Monday, March 31, 2014

Universal Design

Universal Design is a term used to describe architectural design that takes into account the varied abilities of all (young/old, able bodied/those with physical challenges, etc.) and strives to create an environment where all can be comfortable.

It is different from ADA requirements (Americans with Disability Act), which is a law requiring public buildings to be accessible. Sometimes meeting ADA requirements makes spaces very institutional feeling - and one definitely does not want that feeling in their home! We want our homes to be friendly and warm, but also safe and accessible. And more and more, Americans want to be able to age in place for as long as they can.

The New House Next Door was designed for my MIL and FIL, who are both in their late 70s. I incorporated some universal design features and best practices for aging in place so that they can be comfortable in the house for as long as possible. (Plus it's right next door to their son - and that's probably the best feature for aging in place!)

A Landing part way up the stairs offers a resting place

Codes require handrails at stairs, but shortish risers are also a good idea. Another simple idea is that the stair has a landing mid way. This gives a stopping point for a rest, if needed. We also consulted with a stair lift company to be sure that this L-shaped stair layout could accommodate a motorized, seated lift, if needed someday.

The kitchen will have a wall oven, which is raised and easier to use than the low oven found in a range. The washer and dryer should be on plinths, so they are raised to a more comfortable height as well. (but I don't think P & D decided to purchase the plinths at this time) The door handles are lever style, which doesn't require the same hand movement and strength that a knob does.

Shower Controls shifted toward the room for easier reach

 A custom change is that the shower is curb-less, with a seat, and the controls are installed close to the room, so one doesn't have to stretch and reach far into the shower to turn on the water. We've all heard how most accidents happen in the home getting into and out of the tub or shower. Both bathing places will have grab bars that are anchored to solid blocking set into the wall framing.

The house is two stories (see previous post about why this house has stairs), plus an attic for storage, and they plan to climb stairs and use all the spaces. If needed, though, there is a first floor room that can become a bedroom and a first floor bathroom with a tub. If stairs become too difficult,  a ramp can be built outside to reach the door - but that isn't something we did now.

All of this accessibility makes this house able to support many generations, which is what sustainability is all about. This house can last and adapt. Remember, this isn't just about being 77 years young. These type of design decisions can be better for the earth, for children, for someone rehabilitating after surgery or an injury, for anyone in the universe!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hardwood Flooring

Most of the rooms inside the New House Next Door will have oak hardwood flooring. By choosing one material to run throughout the house, the spaces will flow easily together and this cohesiveness will help the house feel larger. The only rooms that won't have hardwood floors are the mud room and the two bathrooms.

This is solid wood. The pieces are cut with a "tongue" on one edge and a "groove" on the opposite edge. (called T&G) The boards are laid onto the floor atop rosin paper in long and not-so-long pieces and nailed down with a special flooring nailer in the tongue (so the fastener is hidden). After installation, the wood will be sanded and a finish (stain and polyurethane) will be applied.

You may have heard about "pre-finished" or "engineered" wood floors. They are made of a composite (not solid wood) substrate with a thin veneer of finished wood glued to the top.

Each type of wood flooring material has it's own pros and cons, but typically in new construction (where we aren't trying so hard to control dust, like a renovation) solid wood flooring is preferred. It is both more durable and less expensive.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Scaffolding set up on the west wall to reach the attic gable
The carpenters have done every piece of siding and trim that can be reached from a long or short ladder, (well, not including the porches), so now up they go up onto scaffolding. They have pump jacks and a scaffolding plank spanning across that can be raised and lowered as needed. Now they can work on the outside of the attic level on the front and back, finishing the gable wall and the rake soffit.

What is interesting to me about the carpenter's job (among many things), is how part of their task is to figure out how they will do something. I've seen some very interesting scaffolding constructed at different building sites where lower roofs get in the way of plain, straight scaffolding boards across the entire face of a building.

For large commercial jobs, a construction manager plans all the staging and such, but on a small house project, the carpenters figure this stuff out themselves. They are masters of efficiency, too. Way back when they applied the soffit to much of the roof overhangs, did they go way up to this attic level roof to apply the soffit there? No! Back when they applied casing to the outside of all the windows, did they climb up to work around the attic windows? Of course they left all the high work for later, and will apply soffit, trim, casing and siding all at once. Smart.

My design calls for "shake" or "shingle"style siding up in the gables as a detail. Shakes also specified under the bay window sill and the gables of the garage and the screened porch. Breaking up the continuous horizontal lines of the clapboards with some variety and white bands of trim makes the house look well thought out and "custom". (which it is!) Like the clapboard, these shakes are made of cement, not wood, and they come in panels for ease of installation. It's kind of tricky - looking traditional, but being high-tech. In a future post I'll discuss the limitations of using these cement siding products in the place of wood.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tape & Mud: Smoothing it Out

Inside the New House Next Door, the temporary heating system is set to 50, and "the Tapers" have set to work. They have the task of making smooth (invisible) connections between all the sheet goods that were screwed to the framing. They spread "mud" and tape on all corners and seams, scrape joint compound over all the screw holes, and apply stiff corner angles to exterior corners with tape and mud. When they are done applying, sanding, and smoothing, you won't be able to see where one board ends and the next starts, or where any screws are located - it will all be smooth.

But cooler than what they are doing, (finishing the interior face of all the walls- home stretch!) and nicer than the fact that they get to work inside in heated space, (the carpenters are still working outside and it's still really cold most days) is the fun fact that they wear stilts at work! Really, what non-clown job can someone do where they get to walk around in stilts?!

Better than a ladder: stilts move with you to finish the ceiling and top half of wall.
I remember years ago, when we were doing a renovation and addition at our previous house, the taper left his tools (including his stilts) in our home since he was coming back the next day to continue. (It is a 3 layer process) Well - the temptation was just too great, and my dear husband had to try them on and walk around for the amusement of the kids. The kids loved it, because again, we see stilts (and since we are not tapers), we think of the circus, the parade, clowns! It's FUN! We were all smiles as he walked around the house... Until, startling us, the door bell rang! All four of us felt "caught". (It was not the taper at the door, making sure we weren't playing with his stilts... but my then 5 year old thought for sure it was going to be!)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


In the beginning, there was darkness...

Wait, that's another story.

In the beginning of the construction of the New House Next Door, Scott ran a cable from a circuit on our house's electrical panel. Click here to see the way-back post mentioning avoiding using a generator. The wire runs out a crack in the basement wall, and extends next door across the ground. The circuit would trip periodically - like when too many tools were used at once, or if it got wet, and we got in the habit of checking it each morning. The power use next door about doubled our typical electricity usage for this time of year, but it was so worth it to not have to listen to a smelly gas generator for all these months! It also saved some money, since gas is not cheap, and I'd guess, avoided pollution and carbon emissions.

So now, in addition to having heat inside, The New House Next Door has it's own electricity too! One night, the plumbers were working late installing the temporary space heater (the tapers need a constant indoor temperature for their work- lucky them!) and it was so different to see a light on in the windows next door! We have gotten used to seeing the New House Next Door during the day, but not yet during the night!

The Power Company Brings Overhead Wires to the House

The Service Entrance - overhead wire from pole across the street comes in at a weather-head high on the north wall, then down the wall in a conduit, into the meter and into the house to the circuit panel in the mechanical room

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Our Farm Next Door

Well, It's St. Patrick's Day! 
Luck of the Irish to you!

And we celebrate a milestone at the NHND blog : I've written 50 posts!!!

Today we take a break from talking about the construction of the New House Next Door, to talk about a different type of boiler - the one we use to make maple syrup! This time of year, on our little "homestead" we tap our sugar maple trees, collect hundreds of gallons of sap, and boil it down into sweet, thick syrup to bottle and use throughout the year. Our family enjoys this activity. Friends & neighbors come over to visit. It's fun to tend the fire, taste the boiling liquid as it gets more and more concentrated, and watch spring arrive. That's one of my favorite things about this particular farm activity - when you start, it's winter; when you end, It's Spring!

Sap Collecting Buckets on Maple Trees

Boiling the Sap into Syrup. (Using cut-offs from the house framing as firewood!)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Interior Finishing Continues

Inside, finish work continues. All those repetitive members (wood wall studs and bottom chords of trusses) have to get covered with sheet goods to make surfaces. All walls and ceilings have been covered with wall board. Next step will be tape-ing and mud-ing over all the seams and fasteners to give all the room's interior surfaces a smooth finish that is ready for paint.

Surfaces that won't just be painted have more specialized sheathings, instead of gypsum wall board. OSB sheathing was installed in the locations that will receive a finish of wood wainscot; the design calls for bead-board below a chair rail in both bathrooms. Tile will be the final finish on the walls around the bathtub, and on the walls, floor, and ceiling of the shower area, so those locations get a cementitious tile backer board installed. Backer board will also be installed under the floor tile in both bathrooms. The last "special" wall board material is the moisture resistant gypsum wall board - called "green board" or MR. This is used in the upper half of the wall (where it will simply be painted, not tile or bead-board wainscot) in both bathrooms.

Shower Alcove with soffit & built-in seat

Pull Down Stair Hole between trusses to access attic storage area

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Heating System

This is the heating system for The New House Next Door. Isn't it a wonder? So compact and attractive. (Yes, I do think a boiler can be attractive - I really am an "archi-geek"!) It is a Viessmann super-high efficiency condensing boiler with a separate on-demand domestic hot water heater. (That's the little box on the bottom. I must say - It's Amazing that this tiny machine will be responsible for making all the hot water used in the house, at the time it is needed. ie. There is no storage tank!) It is wall hung in a sleek white metal box with touch screen controls and is mounted to a plywood sheathed wall in the mechanical room. It uses propane fuel to heat water that will circulate through the baseboard radiators, heating the rooms of the house.

Here it's opened up so you can see it's "guts"

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Outside and Inside

Work continues outside (brrrr!) and inside at the New House Next Door.

With temps still below freezing, the carpenters have been winding around the outside of the house applying the horizontal siding, or "clapboards". First they applied from the skirt board up to the top of the first floor windows, all the way around. Now they are working off higher ladders and the low roof, wrapping around the upper level of the house. They are skipping areas that require short pieces, to come back to later, to have the least waste of the HardiPlank Lap siding.

North Side Siding - see also Electrical Meter & Weather Head Installed

South Side Siding

West Side Siding - Don't let John's lack of hat and coat fool you! It's COLD
The inside crew has been installing gypsum wall board on the ceilings and walls of the first floor. They are lucky to be out of the wind, and sometimes even run a heater inside.  I know the GC really wants to get the true electricity and heating systems hooked up and running soon, and then they can say good bye to the fumes from that kerosene heater! (and they need better temperature control to mud/tape the joints on the wall board, but I get ahead of myself...)

Having a surface (rather than being able to look between wall studs from room to room) really does help shape up the space. You can see size of each room accurately, as well as the windows providing views to outside, and the light bouncing off the white walls and ceilings in each individual room. (that light bounce will be even better with the final smooth finishes and paint) The "blue board" you see is moisture resistant wall board, to be used in the bathrooms. (You can see the tub is in place)

View from Dining toward Kitchen

View from Back Entry into Living Room

View from Front Entry into Office
Now that rooms are being enclosed, my lack of a wide-angle lens is apparent. It would be nice for you to be able to see the 3rd window in the office and living room shots. Feel free to refer the the floor plans to recall the room names and locations (click to go to "plans") All in all, The New House Next Door is shaping up inside and out and starting to look more and more finished both inside and out.