Done with a Little Lotta Help from Their Friends
The modern, industrial-chic home that has taken shape on Pine Street in Satank is a dream made concrete by Steven and Bailey Haines. Handsomely finished with touches like weathered cedar siding and trendy concrete countertops, their “Hainestead” isn’t just a treat for the eye, it’s a better-than-net-zero house.
That means that this house produces more energy than it uses.
An independent Home Energy Rating System (HERS) test rated the house at negative 10. In comparison, the U.S. Department of Energy says that a typical resale home rates around 130; a home built to the 2004 International Energy Conservation Code rates 100.
Sitting in the cathedral-ceilinged great room, framed by views of Red Hill and five sun-washed, south-facing windows, the couple muses about why they chose to spend the better part of three years of “free” time involved in gritty manual labor. For Steven, lead solar consultant for Sunsense Solar, “It was about reducing our carbon footprint and proving what could be done. We have the skills to demonstrate that you can build something beautiful, affordable, and efficient.” Bailey, a graphic designer and artist, says that building a house from scratch has been a “lifelong dream.”
Anyone who has built or remodeled a house can testify that the travails of constructing a dream home can keep one awake at night. For couples, hands-on home-building can become a relationship nightmare. (The Haines’ building inspector actually issued a relationship warning to them at the get go!)
The Haines’ relationship remained on solid ground, but putting their house onto a solid footing proved a challenge.
The soil around Carbondale is hard clay, a peanut brittle chock-a-block with river rocks. But when the Haineses began to dig for foundations, they were astonished to find not rocks, but topsoil—four feet of it. A relic from the time when Carbondale lay mostly where Satank sits today, the soil showed that someone had carefully culled out the river rock to farm where the house now sits.
To replace the soft soil, the Haineses had to truck in 230 tons of backfill, then spend three weeks compacting it. In her house-building blog, Bailey wrote, “This process took FOREVER. I think I lost ten pounds…do you remember those vibrating fat burners from the 80s?”
Next came laser-leveling, rough plumbing, building wooden forms and what Steven calls “a concrete truck circus” working to create the slab-on-grade “climate battery” that supports the house. The super-insulated slab is a sandwich: two inches of XPS insulating foam, a radon barrier, and then two more inches of foam on top.
Like the floor, the walls and roof are super-insulated. (The roof achieves an R-72 thermal resistance rating.) Steven tells visiting friends that they’re “basically sitting in a Yeti cooler.” (Notes for nerds: To save material cost and reduce thermal bridging, the couple used advanced framing with studs at 24-inch intervals. Instead of typical wood sandwiches, the headers’ interiors are filled with foam. This framing is covered with 7/16″ OSB sheathing that’s seamed with an airtight, vapor-open, acrylic adhesive tape. House wrap and two more layers of insulating foam sit over that. Lots of details online at BaileyHaines.tumblr.com.)
The result: an airtight house.
Since humans must breathe, so too must homes. Current building standards call for interior air to be replaced three to five times an hour, or around eight “air changes” a day. (Your grandfather’s drafty house probably leaked 25-75 air changes a day.) Because the ultra-tight Hainestead gets only .07 air changes per hour, and because the house was designed without ductwork, it has a built-in respiration system. Like every other mechanical device in the place, that system is electrical and runs off the home’s 5.5 kilowatt solar electric array.
But it’s not just energy efficiency that makes the Hainestead so green. Many of its materials were salvaged and repurposed. “There are parts of four or five houses here,” Steven explains, pointing to a huge ceiling beam, outdoor siding, baseboards, cabinetry, and windows.
Many contractor friends helped source materials. Beautiful oak baseboards came from a home in Snowmass; the couple sanded them and rerouted the top edge. They scored the kitchen’s $1200 Julien sink for $100 at Habitat for Humanity in Eagle. The dining room’s $1000 Visual Comfort Goodman brass pendant lamp cost $160 at Habitat on Highway 82. The wood stove and all the appliances came from Craigslist.
Three of the great room’s huge “windoors” were doors salvaged from the former Bookcliffs Art Center. Two flanking windows came from an Aspen home.
Because the walls are a foot thick, the windowsills are deep and perfect for displaying rocks or sleeping cats. (The Haineses have two.) The great room’s salvaged windoors, framed in meticulously detailed Douglas fir, look brand new. But they’re not. “Those probably represent about $100 in sandpaper,” Bailey chuckles. “We stripped those, and sanded, and sanded. There’s so much labor there.”
Turns out that it takes a village to build a Hainestead. Bailey says that friends, family, and neighbors helped in myriad ways, many “swinging hammers on site” and others “providing ideas and advice.” Steven and Bailey can quickly rattle off a list of folks to thank: Keith Brand of Terralink Structures, their building mentor; architect Dana Ellis; Lucy Hunter of Odisea Engineering and two savvy Satank neighbors: lead carpenter Briar Gorman and Will Lennox, who did framing.
“We’re so lucky we’re in Satank,” Steven muses. “We just couldn’t have done this without the neighbors. They would walk by, see what we were doing, say ‘cool’ and offer help.” In many places, the Haines’ slow and novel building process might have raised eyebrows, or even hackles. But here, neighborly help raised the roof. To lift a huge salvaged beam that supports the entryway ceiling, neighbor Todd Mathis even loaned the couple a building crane.
“We just met with love and support all the way around,” Steven says, noting that Sid Lincicome pitched in with surveying. That Johnny Davis did trucking, delivering tons of foundation fill. That Scott and Mary Gilbert helped them source building materials, Sid Graves installed their salvaged cabinets, Alpen Badgett pitched in with painting, and Jim Garner taught them tiling. That Keith Henderson and Jim Larrecha mentored their electrical plans, Dana Wilson helped with the plumbing, and that Ron Damon and Sean Kutych did magic with concrete.
Bailey offers Marge Palmer the “Best Neighbor Award.” During the two years that Steven and Bailey lived on the worksite in their camper, Marge let them hook it up to her home’s electricity and water. She also provided showers and encouragement.
Bailey’s thank-you list of helpers extends to another 46 names, too many to list in this article.
Looking back on the “13/16 completed house” (there’s still a garage to build and landscaping to do), Steven advises would-be DIY green builders to “have good karma by working on other people’s projects to learn what it takes.”
“Go slow,” Bailey advises. “You will enjoy it more. Stress with building comes mostly from having unrealistic expectations. It should be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so the point is to enjoy the process, not just get to the end goal.”
Still, after a couple years, it’s nice to be able to shower at your own house.