Zero Energy Off
Super Insulated Steel SIP House in Tennessee
April 1, 2011 happened to be April's
Fool day and was also the day that we decided to
embark on a new super energy efficient zero energy
input off grid home construction project at Neal
Creek Farm. This and other pages in the
website will be the place where you can follow our
The idea of a totally energy
self-sufficient home started many years ago. I
have done some environmental writing in the past.
A couple of writings from 10 years ago that might be
Sunshine Cottage was our initial project for
learning to live with less energy and with energy
generated by sunshine and wind using solar panels and a
small wind turbine. See
learning to live off the grid. Sunshine
Cottage is moving to a permanent foundation in a few
weeks and will be a guest cottage where you can come
for a weekend or a week and learn for yourself what
off grid living is all about.
The photo is a 180 degree panorama
of the west bank of Neal Creek taken from the spot
on the hill where the water well was drilled April
The House Plan
Designing a house can be a great way
to upset a marriage and we have taken our lumps on
several previous attempts, but this time things came
together surprisingly well. The house is
designed the way we live and also anticipates that
both of our mothers are alive and may end up living
with us at some point in the future, or, depending
on the state of the world, 4 kiddos and 8 grands may
Form is related to function, a
simple 40 wide by 32 feet deep gable roof with a
12/12 pitch that allows upstairs room in the gable
for an extra bedroom and a bunk room, game room,
bonus room etc. The house faces due south
toward Neal Road. We do not plan to put solar
PV on the roof, but there may be some thermal solar
collectors. Facing due south is important to
the full length of the house porch, which will be
enclosed with 13 large single hung windows to be a
greenhouse and thermal gain envelope during the
The porch on the right (east) end of
the house overlooks Neal Creek.
The porch will be all under roof
with a slab on grade for wood storage and access to
the walk out basement.
The north side includes a mudroom
entrance which will double as pantry storage for the
The west end entrance to the
greenhouse porch will be on grade with a small ramp
for wheel chair access.
The main floor entrance offers the
option of heading up the stairs or into the main
room of the house which will have French doors that
open out to make the living, dining, kitchen, deck
and front porch all one space during suitable
weather. Part of the design idea is to
minimize waste space in halls which is always a
challenge for small houses. In the center of
the house just above the long run of the stairs in
this view is a wood stove which will also be
suitable for cooking if needed. The master
bedroom and bath are top left, guest room lower left
which adjoins a fully accessible ADA compatible
The space in the gable with three
small dormers provides a surprising amount of both
living and storage space without having additional
wall exposure or expense. A third full bath is
in the future plans if needed along with a large
bedroom to the left.
The roof plan shows flat rather than
peaked gables which are easier to build and easier
to roof, no valleys on this roof.
The basement will be exactly that.
Not shown are plans for a storm room top left which
will be below grade. All the solar electric
hardware and battery bank will be on the wall just
to the left of the stairway. The rest of the
basement is for food and necessities storage and the
garage door is to provide access to get our 27 hp
tractor into the warm and dry for winter
maintenance. The floor beneath the front porch
will be earth and the void in the porch will be the
heat sink for air tubes which will circulate air
from solar powered fans during the day for heat gain
with radiant or solar powered fans during the night
to bring warm air when available into the living
space. Air tubes will be bedded in coarse
gravel for heat sink.
Thanks to Bruce and Cyndy Gardner of
www.homesteadtimberframes.com, long time friends
and clients for drawing up the plans.
After looking at all the options,
structural insulated panels or SIPs made from
recycled steel and insulated with soy-castor foam
insulation is the choice. Stick or balloon
framing was never a consideration considering the
increasing intensity of storms thanks to climate
change. We looked at conventional SIPs, and
insulated concrete forms and everything else.
steel home kit is our choice. The walls,
floor systems and roof is all panelized with windows
and insulation pre-installed. The walls will
be R30 plus and the roof R50 plus. The main
floor panels do down first, bolted to a 12 inch
concrete block foundation with every block steel
tied to the footers, concrete filled and steel
reinforced. There is a bolted and screwed
structural connection from the top of the foundation
walls to the peak of the roof. Porch roofs
will also be steel panels.
steel house building is going to be increasingly
popular for several reasons: strength of
construction, high insulation efficiency, rapid
assembly on site and low cost of ownership. We
will tell more about this as the project moves
Check out our website
www.sunshineworks.com where we are offering practical renewable energy
solutions just like the ones you will see here.
The Site Excavation
energy efficient home site excavation photos.
Work starts June 20. Sunshine
Cottage goes first so we can move it out of the way
for the main house.
See the foundation
Drain tiles are essential and more
so on a hilly site like ours.
See the drain tile
The concrete block walls are steel
reinforced and concrete filled.
See the process.
A Hot Idea? We'll
Fame or folly, we buried 200 feet of
6 inch PVC under about 25 tons of limestone rock in
the porch portion of the basement. See the
tube photos. A detailed explanation will
follow including a sketch of the layout. I
gave my camera to one of the crew but he forgot to
take the photos.
The Pump House
Every good pump deserves a home,
especially if it is a solar powered Simple Pump.
See some photos.