Flex House (part 1)

MCNZH, First Floor

We have a bad habit in North America of not planning for the future. In our built environment, one way in which this habit manifests itself is disposable buildings. Tearing down a building after 30 years, a practice that would shock most Europeans, is completely normal here. We need to change this mindset.

My wife and I will probably build only one house in our lifetimes. We love Edmonton and the Mill Creek neighborhood, so we want to stay here for the foreseeable future. Since our circumstances will certainly change during the next 50 or so odd years, we're building a flex house.

The first floor of the Mill Creek NetZero Home (MCNZH) has a wheelchair-accessible bathroom in it. This is largely because my mom needs it, but it's also making this house flexible for us in case we're not walking on two legs our entire lives. Hey, it happens. We also have a den on the first floor which is convertible to a bedroom in the future if we need to transition to one floor living.

We're also building our retirement condo into this house. The side entrance can be framed out to create a separate suite out of the second floor and loft. When we need to downsize, we can split up the house and fund our retirement with rental income (if zoning bylaws allow, of course). To this end, we're running electrical and plumbing upstairs for a future kitchen and washing machine.

MCNZH, Second Floor

The cheapest time to do renovations is when you're initially building a house. It costs very little to run conduit and electrical wire for a second-floor stove before drywalling, etc. has been completed.

Building for durability (longterm usefulness) and  flexibility is making the most of your resources, and that makes it a green way to go. With a bit of forethought, we hope that the MCNZH will remain useful to us for decades to come.

(cross posted at www.raisingspaces.com)

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I work for a major commercial contractor which shall remain unnamed. The company is the general contractor for many large scale buildings in the city. I am shocked and appaled at the waste of building materials going on at our job site, and the lack of recycleing going on here. We go through a huge bin (about 40ft long) every few days, and the majority of materials being thrown away are totally recyclable, mainly cardboard and wood. Metal, including copper are indescriminently thrown into the same bin. Diesel machines are left running for hours on end without being used and the environmental impacts continue. I came from British columbia, and the city dump there was aiming at zero waste in the forseeable future, everything was sorted into seperate bins by the customers. They were directed by the attendants as to which bin to dump what in. Here you drive up to the only hill in Edmonton (Because it is man made) and dump anything you want up there. Where is the foresight? Big companies like this consume major resources,and contribute tons of waste. There should be strict enforcements on recycling practices for the building industry manor. Recycling should be mandatory!!! The earth cannot sustain this kind of recklessness.

PS: Looking for another job.

Because construction companies don't have to report how much materials they waste they don't have to be accountable. I think it's time we set up a body that can enforce recycling quotas.

Hello Conrad

My name is Gerald. My family and I are also looking at building an energy efficient home in the Mill Creek area. Your proposed home looks great and very well thought out. What sort of things have you done to help control building costs? Our original budget was $180/sq ft (not including land or solar equipment) and the first estimate was 50% higher! We're facing some tough decisions and are interested in your perspective given your project.

Hi Gerald!

We should get together then. Our home is going to cost a mint - we can only afford it because we happened to have purchased the "tear down" home early enough (summer of 2005). I've been thinking about writing a post about the money side of it, but I can't figure out how to approach it tastefully.

I'll email you, and maybe we can have a beer on my front porch sometime soon.


That's an interesting project, you designed your own flex house and thought about everything. It's great to think about your comfort in the future but I also think your are a little pessimistic about it. Have you found a general contractor yet? It would also help to have a second opinion on this project. I used New Orleans general contractors to build my house, they helped me a lot with making a good project.

Here's another low-energy house. Lots of good monitoring data in the report.


Check out companies that are working on LEED (Leadership in Eviormental and Energy Design) buildings. Recycling of the construction waste is one of the options for points under the LEED structure. I have personally worked on projects where over 80% of the construction waste has been diverted form the landfill.

Hello Conrad,
Your advanced thinking to install plumbing and electrical for future modifications is very wise.
When I studied your floor plans, I did not notice an airlock at the main entry. This is one of the easiest and cheapest energy saving devices to install. Did you weigh the costs and benefits of installing an airlock?

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