February 10, 2015
Baby Luck and Culture Clash
I'm writing this at about 35,000 feet above the Gulf of Mexico, flying from Managua, Nicaragua to Atlanta. The International Builder's Show in Las Vegas was the first leg of this trip and San Ramón, Nicaragua the second. Hence, culture clash. I'm not sure that I could have selected two more different places but both were worthwhile destinations.
I was inspired by information and product and material ideas at the Show. While the volume of vendors and education sessions is overwhelming, I walked away with a few powerful take-always for our client's and for our business. Highlights include pet washing stations, water and space efficient and reasonably-priced wall hung toilets, CNG trucks that arrive as original equipment from the manufacturer, beautiful glass aggregate counter material, luxurious composite and wooden freestanding soaking tubs, solar roof shingles (might be good for that pesky HOA), autoclaved aerated concrete, and spectacular and affordable "full wall" door systems.
Seminars included everything from design trends from Houzz (houzz.com
) to working in the rental market. Starting at the International Builder's Show, I am now a charter member of the National Green Building Standard Advisory Board and am looking forward to help shape that standard and it's use (ngbs.com
After the show, I met my wife (Lori) in Atlanta and we set off to Nicaragua to plan a Rotary service project for our South Granville Rotary Club in partnership with the Sister Communities of San Ramon, Nicaragua (rotary.org
). We started in Granada and Pantanal, checking on past projects (schools and a medical clinic). The students are on their break - school starts on Monday after a 6 week break. So, we did not see schools in use, instead we saw schools being readied for the next session. The schools look good but well used, just what we would hope. As always, the medical clinic was enjoying very heavy use. We did visit with the contractor and welder (Luis) that we have worked with on two prior projects. His children attend the Jose de la Cruz Mena school in Pantanal. He commented that the school is serving its purpose and that it is well attended. Another notable item is that the electrical infrastructure in Pantanal and in the neighborhood around Escuela Ruben Dario has been completely rebuilt and looks great.
|A school we completed years ago|
|Real electrical service (as opposed to pirated power which has been the norm).|
We headed next to Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV) outside of San Ramon. On the way, we saw millions of pounds of coffee harvested, dried, and processed. This is an amazing season to be in the mountains of Nicaragua, especially for a coffee lover. We had a delightful afternoon at FEV and shared a meal with the owner (Vivienne) and we identified a possible future school project in this tiny rural community. We highly recommend a visit to FEV if you are in this neck of the woods.
|Coffee Harvest from the highway|
Tuesday and Wednesday were planning days filled with photographing and measuring the school project that we will complete in March (block making for a future school and rebuilding the electrical system of a large existing school), meeting school staff, meeting the SCSRN crew (san-ramon.org
), meeting local contractors, attending a Rotary meeting, and checking out hotels and restaurants for our group. A busy and satisfying duty. The staff at SCSRN are a friendly, productive, and extraordinary group. The Matagalpa Rotary Club changed their meeting date to accommodate Lori and I and we had a very good meeting with this amazing and delightful group as well. They are ready and willing to partner with our Rotary Club on future projects. On Thursday we found our way to the sweet town of Leon for fun and for continued logistics planning. Stops along the way include Cascada Blanca and a weaver’s cooperative in an astonishingly beautiful area on a mountain ridge (telaresnicaragua.wordpress.com
I never cease to be fascinated by transportation modes and Nicaragua is a colorful study. There is still a tangled mass of motorcycles, old US school buses, horse carts, bicycles, pedestrians, hand carts, and livestock. Hazards abound. Lori photographed an over loaded and unbalanced hay truck right before I passed it in the highlands outside of Sébaco. After the semi, I passed another slow van. I looked in my rear view as the hay semi was also passing this slow van. Just as he got past the hay tipped. It was like a hay bomb, complete with a mushroom cloud of grass and dust. Just a little too close for comfort.
We have been fortunate to never rent a new truck in Nicaragua. I’m more comfortable with a vehicle that has been around the block. The diagram below shows the pre-rental inspection results: dings, scratches and dents. Mind you, usually a different person checks you in than out.
|Just a few dings|
Friday we visited the Central American Rotary Project Fair in Managua. This was a well organized event designed to build partnerships between clubs to complete international service projects. We met Rotarians with whom we felt comfortable and will plan future projects; exactly what we hoped! We met up with three Folks from Gig Harbor, Washington, that have partnered with us on prior projects (Gig Harbor Morning Rotary Club). We took a spur of the moment trip back to Granada to see projects that they helped fund and, of course, to have a cold beer in town.
|Prior school project|
|Prior school project|
One of these Rotarians, I think it was Tom, commented on baby luck. On other words, how lucky he feels that he was born in the states. When you compare the things that we have and take for granted to the same for Nicaraguans, there is a stark contrast. Even if you only consider safe water, a complete sanitation system, and access to education and health care. Regardless of the context or contrast, we consistently find that Nicaraguans are warm, friendly, fiercely entrepreneurial, and just simply decent and good.
|The smiles that bring us back.|
January 19, 2015
We are in the process of renovating the Oakland Plantation. The home is a treasure, standing tall since 1784. BuildSense is currently transforming the cellar into a wine enthusiast’s playground. It has been a challenge uncovering building techniques that are 231 years old, and shoring up that the house may stand another few centuries.
Renovation work like this is impossible to fully figure out before construction because you don’t know what lies hidden beneath the surface. Proper planning and design drawings are still required, but one must be able to tweak and/or adjust the plan where required when uncovering the unknown. Each day brings exciting new problems to tackle with new design solutions.
The project is far from completion so check back soon to see how the space finishes out.
|Oakland Plantation Original House|
|The old basement was a hodgepodge of materials and chaos|
Before we can build up we must strip down, setting a new concrete slab floor with a proper foundation, insulation, vapor barrier, and water drainage. Many old homes not only omitted a wide concrete footing, they placed the first coarse of stone foundation directly on soil. These homes were built to move as the red clay expands and contracts. It is very different than modern building practices but after 231 years I’d say this house has done all the settling it is going to do and is just fine.
|New drainage was set prior to the new floor slab|
|New vapor barrier was set prior to the new floor slab|
The best way to showcase aged rustic materials is by creating a uniform clean edge separating it from the new. A curb can serve many purposes including a supporting element for the stone walls as well as an additional entry stair.
|New floor slab with new edge curb. In this area the curb allows for a final step.|
|The edge curb uniformly supports the wall and cleans the edge where the 231 year old foundation wall previously met grade.|
|The curb cleans up the base of the old fireplace as well.|
January 08, 2015
If These Walls Could Talk
What is it about old becoming new that evokes such intrigue? The repurposing of materials has always been favorable as a sustainable practice, however now more than ever the reuse of materials has emerged as an aesthetic choice. There’s something undoubtedly cool that happens when salvaged wood, brick, concrete, etc find new life in modern applications… But why you ask? Perhaps it’s because aged materials have a story to tell. With more efficient means available for supplying structure for a building, the option to use salvaged materials for finishes, flooring, and furniture has gained popularity.
Reusing materials can be viewed as a showing of respect for the material’s ability to endure. Reclaimed wood salvaged from abandoned barns and factories from the early nineteenth century has weathered the weather, now mature, full of character, and ready for the next phase of its life. Perhaps that salvaged wood will find itself celebrated as an accent wall full of texture and juxtaposed by the sleek finish of neighboring walls. How interesting it is to have feelings of nostalgia evoked by rustic reused materials and yet be energized in the present by contemporary design. Maybe it is simply the opportunity to experience this unexpected relationship between old and new within the same structure that is so intriguing.
So instead of looking upon old abandoned buildings such as those seen above with sympathy, we should try to imagine the possibilities. In what ways could this material be repurposed? Whether it’s a rustic door, shelving, flooring, or custom furniture pieces, it’s sure to be admired.
|An old barn may be up for some new tricks|
|Salvage is a lot of work, but the materials have unmistakable character.|
|Reclaimed siding from one old barn was cleaned and coated and reused on a new storage facility in this new barn. The ladder was reclaimed as well from an old silo.|
|This farmhouse addition makes use of beams from an old outbuilding as new structural collar ties in the cathedral ceiling. Yes, these are not fake or for aesthetics only. Besides looking great, these beams are actually holding the roof together. Additionally, reclaimed wood is slatted on the far wall for more texture in the room.|
|These stairs were constructed by laminating and bolting together the rough 2x10 roof joists from the same renovated building.|
December 19, 2014
The roof is a very important part of any house as it is the first line of defense against the elements. Whether you are designing from scratch or replacing an existing roof, some things to think about with roof system are the slope of the roof, the complexity of the roof (gables, hips, and valleys), material of the roof, and the surrounding environment.
Often times the slope of a roof is driven by the style of the house, but it can be affected by the environment and cost. Generally a steeper roof costs a little more, but can give more room inside. Also a high slope roof is used in areas that get a lot of snow, the steeper roof keeps the snow from accumulating on the roof that could cause structural failure. Lower slope roofs use less material and therefore can be a little cheaper. They are easier and safer to work on, but may require more maintenance, as leaves and debris can accumulate. A flat roof is a little different animal. They generally cost more due to the materials and system used to make it function properly.
The complexity of a roof refers to its shape, from a simple one plane shed to a roof that has hips, valleys, and dormers. Obviously the less complex the roof, the cheaper it is to frame and roof, some roofers charge per cut they have to do on site. Also each time the plane of the roof is interrupted (valley, dormer) is a potential place for water infiltration, although there are products and systems available that help minimize this risk. The amount the roof overhangs the sides of the house is another factor to consider. The cost and complexity increase as the overhang increases, but a larger overhang protects the siding and windows, prolonging their life. Also large overhangs can offer shading from the sun to help lower energy cost.
The most commonly used materials to choose from when it comes to cladding a roof are asphalt shingles, metal, and membrane. Asphalt shingles are probably the most common and the cheapest of the materials. They are easy to work with which is important when you have a complex roof. Also they are easy to repair. We always recommend keeping an extra pack of shingles when putting on new shingles so if a repair is needed the shingles match. Metal is the next most commonly used material. Metal is more expensive, but is more durable and can last much longer than shingles. Metal roofs are ideal for lower pitch roofs because the smooth finish allows debris to slide off. Metal is more difficult to work with on complex roofs and not as easy to repair. Membrane is one of a couple materials that come in a roll and are glued down. Membranes are most commonly used on flat roof systems, but can also be useful in unusual situations where the other two won’t work. This material requires some special skills and tools to install and repair correctly.
Metal and membrane roofs are ideal for rainwater catchment systems.
Lighter colored roofing material can enhance reflectivity and reduce energy costs.
The environment the structure is exposed to is another factor to consider when thinking about a roof. Things like weather, snow, and the amount of trees over the structure can all affect the performance of a roof. It is important to maintain your roof by, keeping it clear of debris, checking for damage and wear, and checking around any penetrations to assure flashing and sealants are in good shape. The roof is a critical component to any building, and it is essential that the right choices are made to assure that the roof performs properly.
November 14, 2014
When trying to take advantage of every square foot in your home, pocket doors can really make a difference. Generally, this space saving technique is used when doors start to impede the flow of traffic or as a means to facilitate greater storage capacity or space for furnishings. They are ideal for doors that will remain in the open position the majority of the time (or could remain open the majority of the time). Perhaps your closet doors stay open or you’d like them to stay open for general access, but are only closed when you may be straightening up for company. Does your bathroom or laundry room door swing in and block part of the vanity or counter space? Wouldn’t it be nice to free up that space and not have to swing the door open and closed around your actions?
The majority of the work for pocket doors is done during the framing phase of a home. The door slides on a metal track with wheels along the top of the doorframe. Once the drywall is hung, this technology is hidden and easily forgotten about. Below are some behind the scene pictures of what pocket door hardware actually looks like.
Top 5 Preferences and Tips:
5) Pocket doors are very easy to install in new framing conditions, yet require a tremendous amount of demolition and reconstruction to place in an existing home.
4) Pocket door systems will cost more due to time and complexity of installation.
3) Though pocket door kits are available for 2x4 wall framing, our experience is they tend to fail more easily over time. We prefer to layout 2x6 walls for all our pocket door locations.
2) Cheap hardware and parts generally fail more easily leaving you with a more difficult repair as the system is hidden in the walls.
1) And the #1 Pocket Door Design Tip: Pay particular attention to your electrical layout as switches and receptacles cannot go in the wall where the door takes up the space behind that wall.
October 24, 2014
Designing Within The Lines
BuildSense was happy to recently complete the design and build of a custom home on the last remaining lot at Durham’s Solterra Co-housing Community. Our client and the neighborhood shared the common goal to build an environmentally friendly house.
Our client came to us as a custom home veteran. She had already designed and built two homes in Austin, Texas before moving to Durham. With this experience she knew what she wanted and what she could live without in order to stay within her budget. She provided clear parameters for the project including a fixed budget, high-energy efficiency goals, a passive solar assisted design, and to have an open floor plan with two entrances, one to the street and one to the back path that connects to the community house.
Unlike many neighborhood associations, Solterra welcomes diversity in the style of homes with a greater focus on issues of site and solar orientation. Allowable eight-foot setbacks are shockingly narrow between houses but further enhance the connection among neighbors. With such tight distances between the houses, the neighborhood wants to make sure that the solar access is maintained when a new home is built. Solar models and documentation were submitted to the association in order to illustrate how the home would not inhibit solar access to neighbors.
The client and BuildSense explored design options to achieve a high performance home on the desired budget. A concrete slab floor surfaced with ceramic tile was desired for its thermal mass qualities of soaking up sun from large southern windows. This in turn made sense for the flat site.
The client wanted a well-insulated home with the intention of using insulating concrete forms (ICFs). While ICF construction suited many goals of the project, it was determined it would cause cost overruns in other areas. As such, an advanced in-line framing system was chosen with exterior 2x6 walls filled with open cell spray foam insulation and an exterior spray applied house wrap. This combination of systems reduced air infiltration to less than 0.6 ACH50 (which actually meets passivhaus standards).
The last major way the client was able to save was by choosing finishes, fixtures, and appliances that had a good level of quality without going over budget. Using splashes of color, standard cabinetry sizes, mid level appliances, and accent tile were excellent decisions to stay on budget.
October 10, 2014
Readings + Resources for the Intern Architect (and all) – PART II
Did you study up? I hope you enjoyed those resources. Here are two more of my favorites.
A Pattern Language – Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein
This book was also on our reading list when I was an architecture student. It was, and still is one of the most informative, comprehensible and timeless books regarding architecture, construction and urban planning. I love this book and often reach for it for insight and advice. It’s a guidebook on sociology of human nature and the language of our environment, which the authors of the book defined as patterns. The layout of the book is unique too as the patterns of this book are phrased as design challenges that yield discussions, illustrations and solutions.
Life of an Architect – A blog by Bob Borson
I began to follow Life of an Architect this year as I read in a magazine article the honesty and humor Bob provides as being a practicing architect. Like all professions, the job has its good and bad parts. And Bob has a genuine way of providing a truthful account of all manners associated within the profession. In fact he often says what I believe many of us feel, and he has no qualms in doing so. I suppose that’s only fair since he’s licensed, been practicing architecture for a while now, and most likely sleep deprived like most of us. His blogs make me laugh as well. Whether he’s searching for an intern that speaks Klingon or poking fun at reasons to become an architect, he delivers the silly kind of crap I like. Most importantly though, Bob should be applauded and recognized for the time he dedicates as a professional to provide guidance and knowledge to the young minds of this profession.
As we know, architecture + building knowledge is a long, arduous and a never-ending educational journey. The more “seasoned” you become the more you understand the complexity of the industry. I hope the books and resources I mention intrigue you as they have me on my timeline as a young mind in architecture. Cheers!
October 03, 2014
Projects Highlighted by Exceptional Details
BuildSense is in the midst of working on three beautiful condominium interior completions at 140 West Franklin in Chapel Hill. Check out the intricate and outstanding work by Eidolon Designs in one of our clients' homes in their recent post:
|Precision crafted built-ins at 140 West Franklin|
September 26, 2014
Readings + Resources for the Intern Architect (and all) – PART I
In this two-part blog I thought I might throw out some of my favorite readings and resources. Over the years, I’ve found these to be valuable, silly and often brutally honest. Here are two to look over this week. We’ll hit you with a few more next time.
GreenBuildingAdvisor.com - An informative resourceful website for green building, design and building science guru’s. This site contains plenty of articles, blogs or details for whatever building topics you wish to gain further insight. I’ve frequented this site for years now researching construction strategies and details for our mixed humid climate zone. I also thoroughly enjoy the green architects lounge and their candid booze infused discussions. The two architects hold great after hour sessions (with notable guests) that debate numerous green building strategies within of our industry all while getting blitzed.
Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin by Lawrence Weschler – An inspiring chronicle of an artist who reveals to the reader his persistent goal towards the experience of perception which he feels is the foundation of everything yet the most difficult concept to grasp. The author’s account of Irwin’s life is compelling, unusual, and yet often humorous. Irwin challenges preconceived notions, technique and his education; he strips his mind of all constraints and focuses his work on the origin of perception through self-discovery. I read this book in graduate school and I was rather fond of it at the time. I found his lifestyle relaxing, yet his mind unsettled, and his work deeply complex. To me, Robert Irwin challenged contemporary art and his work eluded classification. Many art critics debated his career and work as even being art while others deemed him as a pioneer of minimalism
September 12, 2014
The Awesome Responsibility & Benefits of Custom Design
Only a very few people design and build a custom home. A house just for them that fits their needs and passions, family, lifestyle, self-image, and world view. Part of this relates to time, part to money, and a part relates to the emotional investment. It is an awesome responsibility to start with a blank piece of paper and design and build a home. I've heard and sensed this many times over the years but have had recent conversations with clients that have reinforced this idea (and made me laugh). My favorite comment was this: "when you walk into someone's new place and the kitchen island feels wrong, you think, 'what a dumb ass.' When you design it and screw it up, you are the dumb ass."
It is simply quicker, easier, and cheaper to buy a production house that may be close to a fit. However, there is a pot of gold at the end of the custom house rainbow. The reward for this effort is a real home (not just a commodity). A home that helps keep you and your family healthy; that is luxurious and comfortable in the way you experience comfort; that is a place of contentment, delight, and utility; that supports your favorite things to do; that represents your views and passions; and that inspires pride; a home that you love.
My wife's and my experience building a home has changed how I think when we design and build for others. In the design and building process, I learned a whole new level of empathy from the other side of the table. Now, just starting to live in our new home, we are learning first hand what the fuss is all about. One of our first mornings in our home and after a shower, my wife said that she felt like she was traveling and staying in a posh hotel but, wait, it is HER shower! We've gotten clean for years in perfectly serviceable bathrooms, but they never felt like this. Now, we have a hard time choosing between the outdoor shower with a view of the pasture, forest, and pond or the delightful and spacious indoor shower. Of course, both have hand-held shower nozzles to wash our dogs. I say of course because that is true for us and for our custom and personalized home, but not for a commodity house.
When we compare the investment of planning and building time to the decades we plan to live here, it is a minor blip that will feel even less significant with each passing year of enjoyment in our home.
|While custom home design is not for everyone, here are a few examples of custom spaces or items requested by clients which provide them with tremendous pleasure, comfort, and peace of mind in their own unique and personalized homes. "It would be nice if my tub didn't feel like a bathroom, but more like a spa. It would be wonderful if I could gaze into the trees while relaxing and soaking."|
|This home for a boat captain on a very steep slope is three stories with the main entrance on the top floor. "I'd like something of a dumbwaiter to haul light goods up and down with ship's block and tackle."|
|Requests for "a light filled and open stair" and "plentiful bookshelves throughout the home" resulted in this simple, but dynamic stair. What might you want out of your custom and personalized home?|
August 29, 2014
BuildSense leads another great summer of Design/Build at NCSU School of Architecture!
BuildSense leads another great summer of Design/Build at NCSU School of Architecture! In our fifth summer, we were once again blessed with a fantastic group of motivated students who completed another elegantly executed project. The non-profit Benevolence Farm in Graham NC was the proud beneficiary of this summer's efforts. Students and Instructors designed and built this vegetable washing and packaging barn (“The Benevolence Barn”) complete with open work areas, cold storage, dry storage, and tool sheds in just over 10 weeks. Benevolence Farm provides an opportunity to formerly incarcerated women to live and work on a farm where they develop farming and business skills, grow food, nourish self, and foster community. See images of the completed work below:
August 15, 2014
Why pay for organized fitness classes when you can install gabions?? It’s both a great work out and a means of enhancing one’s physical environment! Amongst the multitude of today’s retaining wall options remains the handsome gabion. Ideal for erosion control, this modular system demonstrates many benefits; particularly strength met with flexibility.
“Gabion” translates to “big cage” which is typically made of steel wire fabric that is welded, twisted, or woven closed once filled. The baskets can be filled with rocks, stones, or even concrete. Ideally, one can reuse material such as concrete from a demolished structure.
While a finished gabion system appears to be monolithic and does indeed provide retention, the wall is also flexible to ensure structural efficiency, and permeable to allow for drainage. Last, if you are willing to put forth your own efforts, collect suitable materials, dig a lot, break and stack stone, and sweat real hard, then gabion walls are quite affordable. Upon completion, this seemingly elemental system will surprise you with its rustic yet undoubtedly elegant appeal. Here’s the basic overview of gabion installation:
A couple of good shovels will certainly do the trick, however a few hours with an excavator will greatly reduce time and energy spent during excavation.
|2) Leveling the ground|
It’s important to make sure your ground surface is nice and level before placing the baskets. While hand levels are, well, handy… a transit is a nifty surveying tool that assists greatly in leveling.
|3) Basket assembly|
Next comes the unfolding and assembly of gabion baskets. This takes patience, but the pay-off will be very rewarding.
|4) Filling the baskets|
Once the baskets are properly set, it’s time for the fun part – filling the baskets with your chosen material! Options range from taking a sledge hammer to the concrete foundation of a previously demolished building to create chunks of desired size as reusable fill, to ordering pre-sized riprap, stone, etc. Inherent beauty of the retaining wall structure will be achieved as long as the fill is thoughtfully placed.
|5) Fastening baskets|
This step can be tricky; using zip ties to first close the gaps between seams is extremely helpful.
|6) Backfill if necessary|
A layer of landscaping cloth between gabions and earth further prevents erosion.
August 02, 2014
Explore Your Senses
|Explore your senses|
|Explore your senses|
|Explore your senses|
July 18, 2014
Hardscapes and Pavers: Beautiful Yard Improvements
As with many construction processes, installing paver hardscapes is challenging but rewarding. Preparation takes time and can be difficult, but yields the best product. As always, use the right tools for the job. Digging may be the most difficult portion if it needs to be done by hand. Assure you slope even gravel and paver hardscapes away from your home to a runoff location to complete positive flow in this direction. Typically a bed of 4” of gravel is laid on stable soils, followed by 1 to 2 inches of screenings. We usually set edge point elevations and use a screed bar and tamp to pack a solid sloped bed of screenings. A slope of 1/4” per foot is recommended for walkability and drainage. Gently lay your pavers to the desired pattern using a rubber mallet and level for secure placement. Incorporating edging and/or gravel bring it all together as a beautiful addition to your home and landscape.
|Start digging. Ughh, the tough work!|
|Gravel bed, edging, and tamped screenings set nicely.|
|Finish work: setting pavers and decorative gravel.|
|Wow! What a nicer way to approach the front door.|
July 07, 2014
Contruction Waste Recycling - Avoiding the Landfill
Have you ever wondered what happens to all of the construction trash that is created from a renovation or new construction project? Being that about a third of all waste created in the United States results from the construction industry, BuildSense finds it most appropriate to utilize a local sorting/recycling company to make sure our trash is dealt with in a sustainable fashion. Our waste removal trade partner takes our waste to a Construction & Demolition facility where all recyclables are sorted out and sent to the appropriate recycling facilities. Construction waste that is recyclable includes: clean wood, gypsum wallboard, cardboard, metals, shingles, and concrete. The remainder is landfilled.
Recently in Wake County, about 30% of all waste was categorized as "construction and demolition" waste and of that 30%, about 15% was recycled. In North Carolina in general, only about 10% of construction and demolition waste is currently recycled. The rates could be upwards of 90% per the composition of typical construction waste. The 'recycling report' from our current renovation project in Wake County states that about 80% of the waste was recycled and 20% was landfilled. Each builder and developer can help extend the life of current landfills and reduce the need to create new landfills by hiring a qualified Construction and Demolition waste removal company for every job.
June 06, 2014
What have you heard? What preconceived ideas do you have? Let me tell you what we think and what we can do.
Most clients who walk in our door cringe when they hear the words modular, manufactured, or prefab. It takes some time for us to change their minds. In our nation the majority of modular homes are indeed of poor quality. But, then again, the majority of all homes in our nation are of poor quality. It is not inherent to the philosophy of modular, it is inherent to the demands of the US home market.
There is tremendous potential in the prefabrication process. In a factory, workers have advanced technology on hand. They work in a climate-controlled environment to tolerances far superior than those achieved in the field. Studs can be laid straight, cuts can be extremely precise, walls can be plumb, and actually set at right angles. It may sound like I am undermining the custom framer but his job is simply more difficult. Would you request to have your new car built of a pile of miscellaneous parts laid in your driveway, or would you prefer it be assembled in the factory?
Enter expert architects and builders. Enter a detailed drawing set, a properly laid foundation, and precise factory-framed floors, walls, and roofs. The finishing process can proceed with ease crafting your own beautiful home. The walls are straighter, the construction time is faster, and the overall cost may be lower.
When you build your next home, ask us about the potential of a hybrid modular and site-built project.
|Hybrid Modular Home: "Boxes" delivered and set on site.|
|Hybrid Modular Home: In this case the site framing included a roof stretching from "box" to "box".|
|Hybrid Modular Home: Completed home exterior.|
|Hybrid Modular Home: Completed home interior.|
May 23, 2014
Home Renovation Decisions
After house searching in two different cities for over a year, my wife and I found a house that actually excited us. We found a midcentury ranch that was certainly in need of some work and modernizing. The best amenities of the house happen to be the lot, square foot size and design potential. Shortly after we were under contract we began to design. We logged countless hours many of the weeknights staying up late to debate our needs and wishes and compile our design. We scrutinized over costs and pursued ways to spread our budget by utilizing advice from colleagues and our subcontractor trade partners.
We determined the first phase would be to renovate the main floor public spaces and get to other areas of the house later. Shortly after we began the physical labor of deconstructing the layers of the home, we unveiled issues…beyond the dated décor. We found the insulation was inefficient and compromised, and we had asbestos in the popcorn ceiling. Thus began the start of a nagging desire to remove the flat ceiling in the main space, spray foam the roof deck, and pop the ceiling which would allow the interior ceiling to follow the form of the roof line. So that’s what we did.
I’d like to think we created a time correct midcentury interior space. The interior gable ceiling is around eight feet on the sides and rises to about twelve feet at the peak and provides a large open room. We exposed structural collar ties in the ceiling with a warm cypress wood that contrasts against the white walls. We replaced the existing opaque skylights with low E insulated clear glass Velux units and the room always feels to be bright and airy. The kitchen consists of painted customs cabinets configured for a clean, efficient workspace for cooking with lots of counter surface for prepping and entertaining. We created a small formal sitting area in front of a large window for visiting, record playing or merely sipping whiskey and reading the paper. It separates the living room and entry with a floating wall intended for future custom wood shelves. There’s something old fashion and swanky about this little space and I’m really looking forward starting and ending my days here.
In hindsight, we housed searched for over a year and suffered through a three-month renovation project, but our new home has been a delight to live in each day. There’s little I regret. Our time and effort focused on purchasing, designing and construction of our home have nearly past, like the blink of an eye. Yet our house remains as part of our future.
|AFTER 3 |
April 27, 2014
Experiencing the Seasons in a Well Designed Home
I love as winter turns to spring and the flowers and dogwoods bloom. It may be my favorite seasonal transition. I have witnessed the effects of the changing North Carolina seasons over the past few months serving as the site lead on a Creedmoor home that will be open to the public on the upcoming Green Home Tour May 3-4+10-11 (http://www.myhomefound.com/homes/3950). Through the Polar Vortex to our recent 80 degree spring days, I have been amazed at the effectiveness of the sun tempered design to deliver warmth in the winter and reduce heat gain in the spring, all while the mechanical systems have yet to be installed.
|Expansive southern facing windows draw abundant warmth from the low winter sun when needed, but are shaded from the high summer sun by an extensive roof overhang.|
|The north elevation features smaller operable windows paired with the south facing operable windows to assist in cross ventilation when desired.|
|An insulated pre-cast concrete panel wall system was used for the basement level which is mostly below grade to the south and above grade to the north (see picture above - for great light without heat gain). It's the perfect place to cool down and escape the exterior heat.|
|Rich interior textures are highlighted in the wonderfully daylit space.|
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 (trianglegreenhometour.com).|
|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 (trianglegreenhometour.com).|
|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 (trianglegreenhometour.com).|
|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(trianglegreenhometour.com).|
|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(trianglegreenhometour.com).|
|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.