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Design Philosophy

Small Houses & the Great Outdoors

Design PhilosophyJamie PurnellComment
Porches can be an extension of a house, be sure to give your outdoor space some careful planning and inviting design elements.

Porches can be an extension of a house, be sure to give your outdoor space some careful planning and inviting design elements.

Think Outside...

...the box. That's a hackneyed phrase to be sure. But in this case it makes sense. Homes are, at their very basic level just boxes or containers for our things and to keep us sheltered from the elements. Many of us want our homes to do more than the basics though, and reflect our personalities, styles, or provide a space to pursue and take care of the things we value most. Having worked on designing small, functional spaces that meet code (not always easy, especially where stairs are involved!) and also satisfy an aesthetic, bringing the outdoors in has been a sturdy ally. Not only that, gardening and the outdoors represent a great love of ours that has only grown through the years, so it's no surprise at all that we should want to look out as much as possible. If you are in the midst of designing a small space (especially, but any space can experience this) you have probably noticed that rooms can feel too narrow, or even when able to accommodate furnishings etc. that are needed, can still seem too small to do so. If you're having that issue, try incorporating windows. Even in very small homes, having an open corridor that looks through the house can lend a strong sense of spaciousness, inviting the eye to go long without interruption - and if in the looking through a window, you can carry on your distance even further, so much the better. 

The Beekeeper's Bungalow was a roughly 760 square foot home with two bedrooms and a turning staircase in the middle. The first floor had a bedroom on it as well, so you can imagine that there wasn't a huge amount of space leftover for the living room. One of the ways that we made the living room space feel more effective, rather than cramped, was to have big windows facing west - looking over a covered porch and garden to the immediate west and taking in an expansive westward view across a large field across the street from us. Our eyes were almost always directed out these windows as you just never knew what might be going on outside. Consequently, less time was directed to the interior and the entire sense of spaciousness was amplified despite the fact that the square footage was not large. Facing east, we employed another eye guiding technique. At the end of the galley kitchen visible from the living room, we installed a full glass door that opened onto the back deck and overlooked a garden path that wound eventually to the back of the lot where a greenhouse and shed were. Thus, again, the eye was guided ever onwards, despite the fact that the entire footprint of the home was just 18 by 32. 

Let the Outdoors Be a Friend Even While You're Inside

open up your indoor space to the outside with tall windows.jpg

I'm a firm believer that getting outdoors is good for us, even when we're inside and it's just coming in through a window. Obviously, not every view to the wider world is superb, and there may be times when this doesn't work as well because the view is just not soothing. In cases like this, the outdoors can still be borrowed from effectively by locating windows higher on the wall but to the same effect...even some sky or trees or the sight of a lamp post coming inside does a lot for expanding a small space. Another option is to try utilizing mirrors in locations where windows are impractical. I have seen some fantastic tricks of the eye played on small spaces thanks to great mirror placement, effectively doubling space and brightening spaces when combined with natural light or bright paint. In a case like this, you aren't bringing the outdoors in, but you're still capitalizing on the idea of expanding space sensorily while keeping your footprint small. These techniques work in new builds and remodels alike. 

Time to Head Out to the Patio

Pavers are an inexpensive way to expand your living space (Ithaca House, Point Roberts, WA)

Pavers are an inexpensive way to expand your living space (Ithaca House, Point Roberts, WA)

Another great way to make your space larger is to invite the eye to travel to outdoor spaces like patios, decks and porches. Regardless of your foundation style, there's a solution in that mix. Even condos and apartments are made more spacious with decks and balconies, especially as the outdoor space itself is typically paired with a large glass door leading there. I find some of the most satisfying times of year those when I can stop looking outside and fully incorporate it into the home by throwing open the windows (Shawn would interject that here in the Pacific Northwest that only happens about 3 times a year...but that's a different discussion). Anyway, don't forget to consider your outdoor hardscape as part of your strategy for keeping a small space feeling larger. It works! Pergolas are outdoor structures that can still attach to the home (or be freestanding) and they too employ stretching visual and functional space in a way that encourages a sense of spaciousness. One can extend the sense of a living room, kitchen, etc. by including pergolas or pergola like structures in garden/hardscape design.

Next time you are designing and encounter a tricky small space, try emphasizing view corridors and extending into the outdoors via window mirror, deck, patio or pergola placement. Look at your site and figure out how you might include these patio or porch spaces that literally open up the indoors to the outside. Even cool climates benefit from this outdoor living space part of the year! Just the exercise of seeing where your eyes travel in your home is useful for practicing the effect and learning it, and once you're in the habit of looking in this way, you'll see the trick employed everywhere you turn. I think it is especially functional when dealing with small spaces, and who doesn't like to feel like a magician sometimes? 

Outward Looking is Forward Looking: The Importance of the Window

Design PhilosophyJamie PurnellComment
windows with a simple snowy view.jpg

Windows Are The Eyes of a Home...

The View is Everywhere we Look! Photo Credit: Harper Collins Publishers   

The View is Everywhere we Look! Photo Credit: Harper Collins Publishers

 

The word window has an etymology that expresses looking, as you might imagine...roots include "wind-eye," "eye-hole" and "eye-door." That shouldn't surprise anyone, but we can overlook the importance of windows in our designs, treating them merely as holes in the walls or code satisfiers rather than corridors that work both ways, allowing light inside and allowing us to keep our surroundings in mind. Perhaps it's a logical outcome of our technology based life that we are forgetting to look through our window screens in favor of all the other screens vying for our attention. Don't fall prey to this focus on the interior only when you are designing your home!

In rural landscapes, it goes without saying that bringing the view in is desirable. For those wanting to keep their footprints compact, window placement lends a hand when trying to design a small but elegant and functional space since windows allow expansiveness without increasing square footage.  Many rural homes are designed exclusively with the view in mind, so in some senses, this article is more about less obviously "natural" locations. 

The View is Wherever We Are

Urban and suburban view isn't just about coveted mountain, lake or other "classic" views. While a suburban or urban location might not have quite as much abundant nature around - the view is everywhere, and we shouldn't underestimate this. All properties are view properties. There's plenty to be seen up close and at a distance just by noticing. Many specimen trees are planted in cities and neighborhoods, shops often put out planters or fill window boxes with seasonal colors, little parks are tucked into the tiniest of spots and the sky is always up there somewhere, even in the slot canyons of downtowns. Even a little easement can host some color. Whoever hasn't yet read one of the studies showing our positive and measurable responses to natural surroundings will find them fascinating and abundant.  Try paying attention to your mental landscape next time you spend time in any natural place - park, tree lined street, deep woods or some other place of non built beauty. It takes only a few minutes with some deep breaths and attention for me to feel worry retreat as I walk along a woodland path. With this psychological need and benefit in mind, rural, suburban and urban areas alike are working hard on preserving wetland and green spaces as part of smarter development incorporating ecological awareness. Planning that focuses on conservation and building more efficiently in terms of density is doing something to ensure that beautiful surroundings can still find a place in our ever increasing sprawl. This intentionality in design is something we can take on as well - it's not just for municipal planners. 

All this is a long way of saying that when designing, developers and individuals alike benefit themselves and their surroundings by looking around outside the building site before going to the drawing board or finalizing plans. Remember the value of the outward looking home - windows are for us and help us. Rather than only consulting catalogs emphasizing interiors, remember to walk your site - if you've got time on your hands, luxuriate in being able to assess seasonal changes that you might want to see from inside, maybe even plan your landscaping in advance. Letting our site get a word in edgewise is one of the most important aspects of design; perhaps it is vital to restructuring communities as a whole so that our homes can take care of our surroundings as well as us. Good consideration of the landscape can help us orient ourselves to the wider world and will hopefully favor more sustainable growth. The size of the human population is certain to increase while the world cannot become larger. Every cottage, home, development and new suburb can be a statement - and our eyes, our senses, and our window placement can have a role in making it a good one.  

Designing for Aging in Place: A Multi Part Blog Series

Design Philosophy, aging in placeJamie PurnellComment

Aging in Place for All Ages

There is an old Chinese adage that states, "Build the well before you are thirsty." It seems highly applicable to design and building. 

In the next few blog entries I'll be exploring the concept and some design ideas relating to aging in place. I guess that's partly because I'm ready and looking forward to staying put for a while. We're not young and we're not old either. What we are is getting ready to embark on our final homebuilding project (at least for a long long while) so it's on my mind. We want to build the right way for our needs, so that we can stay in our home for a long long time, incorporating needed and wished for spaces along with care and thought that will make the home comfortable for us potentially until we reach a great age. Here are some of the topics I'll explore, frequently using my own experiences as examples.  I hope that despite including my own experience as a reference point you'll easily be able to substitute yourself and your own inclinations along the way. If you want more or find a particular area of interest, check back in to future entries for a more fully fleshed out exploration. In the meantime, just kick back and ask yourself, "If I go to the trouble and expense of designing my dream home, what features would I include to make it a home I can enjoy for many decades to come?"

Long Term Affordability

Can your home be designed so that it also "pays for itself?"  For our next build, we want to incorporate some sort of structure in the design that will allow us to rent a fully separate part of our home out if we so choose. This will help with taxes, have the potential to generate income, and will provide space for visitors. Having an easy to care for unit that provides a little income potential will help us stay in our home, even if taxes continue to increase and we choose to retire someday, or if we weren't able to work any longer in our chosen field.  Not only that, if we ever needed medical care from someone skilled, they could even have a place to stay (we live in a geographically complicated location).

Designing for changes in physical capacities. 

Small Barrier Free Shower.jpg

Barrier Free Shower

Though not large, the 840 square foot Itacha Modern house we built offers a European style bathroom wet room with a curbless walk-in shower!

It's now easy to design classy and sleek kitchens and baths that are also fully accessible (this is also sometimes referred to as barrier free design). Check out the slick bathroom styles you can choose from at http://trendingaccessibility.com - all barrier free if you choose to make them so.  When we designed our last build, Ithaca Modern, which we finished earlier this year, we included a European style wet-room that has a curbless shower. Not only is it barrier free - it's easy to clean!

Kitchens, when you are designing your own home, are well worth doing some thinking about, and when you start from scratch, you get to make the rules. It's worth considering how to include options for an unknown future along with the appliances you've always dreamt of. They can mesh, I'm convinced.

Right sizing your house design. 

Health and mobility issues aside, what features should you include to make the house viable for your long term needs? This part of design is huge for aging in place without regrets! For us, it means spending enough time on the issue of right sizing. I'll use some of our concerns as examples. The bigger it is, the more maintenance costs involved both in time and money. Plus, we're minimalists by nature and don't want a huge house full of stuff. However, building too small could also land us on Rue Street (French 101 pun, sorry) - wishing we'd made enough space for things we really value and need. For example, we live in the usually wet and not too warm (but otherwise fairly wonderful) Pacific Northwest. For a couple of activity lovers, this leaves us valuing a space to work out indoors enough to include it in our design. 

Reaching a compromise with concerns. 

Again using ourselves as an example: Our building lot precludes building a one story house both dimensionally and in having a lovely view made even better with a second story. We don't anticipate losing our mobility - and take steps to maintain health. While we want to hedge our bets in designing for the long term, we can't hedge them all. We're okay with this, and with potentially needing to do some retrofitting down the road. I guess my point is, this isn't disaster planning - or at least, not strictly so. Nothing in thoughtful preparation has to preclude designing to your preconceived desires. Include what you want and at the same time spend a little time considering how it would feel to have to leave your home. Maybe there are some things you can include to make that a much less likely possibility, even if something rotten and unexpected happens to you.

The nitty gritty aspects of ADA specifications.

A ramp might be a less common need for aging in place but keeping entries wide and accessible without a lot of stairs could be useful. This is from an ADA approved plan we designed for some clients in our home town.

It's a little daunting to read the requirements that commercial buildings need to adhere to to meet these standards - check it out here if you don't believe me. You don't have to meet every one of these standards for your own build, but it's useful to know things like minimum width for making a full turn in a wheelchair in a kitchen or bathroom, for example, or having some information about accessible hallway and door widths or window and counter top heights that assist in barrier free living. A little information can assist and even foster design tremendously.

So what's next?

There is an old Chinese adage that states, "Build the well before you are thirsty." It seems highly applicable to design and building. Building a home that will accommodate you and your needs for the long term is great planning from a financial point of view at any age. You could just as easily employ this thinking when considering expanding your family as you could when downsizing at retirement age for example. This kind of thinking is one of the base layers of the Aging in Place approach to building. 

Imagine if your home allowed you to experience a major health setback, whether it were a temporary loss of mobility or something long term like a stroke or complications from an illness, and not have to spend days or weeks in a hospital or rehabilitation setting. How about the potentiality for assisted living from the privacy of your own home?  Certainly, an approach like this could save a lot of money in very short order, especially if a group setting doesn't appeal to you. Planning for aging in place can be as simple as including a first floor bedroom or as involved as planning for a fully barrier free home. You can be in any decade of your life and benefit from incorporating just a little of the thinking behind building for aging in place. Here are some common things to consider:

  • How many bedrooms will you need? 
  • Do you plan on having kids?
  • Is there a passion in your life that could likely become a home based business? 

As a quick thought exercise, Do you think at this point in time you could design a home that will last you all the way through your end? I'm not sure I could, but it's worth considering. 

I hope you'll stay tuned and enjoy some of my upcoming blog entries. If you have comments or suggestions, experiences or things especially on your priority list, I hope you'll share by sending me an email or leaving a comment below.

 

12 reasons I prefer small houses to tiny houses (on wheels)

Design PhilosophyTHE small HOUSE CATALOG119 Comments
Tiny house or small house? 

Tiny house or small house? 

Looking back on a decade of designing, building, living-in, renting-out & selling a variety of houses, I'm convinced a small house is a better option than a tiny one for just about everybody. Here are a few reasons why...

  1. Small houses are bigger without being big.

  2. Small houses can be extremely energy efficient without being tiny. 

  3. Small houses are not much more difficult to build than tiny ones.

  4. Small houses are not all that much more expensive to build than their tiny counterparts. (This is especially true if one is comparing a small house to a prefabricated tiny one).

  5. Small houses handle weather better.

  6. Small houses can be (confidently) insured.

  7. Small houses have longer potential lifespans, meaning they should last for generations.

  8. Small houses have better resale value than tiny houses. In fact, small houses typically have better profit margins and sell faster than both tinier and larger houses.

  9. Small houses appreciate in value while tiny ones depreciate like cars and RVs. This makes tiny houses poor long-term investments.

  10. Small houses are more practical and utilitarian with broader appeal.

  11. Small houses encourage people to stay in places - build communities - as opposed to just pass thru them (taking their houses with them).

  12. Small houses have room for [insert your hobby here].

If you think I'm alone in these sentiments - or that I'm just being cranky - I invite you to take a look at many of the alleged "founding members" of the tiny house movement. These pioneers, while still actively promoting tiny houses, giving paid lectures and TED Talks about them, even selling products, books and how-to courses on just how and why to build and live in them, no longer live - and often never lived at all - in tiny houses! I'll repeat that: they no longer live - and often never lived at all - in tiny houses... . 

According to a recent survey, those who actually have chosen to live in them are overwhelmingly unhappy with their decisions (original source here).

Serious food for though if you're considering moving into a tiny house.

I'm not saying tiny houses have no value at all, they have their place. But I think they have VERY limited applications, few are worth the costs, and that small houses are what will be the most satisfying living situation for most people.

However, if there's one thing tiny houses have done for the planet - and it's not create better housing -  it's that they have helped renew an interest in living in smaller spaces. Today more people than ever are building more viable, more intelligent, smaller scale housing - and that is a real, sustainable trend.

From my perspective, well designed, well built, super energy-efficient and affordable single and multi-family small houses are the future. 

What do you think? Join the conversation below!

Small is Subjective: 10 Rules for the Small House Builder

Design PhilosophyTHE small HOUSE CATALOG
 
Small is a subjective.

Small is a subjective.

1. Small is subjective. Build what makes sense.

2. Be frugal. Being frugal means being modest not a cheapskate. Stay away from subpar materials. Be willing to pay for quality and save money by limiting your demands. 

3. Reuse the right stuff. Salvaged materials can be great or utter garbage. Reuse materials that will enjoy and deserve a useful, long life. Don't use materials just because they're repurposed or inexpensive. Example: You're not doing anyone a favor by installing old, leaky windows and doors.

4. The construction industry has an embarrassing history of approving and subsequently banning products eventually shown to be toxic or grossly subpar. Most prefabricated goods are loaded with glues and other chemicals and in general won't last as long as the traditional materials they're intended to replace. They also often require intensive energy to manufacture and ship. Not all prefabricated products are equal. Some are worthy, most are not. Investigate your materials and know what you're putting into your house - and ultimately your body.

5. When possible use local materials if they're of good quality.

6. When needed hire local contractors if they do good work.

7. Create beauty! Design is one of the most important factors when it comes to sustainability. People are more likely to care for and preserve a house built with care and attention to detail.

8. Build efficiently and build to perform efficiently. If possible, have your work tested to be sure you're achieving your goals. Verification, which tests actual performance, beats any certified checklist. Keep in mind that many certification programs, including the much touted LEED, don't even test performance! Invest potential certification money directly into your project and do good work.

9. Use the least (and as few) toxic materials as possible. 

10. Reject much of what passes for quality construction and design.

Shawn A. DehnerTHE small HOUSE CATALOG

 

10 simple ways to make a good little house even better

Design PhilosophyShawn A. Dehner14 Comments

Small houses are great. They can be comfortable, cost effective, energy efficient, highly valued, and attractive. However, many could be built much better simply by considering a few things before starting.

Here are 10 things to consider:

 

1. Build with Wood

Despite what many advertisers would have us think, wood is a sensible, natural, renewable resource. I've even had people email me criticizing the use of wood at all. A contrario! Wood is strong, manages high wind and earthquakes very well, is inexpensive, widely available, often locally harvested and milled, and has been successfully utilized by homeowners and professionals alike for building long-lasting, highly-efficient, attractive housing for centuries

Wood has less embodied energy than concrete, bricks, aerated blocks, steel, plastics (vinyl, e.g.) and most other construction materials. Wood can even be easily modified and recycled.

  • Wood is sustainable.
  • Wood is green.
  • Wood is strong.

So there.

2. Put your house on a slab. 

If soils permit, consider building your house on a super-insulated slab. Yes, yes, I know, I know, slabs have been seen as a crummy, poor man's foundation for years. No more! I'm not a Passive House certified designer but I can confidently tell you that some of the most energy-efficient houses in the world are being built on insulated slab foundations. Do some investigation.

3. Invest in good windows

People often tell me - with notable pride - about the used windows they intend to put in their houses. My advice is almost always, Don't do it!

But why not? It's reusable. Aren't you concerned about the environment? Yes I am and if you are too please take my advice

Ask yourself why those free windows were given away (i.e. thrown away) in the first place. I can probably answer that for you: they don't perform well and leak air. They're junk because they're old, likely not built well in the first place, or even worse, both.

Used windows will almost assuredly underperform even new, inexpensive, low end vinyl windows. Using recycled materials is a great idea, don't let my sarcasm discourage you from creative recycling. Just reuse good materials because using lame materials, recycled or not, is really a terrible idea.

If you need a third reason, used windows - no matter how cool they look - are unlikely to meet code anyway so the point is probably moot. 

4. Annie, get your caulk gun

Buy a case of quality, non-toxic, zero-VOC caulk and lay a bead along every seam in your house before you close up the walls. Caulk:

  1. the plates at the subfloor
  2. sister joists
  3. built-up posts
  4. adjacent studs
  5. around windows and doors. 

Caulk every narrow path to the exterior that I missed in that list.

5. Go tankless

An electric tankless water heater is one of the best ways to obtain hot water in a small house. Don't believe me? It's what they use in Europe, Japan, and other places where space is at a premium. I've used them in Maine and Washington and know they're inexpensive to run and work in cold climates.  

If you've got space - or live in a desert - also consider a solar powered heat-pump hot water heater. But an on-demand electric, propane or natural gas water heater is a wise choice.

6. Reduce thermal bridging in walls, floors & ceilings; or, Oh my God, what does that mean?!

An insulating material's resistance to conductive heat flow is measured and rated in terms of its thermal resistance or R-value - the higher the R-value, the greater the effectiveness of the insulation.

Here is an example of a code mandated R-value for a house:

  • Floors: R-30
  • Walls: R-21
  • Ceilings: R-49

In my region those minimums must be met in the cavities between the joists, studs and rafters of a house with some sort of insulation, typically fiberglass, spray-foam, rockwool, cellulose, et al. That's okay. But consider that wood has only an R-value of about 1.25 per inch, which means every stud, joist and rafter in your house has a VERY low resistance to heat migration. All that lumber is essentially a bridge for heat loss - or heat gain depending on the season. There are a lot of studs, headers, trimmers, rafters and joists in even a small house.

So what should we do?

I've written a little about the Scandinavian-style walls I build up here in the Pacific Northwest but you can also read more extensive experiences and wall design ideas from Lami Designs

For years we've focused on stopping air-leakage in North America and that is a great idea but we can do way better - and guess what, it's easy! In North America we're not doing nearly as much as we could to create energy-efficient housing. So, make your house better by air-sealing it and reducing conductive heat loss.

7. Super-insulate

This goes with point number six. Because insulating itself is such a widely advertised good thing to do it baffles me to see people - guilty builders included - often cutting costs in this department. Crappy insulation? It's ridiculous; it's dumb; don't buy it. Insulation is not a place to cut costs. In the scope of construction it's inexpensive! It even pays you back by reducing heating and cooling loads and adding comfort to your house. Why wouldn't you insulate properly? Ignore code too. Well, don't ignore it - improve upon it because it's not very impressive.

8. Avoid urea-formaldehyde glues and other toxic materials

The construction industry has an abysmal history of approving allegedly safe building materials only to outlaw them down the road after they've been shown to be hazardous. As a general practice, not a hard and fast rule, be suspect of engineered building materials, especially ones using urea-formaldehyde glues and binders. Here's a good example: don't build cabinets from interior grade plywoods that use this type of glue and reject engineered flooring that uses it as a binder (note: most interior sheet goods and bamboo floorings use urea-formaldehyde binders and Lumber Liquidators nearly went bankrupt by not regulating it properly).

Also choose low- or zero-VOC, non-toxic paints, stains and finishes for your house or project. And keep in mind many low-VOC products still contain carcinogenic components; non-toxic is also important.

9. Install a heat recovery ventilator

A HRV (heat recovery ventilator) removes stale moist air from inside a house via a simple inexpensive mechanical fan and vent system. An HRV goes one step further than a standard ventilation fan though; it brings in fresh air in an exchange. Air comes in to replace the air going out. And it gets even better: the warm outgoing air is used to warm up the colder incoming air thus reducing heat loss!

Surely, this sort of thing costs a fortune, right? Well, sure it does. But it doesn't have to.

After I got a $5,000 bid for materials from an admittedly good HRV manufacturer I decided it wasn't worth the cost and put together my own fantastic system using a Broan HRV and aluminum ducting sealed with UL 181B-FX foil tape. The system cost me around $800, took only two days to install, and works great.

Removing moisture and VOCs is an important leap forward in modern housing so I recommend some sort of air-exchange system. 

In warm climates a simple air-exchange system can be useful.

10. Build what makes sense

Build what makes sense and build it well. That's the smart thing to do. Let the alleged know it alls - who typically don't design or build anyway - calculate the virtues of their own square footage. Definitely don't build small for the sake of some arbitrary, made up notion of what small is. There's so much noise and baloney about what a small or tiny house should be that it's best to simply ignore the debate. Be modest and build a good house.

Afterword: There are so many ways for all of us to improve what we do and we can learn a great a deal from each other. However, I also recommend taking ideas like the tiny house movement or the small house movement - or any movement at all in fact - with a serious grain of salt. Movements have a terrible tendency to lose their way. Give up the idea of any one size fits all, perfect house design or building material. Be a part of the conversation and be open to new ideas. If we're successful we'll continue to innovate and make ourselves and our houses better still.

Book Toolbox for the Beginning Builder

Reviews, Design PhilosophyTHE small HOUSE CATALOGComment

There are some fantastic free resources for small and tiny houses right online, including THE small HOUSE CATALOG! There's the stellar design software SketchUp along with sites like Fine Homebuilding Magazine, The Tiny House Blog and Tiny House Living that all offer complimentary articles. There are also blogs and small and tiny house enthusiasts galore.

But let me tell you the library is still the best resource of all. Pretty much everything you need to begin learning how to build a functional, long-lasting, beautiful little house is available right from the local library - for free. If you want to learn how to build, I suggest getting a pile of books and simply start reading. If you like to shop online that's fine but you absolutely do not have to spend money on DVD's, online courses, expensive plans, inspirational seminars, or any of the other trendy marketing gimmicks cropping up all over the place to SELL you a tiny house or DIY building experience. 

Books are old-fashioned, hands-on, and from the library, 100% free. And best of all - if you put in the time to learn - they work. 

My two cents.

Now, I do recommend investing in a basic book toolbox after you've thoroughly explored the library and are ready to actually begin preparing to design and build a house. A couple that I keep at hand at all times are:

1. The current International Residential Code, which I use for draftwork. It's the most useful reference I have and is used ubiquitously. 

2. Building Construction Illustrated by Chen illustrates various code specific residential building practices and is  useful reference during the design process.

3. Practical Carpentry by Goodheart-Willcox. This is a gem! It's an old tome I picked up for a buck at a used library book sale in Port Townsend, Washington and it's the best book I've ever found on traditional carpentry techniques, like balloon framing, stair sub-construction, et al.

Here's a peek at some of my extended personal library of house building books:

Investing in good books is like investing in good hand tools. It fact it is investing in good hand tools. Books will help you continue learning over the long term. This is a frugal approach to your future as an owner-builder because you're going to need to know the skills to build and maintain a house. With books so it is with tools: research your options and invest in the best you can afford. 

When it comes to design there's a vast supply of books available for all kinds of architectural styles: craftsman, bungalows, mid-century modern, vernacular, contemporary, post-modern, and others. For a veritable hands on approach, Shelter Publications has some really interesting modern design classics (and don't forget to check the library first).

Eventually you'll intrepidly move on to other aspects of construction like insulating, ventilating, plumbing and wiring, cabinet making, stairs, and more. Just keep your house modest and you'll be well equipped to build an efficient and beautiful house to last generations.

Don't just sit there - that is until you've got that stack of books from the local library!

 

The Scandinavian Wall

Design PhilosophyShawn A. Dehner

The Scandinavian wall design enables a single piece of insulation (e.g. a fiberglass batt) to be fully inserted into a stud bay without being interrupted - and therefore compromised - by electrical wiring, gang boxes, plumbing and other systems. It also allows a vapor retarder or barrier to be installed continuously, without excessive puncturing, over the studs and insulation. The results are walls that greatly reduce air and moisture migration.