The House

We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibilities that have been turned over to governments, corporations, and specialists, and put those fragments back together again in our own minds and in our families and household and neighborhoods.
— Wendell Berry

The house at Taproot Farm is a special building.  It is a unique blend of historic preservation and modern green building infrastructure.  The house is actually an old barn that sat on its original foundation in Amana, Iowa, approximately twenty five miles from its current site, for over 80 years.  The Wedemeyers had it disassembled by an Amish crew, moved, and reassembled on a new foundation.  It is a remarkable amalgam of green features.  Including...

ICFs:  Insulated Concrete Forms with 15% fly-ash in the concrete mix.  Insulated concrete forms increase the R-value of basement walls, and reduce the on site waste with basement construction, as they snap together to form a mold for the walls.  The increased fly-ash percentage reduces the amount of portland cement required for the concrete.

Strawbale Construction:  The first floor of the timber framed barn was wrapped with organic straw bales grown outside of Kalona, twenty miles away.  These 22” thick straw bale walls are both beautiful and functional, offering superior, natural insulation, great acoustics, and sensuous curves.  And they were amazingly fun to build and stucco! Some people unfamiliar with strawbale construction worry that it might be susceptible to fire, but a stucco covered strawbale wall has a fire-rating of two hours. It’s like trying to burn a phone book; there’s not enough oxygen to combust the straw, and it doesn’t burn.

Salvaged and Recycled wood: In addition to the entire timber-framed barn skeleton, most of the wood used inside the home was salvaged as well.  The roof joists, second floor joists and flooring, and many of the interior wood details came from salvaged wood, and the exterior decking was made from old cedar telephone poles resawn into boards.

H-Windows: We decided to choose H-windows because of their fantastic thermal performance.  We designed our house for passive solar gain, so good windows were essential.  They also have FSC certified wood, a maintenance free exterior, and a brilliant awning design, which allows for air movement, without direct paper-scattering breezes.  This awning design also ensures that the harder the wind blows, the tighter the window seals.  They are also amazingly easy to clean; the whole window spins on a central pivot, allowing you to clean all of the exterior surfaces while standing inside.

Passive Solar Construction: The long axis of the house runs east west, which allows for good southern exposure.  We sized the glazing (windows) and the internal thermal mass to allow for good solar gain and retention in the winter months.  We also have large overhangs on the south side, which, along with good insulation, help keep the house cool in the summer.

Masonry Wood Stove: Masonry heaters are high-mass woodstoves that burn a small amount of wood very efficiently, produce very little pollution and provide many hours of comfortable radiant heat.  They are a nice complement to passive solar construction, as both systems benefit from large amounts of thermal mass.  The Taproot house’s masonry wood stove was built out of limestone from the barn’s original foundation. Learn more about Temp-Cast masonry wood stoves.

Wood Cook Stove: The wood cook stove serves double duty; it is the cook-top and oven for the house, and it is a secondary source of heat. Learn more about Obadiah cook stoves.

Solar Thermal Radiant Floor Heat and Domestic Hot Water: The solar thermal system consists of 8, 3’ x 8’ panels fixed at a 60 degree angle.  These panels have copper tubing through them that heats 600 gallons of water stored in an insulated tank in the basement.  This gravity drain-back system is controlled by a gauge that draws water out to the panels when they reach a certain temperature, and drains back the water to the tank (by gravity) when the temperature at the panels falls below the water temperature in the tank. This warm water is used to heat the house through Wirsbo radiant floor tubing. The solar thermal system also heats the domestic hot water for the house.

Roof Rainwater Catchment System: All of the water used at the Taproot Farm is harvested rainwater.  The water is “caught” on the roof and collected in seven connected 1550-gallon tanks in the basement that store all of the water for the house.  The water is filtered through a Equinox water purification system which filters the water down to .35 microns and treats it with UV light. Learn more about Equinox water purification systems.

Brac Greywater Recycling System: The Brac greywater recycling system captures water that has been used for laundry or bathing and reuses it to flush the toilets.  This can cut domestic water use by up to 30%. Learn more about Brac Greywater systems.

Root Cellar: We work to produce and store as much of our own food as possible, and our root cellar helps us do that.  It is a 12 x 8 room in an insulated, but unheated, part of the basement that has plenty of storage for our canned goods and root vegetables.  It has been maintaining about 50 degrees for us, and has greatly reduced our refrigeration needs.

Canning Kitchen: Our canning kitchen is in the basement, adjacent to the root cellar.  This kitchen serves many purposes.  It has a deep utility sink for washing lots of fruits and vegetables, a propane powered cook-top for high-BTU canning, lots of counter space for canning jars and produce preparation.  On the north side of the house, it stays cool in the summer, and has a walk-out door to the porch and back yard.

Low-Flow Shower Heads and Dual Flush Toilets: To conserve water, all of the shower heads are low-flow and the toilets have a dual flush option.

2KW Photovoltaic Solar Electricity System: This Kyocera photovoltaic system offsets some of our electrical use.   Our hope is to increase this system so that it completely covers our use.  We chose a 4kWh inverter to handle the eventual increase to the system, but we decided to wait a few more years to put in the additional panels to see what kind of rebates and solar innovations happen in the interim. This is a grid inter-tie system; we would like to be off grid in the future, but, again, we need to wait for the battery technology and rebates to make this economically feasible for us.