Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Project

2 posts in 2 days? Yep, I (Toby here) am hoping to post more on a regular basis going forward with all sorts of stuff like regular happenings (more of the same), as well as deeper thoughts (inspired by a friend's blog that I've been reading) and updates on our "project" of building an Eco-friendly house and cafe next summer. This post will be on the latter (I want to keep that carrot out there for the "deeper thoughts" to come later....he he he). So. We have this chunk of rock in Higasahikawa that is roughly 5,000 square feet (450 sq. meters) in size. Not a huge piece of land, but that's not why we picked it. We picked it because of its location (corner lot with view) and the whole idea around the concept of the place. You see, the lot is on a piece of land that used to be rice fields, but was flattened out to build a place that was aptly named "Green Village". The concept is to have the new residents of this area not only build with Eco friendly "greenness" in mind, but also build with the idea that you will be more of a "community" with your neighbors. For those of you that know me when I lived in West Seattle, this is perfect for me as I was not only heavily involved in my community back there (both in the condo we lived in, as well as the neighborhood), but was also big into the whole "green" thing with Flexcar, cycling, recycling and much, much more. In fact, I believe it was destiny the day I found this "Green Village" on the Internet over 2 years ago while surfing for potential new places to start a new chapter of our lives in Hokkaido. The corner lot allows us to have amazing views of the largest national park in Japan (Taisetsuzan National Park) and since the property is on the outskirts of the town, we have only one traffic light between us and the park (we can get there in about 20 minutes). The picture at the bottom of this post is from our property last November. If you look closely, you can see the mountains behind us. Here's a better shot of what we will be looking at, though.

Now, the project is to build in a way that is the most Eco-friendly while balancing the cost and taking advantage of the amazing views at the same time. Not to mention what type of business to potentially run out of the finished building. So with that said, we are currently looking at running a cafe out of the 2nd floor of our house/cafe and having the bedrooms and ofuro (bathroom) on the first floor. By doing this, we will be able to take advantage of higher ceilings without having wasted space by doing a "grand room" (with big ceilings) on the 1st floor. When we visited a remodeled home (by a few friends of ours) in Niseko, we also saw this concept in person and took a few pictures. I'll attach those here (left and below). Not only were we impressed with the unusual concept of having the "living area" on the 2nd floor, but also the style of architecture which is considered "Modern Japanese".

As you can see, we are looking at a very open concept and also an area where we can put in at least one horigotatsu (tatami mats with sunken area for feet - in winter, you put a heavy tablecloth on that extends to the feet and you put a heating device under the table so you can efficiently stay warm - like "kotatsu", but with sunken area for feet). While in the high altitude of Nepal, we stayed at a few guest houses that had kotatsu style heating in the dining areas and that only confirmed my desire to have at least one of these tables at the cafe. By the way, we intend for the cafe to be open during the afternoons (maybe 11-6) and we would use it for our own living space during the mornings and evenings. You know, keeping that "balance" and; therefore, building something that you will not only want your customers to thoroughly enjoy, but also have a place that you would want to live. Of course, the mornings in the winter would be spent up on the mountain taking fresh turns in the deep stuff. :)

Now, as for the outside of the building, we are looking at a rectangular type of building and using a post & beam support structure (hopefully using recycled beams and posts, err logs, that have imperfections and are less desired by other builders). We are also planning to incorporate both passive solar (strategically placing the windows where they will either attract the sunlight in winter, but not attract the sunlight in the heat of summer) and solar (panels) so that we can capture as much natural energy from the sun as possible. And since a connection to the outside is highly desired, we will have a large deck area (or two) that can be used for dining and enjoying the amazing views of the mountains and nearby area. See the two pictures above of a structure we like and what the solar panels would look like on the south side of the building.

I have also attached a picture of an Earth Bag house in Colorado that I was able to view during a workshop last summer. Although Earth Bag Construction isn't logical for the colds of Hokkaido, I am still looking at the possibility of using straw bales (or rice bales) for the walls of our house/cafe. This is probably the biggest challenge we are having right now as there haven't been as many straw (or rice) bale houses built in Japan yet. This is our highest priority right now for if we are to build with this amazing Eco-friendly material, we need to secure the bales by this fall harvest and store them during the cold/wet winter months. What I do like about the picture, though, is the rock wall below the earth bags. We will need to have a high frost line because of the heavy snows in the winter and I am also hoping to have a basement (storage and hobby areas) so we will probably have a concrete wall about the same height as the picture to the left. However, instead of a blank and bland concrete wall, I am hoping to use small rocks like these and create something that is quite a bit more aesthetically attractive.

So, yes, we are busy with the project of getting our house built. I cannot count how many times people have asked me how the "home building" is going so, hopefully, this will bring you all up to speed a bit. The construction is going to start next April/May (after the snow melts) and we hope to have it completed by next November (2009). It would be sweet to have it done by my 40th Birthday on November 14th & then a big Thanksgiving Feast later in the month (to give "thanks" to everyone who gave support during the project). Keep your fingers crossed and if you have any ideas, suggestions or thoughts, please let us know. We are always looking for help in both the physical and mental form.

Now, I need to contact a few local dudes here that have a bit more experience in Eco-friendly building so I can pick their brains. Until next time.....


bgirl said...

okay so first 3 are a gorgeous family! second, ummmm is this your house or the concept of it??? either way i LOVE it.

Bomber & Maiko & Toby said...

Well. thank you very much, bgirl. That is awfully kind of you to say. :) As for the house, that is only a concept of it. The deck will be much larger and we are hoping for a second deck above the entrance (genkan) area. This would be right in the middle of the side of the house/cafe. However, this picture gives you a fairly good idea of what we are after. :)