Ground floor plan

The scan isn’t tilted off axis – the house is!  We have a 64 foot wide lot by 240 feet long which is a luxurious amount of space for the Bay Area, but friends from other parts of the country are probably just shaking their heads in disbelief…  This little shot of the ground floor starts to give an idea of what we are going to be building. Note the straw bale library! We are going to have the first straw bale construction in Mountain View so we’re keeping it simple and single-story, but we did get the permits, and the building department seems excited too.

Top floor plan

The top floor

We decided to orient the house off the axis of the lot so that it would use the space a bit better, and so that we could better align with the sun for passive solar.  The long series of double doors along the edge of the great room are all facing South (and towards the middle soon-to-be-riparian-paradise yard if you were paying attention in the previous blog entries).

Graywater plan

The PERMITTED grey water system from the Ecohouse in Berkeley! Check them out at

One of the great ironies of building in chronically water short California is that “grey water” (water from sinks and showers and washing machines) and “black water” (water from toilets) are both dumped into the sewers because you are not allowed to do anything else with your grey water.  Never mind that it could be reclaimed for irrigation, or re-used as water in your toilet tank so that you aren’t filling your toilet with what was potable water before you dumped it in the bowl…  in theory, grey water could be re-used, but the code requirements for permitting are so difficult, that for all intents and purposes, grey water systems can’t be built.  There are all kinds of groups like grey water guerrillas who are flying under the radar, but nothing “legit” until the group at the Ecology Center in Berkeley actually designed and built a permitted residential greywater system in 2007 – with that precedent, we are also going to try.

We will be plumbing our house with parallel sewer systems, and bringing our greywater to the edge of the house near the future stream.  Until we get the permit, the greywater goes into the regular sewer like any normal plumbing, but the plan is to build the leach field underneath the stream bed, and have it terminate in a constructed grey water wetlands at the bottom of the stream, and once we have the permit (and we’ve built the leach field), we turn the diverter valve and start watering the wetlands.  We expect that the permitting process will be long, so we are pursuing it separately from the house building, because the wetlands can be built long after the house is done if we have to.

Rolling Sod

Paul and his dad cut the sod and rolled it up.

The back yard behind the guest house (as opposed to the Middle yard) was a large expanse of water greedy grass which we didn’t want to keep at all.  Bill (Mohr, father of Paul) and Paul cut and rolled up the sod, and we found someone who wanted it on Craigslist!  The sod is now the happy play field of some Los Altos toddlers, and our plan is to turn this area into a California native meadow that requires only minimal watering.

Meadow flowers

Meadow flowers

As part of the house build, we will be installing a 9000 gal rainwater cachement tank which will catch the water from our roof, and our plan is to use it to water the yard, and keep all the landscaping municipal water independent.  We have several fruit trees on the property (figs, plums and loquats), and a few almond trees, and we will be bringing our blueberry bushes and dwarf citrus.  The trees plus a vegetable garden will need some water year round, but the meadow grasses are all adapted to dry climates and go dormant in the summer after being a riot of wildflowers in the spring.  Since we will have lots of dirt left over from the excavation for our rainwater cachement tank, we were planning to put in a few undulations in the otherwise rather flat back yard…  of course we’re keeping the yurt and the play structure!

Back of the original house

The back view of the original house

House interior under deconstruction

The house is coming apart!

House skeleton

The back of the house part way through deconstruction. We had Scott’s Demolition deconstructing the house, and these guys were GREAT. Very conscientious and thorough.

We opted to have the house deconstructed, which means taken apart piece by piece.  It is a longer process than simply knocking it over with a bulldozer and dumping it in a land fill, but much of the wood can be saved and the other parts of the house that are re-useable can be salvaged for use in a new house.


No House!

The house is gone!

The old house is now gone, and next week the excavation for the new foundation begins.  We have a big open space ready to take a new house.


Great example of stream with stones

The middle yard (between the main house and the guest house) will be part riparian plants in the shady areas and part meadow in the sunnier area.  Riparian? For those who are not Scrabble addicts, and would have to look it up, it means essentially “around the banks of a stream or river”…. well, there isn’t a stream on the property, but Adobe creek does run through the back all the properties across the street, and there is real water in it 9 months out of the year, so we thought that constructing a seasonal stream on the property that we kept full with our rainwater storage for part of the year and allowed to dry up for the other part of the year would then give us the climate to plant lots of columbine and other native California riparian species.   We saw some very inspiring examples of constructed streams in local California native gardens on the California natives tour (like this one at right from a stunning native plant garden in Palo Alto), so we are now looking at how much big rocks cost, and hoping that there are lots of them on Craigslist….

House Rendering

A Rendering of the House Design

This is going to be a catchup blog… Since there hasn’t been a note for almost a year!   We started with house designs with Forrest Linebarger at VOX Design, and our green home design started to take shape over the summer of 2008.  It became obvious that a design tailored to what we really wanted and needed would be much better than an adapted design because then we could build a smaller house that had everything that we wanted, and nothing that wasn’t important to us.  We were looking at starting in the Fall of 2008, but the signs of the weakening financial market were everywhere, and by our planned start time, the world was in full-fledged financial meltdown…  we ended up deferring for a while, and regrouping, trying to decide whether it was crazy to do this, and we should just put everything on hold, or whether we should figure out how we were going to scrape together the rest of the money and move forward… after a few false starts and lots of delays, we finally decided to move forward in late March of 2009, and deconstruction of the old house started in April 2009.  The next few blog entries are all “background”.