Saturday, January 30, 2010

End of Week 13 - Carrie's Turn to Write

It is a snowy, cold Saturday. We received our December gas bill for our rental yesterday and it certainly reinforced our decision to incorporate energy savings ideas throughout the house! The house has no insulation and single pane windows and the bill was reflective of this.
Although work on the house is steadily progressing, the changes are not very visible. Work continued on the outside siding and copper trim and the electrical wiring. These items are almost complete – hope the weather doesn’t slow them down too much.

Mark and I spent last Saturday picking out tile for the kitchen backsplash and the bathrooms. With so many possibilities, it‘s hard to decide what we want but I believe we’ll be happy with our selections. We still have one bathroom to go but need to match the tile to the sink we’ve ordered. I am especially excited about the kitchen backsplash. We found a “biscuit” colored porcelain tile and will add random inserts of blue glass mosaic tiles. A little “wow” factor.

We also began picking out furniture with the help of Carol Hochheiser-Ross, one of Mark’s partners at Baskervill. We will have a round dining room table with upholstered Parson chairs. We also selected 4 chairs for the living room, opting to go with chairs instead of a sofa in that room. Now, we need to make the fabric selections. Before we do, we need to think about wall colors and the mood we want to set in each room. Decisions, decisions…..

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Week Twelve

Here are some images of the outside at present. Progress continues on the outside woodwork and the copper flashing on the TPO roofs began this weekend.
Inside, most of the rough-in work is done. The electrician will pull off the job until the low-voltage lights are on-site. These special fixures require remote transformers and are a bit more complicated to install.

In order to begin installing the wallboard, the City must sign off on all the systems that would be covered. These inspections include plumbing, electrical, and HVAC.
One follow-up to an early post: when the roof and trim came off the back wall, we found a collage of block and wood blocking. We had expected brick to extend higher up the wall and this discovery meant a potentially expensive change. The obvious option was to replace this mess with brick, but instead the contractor and I came up with a cedar detail (seen in the image above) that covers that area.

Last week, I participated on a tour of Ace Recyling center near Hopewell. This is where most of the demolition from our house ended up. Inside the 70,000 SF warehouse it is quite dusty, but the massive piles of stuff are impressive. They have a capacity of 500 tons per day and can recycle nearly everything. At this time, their overall percentage of construction debris recycling is around 85%. Their costs to our project ($350 per 30 CY load) was equivalent to hauling the debris to a local dump. At least this way, the material [that used to be our house] has an extended use.

Ace has a sorting line where 16 people sort through piles of everything imaginable on a conveyor. Wood goes one direction and brick/concrete goes another. Carpet scraps and wallboard are separated. Magnets pull out the steel screws and nails. Other than construction debris, they also take retired Coke machines and many residual materials from manufacturing.
Very cool.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sustainable Design

It has been amazing to witness the evolution of sustainable design over the last ten years. It was ten years ago this summer when my team at Baskervill first proposed a few sustainable concepts into a project. While gathering information about our new client - the United Methodist Church of VA, I found a strong policy statement on their national website about their stewardship of the environment. With the help of Rebecca Aarons (our only expert in an office of 100+ design professionals), we proposed some basic sustainable concepts to our client.

Doing anything “green” at that time was challenging. Very few consultants understood sustainable design concepts, green materials were not readily available, and the officials who reviewed building projects were less than cooperative. To become an expert in the subject, Rebecca spent a lot of personal time researching sustainable methods and materials. To our delight, many of her ideas were accepted by the client and became part of the project.

Ten years later, sustainable design is now seen at Baskervill as one of our standard services. There are evolving guidelines and certifications which are embraced by the people who opposed our goals ten years ago. Today, it is hard to find a material that doesn’t tout its green qualities. As ubiquitous as it seems within the industry, there is a very long way to go.

Improving the efficiency of our vehicles is an important and visible goal - but did you know that the energy consumption of buildings in the US dwarfs that of all our cars and trucks? One recent report stated that the energy saved from simply re-glazing all single-pane windows in America with double-panes would equal that produced by 300 power plants. It is the responsibility of my profession to change the way we design buildings – to make them smarter, use less energy, and be made of materials that retain some value at the end of their life.

My personal philosophy regarding sustainable design comes from what I learned as a Boy Scout. Camping, hiking, and canoeing got me out of the city and into nature. I gained a deep respect of the environment and grew to understand that we are not only part of nature but also its care-takers. Just as scouts leave a campsite "better than we found it", we should strive to do the same with our impact on the environment.

The renovation of our Riverside house employs several sustainable strategies that will be explained in future posts. Carrie and I decided not to pursue LEED certification because doing so for a house is very expensive and heavy on administration. LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” and is a broad rating system that is now widely used for many commercial and public projects. Its priorities include community resources, site development, water efficiency, air quality, energy, and materials.

Though not pursuing certification, I am using the new LEED for Homes checklist as a measuring stick and am trying to do enough items on the list to exceed their Silver rating threshold.

Another accepted guideline for new homes is Earthcraft. It looks primarily at energy consumption and air quality. At this time, their point-system is geared to new homes – and not renovation like ours. Earthcraft guidelines are thoughtful and eventually may have a large impact nationwide due to its lower administrative costs.

These programs are all leading change in the construction industry. Inevitably, elements of these sustainable programs will be integrated into the building code. To Carrie and me, what is most important is not certification in any particular program, but doing those things which will have the greates effect (and) also make economic sense.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Week Eleven

Carrie is out-of-town on business for most of this week so I'll let her update the blog this weekend. She started the tile selections on Tuesday at Morris Tile. This is one of the big items remaining for us to tackle. From what I saw her bring back, there will be some cool tile surfaces in our bathrooms.

Whether we are here to watch or not, work on the house moves forward. Lots of little things are happening this week at the house. On the exterior:

  • Cedar trim is going up around the eaves.
  • The wall area under the back eave is now covered.
  • Plywood (to be stained) is now covering some of the roof soffit between the beams.
  • More [white] PVC trim is edging the windows, ready to be painted.
  • The stone chimney is finished.

On the inside:

  • The upstairs HVAC unit is now in the closet and most (if not all) of the ductwork is complete.
  • The box-framing around the ductwork is done.
  • Much of the wiring has been pulled. The rest must wait till some of the low-voltage fixtures are on site.
  • The radon pipes are grouted into the ground
  • The tankless water heater is hooked up.

When doing a custom house from scratch or an extensive remodel such as this project, an Owner should know that there are many, many decisions to make. These decisions need to happen on a timeline related to their installation and shipping dates. If at all possible, these need to be selected as a group so all are seen together. Even the best designer can't adequately visualize colors without seeing everything in context. That's why we usually do "color boards" where everything is pasted on one surface.

One of our most important interior finishes will be the wood that is scattered about. It is a unifying material, and is found on most floor surfaces. The other places wood will be used are the kitchen cabinets, doors, and tops of the rails. Each of these will be finished by different people and in different places.

If the object is to closely match these finishes, you need to start with the finish that is least flexible. In our case it is the doors. They will have a standard "honey" finish over maple (the right-most sample seen in the adjacent image). The cabinet maker and rail fabricator can tweak their finishes more easily and will do their best to match the door finish.

Because the floor touches the doors and the cabinets, it is probably best not to attempt to match the finish - because you never will. The floor is oak and all other woods are maple. Oak has a heavy grain and maple is more subtle. Our choice will probably be to finish the oak floor darker than the other items - perhaps with a tint of red as well to recall the cedar finishes outside.

Next week, I'll probably bore you with some of the "green" aspects of the house. This can get technical but is important if you want to save money and minimize your carbon footprint.

Friday, January 8, 2010

End of Week Ten

Having spent most of the week with my extended family in Knoxville, it is now time to get back to work and also make some decisions regarding the house. It has been a long while since I took time off that didn't have a scouting or house-design agenda.

The electrician made great progress while I was gone - installing the boxes for the contractor-supplied fixtures and pulling a great deal of wire. The HVAC contractor has the downstairs unit running in-lieu of the propane heater and installed much of the ductwork that will circle the perimeter of the second floor ceiling. Running the downstairs unit will test it and also make the conditions warmer inside where so many people are working.

The bathtub is now out of the box and installed - ready for drywall. I think that the plumbing rough-in is finished and an inspection from the City took place.

Yesterday afternoon, I had a meeting with Diana Ades from Lighting Virginia who has been helping me with lighting design for the house. She is a former Baskervill employee who has remained very helpful to us in her new position. My background in non-corporate lighting has been limited so I very much wanted her help.

Todd set up a sawhorse table for us to work from where we reviewed the electrical plan and the fixtures that I had selected. This house has some tall and inter-connected spaces so one must understand how each fixture will throw light, the wattage of the lamp, how the light is to be switched, and on low-voltage fixtures - where to put any transformer. In a tall house, one must also be able to change the lamp when it goes out without special equipment.

When we finished, there were a few location changes and a couple fixture substitutions. Diana will sketch out the new fixture and tranformer locations and give it to Michael Shearman. After that, we can make the order from Lighting VA. The only electrical task that remains is for Carrie and I to select a few "utility" lights.

While at the job-site yesterday, the masons were cutting and installing the granite veneer over the old chimney. This is being done now to preceed the metal roof that is around it. We want to avoid the roof damage that would inevitably occur from all the mason's work. Also on the outside, more cedar and PVC trim went up. It is really looking warm like I had hoped. If we can have a few more days of dry weather, they should get most of it in place.

There is starting to be a long list of things for Carrie and me to do: order the kitchen appliances from Miele, select tile for the baths and kitchen backsplash, confirm kitchen cabinet color, and select stone for the countertops. For me, there are a couple design-oriented items that I still have my finger in - primarily the railing system and bookshelves. After those items are done, I can put my drawing board away and call it done.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Start of Week Ten

Is it week ten already? By any calculation, we are 1/3 the way through the project. At this point, most people would look at the outside and say "It looks further along than that".

The reality on this or any other construction project is that half of the project time is spent installing support items that people will never see. If they are designed and operate correctly, users will seldom even think about them: the blocking, wiring, piping, and HVAC ductwork.

In this house, everything that supports the first floor comes from the 7' high basement space. The contractors have done a good job in keeping things tight to and even within the joist space. Being 6'-3" tall, this is important to me.

The high-efficiency furnace for the lower areas is in place below the stair and many of the insulated ducts coming to and from it have been installed. The PVC (poly-vinyl chloride) drains from the kitchen, bathrooms, & the washer/dryer are now connected. Many of the copper water-supply pipes are ready to receive the plumbing fixtures.

There were two items that I asked the contractor to investigate this week. Both resulted from working around existing conditions. The first relates to the fireplace and chimney. In all my measuring during design, I never realized that the fireplace brick face was about 4" wider than the block that jutted into the garage behind. It lined up in the 1954 drawings and it never seemed relevant to anything in the design - until now.

The reason it now matters is that the chimney (after the 2" stone veneer is set) will be tucked completely between the center two glue-lams that extend outside from over the living room. I want that same appearance with the full-height stone wall on the inside. To make that happen, they'll cut a couple inches off the sides of the existing fireplace brick face. The wood framing above it is done and marks the point where the cut will occur.

One other investigation was at my request - to have the structural engineer (Clive Fox) verify that the 1954 footing under the porch post is adequate for weight of the roof above. With the structural framing complete, it was a good time for him to make a site visit anyway. In preparation for the Clive's visit, Todd dug out around the corner to reveal the top of the footing, and with a probe found the bottom. It was judged to be quite adequate for the task.
I anticipate that more cedar siding will go up next week. Though it hasn't been up that long, I'll be glad to cover the white Tyvek with that very warm, natural material. The neighbors have been quite complimentary about the cedar.
In my absence, I've asked Carrie to write the next post. She'll be holding down the fort while I visit my parents in Knoxville.
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