Building Homes or Extensions/modular construction


We are designing a modular home in the Northeast and have been struggling with price and preference on the materials to use. The choices are hard because the construction costs are very high in this part of the country. There are so many things to consider in this process and we keep coming up with new questions with each answer.

There appears to be no end to the options for factory-installed, very efficient insulation, but it's hard to tell where the best bang for the buck is. We are a little worried that a home that is too air-tight might not have adequate air exchange. A must for us it to have low-to-no VOC's and clean air. Is there a safe, cost-effective industry standard?

We want solar on the roof. Despite a significant initial investment, my math says that we can justify the bump in mortgage payments because the energy $ offset will easily be a net reduction in monthly out-of-pocket. Is this a fair assumption?  Also, is there a reputable website that compares energy sources, their cost and benefits? I have heard that the government has something on this but don't know if this is the best place to look.

Lastly, we are stuck choosing between propane and oil. While propane is more expensive, we are leaning towards it because it is more efficient and cleaner. We will have the option of supplementing by using some small electrical units in common areas because of the solar if that works out. Thoughts on this?

Any feedback/ideas for this project?

Hello, Bill.

First, let me applaud you for asking important questions to help you make decisions that will have a positive impact on your new home, and your lifestyle.

Your concern about air-tight homes hits the target. Making our homes more energy efficient can also make them unhealthy, if VOC's get trapped. There is water-based foam insulation, and repurposed bluejean batt insulation that rate very highly for R-value and clean-air compatibility. Ventilation must be designed into your new home, including makeup air. A good resource for you to check out is the manufacturer of the modules; if they don't have an answer, it's possible that they can refer you to a consultant or company that can address your specific needs before your home is completed. Here is an online article that may help you:

You are in an excellent position to install solar panels, and combine that investment with your mortgage. There may be rebates and tax incentives in your state worth checking into. Regarding comparisons of different energy sources, there's a lot of information available -- not all of it from the government. I just did a search for "energy sources pros and cons," and got over 1,000,000 results. Most of the information is NOT from government agencies.

As a professional designer and sustainability activist, I subscribe to three excellent magazines, "EcoHome" (, "Ecostructure" (," and "Green Builder" ( There's also "Green Source" ( All of these magazines have great sustainability information to help you make the best decisions.

Finally, propane is the way to go. As you pointed out, it's more efficient and cleaner. I lived with oil heat when I was growing up; yes, it was old technology. Didn't like it then, and never want to return to oil heat. I don't know where you are in the process, but have you explored the possibility of radiant heat using propane? A client chose this system for their new home a couple of years ago, and they're delighted with the results. With radiant heat, you don't have to worry about space heaters, and I believe that there might be a difference in your monthly heating bills when you use a whole-home, one-system approach. An added bonus is warm floors everywhere. We've lived with radiant floor heating for five years, and love it! Something to think about, and explore -- if your home construction isn't too far along.

Wishing you good health and happiness in your new home!


Diane Plesset, CMKBD, NCIDQ, C.A.P.S.
D. P. Design  

Building Homes or Extensions

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Diane Plesset


I will answer questions about designing and building a new home, building an addition, remodeling a home, sustainability ("green" building and remodeling), aging-in-place, kitchen remodeling, bathroom remodeling. The goal is to help homeowners achieve ultimate satisfaction with all of their choices and decisions.


Over 25 years in residential design, construction, improvement, and remodeling. Hundreds of completed projects in all ranges of investment. Author of the award-winning book "THE Survival Guide: Home Remodeling," host of "Today's Home" on Lifestyle WebRadio, and public speaker.

National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), Interior Design Protection Council (IDPC)

THE Survival Guide: Home Remodeling. Designer's Illustrated, Gentry, Interior Coordinator (Japan), Kitchen-Bath Business, Kitchen-Bath Design News, Oregonian, Portland Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, San Mateo Times, Statesman Journal

Degrees in residential interior design, bath design, kitchen design, and lighting design. To improve knowledge about codes, products, and trends that will affect homeowners, I regularly attend tradeshows, conferences, classes, and seminars, and read 7 major trade magazines and newsletters.

Awards and Honors
Certified Master Kitchen-Bath Designer (CMKBD), Certified Interior Designer (NCIDQ), Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist (C.A.P.S.). AWARDS: Henry Adams, Chrysalis, Best of the Best, CoTY, Master Design, HBA Excellence. 2003 NABE Award for best how-to book.

Past/Present Clients
Please see the portfolio in my website,

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