Thursday, February 25, 2010

Visitors on Saturday

This coming Saturday, the Explorer group that I host at Baskervill will be making a visit to the Riverside Drive house for our first construction tour. This was originally planned for last month but the date coincided one of our 3 recent Saturday snowstorms. We'll try again this weekend.
It won't match the drama and complexity of last year's tour of the Virginia Museum of Art. However, the youth will probably understand the scale better and maybe open their eyes to some new ways to look at a house.

I will explain the house in context with the diverse grouping of buildings we have around us - then talk about the design idea and the challenges with working with an older building. The house is at a good point to view as all the systems are roughed-in and open to be understood. It's not a large house but hopefully, there will be enough to talk about to occupy this group for 45 mintues or so. I may present them with a challenge - a quiz to see if they can read working drawings. That may help them look at things a little deeper.

This program is open to any high school student who has an interest in Architecture and/or Interior Design. We meet seven times during the winter and spring. Two of these are site visits, one is a tour of another Architect's office, and the other 4 are instructional programs at our office with a small design project.

Our other site visit will be a tour in late March of the Northside Family Learning Center. The project's contractor has a son in our program and suggested that it would make for a good tour. It incorporates several green strategies including PV panels and solar hot water.

Our final event in late April will again be a one-day house renovation project that is part of the Rebuild Together program which helps revitalize a chosen neighborhood each year. Last year we worked on a house in Highland Park and before that was a house in the Swansboro district.

This is the seventh year Baskervill has hosted the Explorer program. It is merely our goal to open their eyes regarding a design career/education. Whatever their choice, we have at least put them in a position to make an informed decision. Last year, three of our senior students were accepted into design programs that include Cornell, Columbia, Kentucky, UVA, and VCU. I'd like to say we had something to do with this, but the reality is they are very bright young people who work very hard. We were just given the opportunity to nurture what was already there.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Siting the House

It won't be too long now until the weather gets warmer and things start to green up. That has gotten me in the mood to think in more detail about the landscape plan for our house.

The way a building is understood is affected by the topography, the approach, and the way plant material is situated. In our case, topography is what makes our site unique. Sitting 130' above the river gives us some long views but also means our house is visible from several interesting vantages.

It's been a bit of a game to me to find our house from various long views. The orange fencing in the front yard makes that easier to do at the moment. The long views that are most interesting to me are seen from the Dooley Mansion at Maymont, Kanawha Trace, and the Boulevard Bridge.

Those are fun to see, but the approach views from each way on Riverside Drive are the ones that impacted the design. Arriving from the west is very dramatic. It brings you under the train bridge and 80 feet up a steep hill - facing directly at the northeast corner of our house. The window box on that corner provides a focal point as you climb the hill, but more importantly gives us a great view down the road and to the river.

Arriving from the other direction, the house still sits up several feet above the street but emerges gradually from behind the neighbor's dogwoods. It is also obvious that the front of our house aligns with the houses on either side. Each side of the house matches the respective scale of the neighboring house.

The hardscape plan for our yard is still up in the air a bit. Early on, I created a plan to change the sidewalks and driveway, but now is the time to lock it down. The form of the house is complete and it is easier to imagine how plant material and exterior lighting should work.

It helped me greatly to have my first discussion with a landscape architect today. Preston Dalrymple has a great understanding of plant material and we've worked together on several projects over the years. This landscape plan will be something Carrie and I can implement over time.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Metal Roof is Complete

I did a little climbing today to get a few perspectives that few people will ever see. The first is standing on top of the dumpster. The second was taken with my shoes off standing on the new metal roof. These views show me how the roof details came together. Everything looks very tight and clean.

Except for the edge trim that overlaps the cedar trim, the only view of the
roof is about 200 feet down the street. From that vantage, you can see a glancing view.

The color works exactly as I had hoped. It is a bronze/grey color that
will be close to the color of the copper after a few years. On the adjacent image, you can compare the painted metal pan color on the lower roofs with the copper trim on the high roof.

Another reason for capturing these images is to get a close-up image of the stone chimney. We will be using this material on the upper part of the fireplace inside. With the height of the space inside, I feared a uniform application of this stone would be too much of a good thing.

Currently, we are searching for a smooth, honed stone (like a limestone) that will surround the fireplace opening below the mantel. The color will probably be best if it matches one of the lighter beige pieces in the chimney. You can see this in my draft sketch of that wall.

The shelving will be another device to bring the scale of the room down a bit. The top of the shelves will align with the head of the window that looks out to the front.

Now that most of the specialty lights are on site, the electricians should be able to finish rough-in soon. This is the last item before insulation and drywall begins. That will make things look very different inside.

It is starting to get real.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Latest Images After Brick Stain

No narrative today - just going to let the images speak for themselves.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Exterior Work Continues

With a few days of sunshine, work on brick staining and metal roofing progresses. After these two items are complete there are just a few things left on the building exterior: the bluestone steps, painting the PVC trim, finishing the wood, then finally – applying the copper panels.

The roofs over the living room and garage slope toward the south and are visible from the street. This is why we chose metal there instead of the white roof that is on the main roof and area over the back. The brown metal roof will approximate the color of copper patina seen on old pennies – and soon to be visible trim on our house. The white roof has a high reflectance and will reduce the cooling load in the summer.

This white roof is a TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin) material. It is now a standard roof on most commercial buildings with near-flat roofs, particularly popular in the south where cooling is the primary HVAC load. I have been told that the temperature of a TPO roof surface will be 20 degrees less than a black EPDM rubber roof. Environmentalists encourage use of this type of roofing as it reduces the heat-island effect found in cities.

The use of brick stain is a switch from our original plan to paint the brick. Baskervill used this product on an office building addition for WM Jordan here in town with impressive results. There, existing buff-colored brick was stained to match the red that was used on the addition. You cannot tell the difference.

My goal for the stain is to let some of the character of the old brick wall come through while neutralizing the exposed places where we patched and added brick. The old brick wall had a tan-colored mortar and a high percentage of flashed brick (the dark ones exposed to the flame when in the kiln.) A painted brick wall would need re-painting every 5 years or so. A stain should require much less maintenance.

I hope the stain works.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Start of Week 16

From the comments I am getting, I can tell there are a fair number of people reading this blog. This is great. It wasn't my original goal to be so public with it. Rather, the purpose was to let a few family members share our experience through pictures and simple explanations of what was happening each week. With the expanded readership, I'll add some things occasionally that give you a deeper background about the decision-making process.

My intent is to keep the tone of the essays straightforward. Hopefully you'll also learn a few things about design and construction through our experience.

I am by no-means a technical person. This renovation project is a learning experience for me and I freely admit that fact. There will no doubt be a few naive comments of mine that will make the contractor cringe.

The vast majority of my 30 years of experience as an Architect has been as a designer and project manager. Both roles rely on others to fill in the technical needs of a project. My job is primarily to communciate and educate. To be successful as a designer or project manager, one must connect to clients and co-workers with words and visuals that they can understand.

Some of my unofficial duties at work are educational in nature. Each winter for the past 7 years, I've hosted an Explorer group of high school students who are interested in Architecture and Interior design. Most have had no exposure whatsoever with the design process. Our meetings introduce them to basic concepts that all designers confront such as scale, color, form, and structure.

It is always my preference to have some of our design-leaning interns deliver parts of the program. Our interns are closer in age to the students and also need some experience presenting in front of groups. Few of the high-schoolers are confident enough to speak up, so we introduce the night's subject matter with images, then give them a hands-on project to explore the topic. As with every project in real life, there is an opportunity to present their work.

Two of our meetings will be field trips to see a project under construction. The first of these will be a visit to our Riverside house on Saturday, February 27. It seemed logical to volunteer our house renovation for this purpose. Construction should be early enough for everyone to see what is behind the walls - but far enough along to comprehend the design. As much as I've cronicled the project through the blog, I should have no trouble preparing things to tell them.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Weather and Climate Issues

In light of our fourth sizable snowfall yesterday, I thought it best to write about a topic related to weather and energy conservation opportunities. There are several climate-related issues that should be considered when designing a house.

Richmond's weather is moderate compared to most other places in the country. Our record high is 107 and our record low is -12. However, we don't have many summer days that are over 95 and seldom do we get below 10 in the winter. Our biggest threat is the occasional hurricane and associated flooding and winds. Even risks for those are limited or manageable. You can eliminate flooding with proper site planning. Wind damage is reduced through proper design.

Though within a five-hundred feet from the James River, our house is more than 130 feet above the river. Proper design dictates that the ground around a house slopes away on all sides. Before construction began, there was one place on the north side of our house where the old roof drains dumped water onto a flat spot. Dampness seeped into the basement and warped the paneling there. With the large overhangs and redirection of the roof slope, this seepage will likely end.

Being inland by 100 miles, our wind risk is much reduced from that along the coast. Structural designers have a Code-specified velocity that they must use for a site's geographic location as well as a "friction" number related to density that surround the site. If a site is wooded or is surrounded by other buildings, the strength of the wind will be diminished. Our biggest risk for damaging weather is actually the (3) 80-foot oak trees on the west side that could fall on the house in a large wind.

In northern climates, a house will require more heating than cooling. South of Richmond, a house will demand more cooling than heating. Here, we are about equal parts heating and cooling. Our systems have to be designed to handle extreme cold and hot.

Regardless of which season we're in, we want to minimize the use of our mechanical systems -to save money. The first line of defense is to insulate - ceiling, walls, floor, windows, and doors. In this project, insulation is an important strategy. The original house walls were solid brick and block with plaster over furring strips inside. The windows were solid aluminum with single-panes of glass and cheap storm windows. At some point, the previous owners had put insulation in the attic space.

The worksheet attached shows my very rough math for various sections of the renovated house. The numbers refer to R-values for component materials that make up the wall and roof sections. A higher R-value will have a greater insulation ability.

Needless to say, our new walls will have a much higher R-value than the 3.85 that the original house had. The roof will perform much better and the windows are Energy Star rated.

At seasonal extremes, walls keep cold on one side from heat on the other. If there is a point where this transition happens too quickly, condensation will occur on the warm side - in the same way as it does on the outside of a cold drink.

One of the issues with being in the middle climate is how to avoid moisture (and mold) in an outside wall. Vapor barriers usually help with this. In cold climates, you put a vapor barrier on the inside face of the insulation. In warm climates a vapor barrier belongs on the outside. In middle climates such as Richmond where you have extremes of both, what should you do?

This is an ongoing debate in our area, but the prevailing thought for new construction is to not use a traditional vapor barrier at all. Instead, many use a vapor "retarder" which allows some passage of air and moisture - letting the building breath.

This moisture concern confronted us specifically where we kept the brick and block walls. To save energy, we wanted these remaining structural walls to be better insulated. However there was concern about the moisture that surely would migrate through the brick and block - into the cavity where mold could form. Our decision was to use a closed-cell sprayed insulation that has a high R-value and also would act as a barrier to migrating moisture from the outside. This seems to be standard practice for similar situations. I'm confident it will do the trick and save us energy for many years.

With a few days of sunshine, the roofers should finish the metal roofs over the garage and living rooms. That will allow the tarps to come off and the general appearance from the road will be better. Lights are coming in waves over the next couple of weeks. We are certainly due some decent weather for a change.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Snow, Snow, and More Snow

Another weekend storm has started and is expected to dump another 6+ inches of snow on us. This is more than I have seen in my 29 years in Richmond. Many years, we don’t see snow at all. Regardless, progress inside and out has continued.

Shortly, we expect work to occur on the metal roofing and the front porch steps and landing. The cedar siding is now about finished – including the back. Electrical rough-in continues inside while we wait for the specialty fixtures and transformers to arrive. The first box of those came Wednesday.

Carrie and I met Michael and Todd at the house on Monday to review the interior trim. There is nothing particularly unusual about it, but with a contemporary house it is important to keep simple lines. Our trim will have square edges and vary from 4” wide around the doors and most windows to 6” around the three large windows. The typical base will be a combination of 3 rectangular sections.

On Tuesday, the metal fabricator met the contractor and me at the house. He will be doing the stair stringers and rails. From the drawing I did and an image of something similar, he will now create shop-drawings for us to review. Since this is a very visible and sculptural item in the house, the design is very important. After about an hour of discussion, measuring, and pointing, we had talked out every unique detail.

The stair rail will be supported by vertical tube sections. Metal rods (3/8” diameter) will span between the verticals at a 4” spacing. All metal will be painted black and the top of rail will be capped with a 2 ½ inch piece of maple. The black and maple colors should are complements to the countertops and cabinets of the adjacent kitchen. At the top of the stair, I’ve elected to put a 36” bookcase where the sloping handrail ends – rather than transitioning directly to a horizontal guardrail. It’s one more place to pull the maple color into the plan.

While I love the warmth of natural-finished wood, neither Carrie nor I want to overdo it. We will certainly refinish the salvaged oak floors and extend this floor material throughout the rest of the house (minus the bathrooms). My current thought for the finish is to select a reddish tint. That might be a welcome contrast to the honey-colored maple that is an accent color in places. Besides the rail cap and kitchen, a matching maple finish will also be on the 3-panel interior wood doors.

Both Carrie and I hit the road shortly for work-related duties. If the weather allows, I’ll be in Chicago for a long weekend and Carrie will head to Philadelphia just about the time I return. The two of us need to keep attacking the list of selections on our plate; I count (11) “to-do” items that are posted on my whiteboard at work.

Maybe next weekend….