Friday, July 18, 2014

Hardscapes and Pavers: Beautiful Yard Improvements

As with many construction processes, installing paver hardscapes is challenging but rewarding. Preparation takes time and can be difficult, but yields the best product. As always, use the right tools for the job. Digging may be the most difficult portion if it needs to be done by hand. Assure you slope even gravel and paver hardscapes away from your home to a runoff location to complete positive flow in this direction. Typically a bed of 4” of gravel is laid on stable soils, followed by 1 to 2 inches of screenings. We usually set edge point elevations and use a screed bar and tamp to pack a solid sloped bed of screenings. A slope of 1/4” per foot is recommended for walkability and drainage. Gently lay your pavers to the desired pattern using a rubber mallet and level for secure placement. Incorporating edging and/or gravel bring it all together as a beautiful addition to your home and landscape.
Start digging. Ughh, the tough work!

Gravel bed, edging, and tamped screenings set nicely.

Finish work: setting pavers and decorative gravel.

Wow! What a nicer way to approach the front door.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Contruction Waste Recycling - Avoiding the Landfill

Have you ever wondered what happens to all of the construction trash that is created from a renovation or new construction project?  Being that about a third of all waste created in the United States results from the construction industry, BuildSense finds it most appropriate to utilize a local sorting/recycling company to make sure our trash is dealt with in a sustainable fashion.  Our waste removal trade partner takes our waste to a Construction & Demolition facility where all recyclables are sorted out and sent to the appropriate recycling facilities.  Construction waste that is recyclable includes:  clean wood, gypsum wallboard, cardboard, metals, shingles, and concrete.  The remainder is landfilled.

Recently in Wake County, about 30% of all waste was categorized as "construction and demolition" waste and of that 30%, about 15% was recycled.  In North Carolina in general, only about 10% of construction and demolition waste is currently recycled.  The rates could be upwards of 90% per the composition of typical construction waste.  The 'recycling report' from our current renovation project in Wake County states that about 80% of the waste was recycled and 20% was landfilled.  Each builder and developer can help extend the life of current landfills and reduce the need to create new landfills by hiring a qualified Construction and Demolition waste removal company for every job.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Modular Homes

What have you heard? What preconceived ideas do you have? Let me tell you what we think and what we can do.

Most clients who walk in our door cringe when they hear the words modular, manufactured, or prefab. It takes some time for us to change their minds. In our nation the majority of modular homes are indeed of poor quality. But, then again, the majority of all homes in our nation are of poor quality. It is not inherent to the philosophy of modular, it is inherent to the demands of the US home market.

There is tremendous potential in the prefabrication process. In a factory, workers have advanced technology on hand. They work in a climate-controlled environment to tolerances far superior than those achieved in the field. Studs can be laid straight, cuts can be extremely precise, walls can be plumb, and actually set at right angles. It may sound like I am undermining the custom framer but his job is simply more difficult. Would you request to have your new car built of a pile of miscellaneous parts laid in your driveway, or would you prefer it be assembled in the factory?

Enter expert architects and builders. Enter a detailed drawing set, a properly laid foundation, and precise factory-framed floors, walls, and roofs. The finishing process can proceed with ease crafting your own beautiful home. The walls are straighter, the construction time is faster, and the overall cost may be lower.

When you build your next home, ask us about the potential of a hybrid modular and site-built project.
Hybrid Modular Home: "Boxes" delivered and set on site.

Hybrid Modular Home: In this case the site framing included a roof stretching from "box" to "box".
Hybrid Modular Home: Completed home exterior.
Hybrid Modular Home: Completed home interior.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Home Renovation Decisions

After house searching in two different cities for over a year, my wife and I found a house that actually excited us. We found a midcentury ranch that was certainly in need of some work and modernizing. The best amenities of the house happen to be the lot, square foot size and design potential. Shortly after we were under contract we began to design. We logged countless hours many of the weeknights staying up late to debate our needs and wishes and compile our design. We scrutinized over costs and pursued ways to spread our budget by utilizing advice from colleagues and our subcontractor trade partners.

We determined the first phase would be to renovate the main floor public spaces and get to other areas of the house later. Shortly after we began the physical labor of deconstructing the layers of the home, we unveiled issues…beyond the dated d├ęcor. We found the insulation was inefficient and compromised, and we had asbestos in the popcorn ceiling. Thus began the start of a nagging desire to remove the flat ceiling in the main space, spray foam the roof deck, and pop the ceiling which would allow the interior ceiling to follow the form of the roof line. So that’s what we did.

I’d like to think we created a time correct midcentury interior space. The interior gable ceiling is around eight feet on the sides and rises to about twelve feet at the peak and provides a large open room. We exposed structural collar ties in the ceiling with a warm cypress wood that contrasts against the white walls. We replaced the existing opaque skylights with low E insulated clear glass Velux units and the room always feels to be bright and airy. The kitchen consists of painted customs cabinets configured for a clean, efficient workspace for cooking with lots of counter surface for prepping and entertaining. We created a small formal sitting area in front of a large window for visiting, record playing or merely sipping whiskey and reading the paper. It separates the living room and entry with a floating wall intended for future custom wood shelves. There’s something old fashion and swanky about this little space and I’m really looking forward starting and ending my days here. 

In hindsight, we housed searched for over a year and suffered through a three-month renovation project, but our new home has been a delight to live in each day. There’s little I regret. Our time and effort focused on purchasing, designing and construction of our home have nearly past, like the blink of an eye. Yet our house remains as part of our future.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Experiencing the Seasons in a Well Designed Home

I love as winter turns to spring and the flowers and dogwoods bloom. It may be my favorite seasonal transition. I have witnessed the effects of the changing North Carolina seasons over the past few months serving as the site lead on a Creedmoor home that will be open to the public on the upcoming Green Home Tour May 3-4+10-11 ( Through the Polar Vortex to our recent 80 degree spring days, I have been amazed at the effectiveness of the sun tempered design to deliver warmth in the winter and reduce heat gain in the spring, all while the mechanical systems have yet to be installed.

Expansive southern facing windows draw abundant warmth from the low winter sun when needed, but are shaded from the high summer sun by an extensive roof overhang.

The north elevation features smaller operable windows paired with the south facing operable windows to assist in cross ventilation when desired.

An insulated pre-cast concrete panel wall system was used for the basement level which is mostly below grade to the south and above grade to the north (see picture above - for great light without heat gain). It's the perfect place to cool down and escape the exterior heat.

Rich interior textures are highlighted in the wonderfully daylit space.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Creative Reuse - Repurposed Materials - Whatever you call it, it just makes sense!

One of our crew often relates stories of how his grandfather used to hammer straight all the old used nails he'd find or pull out of old projects and use them again. Yes, there is a little extra effort to make that happen, but over the course of a lifetime he saved a lot of material from going to the dump and a lot of cost on new materials. Here are some great BuildSense projects that feature reuse in big and small ways.

Lanou Shop - Tin roofing repurposed as siding brings a new texture and color
BuildSense Office Before - The shell and deconstructed building materials were reused in the renovation of this existing building. See this building May 1st at the Durham Reception for the upcoming Green Home Tour (

BuildSense Office After - We cleaned and reused bricks removed from new openings to fill in and/or repair old openings to renovate the first floor shell. We did not buy a single brick! See this building May 1st at the Durham Reception for the upcoming Green Home Tour (
BuildSense Office After - The old roof rafters were repurposed for this interior stair. See this building May 1st at the Durham Reception for the upcoming Green Home Tour (
Scappino Residence - These grain bins were repurposed as water collection cisterns. See this house on the upcoming Green Home Tour May 3-4 + 10-11(
Scappino Residence - Brick from one home we deconstructed was reused here for new load bearing columns and walls. See this house on the upcoming Green Home Tour May 3-4 + 10-11(
Smith Residence Before - We deconstructed this old A-Frame home and saved the clear fir beams and cedar planks for reuse.
Smith Residence - The fir was repurposed for new columns and stairs.

Smith Residence - The cedar was repurposed as interior flooring and exterior decking.
One man's trash is another man's treasure - We worked among these homes one of our service trips to Nicaragua where reuse is an absolute necessity. This is Pantanal. It is a community that was built after Hurricane Mitch swept through the country in 1998.

Friday, March 28, 2014

So many cabinets... ...So little time

There is a world of cabinet options out there and we use them all. We have worked with everyone from super high-end custom cabinetmakers to builder grade product installers at Lowe’s or Home Depot and everyone in between. It’s always based on the clients’ choice of style, quality, and cost. We utilize turnkey outfits that provide the cabinets and installation. We also install our own cabinets. At times we have used Ikea products in both standard and unconventional manners. Their cabinet lines have gotten much better over the years and perform quite well. The trick is that there always seems to be at least one or two unexpected issues. We fortunately have the skilled craftspeople necessary to address these unexpected items when they arise.
Ikea cabinet frames set by our crew.

The same Ikea finished cabinetry installed by our crew.

Ikea Expedit shelfs (to the right) installed in a non-standard manner by our team become quite a beautiful detail