March 20, 2014
BuildSense's 502 Rigsbee Featured in Retrofit Magazine

March 13, 2014
BuildSense's 502 Rigsbee Featured in Roofing Magazine

December 24, 2013
BuildSense Home Featured on Yahoo Homes

December 21, 2013
Roof Panel Manufacturer Praises BuildSense's 502 Rigsbee for Aesthetic and Sustainable Sensibility

December 20, 2013
BuildSense Home Featured on

September 27, 2013
Randy Lanou Earns Master Certified Green Professional (MCGP) Status

September 12, 2013
BuildSense Work Featured in Rural Modern by Russell Abraham

September 09, 2013
Butner Athletic Park opens featuring Community Center designed by BuildSense

August 28, 2013
BuildSense Awarded Presence on Upcoming AIA Triangle Residential Home Tour

August 16, 2013
The Floating Lab is complete and Kickstarter was fully funded - We thank you on behalf of Durham Public Schools Hub Farm and our students at NC State's School of Architecture

August 01, 2013
Jeff Andre' appointed Chairman of Triangle Clean Cities Coalition

July 28, 2013
NBC 17 covers the launch of the Floating Lab - NC State's Summer Design/Build Studio led by BuildSense

July 15, 2013
Durham Public Schools' HUB FARM releases Kickstarter Campaign for NC State's BuildSense led Summer Design/Build Studio - Help with your donation today!

June 07, 2013
BuildSense wins INDY Week's Best of the Triangle 2013 Green Builder and is finalist for Best Green Architect. The only firm represented in both categories.

April 26, 2013
502 Rigsbee Avenue Earns 2013 Triangle CREW Champion Award for Sustainability

April 19, 2013
Studio B | BuildSense receives AIA Triangle Residential Tour Award for North Raleigh Residence. Home to be on tour October 5th, 2013 10am-5pm.

April 05, 2013
BuildSense features two homes on this year's Triangle Green Home Tour April 13+14, 20+21 Noon-5PM

April 04, 2013
BuildSense to host Triangle Green Home Tour Kickoff Reception Thursday April 11 5-7 PM

April 03, 2013
Randy Lanou, Erik Mehlman, and John Price head back to Nicaragua with the South Granville Rotary to build another school

March 26, 2013
Randy Lanou and Erik Mehlman present at Design Your Home 2013 at NCSU's McKimmon Center

February 28, 2013
Megan Patnaik appointed to UNCG Interior Architecture Department Advisory Board

January 23, 2013
Randy Lanou helps lead the ReSpace build out. The whole BuildSense|Studio B crew provides volunteer construction effort. Thanks to all for lending a hand to this great competition and event.

January 16, 2013
Randy Lanou awarded DIrector of the Year of the Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange, and Chatham Counties

January 15, 2013
Jeff Andre' appointed Vice Chairman of the Triangle Clean Cities Coalition

January 14, 2013
Erik Mehlman elected to Board of Directors of AIA Triangle

December 06, 2012
502 Rigsbee Avenue Earns 2012 Downtown Durham Inc Outstanding Renovation Project

October 19, 2012
Studio B Historic Restoration and Addition at 204 North Dillard Earns Preservation Durham's Pyne Award

October 13, 2012
Studio B | BuildSense Designs/Builds, Donates, and Raffles a Custom DogHouse to Raise Funds for the Coalition to Unchain Dogs

October 05, 2012
502 Rigsbee Avenue Earns 2012 Golden Leaf Award for Sustainable Properties

October 05, 2012
Studio B | BuildSense Led Design/Build Team Earns 2012 Golden Leaf Merit Award for Community Properties

October 05, 2012
BuildSense | Studio B to present at Trinity Park Home Tour Vendor Fair this Saturday, October 6th from 2-5. Come Join Us!!

October 04, 2012
Studio B | BuildSense Home For Sale in Southern Village Area of Chapel Hill

September 13, 2012
BuildSense wins Triangle Business Journal's Clean and Green For-Profit Business of the Year

September 13, 2012
Studio B | BuildSense Design and Construction of ClearSense Properties' 502 Rigsbee Building recognized as Triangle Business Journal's 1st Runner Up for Green Commercial Project of the Year

September 12, 2012
Visit the BuildSense Home Perfromance Team at the Southern Ideal Home (Sep 21-23). Booth #718, Jim Graham Building, NC State Fairgrounds.

September 10, 2012
Triangle Green Homes says "BuildSense Understands the Green Market"

August 30, 2012
NC Department of Commerce Features 502 Rigsbee

August 28, 2012
Durham Chamber Recognizes Opening of 502 Rigsbee

August 09, 2012
Studio B and BuildSense with ClearVue Glass announce Grand Opening at their newly transformed and super-green 502 Rigsbee building in downtown Durham

August 04, 2012
ClearSense Properties part of Recovery Impact Stories at NC Department of Commerce

July 18, 2012
BuildSense Teams with Ellen Cassilly and Harrington Bank to offer complete Finance/Land/Design/Build opportunities in Forest Hills area of Durham

July 12, 2012
Studio B and BuildSense again leading Summer Design/Build Studio at NC State's School of Architecture - More to come later on this year's project at the NC Museum of Art

May 17, 2012
Randy Lanou to serve as Juror for ReSpace: A Design Competition focused on Material Reuse. Register by June 15.

April 30, 2012
Meet the team at BuildSense and Studio B

April 24, 2012
BuildSense | Studio B Architecture to host Green Home Tour Reception at new building and office at 502 Rigsbee Avenue. Join us for a tour Saturday May 5, 5-7PM.

April 23, 2012
We've Moved to Our New Home at 502 Rigsbee Avenue, Suite 201. Come visit us and see this super energy efficient building designed and built by Studio B and BuildSense.

April 12, 2012
BuildSense | Studio B Architecture sponsor Triangle Modernist Houses Hope Valley Tour Saturday April 14, 1-4pm. Visit us at the Monica Hunter Residence.

April 12, 2012
BuildSense Home Comfort Specialists present this weekend (April 13-15) at the Southern Ideal Home show. Come visit us at booth #722 in the Jim Graham Building at the NC State Fairgrounds!

January 31, 2012
Randy Lanou takes part in A4A: Appetite for Architecture sponsored by Triangle Modernist Houses. Joining him will be Ellen Cassilly and Frank Harmon.

December 08, 2011
"The Leaf": NCSU Design/Build project lead by Studio B Architecture with Ellen Cassilly earns Downtown Durham Inc's Outstanding Development Project Award

September 23, 2011
BuildSense Home Performance Team to present at Southern Ideal Home show. Come visit us at booth #911 in the Jim Graham Building at the NC State Fairgrounds!

June 26, 2011
BuildSense Begins Construction on "The Leaf" Performing Arts Pavilion in Durham Central Park

May 16, 2011
Randall Lanou and Erik Van Mehlman share what they have learned on Triangle Modernist Houses website

May 09, 2011
BuildSense showcases 2 homes on the Green Home Builders of the Triangle's Spring Tour, May 14, 15, 21, 22

April 16, 2011
NC State students, under the guidance of Randall Lanou, take 1st and 2nd place at the NC Sustainable Building Design Competition

April 05, 2011
ClearSense purchases 502 Rigsbee building, future home of BuildSense and Studio B

April 01, 2011
BuildSense joins Builder 20 Club, a group of non-competing builders from across the country that advise each other on their respective businesses

March 30, 2011
Erik Mehlman speaks on the economy's impact on eco-conscious design on April 4th in High Point

March 11, 2011
3 members of BuildSense travel with Rotary Club to Nicaragua to help build school house

March 02, 2011
Visit BuildSense at the Home Buyers Fair on Saturday March 5th at The Streets of Southpoint

February 21, 2011
BuildSense & Studio B Launch New Website


April 11, 2014
Creative Reuse - Repurposed Materials - Whatever you call it, it just makes sense!
One of our crew often relates stories of how his grandfather used to hammer straight all the old used nails he'd find or pull out of old projects and use them again. Yes, there is a little extra effort to make that happen, but over the course of a lifetime he saved a lot of material from going to the dump and a lot of cost on new materials. Here are some great BuildSense projects that feature reuse in big and small ways.

Lanou Shop - Tin roofing repurposed as siding brings a new texture and color
BuildSense Office Before - The shell and deconstructed building materials were reused in the renovation of this existing building. See this building May 1st at the Durham Reception for the upcoming Green Home Tour (

BuildSense Office After - We cleaned and reused bricks removed from new openings to fill in and/or repair old openings to renovate the first floor shell. We did not buy a single brick! See this building May 1st at the Durham Reception for the upcoming Green Home Tour (
BuildSense Office After - The old roof rafters were repurposed for this interior stair. See this building May 1st at the Durham Reception for the upcoming Green Home Tour (
Scappino Residence - These grain bins were repurposed as water collection cisterns. See this house on the upcoming Green Home Tour May 3-4 + 10-11(
Scappino Residence - Brick from one home we deconstructed was reused here for new load bearing columns and walls. See this house on the upcoming Green Home Tour May 3-4 + 10-11(
Smith Residence Before - We deconstructed this old A-Frame home and saved the clear fir beams and cedar planks for reuse.
Smith Residence - The fir was repurposed for new columns and stairs.

Smith Residence - The cedar was repurposed as interior flooring and exterior decking.
One man's trash is another man's treasure - We worked among these homes one of our service trips to Nicaragua where reuse is an absolute necessity. This is Pantanal. It is a community that was built after Hurricane Mitch swept through the country in 1998.

March 28, 2014
So many cabinets... ...So little time

There is a world of cabinet options out there and we use them all. We have worked with everyone from super high-end custom cabinetmakers to builder grade product installers at Lowe’s or Home Depot and everyone in between. It’s always based on the clients’ choice of style, quality, and cost. We utilize turnkey outfits that provide the cabinets and installation. We also install our own cabinets. At times we have used Ikea products in both standard and unconventional manners. Their cabinet lines have gotten much better over the years and perform quite well. The trick is that there always seems to be at least one or two unexpected issues. We fortunately have the skilled craftspeople necessary to address these unexpected items when they arise.
Ikea cabinet frames set by our crew.

The same Ikea finished cabinetry installed by our crew.

Ikea Expedit shelfs (to the right) installed in a non-standard manner by our team become quite a beautiful detail

March 14, 2014
Dense Pack Cellulose Insulation
We use various insulation types depending on the type of construction, location in the home, and various other details affecting the installation. We recently installed "dense pack cellulose" insulation in the walls of a new home. Dense pack simply means the materials are applied, well, more densely. As a reference, a regular wet-blown cellulose method provides about a 2.6 pounds per cubic foot of insulation where as a dense pack method provides about 3.5.  The difference is immediately apparent upon walking in to the new structure - all the white noise from the exterior world is blocked.  The walls actually feel sturdier with the firm and rigid cellulose in each stud cavity.  Along with the tranquility of sound reduction comes a great R-value (3.8 per inch) and a good air-seal, as dense pack cellulose also prohibits the movement of air within a wall cavity quite well.

There are some downsides to dense pack cellulose - it is very hard to insulate areas like a floor band or in those unintended tiny spaces such as advanced framed corners, but both can be done. The installer must be experienced and equipped to know how to achieve the correct pounds per cubic foot so that it is not too sparse (leading to the insulation settling over time) and not too heavy (leading to bowing out the netting/sheetrock under the pressure.)

Netting in place ready for dense pack insulation

Dense pack walls / loose fill for vented roof assembly

February 28, 2014
Diversity of Skills
I have always been a person who enjoys a sense of regularity in my day-to-day operations. While I am not the kind of person who carries around a day planner, I am the type of girl who enjoys knowing what time I need to be somewhere and what I need to do to be prepared for that situation. One of the many aspects of working for our small company means you have to be prepared for numerous types of activities from day to day. We have an incredible staff with an immense diversity of skills. “The same team that designs your home builds your home.” As such, my roles have been expanding in order that I gain a greater understanding of all it takes to manage, design, and build a project. While my title is Office Manager and some days I may be drowning in accounting paper work, other days I have found myself learning jobsite skills such as cutting, sanding, painting, and installing trim. The next day might consist of mingling with fellow builders at a Green Home Builders of the Triangle function or assisting with IT. Some days this flip-flop is exhausting, making me long for consistency. But then I imagine a job where I do the same task all day, every day. I am then immediately thankful for my evolving role in this small company. Keeping yourself prepared for any type of task thrown at you will always keep you learning and on your toes. Just as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “Change is the only constant.”

February 14, 2014
A Front Row Seat to the Neighborhood
While working on a residential project in an urban neighborhood in Raleigh, I was often greeted by local residents and found myself engaged in conversation regarding the ongoing construction. Folks that walked by always gave a nod or a wave and I soon realized that this was a tightly connected neighborhood and our project was generating quite a buzz. As the project continued and evolved, I was pleased to see that these neighborly interactions often occurred while on the front porch. This fact and the porch design itself began to captivate me.

Its a cozy spot designed for small gatherings and given that the house is located on a corner lot it has a great view of the neighborhood. The sitting area is cantilevered and projects into to the yard. The roof has a deep overhang that provides a feeling of intimacy and protection from the elements. And, the cypress siding yields warm tones that coincide with the color palette of the house. 

All in all, this is a smart, intriguing space that was a joy to see realized. I imagine there will be no vacancies on the porch this spring and hope it’s the catalyst that enables the homeowners to feel a part of the neighborhood.

Front Porch with cantilevered sitting area.
Front Porch with overall.
Rear screened porch with cantilevered grill deck over carport and garage entrance below.
Feeney doesn't make an end cap for their hand rails. We do now.

January 03, 2014
LISTEN plan design build
Listen Plan Design Build. This is our company tag line - our motto - our mantra. It’s a synopsis of all that we do. One may say that it is an oversimplification, but knowing this process is at the core of every project, we would disagree. The order of these key words is critical. As such, “Listen” comes first and carries the most importance. It is vital to the design/build process to have clear communication with the client. This starts with the initial call from a prospective client. It continues with gathering an understanding of the wants, needs, desires, styles, priorities, budgets, and more provided by our clients. For the best results, their communication should include images, sketches, or other pictorial examples as well as verbal description. In order to design a custom home which suits the needs of a particular client, we spend numerous hours attempting to build this understanding of how that client lives and what is of most importance to them and their family. Communication can be lost when two different companies separate the process; when one is serving as the architect and another is serving as the builder. All the listening that occurred on the design end is suddenly cut off from the team constructing your dreams. The understanding between parties in a coordinated Design/Build effort aids in the smooth construction of the home. The same team that designs your home builds your home. Listening to our clients fosters a quality relationship, which carries through the entire design/build process and assures a higher quality final product for our clients.

December 20, 2013
Collecting Design Ideas
Have you ever tried to recall a wonderful place or thing, but had a difficult time communicating it to others? The adjectives don’t do it justice or you just can’t put a finger on what was so spectacular when recollecting. You aren't alone. Even architects and designers who generally have strong visual memories can struggle with this. When starting a new design project it is important to clearly communicate these favorite ideas, memories, places, or things, etc. with your design team.

Even for those with eidetic (photographic) memories, we recommend scrapbooking. For years, we’ve had magazine clippings galore from numerous clients. Today, we recommend using the better technological resources available and stepping it up to Pinterest. This is a free online service that allows you to quickly save any picture you see on the internet or upload any picture you snap with your own camera/phone. It displays all of your pinned pictures on one screen so they are easy to sort and organize. It enables improved communication between you and your design team.

At the commencement of a new project this is a gold mine to your design team. It gives all parties an impression of your taste, your goals, and what ideas may be considered successful to you. Do yourself and your design team a favor and start collecting.

December 08, 2013
A Room Outside
I have a fascination with Japanese architecture. Each room is laid out with great thought and intention. Outdoor space is no exception. It is treated the same as any other room.

Japan’s winters and summers are relatively mild with only brief sessions of harsh weather. Fall and spring consume most of the year with warm days and cool brisk nights. Does any of that sound familiar to our local North Carolinians? We share a relatively comfortable climate. With a little shelter from sun, rain, wind and possibly insects the unconditioned outdoor room becomes the best in the home, office, or restaurant.

A successful outdoor space is one that has an intimate connection to the interior space. It has a delightful view of something calming such as a small garden, water, or a series of natural materials. It is large enough for the functions of the users such as working, eating, or playing but not so large that it feels expansive. Ever wonder why everyone crams into a tight room at Thanksgiving when there is an open room available? The presence of others provides a comfort and coziness. Why do the customers at a large restaurant choose the booth seating along the outer wall before the open seating in the center? The boundary or the edge often provides a psychological comfort and safety.

Always consider porches, patios, courtyards, and decks when designing space. They need to be laid out with as much intention as the interior spaces. They should be seamlessly connected to the conditioned interior rooms with flexible and enjoyable space. You’ll find they are a great source of comfort and, when defined by the bounds of constructed area, can often have little additional cost. Before you know it your least expensive room will be your favorite.

November 22, 2013
In Keeping With Our Values
Recently, an initial contact note from a potential client said: "We want a modest, but beautiful, light filled home that is functional, energy efficient, and in keeping with our values and budget." The values statement caught my eye. Values are defined as the ideals, customs, institutions, etc., of a society toward which the people of the group have an affective regard. These values may be positive, as cleanliness, freedom, or education, or negative, as cruelty, crime, or blasphemy. We design and build buildings that align with our client's positive values every day but we have never articulated the process in these terms. There is even alignment with the positive value examples from the definition above. We build consistently well-ventilated homes using fewer toxins. It yields a cleaner and healthier space. How about enjoying the freedom from heavy weekend maintenance or excessive energy and water bills? We can build that into your home as well. In terms of education, we have made and kept a commitment at our recently designed and built office in Downtown Durham to use the building and its tested performance to educate the community on how this positive example can be repeated. Come to one of our regular tours and learn how a 12,000 square foot fully occupied and conditioned building have average energy bills of $350 per month. Learn how a building can use rainwater instead of city water to irrigate landscape and flush toilets. Learn how the building inhabitants can be more comfortable and productive due to their light-filled and well-designed workspace.

We’ve just recently met the folks who contacted us, so we do not know their values. Well, not yet. They have not hired us. Again, and hopefully, not yet. We look forward to the challenge of matching the design of their home to their values.

November 15, 2013
Do you change your oil every 3000 miles? What home maintenance schedule do you keep?

Everyone seems to be on a schedule these days, and it’s for a good reason. It’s simply hard to keep track of everything we have to do. Go to work and take care of this, pick up the kids and drive them to that, go to the gym to keep the heart pumping, bring the car for service to keep the engine running, but what’s the schedule for your home and its care? For most people, their home is the most expensive investment they ever make. Isn’t it smart to care for that investment? Did you know that your water heater should be flushed annually or your HVAC filters replaced every three months? In addition there are numerous items to be handled on a monthly, seasonally, or annual schedule to increase the longevity of your home. Here at BuildSense, we’d prefer to design you a home intent on reducing that maintenance to a bare minimum, but it is a wise decision for all homeowners to follow some type of Home Maintenance Schedule Checklist in order to maintain their home at peak performance and to assure they avoid more costly major problems. We issue a customized home maintenance checklist to all of our clients, but finding your own is easy to do. Search the web and you’ll find numerous types. Insurance companies like Allstate now offer their own for home and vehicles that keep your information in one convenient place. Lowes offers a program to keep you notified, track work you performed at your home, and log critical information about your home that you may need in the future. I’m sure there’s an app for that too. Whatever your method, it’s simply a good idea to tend to your home maintenance. You’ll be happier and healthier in the long run.
A portion of the BuildSense Home Maintenance Checklist

November 08, 2013
Asking for help: Sometimes the Best Thing to do
Asking for help is one of the hardest things for a human being to do. We often view it as admitting weakness, especially when we feel we should already know the answer. Over the past two weeks I have probably asked for helped more times than I have in the past three years of my life. It is the desire at BuildSense for the employees to have skills and understanding across both design and build. As such, I have been gaining field experience by recently spending about three days out of the week working on site with my fellow employees to finish building a home instead of tucked away behind a computer. Besides being sore in places I never even knew had muscles, I have learned all kinds of new skills involving various tools and new methods of thinking. This new knowledge came directly from asking for help. When a more experienced field worker would give me a list of things to accomplish for the day and walk through a tutorial on how to do it, I often stood there bewildered just from the terms they were using. Instead of acknowledging these instructions and attempting to complete a task on my own, I assumed it was wiser to ask for more help instead of potentially messing up expensive materials. The motto “there’s no such thing as a stupid question” rings especially true here. Though it may take a bit more time, the additional explanation was greatly beneficial to me, the project, and, at times, even to the instructor. While I felt a little silly asking for help for stuff these folks could do in their sleep, I knew this was the more mature way to handle the situation. Setting an ego aside is not always the easiest thing to do but I would have never started my path to becoming a knowledgeable builder without asking for help.

October 27, 2013
Designing and Building the home for YOU
A few weekends ago BuildSense was thrilled to host the Spring Residence on the 2013 AIA Triangle Residential Home Tour. Working as a tour volunteer at the home entrance, I was able to greet visitors when they entered the home as well as hear their feedback on their way out. The reception was great. I noticed one pattern. Visitors loved the home, with many making small talk about how it must be great if you have the money.

When speaking with one individual I could see that the house really struck his interest. We had a chat about the overall design noting that this particular house was larger than the typical scale of BuildSense’s work. We do not focus in any certain scale, but rather on quality of design construction and how a home will meet the needs of the specific client. We discussed how we have worked on homes from 600 square feet to 11,000 square feet but most fall in the 2000 to 3500 square foot range. As a full service architecture firm and a general contracting firm, we design and build homes that cater to our client’s aesthetic, budget, and size. Once we had that conversation, the individual got right on the phone with his significant other to discuss our company and what we could do for them.

The main reason I write this is to let all of our wonderful tour visitors know that we can create something beautiful for you that fits within your means. Take a look at the projects on our website for more on the wide range of work we do.

October 18, 2013
Window & Door Installation Tips
I recently attended a great window and door installation workshop put on by Restoration Woodworks and sponsored the Green Home Builders of the Triangle. The vendor shared some installation tricks for leak free and successful installations. Among the many recommendations, using a self-leveling cross-line laser level rather than a manual level jumped out as one of the most important. While these are little pricey, the efficiency of installation and the smooth operation of the windows/doors will be worth it. Another suggestion is to stop the house wrap at the exterior corner intersection of the jamb and wall (or just inside of the jamb), and complete the job with a full butyl wrap from interior to exterior. This will prevent any water that gets behind the housewrap from being directed to the interior of the home. Interestingly enough, while this does not follow most homewrap manufacturer recommendations, it allocates better additional resources to mitigate water infiltration. Last, your metal door pans should be bent with a hand brake as one continuous piece (yes, it is possible). If the installer cuts a slit to bend up the metal for the sidewall, then this defeats the purpose of a sill pan, even if that slit is caulked well. The pan should then be siliconed to the framing after the sill is leveled with no more than a 1/16" variance.  Before the door is set, place a generous 1/2" bead of silicone (toward the interior side of the pan) plus some short beads applied perpendicularly to fully glue and seal the threshold into place. These are a few tips offered by Restoration Woodworks that I found useful and interesting. Hopefully you will too.

October 13, 2013
Some Simple Considerations make for Better Site Safety
I’m big on safety whether it is in the field, in the shop, or in the home. My kids love to play and, as kids, tend not to want to take responsibility. If something breaks or someone gets hurt, the first thing I hear is, “I didn’t do it.” By that time it’s too late. Either his brother is crying, the dog is limping, or my wife’s favorite something is in pieces on the floor. So I talk to them about having awareness of their surroundings and considering the consequences of their actions. Amazingly, this is an ever-constant reminder to me for safety on the jobsite. We can’t have any “I didn’t do it” moments on the site. Granted, we are adults, so we can’t have any “oh my, what have I done” moments. We all know we are constantly and ultimately responsible for our own safety as well as the safety of everyone else on the jobsite. As such, I can take away two important items from my discussions with my children. It is no different. For consistent job safety one must always have job site awareness and consider the consequences of his/her actions. Keeping these two thoughts in mind at all times helps assure a safer site for everyone.

September 27, 2013
Naturally Entertained
I recently spent a few days with my family vacationing on a National Seashore. Our cabins were the only structures around. There were no roads, no huge beach houses stacked on top of each other, and no tacky beach shops. It was just the sand and the sea. We brought a few things to pass the time: books, cards, a few beach toys, (and sure, we did take our phones). We found ourselves not needing any of that. The natural beauty of the place was enough to keep us “entertained”. Between swimming in the ocean, looking for shells, and just sitting on the beach taking in our surroundings, there was no need for anything else. Initially I was afraid we had not brought enough to keep the kids entertained, but they too kept very busy and had a great time.

Its amazing how we can be “entertained” by so little, how sensory pleasing the natural environment can be, and even kids recognize this in their own way. Even with all of available forms of entertainment these days, sometimes it’s the simple things that can grasp our attention and leave a lasting impression. There are just some places and experiences that will never be able to be replicated or manufactured. These beautiful places are one of the many reasons why building and living sustainably is important to me. Obviously through the process of building we will consume resources. That is why we strive to tread as lightly as possible when we build. Also we have the science to build smarter and more efficiently, both during construction and for the life of the home. So a new building that is constructed using the proper techniques and systems will conserve resources now and through the future, be better for the environment, and save the owners money over the lifetime of the home.

I realize that we all can’t afford to build new energy efficient homes, walk to work, or drive a Tesla, but we can all take steps no matter how small to make a difference. The benefits of taking these steps will be felt, not only by us, but for the generations to follow. Protecting beautiful natural places, whether across the ocean or in our backyard is something we must do for now and the future. And the next time you are at the beach, or in the mountains, or just in your backyard take a moment and be “entertained” by your surroundings.

September 12, 2013
Pocket Neighborhoods - Stronger Communities
Not long ago I attended an inspiring lecture by Architect Ross Chapin who is widely known for his work regarding pocket neighborhoods. He’s made a career from providing meaningful, close-knit communities for people that seek a common interest in what they call home. Ross Chapin’s pocket neighborhood designs are typically clustered groups of houses centered around “shared” spaces such as gardens and courtyards with pedestrian streets and paths that link the development together. The emphasis of these designs is to bring “community” and connectivity to neighbors.

There is a surreal simplicity to the village like design. The images he shared conveyed cozy neighborhoods with vibrant landscapes. Low fences disappear into lush gardens and meandering walkways reveal an inviting chair on the porch of a bungalow. One consistent and pleasing theme that resonated throughout each planned development was to create a neighborhood inside a neighborhood that all people share and call home.

These are the type of design principles that can strengthen the existing fabric of our local communities, especially in predetermined neighborhoods. Some of our local neighborhoods have community gardens, dog parks, playgrounds and even farmers’ markets. Chapin would say these are ideal communal places around which to focus our residential planning. This kind of development ideology can certainly help to better our neighborhoods, which in turn strengthens our communities. These strategies should be part of our local zoning. Get involved with your local officials to discuss creating small intimate neighborhoods. Begin this conversation and subsequently communities will emerge.

September 06, 2013
Best Project Results
Early one morning a few weeks ago, I drove to one of our projects that was nearing completion. While we had a hot summer, this particular morning was delightfully cool and refreshing. We had built a considerable addition and performed thorough renovation to this 1874 home and our clients had recently moved in. Approaching the rural setting, I began to see subtle changes. Our job site sign and marketing box were gone and a new mailbox was installed. Turning into the driveway, I first noticed final gravel had been applied and fresh grass was growing from a centered strip. I then realized the monster steel storage container had been removed. I drove the length of the drive and delightfully the dumpster and porta-potty were gone too. No building materials in the yard, no piles of soil or mulch. Everywhere I looked I just saw a spring like setting of tall oaks and freshly planted everything. And of course the house looked beautiful. Everything was complete and the bright new paint beckoned you to stop and admire the results. On the wrap around porch I spotted our client and her young toddler lounging in a porch swing. It nearly brought tears to my eyes. Well ok, it did. My first thought was, "this is why we do this".  I mean we don't often see the way our clients live in their homes. But if you wanted to see a best use of one of our projects, this was it. I asked if I could take a photo and was granted permission. As I sat down on the deck, I joked that they must be happy we were down to a couple of punch list items and she would be rid of us. Sweetly and sentimentally she suggested that in fact they might miss us a bit. I knew we were going to miss this home and their family. We grow attached to our clients. This was a fun project and somewhat surprising for the folks who toured it during the recent green home builders tour. BuildSense is well known for our modern designs. Yet every so often we get to restore life to a grand old home and prepare it for the next hundred years and the next generations of occupants. I think I will keep my eye on this one.

A peaceful morning on the porch swing for our client and their toddler. Real satisfaction comes when we know our clients truly enjoy their homes.

August 30, 2013
Design Build Client Empathy
For most of my adult life I have designed and built residential projects (I would prefer not to mention the total number of years at this endeavor). We have watched our clients struggle with design decisions, with appraisals, with banks, with schedules, and with compromises. We've witnessed our client's exhilaration with a completed project, a beautifully executed detail, or a space that feels just right. We've shared the joy and helped smooth the rough spots.

I thought I completely understood these feelings. Right up until my wife and I started to design and build our own home. Right up until we tried to settle on design decisions. Right up until we were completely baffled in our effort to compare financing packages. Right up until we watched our start date move down the road. Right up until we experienced the inevitable holy cow, how much is that?  (Note: not the actual words used.) Right up until we heard that the engineer requires this assembly (and then back to the prior question). And then there is the other side. The part where we realize that we really love this house and we have not even built it yet. The part where we mentally move in to the spaces (and it is a perfect fit). The part where we realize that we simply could not go out and buy a house for us, but only buy a marginally constructed house for a market segment. A segment that is not us. A house that would not satisfy our zero energy (and costs) goal. A house that would not make us happy.

To be fair, I have to say that I should have known. I should have fully understood the required effort, the frustration, and the joy. Well, I do now. Viscerally. And do you know what? It is worth it.

August 23, 2013
The Seventh Generation
“In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation... (…even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.)” – Iroquois Law

Well, the quote comes from my quick internet searches, but the concept is a fact of Iroquois Law. And what a concept it is. It may have been one of the first sustainability policies ever enacted. There was a voice at every council that represented the future generations. How does your decision today affect the world in which our children and our children’s children will live? It seems like a fairly reasonable request, but is a far cry from the attitude of, “Well, who cares ‘cause I’ll be long gone by that time.”

Thomas Jefferson had great reverence for the Iroquois system of representational democracy. How would a seventh generation clause have influenced our current environment had it been part of our country’s founding principles? Though it was not a prevalent part of discussions at that time, I am glad the sustainability question is part of public debate and awareness everyday today.

So, whether or not you are a believer in global warming or want to drive a prius doesn’t really matter to me. I pose one question to you. Don’t you think we can do better?  We’ve dumped so much into our water and air, we’ve stripped the landscape of trees and mountains, we’ve watched natural habitats decrease, and seen the extinction of tens of thousands of species. I want to think that evolution means we grow smarter and we realize where we have failed. This isn’t about blame for those in the past, but about responsibly moving forward. We have the technologies to help turn back the clock on the ill effects of the past, but we need the collective will. Let’s make decisions from today forward that benefit those of the seventh generation.

August 16, 2013
Design-Build Benefits
There are many differences between a conventional architecture firm and an architecture-construction (what we offer at BuildSense) or design-build firm. I suppose the main distinction is fairly evident; the design-build firm builds their own designs rather than handing them off to another construction company. I just wrapped up my summer as one of two interns at BuildSense and have come to learn of many other advantages to the structure of a design-build firm.

Design-build provides the opportunity for much better quality control. When the architect is the general contractor or the two are team members working on the project together from design inception to construction completion, there is no lack of communication or understanding of the construction documents and specifications as may happen in the traditional separation of roles. By working alongside each other, possible problems can be caught earlier and resolved before they affect other aspects of the project. This increased channel of communication also helps with the progression of the project. Avoiding problems or resolving them more quickly results in a better project pace.

If quality control, communication, and project progression are high priorities for a project, design-build is a very good option. All three benefits depend on design-build teamwork. Having both skills in-house removes the gaps in the process and leads to a better project and a happy client.

August 09, 2013
A View from the Crawlspace
Is your crawlspace the murky underbelly of your home? If it is, you likely avoid it and ignore it. However, sometimes it can be one of the most important spaces in a home containing the mechanical systems providing you with the conditioned air you breath, the plumbing systems carrying your water and waste, and critical electrical and communications wiring. If you consider the importance of the equipment and how it affects your life and health, it seems important that it would be efficiently organized and well installed. I’ve learned this is usually not the case. I just wrapped up my summer interning with BuildSense and, fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, spent a good amount of time in crawlspaces. The first time I entered a crawlspace I was intrigued by the maze of joists, insulation, and hardware, and interested in how this jumble of things corresponded with the floor plan above. This fascination quickly faded when I realized that apart from the existence of a crawlspace, there was no logical design layout to it at all. It was an afterthought to the house plan; just leave 24’’ of clearance between the building and the earth and let someone else figure out how to make the systems fit.

Although I’m not personally in the market for a new home, I think I’m right in saying that an “accessible and organized crawlspace” is not first on the checklist for many buyers. It’s an afterthought, an added plus to a good home or a deal breaker on an average one. But if something so crucial to the function of a building is an afterthought, what else are you missing when you consider a future home? The façade of a beautifully renovated house or a well-designed interior can easily lure one into thinking that internal issues can be “fix-its” to deal with in a few years once you’re settled. Before getting swept away, remember that even a beautiful house can be dysfunctional, and when things do start to go amiss, the culprit may be in the crawlspace.

August 02, 2013
Keep it clean
Keeping my truck clean and organized is hard to do. It’s not easy making time at the end of a tiring day. If you let it get away from you, you’ll lose some things buried in clutter and then find things you didn’t know you even had. Taking some daily time to clean and organize our trucks and tools results in better work productivity. Additionally, we fully inventory our trucks and tools each quarter. If we keep up with daily organization this goes much smoother, but still usually yields a couple of “oh, that’s where that went moments”. This organization applies to the job site too. Daily cleanup and organization is even more important as it provides a safer work environment in addition to a more productive one. So if your truck or tools or jobsite are a reflection of the quality of the work you do, keep it clean and organized. It will result in a safer environment, better productivity, a better final product, and a job well done.

July 26, 2013
Home Maintenance - Go Ahead and Do it!
Recently, my husband and I have been pouring over realty listings and visiting intriguing properties in our hunt for a new home. We felt a real love pang for a quirky custom built home that had sadly braved the world without caretakers for a few years. How bittersweet to fall in love with a run down house full of potential when we were intent on finding something ‘move in ready.’

You always hear those nagging reminders for repainting after X number of years, or changing that filter every X months, blah, blah, blah. Maybe sometimes you do it and maybe sometimes you don’t. Well, I have now seen a once beautiful home fall into disrepair due to simple neglect. It was such a stark contrast to the similarly aged well-maintained home we’d visited earlier that week. Every house needs some TLC on regular basis, no matter how superbly built.

Our visit to this deteriorated home created one of those moments where it clicks: this is why it is so important that homeowners follow those recommended maintenance schedules (even for a vacated house)...because otherwise, the splendor of the once new and smoothly functioning house slowly slips away.

On one hand, I feel bad for the owners trying to sell this ‘as-is’. What may have driven them to abandon this once lovely home? Will they lose money on the sale due to the simple fact they didn’t maintain the house while it sat empty? On the other hand, I’m feeling fairly excited, because my husband and I (both in the construction industry and fully aware of what it will take for some rehab) might soon be closing on this discounted quirky custom built house that needs a lot of TLC to reach its fullest potential.  One thing I know for sure is that we WILL complete the required but pesky home maintenance to keep it at its best!

July 18, 2013
Communities and Design Pride
I was one of two members of the BuildSense team that attended the 2013 AIA Convention in Denver. The event was packed with educational sessions and fantastic speakers but there was a whole lot to Denver outside of the Colorado Convention Center worth talking about.

During my stay, a close family friend played tour guide. A graduate of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, he moved to Denver for three reasons: relatively affordable land, a growing urban condition, and a nationally renowned appreciation for architecture. These ingredients make a recipe for paradise in the eyes of modern architects, and relocating to the “Mile-High City” is mighty tempting to young designers.

I’m staying put. The first two reasons I listed are apparent right here in Durham. The third is evident in pockets and I see tremendous potential for growth. An appreciation for designed spaces doesn’t develop overnight. It demands an intimate relationship between the population and designers. The population must observe and feel an increase in standard of living or quality of life due to the sophistication of successful planning and designing. To produce truly successful work, designers must live and breathe the needs of the population. This is by no means a call for everyone to hug their local design folk. This is a call to be critical--critical of the new as well as critical of the old. The most common criticism of a new project I hear is that it doesn’t look like everything else around it. I encourage far deeper considerations. Does it serve the population by bringing new life and a greater pride to one’s community? Does it make responsible use of materials that are less harmful and longer lasting? Will it require less fuel consumption? Will it require less maintenance? The list goes on and I encourage you to dig deep.

We must let go of an asphalt-shingle mindset where fifteen years is the required foresight. Don’t accept work designed and built to the minimum standard. Don’t permit negative contributions to the built environment. Live for the long haul. We must take pride in who we are, how we live together, and what we are making. A client last week told me, “If I’m going to invest in a new home, I’m going to make it something special-- something I can get excited about.” Fan that flame. Stoke that fire. Let it spread. Take pride in design and the designed.

July 12, 2013
Preventing Crashes
I was sitting at a stop light the other day. I was making the best of my honey do list running errands by motorcycle on a beautiful day. The light changed for traffic crossing my path and the cars took off. The first car pulled out at a reasonable speed, the second seemed to be tailgating a bit, and the third was apparently in a hurry or marching to another drummer. It accelerated rapidly and plowed into the second car, which in turn ran into the first. Sometimes, the building process can be like this. No, I’m not saying it’s a car wreck, but there are a lot of parties involved in the process. Not unlike many processes, each party observes the same information, but does not always interpret it the same way.

The process of Architecture is an effort to define and communicate an intended result essentially from drawings and written directions. The construction process is the effort to create this drawn item. It is necessary to provide the proper information and direction to prevent any crashes. The greater the communication and understanding between parties, the better they see and perceive the same information, the less likely there are any nicks, dings, or crashes. An integrated Design/Build process fosters that communication resulting in a smoother process and mitigates the likelihood of mistakes.

Oh yeah, the second two cars stopped, but the first drove off with its bumper dragging. I'm not sure it ever stopped.