Cabin Fever – A Sure Cure!
“Cabin fever” is the term commonly used for that “shut in” feeling in the dead of winter, when you just can't get outside. Cabin fever has had another meaning for the past years, or possibly even decades – the desire to own a cabin, a getaway in the north woods, at the beach, or in the mountains with a spectacular view.
Cabins, or smaller homes, have been with us for a long time. In fact, they used to be our homes until we began to feel the need to impress others with single rooms the size of a small house. But when a person wants peace, solitude, and a cozy, comfortable place to relax...he goes to the cabin!
Full Circle Shelters Model 180 Polyurt is a cure for both types of cabin fever. Although the Polyurt was originally designed as a post disaster relief shelter, an architect reviewing it said “it is too good to be used only as a temporary shelter,” and others immediately saw its potential as a recreational cabin.
The Polyurt is a polygon, or multi sided building, in a round shape much like a Mongolian yurt. The unique construction and shape provide a building that is strong and very efficient in use of materials and energy. The Polyurt is also easy to fabricate and assemble. The average home handyman can make all the parts for the Model 180 in 3 to 4 days using simple power tools. The pre-cut kit version can be fully assembled by one person in less than half a day.
To cure your winter cabin fever, build a Polyurt in a couple of weekends using our fully detailed plans and cutting instructions. Load it into a pickup or small utility trailer—the full per-cut package fits into a standard pickup truck box. Assemble in the spring in one morning's time and enjoy your little cabin all summer. Easily add sheet foam insulation, a small wood stove, and solar electric for full year round use anywhere.
Now that you have a cure for your cabin fever, all that is left is to decide upon the setting for your new cabin!
AFFORDABLE HOUSING BASICS—BANISH THE BOX!!!
Building a house is not complicated. It's a combination of many small, simple tasks done in the right order. Many owner/builders construct their own places each year, and of course professional builders...well that's just what they do.
Building an affordable house is still not complicated, but it does take more forethought, and requires thinking outside of the box. Better yet...banish the box completely.
Most of today's houses consist of a big box full of smaller boxes. Banishing the box allows free flow of air and light throughout the building. Energy experts have been telling us for years that the basic shape of a building has more impact on its energy use than any other single factor. Substantial savings in material and labor costs can be realized with the right size and shape. Openness also fosters communication and builds family togetherness.
First, let's determine what an affordable house is. It's a house that a couple starting out can afford to buy, or someone on a low or fixed income can live in comfortably within their means. For a home to be considered affordable, it should meet the following criteria:
- It costs less to build
- It costs less to maintain
- Real estate taxes are moderate
- It uses less energy than a standard home
All of these factors affect the affordability of a home and must be balanced for its life time cost or true affordability.
When starting to design an affordable house, wipe the slate clean and begin with our two previously discussed topics:
- Appropriate Sized Housing—size does matter. Build only what you need, storage does not need to be in conditioned living space. Plan for future expansion, and create multi-use spaces such as rooms that do double duty (i.e. an office that also serves as a guest room).
- Why Round? The round shape is inherently stronger, encloses the same area with 15% less material, uses open floor plans, and has no wasted space.
These will get you started with a home that is strong, sized and built for your needs, and affordable.
There have been many versions and attempts at affordable housing over the years. While these are good designs and smaller homes, using the right shape and materials we can do even better—a single level home, built in a round (multi-sided polygon) shape, on a heated slab, using insulated structural panels fulfills all four of the affordability criteria above. All of this can be done at about 70 to 75% of the average per square foot cost for new construction. To those who say this is impossible...consider the Chinese proverb, “One who says it is impossible should not interrupt the one who is doing it”!
Round houses are not a common sight today, even though most, if not all, of our ancestors lived in round structures. All around the world, in many different environments and cultures, people build round houses. The Eskimos have the igloo, the Plains Indians have the teepee, the Mongolians have the yurt, and there are several variations of huts on the African continent, all of which are round. Many of these types of buildings are still used today. Using locally available materials, round structures are the simplest and most economical types of housing to build.
In the natural world and throughout the universe, the circle is prevalent, because it is nature's strongest and most efficient shape. Even time, which we see as lineal, is circular, on an annual basis that we can easily experience, or sometimes in a much longer time frame. Life itself is a constant circular process of birth, death, and rebirth.
Today we build and live in boxes—big boxes made up of smaller boxes. This came about mostly as a result of trying to fit more people into a given space. Houses became boxes as it became more and more necessary to fit one home tightly to the next, all the way down the street. When space on the street ran out, many went in an upward direction, resulting in tall apartment buildings—boxes beside boxes and boxes on top of boxes. Homes are divided into many small areas, unlike in the past, when the family unit all lived in the same common space.
However, round houses are regaining popularity for some of the same reasons that round structures have been used throughout history:
- The round shape is inherently strong and able to withstand high winds and adverse weather better than square or rectangular shapes. Look around and you will see that when we need a strong shape, we have always used round. A few examples are tank cars, grain bins, and rockets.
- Round is easier to build—using today's high tech materials to build round homes makes them much simpler to build than their rectangular counterparts. Panels can be made in uniform sizes and the angles are the same all the way around. Round houses built of many flat panels can be easily prefabricated, making on-site construction simpler and faster.
- The circle is energy and material efficient—to enclose a round shape of equal area to a square or rectangle uses 10% to 15% less material. This means less material cost, less to build, less to maintain, and less wall area to lose heat through. The round structure is more efficient to build and more efficient over its life.
- Open floor plans—a properly designed round home allows for better natural light and air flow throughout the building, which can lead to an increase in health and comfort just by using the right shape.
- Convenience—round homes, if designed properly, can be more convenient, with better access between rooms and to the outside from any room in the house. In most cases, space-wasting hallways are not needed at all.
The round shape goes back to our roots and moves us into the future, while always working with the forces of nature and the laws of the universe. Round is the shape of things to come!
We all know that it is the love of family and friends that makes a house a home. It takes just a little more to make a home comfortable and convenient. We are starting to learn (or relearn) that the spaces we live and work in have a profound effect on our health and state of mind.
A house, after providing basic shelter, is useful only if it works well. It can't be too hot, too cold, too cramped, or have vital components that break down. A house must be pleasing to the eye, and it must feel “just right”.
Some of the factors to consider to make a house “feel right” are:
- Air – fresh, clean, natural air flow; cross ventilation throughout the house; high ceilings (vented if practical) to take excess heat out and draw fresh air in.
- Light – natural light though the day, minimizes the need for artificial light during daylight hours with proper window and skylight placement and use. Use appropriate task lighting after dark for where you are and what you are doing.
- Sound – exterior sounds should not intrude into your living space. The shape and layout of your home, as well as trees and vegetation around it, can help control sound. Interior sounds vary, with some being welcome through the house and others needing to be contained to a very local spot. Sound can be regulated easily, dependent upon the shape and layout of the home.
- Temperature – a house should be warm when it needs to be warm, and cool when it needs to be cool. Warm means no cold corners, warm floors, and as little blowing air as possible. Radiant heat sources can warm a house evenly, quietly, and cleanly. Cool means moving air into and through the house to carry away excess heat. Cross ventilation and ceiling fans can provide easy and inexpensive cooling. Air conditioning may be needed only in a sleeping room, if at all.
- Size – the size of home that feels right will, of course, vary with individual needs and family size. A “tiny house” feels cozy for a while, but for most is quickly outgrown. A very large house also feels good until the mortgage payment comes due, or it's time to clean and do maintenance. Building only what you need and keep the layout as open as possible so that the interior feels big. Store seasonal or seldom-used items outside of the living space. Those things do not need the same air, light, and temperature that a person needs. Build your home the appropriate size for you to live in.
- Layout – a well planned house layout makes your life much simpler. Keep to a clean, open, single level home for the most convenience. A good kitchen will mean fewer steps during meal preparation. Keep the kitchen open to dining and living areas. This helps to foster family conversation, without having everyone physically in the kitchen. Make your laundry space close to your bedrooms – no bedrooms on the second floor and laundry in the basement! Some people prefer large open spaces and some small cozy spaces. A good layout can provide for both. Use light and furniture placement to create a cozy “corner” in a larger space, or use natural light and air to create space in a smaller footprint.
There are many options and opinions of what will make a home comfortable and convenient. Think through your daily routines and chores, and find what it takes for your home to feel “just right”.
To paraphrase a well known popular frog...it's not easy building green! In fact, it can be complicated and confusing.
There are many choices of materials and methods that claim a “green” label. Green comes in many shades, and any particular material may be included or excluded on the “green list” depending upon who you ask.
Trying to find a standard, universal definition of “green building” is no simple task. It starts by defining “green” not as a particular product or process, but as a lifestyle, which people from all age groups and stations in life are moving toward.
Several points must be taken into account when building a new home, and they become even more important when looking at the new home from the perspective of living a green lifestyle.
- An appropriate-sized house. “Appropriate sized” means a home that fits the owner's needs. While a "tiny" 120 square foot home may be appropriate for one person, it may take 800-1000 square feet to be appropriate for another--this is truly a personal preference and decision. But keep in mind that extra space that is used only occasionally raises property taxes, and costs more to build, maintain, heat, and cool. Keep spaces small and multifunctional.
- Efficiency. The shape and configuration of a house determines its comfort and convenience. An open floor plan and easy access into, out of, and through the house make daily routines easier. Round shapes are the most efficient. Avoid long rectangles and offset or “bumped out” exterior walls.
- Energy. How can energy needs be reduced while insuring a comfortable environment? Build the tightest, most energy efficient envelope you can afford. Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are a reasonable cost method for walls and roofs. Choose and size windows that allow natural light in while having as high an R value as possible. Appliances, lighting, and water heating are high energy users. Get the most efficient models available and manage for minimal energy use. Minimizing energy use through proper insulation and sealing, natural light, and air flow will significantly reduce monthly utility bills. Reducing energy needs pays – a savings of $100 per month total on utilities adds up to $24,000 over 20 years at today's rates, without future increases.
- Alternate Energy. Adding solar electric generation, solar domestic water heating, or simply passive solar heating is much easier and cost-effective in an appropriately sized, low energy use home. Siting and landscape plantings can be used to block winter winds and provide shade in the summer. Work with nature as much as possible in making your home comfortable.
Even the most appropriately sized, well built, and energy efficient home must be lived with, not just in. Window shades or thermal shutters operated to match the changing conditions of the day, hot water use at the end of the day using solar heated water, turning off, or even better, unplugging appliances that are not being used...all of these are little changes that add up to a “greener” lifestyle.
While building green may not be easy, it is easy to live a green lifestyle. Soon, just like that little frog, being green comes naturally.
Appropriately Sized Houses
It has been said that the next big thing…is small. We have seen it already in automobiles and meals. And now we are seeing it in our houses.
There is already a growing “tiny house” movement. Houses in the 100 to 120 square foot size are built on a trailer frame for portability, which allows the owner to work around current zoning laws requiring a minimum home size. Tiny houses do, however, have their drawbacks. They are a little too small for most people. Storm resistance on a trailer frame must be taken into consideration. And vehicles large enough to tow the trailers tiny houses sit on, along with the resulting transportation costs, are not tiny by any stretch of the imagination.
A logical step up from the “tiny house” is what we call an “appropriately sized” home. What is an appropriately sized home? It’s a house that feels big but is not; a house that is secure on a permanent foundation; a home that can be expanded as future needs change; a home that is affordable for singles, couples beginning their lives together, and empty nesters who want to downsize. It’s a home that is efficient in the use of initial building materials as well as long term energy use and maintenance.
Smaller, appropriately sized homes are the future. A smaller house offers substantial savings in building and maintenance, lower taxes, and lower energy consumption. At the same time, owning a smaller home means more time and more freedom, and the money to enjoy them.
Consider all the options for your future housing needs, whether small or tiny, and find what is appropriate for you and your lifestyle. It is true that size does matter. And the future is clearly smaller.
It has been a while. One of the cardinal rules of blogging is to post regularly. I have broken that rule, but give you my pledge to try to do better.
The circle of life keeps turning, season to season, year to year. March in Wisconsin brought June-like weather, causing everything in nature to ramp up almost a month early. April put everything in the fridge, but that had the advantage of preserving the daffodils, lilacs and cherry blossoms, among others, for longer blooming. Now in mid-June with the solstice just past, the landscape looks like August. Here in southwest Wisconsin it is dry and the grass has browned. We have mowed just a couple of times, unusual for this time of year. The pool was up at least two weeks ahead of normal schedule, and the water is now in the mid-80 degree range. Summer lies ahead and it seems it may be a hot one.
|Along the way|
In May, my husband Dennis traveled to Haiti with a group from Ireland called the Haven Partnership. The original plan for the group's trip was to build new housing near Port-au-Prince through a connection with OxFam. The land was purchased and foundations were ready for the "Build It Week" team to do their magic. However, at the last minute some land ownership issues arose, and the venue changed to work on an island just off the south coast of Haiti called "Ile a Vache" (island of the cow...quite appropriate for a Wisconsinite!). The crew of nearly 50, which included a couple of Americans, a Canadian, one from the Dominican Republic, and the balance Irish, completed repairs and upgrades at the orphanage and boat dock on the island. They worked all week in 95 degree heat and humidity, building ramps, making repairs, and creating a soccer field and volleyball court from a rock strewn patch of earth.
Building a ramp for students in wheelchairs
Outdoor seating in the shade for recess and outdoor classes
|The soccer pitch before...kids used this as their field, |
with rolled up plastic bags as balls...playing in their bare
|Work on the pitch|
|Progress...kids using the pitch before it was completed|
|Celebration on the last day...completed soccer pitch and |
At news of the change of venue, Dennis was a bit disappointed that he wouldn't be building homes as was first planned...but the trip turned out to be an extremely rewarding experience in many ways. The faces of the people, especially the children, tell the story.
|A Canadian and an American in Haiti|
Children of the island
School kids going to lunch
Haiti is recovering...but it still has miles to go.
Tent cities still stretch on for miles...
Housing in village on Ile a Vache
We are both hoping to be able to make a trip to Haiti in the near future to help in the rebuilding efforts.