Saturday, August 7, 2010
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Sunday, July 18, 2010
- The old house had very little insulation in it. We more than doubled the effective R-value on the remaining old house walls and have a very high value on the new construction.
- The house has less air-infiltration than before. The expandable insulation helps as well as having new windows that seal tighter.
- The old single-pane aluminum windows were all removed and high-quality insulated (R-3)windows are being used throughout.
- The lights were hardly used before 8:30 PM. With so much window area and the open living areas, there is plenty of light to do most any task.
- The HVAC systems have a higher SEER value and should be more efficient.
We'll continue to monitor the energy consumption throughout the year and compare it to old bills for the 30 months we lived in the house before starting the renovation.
Monday, July 5, 2010
Because this is such a fun night for our street, we left my family reunion in Kansas City a bit early so we could be in town for the first Fourth in our new house. Most of our neighbors have friends and family over beforehand. We invited some church friends over for ice cream before the fireworks - and of course a tour of our house. The tour doesn't take real long as it's not that big of a house.
The list of things remaining grows shorter but there are a few important items. Anyone that has moved recently will remember how long it takes to put everything away and get those little details taken care of like the newspaper service. With all the things to do, we still go over to the rental house to pick up the paper each afternoon.
The biggest trouble we've had is with our communications provider Comcast. There have been 6 appointments made and have yet to get our internet or telephone service installed - or the wires buried in the back yard. They did manage to get the cable TV hooked up on the third try. Our general contractor warned us that this would be a frustrating task - despite having our entire house pre-wired. The technicians are friendly but the issue is one of communication with the people on the phone making the appointments. Ironic, isn't it?
The next things happening at our house will be the arrival of the dining room table, the installation of the cantilevered trellis over the front door, and the window treatments. On the design-front, I will be taking Preston's landscape plan and adjusting it into the new layout of the front yard. Because I shifted the entrance walk more to the center, some of the plant locations will need adjustment. This re-draw will be done sometime between now and mid-August so new plants can be placed this fall.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
The lights are probably the biggest unknown as there are so many different types and varied ways to control them. It will take a while to know what switches control which lights. For the most part however, we're hardly using the lights. The sun is still up past 8:30 PM and with the large windows, there's little need to turn them on.
It's kind of funny and pitiful at the same time, but we've had temporary curtains on the large windows while we settle on exactly what to do. These large windows were wired for motorized blinds, but we just didn't want to spend the large amount of money on them until we experienced a few nights and mornings with the sun and traffic outside. We bought very cheap 60" curtains and tension rods that we put up and take down each day. It looks lousy from the outside and I'm sure the neighbors are worried that this is our ultimate solution.
I'm glad we waited - what I anticipated during design would have been a disappointment. Instead of dropping them from the top and covering the entire window, we'll raise them up from the sill - just enough for privacy. We both enjoy looking at the tree branches and sky outside while laying in bed. What we found is that a short shade on the bottom part of all front windows will give us complete privacy, keeping light and view at the top. The lights from neighbors' lamposts and cars climbing the hill below cast interesting patterns on our ceiling. In the morning, it is much easier to wake up with the large amount of light pouring in from this east side. Until the blinds come in, we'll make-do with the temporary curtains.
Having completed the house in June, the landscaping is the one part I knew wouldn't live up to my wishes right away. We put all the walls and sidewalks in but decided to landscape only what was necessary to stabilize the yard until the fall. Some grass seed and a sprinkling of straw was put down but without anyone being there to water daily, very little of it has come up. It has been too hot and dry. The grass is a lost cause but what weeds are there should help limit erosion. I am tempted to dig it up and start fresh but that would be pointless for another couple months.
The Japanese Maple seems to have come through in fine shape despite being directly up against the garage wall. Todd built a wood frame around it for protection. That did its job.
However, the poor large dogwood was less fortunate. We had construction fencing around it for all but the final month. That month was brutal to it as the masons ran a backhoe under its canopy to access the front yard, then hit it many times while spreading dirt. This week, I picked off at least 40 dead, broken branches from its perimeter. To add insult, the asphalt pavers last week pruned it back on side that overhung the driveway so they could run their equipment freely. At least their cuts were clean. Dogwoods are tough trees but I hate to see this kind of stress put on it during super-hot weather. We'll water it generously; and if it survives the summer, it should be fine.
Hanging around landscape architects for years, I have a basic understanding of how to work around trees. They are an important part of any architectural project and when you are fortunate to have older specimens on-site to work with, go to extreme measures to keep them. It takes at least 20 years for a high-quality planted tree to obtain any real size. Here are my suggestions for working around existing trees:
First, if the tree is essential to your plan - consult with an arborist. I'm not talking about someone who cuts down trees and calls themself an arborist - but a person whose job it is to understand and save trees.
Second: never, ever drive heavy equipment under the canopy of a tree. Look up at the spread of the canopy and expect the roots to spread below the ground at least that much. The roots often lie just under the surface and are easily damaged. Heavy equipment compacts the ground and inhibits proper water drainage.
Third: do not significantly change the drainage pattern around a tree you expect to save. If a tree was in a damp area, keep it that way. If it was in a dry zone, keep it dry. I've seen people add two feet of dirt over the tree roots and around the tree's base. I've also seen people cut the ground away nearly up to the base. Expect bad results from these kind of changes.
Fourth: If you thin out a section of trees, know that trees which were inside the old cluster grew upward, reaching toward the light and may have few branches except at the top. On the good side, they are now exposed to more light which should encourage branches at lower areas. However, they are also exposed to wind that they didn't experience before and are more likely to bend and break. I've seen thinned-out pines snap like toothpicks in high winds. The thick grouping of trees that used to be around them blocked some of the wind - but now they take the full force alone.
As I said before, an arborist can help guide you if called on before work starts. On a project many years ago, there was a specimen beech tree just up the hill from where a foundation excavation was to occur. The arborist was on-site during excavation and gave very specific pruning instructions as the roots were exposed on one side. With clean cuts (and I suspect some chemical treatment) the tree came through very well. It was worth the time and money.
If you were wondering about the image at the top, it has nothing to do with the content in this post. If you couldn't figure it out, it's a sideways shot of the copper panels as they go through their patina process. The color is rather spectacular right now and in a couple months should be penny-brown.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
As I get older, my ability to get rid of stuff is much stronger. I evaluate an item's "worthiness" to stick around by asking three questions. If the answer to any one is yes, then it can remain:
- Was it used it in the last 3 years and do we expect to use it sometime in the next 3 years?
- Could someone else put it to better use now?
- Will someone else value it one day (or) will it just be seen as junk?
The most significant construction task this week was the over-paving of the driveway. Gone are those stone circles that we hated to drive over and were hazardous to pedestrians. The contractors added a 2" layer of asphalt for now. However, one day we would like to replace it with concrete pavers or another material that will better retain the storm water.
Over two years ago, Carrie gave me address numbers in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright to put on the house. It just didn't seem right to put them on the brick rancher that we were about to alter, so I put them away for the day we finished our little project. There were several occasions over the past 3 months when I went looking for them - through the 40 boxes in the basement. This past week I finally found them and put them up. It is my humble opinion that they look made for the house (or is it that the house was made for them?)
Finally, the grand piano was moved yesterday afternoon. It adds another lower-scale element into the tall living room and its black color plays off the metal railing nearby. Other than the residual items at the rental house, the only things not in the new house are tables and chairs purchased from Mitchell Gold. These are scheduled to arrive next Saturday and will complete our living room, dining room, and loft.
If only we could get the cable guy to come.
Monday, June 14, 2010
- Since we both like to cook and the kitchen is the most used space in the house, why not put it where it is the most accessible and where the users can see and communicate with others. Don't bury it in an isolated part of the house.
- Connect all the public spaces so they flow together and allow natural light to get deep into the house. Use walls sparingly for structural needs, to create privacy, and gently define different functions within the house.
- Create spaces that will adapt as we progress in years - enjoy the dramatic river view from upstairs but have comparable accommodations downstairs for when we are less mobile. Have an upstairs master and downstairs guest room now, then reverse it later.
- We'll embrace modern styling because we both appreciate the beauty in simple, clean lines. Much of the modern design that the public sees is poorly done and out of any context with neighboring buildings. If contemporary design is done thoughtfully and quality materials are used, it will be embraced.
- Instead of buying a second home or condo, create a home that feels like a vacation house or bed-and-breakfast. Have a location with a great view and feels like it's in a recreational area. Since time is precious to both of us, choose a site near those places we frequent.
We'll continue to post occasional essays and images for a little while as we start using the house. If you are driving by one day or will be viewing the Byrd Park fireworks from our street, please don't hesitate to stop in and have a look. We hope you like it as much as we do.