When green building consultant Ricky Cappe set out to build his own green home on a modest budget, he wondered how it was possible. He found it very time-consuming to research the endless options, many of which weren’t sustainable, and he found working with architects both expensive and time-consuming.
“You can pay anywhere from $5,000 to $75,000 to have your home designed by an architect,” says Cappe. “Why do we need to reinvent the wheel every time we build?”
This quandary inspired him to start a company called SAK House, which sells sustainable, affordable house kits. These green home packages cost between $5,900 and $9,500 and include a set of building plans, green supplier contact information, material recommendations, a building timeline and technical support from Cappe. The homebuilder merely selects one of five customizable models, hires the contractor and selects the finishes.
Cappe says this can save thousands in architectural fees and many hours of research. The finished product is a customizable home, for a fraction of the cost, in a shorter time frame. The homes have many qualities that are attractive to a green homebuilder: generous insulation, high air quality, natural lighting, an intelligent floor plan, durable construction and high-quality finishes. The exterior walls and roof of the homes use Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), which contain a foam core sandwiched between oriented strand board. SIPs provide both structure and insulation for a home, resulting in a very comfortable, draft-free home. Although SIPs typically have a higher upfront cost than a stick-frame home, they pay for themselves quickly from the energy savings.
The SIP manufacturer drills holes for the electrical work and pre-cuts window and door openings. This streamlines the construction process and adds greater precision to the process. The SIPs on Cappe’s prototype home were assembled in one day for the first floor, a day-and-a-half for the second floor, and a day for the roof. He describes the process as being like assembling a puzzle, but with a set of directions.
Cappe finds materials that are sourced within 500 miles of the building site, supporting local economies and reducing the fossil fuels required for transportation. He is also very diligent in selecting materials that are durable and stand the test of time. He embraces the concept of a home being easy to maintain because high-quality materials were selected in the beginning. This concept is especially important for items that people aren’t likely to replace for decades, if ever, such as the wall assembly, foundation and roof.
The protype house contains FSC-certified lumber, a radiant floor heating system, a standing seam roof and a passive solar design. Solar gains significantly reduce the use of the heating system, with a comfortable and gradual heat. “You can be standing there in the middle of sunny winter day and it will be 71 in the house and the heat isn’t even on,” explains Cappe.
Non-toxic materials are especially important as a home becomes more airtight. While leaks in a home help dilute indoor pollutants, a tighter home has less opportunity for toxins to exit. Numerous building materials contain volatile organic compounds, which deteriorate indoor air quality. Cappe is meticulous in the selection of non-toxic materials.
Saving on some of the initial costs with a SAK Home kit can save money for finishes and other features. More importantly, this concept allows the green building market to become more affordable, becoming more attainable on a modest budget. By using durable materials and an energy efficient design, with a passive solar design and generous insulation, the operating costs will be much lower for many decades.
Cappe is inspired by the motto, “Build it once and build it right.” This concept fits well with the green building principles, as it reduces waste and energy to built it right the first time.
Image credit: SAK House
Sarah Lozanova is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Green Building & Design, Triple Pundit, Urban Farm, and Solar Today. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.