Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The New Neighbors Next Door

Well, it's been almost two months since I last wrote a post... The New House Next Door now has our new neighbors living in it! These past months have seen some minor activity at the NHND - swapping a  non-working part in the hot water heater, touching up some painting, a bit of regrading, a 911 compliant street number sign, and getting the final inspection and Certificate of Occupancy from the building inspector.

The last contractors on the job - movers!
 Today was the big move day. Grandma and Grandpa have been packing and sorting through their life's possessions this summer and now they are in their fresh, new house! It's about half the size of their previous house, where they've lived for more than 40 years. It took a lot of planning and deciding and hard work - physical and emotional- to pare down their stuff and make this move. Now they have a space that is much better sized for two people and much easier to maintain than their 1840s farmhouse. (I hope I don't jinx anything - but NO MORE MOUSE TRAPS, for instance)

Welcome to your new home!
So, the new house next door to my house is all finished - but I've been thinking that every project I work on as an architect, is a new house next door to someone... so I plan to continue this blog and share some more of my work and thoughts about design with you. I won't be writing multiple posts per week, like I was, and I won't be able to be on site taking photos as frequently as I could with this project, but I hope you continue to find what I have to say interesting. Thanks for "listening" and stay tuned for more!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Final Electrical

Now that the floors and walls inside the New House Next Door have all been finished, the electrician has been on site installing the final electrical fixtures and outlets. I learned that the sub contractors like electricians and plumbers that come in after the floors are finished work in their stocking feet! The inside needs to be kept clean, so all workers now remove their outside shoes before entering.

Inside Garage

Barn Light being installed outside garage

 Because the garage is detached from the house, the electric runs underground to that building, and comes up out of the ground outside the north side door. These wires were pulled through the underground conduit, which was placed and buried last fall, and the garage was fitted with light fixtures and electrical outlets.

Exterior Lights are required by every door

Outside, light fixtures are placed near entrances, and convenience outlets on porches, etc. The cutest idea that was implemented was the "Christmas Light" outlet - placed up high around the front porch roof. :)
Lighting in Bathrooms over mirrow

Shoe-less Electrician installing outlet in kitchen island

Light Fixtures are required over stairs

Floor Outlets can solve furniture placement dilemmas in large rooms
 Inside, special outlets in the floor and kitchen island have been installed, as well as all the light fixtures. The building code is quite specific about light fixture and switching locations - especially at stairs and hallways - so that one can easily get around without having to fumble in the dark. The code is also quite specific about the distance between outlets, so that extension cords don't become a safety hazard. (did you ever live in an old (not updated) place where there is one outlet per room?!)

Lots of folks like to grumble about the building code - or government rules in general - and some even try to "get away with" evading the code- but these rules are there to protect health and human safety and the more I work in this field, the more I try to impress this upon my clients. Of all the sub-contractors on the job site, I think electricians are the ones I've learned from most frequently about some code requirement.

Friday, June 13, 2014


All last week, the floor finisher has been working inside the New House Next Door sanding and applying a finish to the oak strip hardwood floors. I've written two previous posts about the hardwood flooring and you can click here to read them:



The last two floors to be done (remember the bathroom tile floors were completed earlier), are the porch floors, which will be painted, and the mechanical room floor, which will have linoleum.

Linoleum is a natural material - made from the flax plant- and is therefore "green" and sustainable to use. It is also durable, economical, and comes in a myriad of colors and styles.

The mechanical room is a small room in the middle of the first floor to house the furnace, water heater, water softener, and electrical panel. It also has a floor hatch to access the crawlspace below the house. These mechanicals are so compact, that the room will also serve as a storage space, as well, with some sort of free-standing shelving unit.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Porch Stairs and Railings

The NHND has a full front porch facing the street and a small back porch that provides access from the backyard and garage area to the house and screened porch. Because of the way the grade slopes down toward the back, the back porch is higher off the ground and requires a 36" high (min) guardrail by code. The front porch is close enough to the ground that a guard rail is not required, however a low rail was decided upon for looks and safety. This lower rail, will look nicer due to it's more reasonable height - codes can make for odd proportions sometimes. (see post on egress window codes)

Back porch stairs
 The rails we designed are traditional and simple 2x2 vertical balusters between a horizontal top and bottom rail. The stairs and posts are a bit more special in the front, and a bit more utilitarian in the back. As is appropriate, the scale for the front entry is more grand than for the rear entry. Regardless of guardrail requirements, each set of steps requires a handrail on at least on side, since they have "two or more" risers.
Front porch stairs

All this code compliant carpentry boils down to one big fact here on site: No more climbing ladders! (and, folks, that means getting closer to time for a tour!)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


Outside water (rain) has to be taken away from the building and one way to do that is with gutters and downspouts. The most important thing, though, is that the ground the water lands on slopes away from the building. Good designers and builders have to "think like a water drop" when detailing exteriors, and bulk water run-off is no exception.

White box gutters being installed to the fascia

 The NHND has standard, white aluminum box gutters and rectangular downspouts - this is the most common and most economical choice and the right choice for this building. Like other "working" items on a house, gutters can be unsightly, (sorry gutter guys! it's true!) and one should plan well in advance for how they will appear, rather than just leave it to chance.

Metal half-round gutter

Other projects I've worked on have half-round galvanized gutters with curved brackets connecting to angled fascias. Decorative rain chains can be used in lieu of downspouts. Of course, rain barrels can be at the receiving end of all this water so you can water your garden without turning on your hose and increase your sustainability.

Detail: gutter returns around to the gable end

Another option to improve the look of plain gutters is to return the gutter around the corner, so the downspout can be less obtrusive as it comes down against the side of the building, without sticking out to "angle back" to the wall. Still another option is to design larger roof overhangs and forgo gutters altogether.


The plumbers have installed the heat recovery ventilator (HRV) and it's associated ductwork. This mechanical air exchange system works together with the exhaust fans (located in each bathroom) to maintain the indoor air quality.

HRV vents out of the attic wall in the back of the house

 Typical residential construction didn't used to have systems like this. It used to be, the building envelope (dividing line between inside, heated space and outside) was leaky enough to provide plenty of fresh air. Todays tighter building envelopes (look at previous posts talking about CI - continuous insulation- for more info) don't allow for a free air exchange (which means we use less fuel to heat and cool our homes- yay!) so we need to provide a mechanical exchange.

This is done quite simply here at the New House Next Door. The two bathroom fans exhaust warm, moist air out. On it's way out, it passes through the HRV, where the heat from that air is removed before the air is expelled to the outdoors. The HRV pulls fresh outside air in, transfers that recovered heat to warm the outside air, and then deposits the fresh air into the house.

The other part of this system that is important to mention is that the attic, where the ductwork and the HRV are located, is conditioned space. Ductwork should always be located within the building envelope for the best efficiency. (see the spray foam insulation applied directly to the underside of the roof sheathing in the picture below)

Ductwork in a conditioned attic - as it should be

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Screened Porch (Sun Porch)

Outside, the sun porch/ screened porch got it's screens installed into the framed openings. I designed it to be finished from the exterior, but to save money, the interior of the porch has been left unfinished for now. Finishing the interior will be a future task for my FIL and DH to work on together someday once we are neighbors.

This is what I'd call an "outdoor room". (click here to read on my website about The Outdoor Connection) The room can be accessed from french doors in the living room, or from the back porch. It is open on three sides, making one really feel as if one is outside when in the space (as opposed to a screened porch that is only open on one or two sides feeling more enclosed). To state the obvious, a screened porch gives one more protection from the elements, and can be used more of the time than a simple deck or patio. (rain, buggy evenings...) This screened porch extends its use even more, by switching into a sun porch during colder months.

It faces south and west, looking toward the back yard and the Catskill Mountain View. With the "Combination Door" inserts we used, the screened panels can easily be swapped for glass panels with the turn of a few screws. Once glass is inserted, this space actually has the ability to gain heat from the sun, both for the sun room, and, when the french doors are opened, for the house as well. During the warm weather months, the roof of the screened porch actually helps keep the house cooler, by shading the western-facing living room glass doors.

So, for summer, a shady, insect-free, breezy respite. For early spring and late fall, a space to catch the diminished sun after/before a cold winter. And for sustainability, the ability to actually help heat and cool the house. That's a hard-working space!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The New Workshop Next Door

Work at the NHND is moving slowly now, getting the final fixtures installed and such.

But! Here on our property, we have started a new outbuilding project that's in the early framing stages and is moving fast. This building will be a two-vehicle car port and a one room wood working shop/studio space. (click here to go to first post about this project)

The foundation and site work is very low-impact by design. Piers reach below grade to frost and support a wood floor system. 2x4 walls support a scissor truss (higher in the middle) roof. The truss is also designed to perform well in terms of energy code, by having a "raised heel" to have more space for insulation above the wall (that spot is traditionally a weak link in the insulation/thermal barrier). The walls will be sheathed with continuous insulation, as well as insulated within the wall cavity. This 23'x23' space will be high, and dry, well lit and warm - all things DH's current workshop in the basement is not. Yay!

In terms of zoning and site planning design, this building was designed to meet the Village's codes and pattern book. Since the one end of the structure is for cars - although not a technically a garage, I located it back 20' from the front of the house, to keep it secondary - as an outbuilding should be. The workshop part will have a front porch facing the street, and our driveway became a circular shape, with two entrances/exits. There are always restrictions regarding how much of the site can be covered by building footprint, and we were careful to meet all requirements and presented our site plan to the planning board for approval last year.

Concrete pier foundation with wire, fabric & gravel under building

Wood framed floor system for workshop/studio space

Raising the last wall of workshop
Roof trusses

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Wainscot - what a cool word, huh?

Wainscotting is any type of wood finish on a wall, usually for the lower half, under a chair-rail. This is a traditional finish that was used to make the lower part of a wall durable, so that when furniture banged against it, the wall remained un-scuffed.

Nowadays most houses have gypsum wall board all the way to the floor, but sometimes in a fancy library or dining room you might see wood paneling as a wainscot; or in a cottage-style home - in lots of magazines these days- you'll see fresh, white bead-board wainscot in a mud room or a bathroom.

Installing white bead-board wainscot in the bathrooms is the way I detailed the NHND and a few other bathrooms I've worked on. It lends a classy feel and looks sharp against the colored wall above. When I went next door to take a photo, my camera battery was dead, so for now I'll post a generic drawing of wainscot styles and show you a photo next time.

Examples of some traditional wainscot styles

Friday, May 16, 2014


A new exterior finish was started this week. The stucco crew came and secured the 2" rigid insulation to the concrete foundation wall, scratched up it's surface, and applied a base or scratch coat over fiberglass mesh. No more blue insulation board visible around the NHND's foundation!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Stair Railing and Closet Shelving

The stair handrails and closet shelves/clothes rods are installed. The interior trim is all done - including on the oval window, which isn't shown in this photo. The oval trim is made of a flexible synthetic material that will be painted to look like the rest of the wood casings.

Clothes closets have a simple rod with shelf above. Storage closets have shelves. By design, the New House Next Door has a lot of closets- 3 on the first floor, and 4 on the second floor! Two of the most unique closets are the one under the stairs and the one in the painting studio. (the largest second floor room will be used by my MIL as her painting studio, rather than as a master bedroom- view her fantastic work here on Face Book)

The under the stair closet has a sort of magical "The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe" quality to me because the coats will be hung across the width of the space, as usual, but one would part those coats and slip behind them to access the shelves against the back wall. I specified double doors for this closet, so that when open they do not block the hallway - a problem in their current house.

The painting studio closet is a wide closet with double doors. Inside will be a counter with a sink, for cleaning brushes, with storage shelves above. The second largest bedroom has a walk-in closet with a pocket door.

The largest storage area, though, is the attic. There is a pull-down stair from the studio ceiling to access the attic. The roof was framed with what is called an "attic truss", which leaves the center, highest space free of diagonal truss chords, so it is usable space. (click to go to wintertime post about roof trusses)

Smallest Bedroom Clothes Closet

Painting Studio Closet- see plumbing for sink poke through wall

Perfect for Hide and Seek - the Closet under the Stair
Attic Pull-Down Stair - before trim

Friday, May 9, 2014

God is in the Details

"God is in the details" is a quote from famous German-American minimalist architect Mies van der Rohe.

Inside Corner, where two door casings come together

That's the stage we are at inside at the New House Next Door. I wish I could say I designed all these interior trim details in advance, but the truth is that some of the ingenious details around inside corners and such are discussed and made on site by the carpenter, Scott.

One thing I did specify is a tall baseboard and substantial three-part casing in the rooms, and then a smaller base and more minimal one-piece casing in the closets. The tall base is nearly the height of the baseboard radiators, and helps make them less obtrusive. (click to go to post about designing hide mechanicals)

Smaller beaded 1x4 casing and base in closets

Larger Three-Piece Moldings and 7 1/4" Colonial Base in Rooms

Today the stair guy is on site to install the newel posts, spindles, and handrails on the interior stair. This is very detailed, finish work and will be a real feature in the house. We discussed exactly where the newels will go and how they will be securely anchored to be really sturdy. Photos to come next time!

Also today, the electrician is on site doing the finish electric work now that all the interior painting is done around switches, fixtures and outlets. (Painters are also around caulking and touching up.) He is installing paddle switches, which I selected because of their ease of use (Universal Design - anyone can easily flip a switch, even with an elbow or shoulder)

Slides into gap @ Radiator
Meitered Return on Baseboard ...

Friday, April 25, 2014

Interior Trim and Casing

Next thing the carpenters are working on is the interior trim. It's really "backwards" how they worked outdoors all winter, framing and siding and roofing through the snow storms, and now that spring has arrived and the weather is Beautiful, they are working indoors - but c'est la vie!

Windsor One Trim Profiles (some of them)
 I specified Windsor One historically accurate moldings, mostly from their "Greek Revival" style. This material is spectacular, if you want painted interior molding. It is finger-jointed together, which makes it economical and environmentally friendly, and it is pre-primed, which saves on labor- although I did learn from the GC that cutting it gums up blades quickly, due to that primer. It also comes in many different shapes and sizes and designs, to match what look or style you are going for - as long as that look is fairly traditional.

The New House Next Door is a traditional design, and the folks who will live in it have tastes that are traditional, so I wanted to use traditional trim-work where I could. In addition, the house is small and because of that I wanted every detail to look beautiful.

The base is a tall 7 1/4" and the casing (around windows and doors) is a built-up 3 piece molding with a beaded casing and an ogee back band. We are not so formal to be using crown molding, but are using bead-board wainscotting below a chair-rail in the bathrooms.

All this interior design and detail underscores that the house is quality built, and even can make it feel "established" (I don't want to say old) - like older homes with fine craftsmanship, trim-work and built-ins.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tile Day 2 and 3

Tiling shower walls
 The tile sub-contractors returned a couple more times to do more work. First they grouted the floor tiles they had installed previously in the bathrooms and the mud room entry. Then, they installed the wall tiles around the first floor bathtub. Then they set to work on the second floor shower.

First they applied a product called "Hydoban" (the light green color material in the second photo). This is a roll on paint-on waterproofing membrane that was applied to the floor, seat and up the walls a few inches. After it is dry, it effectively stops water from leaking beyond it to the framing below.

The next day, they could come back and tile the shower walls, ceiling, and seat.

Hydroban Membrane in Shower

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Every house needs storage space. Smart designs/layouts work hard to be efficient and economical with space- whether it is living space or storage space or circulation (ie. hallways, stairs) space. The most space-saving place to put stairs to an upper or lower level is directly under another set of stairs. But we got to make a deep (and progressively shorter) storage closet under the stairs at The New House Next Door, since it is built on a short basement, or crawlspace, and there are no basement stairs. (click to go to post about choosing a short crawlspace)

The walls under the stair were framed after the stair was installed. The flooring was installed only where the finished closet space would be. (below 36" in height, or so, was deemed not usable, and was walled off). The sheet-rockers and tapers returned to finish this area, and next time the painters are around, they will paint it.

Closet Under Stair

 In other storage news, the kitchen cabinets were delivered today. Kitchens in today's homes are expected to work really hard for us. We want good lighting- both natural and artificial, adequate work areas, the right tools within the right distance/location, and many different types of storage.

Boxes of Cabinetry

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tile Day 1

 Today a new sub-contractor arrived on site: The Tile Guy!
He installed the tile on the floor in the back entry area and in the first floor bathroom. In addition, he put down the "mud" in the shower area of the second floor bathroom. Remember, that the shower is "curb-less", meaning there is no lip to step over to get in. (see post on Universal Design) Because of this design feature, the shower floor was framed low, and then had to be raised up to be level with the rest of the bathroom floor with mud. The mud creates a bed that is sloped toward the drain and will get tile installed on it tomorrow.
Tile Floor at First Floor Bathroom

Tile at Back Entry/Mud Room

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The New Garage Next Door - A Photo Illustration

Excavation & Soil Compaction

Foundation Form-work & Reinforcing

Floating the Concrete Slab

Back-fill Around Slab

Sill Plates onto Anchor Bolts

Framing of First Walls

All walls with door and window openings are framed

Setting Roof Trusses & Applying Wall Sheathing

Wall and Roof Sheathing

Building Paper and Windows
Fascia, Drip Edge & Roof Shingles

Door, Casing & Soffits

Exterior Trim - look close: white on white

Over-head Doors and Clapboard Siding

Shingles Applied in Gables
Completed Exterior Siding

I thought it would be interesting to see this small building from beginning to end all in one post. Click HERE to read my "architect on a soap box" post about garages and house design. The last things that still need to happen to this garage building is the electrician will wire the garage (and a cool barn light will be hung above the over-head doors) and the excavator will place top soil and driveway material. Next year, when the grass is green all around the building, I'll add a truly "final" photo.