed light from inner windows is a welcome treat for us since our long narrow 22-foot-by-100-foot space provides natural light only on the east and west ends. For a definition of borrowed light and daylight information visit Infome Design’s newsletter and scroll to page 4.
Sonya shows off the NewenHouse kit home after the first week of framing. Video By David Romary.
As I write this by the wood burning stove, Cecil is making dinner with our current roommate Bjorn and my former roommate Alex and we’re listening to Simply Folk on National Public Radio. I enjoy having the house full of friends, interesting conversation and good food. I look forward to sharing the NewenHouse with friends old and new. In the mean time you’re all welcome to join me at the monthly NewenHouse OpenHouse which will be held the fourth Friday of every month from 3 to 5 p.m., starting in January 2011. RSVPs are appreciated (firstname.lastname@example.org). Check Madison Environmental Group’s home page for directions and schedule updates.