"It’s July in Texas with our three kids, ages 8, 5, and 2. We’ve settled into our new home nestled among huge old oak trees in the historic town of Grapevine. Taking a break from soccer games, gymnastics, and PTA meetings, we’re having an easy summer vacation, watching the garden grow & looking for baby Mockingbirds, newly fledged and peeping all over the yard. As the kids head off outside for the rope swing and sand box, they hear those famous three words from Mom, “Shut the door!!”
It’s July in Texas. Usually that strikes fear in our budget. You just hold your breath at the mailbox (now the email in-box), imagine some outlandishly, impossibly high bill, and hope that it doesn’t come true as you open the envelope. But not this year! We’re about to complete our first year in our house built by Ferrier Custom Homes, and even neighbors who curiously checked out the house prior to completion are amazed to find out it’s constructed of the same material that keeps the watermelon cold: Styrofoam. Before we built the house we’d never heard of Structural Insulated Panels, or SIP’s, but we’re so glad we did some Internet research and talked to a relative in Houston who used SIP’s for his roof during his project, during our own search for a homebuilder. But before we found Don and Heather, we had plans, and a vision.
The house, designed by Donald Plattner, is the culmination of the dream for a Texas Farmhouse. We spent hours driving through small towns, taking pictures, saving articles, and especially paying attention to the old homes in Grapevine. While this would be a new home, we wanted to give the impression that the house could have been here for many years. Even before we knew the construction method, we knew this home would be energy efficient because of the attributes of that typical Texas Farmhouse: deep porches to shade windows, north/south orientation to catch prevailing breezes, white siding and light-colored roof to reflect the sun, and plenty of shade from the oak trees preserved from the original homestead.
The home is practical, functional, and value-oriented, the same features incorporated into Texas prairie homes built 100 years ago. Reminiscent of farmers during drought but faced with municipalities grappling with water-use issues, we installed dual-flush toilets. Desiring a home in keeping with our town’s architecture, we purchased the same 2-over-1 windows as City Hall—in a vinyl-clad, energy efficient version. What we saved by postponing wood floors (we’re hoping to find a reclaimed floor from an old house anyway), we plowed into using SIP’s over conventional construction or foam insulation.
Energy dollars saved can always go to aesthetically enhance the home, but it’s pretty hard to change the walls and roof after the fact. In the harsh, cold light of reality, we had analyzed our utility bills since 2003 and knew the upward trend would continue. We wanted to do absolutely as much as we could to mitigate that, and even though many energy efficiency techniques were not well-known when we applied for our construction loan, we were able to clearly demonstrate how the upfront costs would not only be off-set long-term, but would eventually result in big savings. In almost every facet (and faucet!) of the house, we asked ourselves and Don, “Is this cost effective and energy-efficient, and is this something someone would have done in an old house?” Often, the answer was the same.
This is Texas-Heritage-meets-Modern-Energy-Use-Reality, and represents the evolution of the original Texas farm homes. Those practical, functional features homebuilders used in the last century are still valid, and necessary, today, if we want to reduce our energy consumption. At the same time, modern technology such as CFL’s, SIP’s, Energy Star appliances, and tankless hot water heaters are the rest of the equation of adding the past and present together, and the sum total created a home for our family that is more compatible with its surroundings in ways beyond architecture and design, and responds to energy consumption and needs of the future. In the end, we succeeded—it looks like a Texas Farmhouse, and acts like a Texas Farmhouse, because it is! Now, about that windmill in the back yard…"