One of my dreams has been to build a home with wood harvested from my own land. Last year I finally had the opportunity, when my wife and I designed and built a new home on a 25-acre lot in northern Vermont. We had already cleared a building site, and we used a portable sawmill to mill more than 20,000 board feet of lumber from the mixed hardwood and softwood trees we had harvested. I'm a carpenter and cabinetmaker at heart and was anxious to put all that wood to use - as siding, trim, flooring, and cabinetry. But I was more concerned about the home's energy use and long-term performance. We wanted a comfortable, low-maintenance house that would be easy to heat, even in our cold and not particularly sunny climate. By building a well-insulated, airtight shell, we were able to approach net-zero energy, achieving a final HERS rating of 4. Here's how we did it.

I've found that when a customer wants a finished basement, ICFs are the most cost-effective way to build the foundation walls; they're easier to finish than poured concrete walls and can be installed by my own crew. For my house we used 11-inch-wide Amvic forms (amvicsystem.com, 877/470-9991), which have 2 1/2-inch-thick EPS sides and a nominal...

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