Cory and I began our marriage in the 480-square-foot lakeside cabin he had lived in for several years. It was originally a double garage on another site and was eventually trucked to the lake and turned into a summer cabin. Later Cory and his dad renovated it, adding a sleeping loft with big south-facing windows and making it a year-round home.
A couple years ago, with our first baby on the way, we decided it was high time to move out of our cramped quarters and look for a house. We decided on having a new home built at Lake Herman for a number of reasons. We had settled on living in either Sioux Falls or at Lake Herman. We found out that the housing market in Sioux Falls was mostly out of our range, despite our having stellar credit, zero debt, and a nice chunk of savings for a down payment (but we planned to live primarily on a teacher’s income, since Cory supported my decision to stay home with the baby). So, that left Lake Herman. It was where Cory had grown up, and he loved it deeply. I wanted to live in one place for a long, long time and carry out land stewardship plans, and Lake Herman seemed like a logical place to do that. Cory’s parents gifted us with the land to build on, which was the only reason we could afford to do so (and because we built frugally, it ended up being less expensive than buying a house in Sioux Falls).
We would have loved to build our house in a much more environmentally conscious way than we did. Our budget and time constraints meant we had to build a mostly conventional house. So, no straw bale construction (doesn’t quite meet the requirements for the SD Housing’s first-time home buyer mortgage rate), no solar panels, no wind turbine. Those all will have to wait.
We were, however, able to do a couple of things with the house right away. Almost anyone who builds a new house can do the same. For one, we built a relatively modest-sized home. Ours is slightly over 1,200 square feet (two bedrooms, two smallish bathrooms). Even though we don’t live in a high-density area, we still believe in small house footprints, at least by American standards (it’s a palace by world standards). We felt this was enough room for the three of us, and if our family size increases someday, we’ll be perfectly capable of making due with the space we have. Afterall, going bigger means heating and cooling more space, buying more furniture to fill it, and generally using up more resources than we really need to.
We also thought carefully about where the house would sit and oriented it to take full advantage of the sun. The long side with the most and largest windows faces south for as much passive solar heat as possible. This little action works surprisingly well. The house warms up quite nicely on a sunny winter day. In the summer, we get some shade from trees in the nearby shelter belt, and we’ve planted trees on the south side to eventually provide more shade. We’ll soon build a trellis over the deck and plant climbing vines to further shade the south-facing patio doors.
Another small step was to install compact fluorescent light bulbs in the new house. Right now about 98% of our light bulbs are CFLs.
Of course, our place isn’t anything close to this. We’re starting with small steps, but we hope to do more. I’d love to install solar panels (and I welcome any advice from those of you who have done so on your own homes), but those aren’t financially feasible for us at the moment. I’m interested in the idea of a bike generator, and we may be able to tinker around with that soon. Although a bike generator doesn’t produce that much energy, I’m intrigued by the concept of converting the energy I produce with my own body into electricity we can use in the home.
In the meantime, we’ll remain conscious of the energy we do consume and commit to using as little of it as we can. We’ll resist the rampant consumerism in our culture that tries to convince us we need to buy new stuff all the time. We’ll keep asking around and researching renewable energy sources for our home. And we’ll keep inching toward better stewardship of our energy resources.