Home may be different, but couple says it’s better | TheUnion.com

Home may be different, but couple says it’s better

Pam Jung

Brad Pecehimer says some people think his home looks more like an upside-down pool. Yet he and his girlfriend, Julia Glasse, are building it for themselves in Alta Sierra.

From the outside it looks like a concrete dome, windowless except for the flat front through which you enter. Walk inside and it is surprisingly light and airy, not at all like the cave feeling one expects.

The ceiling curves overhead to a height of 20 feet, high enough to have a second floor of two bedrooms, utility room, and full bath, and plenty big enough to host Glasse’s eight-person band rehearsals.

It’s still pretty raw, though, with exposed wire, burlap and concrete walls, tubes that will carry water all over, and unpainted wood, But when this house is finished, buried under lots of earth, it promises to look something like a Hobbit house for big people.

Now, who in the world would want to live in such a place? Visionaries, perhaps. People who don’t want to spend all their money on building and heating a house, for sure, and greens who want to walk softly upon the earth.

Pecehimer (pronounced peace-high-mer) and Glasse might qualify for all the above.

“Julie and I were looking at a monthly PG&E bill, of which our share was about $150,” in a group house they lived in, he said. Dismayed at such consumption and cost, they decided to look around for something better.

After rejecting straw bale and adobe, they found something called an earth-sheltered house, manufactured by a company in Durango, Colo., in kit form. They ordered it for $16,000 and watched it being delivered in a truck to their 1.4 acres.

They had already done the foundation work, which on a slope of 18 percent was not minimal. The blasting costs alone came to $10,000, Pecehimer said.

Once the steel structure was bolted into place on the slab, and the wire/burlap/rebar put in place, $10,000 worth of Shotcrete was blasted on from the outside, and a dome was born.

To keep costs down Pecehimer, an affable 43-year-old computer engineer who now works at B&C Hardware, is acting as his own contractor, laborer, and interior designer. It is his badge of honor to buy housing material as cheaply as humanly possible, and he does it by shopping e-Bay.

“I’ve found an acrylic tub for $100, lighting fixtures that normally sell for $12, for $3, and Pex tubing from British Columbia instead of expensive copper water pipes,” he said. This has saved $76 a square foot.

“Normally, this house would cost $130 per square foot,” Pecehimer said. “I’ve gotten it down to about $54.”

He guesses the finished ready-to-move into house will come in at about $104,000, “that is unless Julia chooses granite counter tops, then it’s more,” he says with a grin.

When the couple, who also share a business making Tibetan prayer wheels, settles in by this November, they will enjoy an environment that stays at a constant 66 degrees, unless, that is, they turn on their solar heated radiant floor heating or fire up the wood-burning stove.

They expect their energy bill to come in around $20. That’s a year, not a month.

The earth will help them achieve that. By the time they add 2 feet of it on the top of the building and up to 12 feet on the sides, not only will the insulating factor be around R-60, the house itself will look like a big hill of grass and flowers to their neighbors on either side of them.

Pecehimer says he’ll be more like a gardener then, periodically mowing the ground cover on the roof.

Getting approval for this 2,100 square-foot home took a little bit of doing; after all it is the first of its kind in Nevada County. In the end, though, people were so fascinated that one county official spent a whole day watching the Shotcrete being applied.

Once the house plans were stamped approved by a California registered engineer, the permitting process “was easy,” says Pecehimer. Not so for the loan, however, until he found a local lender (El Dorado Savings) that did its own appraisal.

“Any able-bodied person can do this kit,” says a humble Pecehimer, although, he allows, negotiating killer deals on e-Bay may take a little more skill.

Pecehimer has offered to answer questions about his earth-sheltered house, either via his e-mail, berner4u@aol.com, or by phone, 432-2924.

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