A Green Retrofit on a Modular Home

I'm living in a modular home that I had placed on my property in the woods back in April of 1996. The home was built in Central City, Nebraska, by Atlantic Homes, a division of Champion Homes. At the time, it was built to meet the then-current Colorado state specifications and requirements. However, state specs tend to be "minimums" and builders do what they feel they can get away with to cut corners and increase their margins. Then you throw in the shortage of "qualified" HUD inspectors... modern life in America...

Anyway, with current conditions in the world and the prices of all the various forms of "energy" that we use in living in our home, I think it's time for me to look at rebuilding some major sections of the place to be a bit more "sane" in our expenses, emissions and mode of living.

As a former construction contractor, I learned (the hard way) to look at a project from as many different perspectives as possible. I'm a lazy man and, in my world, a lazy man is one who does everything he can to get the job right the first time. So I want to be as comprehensive in my planning as I can be from the very beginning. At the same time, I know full well that I'm going to miss a few things and situations (and plans) will change as the project progresses. And I already know that the more I go into the structure of this house, the more I'm going to want to "fix."

To begin with, the home is at about 7,600' in elevation in the foothills of the southern Rocky Mountains in Colorado. That means warm but short summers, and long, sometimes cold, winters. We usually get snow coming down from October into May. Most winters, that snow doesn't last long, it melts off and then a week or two later it comes down again. The cycle is like this because we have somewhere around 300 days of sunshine per year.

The prevailing weather pattern is from west to east (but when that wind shifts around and comes in from the northeast, we're about to get blasted). There is a mild breeze to a real wind probably 2/3 of the time. At times we can have several days of steady wind with some serious gusts (usually in the spring). Summer tends to bring almost daily thundershowers: 2-to-4 hours of cloud, 15-30 minutes of rain and then the sun comes out again. Sometimes that rain cycle will repeat two or three times in a day.

The original structure was about 2,000 square feet in heated area. I added a mud room, dog room, bird room, and great room, so there's now about 3,200 square feet to heat. The great room is 32' by 20' with three walls of glass on the south end of the house. The solar gain is really good and it holds the heat, especially since I installed a 3/4" layer of ungaged slate across the entire floor (with an R-30 insulation in the floor joists below and in the roof joists above). In the spring and fall, I set up a couple of fans that blow the warm air from that room through the entire house and the propane-fired forced air furnace only fires up in the middle of the night. That solar heating system also works, to an extent, in the heart of winter but colder days require more help from that expensive propane/electric device.

Our hot water comes from a typical, propane-fired, 30-gallon hot water heater. Electricity comes from the "grid" via a 200-amp service panel. There is also a wood-burning fireplace insert in the living room in the center of the house with another one in the south wall of the open dining/kitchen/living area. The great room has a small wood burning stove sort of centrally located (and if I fire up that stove and get it really hot, my fan arrangement will heat the entire house with no problem, until I go to bed and let the fire die down).

So then, my proposed plan: get off the electric grid, install a solar "booster" system for hot water and heating purposes (while also installing a radiant heating system) and generally reduce my cost of living (I understand all the greenhouse gases and global warming stuff, but I'm a pragmatic old codger, too - my wallet is taking continuous shots to the heart and if I implement a well-made plan, I can take care of all sides of that problem at the same time). As I get deeper into the process, I also intend to be working on changing my water use systems (intake, grey water, septic, etc.) but I need to do first things first and deal with the water stuff a bit further down the line. logo
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