I have heard of the concept of the Pretty Good House a few months ago, and I love the idea! Not everyone can or wants to build a triple glazed, extremely insulated Passive House. But a lot of architects, builders, and homebuyers would like to design, build, and live in houses that are better than the barely-legal, only just code complying houses that populate the market at this time. The Pretty Good House, then, is the way to go.
The 15 simple steps
If you’re considering to build your own house as a owner builder and you want better quality than the inefficient aussie “standard”, here are what we consider 15 essential steps you should take to make it happen.
1. Allocate more time to planning stage
This is by far the biggest mistake of many owner-builders. Most do rush to start building and end up spending more time tweaking the plans during the build which costs more money as a result.
Our advice is to take as much time as you need to get the details right before you start any action. You will appreciate this decision in the end. This is especially true for getting the integration of services done right. Unfortunately many designs don’t leave enough room for proper integration of heating, cooling, and ventilation. Well thought out design and functionality is where it’s at!
2. Design it to be compact
The shape of the house should be simple. To create interior spaces that have a small footprint but still feel generous consider an open floor plan for the kitchen, living, and dining areas with direct access to the bedrooms and the bathroom to avoid hallways and redundant circulation.
3. Get a check up from professional
Once you have all your plans finalized, show them to an independent architect or building consultant. Choose one with knowledge and experience – relatively small fee can save you up a lot of money on not so small details that get often overlooked!
4. Don’t cut corners
Even though your budget might be a modest one and you are tempted to buy the cheapest products to save, remember if it’s cheap, the quality is not always the best. Be wise when it comes to material – a good quality will always pay off in a long run. Plan and detail every aspect of the materials you are going to use.
5. Use locally sourced materials and labor
Sometimes we might be temped to order products online from overseas to save money but often the alternative can be sourced more affordably locally. You can also inspect the quality before the purchase. We always prefer to use local suppliers if possible.
6. Avoid using fossil fuels
Plan for alternative power source, such as solar or wind power. Utilise a heat pump rather than depend on the use of fossil fuels. If planned properly, a solar system can be build into the roof, rather than installing solar panels on top of existing roof. The battery storage is not affordable for everyone just yet but the prices are falling and so going off grid could be a viable possibility in the near future.
7. Build a healthy house
Be careful when choosing building materials, use non-formaldehyde plywoods, glues and products as much as you can. Low or no VOC finishes and paints and non-toxic materials should be used everywhere in the interior. A reclaimed wood might cost as much as new chipboard but is formaldehyde-free.
8. Make sure the building envelope is airtight
Ventilation is necessary to guarantee healthy indoor air quality. Systems like heat recovery system work best where the building fabric is performing well. Airtightness is good. Lack of ventilation is the enemy of every building.
9. Install a good ventilation system
Airtight homes need mechanical ventilation. Balanced ventilation, which both exhausts stale air from the house and brings in an equal amount of outdoor air, is the best.
10. Get the most out of your insulation
Choose a well performing insulation. The higher the R-value, the better. The insulation is the protection from not only cold but also from the heat. So just because you get mild winters don’t underestimate the importance of a good insulation, you might appreciate it over the hot summer period.
Also make sure your insulation is installed properly as it can perform badly if poorly distributed. Even a small weakness in your insulation can have a mind-blowing effect on performance.
Even if you don’t plan on using your attic, your roof needs to be insulated just as well as your walls. Do not let anyone telling you that insulation the ceiling is good enough! A little extra can go a long way here.
11. Pay extra attention to openings
Getting a double or even triple glazed windows is a necessity, especially if you are using large glass doors or windows. They can be the main reason for winter heat loss or summer overheating. And of course, it’s easy to make a significant reduction in your air leakage by sealing the openings really well.
And even more important is to make sure you get those flashing details right as many water leaks usually happen at the openings.
12. Store the free heat
Plan for using your floor as a storage of the free heat provided by low sun in winter. If you are not using a concrete slab, use ceramic or concrete floors. For those who like innovative products, look up phase changing materials – a lightweight smart thermal mass solution.
13. Reflected the surrounding environment on the exterior
To conserve money, do not install any elaborate trim details. However, creating eaves above windows/porch door not only protects them from rain, but it also allows additional space where the house organically merges with the environment.
14. Commission the building
Getting the design right is a good start. The completed house is not the finish though. Making sure that the various systems work is where you end. Just because you know there is some insulation doesn’t mean it’s airtight. All those things and more need to be tested at the end of the building process. Blower door test is what we recommend.
15. Be smart and save time & money
There is so much more to building a good quality house, especially on a tight budget. But it’s not impossible. We have done all the research and we are happy to offer ecokit to those who are not confident enough to build a house on their own from scratch.
We have designed ecokit to offer an eco-friendly, sustainable home that is carefully designed, fast to erect and extremely adaptable. It comes in a form of a kit and employs traditional construction materials and techniques, so any general contractor or owner/builder can build one.