Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Spray Foam and Rigid Insulation

The New House Next Door to the Pond got an insulation and air sealing inspection today. Next up will be a blower door test, to get some hard data on how well it was installed and if there are any holes that need filling prior to finishing the construction. In addition, an infrared camera can capture images showing where there is heat loss- and if we did that today, we would see a big hole around the cellar access door that needs to be addressed. (Other very notorious holes in building envelope are fireplace chimneys and skylights, neither of which were included in this project by design)

Spray foam in cavities, box beam; Rigid XPS at headers

In this super-tight building envelope design, all walls and roof surfaces have continuous rigid foam insulation, and the wood-framed walls and roof also have cavity insulation. The continuous insulation (CI) material is Extruded Polystyrene (XPS) and has an R-value of about 5 per inch. There is R-5 on wood walls, R-10 on basement walls, and R-20 on all roofs. The cavity insulation, for the most part, is open-cell spray foam with an R-value of about 3.6/in and is located between all exterior 2x4 wood walls studs and between 2x roof rafters and wood roof trusses. Closed cell spray foam was used in one location (the main floor box beam) and that has an R-value of about 6.5/in.

Recessed lights placed in soffits, not in building envelope

This design exceeds minimum R-value requirements of the "Prescriptive Path" of the Energy Conservation Construction Code, but air sealing is probably more important than R-value, really, so it's the high-tech barriers with taped seams and that CI that really make this system excel in the most economical way. Without CI, that infrared camera would show heat transfer at each wall stud and roof rafter; this is "thermal bridging"- the wood is a bridge connecting inside and outside. That won't be the case with the 1"-2" of CI on the walls and 4" CI on the roof.

If only cavity insulation is used, there would be thermal bridges/no insulation at each wall stud

I am very pleased about this project and the team that is working to create a house "built as all houses should be built", as the independent energy inspector stated today. (speaking from an Energy Code Compliance standpoint)
Raised-Heel Scissor truss allows for lots of insulation

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Siding and Roofing at NHND to the Pond

Hardi clapboards below & shingle above
The New House Next Door to the Pond has it's "clothing" on! The exterior roof and wall sheathing are being covered up with the final, finish materials. After the windows were installed and all the sheathing was taped and sealed, the exterior trim was installed. This is Hardi trim in the color "Cobblestone". It looks like wood and is installed like wood, in most instances, but it is made of cement, like the clapboard siding. This material is durable, sustainable, fire resistant, rot resistant, and the color is factory applied, so no painting in the field is necessary. The color for the Hardi clapboard siding and staggered shingle panels is called "Deep Ocean".

North (Back) Elevation

These clients like the look of Craftsman style Bungalows and therefore, I designed the exterior details to mesh with that style. We have lots of trim - around windows and doors, at corners and along the top of the foundation (skirt board), along the top of walls (frieze boards and verge trim) as well as some horizontal trim bands in gable ends separating clapboards below from shingles above. The trim is a light color (which calls attention to the details) and the body of the house is a dark color (allowing the building to blend into its natural, wooded setting). Other Craftsman type details that will be incorporated are framed panels, boxed porch post bases, double posts, and brackets. Other craftsman type details were dismissed early on in the design process (like open rafter tails) for reasons of excessive labor costs and maintenance-difficulty over time.

Master Bedroom Wing

The dark window exterior cladding color and the metal roof material selection both lend a more contemporary and up-scale feel to the look of the exteriors. The stucco foundation parging color coordinates with the other exterior colors.

Back Side of Garage

A metal roof is a "forever" roof - and choosing materials that have a super long useful life (and are easily recyclable if/when they are at end of life, or the scraps during construction ) is one way to build sustainably. Asphalt shingles, the other common roofing material in this area, are made from petroleum- a non-renewable resource with myriad of problematic issues environmentally and otherwise - plus they need to be replaced after a few decades, usually, and are not recyclable. Soon we will be talking about the spray foam insulation, and of course air-sealing and insulation such that a building uses as few resources to heat/cool the space inside is another very important way to build sustainably.
Detail view to to see color palette
Now that the cooler weather is here and winter is on the way, the exterior work is (mostly) done. The trades (plumbers and electricians) are working on their rough installations inside, then the cavity insulation and the interior finishes!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Updating a Family Room

New Windows on Front Elevation
New Tall Windows on Back Elevation

This is the same house the "Modern, Open Plan Updates Historic Home" blog post is about. (click here to read it)

This Historic Federal-style Colonial had been flanked in the 1970s by a two-car garage at one end and a large family room with open-truss ceiling on the other. Of course these spaces added to the modern usefulness for any folks living there but these additions, while sort of symmetrical in their massing at least, were not sympathetic to the historic nature of the existing home. The windows were small and high in the back, with a large bow window in the front. The family room had a very dated style and the open trusses were designed with a heavy bottom chord that, due to the step down from the main floor level, was low enough to feel like you might hit your head as you left the kitchen and just made the room feel oppressively low for such a large space.

Renovated Family Room

The pluses were that this family room was large area-wise, with glass on three sides, and connected to the deck and pool with a sliding glass door at one end and the kitchen on the other end. We changed the front and back windows to let in more light, allow views of the beautiful property due to their lower sill height, and have more historically accurate proportions/placement on the wall.

We re-configured the truss to raise the height of the space below the structure and make the room feel larger, higher, and more contemporary. We removed the horizontal band of chair-rail/wainscot that further divided the walls and accentuated the long/low feeling of the room as well as the horizontal heavy beam along the top of the walls. We added new mechanical systems for heat and A/C, allowing the inefficient, dented baseboard radiators to be removed. In addition a new efficient (red!) wood stove insert was installed, bold paint color covered the walls, and engineered wood flooring replaced the water-damaged particle board.

Renovated Family Room- 3 Windows replace Bow Unit

Now the room is a family friendly, sunny, and comfortable lounging space with a vaulted/high open truss ceiling. It is accessed off the kitchen and the office by just a few steps. The space in the main section of the house that was a living room was taken over to be a mud room by the entry/garage and a larger dining room. (read previous post to see more on that). Once the clients decided they didn't need or want a separate formal living room and family room, they were freed up to explore what became the solutions you see here and this room is so large, that it can be arranged into activity zones and meet many needs/purposes for the family.

Family Room- Looking toward Kitchen/Main House

Ultimately the new residents are doing the latest update to a rural colonial that has housed many families for over the past century by being added to and modified throughout the decades. This most modern iteration is vibrant and classy without being too tied to history. It allows for all aspects of the family activities- from mud boots and backpack storage, to working from home and homework project space, to hosting dinner parties, to relaxing with a movie or a fire or even a game of billiards. (notice the pool table stayed!) Like we tend to do in current designs, rooms were opened up to each other, lots of light was invited into the space, and storage space was given more of a priority. In addition, poor circulation layout was re-designed -as in the garage door moving out of the dining room and into a new mud room area by the front door- and the powder room access being changed so that flow was better connecting the family room to the rest of the house. Lastly, updated finishes and mechanical systems changed the look and, literally, the feel (temperature) of the space.

Before - Front of Home w/ Garage and Family Room Wings on each side
Before- Back Elevation of Family Room Section
Before - back half of room was dark with small, high windows and wood paneling

Before- Heavy Bottom Chord of Trusses effectively lowered the ceiling height

Friday, November 11, 2016

Modern, Open Plan Updates a Historic Home

New Larger Dining Room Connects well to Back Patio and Kitchen

This historic Rhinebeck home was out of date- and I don't just mean the big radiators and the frumpy wall paper. The rooms were small, and there were too many walls jutting into spaces making them feel awkward. The space inside of the front door was tight, with no place to put one's coat or boots or greet a guest or stow a briefcase. A more recently added attached garage had an unfortunate door  placement directly into the dining room. The "wing wall" and 9 s.f. slate tile attempting to partition off a "foyer" only served to accentuate how cramped the entry was. Here is what we did to make this house work for the new family who moved in. (Before pictures at end of post)

Boxed in Steel I Beam Allows Wall to be Removed

Hidden Door to Garage - Connects to Mud Room
Panelized Ceiling, Painted Wood Floor, Super-wide Glass Door

Wall of Cubbies Separates of Front Area into a Mud Room

The wall separating the front (living) from the back (dining) was removed and a steel beam was put in it's place to hold up the second floor. The wing wall shielding the front door from the rest of the living room was removed, as was the small slate floor inset. The door that dumped unceremoniously into the dining room from the attached garage was infilled to allow a long wall for furniture. The old mechanical system and radiators were removed, and a new, efficient whole-house A/C and air heat was installed supplied by new mostly-invisible and using-no-space grills in the floor. The front of the house was partitioned off with a floor-to-ceiling open built-in shelf unit. This front space functions as a "mud room" with the garage door relocated there and a new absorptive, reclaimed brick floor all across the entry area. The back of the house got a new super-wide sliding glass door to access the stone patio (one wonders why there was not a door to access that patio already...) and became a large dining room, while the function of living room was combined with the family room. Ironically new wall paper was applied- but sparingly over a high chair rail, and the ceilings were given a 'bead-board & trim' treatment. The too-pale pine floor was painted and unique lighting was selected and installed.

Room for a Large Cabinet, now that Garage Door is moved

The changes are transformative. The space feels larger, lighter, brighter and decidedly up-to-date. The home now functions much better for the family who lives there- giving them a place for boots and backpacks, as well as a luxuriously large dining room for everyday homework or weekend entertaining. (They made the big decision of "who needs separate living and family rooms?) I'll show you that family room renovation in another post. As an aside- a section of the wood timber that the Steel I beam replaced was salvaged as the new fireplace mantle shelf.

Before- Looking toward the back- see open door to garage on left and window facing patio

Before - Walls Divided the front & back of the house (left) and closed off the Entry (right)
Before - Wall & Slate Tile made entry cramped

Thursday, November 3, 2016

NHND to the Pond - Windows

Composed Back Elevation Fenestration
Windows are a big deal. They are one of the high-budget items during construction. The are totally pivotal in how the space will end up feeling and performing. A room with just one window, or windows only on one wall, will feel quite different than a room with a "feature" window group or windows on two (or three! that's rare) walls. A window facing south or west is very different than a window facing east or north. A low quality (or U value, which is the energy rating for windows, like R value is the energy rating for walls and roofs) or poorly installed unit can let in too much summer heat or let out too much winter heat. One really does want to buy the best windows one can afford.
Awnings up high in the South Dormer & Double Hungs over Kitchen Sink
Windows- along with doors- provide a connection to the outdoors when we are inside - bringing in light and warmth from the sun, allowing fresh air exchange, and framing views of the land, sky, sunset, approaching visitors, etc. The layout of the "fenestration" on the elevations- from both interior and exterior- is an important part of the architectural design process and something us architects draw and revise over and over again.
South-Facing Feature Window in Master Bedroom

Windows come with a myriad of choices, and the architect's 'window schedule' on the plans outlines each and every feature and option. First there is the window brand; these are Marvin Integrity. The most common styles of windows are double hung, fixed, casement, and awning. There are also gliders, but we didn't use any of those on this project. The window style greatly influences the overall style/look of the home, and we went with large, un-divided glass panes for this modern bungalow. Since the site is so lovely to look at, no "divided lites" were used, which can chunk up the glass and view into smaller sections. (and slightly reduce the window's efficiency, since it is the air space between the panes that most contributes to the U value)

No out-swinging units on porch
 Here we chose mostly casements for large windows, placing fixed transoms above in the most public rooms, awnings for small windows and in bedrooms so that they can be left open to hear the rain, and double hung units where an out-swinging window would interfere with the use of the porch. Casement units help meet the egress code requirement in bedrooms without being excessively large. (see a previous post about windows here:
Upstairs Bedroom Egress Casement Window
Exterior and interior materials and colors can be specified - here we have a dark, contemporary color called "Bronze" for the exterior. This will add some modern "pow" to the look of the house. Gone are the days when all windows are white! The window frames are a Marvin-proprietary maintenance-free "Ultrex" material on the exterior that comes in a few colors, and a pine wood interior, that is factory-painted white in most instances, but will be stained in the Living Room for a warm feature. 
 Image result for low e1 glass

The most high-tech part of the window unit is the glass. These have 11/16" insulating glass, with Argon gas between the panes, and a Low E1 coating, that reflects unwanted summer rays. Tri-pane glass was our first choice, as it is more efficient, but the extra cost was too much. We got LowE1 glass for this project, as it is located in the woods with an ideal orientation of SSE and properly designed roof overhangs. Low E2 or E3 would have blocked more visible light than was necessary in our specific conditions. Depending on where they are located in the home, some units have tempered glass or obscure glass. The U value of this window = .29 and when installed correctly with tape and low-density foam, it performs quite well as a piece of a super-well insulated building envelope.

South & East Facing Kitchen Windows

Obscure Glass for Powder Room Privacy

Pair of Awning Window
The Back (Mud Room) Door to be painted or stained

Windows with Transoms Above on the Landing  

Lowest Level "Rec" Room with glass focused toward Pond

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Really Custom- photos from various projects

Mexican Tile and Wood Stove w/ Bread Baking compartment
in a Farmhouse Kitchen Addition to an Older Home
It's fun to be an architect, or hire an architect, and work on a design that creates something unique and personal as a result. It's part of why I enjoy being a residential architect. You can find out what the client really wishes they had in their home and build exactly that- a wine cellar? a wood stove to bake bread in? a library for a collection of books? a kitchen from which you can watch the game while cooking? I often urge my clients to dream of what they want from their home and not worry too much about how we get there. Use colors, styles, and materials that you will be happy looking at- for some that is clean and serene with a lot of white and cool colors, others keep wood accents natural and unpainted. And still others enjoy whimsy with bold and bright checkerboard patterns and unique tiles.

Red Tile, Wood Beams and Kitchen open to Living Room
Bold Colors and Patterns in this Home Office
Understated Custom Tiled "Tree of Life" Back-splash over cook-top
Colorful Tiled Back-splash
A Bench and Cubbies in the Entry

Panels built to match cabinetry hide appliances for a very clean look (not painted yet)

I like to incorporate features into the design that will make life easier and work for the way my clients live - a bench, wall hooks & cubbies near the entry or a room with a dutch door to contain the dogs. I also like to problem-solve to use space and materials efficiently - like when I tucked a little shower seat into a nook created when an addition was built around an existing fireplace or when a sink was tucked into an artist's closet rather than using up the corner of a room. No room to call a library? How about shelves at the top of the stairs? An easy place to personalize is a tiled design over the stove.

Book shelves create a Library in the Hall
Artist's sink hidden in closet of Painting Studio
Dog Room has Dutch Door, Doggie Stair up to
Doggie Door leading to outdoor Fenced Kennel
Shower Bench tucked into an extra bit of space
Sometime we want to highlight a beautiful piece of art or re-purpose a found object into art- I encourage this, as long as we are not using old single-pane glass in our new building envelope. (Always use insulated doors and windows that exceed energy code! Reusing old windows or doors is NOT being green - but that is another post...)

One client had a stained glass window we placed among bookcases between the library and entry and back lite for a marvelous connection between rooms. Another had antique heavy wood doors that were re-used as a laundry room and panty door. Objects and antiques as art can be placed in your home for you to admire each day.

Art House- from left Stained glass window set in bookcases,
Iron gates mounted and lite on far wall at end of long view,
Large-format tiled wall wraps around side of refrigerator

Closer view of the Iron Gates as art - and Antique Columns used to partition the Room
Sometimes custom can be more expensive, but not always! So go for it next time you renovate or paint! Be brave! Chose a funky tile or different light fixture or an antique piece of furniture. Plan for a built-in so you can put stuff where you need it and save space. Add a root cellar or a greenhouse or even just window boxes, if you are a gardener. Put wood on the ceiling instead of the floor. If you want to bake bread, get an awesome oven and use cool tiles to accent it. Find an antique barn door or column or metal hinge that you love and re-purpose it inside. Make your space personal & beautiful so it brings you joy and ease in your daily life!

Antique Dry Sink re-purposed as Vanity Cabinet
Painted Kitchen Cabinets and Built-in Bench under Window

Built-in shelves in a Mud Room Entry