architeture

Things You Should Know Before Building A Home: Part 1: Land

I am hoping to add a series of posts about things you should know before building a home. I am trying to keep a list of "things I don't know you don't know" I know that sounds silly, but when you've been doing this for awhile, you forget what other people know and what they don't. I have a current client who has been very helpful in tracking the things they "wished they would have known or understood" and making a list to help other homeowners through the process.Today I want to talk a little bit about land and the initial legwork when picking a place to build a house.

  1. Have a survey done on the property
    • We always recommend having a property survey done. We love working with Main Land Development Consultants who have done everything from surveys, environmental testings and septic design. It is extremely helpful for the architect, builder, excavation, septic and concrete installer to understand what the topography of the site is. It is also important to call out featured items that you would like to keep or highlight on a property. In the inverse, some property lines are tight and it might be critical to understand the footprint of your lot, where your lot lines are, and exactly how much space you can cover. And it is absolutely critical when building on the water. Anything within 250 feet of a major water body is subject to different DEP rules. Most towns will not accept a building permit for a lot adjacent to a waterbody without careful consideration of the impervious areas, lot clearing, distance to the water body, and flood plane elevations.
  2. Always get title insurance
    • Our friends over at Cumberland Title offer great videos for first time homebuyers on some of the pitfalls or information you'll run into when buying a house. Their recommendation to us, for owners looking to build, is to always get title insurance. It's their job to dig into the history of the property to make sure you are getting exactly what the property states. You don't want to find out, after you have built, that there is some kind of discrepancy or dispute on your property. It can be a very important step when someone is subdividing a property or purchasing a property that used to be part of a larger parcel. On lakefront properties we often find old deeded right of way access or septics on others properties. It's important to understand all the impacts on your property before moving forward with a sale agreement.
  3. Zoning: Just because you own it, doesn't mean you can do whatever you want on it
    • This one can be tough to understand, but every town has rules about what you can do in certain areas of the town. For example, in the city where we live you can not build a house in the Ag zone unless you make 50% of your income from farming. Some zoning regulations like this one are set up to preserve land mass. In towns with lakes you can only build on a small percentage of your property in the shoreland zone to help prevent water runoff from contaminating the lake. In other areas, you may not be able to have certain types of business uses (like an auto body shop) no matter how large your piece of land is. In other zoning districts you may not be able to have an in-law apartment or multiple dwellings. And further still, in some towns or developments, you may be required to follow aesthetic regulations, energy criteria, or adhere to things that are not allowable (like modular homes) in your neighborhood.
  4. Orientation: How and Where the house is placed on the lot
    • You might be thinking "what do you mean by orientation" so let me give you a few examples. First, the cheapest thing you can do to improve the efficiency of your home is to orient it the right direction. Back before we had so much technology, it was ingrained in our building senses to point ourselves towards the sun (namely South). But what happens if you decide to buy a piece of property on the lake that faces North? You end up with a very cold house, because you end up with too much glass on the wrong side of your home. But if you intend to use it year round, it can be a real drain on your energy and your finances to have so much North facing glass. Or you buy a piece of property in a neighborhood where all the houses face the street, but the front of your house should be one of the more attractive sides of your home. So if it faces north, you have the same issue I mentioned above, or maybe it's a busy street and you want to try and cut down some of the street noise. Sometimes we fail to consider the impacts of owning a lot and placing the house further off the road. Initially it sounds like a great idea for privacy or maybe to get to the view on the property. However, the further you are from the utilities the more the site work will cost. Two major factors are the cost of a long driveway and the cost to run electricity from the road (above ground with poles and wires) or (below ground with underground power). If you have a tight budget, what was a 10K site budget can grow to 40K in no time. I don't want to steer you away from those larger land properties, but just a thought or a reminder that there is cost savings to density. To get to the right location for the house to sit you end up having a really long driveway or having to clear too much of the lot. Orientation and placement on a lot can be very challenging. I have to laugh because one of my clients recently said to me "You and the builder couldn't have sited the house more perfectly, even though we were standing in the middle of the woods and couldn't see anything at the time" It was a challenging site, a triangle. But the owner had a clear vision of what they wanted and the builder and I had a pretty good idea of the land layout, even if you couldn't see the forest through the trees.
  5. Be sure you'll understand what your taxes will be
    • And last, but certainly not least: Taxes.  It's tax season, so this one is on our minds. It's critical you understand, before building or buying land, what your tax rates will be. You might find the perfect piece of property only to discover that the mill rate on taxing your home is very high. Some areas have desirable school systems or better community services. If this is something you plan to take part in, it might not matter to you. But it can drastically affect your monthly payments if your taxes are $1000/mo vs $150. This is something that many people fail to take into account. You may be able to build in the next town over for a much lower amount, but you may also be sacrificing services that you would like to have. It's something that I think should be factored into the financial decisions as you consider where you might build.

We hope that some of these tips will be helpful as you are out searching for land! Having a plan can make all the difference when building a home you love.

Do You Live In A Snow Globe?

The temperatures in Maine have been below zero for more than a week. This is some of the strangest weather we've had since the blizzard of 98, 20 years ago tomorrow. And days like today remind me why we build the way we do. As you watch the news you see people running out of heating fuels and the threat of freezing is a real concern. But people like the Miller's at Live Solar Maine are watching the snow swirl around their house in today's blizzard while 1 or 2 sticks of wood in the wood stove will keep the house above 80 degrees even if they lose power. The solar panels on the roof will keep them from losing power for long periods, and the threat of freezing isn't a concern. They can sit and watch the snow swirl around the house as if they are inside of a snow globe.It takes a little bit longer to build super insulated structure. It takes a little bit more thought to put it all together. But winter days spent inside a home with no drafts, temperatures above 80, and the security of keeping your family warm on these cold cold days makes it well worth it. Not everything in a zero energy house costs money. The simple act of facing the house south can have a huge impact on the way it performs.  Spending the time to seal all gaps, cracks, seams, and holes in the envelop is very cheap with an extremely quick return. And air sealing is something pretty much any homeowner can do. The best thing you can do when installing windows is seal around them after they are installed. Instead of stuffing fiberglass next to the windows, use a low expanding spray foam and make sure they are sealed in well. This is where most people see the savings on windows. Put in the best windows you can afford while building, and then seal them. The performance of a window will never equal the performance of an insulated wall. The Live Solar Maine homes have double pane, double hung windows. Although the comfort level of a triple pane window can be really wonderful, if it doesn't fit in your budget it doesn't keep you from building a zero energy ready home.So as you consider building a new home, think about the benefits of building a better home. Take into consideration the costs of building better and the costs of choosing not to on these winter days. It isn't just about the money, it's comfort, durability, and the safety of your family.Wishing you all happiness in 2018 and we hope you are enjoying your coffee inside your warm snow globe as the blizzard snow and wind whips around outside.

Check Out Mottram Architecture's Live Solar Maine Project in Maine Home + Design

Click the link (solar1 maine mag) to see a copy of the write up in Maine Home + Design MagazineWe couldn't be more thrilled with seeing the first house represented in the Architecture Issue!What a great way to end 2017! Wishing you all the very merriest of holidays!Peace and love to you and yours from all of us here at Mottram Architecture!

"If you haven’t lived in an energy-efficient home, you don’t know what you’re missing."

"If you haven’t lived in an energy-efficient home, you don’t know what you’re missing."This is the opening line in an article written on October 1st for the Portland Press Herald by Marina Schauffler.I thought this article hit on a few high points and I thought that it should be shared. First, we love "The Pretty Good House". We are, of course, happy to help you achieve your dreams to make Net-Zero or Passiv Haus a reality, but what if you just want a house that performs better and doesn't come with a label.I loved how Marina put it in her article "Yankee thrift" it kind of makes you pause, but what everyone should know is that there are simple "hacks" that don't cost more money, but make a world of difference between building a standard code house, and building a pretty good house.

"These houses have sensible design features, orienting primary living areas on the home’s south side and placing spaces like pantries, mudrooms and mechanical areas to the north. Rather than having trendy, pricey building components, they rely on proven elements – like Energy Star kitchen appliances, a tankless water heater or an air-source heat pump."

Here at Mottram Architecture we put a lot of focus on orientation and "daylight planning" which takes into account how you use your house throughout the day and where those rooms land in the layout. We also try "hacks" like putting vintage windows between rooms to allow natural light into smaller rooms without adding windows the the building envelop. It adds character and reduces consumption and doesn't cost much.And I really loved the way she closed the article

"The year-in and year-out savings are welcome, but it’s not just the economics that make energy-efficient homes so appealing. A green-designated broker, Marc Chadbourne, recently asked a builder of highly efficient homes who buys them and what reasons they offer. The answer he received is one I would echo: “It’s a combination of everything.” Whether you value a healthier living space or reduced energy costs, a smaller environmental footprint or a higher resale value, the promise of greener houses is clear. We all desire and deserve a “pretty good” place to call home."

The savings, they are welcome. Who doesn't love to save the money. But aside from saving money, what I hear from my clients and the people who visit their homes is how awesome the space feels. "I could have sold this house 15 times in the first year. People would just stop in and say: That's so cool" said Patrice Miller of Live Solar Maine. So as we pursue our goal of bringing energy efficient homes to the market in a soulful and creative way we love hearing that others are doing the same and people are starting to ask for it, if not demand, pretty good homes.We hope you'll check out this article by Marina and read more about the Pretty Good Home

Mottram Architecture Project of the Month: Modern Solar Farmhouse with Live Solar Maine

We are thrilled to announce that the Modern Solar Farmhouse is featured this spring in the Green and Healthy Homes Maine magazine! If you're local and would like a free copy, let me know. Supplies are limited. Or you can pick up a copy on local news stands now!Excerpt from the article: "Why we like it: With this project, Mottram and Live Solar Maine had a strong focus on delivering a highly energy-efficient house, in a simple approachable aesthetic, for a highly marketable price. It's not easy to find a net zero ready home for $205/sq ft. much less one with such comfortable New England charm. The home's simple structure are time tested vernacular forms and expertly combined with higher levels of insulation and tight construction."

Do Homebuyers Want "Energy Upgrade" Packages?

We were recently featured in the Insulation Institute's Quarterly Newsletter. Below is the story by Stacy Fitzgerald-Redd. For more information on the Insulation Institute, click HEREAre builders missing the mark by not offering upgrade options for HERS-Scored homes?Homebuyers like choices. Builders, ever eager to meet the desires of their buyers, typically offer a dizzying array of choices in products, finishes and designs to suit a wide variety of styles.  Yet seemingly few builders offer consumers a choice in homes at varying energy efficiency targets. Is this a missed opportunity for builders in meeting the growing energy efficiency desires of buyers -- an increasing number of whom self-identify as sustainable consumers? Perhaps. Research from McGraw Hill Construction shows that 73 percent of home buyers are willing to pay more upfront for green home features, like energy efficiency. How much more? According to the Green Building Advisor, the most common estimates are 1 to 3 percent.  In that HERS scores are the equivalent of a miles-per-gallon ranking for home performance – the lower the score the better -- a lower HERS score means reduced home energy costs for homeowners. Homebuyers might be willing to pay more if they thought they’d get more, in terms of energy savings. Take this as an example:

  • HERS score of 65. This is often about level offered by builders as energy efficient. This could be the baseline or “good” efficiency package.
  • HERS score of 40. A home at this level would likely be net zero energy ready, meaning it is super-efficient and can become net zero by integrating solar or other onsite renewables. This would be the “better” efficiency package.
  • HERS score of 0. This is a net zero home. This would clearly be the “best” package a homebuyer could opt for.

Homebuyers are familiar with the package approach, though it remains to be seen how much they’d be willing to pay for HERS scores at different levels. What is indisputable is that the integration of good design and construction plays a major role in determining energy performance, something architects are increasingly advocating.Evaluating the Good, Better, Best ApproachEmily Mottram is the owner of Mottram Architecture, a full service architecture firm specializing in energy efficient design and Net Zero construction in New York, Pennsylvania and Maine. Her seven-year-old company also offers energy consulting, energy audits, HERS ratings and consultation on building envelope design. Mottram’s clients are typically driven by the dual desire for sustainability and energy efficiency but the option of offering a “good, better or best” performing home – reaching a specific performance target or HERS score at an incremental price increase that the buyer would be willing to bear, is in her opinion, a largely untested concept.“I’ve recently been discussing the idea of a ‘pretty good home’ with some building industry colleagues and there’s a definite awareness that a HERS 60 home, for example, could be an acceptable target for one buyer, while only a Net Zero home would work for another,” Mottram said. Offering homes in specific HERS target ranges could hold appeal for a certain segment of homebuyers willing to pay more upfront for more comfortable homes with lower utility costs.  This could be a win-win for customers and builders who can offer more targeted options to meet customer needs. Regardless of the target, Mottram says that architects and builders can do a number of things that will increase home efficiency and help lower overall HERS scores and many are inexpensive or have relatively low incremental costs.Integrating Good Design, Construction Practices“One trick that literally costs nothing is the orientation of the house,” she said. “Using the sun for its heating potential and reducing North windows will ultimately save consumers money on energy costs.” Mottram notes that increasing the focus on the thermal envelope – particularly installing good air barriers, taping and sealing in the right locations, can dramatically improve the energy performance of a home. In addition, increased insulation -- R21-40 walls -- offers significantly higher energy performance. “Also, reducing the framing and having a tightly sealed envelope allows for more insulation and pays for itself in no time.  “Simply maximizing the placement of windows -- these are all things that can boost energy efficiency,” she added.“By focusing on good design and construction practices, you can get a better performing home for reasonable incremental cost, but the design has to focus on proper construction and air sealing, which is why building science education, is so important,” she said, adding that regardless of the energy performance target, builders must increase their knowledge of building science and its impact on energy performance. “It does require a little more though from the builder to use less framing and increase insulation values. It takes more skill to follow through with contractors on the air sealing, air barriers and doing it all in the right locations, but this is ultimately how you maximize home energy performance, regardless of what the HERS score target might be.”Where Best Practices and Energy Upgrades IntersectBuilders will need to determine consumer willingness to pay for energy efficiency at various cost levels to determine if an “energy upgrade” approach makes sense. However, from a practical standpoint, builders would need some commonality, across upgrade options, to make the building process for homes of different efficiency levels feasible. The best way to do that is to have some energy efficient best practices that are undertaken on all builds, for example advanced framing, raised heel trusses, approaches to air barriers and sealing, things that impact the overall design and build process. Other items, like water heating and lighting efficiency, are more easily adjusted with less impact on the build process or other building systems. This would also help drive down the incremental costs for efficient building, improving the consumer return on investment. It is hard to say if energy upgrade packages are part of the future of housing, but if they are, they will be enabled by a broader, baseline level of energy efficient building practices.

In The Community with Mottram Architecture

I'm pleased to report that the Community Home Replacement Program's first project has started off extremely well given our late start into the building season!It was our pleasure to participate in this project and kick it off with a "Ground Breaking" ceremony held last week on December 7, 2016.  There is so much local community support for this project all the way from residents though great companies like Hammond Lumber and Matthew's Brothers!But most of all, I'm thrilled that the kids at Foster Tech will be involved in this project. They will have hands on experience with green building technologies that will help them make better homes for the rest of their building careers!Absolutely everyone should have access to better homes, and we couldn't be more proud a part of this project!Below are the three known articles links if you're interested in learning more about the project:http://www.dailybulldog.com/db/features/wmca-led-collaboration-to-build-a-house/http://www.sunjournal.com/news/franklin/2016/12/12/new-chesterville-home-be-built-through-collaborative-effort/2044737http://thefranklinjournal.com/home-leisure-show-images/Since last Wednesday - the home is growing from the ground up and they now have a poured frost wall with the likelihood of the students beginning their work early next week.Wishing you all a great holiday season!!!With Love, Emily Mottram

Passive House with Mottram Architecture

Sorry for the lack of updated content over the last couple of weeks! I decided that it was finally time to take the Passive House Course.  I've been teaching sustainable design for several years on top of practicing it here at Mottram Architecture. Although I knew the principles of passive house, and I have done blower door tests on a few local passive house homes, I had yet to take the certification course myself.  Like all great programs, I needed continuing education credits for my HERS certification, so I decided to take the plunge, hence my long absence.  The Certified Passive House Designer course "the German version" was only offered through New York Passive House Academy in NYC! It's a two week course that ends with a 3 hour exam.  So I spent a considerable amount of time traveling back and forth between NYC and my office over the course of May.  So thank you for your patience and here's some of what I learned.What passive house means to me is a lot of calculations, scientific data, cool but complicated construction details, and lots of integration to make sure all the parts work together. But what should passive house mean to you? Comfortable, durable, and healthy homes. Passive House, in an ideal scenario, would be able to heat a home with a small amount of electric heat added to the ventilation system. This may be possible in Germany, but unfortunately it's not quite possible here in New England. So some adjustments are made for longer, harsher winters, and higher humidity summers. I could list all the program requirements, but I think instead I'll give you the reasons why this is the direction we feel the building community should move.Targeting 70-80% reduction in energy demand in homes is great. It means building them tighter, smarter, with better insulation and fewer moving parts.  We are trying to simplify the usability of the systems.  I don't mean building smaller, in fact, in the passive house program, it's actually harder to achieve the standards with smaller homes. What I mean by simplify is the elimination of large and complicated heating systems. A better air quality system that doesn't account for fresh air being drawn in from any crack or crevice in the building envelop. And most importantly, understanding human comfort and keeping the system balanced to those comfort levels.Everyone can understand the value of a dollar + inflation, but the added benefit to reaching passive house targets is comfort. I recently sat down with someone who mentioned that a few years ago they built a new home. After moving in they discovered, that although it was beautiful, it had all the right finishes, it was terrible to live in.  They felt somewhat jaded that they spent all this money to build a wonderful home and had to deal with drafty construction and discomfort in their home. Building a home will likely be the most expensive personal purchase you make in your lifetime. Getting it right the first time can be hard.

  1. Thick Insulation
  2. Air-tightness
  3. Prevention of moisture migration
  4. Optimize the window areas and sizes
  5. A reliable, steady supply of fresh air

Thick Insulation: I can't stress enough that when you build a home you should not skimp on the insulation. This is the most difficult thing to change after a home is finished. It also seems to be the first thing on the chopping block when budgets get tight. Resist the urge to change your insulation package. Not all insulation is created equal and changing the insulation package could be the difference between you loving your home and not being able to stand it. We have a range of temperature in which we are comfortable. When insulation is poorly installed, is used in the wrong application, or gets cut, the ability to keep the wall temperature warm in the winter and cool in the summer suffers. You can understand that radiators radiate heat into the space. Well the same is true in the opposite. If the wall is cold, you will radiate heat to the wall. Losing body heat makes you feel cooler and can often be confused with drafts. Our thermal comfort is directly affected by the surface temperatures around us. So poor insulation, or not enough insulation, causes us to feel uncomfortable in our homes. And on the plus side, the more insulation you have to reduce heat transfer, the less money you'll spend to keep your home warm.Air tightness: Houses do not need to breath. I repeat, houses do not need to breath. It is incredibly important to make sure that air moves through your home where you want and when you want. It's critically important to control moisture inside the house, along with other toxins that are often found in our building materials, the products we use, and the smells from what we cook. Outdoor air is necessary for healthy living, but people need to breath, not buildings. Drawing air though the building construction can lead to other more serious problems like the collection of moisture within walls. Air infiltration is also an extreme source of heat loss. Every time air leave your home, it's replaced by air from somewhere else (outside, the attic, walls, basement etc). In the wintertime, you have to re-heat every cubic volume of air that escapes. We seem to forget that the draft isn't just letting cold air in, it's letting warm air out, and that's costing you money.Prevention of moisture migration: As you can see, air tightness and moisture migration are tied very closely together. We will always have moisture within our homes. When we breath we respire moisture. When we cook we put moisture in the air. When we supply fresh air it comes with humidity from outside. Controlling the flow of that moisture, and exhausting it to the exterior, is important. When we have cold surfaces, the moisture in the air will deposit on the surface and can grow mold.  When we have leaky buildings, the moisture in the air can be pushed into the wall cavities and create condensation and rot. When hot air rises and is able to escape into our attics it can condense on the inside and make us think we have roof leaks. When a hole is drilled for a chimney and not air sealed it can "rain" indoors. Controlling the moisture is so critically important.Optimum Windows: We no longer want to live like cavemen. We want bright airy beautiful windows that take advantage of the view, let in the sunlight for light and warmth, and allow us to feel like we are outdoors without the harsh conditions. But when it comes to windows, the public is sadly mis-informed and the US is lagging behind it's German friends. It's actually cheaper to buy a triple pane window in Germany than it is to buy a double pane window. They have understood that an additional layer of glass keeps the surface temperature high enough to reduce thermal discomfort and condensation. When achieving the passive house certification, it's still necessary to buy windows from Europe to meet the requirements. Tested for air infiltration (drafts), thermal bridging (component parts), and overall U-value, we are still waiting for US Manufacturers to meet all these standards. I'm not saying it's not possible, I'm simply stating that no US manufacturers are currently approved by the standard to meet all the requirements. However, when I say the public is misinformed I mean that doing a window replacement will not save you money in your home. It's not as simple as new windows, the true value and savings is in how they are installed. Passive house takes great care to monitor both the window itself and how it is installed. Most replacement window projects that see vast savings come from air sealing during the installation, not the window itself. The major difference in triple pane windows is the thermal comfort and reduction of condensation which cannot be attributed to performance, but can be counted in comfort.Fresh Air: I mentioned previously that houses do not need to breath, but people do, and this is critically important.  When we first started tightening our homes to improve efficiency, we didn't know that fresh air was necessary.  We created what many call "sick building syndrome". We had mold and contamination issues that gave building science a bad name.  We have since discovered that there is a ratio of fresh air needed, per person, to have healthy indoor air. If you took note above, air isn't exactly "fresh" if you don't control where it comes from. Having leaky drafty buildings means high heat loss, but it also means the "fresh air" for the home may come from your wet basement, your dusty attic (and let's all admit we've seen a critter or two up there), or through dried out dirty cracks in our building envelope. With passive house, not only are you supplying fresh air from an intake that isn't positioned in the attic or next to the dumpster, but you're supplying it where you need it most. Most people work outside of the home, so when we are home we spend a majority of that time sleeping in our bedrooms. By providing fresh air to the bedrooms we can improve the quality of the space we live. We are also pre-heating the air so it is not introduced to the space at outdoor temperature. (Negative 15 in Maine in February) and capturing energy by not having to heat the incoming air. The ventilation system also extracts air from places that are high in moisture (kitchens & baths). In an ideal scenario, this will be the one piece of equipment you need in your home, and it should be simple to use and operate.If you're interested in the more detailed scientific data behind passive house, don't hesitate to reach out.  If you're a passive house consultant, we'd love to connect with you! Here at MArch, we think the constant pursuit and sharing of knowledge is beneficial to everyone! We'd love to hear from you!  

Comfortable, Happy, Healthy Homes: How To Get To Net-Zero

Cost-effective zero energy homes start with the design. Don't skimp on design if you want the performance without excessive cost.  Nobody, I mean really, nobody, wants to live in a house that they spent hard-earned money building (or buying) and then shell out more money every year just to sit around in three sweatshirts because you refuse to turn the heat up. We want to sit in the warm sunshine, maybe drinking our coffee, reading the newspaper, and not worry about the dollars that are flying out the door. Did your mom ever yell "Do you live in a barn, close the door". Well we don't live in barns, and we don't want to live in drafty uncomfortable spaces either. We want to live in warm, cozy, happy, healthy homes.  So how do we get there?One of the ways we do that is through energy modeling. During the design phase we always run our projects, especially net-zero bound projects, through our energy modeling software. I won't get into the weeds on all the data that goes into an energy model, but I will tell you what we use it for. Doing the energy modeling during the design phase allows us to evaluate different building techniques, heating systems, and performance data to come up with the best solution for your individual needs. The industry calls this technique, cost offsetting. If we can add more insulation to your walls, we can reduce the need for a central heating system. If we can reduce or eliminate the central heating system, the costs of construction go down.  We like to use the term "house as a system" which means your house is a series of inter-related parts. When you change one part, if affects others. By using energy modeling software we can compare different construction techniques to come up with the best combination of different parts.Another cost offsetting technique that we love to use is orientation! So simple, and absolutely free. If we look at history, the ancient Romans knew which direction to face their buildings and how to use mass to absorb heat. Use the sun for passive solar gain, brilliant! Modern day building practices have almost completely ignored this one simple solution. In addition to orienting the house the right direction (south) we also take time to place windows to take advantage of the view while at the same time, eliminating windows where we don't need them. If we can cut down windows on the north side of the house, the performance of the home skyrocket. That doesn't mean we live with dark spaces. One of my favorite solutions to fewer windows is interior windows. A great way to add character and style to a house is to pick an old window and install it in an interior wall between a room with lots of natural light and one with low or no daylight. This is especially effective for lighting interior stairways without adding skylights to the roof. If you've been following my blog or know me in person, you've probably heard me say "windows never pay for themselves". So why pay a lot of money for a poor performing building material instead of spending time during the design process to pick and place the right window in the right location. Should you order triple pane windows from Poland? Maybe? Should you take the time to maximize windows in the best locations and eliminate them where not needed? Absolutely! Can you hit Net-Zero with builder grade double pane windows from a major window manufacturer? Yup! Are you starting to see the forest through the trees? Getting to 0 from 100 is all about design.To get all the way down to 0 though, you have to produce as much energy on your site as you use. We can super insulate the building, eliminate thermal bridging, reduce air infiltration, orient the house the correct way, but what we can't do is completely eliminate energy use. So we need to produce energy on site to offset the usage. If we oriented the house the correct direction, adding solar panels is usually the quickest and easiest on site power generator available.  Some people, depending on location, may be able to harness wind power or hydro, but the average homeowner should be able to take advantage of PV. With the government subsidizing solar installations it's getting more cost-effective to add your own power generation to your home. Between off the grid battery banks and grid-tied net metering, there is a way to harness the power of the sun to produce electricity.If you're reading this article and thinking "but all these super efficient houses are ugly" you should go back and read one of my previous blog posts on selecting the right architect. We all have different taste, and if you select the right architect for your project it can be cost-effective, efficient, and beautiful. And here you thought building a house was simple, little did you know it's one of those giant jigsaw puzzles, that until you get all the parts lined up just right, you just have a pile of building materials that may or may not turn into a happy healthy home.There are lots of different ways to get to zero energy. So like I said at the very beginning, spend time during the design to get all the details right.  You can simply monitor your actual energy usage for a year and prove that you made more energy then you used. Or you can take advantage of one of the certification programs out there for meeting the zero energy threshold. Here are a few:ProgramsLiving Future Institute: Zero Energy Building CertificationDepartment of Energy: Zero Energy Ready HomeNYSERDA Net Zero Energy Homes Low Rise New Construction ProgramLEED Zero Net Energy HomesIf you read this article and you're disappointed I didn't tell you exactly how to get to net-zero with all the tech trade industry specifics, feel free to reach out to me via email. I'm always happy to get into the weeds on how the technologies work and how they can be combined. All you need to do is run into one of my past students to know, I love to talk about this stuff! So reach out, leave me a comment, send me an email, start a discussion with me on Facebook. I promise, I'll respond!~ Emily Mottram, Mottram Architecture

Why You Should Super Insulate Your Home

What does it mean to build a super insulated home? I often get asked what my recommendation for insulation is. Both the type of insulation to use, and how much. But let me ask you a different question. What are you really looking for in your home? Comfort? Savings? Seriously I've never asked a group full of people if they'd like to spend less on utilities and had them say no! Maybe you're ready for retirement and you want to be able to shut it down for the winter and go south. Wouldn't it be great not to worry about frozen pipes or high heating costs when you're not there? But maybe you're the person who has to have beautiful granite countertops? Let me ask you, do you want to build a brand new dream home with all the interior bells and whistles and then sit around with three sweatshirts because it’s drafty or cold? If you answered, "Yes. I don't care how much it costs i'll just turn the heat up" then you should probably stop reading now. For us, we'd rather do the "hard to change" things right the first time, and come back and add the bells and whistles when we aren't using as much to operate our homes.There are so many components that go into a super insulated home. Simple things that have no cost like orienting your house the right direction. Or taking the time to think about where windows are positioned and how they are positioned. Our favorite thing to do isn't to spend thousands of dollars on windows, but to pick the right ones in the right locations, and minimize them everywhere else. These two things make a huge impact on the quality of the space within the home.  If you've met me, you know I always say "Every house has an ugly side, let's make it the North side". Building a super insulated home may not be about the flashy and attractive things that people see when they walk into your house. Instead, it's about comfort. Super insulated homes are designed for the people inside. There are three things that affect our comfort levels: Temperature, Air Movement, and Humidity. Super insulated homes reduce air infiltration, heat loss, and control the interior moisture. They are specifically designed more maximum comfort. Reducing the unhappiness of the occupant significantly reduces the use of energy in the home. So let us tell you a little bit more about the “less beautiful” parts of your home that actually make your space so much more attractive.Tip number 1: Improving the insulation in your home is the hardest thing to do after it's built, and let's be honest, you'll never do it. So don't skimp on this part. Don't let this be the first thing you ask your builder to compromise on. If your budget is tight, let us tell you what things to do later that are super easy to replace or add. So let me give you my thoughts on insulation:

  1. All of my builders know not to utter the word “fiberglass insulation” in my presence unless we are talking about how to insulate a bedroom or bathroom for sound transmission. Fiberglass is cheap and cheerful and always installed by the guy who gets paid the least on the crew. It’s rarely installed correctly and it’s even more rarely installed in a vacuum (ie completely air tight cavity). Fiberglass insulation works by trapping air pockets in between all the fibers, however, building is rarely 100% air tight, so when air moves though the fiberglass fibers it eliminates the pockets of air and makes the fiberglass insulation more of a filter and less of an insulator. We’ve all seen dirty fiberglass, and that’s why.
  2. Cellulose, we love cellulose and use it almost exclusively in our projects. A properly dense packed wall will move and shift with the building as it drys out after construction. Dense packed cellulose insulation retards air infiltration making the house tighter and the insulation more effective. And it’s fire resistant.  Yes, it can hold 130% of it’s weight in water if it gets wet. Although it’s not possible to make a completely air-tight structure, we are in the practice of making water tight structures, so we worry very little about moisture getting into our wall cavities. Does it mean it never happens, no, but we’ve had so few problems with it we would not hesitate to recommend it.
  3. Spray foam is probably the 3rd most popular insulation choice. Like all of the insulations it has good and bad properties. It air seals very well and can make extremely tight buildings. But it’s also a solid insulation, so when the building settles and dries out over the first couple of years, it can crack and pull away from the structure. It’s also pretty nasty, most foams are made of plastic and the agent that is used to make it liquid to install, cure, and dry is often toxic requiring specific equipment to install it and mandatory building evacuation for 24 hours or more.  It’s not flame resistant and has to be covered by a 15 minute thermal barrier or sheetrock which can add expense and only gives you time to get out of the building.  Once it starts burning it gives off toxic fumes that are extremely dangerous.

Here's the nitty gritty. When someone asks me for my recommendation on insulation I recommend the following:  R-40 in the walls and R-60 in the ceiling. In cold climate building we also add 2”-6” of rigid foam below the slab. To get a little more complicated, I also try to minimize something we call thermal bridging.  Essentially, thermal bridging is a path from the interior to the exterior of the home with little to no insulation.  If you think of a standard wall construction, you have studs with insulation in between the studs.  The thermal bridge happens at the studs. Wood has an R-value of 1 per inch.  Everywhere you have a stud in a typical wall it has an R-value of 5.5 in a 2x6 construction. In between each stud you have insulation with an R-value of 19.  So the stud at 5.5 is the poorest performing section of your wall and a direct path for cold to transfer from outside to inside.And lastly, but most importantly, super insulated homes aim to be as air tight as possible. Every seam, crack, gap, or location where two materials meet is sealed with foam or caulking.  It’s a common misconception that buildings need to breath.  People need to breath, buildings don’t.  Does that mean you don’t need fresh air? Absolutely not!!! What it means is that we control how much and where that air comes from.  Instead of travelling through your dusty insulation and your dirty basement, we introduce that fresh air directly from outside. In addition to being able to control where the air comes from, it's equally as important to control how much air comes in. Most people probably remember from high school science that hot air rises. Well when that air rises and exits through your attic you have to heat the air that comes in to replace it. So the draftier your house is, the more it costs to keep it warm. And if you remember from a couple paragraphs ago, our comfort levels are directly affected by air movement.Yes, I'm asking you to spend more during construction to put in better insulation and air seal everything you possibly can. But if I could prove it would pay for itself in a very short amount of time, would you be interested in knowing how long?We hope you’ll visit again to learn more about insulation, windows, geo thermal and air source heat pumps, zero energy, and lots of other cool building related topics over the next couple of months.  Reach out to us and let us know your questions, we are always happy to answer any questions you might have, and several other people reading this blog may have the same exact question, so you’re doing them a favor by reaching out!Until next time, have a warm and comfortable life!

Updates on the Modern Solar Farmhouse with Live Solar Maine

Happy Saturday! We just can't help ourselves from throwing out info on the Modern Solar Farmhouse! If you've been following the blog you know this is a partnership that we created with Live Solar Maine to bring zero-energy homes to the market in a really soulful and creative way! It occurred to me that you might be interested in knowing about the solar this winter! You guys, even in the winter we make power! This little gem produced 374kwh in November, 285kwh in December, and 375kwh in January! We started with 2 rows of panels, we have room for 3 rows and ran a line for a car charger in the garage.  If you haven't been following the news, Tesla is going to introduce the Model 3, aiming for a car in the $35,000 range and making an all electric car more accessible for everyone! But I digress, this prototype home isn't just being run through a simulator (which we did during design to estimate our usage) it's being lived in! Three bedrooms, two and a half baths, we are tracking everything. So if you're new to zero energy and you want to see what it means for an average person, keep in touch! Join our mailing list, send us your comments and feedback, or ask questions! We are happy to answer anything you want to know!

Before & After - Master Bedroom and Closets In A Timber Frame Remodel

Thanks for checking back in with the updates on this beautiful timber frame home remodel we recently did! Last week I mentioned that the bathroom dormer "grew" during the design phase.  While talking with our clients we try to listen to all of their concerns. One concern this homeowner had was storage.  They had plenty of space, but it was cut up funny and they had this odd room adjacent to their bedroom that was collecting things that didn't seem to have a home. Because the wall between the bathroom and this room fell right in line with the timber frame we were able to expand the dormer another six feet and provide a walk in closet for this homeowner.  Adding another six feet to the dormer centered it on the rear elevation and allowed us to bring light into the closet. We also replaces a series of dressers in their bedroom with this custom built dresser. It takes up the unusable eave space and takes advantage of super deep drawers for storage. A big shout out to East Shore Builders for making this homeowners dreams a reality!
Just like last week, stay tuned to next week's last addition (and probably my favorite part of this whole remodel)!

Before & After - Full Bath Remodel In A Timber Frame Home

As you saw last week, we are super excited to show you some before and after photos of a recent timber frame home remodel.  First we updated the first floor 1/2 bath to include a shower so that the homeowners could have a fully functioning bathroom during the major remodel of the upstairs bath. Timber frames can be tricky, often having dramatically sloping ceilings.  Although beautiful, not always practical, especially when you're tall!  In this weeks "sharing" I'd love to show you what we did with this particular home.  With a standard six foot span between timbers, we could add a dormer in the bathroom that covered 3/4 of the headroom. This allowed us to fit a full shower, tub, toilet and vanity into the space and have enough head room to walk around.  Like in the downstairs bath, we added a window in the shower to get light into the bathroom.  As you can see below in the before pictures, the only light in the original bath was from a skylight. Again, cool and classic tile selected by the homeowner give this new bathroom a classy feeling and the light color brightens the space in what can often be a dark house style.
Stay tuned next week to see how the bathroom dormer extended into the closet area and finally gave these homeowners the walk in closet with built in dressers that they really deserve!

Before & After - Taking the 1/2 bath to a Full Bath

During a recent remodeling project at a 3 bedroom/ 1 1/2 bath timber frame home, we took the first floor 1/2 bath and transformed it into a full bath with some creative reworking of the space. This allowed the homeowners to use the new full bath while the upstairs bathroom was gutted and put back together. The clean and classy tile selection by the homeowner makes this bathroom feel larger then it really is. And the builder was able to re-purpose some leftover timbers from the original build that were just hanging out in the basement waiting to be used. You can see them here in the shelves above the toilet, and if you stay tuned, you'll see them again in the new upstairs bathroom sink vanity that was custom made just for this home. Take a look at these before and after photos and let us know what you think!
Stay tuned for more updates on this timber frame remodel and to see the phenomenal main bathroom renovation complete with built-ins, sliding barn doors, amazing tiled shower, and so much more!

Zero Energy Homes - The Modern Solar Farmhouse With Live Solar Maine

I could not be more excited to share this project!In 2014 we started a partnership with Live Solar Maine to bring Net-Zero to the market in a really clever and creative way.  Here's a little bit more about this project.Context:  Live Solar Maine wants to bring Net-Zero to the everyday homeowner. This home was built on a piece of property that was inhumanely harvested. In order to give back to the land and provide something really meaningful, we created Net-Zero 1.  Net-Zero 1 is a classic farmhouse with a modern twist. Maine has some really classic design styles and we wanted to stay true to some classic features while keeping it simple, modern, up to date, and cost effective!Conclusion:  This project is small at just under 1800SF, but it feels big and spacious! The south sun pours in the windows in the winter and is shaded by your classic front porch in the summer. The walls are 9.25" thick giving that old deep farmhouse window sill feeling and they are low the the ground so you feel like you are a part of the outdoors from the inside.Energy Efficiency:  Net-Zero means that at the end of the year you produced more energy then you used.  In this house it works in a number of different ways. First, the building envelop is tight and super insulated and the house is oriented for optimal solar exposure. This is the hardest thing to go back and fix after the fact, so we feel that this should be done right from the beginning.  It's not passive house, and has a blower door number around 1.5 ACH.  We think that between 1-2 ACH is a really comfortable number where passive mechanical ventilation really provides more then enough fresh air to get rid of excess moisture and contaminants. So air tightness is number one, followed by super insulated walls, foundations, and ceilings. And then passive ventilation. It's so incredibly important to ventilate these super tight houses, but it's also important that the mechanicals are simple and easy to use.  We love a passive air intake coupled with Panasonic Whisper Green fans in each bathroom. Simple, easy, and effective. Then we have heat-pumps that run the space, absolutely not fossil fuels, and PV to cover the electrical usage.  This model house is even equipped to install a car charger when or if the homeowner is ready to take advantage of the electric car revolution.Now, I say we call this house Net-Zero 1 because it truly has the potential to be net positive. However, every house is completely dependent on the occupants. We can control the performance of the structure, but it comes down to how every individual lives as to whether or not net-zero is achievable!Until next time - stay tuned for more on Live Solar Maine breaking ground in 2017!

What's The Process For Working With An Architect To Design My Home?

What do I get for my money? Are you worried about working with an architect but have no idea what to expect? Well here is a detailed layout of how a typical project can be structured when working with Mottram Architecture. What do you get for your money? Value! Sure, I’m trying to sell you something that doesn’t exist and below is a list of the meetings and items I will provide to you during the course of a project. But what am I really providing?You might ask yourself:Do I need to hire an architect?Nope! Homes are built every day without an architect. Building a home is a complex problem and we (as architects) thrive on those challenges. Isn’t your dream home a space that suits you exactly? Do you live in a home that you have been trying to reconfigure for your family's specific wants and desires? These are custom solutions that we can help you solve. Hiring an architect is about managing your risk through a complex construction project, and increasing the quality of your experience during the process and for years after as you live in your home.A project typically takes a natural progression that almost all architects follow. We work in a similar manor and this is the breakdown of how we work. Every client is different, however, and we give you the opportunity to take advantage of as many phases as you’d like. We also realize that this process is based on the average client and we may spend more time with you in different phases. Every client is unique and we adapt our proposals to meet your needs.Phase I is an existing conditions survey, or it's schematic design if you are building new. What happens in the schematic design phase?We meet to discuss your goals and establish the project requirements including the Project Scope, budget, space requirements and aesthetic preferences.Based on the requirements established at the first meeting, we sketch out a design comprised of up to three proposed solutions for the project. Solutions usually include floor plans and exterior building elevations to illustrate the home.After discussion of the first three design concepts, we have an additional meeting to present and discuss the combinations of all of the design solutions into one solution moving forward. Usually we provide two revisions to the selected schematic design solution.  More than two revisions during the schematic design phase could be considered additional services and can change the overall cost of the design proposal. Again, this process is based on your average customer.At this phase we provide a “design” budget using square footage cost estimation and the schematic design solution will be signed off on prior to moving to the next phase of design.Phase II, What happens during the design development phase?With your approval of the schematic design we get a lot more detailed! We will develop the floor plans, exterior elevations and prepare additional details to fix and describe the character of the project.You will now need to start thinking about and seleting hardware, finish plumbing fixtures, appliances, kitchen cabinets, tile, stone and decorative lighting fixtures. Depending on the project we typically prepare interior elevations as necessary to describe the locations and arrangements of fixtures and finishes that you have selected.As a rule of thumb, we usually meet once at the beginning of design development and once during the process. This translates to 2 design revisions prior to heading into construction documents where we tell the builder how it all goes together.Phase III: What happens during the construction document phase?Based on the approved design development drawings, we prepare construction documents consisting of drawings and specifications that will describe the scope of work and be suitable for filing with the building department and for construction by a qualified contractor.This is the part where we, as architects, spend a lot of time at the drawing board putting together all the details. We meet less frequently, and what is provided is a substantial set of construction documents that can include, but not be limited to:

    • Architectural Floor Plans delineating the existing construction, demolition, new construction, and the cross referencing of details and sections on subsequent drawings.
    • Power and Data Plans showing electrical receptacles, telephone, cable and internet locations.
    • Finish plumbing fixture locations.
    • Reflected Ceiling Plans indicating placement of ceiling-mounted, wall-mounted and recessed lighting fixtures, with associated switching arrangements, and locations for required smoke and carbon dioxide detectors.
    • Building Elevations at each exterior facade showing the existing residence with the proposed new construction including notes indicating finishes, materials and any special conditions.
    • Details, Sections, Schedules and Notes communicating, in detail, different aspects of the design relating to construction and/or code requirements. These details are essential in conveying the design concept to the General Contractor, the subcontractors and to the Building Department.

Engineering Note: Basic Architectural Services do not include mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire suppression, structural or civil engineering. Phase IV: What happens in the pricing and permitting phase:We should qualify that we will help with putting a project out to bid as noted below, however, we find that our clients are more satisfied with the overall construction project when they select a contractor during the design phase and bring them into the process creating a truly integrated design. This almost always saves time and money for the homeowner.Contractor SelectionWe will assist you in interviewing (3) contractors of your choosing or if you need some contractor referrals we know several people in different geographical locations that would be happy to talk with you about your project.We coordinate with the contractor during the design development and construction document phase to reduce design fees and meet the clients scope and budget. We work closely with the Contractor to value engineer a project to meet within the constraints of your scope and budget and revise the design accordingly.Bid CoordinationIf you choose to put the project out to bid we will assist you with assembling, distributing and evaluating the bid package, which includes things like preparing and distributing the Construction Documents to each contractor. Addressing contractors questions and issuing clarifications and/or addenda (as required). Assisting you with the evaluation of the bids, as it needs to be reviewed to be sure each contractor is bidding apples to apples.Building Permit AssistanceWe will assist you in preparing the application for the Building Permit as required by the local zoning code. We will make sure the drawings include all the necessary elements for permit along with any other paperwork you might be required to submit. Fees associated with the Application for Building Permit are the responsibility of the Client.Phase V: What happens during construction administration?Based on the signed contract between you and the contractor of your choice, we can provide a number of services during construction!We prefer to start construction off with a project coordination meetings just to be sure the client and the contractor are on the same page! This helps to provide clarification of construction documents.If you need us to, we will visit the project site at regular intervals to observe the progress of the work and answer any questions the contractor might have. When you are dealing with renovation projects you should know that something always comes up during construction.On larger projects we review subcontractors’ submittals such as shop drawings, product data and/or samples. Sometimes that means we might prepare supplemental and clarification drawings during construction to meet the requirements of your project.At substantial completion, the Architect shall prepare a “punch list” of work to be corrected and review the corrective work to completion. It's always that last 5%.We give our clients a proposal after our first meeting that details these steps with our understanding of their scope of work. At any time a client can choose to move forward to the next phase, or only complete the current phase.  We like to think we make architectural services available to everyone. We think we add value to every project, so we'd like you to give us the opportunity to prove our worth!~ Emily Mottram, Mottram Architecture

7 Things You Should Never Do When Improving the Efficiency Of Your Home

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Tighten a home that has moisture issues

Energy efficiency can be directly related to the warm air leaking out of your home.  So most of us understand that air sealing and tightening our homes will make them more energy efficient.  That is correct, but it is extremely important to eliminate moisture problems before we do so.  Moisture trapped within the home creates condensation, structural damage, mold growth, and poor indoor air quality.  Sources of moisture can be dirt basements and crawlspaces, un-sealed concrete slabs or walls, fish tanks, cooking with gas, cooking without lids on pots, shower areas, excessive amounts of plants, greenhouse open to the living space, standing water, bathroom or laundry vents not vented to the exterior, uncovered sump pumps and many other sources.  The best course of action is to eliminate the moisture source before air sealing the home.  If you can’t eliminate the source, encapsulate it.  If you can’t encapsulate it, try to diffuse it.

Replace the windows first

Windows are very costly.  Rarely do windows pay for themselves in energy retrofits before the lifespan of the window is considered over.  Who wants to wait 25, 35, or 45 plus years for their windows to pay for themselves?  The current energy standards only require you to put R- 3.3 windows in your home.  That’s hardly better then the R-2 double hung window that you currently have.  The most cost effective solution for window retrofits is air sealing the window during installation, not the actual window itself.  So before you replace those leaky windows, see if you can remove the trim and air seal around the window.  If you have a broken window, or a window with condensation between the panes of glass that would be an appropriate time to replace the window.  Also, if you have a very old home with weight and chain windows, it might be in your best interest to replace the windows.  The weight and chain cavity of a window allows significant air leakage into the home and cannot be effectively sealed without changing the operation of the window.

Not have a qualified energy professional evaluate your home

Many contractors will tell you that you don’t need to hire an energy professional to evaluate your home.  However, energy professionals are trained in both evaluation and safety.  A good energy auditor will not only evaluate your home but provide diagnostic testing to locate the worst performing sections to tackle those first.  In addition, an energy auditor should be checking your home for air quality issues like back-drafting furnaces, poorly performing ventilation systems, leaky gas lines, and excess toxins and moisture.  They should be able to provide you with a prioritized list of energy improvements, and come back to test the air quality and heating system safety after the work has been completed.  Simply adding more insulation to your attic without addressing potential problems is a waste of your time and money.

Insulate your attic without air sealing first

As I mentioned above, adding extra insulation does not mean that you are adding energy improvements.  Attic spaces tend to have several openings between the living space and the cold attic.  That air movement from the living space into the attic increases heat loss in your home and also transfers warm moist air to the attic.  That warm moist air will often condense on the roof sheathing and cause premature roof failure and mold growth.  Insulation is not meant to retard airflow; it’s meant to reduce conductive heat flow through the ceiling material.  So if your insulation isn’t in full contact with your sheetrock or plaster ceiling it is not an effective thermal barrier.  This can happen due to strapping on a ceiling or insulation that fits poorly within a space.  Air is constantly flowing between the surface of the ceiling and the surface of the insulation taking heat with it.  The areas around penetrations in the ceiling are drawing air, because heat rises, up through those holes with little resistance.  Fiberglass insulation becomes a filter for that air, but does not stop it.  Cellulose insulation can reduce the flow, but also does not stop it.  So the first course of action when adding insulation to your attic is to air seal around all penetrations [pluming, electrical, mechanical, chimney’s, open wall cavities, etc] prior to adding a layer of insulation.  Then be sure that the type of insulation you install will fit fully against the ceiling surface below.

Forget the attic hatch

As little as a 7% void in insulation can cause up to 50% of the heat loss through your attic.  Having an un-insulated attic hatch adjacent to your R-49 attic space can result in a significant amount of heat loss.  Your heating system will work hard to continue to heat that hole in your ceiling.  The attic hatch will be constantly giving heat to the attic and requiring heat to stay warm.  Sometimes there is a fiberglass batt positioned on the top of the attic hatch, but the first time someone goes up through the hatch the batt is moved to the side and rarely replaced.  Even if your attic hatch has insulation on it, the hatch is rarely air sealed allowing a significant amount of heat to enter the attic space around the board or sheetrock that acts as your attic hatch. So, even if you do have a fiberglass batt on top of your attic hatch, if it is not air sealed, that insulation is doing nothing.

Pretend the basement does not exist

Basements are an integral part of a building envelope, and although we like to pretend they do not exist they are some of the leading contributors to energy loss in a home.  Concrete has virtually no R-value, so any section of above grade foundation that you have is continually leaking heat to the exterior of your home.  You may notice that your flowers bloom early in the spring, and the snow melts directly against your foundation sooner then other areas.  Basements also tend to be the place where we store our chemicals, firewood, paints, and install our heating systems.  If you have poorly installed ductwork in your basement you can be transferring all of those indoor air pollutants directly to your living spaces.  Any holes between the basement for plumbing, electrical, and mechanical directly introduce the moisture and toxins from your basement into the rest of your home.  And insulating the basement ceiling isn’t going to stop that airflow, and often times can lead to frozen pipes and performance issues with your heating system.  So before you say you want to do an energy project, but you don’t want to address your basement, remember that you could be creating a new issue that you did not have before.

Ignore the air barrier between the garage and living space

And last, but certainly not least, is ignoring the reasons why new construction codes require you to have a separation between your living space and your garage.  For code purposes, several of the requirements relate to fire hazards.  However, we have also learned in recent years, with the influx of tighter homes, that contaminants in the garage often leads to poor indoor air quality.  Your car continues to give off carbon monoxide for hours after it is turned off.  Similar to your basement, your garage is where you tend to store chemicals and gas for your lawn mower.  For these reasons, it is very important that you have a continuous air barrier between your garage and living space.  This includes attached garages and tuck under garages where the garage is below with a living space is above.Remember, your house is a system.  Every part is directly or indirectly related to some other part.  So hiring an energy professional to help you create a safe, comfortable, and energy efficient home isn’t just important, it’s critical.

72% Of Individuals Polled Were Unaware That Architects Apply For Planning Permission

Sadly, I have neglected my blog over the last couple of weeks as mud season rolled into road construction season here in Maine.  I have, however, kept up with some of the interesting articles that are floating around my inbox.  One that caught my attention stated a number of facts that the average person doesn't know that an Architect does! Architects are notoriously bad business people. How can we run a successful business if the majority of individuals who would hire us have no idea what we do!This topic reminds me of the statement that I make to my students at the beginning of each semester. "I don't know what you don't know!” Quickly followed by: “I don't remember what it was like when I didn’t know, now that I know it.” As an Architect, I guess I get caught up in the excitement of the design of the project, and I forget to explain all the important things that need to happen behind the scenes as a project develops.According to Vitruvius who wrote The Ten Books On Architecture for the emperor Augustus: “The architect should be equipped with knowledge of many branches of study and varied kinds of learning, for it is by his judgment that all work done by the other arts is put to the test.” The foundation for which all architects study asks them to be the linchpin for every project. In simple terms it requires the architect to hold together various elements of a complicated process:  To be involved in every aspect of design and construction because an architect's knowledge base extends to every discipline.I am currently writing a class for the fall semester and I have to put together, in detail, a worksheet of all the information that an architect would be required to figure out during each phase of the design and construction process. It has been an exhausting list including zoning, watershed, ADA compliance, wall detail sheets, sections, schedules and so much more. Maybe you don't need the Architect to hold your hand and pick out paint colors, but are you aware of all the other things you should be asking your architect to do? How about a few ideas to get your mind thinking about how complicated this process is:

  1. Check the zoning, because what happens when you can’t do what you wanted to do on your site?
  2. Check for watershed restrictions, how much extra is it going to cost you to find the right location for the septic on this site you wanted to build on?
  3. Phosphorus plans. Did you even know you might need one of these?
  4. Planning requirements for submission, every town is different and you might need stamped engineering drawings or a site plan with 2’-0” contours.
  5. Help the builder work out any unforeseen issues, because there will always be issues
  6. Coordinate with trades, when you have no data jacks on the first floor of your home and you can’t connect to the internet without a wireless router you’ll wonder why no one said anything. It’s not like you were supposed to know, and the electrician was just doing whatever was necessary for a certificate of occupancy, it's really not their job to ask you how you are going to use your space.
  7. Lighting, because even the most beautiful space can be dark and under utilized if a proper lighting layout hasn’t been established
  8. Check to make sure the building envelop is tight and continuous, the days of energy efficient structures are becoming more and more important.
  9. Verify the electrical is in a usable location, because there are twenty light switches and not one of them turns on a light when you enter the front door.
  10. Heating or cooling is in a usable location, because it was easier to run ductwork right behind where your couch will go, and now it doesn’t heat the space.

I assume it was drummed into my mind as a young architect that our clients don't need to know all the nitty gritty of what we do behind the scenes.  However, it has become abundantly clear, that our profession is marginalizing itself because clients now assume that the builder figures out things that architects should be doing. Whose fault is it when we agree to lesser services and the project doesn’t go as planned? Just because the structure can be eight feet apart, doesn't mean that the geometry will look correct when it's finished. Or that removing one window will save you $500, but now every time you drive into your driveway you see the two eyes and mouth because the front of your home looks like the painting "The Scream" by Edvard Munch. It's like trying to run a project, without a project manager. Just because it might save you a little money, doesn't mean it's always a good option.  The architect has spent hours getting the proportions just right, so if you need to save money, or make a change, they need to be able to evaluate how that change will affect all other parts of the structure. Not only does the architect design buildings, we manage the process from the beginning site analysis through commissioning.  You need the architect to be fully engaged through the entire process, so let us tell you why you need us!  

How Much Does It Cost To Hire An Architect

Building, buying, or renovating is one of the single most expensive purchases you will spend money on in your lifetime.  Shouldn’t you expect to pay more for something that great? It is a very common misconception that architects are expensive. So what are you paying for when you hire an architect?  Experience.What does experience cost?  In the beginning the American Institute of Architects (AIA) required that architects all charged the same amount.  They felt that this would keep people from undercutting the market and offering the same services for free or less money.  The AIA however was accused of violating federal antitrust laws, which promote vigorous and fair competition, and provide consumers with the best combination of price and quality.  Therefore, architects are now discouraged from discussing fee structure and job costs.Yet you, as an owner, buyer, or builder still want to know what the cost of hiring an architect will be. Typically fees could include a percentage of the cost of construction, or an hourly wage with a set amount of hours and a maximum cost not to exceed, or an hourly rate with no cap.  It varies by architect, by location, by experience, and by type of project.One of the very first questions an architect will ask you is “what is your budget?”  So take a look at your budget, see what you could afford as a monthly fee, roll that into the next 12 months, and start designing your project.  You could also apply for a construction loan and pay the fees of your architect out of your loan. The simple best way to discover the cost of hiring an architect is to do your research and interview a couple of architects that fit your needs based on the issues I discussed in my previous blog post.Although there is always a deal out there, in general, you get what you pay for.  In lowest bidder work you are provided with a bid for the least amount of work possible to complete the work, not a dime more, and when there is any confusion, they ask for more money.  Let’s be honest, you can only do so much for so much money.  If you buy a $100 laptop, you should expect it to be a $100 laptop, not a $2000 MacBook Pro with the latest in graphics cards and the fastest processor on the market.   The same concept applies to the built environment.If the contractor tells you that they can build you a house without an architect, that may be true, but when you want to move the bathroom from the left to the right, or you decide to move the garage height up four feet, are they going to be taking into consideration the proportions of the building.  A professional designed even those plans that you pick out of a magazine and took into consideration the proportions that make it look and feel correct.  But is same building perfect for every situation?  We don’t think so, so why should you?  Even the ancient Romans knew about building the right geometry,  facing the right direction, taking advantage of the natural pattern of the light, the wind, or the flow of water.Building a takes a long time, planning for it should take even longer. There are a million decisions that need to be made when designing a project.  Everything from what can you afford, size, program, light, heat, even what color will you paint the walls.  It is a process that needs to be managed every step of the way to maintain schedule, cost, and finished product.  Do you have the time to manage your project full time?  So many of my clients become overwhelmed with the details and lost in the weeds.  So ask yourself,  “Can I Afford Not To Hire An Architect?”Until we meet again, Happy Holidays!Emily Mottram, AIAOwner, Mottram Architecture