Mod House Design – Canning NS.1

The plan was to collect photos right from the start, but it’s easy to forget to snap pictures during initial meetings when there’s so much that’s new and exciting!  So, I’ll start with yesterday and backtrack just a little.

The purpose of this blog is to document the planning, design and building of our perfect home. Those who are planning to build their own small footprint, small budget, super-insulated, energy-efficient home or are simply curious may enjoy following along.

Yesterday, we had our third meeting with architect, Vincent denHartog, at our building lot.  The purpose: to look at exactly how and where our house will sit on the land. We also wanted a view of what we will see from the upper level of the future house so we can plan windows.

Standing on a very tall ladder or hiring a photographer to fly a camera-laden drone 15 feet in the air were two possibilities for checking out the future upper level view.  Or, clever idea: strap my smartphone onto a 7 foot pole with elastic bands to video tape a 360. Done.

So now we know there are no nasty surprises lurking beyond the trees in any direction and windows can be placed where ever they make sense for us and the structure.

Here’s our lot at the edge of an abandoned apple orchard.  For those eyebrows that just went up at the thought of pesticides and herbicides lurking in the soil, we were concerned as well.  Before purchasing, we did a lot of Googling on the potential issues and we spoke with the environmental authorities. The scoop is – there is likely lead arsenic in the soil of every apple orchard and as long as you don’t eat the soil, it isn’t harmful.

Supposedly, you can actually grow food in the soil and as long as you wash the food, you won’t be risking your health.  I don’t think we’ll be testing that theory.  Laying down new soil on top is a viable solution as these toxins don’t wick upwards, so we may do that.  Or, as we were advised, we could simply not eat the dirt.  In anycase, after much deliberation, we decided that it wasn’t a deal breaker and we purchased our quarter acre of apple orchard.


Eyebrows may have also raised at the mention of an architect, especially when there is also mention of a small budget.  Well, actually, if you are building on a small budget, the best build decision you can make is to hire an architect.

An architect will design the best possible house for you and will advise and help keep you on budget with size, design and material recommendations.  An architect will also respresent your best interests to your contractor and the building authorities.  An architect is trained to see possibilities for spaces, storage, views, materials, forms and function.  The money you spend on an architect is an investment in creating the perfect home for you and will most likely save you money.

Here’s one of the books that helped give us tools and courage to start this journey:


“Designing Your Perfect House, by William Hirsch, is the ideal guidebook for navigating the often mystifying process of house design and building. It’s full of sage advice from a master architect about how to design the perfect house for you.Presented in twelve understandable lessons, this book moves from wonderful concepts to a finished dream home. Beginning with an exploration of the philosophy of design, the grammar of architecture, the creation of space, and discussions of how to make spaces be appropriate and gratifying for the people living in them, the lessons explore issues of scale, daylight, how to make a house feel like a home, unifying a design, flow, and proportions.This book answers questions like: How do I get started? How do I select a building site? What kind of house can I afford with my budget? How do I make my dream house just right for me? Other topics include: site analysis and selection, programming, schematic design, style, room relationships, budget, working with professionals, methods of contracting, and more.”

Here is the time line for our small house:

January 2014 – began in ernest on-line and in-print research on building small, passive and super-insulated homes

February 2014 – listed house for sal

August 2014 – hired architect and found1/4 acre lot to build on

September 2014 – sold house and moved into rental for one year

October 2014 – began design concept process with architect Vincent, investigated builders, met with Nick Bentley and clicked immediately, visited Nick’s references of happy past clients

April 2015 – start the build

September 2015 – move in

In upcoming posts, we’ll talk about heating loads, heated versus un-heated slabs, Pinterest boards, built-ins, metal siding, roof systems and more…

But before we close, a small selection of our inspiration photos from our Pinterest board:

Pinterest1 Pinterest2