Tom's 20x30 1-1/2 story in VT

Started by tc-vt, October 01, 2006, 03:55:41 PM

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Here are some pictures of the 20x30 I started on in August of 2004.  The house is off-grid and I just got my internet access installed the other day.

There was very little design or planning in advance - the final size was decided the day before I dug the hole and the under-slab plumbing was figured out the day it was done with help from someone in the trade.   So, using I-joists and trusses it was built like a big box with flexibility for wall placement.

The foundation was done as a frost protected slab.

There are more pictures at



Great JobTom.  Interesting roof trusses too. :)


Off grid, Tom?   What are you doing for power and internet access?  Is it high speed or dial up?   Mine is off grid with DSL for internet.


I like those trusses. What would those be called if I were to ask for them at a truss company or lumber yard?


Glenn and Jared

I am off grid with the last power pole being 0.4 miles down the road.  The estimate given to me by the power company three or so years ago to bring power up the road was about $18,000.

My internet is WildBlue Satellite.  I think Verizon has good internet available but I don't even have a good cell signal.  I'm also in a dead hole as far as getting service from a local wireless provider, so I'm thankful for satellite.  It's been working well so far.  

For phone I use a JD Tech cell phone booster and a Motorola cordless phone system with a cell phone dock (SD 4500 series) which are all hooked up to my batteries for power.  My power system is jerry-built for now and is a ProSine 2.0 (12v, 2,000 watt pure sine), 4 GC-2 batteries (6v, 220ah each), 4 Evergreen solar panels (115w each) with the panels on wood frames and the batteries lined up on a shelf.  Until I get a charge controller I am charging them directly off the solar panels when I'm here to keep an eye on the voltage.  I have a 48v, 4,000w inverter and 48v battery (forklift) charger with plans on going to 48v sometime.  The 48v inverter is a large older UPS.  This is a good way to get a  sine wave inverter inexpensively, by using an old UPS, but it won't have a built in charger or transfer switch.

The trusses are called tray trusses.  They told me it was a close call getting them to work with the snow load here but were able to do it with the metal roof which permitted using 70 percent, I think, of ground snow load estimates since the metal roof will shed the snow.  I think they were around $110 each and were easy to put up by hand.  I never thought about this until much later but the other way the trusses could have been made to work would have been to go 16" on center instead of the 24" that was done.  The truss company gave me two designs with different heights from the bottom chord (ceiling) to the truss bottom where it nails to the top of the knee wall.  I opted for the shorter truss because the flat portion of the ceiling is wider this way, and made the knee wall higher to achieve the desired ceiling height.



I say great on the off grid, Tom.  It is just a great feeling to not need them even if it may not end up cheaper in the end.  You just plain are not dependent on them.  I like it. :)

I have a 1KW Bergey wind Generator and about 2000+ watts of solar panels -- just thrown on the roof - Trace Regulator - will upgrade to MPPT some day - two  4024 ----4000 watt 24v Trace sine inverters stacked for 220v - runs nearly anything I want to run including a welder  -1 1/2 hp standard pump pumping about 500 gallons of water per day for the garden in the summer with the solar power.  Mine is also Jerry built. :)


Can you tell me what appliances, lights ect you are running on your system? I am planning to start building next March and will be off grid. Im working on sizing a system. Are you doing a conventional or alternative bathroom ?

Thanks - it looks great!!



So far, all I am running off the batteries is a laptop computer and the satellite modem, the cordless phone and cell dock (12v directly off the batteries) and occasionally a 4w fluorescent desk lamp.

My refrigerator is propane as is my cookstove.  The water heater is a 40 gal. 36,000 btu direct vent Bradford-White model no. DS140S6CX12.  Direct vent heaters are pricier than standard vent heaters ($750 vs 250) but this wasn't so bad since I didn't have to buy the vent materials and did not have to make another roof penetration.  The less that needs to be done on this 12/12 pitch roof, the more I like it.  I plan on heating the water for the radiant heat with this heater.  The bathroom is completely conventional with a septic tank and 'Infiltrator' chamber leachfield.  I had planned on trying to do 'humanure' composting.  Maybe in the future.



Can you tell us more about your frost protected footings, Tom.  That gets discussed quite often here.

I just looked at your pictures again and noticed the trenches running away from each downhill corner of the house.  Looks like you put in French drains.  Was the trench across the center part of the drain system too and how did you deal with plumbing going through the wall - waste lines-etc.?   Thanks again.


Nice work. Interesting options and good leads (foundation and truss roofs) for others building this sized house.



The trench down the center started out as the location for a grade beam for center supports for the second floor and the roof.  I was going to pour the slab thicker there to create this foundation support.  When I switched to I-joists for the floor and trusses for the roof, there was no longer a need for the support.  

The hole was already dug and the floods arrived in the days after I dug the hole.  The soil in the bottom of the hole was mud and the water wasn't going away.  I was worried about building in poorly draining and/or expansive soils so I decided to trench around the perimeter of the excavation for a perimeter drain.  I threw in a pipe down the center trench since it was there, too.  If I remember correctly, the center pipe actually sits a bit higher than the perimeter pipes so it probably doesn't serve much purpose unless a perimeter line clogs and it offers another route for water to drain.  I even overkilled by placing  vertical pipes in the corners so the perimeter drain can be flushed if it ever does clog.  Crazy.  A good flow of water comes from the drain in the spring thaw.

About 2-1/2 feet of compacted fill went in before the 2-foot tall foundation wall was poured.   This gave me the plumbing altitude I needed to reach the leachfield, lessened any influence from soggy soils beneath and increased the effective depth of the frost protected foundation design since 2-inch blueboard (2 feet wide) standing on its edge was incorporated in the fill and in the Design Guide - "When foundation depths greater than 12 inches are required by Table 2, the increase in depth may be satisfied by substituting compacted gravel, crushed rock, sand, or approved non-frost susceptible materials.." -  In the end, there is a two foot tall concrete foundation with 2-inch foam on its face and, extending almost another two feet deeper than that, is the blue board surrounded by fill.  The horizontal 'wings' of blueboard for the Frost Protected Shallow Foundation (FPSF) extend outward from the bottom edge of the lower piece of vertical blueboard.  This all beyond what the Design Guide specified (ie. more overkill).

The plumbing was accomplished with the help from a coworker's girlfriend's son.  Help comes from places you never expect it.  I didn't even have a plan when he arrived but he had the under slab rough-in done in a few hours.  I didn't worry about wet walls too much (rememebr I didn't need any interior walls in any particular place for support) - just where the tub box, closet flange, kitchen and bathroom sinks were going to drain and having them vented.  My plumbing is all on the outside of the walls but will mostly be covered by cabinets and the bathroom vanity.

Water supply rough-in was done the morning I woke up thinking I was done with the initial excavation.  The excavator was going to be picked up by the rental company in a few hours when I realized I needed to plan for the water from the spring to enter the house.  I quickly dug one corner deeper.  I made a conduit of  4 inch PVC.  It comes vertically up through the slab and with two 45 degree elbows to make a long 90 exits away from the foundation 4 feet below grade.  I placed 1-1/2 inch black poly through this and left it until the spring was installed.  If that black poly ever needs to be replaced, it can be pulled through the PVC.  It probably won't be easy so I hope it never happens.

The main drain exits just below the bottom of the concrete perimeter wall without penetrating it.

There are some other interesting things on that nahb page including the link for the Design Guide for FPSF pdf.



Thanks for the information, Tom.  Sounds like good planning, observation and solutions on your part.  Obviously the drain is extremely useful and not overkill if it has running water.  

Code is the minimum allowed - in this case it would not have been enough- you'd have had a mudhole under your house.  Sounds like your additional work was well worthwhile.


I finally got started on my generator/off-grid equipment shed.  It's an 8x8 2x4 frame.  I'm looking for a way to warm it to 40-50 degrees F.  There is radiant tubing in the slab as I was thinking of a used water heater and radiant heat.  A no vent propane heater is another possibility but condensation might be a problem with that.  Any other ideas?  I posted this heating question to this thread:

which is probably a better place to discuss ideas about heating small places.

Pictures of the shed are at my yahoo photos page in the shed folder:





Nice site.  It turns out that this guy lives 10 miles from me.  I guess you never know where you'll find the experts.


Lots of great information there.  I should put it in links - maybe I will.


Thanks Glenn:

You beat me to it. Yes, that site is a great resource for low-cost radiant heating and other topics as well. The review on solar was good as well.


Acquaintances of mine bought a strange half-built place--3 RV-port with 20 foot ceilings and no walls, huge workshop/garage with radiant heat powered by one of those outdoor wood-burning boilers.

They changed the shop into a dwelling, so far are ignoring a foundation built nearby--plans to put a patio on top of it, because there's a perfectly lovely view from there.  

The radiant heat is overkill, with the wood-burning boiler no particular help, and you have to go outside to load and fire it up.  I think it was in the 80's indoors the other day when it was a pretty pleasant 55 outside (all F).  My guess is that the original builders did not put in any way to turn it down--shunt the water into an outdoor tank??--or something.  They are in Middle Tennessee but still, even the coldest parts need just enough heat to take the chill off part of the year.

In other words, don't go for overkill, especially overkill that takes a fair amount of work.

I may send them some of the information in the link.