renovation

Go Green With Your Kitchen

We are thrilled to have another guest post by Matt Lee at AlluraGo Green With Your KitchenGreen building design continues to grow in popularity as more options become available to homeowners. With sustainability and lower energy costs on the lists of most people when it comes to their homes today, more companies are beginning to offer significantly more choices in green materials than ever before. Since the kitchen is one of the most frequently updated rooms in the home, as well as well one of the areas that gets the most use, it also makes sense for homeowners too look here for ways to incorporate green designs and materials into their homes. These green design options will help you achieve the kitchen design you want with the sustainable benefits you need.Bamboo Veneer CabinetsKitchen cabinets make up a large percentage of the space in the kitchen, both from a design standpoint and a practical one. So, it makes sense to start here when considering sustainable design options for the kitchen. While most cabinets are built of plywood, which is a more sustainable material than MDF or particleboard, you can take your green design to the next level by using bamboo veneer for your cabinet faces. While often treated like a hardwood, bamboo is actually a fast-growing species of grass. While it takes hardwoods an approximate 70 years of growth before harvest, bamboo can be harvested in as little as five years, which makes the product much more sustainable.Newer bamboo veneers and bamboo lumbers are available with a variety of colors and appearances. This can let you get the look that you want for the kitchen, while making an eco-conscious and sustainable choice at the same time.Reclaimed Stone FlooringWhile hardwood floors sure look good in your living area they have traditionally not been installed in kitchens due to moisture concerns. Natural stone floor is a great alternative for this area of the house. Stone flooring has a look and texture that’s hard to reproduce in any other material, and it’s durable enough to hold up to years of foot traffic in the kitchen. Best of all, stone floors can complement any style of kitchen from Country to Contemporary, letting you match your own personal aesthetic.Standard stone flooring isn’t eco-friendly, however, which can lead some people to try avoiding it. A good alternative, though, is reclaimed stone flooring. Reclaimed stone floors are actual tiles taken from centuries old farmhouses in France. The stone has a natural patina and a history that makes it a natural focal point for the room. Best of all, because this material already exists, no new manufacturing processes went into producing it. So, it’s better for the environment than using a new stone floor.Energy Saving AppliancesYou probably use the appliances in your kitchen more than any other in the house. Your refrigerator runs all day long, while the oven, stove, and dishwasher are often on standby until you need them, quietly using energy throughout the day and night.Newer, Energy Star rated appliances consume less energy when they’re in use, and when they’re merely standing by. This reduction in energy can save you as much as 13% on your energy bill compared to non-Energy Star rated appliances, according to EnergyStar.gov. While this may not seem like a lot each month, over time it can add up to a big savings, both for you and for the environments.Water Saving FaucetsAppliances aren’t the only way you can save energy and go green in the kitchen at the same time. Water saving faucets are also available that can save you thousands of gallons of water every year. Options range from low-flow faucets, which use fewer than 2 gallons of water per minute – compared to older faucets which used nearly twice as much – as well as faucets that use a toe-touch activator. You can operate the faucet even when your hands are full or dirty, so it doesn’t need to be left running as long, saving you water and money every time you use it.LED Light FixturesYour kitchen uses a lot of light. Chances are you not only have ambient, or overhead lighting, but also task lighting beneath your cabinetry and accent lighting, such as pendants above your island, peninsula, or table. All this light translates into a lot of energy use, since many kitchens get used early in the morning and late in the evening – two times of day when energy use is at its highest.LED light fixtures enable you to illuminate your kitchen, while using less energy than standard incandescent bulbs. LED light also comes in a wider range of light colors and choices than fluorescents do, letting you have the warm yellow or bright white light of your choice.Create a Greener KitchenWith the amount of use the kitchen gets, it makes sense to start here when making greener choices for the rest of the home. Whether you’re having a minor kitchen update or a full-scale remodeling project, there are many ways you can incorporate sustainable decisions into the room. Go green with your kitchen to reap all the benefits eco-friendly design can bring.

5 Home Improvement Trends to Watch Out for In 2017

Article by Matt Lee with Allura USAWith every new year comes a whole host of new trends for the home improvement industry. Aimed at making your home even better than before, it pays to see what trends are emerging in the coming months so that you can capitalize on them right away. Already trends predictions for 2017 are beginning to pop up, with a big focus on sustainability and style that is sure to carry you well into the next decade. These 5 home improvement trends are the ones to watch as the new year draws closer.Insulate, Insulate, InsulateFor the last year, insulation has topped Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report with a whopping 110% ROI, and trend predictions for 2017 are pointing to more of the same. Nearly all homes are under insulated, which means that the money you spend to heat and cool your home is likely flying right out the door.In particular, the areas to insulate include your attic, your walls, and beneath your roof deck. Since many people are also taking the time to have new architectural asphalt shingles put on their homes, this makes a great time to insulate the roof deck. Doing so will not only make your home more comfortable, it will also protect your investment by helping to maintain your new shingles and extend their lifespan.Modern Home ExteriorsThe exterior of your home plays a huge role in how it’s perceived, which in turn impacts its value. Known as curb appeal, this first look at your home can really make or break how it comes across to others.For that reason, a lot of people are putting a bigger emphasis on exterior home designs, remodeling the exteriors give them a fresh new look that will have maximum viewing impact. To that end, the Mid-Century Modern home exterior is the one to watch these days. Colors, windows, porches, and landscaping are all taking their cues from this architectural style with very interesting and appealing results. Mid-Century Modern architecture doesn’t mesh with every home style, but for cottages, bungalows, ranches, and gambrels, adding a few modern touches to the exterior façade can really help elevate your home’s style, and value.Energy Efficient Smart HomesIn addition to insulating, many homeowners are also looking at their homes from an energy standpoint, and making improvements that are both smart and sustainable. This means looking for ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency, while also making your home more comfortable and more convenient for you.Things like programmable, smart thermostats that can adjust to whether you’re at home or not, and which give you remote use through your smartphone help you keep energy bills down. Smart light fixtures, which can sense when you’ve left a room and turn themselves off can also make a big impact on your energy bill. Best of all, these kinds of features help take some of the care and worry off your shoulders, so your home is more comfortable, while also being more efficient.New NeutralsFor the last several years, the neutral color to watch has been gray, with numerous shades popping up everywhere from interiors to exteriors. There’s been a recent, subtle shift back toward warmer finishes, however, with Sherwin Williams announcing their Color of the Year for 2017 to be Poised Taupe. Taupe balances perfectly between gray and beige, so it’s a versatile neutral that will work with nearly any color scheme, having a lot more mass appeal than either of these other two colors.Look for taupe to start appearing for walls, siding, countertops, furniture, and other areas of the home very soon. Already manufacturers of flooring and counters have begun to find materials and colors that will work well with this new neutral, making it a sure hit for the future.Cork FlooringFor a while, it looked as though concrete flooring was going to sweep the industry, but its day has passed as homeowners begin to look for a more resilient flooring choice. Cork, which is made from the bark of the cork tree, is a sustainable, natural flooring material that also happens to feel great underfoot.Cork floors have undergone a huge change in recent years, now available in several different sizes, colors, and patterns, so you can customize your flooring to match your décor. Cork is eco-friendly, natural water and bacteria resistant, and can help insulate while it covers your floors, walls, or even ceilings. Look for cork to become one of the it flooring choices for 2017 and beyond.Update Your Home in StyleMost of the trend predictions for 2017 and beyond focus on sustainability, energy efficiency, and livability for the home. Materials that are eco-friendly and easy to care for top most people’s lists, as well as materials and designs that are versatile and low-maintenance enough to fit a busy lifestyle. Check out these 5 trends for the coming year to help improve your home in style.

Before & After - The Timber Frame Home

Thanks for checking back in over the last couple of weeks to see the sneak peaks of this recently completed remodel! I told you last week that I would let you in on my favorite part of this whole renovation this last Friday in March!  Well here it is: Insulation!!! I know, you were expecting something beautiful, fun, classy and wonderful.  Don't be disappointed, this is absolutely our favorite part of this whole project.  Of course we get excited about the beautiful things that we created here, but what we are most proud of, is that quiet comfort that is now found within this home.  One of the reasons this homeowner reached out to us, was because of our specialty in energy efficient design.  They loved their timber frame home, which already faces south, but there were challenges that just didn't work for their family.  Functionality of space, the need to put wood in the wood stove, the questionable railing on the second floor and a particularly energetic 7 year old...the list goes on.  But what they really wanted to know was, where are we losing energy? If we're going to do this renovation project, can we do some of these things to help improve the efficiency at the same time? And the answer of course is "We'd love for you to do that, let us show you how"  Because this house is a timber frame, it had board ceilings. Although they are beautiful, the let the air leak right through the boards. And I'd love to say, that due to the age of the home, they had fiberglass insulation behind the boards, but the sad fact is, we still build this way today, and that's just not okay.  So here, we took down the boards and salvaged them for the homeowner. Then we dense packed the rafter cavities with cellulose to improve the insulation and greatly cut down on air infiltration. We went back and forth but finally decided that sheet rocking the ceiling in the main space would brighten up the living area, so the boards were salvaged for a later project. (Replacing all the trim with flat stock casing, maybe a new bar in the sunroom, or if the 7 year old wins, a new ninja warrior course, oh the possibilities!!!). Now when you step into this home it is quiet. If they want to run the wood stove, they do, but they don't have to.  The sun pours in the south windows and keeps the interior of the house warm all day long. Sometimes it's the simple things that you can't see that make a space truly wonderful.

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!

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

Your House is a System

BlogHouseAsSystemI think it’s time for me to introduce my readers to one of the most important concepts of building eco friendly homes.  House as a System.What do I mean when I say your house is a system?  It is a combination of inter-dependent parts that make up a whole building.  As an energy professional and an architect, that means, if I chose to change one part, I am affecting other parts of the system.  This may be in a good way, or it may be in a harmful way.  With the emergence of building tight homes, we also need to be aware of what we are trapping inside that previously exited though drafty or leaky areas in the home.  I was going to write “older homes”, but my experience as an energy auditor has taught me that it has little to do with the age of the home.  There are just as many leaky, drafty, inefficient new homes as there are older homes.It is extremely important today to understand the impacts of building more efficient homes.  This rule applies to architects, builders, and energy professionals.  The chemicals found in our building materials can be very harmful to your health.  Many products are made with formaldehyde or high volatile organic compounds (VOC’s).  Maine also has high levels of radon due to the rocky ledge that makes up our soils.  By building tighter homes, we must be sure we are not trapping harmful gases or compounds within the home.Building tighter homes isn’t just about air sealing with caulks and spray foams. Adding dense packed cellulose to your walls increases the insulation value of your home, but it also reduces the air infiltration.  When we reduce the air infiltration we can cause our atmospherically drafting heating appliance to blow exhaust fumes back into the home instead of out through the chimney.  We can trap moisture within the home, propagating mold growth and moisture damage. Many building professionals believe that houses needed to breath and that is simply untrue.   Houses do not need to breath, the occupants do.  And we need to be sure that the air our homeowners are breathing is both healthy and adequate.Houses that breathe draw in outdoor air from anywhere there is a hole or crack in the building structure.  This often times means that air is coming in from your basement.  When you think about the principle that hot air rises, you can imagine the cool air being drawn in from your basement and leaking the heated air out through your attic. Now if you think about your basement, you may be thinking about a dirt floor, all the chemicals you store there, or your heating system.  All that air that is being drawn in through your basement is introducing those chemicals into your living space.   We have a tendency to think of our basements as outside of our living space, but they are very much connected to every other part of your home.  Although the things you store there may be out of sight, out of mind, they are definitely not out of the air you breath.Before the emergence of energy efficient and airtight building, homes were able to dry out due to the air movement through the structure and the lack of insulation in the walls.  The homes would dry during the wet seasons of the spring and fall, however, these same homes would become very difficult and expensive to heat during the winter.  The energy community knew they needed to button up the homes, but at the time, they did not know that they needed to provide mechanical ventilation for healthy indoor air quality and they created several sick buildings.Now we talk about passive house building where there are less then 15 quarter-size gaps, cracks, or holes in a building structure and the sun heats the home virtually eliminating the need for a heating system.  These inter-dependent parts create a very efficient design.  In passive house standards, it extremely important to provide mechanical ventilation to the space. Providing fresh outdoor air to the occupants of the home eliminates harmful byproducts from the construction materials and excess moisture from cooking, breathing, and showering. Because the home itself has very little air infiltration, mechanical ventilation is often provided by a heat recovery ventilator or energy recovery ventilator. This allows the system to provide fresh air directly to the locations of the home that need it, like the bedroom, where you spend most of your time while you are at home.  Providing air directly to the locations where it is needed instead of drawing it in from wherever there are cracks in the foundation allows for the system to perform with precise calculations and reduces any loss associated with providing healthy indoor air quality.The increased levels of insulation from the code minimum help to keep heat within the building envelope.  Large south-facing windows can take advantage of the sun and heat the home through heating thermal mass, often a concrete floor.  All parts of that system have to work precisely together to make the house as efficient as possible.  If a new homeowner came in and decided to throw a carpet over the concrete floor they would reverse the effects of the solar heating system and require a larger heating system to be installed.  Tighter homes often do not have large gas cook stoves with 300 to 600 CFM ventilation hoods because there is simply not enough air infiltration to provide adequate supply to the ventilation system.  Without that adequate air it causes the ventilation system to “suck” on the house and will quickly burn out the motor in the fan.These are just a few examples of how the components of your home work as a system. So as you are building your home and thinking about making something that is more efficient, make sure you consider hiring a professional who can provide you with the information you need to save money, but also provide you with a safe and comfortable home.  It may sound daunting to build an energy efficient home, but the comfort level it can provide you and the energy it can save you is well worth the added considerations during the design or renovation process.

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.

How To Keep The Momentum Going On Your Design Project

When doing a building project, momentum is key to a successful project.  Clients show up at the first few meetings with bright eyes and lofty dreams, but who drives the project after the newness has worn off and you are bogged down by the details of the project?  This is a discussion that I have had with fellow architects, clients, and marketing professionals in the last month and I thought it merited discussion.When a project first starts, the architect needs to lead the momentum.  One of the biggest reasons that projects fail is poor project management. After the first meeting, the architect should propose a time and an outcome for the next meeting prior to leaving the first meeting.  Give the client a schedule of events.  Unless the client has built a home or designed a project before, they have no idea what to expect.  The architect should ask for a project budget and a timeframe. Then they should backtrack from the end date to create a preliminary schedule.  Before leaving the first meeting let the client know  “I’m going to provide you with (XYZ), does it work for your schedule to call you or meet with you on (X) day at (X) time to discuss”.  This establishes a next meeting and requires that the client sets aside time to continue the discussion of their project. It starts the momentum from the very first meeting, lets the client know that the architect is organized and reliable, keeps the client on track, and lets them know what the next expectation is.Now that you have made it through the first five meetings, because I’ve been told that five is the number of contacts necessary to get a client to “buy in”, you are underway on the project.  It is at that point that the client and architect are now both responsible for maintaining the momentum. The second reason that projects fail is due to the client or the architect having lost track of what the problem was that needs to be solved.  When an architect gives the client homework, and they don’t do it, it backlogs the project. It pushes back the timeframe and increases the budget because now the architect has to have more meetings to maintain the process.  I also feel that it is important to give the client no more then three decisions at a time. Clients can get distracted by all the choices available and have difficulty staying on one course.  This is the point at which projects can derail, as the architect or owner has lost sight of the problem that needed to be solved.  Many studies have been done on how people make decisions, and it is clear that the client needs to maintain the goal in mind in order to get through the process and arrive at a solution to their project.  Although the information age give us endless possibilities, if an architect provides a client with endless design solutions the momentum of the project can be lost very quickly.  There is always some other way to do it, so providing the client with fewer options based on an architects professional opinion will keep the project moving forward and help keep the focus on the problem that needs to be solved.Clients often have no idea what the architect is doing or how much time they spend researching, planning, designing, or discussing the project with fellow colleagues, city staff, regulatory boards, and other jurisdiction requirements. It is important to know that they are going to spend far more hours dedicated to a client’s project, on things that clients typically don’t get involved with, but are necessary to successful projects.  So when an architect asks the client to do a little homework, please do it before the next meeting, or call the architect and let them know that something came up. Reschedule the meeting for a time when the homework is complete and everyone is ready to discuss the project. These steps are necessary to maintain momentum. If the client requests weekly meetings, make sure there is something to discuss at each of these meetings, solutions that move the project forward.  If the architect feels that weekly meetings are unnecessary, explain why to prevent micro management of a project that slows down and delays the work, it is up to the architect to manage the process and provide enough information at each meeting to instill confidence in the client.  The client does not know how to evaluate an architect’s ability.  So with all clients educate first and design second. It’s hard to know what people don’t know, once you already know it. Clients who have done a lot of research will appreciate the architect’s opinions on the subject.  Clients who have not done a lot of research will appreciate the information that is necessary to make their project truly successful.  I firmly believe there is no such thing as too much education, but there can be too much information.  So it is the architect’s responsibility to listen to the client and keep their goals in mind.It can be very difficult as the architect to both listen and teach.  There is a fine line between explaining your project and listening to the client’s response.  Answering questions and writing down answers or questions from the client all while explaining a design process or thought can be tricky.  If the architect works as a team, it is often beneficial to include a team member during the discussions that takes notes and can provide an alternate viewpoint when necessary.  However, in residential design, the budget may not be able to afford the extra cost.Maintaining the momentum during the project often happens through contact with the client, a simple reminder of what is going on, and providing them with valuable information.  People often worry about “bothering” their clients, or clients “bothering” their architect.  If you are going to make contact, just make sure you are providing valuable information, then the client, or architect, will be happy to receive your correspondence and feel like the project is important and a priority.  In many ways a design project is like a relationship.  The better the communication, the better the project.So as a client, if you are getting ready to design a new project, keep in mind that it is a two-way relationship with the architect to maintain the momentum of a project and complete it on time.  If you are an architect, it’s important to remember that you are not only the architect, but also the project manager, and maybe the technician who has to complete the work.  Create enough time to do all of them, explain to the client how long it takes, and what the process is.  By educating the client everyone will be happier and a successful project will emerge.  

What is R-value?

I want to talk about windows, insulation, and envelop upgrades but I think the fundamentals of R-value should be discussed first. It will help in understanding how all the parts go together when one understands the importance of R-value.R-value, is the measurement of thermal resistance used in the building and construction industry.  It is also the inverse of U-value.  Heat is transferred through conduction, convection and radiation. If your eyes just crossed remembering your high school science days, you’re not alone.  This is one of the basics that I teach at the beginning of my building science class, and I repeat at the beginning of my sustainable design class. Let’s discuss what they mean for you, the homeowner.For most people, R-value is often seen on bags of insulation.  It can be found for other building materials such as wood studs, drywall, siding etc, but is not often displayed on the packaging.  U-value, thermal transmittance, is usually observed on windows and doors.  If you have looked at windows, you have seen the U-value listed because it is required as part of the building industry standards. You may not have known what it meant at the time, but that little number is very important.  And contrary to everything else you have ever learned, the smaller the number, the better the window!  It is also good to know that U-value is the inverse of R-value.  For example, if a window has a U-value of 0.30, its R-value is 3.3.  It’s easier to compare the performance of building components when they are listed in the same format.  For comparison, the current IECC 2009 for the Northeast requires walls to have a minimum R-value of R-21.  So if you look at the window with an R-3.3, and then at the wall with an R-21, you’ll see that the window is a fairly poor performing part of your building envelop.  But I digress; there will be more articles all about windows in the future.R-value gives the building professional an idea the materials ability to resist heat flow. It also works in the opposite direction with the heat entering your home in the summer or primarily cooling climate locations.  Every state has a building code, and each building code has a minimum level of R-value necessary to meet the states requirements.  In some places in the country they also have additional requirements that have higher performance levels then code.  Again, this is a reason why you can’t afford not to hire an architect, and more specifically, one that knows a lot about energy efficiency.For an energy professional, R-value can translate directly into how many Btu’s your home will use.  A Btu (British Thermal Unit) is the amount of energy needed to raise one pound of water one degree F.  For building professionals it is the rate at which your home loses heat through the surface (walls, windows, roof, doors) and through air changes (how drafty your home is) The higher the R-value the lower the surface transported heat loss.  The building professional will take the R-value, include the air transported heat loss, and tell you approximately how many Btu’s your homes heating system will need to produce to keep you warm this winter.From here it gets complicated.  The air transported heat loss can have an effect on how well the R-value of certain building products perform.  The tighter the house becomes the harder it is for standard atmospheric heating systems to work.  But the more efficient your home is, the less it will cost you to live in and operate.  So the next time you’re concerned about insulation, drafts, and R-value think about hiring an energy professional to help you out, because replacing your windows isn’t the best place to start.