Retired couple build green home by hand
High above Glenwild, where cell phones rarely work, Pam and Peter Behn smile in the late afternoon sun at their panoramic view of the Wasatch mountains. They’ve worked all day on their concrete home beneath the glare of sunshine, stacking Styrofoam that will frame the walls.
The Behns don’t mind the work or the sun in their eyes it’s their dream. Their home faces dead south to get the most out of the daylight to help the concrete floors and walls, and photovoltaic (solar-panel) roof absorb as much heat as possible. They want their home to be "green" and for them, that means using as little fossil fuel as possible. "We’re going to be connected to a power grid, but will only use it when we need it with a net meter. Sometimes our energy bill will be zero, and sometimes we’ll actually be feeding power to the grid," Peter Behn explained. Eventually, there will be a photovoltaic roof to provide them with electricity, and a second floor for an office, which they will allow licensed experts to install. JD Parsons Concrete Company poured the concrete floor and they have accepted the assistance of other contractors for plumbing and electrical work. Otherwise, the Behns (and a handful of friends who they say don’t mind working for a beer) will build the house themselves.
They began building earlier this summer and will continue through November, weather permitting. The floor is poured, the walls are nearly halfway, and they hope to be moved into their two-bedroom green home by June. "A lot of our friends ask us if we’ve killed each other yet, but we enjoy [working together every day]," Pam explains. "We’re both retired and we needed a project."
The Behns are trying to be environmentally friendly during the building process as well. So far, they have recycled the bulk of their construction waste with the help of Norm Anderson of JD Parsons, who delivers used items to low-income housing builders. The Behns report they have yet to fill a dumpster full of waste they have only thrown away three contractor bags so far.
Before moving to Park City to help sell real estate at The Canyons, Peter Behn built homes in Vermont, he says, which has helped him throughout the process. Pam Behn, who has never built a home from the ground up before says installing structural insulated panels (SIPs), using 4×16-inch insulating concrete forms (ICFs) is something like building with Legos. The 18-foot ceilings will eventually be filled by concrete.
The two say the design of their house is similar to a home they built in Vermont in the mid-70s. At that time, the country was going through a similar gas crisis, and the energy efficiency of their home made it cost-efficient as well. But what most people don’t know, according to Peter, is that concrete is also comfortable.
"What’s great about a concrete home is that you can let fresh air circulate, by letting it in, but the house doesn’t leak," Peter explained. "We’re not even going to use carpets because of the VOCs [volital organic compounds]. Instead, we’re going to be staining our cement floors, which may sound uncomfortable, but is actually very comfortable to live with."
An eastern wing of the house will be dedicated to a woodworking shop, which is included especially for Pam, who has a passion for woodworking. She will make all of the cabinets for the kitchen and other rooms herself. The wood will be harvested from forests that will be replenished with trees as they are cut down.
Apparently the Behns’ energy is contagious, and they report that many building in the area have reconsidered the materials they will be using. Their most immediate neighbors on the road above them have also decided to "go green" by using ICFs themselves. To learn more about the process Nancy and Mike Garbett have also been helping the Behns with their home.
While many days at work the only other creatures the Behns come in contact with are moose and deer, they say they owe a lot to green construction experts like Recycle Utah and The Green Building Center in Salt Lake, and friends in the community. Part of the process of building the home you like on your own is knowing your limits what you can do and what you can’t. "We’ve had a tremendous amount of support from people in the community so many people are involved in the planning and building of this home," Pam agreed. "People seem to be excited and fascinated about [green building] when they see our house. I guess my hope is that building this house will encourage more passive solar structures to be built. Utah is the perfect place to do it the climate is ideal."
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The large fireworks shows scheduled for July 3 and July 4 at Park City Mountain Resort have been canceled because of worries about fire risk and drought conditions.