February 27, 2017
BuildSense wins Best of Houzz 2017 awards in both Design & Service categories

February 09, 2017
BuildSense Earns GuildQuality 2017 Guildmaster Award for Service Excellence

December 16, 2016
BuildSense's Randy Lanou Honored as HBADOC's Builder of the Year

October 28, 2016
BuildSense Recycles a Truck - Donates Former Fleet Vehicle to Habitat for Humanity of Durham

October 25, 2016
BuildSense Fleet Earns Honorable Mention for 2016 Green Fleet Awards

October 10, 2016
A BuildSense Design/Build Condo in Chapel Hill is Featured in Triangle Home Design & Decor Magazine

September 22, 2016
BuildSense's Horseshoe Farm wins USGBC NC 2016 Sustainable Business Residential Project Award

September 12, 2016
BuildSense Designed Home Featured in Durham Magazine

August 30, 2016
BuildSense Featured in N&O Design/Build Column

August 04, 2016
BuildSense Wins Best Light Commercial ROC Award

August 01, 2016
BuildSense Voted Durham Magazine's Best Architect AND Best Builder in 2016

July 21, 2016
News & Observer: 2016 Durham Golden Leaf Award Winners Honored

July 01, 2016
BuildSense Voted Chapel Hill Magazine's Best Architect

June 28, 2016
BuildSense Celebrates Durham’s Habitat ReStore’s 7th Birthday on Air with WCHL Chapelboro News

June 08, 2016
BuildSense voted Best of Triangle Contractor and Finalist for Best of Triangle Architect INDY Week 2016

May 25, 2016
BuildSense recognized with Guildmaster award from GuildQuality for exceptional customer service

May 20, 2016
BuildSense Helps Feed Hungry Families

May 18, 2016
Please join us at 502 Rigsbee for Thirst 4 Architecture, NCMH's happy hour event, on June 16, 6-8pm

May 10, 2016
BuildSense Partner Erik Mehlman Appointed to Durham City-County Appearance Commission

April 18, 2016
Green Home Tour Features Three BuildSense Homes, April 30 - May 1 & May 7 - 8, 12-5pm

April 15, 2016
BuildSense led Design/Build Team from NC State earns 2016 Keep Durham Beautiful - Golden Leaf Award

April 11, 2016
Join BuildSense for the Upcoming 2016 Green Home Tour, April 30-May 1 & May 7-8 from 12-5pm

April 09, 2016
Tour A BuildSense Home on Upcoming JLDOC Home Roam 2016 - Saturday April 16th 10am-3pm - CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS!

April 08, 2016
Buildsense's Randy Lanou in Durham Magazine

March 11, 2016
Randy Lanou to present two projects at Structures For Inclusion 2016 - March 19-20 - Raleigh, NC

January 27, 2016
BuildSense Dog Bowls Are A Hit!

January 20, 2016
BuildSense President Randy Lanou Makes Global Impact

January 13, 2016
BuildSense wins best of Houzz 2016 awards in both Design & Service categories

December 23, 2015
Northwestern Retreat Video

November 10, 2015
BuildSense on WCHL radio

October 15, 2015
BuildSense E' Anche Su Houzz Italia!

September 25, 2015
BuildSense Fleet Recognized as #17 of the Top 50 Green Fleets of North America

September 22, 2015
Two BuildSense Farmhouses Featured Among Seven Award Winning Homes on the AIA Triangle Tour of Residential Architecture - THIS SATURDAY, SEPT 26 9AM-5PM

September 15, 2015
BuildSense's Erik Mehlman at SPARKcon designSPARK for AIA Triangle Tour of Residential Architecture Preview - Saturday 9/19 9am-12pm

September 02, 2015
BuildSense's Erik Mehlman at Lee Hansley Gallery (Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh) for AIA Triangle Tour of Residential Architecture Preview - First Friday 9/4 6-10pm

August 25, 2015
BuildSense's Erik Mehlman at Durham Farmers Market for AIA Triangle Tour of Residential Architecture Preview - Saturday 8/29 8am-12pm

August 03, 2015
BuildSense's Protzman Residence Makes Cover of Triangle Urban Home Magazine - See Story on Page 10

July 14, 2015
Erik Mehlman Serves as Juror for 2015 Metal Architecture Design Awards - See Awards Results Here

July 12, 2015
BuildSense Named an NGBS Green Partner of Excellence by the Home Innovation Research Lab

June 07, 2015
BuildSense is Tops in Design/Build - Voted to Best of INDY 2015 as Both Architect and Contractor

June 01, 2015
BuildSense's Erik Mehlman Joins Panel Discussion on Advanced Framing. Join the Green Home Builders of the Triangle Thursday June 4th - 4pm at Stock Building Supply in Raleigh.

May 14, 2015
Tour Two Award Winning BuildSense Homes on Upcoming Modern Atlanta Satellite Cities Home Tour - Saturday May 30th 10am-4pm - CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION!

May 07, 2015
Tour Two Award Winning BuildSense Homes on Upcoming Modern Atlanta Satellite Cities Home Tour - Saturday May 30th 10am-4pm - CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS!

April 29, 2015
Green Home Tour Features Three BuildSense Homes - May 2-3 & 9-10, 12pm-5pm

April 24, 2015
BuildSense Receives Two AIA Triangle Merit Awards for Residential Design - Both Homes to be Featured on this Fall's AIA Triangle Tour of Residential Architecture

April 22, 2015
Join BuildSense for the upcoming 2015 Green Home Tour - May 2-3 & 9-10 12pm-5pm

April 10, 2015
Randy Lanou and BuildSense Crew Lead Latest Rotary Service Trip in San Ramon, Nicaragua

March 25, 2015
BuildSense Modular and Hybrid Modular Homes Featured in Carolina Living

February 23, 2015
BuildSense and LE Meyers Builders Announce Merger

February 17, 2015
Two BuildSense Homes - Spring Residence and Metheny Residence - Selected for Inclusion on Modern Atlanta Satellite Cities Architecture Tour

January 31, 2015
Randy Lanou Appointed to National Green Building Standard Advisory Board

January 05, 2015
Randy Lanou Now President of Home Builders' Association of Durham, Orange, and Chatham Counties (HBADOC)

October 24, 2014
BuildSense Earns NC Smart Fleet Champion Award from NCDOT and NC Clean Energy Technology Center

October 22, 2014
BuildSense's Spring Residence Featured in Urban Home Magazine

October 17, 2014
BuildSense Presenting at The Durham Sustainability Office Eco-Fair

October 12, 2014
BuildSense Participating at Trinity Park Home Tour Art and Architecture Fair

September 29, 2014
BuildSense's Spring Residence Wins AIA NC Design Award

September 26, 2014
BuidSense's Randy Lanou Featured in TecHome Builder

September 09, 2014
Come See the Work of NC State Design|Build and Support the Benevolence Farm - Sept 20 - 2:00-4:30pm - 18 Seaboard, Raleigh

August 15, 2014
BuildSense Home Featured on Upcoming NC Modernist Home Tour in Duke Forest - Sept 06.2014

August 07, 2014
BuildSense Earns Durham Magazine's Best Builder Gold Medal

August 02, 2014
BuildSense Leads Another Successful Summer Design/Build Studio for NC State School of Architecture - Yields Vegetable Washing/Packaging Barn for Non-Profit Benevolence Farm

May 01, 2014
Architects + Artisans Features Raleigh Home by BuildSense in Green Home Tour Preview

April 27, 2014
BuildSense Hosts 2014 Green Home Tour Reception at Ultra Sustainable Office in Durham - Thursday May 1, 4:30-6:30PM

April 26, 2014
Three BuildSense Homes Featured on 2014 Green Home Tour

April 25, 2014
Kendall Glaze now Business Manager at BuildSense

April 15, 2014
BuildSense's 502 Rigsbee Featured in Metal Architecture Magazine

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

March 13, 2014
BuildSense's 502 Rigsbee Featured as Cover Story 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

March 01, 2011
BuildSense and Studio B Launch New Website


July 29, 2016
Catalog Plans
BuildSense has created a collection of catalog plans, some of which are currently being executed.

Recently completed:


In progress:




Utilize these plans to expedite the custom home process.  Contact us today to build your home.

June 15, 2016
BuildSense Carpenter Phil Culberson receives 2016 C. Carl Woods, Jr. Craftsman of the Year Award from CSI

Congratulations to Phil Culberson, master carpenter, who will be honored with the 2015 C. Carl Woods, Jr. Craftsman of the Year award at the CSI (Construction Specifications Institute) Awards Dinner on June 14, 2016.  Phil has been performing at the top of his trade as a framing carpenter for decades, working closely with BuildSense partner Leon Meyers for the majority of his career to build many of the finest homes in the Triangle.  The Culberson carpentry crew, which consists of Phil Culberson, Joel Braxton, Brad Culberson, and Mark Culberson, has been quietly and consistently performing feats of framing excellence on a daily basis together for years - in fact, Joel and Phil have worked side by side for their entire careers, which now span over four decades.

A very hearty thanks to Phil and the Culberson crew for their outstanding craftsmanship, and for the expertise and quality they bring to BuildSense jobsites everyday!  Thanks also to CSI RDU for this lovely recognition, and for organizing the awards.  For more information about CSI's awards and scholarships, click here.  BuildSense is grateful to have an opportunity to celebrate our masterful craftspeople!

May 09, 2016
BuildSense Renovation An International Hit

See #4

See #7

January 20, 2016
BuildSense Fireplace Featured on Houzz! See #9.

January 05, 2016
BuildSense's Pittsboro Farmhouse Featured on Houzz!

October 15, 2015
BuildSense E' Anche Su Houzz Italia!

September 22, 2015
What Makes it a Famhouse? Find Out This SATURDAY SEPT 26 9AM-5PM

What makes it a farmhouse? Good question: these days it seems like there isn't always a working farm associated with the house. So I guess we are looking at the qualities of the home that give it, for lack of a better term, "farmhousiness". BuildSense has two beautiful homes featured on this Saturday's AIA Triangle Tour of Residential Architecture. We are proud to have been included among the seven recipients of this year's AIA Triangle Residential Design Awards. While all seven will be featured on the tour, it just so happens that both BuildSense homes are farmhouses with a lot of unique differences and surprising similarities. One home, built in 1874, has recently undergone a massive renovation and addition to retain the farmhouse charm yet live and function with a more contemporary open plan. The other home, recently completed in 2014, is clearly identified as non-traditional but successfully captures the rustic charm of the farmhouse. While these homes are from different times and places, the handcrafted qualities, materials, textures, and styles of each home strongly define each as a "Farmhouse". See the images below for a glimpse of each home. To fully experience each home, join us at the tour this SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 26 FROM 9AM-5PM. For more information and tickets, visit:

1874 Farmhouse Renovation - Redefined exterior entrance

1874 Farmhouse Renovation - New dining banquette

1874 Farmhouse Renovation - New kitchen island

1874 Farmhouse Renovation - New mudroom

1874 Farmhouse Renovation - New master bedroom

2014 Farmhouse

2014 Farmhouse - Exterior porch

2014 Farmhouse - Kitchen/Living with Southern View

2014 Farmhouse - Walnut Dining Table

2014 Farmhouse - Reclaimed brick and lumber

2014 Farmhouse - Master bedroom

August 24, 2015
"Our House Kicks the Ass of Even Other Efficient Homes"

Those aren’t our words, but I don’t feel comfortable censoring the words of our clients. That is the title of an email from a client of ours after receiving their Duke Energy “My Home Energy Report”. We take pride in our house-proud clients. It’s an incredible feeling to have them call or email to tell us; “Our screened porch is the best place on earth” or, “The office niche really is all I needed, and it cuts down on my clutter too” or, “I didn’t know that a house could have even temperatures from room to room throughout the different seasons, but we do!” Today, I received another “My Home Energy Report” from a recent client who has been in her home for just over one full year. We love that she is so excited about her home’s energy efficiency that she shares it with us. The graphic format makes the information even stronger and more impressive. I’ve attached it for your viewing pleasure. Consider the benefits of building to a higher standard when you choose to build. Not only will you benefit from lower monthly energy bills, you’ll have a more comfortable and healthy indoor environment.

July 17, 2015
BuildSense's Pittsboro Farmhouse Renovation and Addition Featured on Houzz

July 16, 2015
BuildSense Back at it Teaching Summer Design/Build at NCSU School of Architecture
North Carolina State University's College of Design Summer Design-Build Studio is in full swing. This year, the veteran leadership team from BuildSense (Randy Lanou, Erik Mehlman, and Scott Metheny) are once again joined by Ellen Cassilly to lead the School of Architecture program comprised of 18 Architecture Students. However, the collaboration at NCSU has reached new levels. This year's project is for the College of Veterinary Medicine at the Zoological Teaching Animal Unit (that's the NCSUCVMZTAU for those of you paying close attention). Additionally, we have enlisted the help of professors and students of the School of Landscape Architecture in this incredibly diverse and multi-disciplinary design-build venture. The project is an animal husbandry shed on the ZTAU grounds. For more details, see the following blog from Dr. Michael Stoskopf.

The roof is underway at the new ZTAU Animal Husbandry Shed

May 28, 2015
BuildSense Work Featured on Barn Light Electric

 See more on these vintage porch lights - CLICK HERE!

May 18, 2015
Spectacular BuildSense Porch Featured on Houzz

May 11, 2015
A BuildSense 1874 Renovation and Addition Featured Among Houzz Kitchens

May 08, 2015
Your Choice of Fireplace
At BuildSense we focus on our individual clients to design and build a home that suits their personal needs. One common request is a fireplace. As with the diversity of our clients, comes the diversity of the type of fireplace that is right for their design and how they live.

We take pride in building healthy homes with high indoor air quality and safe and energy efficient systems. In regard to fireplaces, we believe the best means to achieve this is through directly vented, sealed combustion gas or wood-burning fireplaces with a dedicated exterior air source. The sealed combustion unit and dedicated exterior air source assure interior conditioned air stays in the house, rather than traveling out of the house through the chimney. Directly venting the fireplace exhausts air to the exterior of the home rather than into the home. Seems like common sense, but there are many ventless fireplaces on the market and in existing homes. We have recently installed bio-ethanol fireplaces as a far safer option when venting to the exterior of the home is not possible. The waste product of these units is water, steam, and carbon dioxide. The quantity of CO2 emitted by burning 3 hours of an ethanol fireplace is about equivalent to the amount of CO2 produced by burning 2 average candles (
Wood burning fireplaces with gasket doors that are directly vented come in a wide range of designs allowing for various design solutions. With every individual client we are able to customize their want for a wood-burning fireplace within their design. Below are examples of different types of fire units that achieve varying design goals.
This ICC Chimney allows for a see thru design that links the dining and livings room while breaking up the large open space.
The Rais unit allows for a wood burning fireplace to be incorporated into the design of the stair and bookshelf, maximizing the space while created cohesive design elements.
The Morso wood burning stove has a modern, compact design that allows it to be placed anywhere within the design, taking up minimal space while producing a generous amount of heat.
The dining room, living room, and above loft are connected by the Montigo see through gas fireplace unit allowing for a visual connection through the fireplace. The venting to exterior is hidden in the reclaimed wood shaft chimney.
This EcoSmart bio-ethanol burning unit was chosen for clients upfitting a condominium in a multi-unit building with an HOA that would not allow fireplaces to directly vent to the exterior.
This is another (2) bio-ethanol unit in the same condominium building (in the cabinet below the TV). Please note this a very complex installation with numerous fire retardant materials carefully crafted into the design according to product manufacturer's specifications and building code.

April 17, 2015
Drawing interpretation and Communication
Not long ago, we engaged one of our trusted trade partners to fabricate a steel rail for a staircase. Due to the speed of the project, we met on site, drew sketches in the field, turned over a final CAD drawings, and they proceeded with the fabrication. The installed rail was not detailed as had been drawn or discussed. Their project manager agreed to reconfigure the design as intended. We are pleased to work with trade partners who exhibit our same dedication to “getting it right”. However, issues as this one in the design and construction process strike me as peculiar. Does a fabricator not see the same thing as drawn on the page? Or what designers find even more discomforting; does a fabricator take it upon him/herself to change the design? Lesson learned: even when fast-tracking, work closely with trusted trade partners and always have the fabricator produce shop drawings. By the way, the finished rail looks great.

Original rail drawing
First iteration in field
Revised rail under construction
Final rail complete
Final rail complete

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 ( 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 (

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 ( 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 (, 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 (
Cascada Blanca
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.
Safe load?????
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
Pocket Doors
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. - 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?