Hammer is Replaced by New Tools

August 16th, 2019

The good old-fashioned hammer is still around.  But used MUCH less often than 10 or 20 years ago.  Today, quality houses are being put together mainly with more screws and far fewer nails.

That’s a Hillman Power Pro Premium Exterior Wood Screw above, with a T25 star-drive.  The screw is about 1/8″ in diameter to the outer edge of the threads. 












Hillman says it is a coated screw that is guaranteed for the life of the project not to corrode (in treated lumber, cedar, redwood) in an exterior application.   There are different sizes, such as the T20 star drive.  Mainly the T25 and T20 screws have replaced perhaps about 50% of the nails that used to be used to build a house.

Why:  Because ordinary nails back out, pop-out and rust.  Even galvanized nails can rust, when the coating is damaged by a hammer hitting the head. 

Having said this, power-drive gun nails fed from compressor driven nail guns are very much in use.  And yes, those account for about the other 50% of what a hand hammer used to do.

But all construction personnel know that the best quality construction is accomplished through the use of screws.  Why:  because they CANNOT back-out (as long as they went into solid backing to begin with).  And the type of screws above are self-tapping (no pilot holes need to be drilled in wood).  And the screw heads are flared for countersinking.


Hand hammering may only account for perhaps 5% to 10% of installation these days in building a house.  And we’ve seen people using hand hammers to excavate dirt under ladder feet to level the ground there.  Hardly what most people would associate with normal hammer usage.

Nail guns weigh around 7-1/2 pounds (Paslode 9 series) and the nails add another pound, then there’s the inconvenience of the pneumatic hose coming from the noisy compressor, getting tangled everywhere and adding another pound or so, meaning a nail gun might be nearly 10 pounds, while being tethered to a hose.  That’s a lot of weight to thrown around on one arm all day long.















This is one of the reasons many house builders prefer using  a screw gun.  It only weighs about a pound and most are cordless, freeing the carpenters to go up ladders, walk roofs and go other places without having to worry about getting tangled up with a cord or hose of any kind.  Nail guns became popular on house construction sites in the last 1970s and early 1980s.  They have been the tool of choice ever since. 


However, drill guns used to install superior screws came about since the last 10 years or so (2010+/-).  Since screw are finding favor with builders for higher quality construction, screw guns (drills with star drive bits) are gradually taking the place of nail guns for many applications, such as: roof sheathing, floor sheathing and structural connections, and decking.  And once screws are used for so many things, the fact they are there on the jobsite, they become used for more applications, due to their convenience and more solid connections. 


In about 2017, Lowe’s had a sale: 2 cordless drills for $99 including a charger and (2) 20v batteries and a red zipping canvas carry bag.  The drills are Porter-Cable.  I bought these and nearly daily, I see other tradespeople that did also.  They take a licking and keep on ticking.  We would not have thought they were the equal of Makita or Milwaukee, but they refuse to die.  One of the drills is a normal rotary drill, the other is an impact drill.  That Lowe’s sale appears to have had an impact on the use of cordless drills, perhaps across the USA. 















Here’s the 2 drills that also function as screw guns when the star drive bits are inserted into the chucks:

The  normal rotary drill is the one in the rear.  The impact drill is the one in the foreground.  The normal drill has a T20 bit, the impact a T25.


















And above is the battery charger and one of the removable batteries.  Having the 2 easily removable batteries is excellent, because they run out of power after an hour or two of use.  So workers always have the charger on the work site so one of the batteries can be charging when the other is in use.  That means no down time.  And that’s very important.  So much so that some workers bring more spare batteries. 


Impact drills have a special means of screw insertion.  The mechanism is slammed into the bore stroke many times a second, like a hammer drill or miniature jack hammer, making it much more effective at installing screws into more difficult situations, for instance with larger screws.  These drills can install long screws up to 3/8″ diameter into wood timbers for timber frame assembly.


The main benefit to the owner of the house built with more screws is that it stays together tighter and stronger.  And its faster using screws that can bore their own way through the wood.  The best quality houses use both glue and screws to fasten floors and roof sheathing into place over the floor joists, roof rafters and trusses.


There will probably always be gun nails and old school hammers on a construction job site, but screws are taking over, especially on quality houses.  Ringshank nails work well with gun nailers, especially for wall siding sheathing.  However, screws there would probably be better as well.





Industrial Style Mountain Residential Architecture

August 7th, 2019

Industrial Style Mountain Residential Architecture is a hot subject right now.  HOME ARCHITECTS ® invented Industrial Style Mountain Residential Architecture in 2015 and built the most recent example in 2018.

Industrial Style Mountain house (c) Copyright 2019 HOME ARCHITECTS.

This house has become the poster child for the latest movement in residential “hip” architecture: Industrial Style. 













But this house, designed by Senior Staff Architect Rand Soellner of HOME ARCHITECTS, is the vanguard of Mountain residential architecture: blending the best of muscular Craftsman Style features with industrial materials in mountainous regions, like Cashiers, NC.  The above house is actually next door, in Sapphire, NC.  As soon as this house was built, suddenly there is a boom in shed roof, simplified houses in this area, obviously influenced by this first of the kind project in the region.


Why: the logic of Soellner’s design becomes obvious, once people visit the house.  For instance, the large, simple main shed roof allows the glass wall of the main spaces to be a large, simple rectangle.  And this means a glass wall larger than a billboard, taking in the gorgeous mountain view.  No other house in the region has this much glass width or height for the main view.  This provides more light and view than a gable roof, which cuts off the view on the top left and right corners substantially.  And the large shed roof costs less than a gable roof, which is more difficult and time-consuming to frame, clad and waterproof.  The simplest gravity flow roof in the world is a shed roof.  And when you clad it with standing seam metal, such as in the house above, you can reduce the slope down.  Soellner’s design has a 5* slope.  Just enough to get the rain, ice and snow off, but not too much (more and you would be wasting more investment on side and end wall materials and subjecting them to higher wind forces).


Other logical features of Soellner’s design include the mainly open plan arrangement.  “I designed our roof trusses to clear span the entire house, so the walls below inside the house didn’t have to support the roof.  That gave us more freedom to locate the interior partitions to complement our lifestyle rather than have structural needs dictate their placement,” said Soellner. (See below):













Industrial style kitchen and open plan area. (C) Copyright 2019 Home Architect, PLLC.


The Kitchen has double industrial appliances, which Soellner said only cost about $8,500 including those in the Laundry.  “Stainless steel remains hip, even after a century,” said Soellner, “And it can be easily cleaned and doesn’t damage with household cleaners, or chip when you drop a pan or utensil on it.”


The kitchen also features a super-cool industrial-looking old timber that Soellner picked up from a local junkyard.  Soellner first sprayed 3 coats of boric acid on it (to kill possible insects), then had it skip-sanded to knock off the roughest edges, then had it sealed with clear polyurethane and had iron bands installed, drilled holes and then hung it on long iron rods from ceiling trusses and had LED industrial light fixtures installed.  Everyone coming into the house gaze up at this industrial interior masterpiece in wonder and most say: “Wow!  That’s cool!”.   (see below):













(C) Copyright 2019 Home Architect, PLLC.













This industrial timber “chandelier” provides much of the light for the open plan space of the interior. 


Soellner located other LED light fixtures built-in throughout the house.  He said that LED lights only use about 20% of the energy of incandescent, so he only used LEDs in his own house.  He said the electrical usage of his company’s house designs sip energy.  He said his typical monthly power bill is usually only around $138, which is less than a smaller house his family used to occupy.  And LEDs are supposed to last 7 to 10 years before having to replace the lamp (bulb).  So that’s less maintenance.


He also super-insulated the house, with R49 batts in the attic and R30 in the floor, with a special low-cost liquid foam insulation in the exterior walls, that only cost an additional $1,500 more than batts there.  The walls have an R28, which is what his company calls their “SupR-wall“, because that level of insulation is so much more than required by Code.  Also, the wall system is super-tight, meaning that water and water vapor can’t get into it from the outside, so mold an mildew through walls doesn’t happen.  Most houses have chronic mold and water issues because their walls are not properly designed or constructed.  Not so with this one.


Soellner used a corrugated galvanized steel siding with a 40-year paint guarantee for about 70% of the exterior siding on the house.  “I didn’t want to have to spend $14,000 every 6 or 7 years to repaint my house,” said Soellner.  “So I used a material for most of the outside that won’t need to be painted for a very long time.”  Duh.  Makes sense.  It’s a wonder no one else seems to think this way. 


And in terms of aesthetics, the house won a global architectural design award (ArCHdes2018) from the international architectural society ArCH (Architects Creating Homes).  So the use of industrial materials doesn’t necessarily mean that the project can’t be handsome in appearance.


“I think in terms of entire life-cycle costs for the houses I design,” said Soellner.  “If you have to repaint a normal house 8.3 times over a 50 year ownership period, and if the cost remains what it is today (around $14,000), then that’s $116,666 I just saved by using the siding I did on this house.  I’d rather use that money to take trips, pay for my health care, get new cars, and other things rather than dumping all that cash back into the house.  It’s all about making wise, durable choices that look good.” 


And we all know that today’s costs are likely to double during the next several decades, so the $116,000 Soellner is talking about could very well become $232,000 over half a century.  That’s a crazy amount of money that most people are not realizing that their less durable “normal” houses are costing them in routine maintenance, because those costs are spread out over decades.  And then those people wonder why they can’t afford to take a trip to Europe, or get a new car, or help their children financially:


It’s because you didn’t have a good house design that could have saved you hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance costs over your lifetime! 


A healthy house is important.  Did you know that most houses in this region (and many others throughout the USA and the world) have radon gas seeping into them?  And that radon gas is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer in the world (after smoking)?  Well, this industrial style house has a radon removal system.  The EPA and CDC regards radon levels below 4.0 picocuries (4 pCi/L) as inconsequential.  Before the system installation, it was only 3.0 in the crawlspace, but the owners wanted it mitigated.  This house’s radon level is now nearly zero (0.7), one of the healthiest ratings in the entire region.  Probably about what walking across an open meadow would have.  Cost of the system: only $1,094.  Not many people think about this when building a new house: how the house can help you remain healthy.  This Architect does his best to draw their attention to it in his specifications.


And HOME ARCHITECTS is clever about the few other materials: they put those in your face as you approach the house, so you don’t even realize the house is mainly clad in industrial metal siding. 

What other materials? 

Well, for instance: native stone around the tall, bold column supporting the heavy timber frame wood truss at the front entrance.


And the bold 2×12 rusticated timber horizontal trim with timber pegs in it, girdling the house at eye-level.

And the horizontal lap siding below that, going down to near-ground level (actually that is made mainly of cement, so it’s not likely to rot or burn).

And the rich, genuine mahogany 8′ tall double entry doors.


industrial style

(C) Copyright 2019, Home Architect, PLLC.

And the special planter near the entrance with lush greenery.


industrial style

(C)Copyright 2019 Home Architect, PLLC.


And all the trim (wood, but PT (Pressure Treated) so it cannot rot and insects will not eat it).


So Soellner’s strategy is to mainly use materials (like the metal siding with the long high-end paint guarantee) ABOVE eye level (which would have been harder to paint), and then uses stone, horizontal siding and a rustic bold trim all at or below eye level so they are more of what you notice as you approach the house.

industrial style

(C)Copyright 2019, Home Architect, PLLC


And by the way: the metal siding actually looks a lot like board and batten siding, which is what most people think it is, until the Architect informs them otherwise.

industrial style

(C)Copyright 2019, Home Architect, PLLC.


The industrial roof is a wonder of technology:
1. clear coat on top of
2. silver fluoropolymer paint called Kynar (usually guaranteed in terms of multiple decades), over
3. galvalume (aluminum-zinc alloy through hot-dip process 55% aluminum & 45% zinc) over
4. carbon sheet steel.

industrial style

(C)Copyright 2019, Home Architect, PLLC.


That’s a LOT of protection where you need it most: on your roof. Probably at least a 50+-year roof.  More like 60 to 100 years in reality.  And the hold-down fasteners are not through the metal pans (which are one-piece 57′ long sections with no overlaps).  These panels are secured with side-mount concealed clips and screws more often than code requires for this wind zone.  And the bottom end of the roof panels were bent in a sheet metal brake to fold over the bottom edge drip flashing, so water from the top of the panels cannot get back under the roofing.


And UNDER that miracle roof is WR Grace HT (High Temperature) Gold uncured butylene peel and stick sheets over the ENTIRE roof sheathing. All seams overlapped downhill and rubbed with a hard roller to insure proper seating and bonding. Now then, this Architect knows that the HT type of underlayment was required, due to the high temperatures transferred by the metal roof.  If this wasn’t specified, the underlayment might fail.  Just one more quality control piece of information having the right experience Architect brings to bear on an industrial residential project.  And on this simple shed roof, it can just about be guaranteed to have no leaks for the next century.  But under that amazing metal roof, forever comes to mind.


And under that, there is 5/8″ thick tongue and groove severe weather OSB, which uses a superior formula to resist wet conditions (even though with the above high-end roofing materials, the chances of water getting to this sheathing is very unlikely).  And this high-end roof sheathing was both glued and screwed to the roof structure below.  No nails used here.  Only screws.  Impossible to pull out.


And under that, there are the roof trusses, which the Architect had reinforced in the middle, with structural wood members and high-end screws, to make them stronger at their weakest point.


In other words: this house has one of the best roofs in the world.  And while the cost of the roof wasn’t cheap, it wasn’t significantly more than most roofs in this region, meaning: it’s all a question of having a Licensed Architect that makes well-informed choices for clients.


And here’s a look at the Loft Level home office, featuring about 60′ of counter, to help accommodate Merry Soellner, Real Estate Broker’s deals, which she can spread out in multiple packages.

industrial style

And the counters and support blade slabs only cost $193.  Material: MDF, painted with left over paint to match the cabinetry throughout the house, and 2 coats of polyurethane. 

industrial style

Because: one of the objectives of INDUSTRIAL STYLE is just not to “look cool”, it’s to save money. 



So you see: designing an Industrial Style home is much more than mere appearance.  It involves a superior understanding of the components so they will last longer and with less maintenance.


Contact the Architect at the email address you see on this page to design yours.


HouseWrap 2019 features our Senior Architect

July 30th, 2019

HouseWrap2019 will be featuring our Senior Architect.  Rand Soellner, ArCH, CRAfts, NCARB will be speaking on the morning of the first day of the convention.  His presentation is: AN ARCHITECT’S PERSPECTIVE OF RESIDENTIAL HOUSEWRAP.















Seen above, Mr. Soellner formerly addressed the National Association of Home Builders at another national convention in 2016, at the request of the Washington, D.C. office of the NAHB. He received a standing ovation after his presentation of Aging in Place.


The company, HOME ARCHITECTS ®, receives requests once in a while to make presentations to a distinguished audience, usually at global and national conventions for subjects involving residential design and construction practices.  The long-term experience of the firm (over half-century) is part of the draw.  It’s hard to find that much expertise in one company and in one professional.


The firm looks upon such presentations as a professional responsibility: to share its knowledge with others in the industry, when they are requested to do so.


The fact that Soellner is licensed as both an Architect and as a Home Inspector has something to do with his understanding of design issues and construction durability and performance.


This new presentation will be given at the global HouseWrap 2019 convention, being held in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA, at the Ft. Lauderdale Marriott Coral Springs Hotel, September 17-18, 2019.  URL:


















The UK office of AMI, the convention organizers, contacted Home Architects and made the request that they deliver a presentation at the event.   Various entities will also be making presentations, such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory, US Green Building Council, BASF, DuPont, and other notable national and global organizations.
















The subject is HouseWrap.  Which is another name for the Water Resistive Barrier (WRB) that Code requires to be installed around the exterior walls of a house before the exterior veneer finishes are applied.  The main job of a WRB is to keep liquid water out of a house’s walls.  Depending on the characteristics, the WRB may also function as a vapor barrier and an air barrier.  It is a complex field of materials and requires a detailed understanding to use them correctly.  Home Architects ® and their Senior Architect Rand Soellner are viewed as seasoned professionals in the industry.  They will be sharing their viewpoints about WRB and HouseWraps in their presentation.















certified residential architectSoellner has been involved in architecture for 52 years and has been a Licensed Architect since 1982.  His specialty is the design of custom mountain houses.  Soellner’s background includes $3B worth of planning and construction.  He has both Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Architecture from the University of Florida.  He and his firm have won 10 global architectural design awards for custom mountain houses in the last 3 years.  Soellner is the world’s first Certified Residential Architect.

His company is based in western North Carolina, but designs projects across the USA. 











Radon Mitigation

July 15th, 2019

Radon Mitigation for houses is one more reason residences are among the most complex project types for Architects and Builders.

SWAT Environmental was assigned the radon mitigation for this particular house, by Merry Soellner, Real Estate Broker in Cashiers, NC. 












Since this house won an international global Architectural Design Award in 2018, it was important that the Radon Mitigation system be as inconspicuous as possible.  SWAT did not disappoint, with Joseph, one of their most experienced technicians on this effort.


If you’re keeping track on this project’s step by step documentation, this is step 143.  So building a house, particularly in mountainous regions is not a simple task.  It’s a long, complex, carefully coordinated design and construction effort.


So what’s the deal with radon?  What is is and why is it important to get rid of it if it exists under your house?

Okay: The US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) indicates that breathing radon gas is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking.  Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is inert, colorless and has no odor.  Radon, when dispersed rapidly, is of little concern.  But when it builds up in or under your house, it can kill you.  Venting the radon using exhaust piping with vent fans is the most common and economical solution.  Breathing radon over time increases your chances of lung cancer.  Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths.  The EPA estimates 21,000 people die each year from radon-related lung cancer.  The EPA suggests that levels of radon higher than 4 pCi/L could be dangerous to your health ( 4 Picocuries per Liter).  Radon is formed by the natural radioactive decay of uranium in rock, soil and water.  Unless you test for it, there is no way of knowing if your house has it.  Tests are downright cheap.  Low levels of uranium exist widely in the Earth’s crust.  In other words: you may have it under your house.   It is found throughout all 50 states in the USA. 













Once formed, radon moves upward through the ground to the surface, into your basements and crawlspaces and up into your house.  Kind of creepy, isn’t it? The EPA indicates that no level of radon is safe, however, 4 pCI/LL is a realistic level that can be achieved with economical technology and the risk is lower once reduced below that level (but not entirely removed).


Many homes in mountainous areas, like along the Appalachian Mountains and Rocky Mountains have crawlspaces under the houses due to the uneven terrain.  These crawlspaces are ideal places to install the radon mitigation exhaust piping.  The best system would be to install the vent piping UNDER crawlspace encapsulation membranes (often a thick vinyl or polyethylene plastic) that help reduce the amount of moisture in the crawlspace air (and therefore in the remainder of the house above).  Then the exhaust piping (often 4″ diameter PVC) is passed through a bored hole in the rim board of the floor framing to the outside, then turned upward into an exhaust fan housing, secured to the exterior wall, then run up past the top of the roof, where the lighter than air radon gas can be dispersed into the general atmosphere harmlessly beyond the level of occupation in the house.

Alright, so how do you go about having radon removed (“mitigated”) from your house.  If your house is under construction, your Architect and Builder can suggest you contact a Radon Mitigation company, who will take the steps indicated below.  If your house already exists, your Real Estate Broker or others may also suggest you contact a Radon Mitigation company.   They will take the steps similar to the following (if you have a basement with a concrete floor, the solution will have some similarities, but there will be different techniques involved).












  1.  You figure out where the exterior bore hole needs to be to get you up the wall and above the roof level.

In this case, we found a point to the side of an HVAC floor register (under the window) in the crawlspace and aligned it












under the wooden vertical left side jamb window trim, so will be a nice hard wooden surface (pressure treated) where screws can be installed to secure the exhaust piping into place.


2.  Your Radon Mitigation technician runs a solid exhaust pipe to a point where it will pass under the crawlspace moisture barrier (in this case, a nice 20 mil polyethylene encapsulation), then slits the moisture plastic and installs a perforated PVC pipe through that for about 10 feet or so.  Then he seals the vapor barrier back over the top of the perforated radon exhaust pipe with quality tape (in this situation, they used Gorilla Tape), so the PVC pipe is creating a suction under the vapor barrier, drawing that radon-laden air to the vertical exhaust pipe, then horizontally outside the house, then into the fan housing outside.  That effectively removes the radon from the house interior.



3.  The radon tech now installs the exhaust fan to the horizontally exiting pipe, then turns it vertical.

On this project, the piping was spray painted dark brown, to blend with the exterior colors of the house. 


4.  Next, the radon tech installs a vertical exhaust pipe to above the roof.  He has pre-painted it to blend with the color of the house and also made it out of standard metal downspout material to blend with the other normal downspouts around the house.

The previous planning regarding where to install fastening screws now comes in handy.



5.  Final electrical wiring connections from an interior GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) convenience outlet in the crawlspace to the exhaust motor housing outside.



6.  Done.


If you move your eyes around the house, this radon removal system is not very obvious to the untrained eye.  More like a normal downspout.  May come back and spray paint the motor housing brown also.  Note how the Architect had the Tech install the top part of the exhaust so that rain cannot easily enter, and the exhaust air pressure should also keep out insects.  Evenso, the Architect-Owner is considering getting some insect screen and a zip-tie and installing that up there.   A nice, clean job by SWAT, in association with the Owner-Architect and Real Estate Broker.



Small Circle Park for Front Driveway

July 9th, 2019

Small Circle Park for Front Driveway is about how an Architect designed a small park in the middle of his new driveway turnaround circle.

Actually this lovely little park is for the Architect’s 7 pound Maltese dog.
















There’s a bunch of asphalt in the driveway, particularly at the 83 foot diameter circular turnaround in front of the house front porch entry.  And this is rural North Carolina, USA, land of ticks, chiggers and other bugs.  So the Architect wanted a civilized oasis of controlled and manicured green grass to spray and keep free of bugs so his family dog could remain insect free.  Everywhere else on site is rugged rural land or gravel, uncontrolled and too full of bugs for the little dog.  And too far away from the front door of the new custom house.


Up until about a month ago, this pretty little park was surrounded by 3″ railroad gravel as a setting bed for the new driveway asphalt which also received a final substrate of compacted ABC gravel for the 2″+ of asphalt.  The Architect personally hand-shoveled about 30,000 pounds of topsoil over various parts of the 5 acre site, including over the barren soil in the circle park, which was virgin woodland.  Then he added grass seed, but nothing grew.  So he decided to get fescue sod from a grass farm about 30 miles away and haul it back on his trailer with his pickup truck (a pallet of sod weighs about 2,500 pounds around these parts).   But before laying down the sod, he got 10 large bags of lawn soil and spread that over the topsoil he had already laid there in the park area.  Then he watered the lawn soil, then laid down the sod.


Oh yeah.  About 6 months ago, the Architect/Owner had a local rockyard deliver those 2 large boulders and dump them near the middle of the park.  The larger one is about 7,000 pounds and the smaller gray one about 4,000 pounds.  Those big rocks add a lot of drama and interest to this little park.  He also had several dozen smaller boulders about 18″ around and hand laid those to form the circle park curb edge.  The paver worked up to that barrier with the asphalt.










There are 16 knockout red roses (2 gallon doubles) evenly space in a 2 foot wide planting bed ring just inboard of the stone curb.  The Architect dug the holes for each first, then shook in Black Kow composted manure into each hole, then sprinkled in some Bayer 3 in 1 rose fertilizer/disease protection/ insecticide granules.  Then he laid down commercial grade weed barrier fabric (that allows water to seep through) and used garden scissors and a razor knife to cut holes in the fabric for the roses.  Then he planted the roses, then shook in some more manure to fill in the planting holes.  Then he folded the weed fabric over the rose holes tight to the roots.  Then he laid down Earth Essentials Pond Gravel (multi-color, about 1″ to 2″ size), completely covering the weed fabric and tight to the roses. These rocks look nice and eliminate the ridiculous yearly chore of installing mulch or straw in bedding areas.  Not a good idea. Why: costly in terms of labor and time, and carpenter ants and termites love mulch.  Better to have a permanent bedding material.  Once and you’re done for life.  Rocks aren’t going to go away.  The Architect’s Real Estate Broker wife added the rusty rabbit sculpture for humor.












That’s about an 80 foot tall red maple, growing in the wild.  It stands about 18″ off the Architect’s center spot for the entire project.  It has nice shade, but also allows ample sunlight to filter through to hit all the roses during the day.



Cost: Less than $100.  Using the Owner/Architect’s own labor.  Each 11.7″ square x 2″ thick concrete paver was $1 from Lowes, on sale.  They allowed the walk to achieve interest and accommodate horizontal and vertical offsets.  The Architect didn’t want to damage the tree roots, so these pavers can allow for give and take around the tree.  The Architect also liked the grid of the paver marching through, giving some order to the otherwise rather rough-hewn composition.  He’s considering hiring a mason next year to lay down some mortar to hold their levelness better than the 1″ of builder’s sand he shoveled over the top of the weed fabric he placed under the walkway area (to avoid maintenance of weeds coming up through the paver joints).

UPDATE: the masonry sand does NOT work.  That is NOT a permanent setting bed.  Why: because every time it rains, the sand gets washed downhill, a little at a time.  Therefore, a couple of masons were hired to pull up all the pavers, lay down new weed fabric and then mix high strength Quickcrete concrete bags (about 20 bags worth) to make about 1″ to 2″ thick of strong mortar to set the pavers into them:

This has resulted in a PERMANENT solution with all the pavers rock solid, straighter and no wobble and no more sand washing out from under them.



Bitsy, the family dog, seems to like the park, named after her. 


The Owners wanted to be able to walk on a paved hard surface that remained clean, while allowing the family dog to do her business on a manicured lawn.  The walk through the center of the little park accomplishes this objective and also allows visiting guests who park on the far side of the turnaround circle driveway to also walk through the park paved walkway, out of the way of other circulating vehicles, such as during an event like a party.


The Architect planned for lighting at night, with 3 large LED landscape lights with only 18w actual, but the equivalent of 250w each.  The light fixtures were only $24 each (a real bargain) and the LED lamps only about $16 each from Cashiers Electric Supply.  Also, the driveway and park enjoys very efficient LED solar lights with about a 4-1/2″ square charging panel for each.  Remarkably cost efficient at around $10 each from Lowes and much more light than from earlier solar lights in the past.

Email this Architect if  you’d like to have a special custom park and house designed for your family.


Smart Casework for Home Office

July 8th, 2019

Smart Casework for Home Office is about how an Architectural firm designed the counters and support cabinetry for their Senior Architect’s own custom house.

The photo above is the “reveal”: just part of the slick end result.  Most of the other photos below show you how the Architect got to that end solution.











Below: Bitsy shows us the substructure that supports the counters:




The Architect designed the vertical supports out of 3/4″ thick MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard), because he didn’t have much money left at this point in the project.  He did have all the sub-counter boards he needed, however, plenty of long SYP (Southern Yellow Pine) and stud grade 1x12s and 1x10s.  It is best to have them in unbroken lengths for each run of counter, if possible.  Why: because broken lengths could result in uneven surfaces for the finish countertops.  The 1x12s and 1x10s take screws well and hold on tight forever.  The Architect chose to drill holes first, then use 2″ long lifetime guarantee star-drive deck screws to attach the sub-counters to the vertical MDF slabs.  Note: while Home Depot says the MDF holds screws well, the Architect noticed that sometimes the screws cracked the MDF, so don’t try driving screws into it without drilling those pilot holes first.  Also, don’t drive the screws in lickety-split.  Use short bursts on the screw gun (Architect used a Porter Cable 20v cordless drill with #20 star drive bit (sized for the deck screws)).


Some other features of the MDF panels:
1.  Very economical.  Spent a total of around $193 for all the MDF used in the project, resulting in about 45 linear feet of 24″ deep counter, and 16 vertical slab panels supporting the counters.  That’s a lot of material for a very low price.
2.  No imperfections.  MDF is perfectly flat with no gouges or other mars to the even surface.
3.  MDF takes paint well and the paint lies level and even and the surface does not absorb much paint.   It only used about 2/3 of a gallon for this entire home office project.
4.  The MDF edges, after painting (factory edges and table saw cut edges) are an adequate exposed surface for medium grade cabinetry.  Smooth and straight and no trim is necessary (IF you can cut it smooth and straight or only expose the factory edges).

(continued below):











5.  Yes, MDF can hold a screw, but predrill the holes and take your time driving in the screws so you don’t crack the MDF.
6.  There is formaldehyde in MDF.  Make sure what you use inside your house has had adequate time since its manufacture to off-gas so you won’t be breathing those vapors. 


The MDF “blades” or panels or slabs are approximately 24″ deep x 29-1/4″ tall (just a hair taller than most available 2 drawer file cabinets you can buy or order and assemble yourself.  The support panels are 3/4″ thick.  It is important to get the attachment screws for the sub-structure 1x12s and 1x10s exactly centered into the MDF slabs.  Why: so you don’t spall off the top side of the MDF with a screw too close to the face of the panel. 











Raceways for wires are a critical element to “Smart” cabinetry and casework.  Without them, today’s electronic wires will be running willy-nilly all over the tops of the counters and the floor is a disorganized mess (looking ugly and making it impossible to clean the floors).  Much better to have the wires invisible, tucked away just under the countertops, toward the rear of the counters.  In this solution, the Architect designed a 3-1/2″ x 1-1/2″ slot-gap into the rear of the vertical support panels, then installed 2x4s continuously  into these slots and screwed them down into the MDF panels.  He made sure the 2 drawer file cabinets (typically about 19-1/2″ deep from front to rear) would fit in front of these wire raceways, so the file cabinets would not interfere with the wires connecting everything.  Notice that the slot for the the 2×4 raceway tray isn’t all you need.  You still have to have space above that for the actual wires.  The Architect made that space 2″ tall x about 5″ wide, so there would be plenty of room to fit fingers and wires to get from one side of each support panel to the other.  Lots to think about. 


Yes you do need wires.  And lots of them:
A.  Main incoming Internet wire.  Usually in the form of a normal RJ11 phone wire with a normal phone jack on each end.  This will usually come into your house in the form of a normal telephone receptacle.  You have to connect this to the router your Internet provider gave you (or recommended) into the router’s main Internet connection port.
B.  Category 6 Internet cable connecting each device you intend to be communicating with the Internet.  This is often limited to about 4 devices, for instance:
     1.  Your main computer.
     2.  Your spouse’s computer.
     3.  Your main television device (such as a main Roku).
     4.  Other devices.  If you get over this amount, you’re going to need something else.  And these other devices exist. Talk to some knowledgeable Internet people.
C.  Electrical cords for electrical power to your devices from electrical convenience outlets and from and to surge protectors and UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply devices). 

The idea: you manage the arrangement of your wires.  You run your cords (cables, wires) along the wire raceways built into the casework, under the countertops. 


Often in the form of circular holes drilled into the countertops.  In this case, a 2″ hole saw was used to drill through the countertops near the rear of the counters, above the wire raceway below them, for convenient access to the raceway, with wires coming from devices sitting on top of the counters.


For instance: that’s the Arris router for this house’s internet system, sitting on top of the counter to the right.  All those wires coming and going from it to the left are neatly handled going through the 2″ round hole in the counter nearby the router.  Now isn’t that slicker than having those wire just running crazy all over the place in every direction?  Makes for a much neater installation, and allows changes because the wires are tidy, making them easier to modify.

And as a finishing touch: higher end governmental and corporate interiors would have used a black plastic grommet to trim these wire holes in the countertops.  The Architect didn’t have the cash, time, source, or money for those, so instead, he simply painted the hole interiors with the same color paint as the counters.


Wait for it…wait for it:  can  you guess?
Right: MDF.  And the color: dark gray, matching the painted kitchen cabinets and other cabinets in the house.  However, a painted counter would not be very durable and would scratch very easily.  So, the Architect added 2 coats of clear polyurethane over the painted horizontal surface of the counters.  Same polyurethane he used to protect the stained wood on his interior staircase.  So on a counter, this should be adequately durable for a long time.  Instead of using a brush, which could have likely left pronounced brush strokes, he used a 4″ roller.  This produced “tiny bubbles” in the finish, that at first horrified him then his wife said: “that’s not so bad, I kind of like it.”  It produced an uniform clear coat with tiny bubbles, each about 1/32″ in diameter. More like a textured plastic laminate, but obviously not.  If  you’re trying to duplicate the methods used and have access to spray equipment and can protect yourself, you might consider using that so the finish is smoother.


And looky there: Plenty of room for printers, computers, UPS, monitors, TV and other items for running a nice home office.  See how the file cabinets fit under the counters flush to the front of the counters, but have space behind them for the wire raceways and 2″ holes in the counters?  Can’t tell all those “smart” features are even there from first glance, can you?  The overall appearance just looks neater and the floors uncovered with the typical snakes of wires.  Pretty slick.

If you’d like a custom house designed for you with a home office with Smart casework like this, contact the Architect you see at the top of this web page.