What’s Important

Color Coded Diagram

A while ago we clarified our priorities by writing down what’s important to us for this Midori Haus project.  It was a good exercise for us even when we knew that our values are closely aligned.  This is what we did –

  • On a blank sheet of paper we wrote down words and phrases that answered the question, “What is important to you?”  This was done in a brainstorm fashion where we each grabbed a pen and wrote down thoughts as they came.
  • Next we reviewed the items and agreed that all of the items could fit into 5 categories.  The categories are, “Happiness,” “Our Values,” “Passive House,” “Initial Cost,” and”On-Going Cost.”  I’m sure if a dozen different couples did the same exercise there will be a dozen different ways of slicing and dicing their list.  These 5 categories just happened to be the ones that came together for us.   
  • Then we took different colored pens and circled the items on the list  Some of the items fell into more than one category.  It was interesting to note that some items had double or triple circles.  Here’s what that looked like:

  • We took one more step after the color coding step to prioritize the items in each category individually and compare them.  For the most part our priorities matched!

We did this exercise partly to have an agreed upon basis for making trade-off decisions as we move along in the project.  Most recent usage was to review and compare the cost estimate line items with our color coded priority to see where we could reduce cost.

Who’s Rules?

Back in January, we had an opportunity to visit with Larry Weingarten at the House on Hummingbird Hill.  He generously spent time with us and shared a lot of information about his home, his approach to building and the amazing hot water heater museum he has in his basement.  His house was very comfortable and I was amazed at how he could heat the house to a comfortable 70 degrees (F) using solar heated water at only 80 degrees (F).  There are many interesting features to his home and I invite you to explore them at the Water Heater Rescue site.

When we showed our exuberance on passive house, he asked a very sage question, “Who’s rules are you following?”  Then kindly suggested that we spend money on “What we want,” and “Not necessarily to a standard.”  He made us think whether we fell into the lure of “Getting a certificate or plaque on the wall for bragging rights,” like some do with LEED, Greenpoint rated, Passiv Haus, Net Zero Energy, etc.  He was trying to make sure that we’ll be happy at the end of our project.  One of the design rule Larry used was, “What will last 200 years?” He was also very focused on “quiet” in his home.  His refrigerator was so silent that I didn’t know it existed.  Well, I think he planted a seed during that conversation because it led us to doing the color-coded diagram above.

Invest in Items With Long Life

Sometime last year I spoke with a local builder who was born in Germany in a house that is more than 600 years old.  Wow, talk about a building with long life!  I wondered if our building stock in our neighborhood, city, country would last that long.  Probably not.  If you’re interested in ideas on making buildings more sustainable and increase longevity, have a look at Tedd Benson’s lecture at the College of the Atlantic.  I like the idea of applying the concept of Product Lifecycle Management and building as a noble trade.  You’ll need 34 minutes to watch this video…

Midori Haus

By the way if you were wondering what Midori Haus is it literally means green house. “Midori” is the Japanese word for green and “Haus” is the German word for house.  For us it has meaning beyond the literal green house.  All the values we mentioned above are embodied in it.

Design Process

We’ve been quite fortunate to work with two capable guys during the design process.  Last fall we chose to work with Graham Irwin of Essential Habitat to do both the home design work as well as the Passive House consulting.  He’s been gently guiding us and patiently educating us through the design process.  We appreciate his thoughtful style.  We first started with the layout of the master bedroom and bathroom.  Kitchen area took a while because we were trying to fit in a whole lot of stuff in a modest sized area.  There will be a deck on the south side of the house as well as a smaller one on the west side to give a feeling of indoor and outdoor connection.  The hallway closet will become the laundry room and there will be a small mechanical room on the south deck to hold the hot water heater.  Soon Graham will be shifting gears from architectural design to Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), where he will calculate the building energy consumption through a software model.

Another capable and patient guy we’ve been working with is Taylor Darling of Santa Cruz Green Builders.  As we iterated through the design Taylor provided the builder’s perspective to the team as well as coming up with the construction estimate.  Our goal is to come up with a realistic, solid design that could be built within a reasonable budget — basically, avoiding surprises.  We’ve heard stories where a homeowner took the approved/permitted plan out to bid and found out that it was way over the budget.  By taking out a small consulting contract with Taylor and having him involved in the design process we are mitigating the sticker shock.

While we iterated through the design we’ve been learning and shopping.  The free classes from PG&E are terrific value and we found the the monthly Passive House meetings to be a good place to learn and network.  As for shopping, Kurt has been diligently keeping up with various window manufacturers to get quotes.  Since this is the single most expensive category with the longest lead time it’s important that we play close attention to it.  Kurt’s been doing a great job on this.  We also drove around the Bay Area to look at doors, cabinets, tiles, fixtures, appliances and lighting.  After a while the collecting and compiling shopping data got to be a bit cumbersome so we’ve been keeping the master material selection list on a Google Doc shared by the design team.

Since we tend to be very detail-oriented and ask a lot of questions, both Graham and Taylor must have been taxed on their patience every now and then. Thanks guys, we appreciate your work and patience!