Update1: How would you build a sustainable, affordable house?

Featured image: Modern farmhouse design by Roberth Jordan Residential Designs, our architect. Our designed house will have a similar elevation as the one shown.

Here are some updates on building a sustainable, affordable house in Texas. In India, I found out nano homes are a real segment. Those homes are 180 to 220 sq. ft. in size, and cost about $20,000. Country locations will determine what is affordable for the local population. The house we are designing would be considered luxury in many parts of the world.

Affordable, sustainable homes are a challenge to build and scale. Major cities, entire countries have this problem. If we can build five to ten nano sized homes on the same sized land, and there was a market for them, that would be the way to go.

According to my designer, concrete and windows are the two most expensive items in building a house at present. There are supply chain challenges to both, increasing cost and delivery times. A cool item I came across is called ferrock. Ferrock, a steel-dust version of concrete, uses recycled waste from steel and glass manufacturing industries to create environment-friendly building blocks. Since the steel dust has lots of iron, the ferrock will absorb carbon dioxide over time, potentially making it carbon-negative. Some green alternatives to concrete are listed here.

Small changes to exterior points were made. The biggest is removing the balcony and capping the floor plan to one floor. No changes were made to the interior points. The largest decreases were made to rooms. Items in blue denote additions or modifications, items in red were crossed out.

Sustainable House Wish list

Exterior / Overall (38) – small increase

One story home (4) – I was told adding stairs and a second floor increases cost and time to build. Stairs take up valuable interior space and a second story increases roof complexity. We opted for a one story blueprint to reduce costs.

Coffered ceiling (1) – In another item you don’t usually think about when designing a house, we found out vaulted ceilings increase the cost of a house. Not only do they increase the cost to build, there is a larger cost to heating and cooling. We chose coffered ceilings, which add a nice design element, while reducing costs. I had no idea what a coffered ceiling was before starting the process. They are beams that extend down from the ceiling, usually in a lattice or waffle pattern.

Balcony (4) – This was crossed off. To have a balcony, you need two stories.

Wraparound porch for W and S facing windows (4) – Since the house faces east, we have looked to add a porch on the W side, and minimize S facing windows.

More windows on North and East side (4)

Lowest cost for highest points (4)

Roof at 34 to 35° facing south (2) – this will change based on your latitude from the equator.

Roof built to maximize solar (2)

Stainless steel Metal roof (2) – is it feasible and what is best for solar? – Although this is feasible and long lasting, stainless steel roof costs seems to be prohibitive. Crossing off for now. If we have budget at the end, they might get added back.

Maybe Euroshield instead of Architectural shingles to reduce cost (2) – Euroshield has rubber tiles that recycle end of use car tires into a hail resistant roof that lasts a long time.

Consistent roof slope without valleys or peaks (2) – It looks like this might be tossed out in the draft elevation, as the look we are aiming for is a modern farmhouse. You never think particular styles are better or worse for solar, until you actually start designing it.

Minimize construction waste (2)

High quality (2)

Lighter color Stucco (2)

Lighter color roof (2)

Fast speed to market (1)

Walk out basement (1) – I crossed this off, as it was purely an ask and the cost was $60,000.

Carport (1) – optional, as carports and porches are a good place for solar panels. – The design didn’t have scope or space for a carport. Instead, we are opting for a 2.5 garage with wallbox EV charging.

Bushes, small trees to shade house wo shading rooftop solar (1) – west side?

Solar window film for 2nd story windows using Ceramic Dual Reflective 45 (1)

Zero scape parts of the yard (1)

Plant native TX wildflowers and shrubs (1)

Capture rain water with rain barrels (1)

Zoysia grass (1)

Internals (35) – Descriptions added for certain items

Fully electric (4) – To make this happen, I tossed out a gas fireplace and a gas stove in the initial blueprint.

Net zero electric use per year (4) – Based on the recent Texas heat wave (more than 104°F / 40°C for weeks at a time) I estimate 20 to 25 panels will be needed to cover the expected energy use of the house. Most likely, I will need to increase the panel number based on the heat pumps replacing natural gas furnaces.

Sustainable materials (4)

Well insulated (2)

Sheep wool or denim insulation (2)

Straight ducts and pipes (2) – It was proven by an efficiency expert that friction in kinked pipes leads to energy loss. Having straighter ducts and pipes reduces this energy loss. Something so simple can have a large impact on efficiency.

Span.io electric panel (2) – Last time, I forgot to include why these were included. Span.io electric panels allow you to monitor every plug, to see how much electricity they are drawing. You can group plugs, turn them off, and a hard circuit breaker is included. In our quest to save electricity and optimize solar, this is valuable.

Heat pump water heater (2) – Heat pumps function by transferring heat. There’s a slight electricity cost for the transfer. This is made up by the fact that the efficiency is far higher than combustion through a natural gas furnace, or heating up air with resistance in an electric furnace. The heat is stored in the water, and the resulting cool air created can be used to cool the house. Think of it as functioning the opposite of an AC. The waste product is cold air. In an AC, the waste product is heat.

Heat pump air furnace with noise insulation (2)

LED’s (2)

Cat 6a wired (1)

House built for Vehicle 2 Home (1) – The Ford F-150 Lightning is the best vehicle I have seen for using your vehicle battery to charge your house if the power goes out. I’ve lost hope Tesla will add this feature. Vehicle batteries are far bigger and cheaper than standalone house batteries.

Home built for home storage batteries (1)

Two electric vehicle chargers (1)

No wifi dead spots (1)

Natural light lamps (1)

Rooms (5) – biggest decreases

2394 to 2483 sq ft (2) – During my research, there is a linear cost in the increase of a house based on sq. ft. This seems obvious, it wasn’t to me. I thought economies of scale might come into play. This is due to scaling for lumber, concrete, and windows. To minimize cost, we are looking for a 2,000 sq. ft. house.

3 bathrooms (2) – With the reduced square footage, we opted for 2 bathrooms, with a Jack and Jill shared bathroom for two rooms on the south side. Single bathroom vanities are cheaper than double vanity fixtures, by a lot.

Media room (2) – Tossed out. We would need to add a second story and stairs to accommodate. Instead, we are opting for a drop down screen and projector in the main living room.

Game room (2) – Same as above.

Big white wall in living room for projector (1)

I’ve asked some close friends for their thoughts. They are in agreement the house looks great, and makes good use of the space. I hope to share blueprint and elevations soon.

Warmest regards,


Published by smilingdad

My story is one of tragedy and redemption. We've made many mistakes along the way regarding our money. Our goal here is to show you how to take care of your money life long, and as much as we can, help the Earth along the way. I call it sustainable personal finance and ethical capitalism. Currently, I am a part time writer for Cleantechnica and part-time licensed financial professional, along with being a full-time dad.

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