managing your design project

Building Strategies: Building homes with Intelligent Designs

Are you thinking of building a new home? What qualities of a home are important to you? How about modern design, spaces with lots of natural light, well regulated heating & cooling for comfortable room temperatures? What if you had all of that plus reduced utility bills? If you’re passionate about loving your space, then your dream home might be a net zero design!With the exception of the alluring aesthetics of a net zero home, at first glance you might not realize it is out of the ordinary. What makes this type of home so special is the details that are working in harmony to make the space truly unique for you and your loved ones. If you are planning to build a home anyway, why not make some early decisions that can make your home smarter, cheaper to live in and more comfortable.A common misconception is the average consumer cannot afford to build to the standards of net zero, however this is a feasible goal for anyone ready to build!  It’s possible to keep costs comparable to conventional construction simply by planning ahead, and that’s what we do best here at Mottram Architecture.When building with net zero in mind certain strategies drive design. Every material, angle, direction and appliance chosen has a higher purpose and function. The following details are some of the most important design choices to incorporate in your building plans to achieve a net zero home. Starting from the biggest choices down to the smallest hidden technicalities, every detail works together to make your home the best it can be.

  1. If you haven’t purchased land to build on yet, there are many characteristics you can look for when selecting your site. Natural elements to shelter you from the a cold climate and a direct line to sunlight will optimize your net zero potential.  These features are ideal to help with temperature and access to natural resources to power your home.  An external consideration to site selection is proximity to public transportation like the rail or bus. This can help reduce emissions and save money. With conventional construction, your site choice might be influenced by a popular or desired neighborhood.
  2. Facing south for optimal solar exposure is imperative for having the greatest ability to produce power directly from the source, your home! This also works as an advantage in cold climates like Maine because it allows for your home to be naturally heated by maximizing passive solar gain. With conventional construction, your homes orientation might be influenced by the landscape or neighboring homes.
  3. Simple and moderately sized homes can make the idea of net zero a reality. When a space is well planned out and designed with functionality in mind, an over-sized McMansion is no longer necessary. Keeping both these strategies in mind will save building costs and allow to allocate your money to more energy efficient appliances and materials.  With conventional construction, your homes size and shape might be influenced by short-lived popular trends.
  4. Maximize your walls potential for insulation and resisting air infiltration, while clearly defining your heated spaces.  With Mottram Architecture you will see optimal R-values in your walls, ceilings and floors. All of our structures will also have a continuous air barrier. The combination of these two details will reduce heat loss and drafts, which increase your comfort and decrease your bills. The whole idea is to define a thermal barrier which means, keep the heat inside and keep the weather outside!  With conventional construction, your home is built to breath, a design that invites drafts and burns through your hard earned money.
  5. Choosing the right style and location of your windows. High R-value windows perform best but just by reducing the number of windows you need, placing them in the right locations and only have operating sections where needed, you can make a huge impact on the performance of your building and reduction of energy demand on the solar system. With conventional construction, your home is built fast and cheap. The type of window chosen is based on price and availability.
  6. For reasons mentioned above we are building a sealed home space which is why controlled mechanical ventilation is important. This will make your home safe and efficient. Duct work and equipment is best located within the heated spaces of your home. This ensures the system won't use extra resources to compensate for any external weather.  With conventional construction, your home is leaky enough to vent naturally.
  7. In Maine with Mottram Architecture we are most likely to recommend a heat pump for our net zero homes. This type of heating system uses the natural outdoor & ground temperatures on your site to move heat in or out of your home.  This system is more efficient because it’s moving instead of creating energy. With conventional construction, your home uses non-renewable resources like oil and gas to create energy to heat your home.
  8. Renewable power production: To truly be Net Zero we believe a home should produce more power on site than it consumes during the year. On site produced energy is most efficient when it is directly attached to the structure which is using the energy. In Maine that means solar. By following all the principles above we can reduce consumption of the home to a manageable amount of energy use that can be produced by a solar array.

Planning and attention to detail are the foundations to an intelligent design that will lead to a cost effective net zero energy home. If you think these designs align with you and your families goals and values engage Mottram Architecture to guide you through this conceptual process.  We can help you identify what choices are right for you and your home and how you can create a long term space customized to your needs that will start giving back the day you move in!

5 Reasons Why We Think You Should Stop Putting Your Projects Out To Bid!

Kitchen & Bath Renovation-06-6Call us crazy, but putting projects out to bid is our least favorite thing to do, and here is why.

Bids are never apples to apples

When you put a project out to bid, the architect has to provide a lot more information to ensure that all the contractors are bidding the same thing, which they never are. We know from experience, if you ask 6 contractors how to build something, all 6 will have a different way of doing it. Taking the lowest bid can sometimes mean that your going to get an inferior product or maybe a subcontractor whose attention to detail isn't quite where you'd expect it to be for the money you are spending. When the contractor isn't intimately involved in the project they don't know what your expectations are. I once asked a client's rep if the client was a Volvo or a Ferrari, because it makes a difference in the level of detail and the quality of what you provide. You may also be ruling out the best contractor for your project based on price alone. In the long run, the more expensive contractor may have been better able to meet your needs and may have lost of job because they were not willing to compromise the integrity of what they do to win a job.

You spend more money with your architect on things that could potentially be spared

As I mentioned above, the amount of information that needs to be provided during the bid process can sometimes be significantly more than what would be needed if you were working with a contractor that the architect has already worked with. Having a contractor who has been involved in the process from the beginning and knows that you want a specific type of wide plank hardwood flooring will help get accurate pricing.  Often times a contractor will leave an allowance for things like light fixtures, flooring, plumbing fixtures etc. These allowances are based on either their experience, or whatever is the easiest and cheapest thing available to keep their bids low and be awarded a project. That doesn't mean that you will select these products, and in the end, you may be over the budget you had agreed to because this contractor didn't know you wanted all LED fixtures, or that special faucet from Waterworks.  As the architect, we will try to pack as much as possible into the design drawings and specifications to catch all of these variables, but it's simply not the same as the builder getting to know you during the process so they know what to bring to the table to meet your specific budget and requirements. Of course we want to be involved in your project from beginning to end, and we will help you with all of your choices and selections, but adding unnecessary time to a drawing set to get accurate bids is sometimes a waste of our time and your money.

The lowest bid rarely nets you the best project

We've worked on several projects where contracts have to be awarded to the lowest bidder, and it's always a challenge. When the client doesn't know, like, or trust the contractor, there is always second guessing through the entire project and it can become a very adversarial relationship. You will be spending several days a week, for several months of the year, with this contractor who is building on renovating your dream home. Knowing that your personalities will click can be worth a few extra dollars! Having the peace of mind that the contractor will pay his subs on time and won't take your deposit and skip town is huge. Knowing that the contractor understands your objectives and can easily bring cost effective value engineering to the project without losing sight of your final vision is crucial. But the reality is, building a home is a very complicated process and you want a contractor by your side who is going to listen to you, handle the details, and be kind and respectful through out the project.

Building a team gets you a better end result

We know we aren't perfect, and training to be an architect often requires you to work as part of a team. We love the integrated design process, both between ourselves in the open design studio, and with the contractor, client, and specialty trades. Building net-zero homes is a team effort and we think you get a much better project when the entire team pulls together the project from the beginning.  As I mentioned above, no two builders are going to build something the same way so why put a wrench in the system.  Sit down with the contractor and go through how they would build it, what ways they can bring cost savings to the project, and how to meet your objectives in the best possible way.  Planning for things like, where the solar lines are going to run from the roof to the utility room, can make or break a project. Making those decisions made during the design phase helps create a truly cohesive project. Having a different set of eyes on the plans as they come together, in our opinion, always creates a better solution.  Architects are trained to get the most out of your space and your budget. We think in three dimension as the plans are going together.  But we also love to work closely with our builders because they know how they are going to put together what we are asking for, and they are always up on current market fluctuations in pricing and schedule, so they have a thumb on the pricing throughout the project and can make cost effective recommendations that help keep the project on time and on budget.

Putting a project out to bid could blow your schedule out the window

Although the last of our 5 recommendations, it is in no means the least important.  The last couple projects I have put out to bid have all had the same problem. The client has finished with design and they are excited about the project only to find out that all the contractors that we have approached to bid on their project are out 3, 6, or 12 months.  Securing a contractor so you can start your project when you're ready to get started can be critical. When you put a project out to bid you are at the mercy of the contractors schedule.  When you bring a contractor in, early in the design process, they will add you to their schedule and be prepared to start your project at the agreed upon time.  Getting everything together in time for construction then becomes something the team works very hard to make happen.  If you put a project out to bid, even if you land the contractor you know you want to work with, you may need to wait several months to get started. So when you start a project, be clear about your timeframe. If you're building on the lake or ocean, sometimes the towns have rules about when you can do construction, and it may not be during the time of year that is best to build.  If you're not already on your contractors schedule, that could mean you have to wait a whole year to build.  In Maine, depending on the time of year, roads get posted which do not allow construction vehicles to travel to a site for many weeks. Timing is crucial and holding a contractor to a bid for more than 90 days is unlikely.  The fluctuation in the product market can be huge. Between the end of December 2015 and the end of January 2016 one of our window manufacturers increased their pricing twice.So our recommendation is to stop putting your project out to bid! Select a contractor that you know you can work with.  Tell them your budget, bring them in on the team, and let them plan for working with you and provide value engineering to your project to keep it on time and on budget!

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

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.

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!  

Feasibility Studies, Why They Can Make or Break a Project

Feasibilty StudySome times the best thing you can do at the beginning of the project is a feasibility study.  These include code research, zoning research, measuring the building or site, site analysis, and in some cases, an energy analysis.  In commercial projects, this simple step could save a lot of time, effort, and money for a client.Recently I did a feasibility study for a client.  I went out, measured the building, spent time researching the code based on the use they wanted for the building and developed a study based on their requirements.  I then contacted the town in which they were located to clarify some zoning issues and found out that the use they were proposing for this building was not allowed in the zoning district where they were located.  I took for granted that the existing use of their building was a grandfathered use, and that similar uses would be allowed.The client, however, was still very interested in pursuing the idea that they have for the space.  So they asked me what the requirements would be in order to make this use happen in this location.  Contacting the town resulted in the information necessary, however, it would be an uphill battle.  The town requires that you convince your town councilor to take up your petition and bring it in front of the town Council in order to change the actual zoning in the area to incorporate this use.All towns are different and have different rules.  In the City where I live, citizens can petition the Planning Board to change the zoning.  The City Council can ask the Planning Board to revise Zoning, or the City can ask the Planning board to revise zoning.  In this smaller town, the Town Council is in charge of changing zoning and there is not a mechanism for residents to petition the board.  Residents would be required to submit to their Town Councilor or one of the At Large Councilors to bring the issue in front of the Council.At that time, the Councilor needs to convince the other members of the board to change the zoning.  Typically they will notify the abutting neighbors to get their input on the matter.  Then they will hold a public hearing to discuss the issue at hand where the board will ask questions and public input will be held.  It can be a very serious issue when changing zoning to allow additional uses.  Although the zoning district where this client would like to add a use is very small, sometimes changing uses in a zoning district can affect several neighborhoods and hundreds of square miles within the town or city.  These zoning changes can be a very complicated matter.  Although the Council may agree with your project in your location, if it affects larger parts of the town or city it may not be in their best interest to allow the use.  It also can be challenging for the board because they can not appear to have awarded favoritism to a particular project and must look at the use within the zoning and not at a specific site.Zoning Ordinances can be very difficult to change and swaying a town or city Council can be a challenge.  So if you are considering a project, maybe it is a residence with a home business or a commercial space in a restricted zone, contact someone and have a feasibility study done on your project.  It might be the best couple hundred dollars you ever spent.  It also will tell you what is allowable in your area and may help you to restructure your project to something more economically viable or at least allowable in your zoning district.