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.
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 dictionary.com 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
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
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.