farmhouse

Live Solar Maine III - The Next Farmhouse

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Construction has started over at Solar Way on the next house with Live Solar Maine! As we head into summer and building season, we are reminded that the days are long, the sun is high, and the joy of sunshine is in abundance! Stay tuned for details on the construction of this house (paneled walls should be going up at the end of next month) updates from the Live Solar Maine and sneak peaks on New England Smart Home where one of these farmhouses could be yours too...more on that later!

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!

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)!

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 Does A Homeowner Need To Know When Building Their Own Home? An Interview with Karen

As 2015 ended and 2016 took off soaring, I sat back to think about what my clients, future clients, and every homeowner might like to know about building their own home. As the Architect, I'm here to help you every step of the way with charts, lists, project schedules and whatever you may need.  However, I think it's just as important to hear it from my clients.  So I sat down with one of my current client, Karen, to get her feedback on the process of building her own home.How many builders did you interview before you selected your current builder?"One!" Karen had intended to interview three different builders.  She got referrals, asked her friends, and had every intention of being her own general contractor for the projects.  She thought, with her connections, she could get great pricing and save money.  When her excavation contractor, who she knows, likes, and trusts, recommended a builder to her she thought, why not, let's hear what he has to say.  Karen says "He pulled into my driveway and starts  chatting with me. I immediately tell him that I want to GC my own project because I'm well connected and I know people.  To which he responded that he too knows people, and because he does repeat business with them, they give him even better pricing.  When I found out he could do the project as the GC for the same price that I could I was shocked. And it turns out he was right. I had friends in the trades that I thought would help with our project that never even called me back to give me a bid. It simply isn't worth their time for a one-off project. Honestly I don't even think we made it into the house. We talked for 10 minutes and I hired him on the spot without ever seeing his work. When you know your supposed to work with someone, you just go with your gut. I never interviewed another builder".What's so great about working with this builder?"As I mentioned, I wanted to GC my own project.  So I went to the builder with spreadsheets and cut sheets on everything I wanted.  Then he explained to me his perspective with other clients as we moved through the process. There were definitely glitches during the project, but my husband and I try not to sweat the small stuff.  We either fixed it if we could, or we lived with it and let go of it if we couldn't. Communication is definitely key" And from experience I can tell you that Karen and her husband are constantly on site, just like every homeowner will be with their project.  In Karen's words. "There needs to be an established trust.  You need to pick someone you can work with and he was willing to work with me"What has been the hardest struggle with building your own home?"Hmm, that's a tough one. It's all gone so well.  I guess that I wanted to be in by December 31st.  Everything was ahead of schedule and under budget, but now that we are getting down to the finish level we have had coordination issues.  The doors were backordered and won't come in for 6 weeks, but then we couldn't complete other finish details without the doors and that's when the schedule went right out the window.  When something doesn't get installed on schedule it affects other pieces of the puzzle. When other trades can't come in on the scheduled date you get bumped to the back of the line.  Our contractor is actually finishing today and going to another job.  He'll be back to finish the finish carpentry when the doors come in"What's you're advice for other homeowners who might deal with a similar situation?"Add 4 weeks to your move in date just to be safe.  And be realistic. I know my contract says December 31st, but I'm not going to hold my builder to that when this delay was out of his hands. Lots of things happen that are out of your control"What other advice would you give to homeowners? "If you're building on your own property check your homeowners insurance will cover the cost of the new build especially if you're financing it yourself. I woke up one night with a near panic attack that the new house might burn down. I called the insurance agent and had coverage the very next day. When I checked what our homeowners insurance covered it was only 3/4 of the cost of the build. Also, make sure everyone signs lien waivers so you're covered in the event of an incident. And on top of that, document every conversation so when someone gives you a quote and it comes back double you can say: What changed here? I kept a little journal though the whole process." said Karen.  As an Architect I often follow up meetings with my understanding of the scope and the next steps.  This helps to reduce confusion and gives everyone a hard copy to go back to incase there is a discrepancy.  I don't believe it is legally binding, but it's a great paperwork trail to figure out how you ended up somewhere.What was an interesting piece of advice that someone shared with you during the process?"I thought it was funny at the time, but someone told me: When you pour the foundation it will feel big, then when you frame the walls it will feel very small, but then when you put up the drywall the space will feel big again, but then you'll paint and it will feel really small, but when the furniture comes in and fills the space it will feel just right if you planned it right.  I thought that was unique, but it was definitely true during the build"What last words of wisdom would you give to other homeowners?"Building should be fun! It's the single largest investment you're going to make and you're going to spend a lot of time with the individual you picked to build your home.  So make sure you pick someone you can work with.  And lastly, this is your dream, do it with a grateful heart. You have a opportunity that lots of other people never will, so be grateful."

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.