Anatomy of A “Pretty Good House”

Anatomy of A “Pretty Good House”

A new concept recently floating around the green building world is the idea of “The Pretty Good House”.  In reality, while most knowledgeable and educated green or smart home builders have little fear about living up to the standards of a true green home, (and building it to conventional costs) the typical builder lacks the knowledge or the experience to meet such goals.  Even worse, most conventional builders are grossly misinformed about the measures used and costs associated with green building.  In response, the green building community has been floating this idea about a “Pretty Good House”.  In fact, if every home were built to meet this concept of a “Pretty Good House” we could easily meet most of the building based carbon reductions necessary to create a sustainable world.  So what is a “Pretty Good House”.  According to the Green Building Advisor: “The truth is that there seems to be a fair amount of agreement that it’s a house that is built better than code but that does not necessarily meet the requirements of Passivhaus, net zero, LEED, or other particularly stringent building standard.”  Check out this link at, too, for more description.  And here, too, at Energy Vangaurd.

So, at Greenovations, were going to do a case study on the progress of a new, “Pretty Good House” being constructed by the “smart” building professionals at Hovde Construction.

With thousands of components going into a building there are numerous opportunities to create “The Pretty Good House” without going all the way green.  Such “green” upgrades are typical examples of the level of detail displayed by energy-efficient builders such as the crew at Hovde Construction.  To begin with, look at the photo below.

The above photo is an example of standard framing, with one exception.  Instead of framing the studs 16 inches on center (the measurement from the center of one stud to the next) this home uses 24 inches on center, reducing the overall amount of timber and increasing the amount of insulated space.  This saves trees and carbon emissions.  As well, the lower number of board leads to fewer places of thermal bridging through the studs.

Another example of where greening your project isn’t just about energy efficiency is below:
In this angled photo (better for viewing) I-joists are being used for the structure of the floor.  I-joists consist of an I-shaped sandwich of solid wood with a core panel made from engineered (waste) wood.  I-joists save timber and are dimensionally stronger than standard boards.  The ever more common use of these is a sign of the growing eco-building movement.

Finally, below is a photo of a detail only the best and most knowledgeable builders use; something that can easily be added to “The Pretty Good House”

In the photo to the left do you see the white strip?  That’s foam insulation placed inside the header board above what will be a large window or sliding glass door.  Door and window framing creates a lot of thermal bridging and this is a simple, low-cost way to reduce the bridging.  Most builders don’t do it, but it’s a good step for a “Pretty Good House”.

To reference where a header is placed, the photo below is from sample home in the shop.  

Just above the maroon trim of the Le Page window is a silver strip.  That’s rigid foam insulation!  These are seemingly small details that add up to a lot of energy savings.  Generally, this builder would create the house using off-set studs in order to avoid thermal bridging, but there are so many windows that it just wouldn’t make sense.  Still, with attention to the right details, this will be a noticeably more efficient, “Pretty Good House”, something far better than the standard “code built” house.


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