Friday, December 19, 2014

Roofs

The roof is a very important part of any house as it is the first line of defense against the elements. Whether you are designing from scratch or replacing an existing roof, some things to think about with roof system are the slope of the roof, the complexity of the roof (gables, hips, and valleys), material of the roof, and the surrounding environment.

Often times the slope of a roof is driven by the style of the house, but it can be affected by the environment and cost. Generally a steeper roof costs a little more, but can give more room inside. Also a high slope roof is used in areas that get a lot of snow, the steeper roof keeps the snow from accumulating on the roof that could cause structural failure. Lower slope roofs use less material and therefore can be a little cheaper. They are easier and safer to work on, but may require more maintenance, as leaves and debris can accumulate. A flat roof is a little different animal. They generally cost more due to the materials and system used to make it function properly.

The complexity of a roof refers to its shape, from a simple one plane shed to a roof that has hips, valleys, and dormers. Obviously the less complex the roof, the cheaper it is to frame and roof, some roofers charge per cut they have to do on site. Also each time the plane of the roof is interrupted (valley, dormer) is a potential place for water infiltration, although there are products and systems available that help minimize this risk. The amount the roof overhangs the sides of the house is another factor to consider. The cost and complexity increase as the overhang increases, but a larger overhang protects the siding and windows, prolonging their life. Also large overhangs can offer shading from the sun to help lower energy cost.

The most commonly used materials to choose from when it comes to cladding a roof are asphalt shingles, metal, and membrane. Asphalt shingles are probably the most common and the cheapest of the materials. They are easy to work with which is important when you have a complex roof. Also they are easy to repair. We always recommend keeping an extra pack of shingles when putting on new shingles so if a repair is needed the shingles match. Metal is the next most commonly used material. Metal is more expensive, but is more durable and can last much longer than shingles. Metal roofs are ideal for lower pitch roofs because the smooth finish allows debris to slide off.  Metal is more difficult to work with on complex roofs and not as easy to repair. Membrane is one of a couple materials that come in a roll and are glued down. Membranes are most commonly used on flat roof systems, but can also be useful in unusual situations where the other two won’t work. This material requires some special skills and tools to install and repair correctly.
Metal and membrane roofs are ideal for rainwater catchment systems.
Lighter colored roofing material can enhance reflectivity and reduce energy costs.

The environment the structure is exposed to is another factor to consider when thinking about a roof. Things like weather, snow, and the amount of trees over the structure can all affect the performance of a roof. It is important to maintain your roof by, keeping it clear of debris, checking for damage and wear, and checking around any penetrations to assure flashing and sealants are in good shape. The roof is a critical component to any building, and it is essential that the right choices are made to assure that the roof performs properly.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Pocket Doors

When trying to take advantage of every square foot in your home, pocket doors can really make a difference. Generally, this space saving technique is used when doors start to impede the flow of traffic or as a means to facilitate greater storage capacity or space for furnishings. They are ideal for doors that will remain in the open position the majority of the time (or could remain open the majority of the time). Perhaps your closet doors stay open or you’d like them to stay open for general access, but are only closed when you may be straightening up for company. Does your bathroom or laundry room door swing in and block part of the vanity or counter space? Wouldn’t it be nice to free up that space and not have to swing the door open and closed around your actions?

The majority of the work for pocket doors is done during the framing phase of a home. The door slides on a metal track with wheels along the top of the doorframe. Once the drywall is hung, this technology is hidden and easily forgotten about. Below are some behind the scene pictures of what pocket door hardware actually looks like.

Top 5 Preferences and Tips:
5) Pocket doors are very easy to install in new framing conditions, yet require a tremendous amount of demolition and reconstruction to place in an existing home.
4) Pocket door systems will cost more due to time and complexity of installation.
3) Though pocket door kits are available for 2x4 wall framing, our experience is they tend to fail more easily over time. We prefer to layout 2x6 walls for all our pocket door locations.
2) Cheap hardware and parts generally fail more easily leaving you with a more difficult repair as the system is hidden in the walls.
1) And the #1 Pocket Door Design Tip: Pay particular attention to your electrical layout as switches and receptacles cannot go in the wall where the door takes up the space behind that wall.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Designing Within The Lines

BuildSense was happy to recently complete the design and build of a custom home on the last remaining lot at Durham’s Solterra Co-housing Community. Our client and the neighborhood shared the common goal to build an environmentally friendly house.
Our client came to us as a custom home veteran. She had already designed and built two homes in Austin, Texas before moving to Durham. With this experience she knew what she wanted and what she could live without in order to stay within her budget. She provided clear parameters for the project including a fixed budget, high-energy efficiency goals, a passive solar assisted design, and to have an open floor plan with two entrances, one to the street and one to the back path that connects to the community house.
Unlike many neighborhood associations, Solterra welcomes diversity in the style of homes with a greater focus on issues of site and solar orientation. Allowable eight-foot setbacks are shockingly narrow between houses but further enhance the connection among neighbors. With such tight distances between the houses, the neighborhood wants to make sure that the solar access is maintained when a new home is built. Solar models and documentation were submitted to the association in order to illustrate how the home would not inhibit solar access to neighbors.
The client and BuildSense explored design options to achieve a high performance home on the desired budget. A concrete slab floor surfaced with ceramic tile was desired for its thermal mass qualities of soaking up sun from large southern windows. This in turn made sense for the flat site.
The client wanted a well-insulated home with the intention of using insulating concrete forms (ICFs). While ICF construction suited many goals of the project, it was determined it would cause cost overruns in other areas. As such, an advanced in-line framing system was chosen with exterior 2x6 walls filled with open cell spray foam insulation and an exterior spray applied house wrap. This combination of systems reduced air infiltration to less than 0.6 ACH50 (which actually meets passivhaus standards).


The last major way the client was able to save was by choosing finishes, fixtures, and appliances that had a good level of quality without going over budget. Using splashes of color, standard cabinetry sizes, mid level appliances, and accent tile were excellent decisions to stay on budget.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Readings + Resources for the Intern Architect (and all) – PART II

Did you study up? I hope you enjoyed those resources. Here are two more of my favorites.

A Pattern Language – Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein
This book was also on our reading list when I was an architecture student. It was, and still is one of the most informative, comprehensible and timeless books regarding architecture, construction and urban planning. I love this book and often reach for it for insight and advice. It’s a guidebook on sociology of human nature and the language of our environment, which the authors of the book defined as patterns. The layout of the book is unique too as the patterns of this book are phrased as design challenges that yield discussions, illustrations and solutions. 

Life of an Architect – A blog by Bob Borson
I began to follow Life of an Architect this year as I read in a magazine article the honesty and humor Bob provides as being a practicing architect. Like all professions, the job has its good and bad parts. And Bob has a genuine way of providing a truthful account of all manners associated within the profession. In fact he often says what I believe many of us feel, and he has no qualms in doing so. I suppose that’s only fair since he’s licensed, been practicing architecture for a while now, and most likely sleep deprived like most of us. His blogs make me laugh as well. Whether he’s searching for an intern that speaks Klingon or poking fun at reasons to become an architect, he delivers the silly kind of crap I like. Most importantly though, Bob should be applauded and recognized for the time he dedicates as a professional to provide guidance and knowledge to the young minds of this profession. 

As we know, architecture + building knowledge is a long, arduous and a never-ending educational journey. The more “seasoned” you become the more you understand the complexity of the industry. I hope the books and resources I mention intrigue you as they have me on my timeline as a young mind in architecture.  Cheers!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Projects Highlighted by Exceptional Details

BuildSense is in the midst of working on three beautiful condominium interior completions at 140 West Franklin in Chapel Hill. Check out the intricate and outstanding work by Eidolon Designs in one of our clients' homes in their recent post:
http://eidolondesigns.com/140-west-franklin/

Precision crafted built-ins at 140 West Franklin

Friday, September 26, 2014

Readings + Resources for the Intern Architect (and all) – PART I

In this two-part blog I thought I might throw out some of my favorite readings and resources. Over the years, I’ve found these to be valuable, silly and often brutally honest.  Here are two to look over this week. We’ll hit you with a few more next time.

GreenBuildingAdvisor.com - An informative resourceful website for green building, design and building science guru’s. This site contains plenty of articles, blogs or details for whatever building topics you wish to gain further insight. I’ve frequented this site for years now researching construction strategies and details for our mixed humid climate zone. I also thoroughly enjoy the green architects lounge and their candid booze infused discussions. The two architects hold great after hour sessions (with notable guests) that debate numerous green building strategies within of our industry all while getting blitzed. 

Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin by Lawrence Weschler – An inspiring chronicle of an artist who reveals to the reader his persistent goal towards the experience of perception which he feels is the foundation of everything yet the most difficult concept to grasp. The author’s account of Irwin’s life is compelling, unusual, and yet often humorous.  Irwin challenges preconceived notions, technique and his education; he strips his mind of all constraints and focuses his work on the origin of perception through self-discovery. I read this book in graduate school and I was rather fond of it at the time.  I found his lifestyle relaxing, yet his mind unsettled, and his work deeply complex. To me, Robert Irwin challenged contemporary art and his work eluded classification. Many art critics debated his career and work as even being art while others deemed him as a pioneer of minimalism

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Awesome Responsibility & Benefits of Custom Design

Only a very few people design and build a custom home. A house just for them that fits their needs and passions, family, lifestyle, self-image, and world view. Part of this relates to time, part to money, and a part relates to the emotional investment. It is an awesome responsibility to start with a blank piece of paper and design and build a home. I've heard and sensed this many times over the years but have had recent conversations with clients that have reinforced this idea (and made me laugh). My favorite comment was this: "when you walk into someone's new place and the kitchen island feels wrong, you think, 'what a dumb ass.' When you design it and screw it up, you are the dumb ass."

It is simply quicker, easier, and cheaper to buy a production house that may be close to a fit. However, there is a pot of gold at the end of the custom house rainbow. The reward for this effort is a real home (not just a commodity). A home that helps keep you and your family healthy; that is luxurious and comfortable in the way you experience comfort; that is a place of contentment, delight, and utility; that supports your favorite things to do; that represents your views and passions; and that inspires pride; a home that you love.

My wife's and my experience building a home has changed how I think when we design and build for others. In the design and building process, I learned a whole new level of empathy from the other side of the table. Now, just starting to live in our new home, we are learning first hand what the fuss is all about. One of our first mornings in our home and after a shower, my wife said that she felt like she was traveling and staying in a posh hotel but, wait, it is HER shower! We've gotten clean for years in perfectly serviceable bathrooms, but they never felt like this. Now, we have a hard time choosing between the outdoor shower with a view of the pasture, forest, and pond or the delightful and spacious indoor shower. Of course, both have hand-held shower nozzles to wash our dogs. I say of course because that is true for us and for our custom and personalized home, but not for a commodity house.

When we compare the investment of planning and building time to the decades we plan to live here, it is a minor blip that will feel even less significant with each passing year of enjoyment in our home.

While custom home design is not for everyone, here are a few examples of custom spaces or items requested by clients which provide them with tremendous pleasure, comfort, and peace of mind in their own unique and personalized homes. "It would be nice if my tub didn't feel like a bathroom, but more like a spa. It would be wonderful if I could gaze into the trees while relaxing and soaking."
This home for a boat captain on a very steep slope is three stories with the main entrance on the top floor. "I'd like something of a dumbwaiter to haul light goods up and down with ship's block and tackle."
Requests for "a light filled and open stair" and "plentiful bookshelves throughout the home" resulted in this simple, but dynamic stair. What might you want out of your custom and personalized home?

Friday, August 29, 2014

BuildSense leads another great summer of Design/Build at NCSU School of Architecture!

BuildSense leads another great summer of Design/Build at NCSU School of Architecture! In our fifth summer, we were once again blessed with a fantastic group of motivated students who completed another elegantly executed project. The non-profit Benevolence Farm in Graham NC was the proud beneficiary of this summer's efforts. Students and Instructors designed and built this vegetable washing and packaging barn (“The Benevolence Barn”) complete with open work areas, cold storage, dry storage, and tool sheds in just over 10 weeks. Benevolence Farm provides an opportunity to formerly incarcerated women to live and work on a farm where they develop farming and business skills, grow food, nourish self, and foster community. See images of the completed work below:







Friday, August 15, 2014

Gabions Rock!

Why pay for organized fitness classes when you can install gabions?? It’s both a great work out and a means of enhancing one’s physical environment! Amongst the multitude of today’s retaining wall options remains the handsome gabion. Ideal for erosion control, this modular system demonstrates many benefits; particularly strength met with flexibility. 

“Gabion” translates to “big cage” which is typically made of steel wire fabric that is welded, twisted, or woven closed once filled. The baskets can be filled with rocks, stones, or even concrete. Ideally, one can reuse material such as concrete from a demolished structure. 

While a finished gabion system appears to be monolithic and does indeed provide retention, the wall is also flexible to ensure structural efficiency, and permeable to allow for drainage. Last, if you are willing to put forth your own efforts, collect suitable materials, dig a lot, break and stack stone, and sweat real hard, then gabion walls are quite affordable. Upon completion, this seemingly elemental system will surprise you with its rustic yet undoubtedly elegant appeal. Here’s the basic overview of gabion installation:

1) Excavation
A couple of good shovels will certainly do the trick, however a few hours with an excavator will greatly reduce time and energy spent during excavation.

2) Leveling the ground
It’s important to make sure your ground surface is nice and level before placing the baskets.  While hand levels are, well, handy… a transit is a nifty surveying tool that assists greatly in leveling.

3) Basket assembly
Next comes the unfolding and assembly of gabion baskets.  This takes patience, but the pay-off will be very rewarding.

4) Filling the baskets
Once the baskets are properly set, it’s time for the fun part – filling the baskets with your chosen material!  Options range from taking a sledge hammer to the concrete foundation of a previously demolished building to create chunks of desired size as reusable fill, to ordering pre-sized riprap, stone, etc.  Inherent beauty of the retaining wall structure will be achieved as long as the fill is thoughtfully placed.

5) Fastening baskets
This step can be tricky; using zip ties to first close the gaps between seams is extremely helpful.

6) Backfill if necessary
A layer of landscaping cloth between gabions and earth further prevents erosion.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Explore Your Senses

video
                                                              Sound

Smell

Sight


Touch

Explore your senses

Explore your senses

Explore your senses





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 décor. 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.
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