What Not To Build

October 6th, 2017

What Not To Build is a commentary not unlike the beloved TV series “What Not To Wear” of TLC’s Stacy London & Clinton Kelly fame.  But What Not To Build concerns aspects of a house project that you may not want to have in your upcoming residence.

What Not To Build

What Not To Wear, (C) TLC, courtesy of TLC and Stacy London & Clinton Kelly. A popular tv series.  The above image links to the TLC series website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where the “What Not To Wear” tv series commented on more appropriate clothing, fabrics, style and make-up for women and sometimes men, this online architectural article lists items that you really don’t want to have in your house, especially since you may be planning on a new residential construction project or renovation.  You don’t want to build-in problems in your house.  This particular Licensed Architect firm also has the expertise of a Licensed Home Inspector, who sees, first-hand, the horrible mistakes people have built into their houses, typically, unknowingly, that come back to haunt them.  Not all Builders are aware of these problems and certainly not all workers on a jobsite know the consequences of these materials and arrangements. 

 

On the subject of what not to build, here are 5 things that you positively, absolutely do Not want to build into your new house project (things that happen because of the way the house was built, not as a result of other circumstances):
1.  BAD FOUNDATIONS
2.  SICK BUILDING SYNDROME
3.  WATER PENETRATION
4.  LACK OF PROPER DESIGN  RESPONSE
5.  INFERIOR CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS & TECHNIQUES

 

And now, let’s find out a bit more about each of these issues (which are often built into unsuspecting house owners new and renovated residences):

 

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1.   BAD FOUNDATION
Especially if you’re building in a mountainous region, you really should have an Architect experienced in mountain residential design analyze your land and geology and work with a Structural Engineer to develop proper footings and foundation walls. Otherwise, foundations can move, causing tremendous damage to your house. For instance, if the bedrock of the mountain is too close to the surface, foundations should be pinned to them.  Not doing so can result in the entire house sliding down the mountain. Such a horrible circumstance can and does happen at times.  And any movement at all can cause cracks and structural failure of house.  More than 7′ is often desirable, however, one sure-fire way is to use a special tempered steel probe (usually about 60″ long) and jam it into the ground.  If it hits rock (and you’ll know), that means for sure you should be pinning your footing to the bedrock.  That’s not the end of this situation, but is one quick and easy preliminary method to saving this heartache. 

 

2.  SICK BUILDING SYNDROME
This mountain house Architect has seen that nearly EVERY mountain residence has some degree of “sickness”, unless certain precautions are taken to prevent the spread of mold, wood destroying fungus, water penetration, rot, insect infestation, infiltration (unwanted air entry and escape).  If you have a family member with asthma/COPD, you really don’t want a sick building.  Legionnaire’s disease began as a result of a sick building, where water sat in a stagnant situation in an AHU (Air Handling Unit), growing Legionella bacteria.  Surprisingly, most builders do not actually use what the minimum IRC (International Residential Code) calls for: at least 15# asphaltic felt over building wall sheathing.

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It’s a “smart” vapor barrier, in that it generally keeps out bulk water, but allows interior moisture to vent outward and it does so when you want it to do so.  Unfortunately, most Builders use HouseWraps, most of which allow liquid condensing water to become trapped INSIDE the wood side of the wall construction, which can and will allow for mold growth, possible fungus (wood destroying) and wood rot.  The way in which most houses are built result in hydrostatic pressure from outside water, driving it into and through the thousands of nail holes at the walls, and into the wall structure. There are typically no provisions for a drainage gap, which would otherwise allow for wind-driven rain and other water to fall harmlessly down and out of the wall system and to the ground.  All it requires is an Architect familiar with detailing and specifying economical and practical housewrap materials that do a better job.  Architects research the latest developments, which is usually why their houses last longer and with fewer problems.

 

3.  WATER PENETRATION
Through walls.  Through roofs.  Through windows & doors.  All can result in wood rot, structural failure and Sick Building (item 2.), and damage to insulation, interior and exterior materials.   Water Penetration is a subset and one of the causes of Sick Building Syndrome.  Roof overhangs of the proper length are one of the best ways to keep water out of walls.  It is surprising how little of an overhang is usually built into homes in regions having lots of rain and snow.  Not sensible.  And there are better roofing and wall materials to better resist water penetration.  For instance, all roofing edges and intersections should have weather-resistant metal flashings.  You’d think this would be second nature to any Builder, but this better practice is not always followed. 

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And we see chimneys without crickets behind them (small gable-shaped roof areas to drain water down and away from the vertical walls of a chimney, usually behind them).  And windows should be flashing with special flashing tapes (not duct tape) compatible with the materials involved, all around: head, jambs and sills, and the sills in particular, should have a sloping pressure-treated subsill that drains water coming from failed window joints (a chronic problem) down and out of the wall system.  And much more, too numerous to list here in this simple article.

 

4.  LACK OF PROPER DESIGN  RESPONSE
Merry Soellner, RSPS, Licensed Real Estate Broker in the Cashiers, NC region, sees this all the time: “Here we have spectacular mountain views, which is the main reason people from Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Houston, New York, Ohio and other eastern USA areas come to this mountainous place.  Unfortunately, not all of the houses built here take maximum advantage of the views in the design of their residence.  We see houses with the living windows and doors under-sized and not even facing the grand mountains outside.  Obviously, those people didn’t hire an Architect to design their house.  They should have.  Anyone concerned with bringing the great views of this scenic place would have designed large glass areas facing the wonderful views.”  There’s a big difference between slapping an existing off-the-shelf Builder plan on a site and instead having an Architect design a house for the great views, as well as your particular Lifestyle.  You would be amazed at the countless houses that miss these grand opportunities.  And this results in a lower sales price when the house is put up for sale, which financially damages the original owner and all subsequent owners. 

And most kitchens have a ridiculously small distance between counters (like 3′ or 4′), which isn’t anywhere near enough to allow for 2 people or more in the kitchen at one time, or for appliance doors and cabinet drawers to be opened at the same time, without bumping into them, or even being able to completely open.  Architects usually analyze the required distance for functional spacial needs to insure that you can properly use each space.  And there are many other design responses that are typically overlooked in most hastily assembled projects.  Better to have a design professional overseeing the effort. 

 

5.  INFERIOR CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS & TECHNIQUES
For example, some builders still use T-111 plywood as exterior sheathing and finish cladding.  It rots much faster than even white pine or other more durable materials.  And wood windows rot, especially metal clad wood windows.  There are better options that last much longer and without the problems of the cheaper materials.  And “caulk” (typically latex) is mainly for interior applications. “Sealants” are for exterior situations and have more durable compositions, like elastomeric polyurethane, silicones and others.  Some builders don’t use any.  That’s not wise.  Sealants are often your last line of defense in stopping water and air intrusion.   And cheap roof shingles (both asphaltic fiberglass and the thinnest wood) don’t last as long as thicker, more durable varieties.    And most Builders use code minimums for roofing underlayment, such as 15# asphaltic felt.  While that meets code minimum, that no where near as good at stopping water through a roof as a thicker uncured polybutylene self-adhered wide roll material.  And roof edge flashing: most Builders use a very thin, cheap 1″ edge metal, that barely covers the roof sheathing…  It would be much better to use a custom bent flashing with architectural coating that was larger and overlapped and covered the sheathing and fascia better, down to eave gutters.  And while we’re talking about gutters, yes, a house should have those, and about twice the amount of downspouts and most Builders use. And then underground drainage down and away from the house to avoid foundation erosion.  And gutter protection to avoid clogged roof drainage, which can also lead to mold growth.  On and on.  Architects usually have only one main concern: design the best house possible for your requirements. 

 

 

This list could continue for a long time, concerning many more items.  This is only a smattering of the sorts of problems that are built into most houses these days.  Stacy & Clinton would be horrified.  They would also probably suggest that you consult a Licensed Architect. 

 

 

 

 

tags: what not to build, Cashiers, Lake Toxaway, Sevierville, Highlands, Hendersonville, Aspen, Glenville, Sapphire, post and beam, timber frame, mountain

 

Process to Build a New House

September 23rd, 2017

Process to Build a New House is an online article about the correct process for designing and building your new house, for the best results.

Value of an architect construction administration

Value of an architect construction administration. (C) Copyright 2015, Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Architect coordinating fix for support with Builder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having a new house designed and built can be driven by emotions, the need to relocate for a job or health, or the simple desire to move to someplace scenic.  Lots of reasons can motivate people to take this important step in their lives.   It is a major commitment of time and resources.

 

Test: do you know the proper order of events in project design & construction procedure?

And the first step along this path is supremely significant.  It can affect everything else that is to come.  What SHOULD the first step be?  And once that’s done, in what order should the project proceed?  Here’s a little test (What’s the proper order for smoothest project process: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6?):
__  Find & buy land.
__  Hire Builder. 
__  Hire an Architect.
__  Have the home designed.
__  Build the House.
__  Move into the House.

Many people use the order indicated above.  Is this the right or wrong approach?

answer: DEAD WRONG.
 
That’s the Land Driven/Contractor Driven Project Approach
Why is that?  There are logical arguments why many people follow the above order. 

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Unfortunately, using that method can result in their house costing hundreds of thousands of dollars more than it might otherwise, along with a lower quality of materials and less quality of construction.  What?  How would the order in which steps are taken possibly affect those things?  How is that possible?

 

Okay, so what is the right approach order of events?  Try this:

Architect & Client Needs Driven Project Approach

1.  Hire an Architect.
2.  Program Client Needs.
3.  Find & buy land.
4.  Add Land characteristics to Client Needs to finalize Programming.

5.  Have the home designed.
6.  Bidding & Negotiate with several Licensed General Contractors (GC).

7.  Hire Builder (a licensed GC). 
8.  Build the House.
9.  Move into the House.

Wait a minute…there are some different & additional steps included in this method.  And that’s correct, there are.  But what about the sequence?  Why hire the Architect BEFORE finding the land and BEFORE hiring the Builder?  Good questions.  Let’s address those right now. 
The above is the Architect & Client Needs Driven Project Approach.

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What is different about the 2 approaches shown above?
The first one, unfortunately allows perhaps an unwise land purchase and too-early Contractor involvement to drive everything else in the project.  Why might those not be good things? 

How about this:

Foundation Costs

a Client’s lack of knowledge and understanding of the implications of site slope, topography and other land characteristics can easily result in foundations costing a whopping $150,000 to $250,000 (or more) for just the foundations of the proposed new house!  HOME ARCHITECTS ™ has seen situations where some of their Clients had purchased land without consulting them, resulting in half a million $ wasted on foundations just to create a level platform to get up to the main 1st floor!  Clients don’t seem to realize that steep land = expensive foundations.  Why: more difficult land on which to build, multiple scaffold sets, much more material, special waterproofing, filter fabric, special drainage.

Early Architectural Services Can Save Later Trouble & Cost

Therefore, it would be very wise to obtain the Architect’s input, through an early economical service, such as this Architect’s “WALK YOUR LAND WITH THE ARCHITECT” service before buying your land.   Any Architect with some experience will attempt to guide you away from a too steep location for the house, due to foundation complexity and cost.  THAT’S WHY YOU WANT THE ARCHITECT INVOLVED FIRST. 

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Along with the Architect’s first course of action upon being engaged will ask you: “What do you want?”  Which is a simple question that leads to many pieces of information that can and will affect your land choice.  For instance: if you want a large house, wouldn’t it be good to know THAT IT WILL FIT ON THE LAND?  Before you buy the land?  Sounds like a good, idea, right?

 

We know what you’re thinking: “Hey, I got all kinds of room on my land: look around you: nothing but wide open spaces!”  Think again.  Ever see a good quality survey?  One with proper topographical data on it, such as one with legally required building setbacks?  Easements for various utilities?  Right-Of-Way for the roads?  Landscaping buffers required between lots by HOAs (Home Owner Associations), space and locations required for septic tanks, septic fields, distance from potable water wells?  By the time all this information is properly recorded on the survey and on the Architect’s Site Plan, your land is Not free and clear.  It has a cobweb of invisible, but legally required No-Build areas all over it.  You can’t just build your house anywhere on it.  So you have less available open property than you think. 

 

And so your Architect can help guide you toward land choices that will cost less to build on and that will suit what it is that you want to build there.  Great reasons for your Architect to be aboard and advising you on those choices in the beginning, don’t you think? 

 

Most people try to over-simplify the process of designing and building their new house.  It just doesn’t work that way.  Why?  Because a custom house is one of the most complex project types on the planet.  Yes it IS like rocket science

 

Not a Good Idea for the Builder to be Onboard Before the Architect

And why might you NOT want to get a Builder onboard, guaranteeing them that they are going to, for sure, build your house long before you engage the Architect?  First of all, let’s get terminology straight.  A “Builder” might not necessarily be  Licensed.  Only a Licensed General Contractor is the type of construction professional that you want to build your house.  Alright.  But still, why not hire them first?  You’re thinking, “Heck, Bob and and Betty-Lou down the street said that Sam The Builder (or licensed GC) did a fine job for them, so why not for us?”  Because Bob & Betty might have over-paid Sam for their house, and received lesser quality materials and installation techniques that don’t become understood until months or years later and they just might never understand why they have spent so much on maintenance and other things, just writing the checks to pay for them.  They don’t know.  Like that they paid $350,000 for their foundations on their steep lot, and they could have reduced that to perhaps $25k if they had built on a gentle lot.  Or that their roofing or foundation waterproofing are going to fail and leak within 7 years instead of 30 or 40 years, because the quality of materials used was of lower quality than what an Architect would have specified?  They don’t know.  They are not the experts on that builder.  They just wrote the checks, no matter how much those checks were written for.  And things seem okay.  For now. 

 

But there’s an even more important reason for not getting the Builder onboard first: Do that, and they think they have a lock on the project.  They may ignore the Architect’s documents, specifications, details and wise counsel.  The builder who interprets that he is driving the project may become irritable and unpleasant to the Architect, and eventually even try to talk the Owners out of using the Architect.  There are reasons of profitability at the core of such actions.  No one, including Builders, appreciate anyone looking over their shoulders.  So, if they believe the Owner has them (The Builder) controlling the project (rather than the Architect), the Contractor may attempt to, at some point, “throw the Architect under the bus.”  Why would they do such a nasty thing?  Undermining another professional?  Because when the fox has no one guarding the henhouse, a few chickens might go missing.  Not that all builders act in this manner.  Blessings upon them for building what we live in.  We need them.  But to give them carte blanche may not be in any Owner’s best interests.  An Owner wants and needs the Architect there, as the champion for quality and durability. 

And any Builder who has no one else watching, is going to try to talk an Owner into some sort of “Cost Plus” arrangement, wherein the Owner has to pay the Builder for whatever the project actually costs to build, PLUS a Contractor “Fee” (typically profit margin, regardless of how much the project costs to build, totally open ended).  What’s that you say?  “That won’t happen to me!”  Yes, it will, if you put the Contractor in charge right up front.  What helps to prevent that from happening otherwise?  Wouldn’t you rather have a fixed, guaranteed price, in writing on a contract to build your house according to your Architect’s plans & specs?  Of course you would.

 

Architect Will Typically Attempt to Help you Control the Contract for the Construction

The Architect (at least HOME ARCHITECTS ®) will often suggest a form of agreement to build the project from a 3rd party independent professional organization like ArCH (Architects Creating Homes), which has an outstanding form of agreement for residential projects.  It typically requires the Contractors (note the plural there) to competitively bid on the project.  No one Contractor has a lock on the job (unless there are some unusual circumstances, such as the Builder already worked on the project previously or similar reasons).  Now then, all of the Contractors bidding are going to try to bid lower than each other, which helps the Owner to obtain a lower price to build their house.  Isn’t that a great idea?  That’s not going to happen, if you GIVE your project to a Builder earlier in the project process.  Doh! 

 

Is it starting to make more and more sense to have the project process driven by the Architect’s methods?  Why?  Because the Architect’s methods have at their forefront: Help the Owner.  Make the house as nice as possible, within certain constraints.  The Architects sole motivation is to help you obtain the best house possible for your land and your lifestyle.

 

Architect Can Help You Negotiate with the Best Contractor

Did you notice that bit about Bidding & Negotiating in the Architectural project process?  What’s “negotiate” mean in this context?  Well, dirty little secret here: no Owner ever saw a price to build their house that they liked.  ALL prices to build what you want will ALWAYS be more than you would like to pay to have it built.  Therefore, having your Architect, the person that designed and specified your project be available to discuss price cuts in return for not building certain things can make all the difference between a viable project and nothing.  A crucial moment in the project.  Because: You don’t know what is important to the structural integrity of the project and what isn’t.  Or in terms of energy conservation, which impacts your monthly power bill.  Or any number of other issues.  Your Architect will know what can give and what can’t.  They can be all that stands between your proposed house or nothing at all.

 

Construction Administration

Having your Architect there, looking at what the Contractor is building can make a huge difference in the Contractor’s attitude and performance.  If  anyone thinks that no one will be checking on his/her work, they probably won’t be as likely to do a better job that requires more effort.  And so, too, for Builders: if a Contractor believes that no one will be checking his/her construction (or just an inexperienced Owner or the over-burdened Building Department), he/she might not be quite as inclined to do a top-notch job of construction.  Any human being who KNOWS that someone is going to be checking their work, will instinctively, out of self-preservation, try to do a better job.  Basic human nature.  Not that Builders are bad people.  Not at all.  They work hard, under unpleasant circumstances: heat, wind, rain, snow, ice, dirt, and have to deal with all sorts of people all the time: employees, material suppliers, 50 subcontractors (for every project), owners, architect, engineers, etc.  So we aren’t implying they aren’t worth what they earn.  They are due their income.  But having the Architect check periodically, say once a month, timed immediately after the GC sends out his Pay Request for the Architect’s review & approval, so that the Architect checks the work, is just one more precaution to helping the Owner obtain what they believe they are paying for: a well-built house. 

 

Now then, what differences do you imagine would occur if the Contractor knew no one, other than you and a once in a big while overworked Building Department person would be looking at things? 

And NO, the Building Department checks are NOT any sort of guarantee that your project is going to be built correctly.  Take a good look at the permit.  It says, right there, that the County/City in no way is responsible for the quality of your construction or that it even meets Code.  Why:  not their job.  They may look for code minimums, but it Not their job to see to it that your project design documents are built as designed.  They could care less if your roofing underlayment is what was specified, only what  minimum Code calls for.  If they even check it.  We have seen so-called Building Department “inspections” consisting of a literal “drive -bys” where the so-called inspector didn’t even get out of his vehicle.  Or where the inspector knew the Contractor and signed off on that basis.  And the “inspectors” could be political appointees that know nothing about design and construction.  Check out your County’s budget some time. Do you really think they have licensed engineers or Architects on-staff that check on the construction of your house?  Highly unlikely.  It is not their job or their legal requirement to protect you. 

 

And one last time: this online article is Not intended as an anti-Builder article.  We’ve said it once and we will say it again: The world needs Builders.  We’d be nowhere without them.  Some of my best friends are Licensed Contractors.  The issue is WHEN in the design and construction process they are brought into the picture, that’s all.  Architects program, plan & design.  Builders build (hence the term “Builder”).  In those respective roles, they both excel and work well together, in the best interests of the Owner.

 

 

 

 

 

tags: Process to Build a New House, mountain, Cashiers, Lake Toxaway, Highlands, Glenville, Sapphire, Aspen, Telluride, Charlotte, post and beam, timber frame.

 

Architects Design & Manage Projects

August 22nd, 2017

Architects Design & Manage Projects is about why you should seriously consider having an Architect design and manage your next house or building project and what can happen if you don’t.

why Architect should design your house

One of HOME ARCHITECTS successfully designed & managed projects, (C)Copyright 2017 Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This company (HOME ARCHITECTS ®) is a licensed Architect that also has a specialty in the design of custom houses in mountainous regions.  They have different Clients come to them from across the USA, with different requirements and circumstances.  However, they have seen more and more Clients during the last several years coming to them with a set of problems mainly caused by the Clients’ starting out their project in a DIY (Do It Yourself) mode, no doubt in part encouraged by TV series about people building or renovating their houses themselves.  Unfortunately, if you really watch those shows carefully, you will see that most of them have several disasters happen during the course of the “DIY” project.  And they end up spending much more money than intended or having altogether problematic situations that have them lose their entire investment.  A house is a very complicated undertaking. 

 

Here is a recent situation of a couple (let’s call them Bill & Betty) approaching this Architect, and what happened to them before they consulted this firm:

1.  Bill & Betty (the Clients) bought a lot in a mountain subdivision (let’s say this is in North Carolina) without consulting anyone.  They trusted the developer that the septic situation was “approved”, even though no paperwork showing such permit with the County Health Department was provided. Also, Bill & Betty wanted a basement and the Developer “assured” them that should be “no problem.” 

2.  Bill & Betty then had a residential designer (they are Not Architects).  Bill & Betty didn’t especially like the floor plans, because they designer didn’t make much of an attempt to obtain information from the clients about how they wanted to live.  And the designer had an old set of plans and mainly used those.

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3.  Bill & Betty gave the plans to a timber frame company to be redrawn to suit the timber frame company’s practices.  Timber frame company mainly threw out the residential designer’s plans and reused some old plans the timber frame company had lying around in its back room, because the timber frame company had built that plan several times before.

4.  Bill & Betty hated the new plans, because the timber frame company never asked Bill & Betty what they wanted and the timber frame company totally ignored the already mediocre designer plans, resulting in a plan that had nothing to do with how Bill & Betty wanted to live. 

5.  Bill & Betty scrap the plans, because they hate them.

6.  Bill & Betty restart the plans from scratch with the timber frame company.  This is a bumpy ride, because the timber frame company doesn’t employ an Architect, but rather a teenager who just happens to do some drafting after high school and on weekends.  The developing plans still have nothing to do with Bill & Betty’s desired lifestyle.  The timber frame teenager has no architectural training or experience and no abilities in managing Clients and no skills other than in using a drafting program.  There is a huge difference between an unskilled draftsperson and a mature, experienced, licensed and educated real Architect.

7.  The development in which Bill & Betty bought a lot throws various roadblocks in their path.

8.  On-going problems with timber frame company due to the lack of knowledge, experience, skill and training of their draftsperson not understanding how to create a house that suits the desires of each Client.  The “vision” of the Clients does not match that of the timber frame design.

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9. Timber frame company talks Bill & Betty into paying them over $200,000 to proceed with cutting the timber frame package, even though this is out of sequence, as the basement foundations to the project haven’t even been poured or permitted yet.  This is highly irregular and would have had any involved Architect seeing red warning alarms.  Unfortunately, no Architect was involved. 

10.  SIP panel problems (Structural Insulated Panels) from the timber frame subcontractor, because they were incorrectly cut, based on the original timber frame design, rather than the revised design.  Not sure if Bill & Betty had to pay for that error.

11. Timber frame company lack of abilities evidencing themselves, as they are from another region and know nothing of the septic requirements in the location of the Clients.  Clients have mismanaged this situation, because that is something that should have been resolved before even buying the land, much less laying that responsibility on the timberframe subcontractor.

12.  Questions about septic system viability.  Question as to whether the Developer ever actually had the County Health Department ever come to the lot to conduct a proper soils and percolation test (along with soil depth verification) to determine if the lot could work for septic.

13.  Approval obtained from the Development for colors, plans, materials (for a house they don’t really even like).

14.  Weather delays.  At some point, engaging a Builder to construct the house (which should have been accomplished earlier, during a proper Bidding Phase, but was not).

15.  Developer and others approving a walkout basement in the plans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16.  Discovery of the bedrock being only 36″ under the land soil level. 

This not only calls into question if there will be any sort of septic system possible (perhaps a very expensive low pressure drip system for tens of thousands of dollars more than typical conventional systems under normal circumstances, if approved), and now any sort of basement will be subject to the uncertainties of  expensive blasting, which not only costs a lot, but do not ever result in rectangular corners, leading to even more expense forming the basement.  In other words: no basement is economically practical. 

 

17.  Multiple additional problems.  The above Client-managed process has taken 3-1/2 years and has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars spent for nothing other than a big pile of sticks sitting in a warehouse and perhaps trees cleared where the house is supposed to be built some day.  Bill & Betty now say they feel they have hit a brick wall and that they are about to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars more than they anticipated due to bad advice from nearly everyone during the course of their project, not to mention years of wasted time. 

Their only way out of this dream-turned-nightmare is to possibly sell the land, try to get some cash back on the timberframe package, and find land somewhere else, using a better project process.

 

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NOW, AT THIS POINT, THEY FINALLY CONSULT A KNOWLEDGEABLE ARCHITECT, FAMILIAR WITH DESIGNING & MANAGING MOUNTAIN HOUSES.

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Alright then.  That’s the tale of woe and what can happen when Clients believe they are saving money by not having an Architect design & manage their project.  There’s a saying for this: “If You Think It’s Expensive Hiring A Professional, Wait Until You Don’t: That Will Be Much More Expensive.”

 

WHAT SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED TO AVOID THESE PROBLEMS?  WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE PROPER STEPS TAKEN BY THESE OR ANY CLIENTS?  Good questions.  Are you interested in the answers?  Here they are:

 

1.   HIRE AN ARCHITECT
Make sure the Architect has a professional process  to properly program, design, document, bid and manage the construction of your project.  For instance, any Architect that has published a book about this process could give you guidance and insure that you have a real pro designing and managing your valuable work.  HOME ARCHITECTS ® authored and published this book for that purpose:
Client Centered Architectural Design Process .

 

2.  PROGRAM LIFESTYLE/LAND SELECTION GUIDANCE
Allow the Architect to program your desired Lifestyle.  This is covered in the above referenced e-book.  There is where the Architect asks you: “What do you want?” and you have a dialogue with him/her to uncover the way you want to live (Lifestyle), rooms/spaces, features, views, materials, appliances and other items.  This gives guidance as you the land on which your desired house would be built, in terms of where, size, characteristics.

 

3.  LAND ANALYSIS/PRE-SELECTION
Your Architect can then visit and analyze the land that appeals to you, evaluating the topography, roads, views, size and other characteristics, to insure a match to your desired Lifestyle.  Also, it would be a very good idea to review the suitability for a septic system, possible drinking water well and other items, BEFORE buying the land.  An experienced and skilled Architect can help you verify those needs before you buy. 

 

4.  LAND ACQUISITION
Okay, NOW you are ready to purchase your land, now that you KNOW that the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) will approve (or has approved) a septic system of the size, location and type suitable for your proposed house, along with approval of a well location.  You may have also wanted to pay a well driller to drill down and verify the GPM (Gallons Per Minute) rate of good, clean water, before buying the land.

 

LET’S THINK ABOUT WHERE WE ARE AT IN THE ABOVE NEW ARCHITECT- APPROACH VERSUS THE PREVIOUS SELF-GUIDED APPROACH:
Rather than relying on the assumptions of the Bill & Betty, the seller of the land, and other people who may have had vested interests, the Architect is ONLY concerned with the well-being of his/her Clients.  Therefore, the suitability of the land has been VERIFIED before buying it.  Ah.  Good approach!  Let’s continue:

 

5.  SCHEMATIC DESIGN OF HOUSE BY ARCHITECT
Notice that this new, logical process didn’t start with drawing or designing the house or buying the land right away.  First: the Architect Programmed the needs and wants of the Clients.  That way, a piece of ground was found that suited their needs.  And the Architect programmed those needs into a text document that describes the Clients’ wants for the house.  So now, knowing the Land & and Lifestyle of the Clients, the Architect can logically merge those characteristics, to result in a Floor Plan & Site Plan design based on the topography, views and other land features, along with the desired Lifestyle of the Clients.  How simple and logical!  That’s how it should always be done.

The Clients then will be given the opportunity to review the design created by the Architect, to see what, if any adjustments they may wish to have made.

 

6.  DESIGN DEVELOPMENT
The Architect then evolves the Schematic Design Floor Plans & Site Plan, adding the Front Exterior Elevation and more detailed items to the documents.  The Clients then review this and see if that image suits their vision for the project.  Any needed adjustments are made.  Then the Architect creates the remaining exterior Elevations, in keeping with the approved Front Elevation.  In this manner, the house has been designed entirely in keeping with the input of the Clients, who are delighted wiht the design documents.

Note: no need to involve any Builder, timberframe company, or other entity at this point.  If you have an experienced Architect, knowledgeable in the house the Clients want.  And, usually before the project gets this far, the Architect will likely have discussed with the Client that it is Not necessary to have a “true” timberframe (which ADDS $61.50/GSF to the cost of the project over an above conventional construction) in order to obtain a timber house appearance.  This solution is typically called a “Hybrid” post & beam and conventional house.  All the economies of conventional construction, with some posts and beams (not all necessary structurally) to result in the feeling of a timberframe but not all the costs of one, nor the required structural regimentation.

 

7.  CONSTRUCTION DOCUMENTS (CDs)
Now the Architect creates the Construction Documents, based on the Client- approved Design Development documents.  Here, the details, specifications and other items are added to the Architect’s documents, providing the information to have the yet-to-be-selected Contractor build the project in accordance with the project requirements.  Note: this will likely be the longest time span of the Architect’s services, as more detail and drawings will be added to the documents there than anywhere else in the process.  As the Architect completes various portions of the developing CDs and submits them to the Clients, the Clients should take those opportunities to review the documents and make comments, to insure that they want the final result.

Then, at the end of the CDs, the Clients should review the completed documents to insure that what they’re about to have bid and built is, in fact, what they want.  This step is important, because due to the technical nature of CDs, it may be difficult for Clients to fully understand what is in the documents. 

 

8.  BIDDING
At this point, when many Clients would have already been wanting to merely “give” the project to some “Builder” (who no doubt would want to be paid using a “Cost-Plus” contract), they instead should consider allowing the Architect to competitively bid out the project to perhaps 3 or 4 Licensed Contractors (not unlicensed builders).   In this manner, the Architect can provide bid forms to obtain “Apples to Apples” bids, rather than some builder’s made-up method of pricing as it may suit him/her.  The chances are higher that the prices you receive may be lower and more in tune with the approved CDs that the Architect has created and that you have approved.  So now the Architect bids out the project to interested licensed General Contractors, then the Contractors provide prices.

Value Engineering (VE): Here’s the dirty secret no one want to tell you: the price(s) you obtain from the Contractor(s) to build your dream house will ALWAYS be more than you’d like to pay.  That’s a fact of life.  So, this next part of the Bidding process is to Engineer some more Value out of the project, in hopes of lowering the construction price.  However, with HOME ARCHITECTS, this firm already has installed VE, in that they design and specify the project using their Base Bid items (which are their least expensive, but still durable items).  And they also have a list of Owner Optional Upgrades, that list about 10 to 20 optional items that improve the project at increased cost.  For instance, the Clients may desire to have a slate roof, which is certainly going to cost more than the Base Bid standard roof shingles.  So this Architect makes such items options.  In this manner, this Architect pre-Value Engineers their projects. 

Then, after obtaining the bids, the Architect discusses them with the Clients, then the Clients decide which Contractor will be the one to build the project. The Architect can offer counsel to the Clients’ Attorney as to the form of agreement to use with the selected Contractor.  Then the Clients sign the contractor with the General Contractor.

 

9.   CONSTRUCTION ADMINISTRATION
Now the General Contractor (GC) mobilizes for construction, while applying for the building permit from the local Building Department.  After the GC has the permit, temporary power and either his crew or Subcontractors at the project site, construction begins and usually lasts anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, depending on the size of house/ project.

During the course of construction, the Architect typically visits the project site each month, timed to occur with the GC’s pay requests.  The Architect observes what has been accomplished, any seen deficiencies and takes digital photos, then emails PDF reports to the Clients and the GC.  The Architect reviews/ approves the GC pay request so that the Clients know it’s okay to pay the GC. The Architect also reviews shop drawings and other tasks per a list the Architect sends to the Clients before construction begins.

There is also a Substantial Completion visit & report and a Final Completion visit & report, before the Architect approves the final payment to be made to the GC.

 

 

Now then, doesn’t the above sound like a nice, professional, orderly project process?  What a pleasant difference to what Bill & Betty experienced before?  Sure, they now will pay an Architect to properly Program, Design and Document their project, along with the optional services of Bidding and Construction Administration and that isn’t cheap.  But there will be no wasted expenditures.  It all will go for good and valuable purposes.  And there will be a reasonable and expeditious timeline.   And their dream house will at last be built the way they want.  And their septic system will work. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tags: Architects Design & Manage Projects, mountain residential design, Cashiers, Sevierville, Lake Toxaway, Highlands, Glenville, Sapphire, Aspen, Lake Tahoe

 

 

 

 

Mold in the Mountains

August 16th, 2017

Mold in the Mountains is about how this custom house Architect recognizes mold as one of the most important and undesirable results of improperly designed, incorrectly built, and wrongly operated houses in the mountains.

mold in the mountains

(C)Copyright 2016 Home Architect, PLLC. Analyzing mold evidence in one of the company projects. Later, the mold was mitigated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is quite common, if not chronic, that nearly all mountain houses have mold.  Your nose will tell you, then second you walk through the front door.  And sometimes, you can smell it from the outside, at a distance of 40′ or more. 

 

This architectural company (HOME ARCHITECTS ®) has been designing houses since 1967 (as the continuation of its founder’s practice and experience).   And one of the most predictable maladies of just about any mountain house is that it will probably have mold, to one degree or another.

 

Which begs the question: why? 

There are several reasons:
1.  Because mold is everywhere.  Literally.  It is on you, inside you, on buildings, inside buildings.  Everywhere.
2.  Understanding item#1, it requires certain environmental conditions under which mold can grow and flourish. 
3.  Understanding item #2, what conditions are these?
4.  Lots of humidity, if not outright natural, untainted water, such as rain water.
5.  Lack of cleaning or ability to get to the places where the mold is growing. 
6.  Lack of air movement.  Mold, which is organic (plant/ vegetation) likes all that humidity around it and wants that cloud of moisture to remain around it.  Air movement dries the air, which mold doesn’t like.
7.  Dirt, earth, soil.  Mold doesn’t like spic and span surfaces. 

 

Okay, understand items 1 through 7 above, what conditions would limit, restrain or prevent mold growth?

See below for the answers:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.a.  Accept that mold is everywhere, but hire a mold mitigation specialist to fumigate the spaces where you have mold and don’t want it anymore.  Some people used to use bleach, wiped over the surface, but mold specialists will tell you that’s like weed whacking (the roots are still inside the materials below the top surface). Mold specialists that have experience (like a decade or more) that really know what they’re doing will explain that such a fumigation will not only kill the mold visible on the surface of the contaminated materials, it will also drive into the materials, killing the roots (remember: mold is a microscopic plant). 

2.a-4a.  Reduce the amount of humidity.  A lot.  This is typically accomplished by closing gaps in the building walls, roofs, foundations, then sealing the smaller joints, then applying waterproofing coatings to porous materials (like concrete and concrete block), then installing dehumidifier(s).  What’s important to do at this point: have the dehumidifier(s) have at least a 3/4″ +/- diameter hard piping (such as PVC or other code approved hard piping) drain the condensate to outside the building, at a distance of 18″ or more and above the level of the ground at a distance that will make it difficult for pests to enter the pipe. 

5.a.  BEFORE doing the items 2.a-4a, thoroughly clean the surfaces to be mitigated of all dust, soil, debris, trash and other filth.  Do not provide anything in which the mold can grow more readily.

6. a.  Move the air.  Forever.  Even if inside special ventilation spaces, have fans move the air.  Constantly.  And because you have items 2a-4a making the air dry, you will be moving dry air, which mold doesn’t like.

7.a.  Monitor the areas where the mold previously was and keep them clean. Do not allow accumulation of dust, debris, trash or other unclean material.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alright then.  We’re getting somewhere.  What are some of the actual architectural details and construction methods used to help facilitate mold mitigation in mountain houses?

For instance: most retaining walls holding back the earth around most basements in mountain environments are made of either concrete block (also called “CMU”) or cast in place steel reinforced concrete.  Unfortunately, these cementitious materials are porous.  Which means they need to have a waterproof coating applied to their outside surface(and drainage fabrics and underground piping) during the original construction to keep free-flowing water from penetrating the retaining wall.  Unfortunately, very few clients understand that there are different qualities of waterproofing materials.  

There are. 

The higher quality coatings are more expensive than lower quality coatings.  Just like a higher priced lawn tractor will generally offer more features and durability than a cheap one.  What typically happens when an Architect is not involved in the project: the client hammers the Contractor to make the house cost less money so the client doesn’t have to pay the Contractor as much to build the house.  Given his/her marching orders to save money, the Builder then usually defaults to the cheapest materials possible (especially when there is no Architect involved).  And so the Contractor typically uses cheaper quality waterproofing materials (like asphalt, which become brittle fairly swiftly and has a radical molecule in its chemistry (allowing mixing with H2O), allowing water to penetrate at these cracks) rather than a better coating (like polyurethane, which is more elastic and lasts longer).  And so here we go: the lack of having an Architect involved results in cheaper materials that allow water to penetrate the retaining wall, which is heaven for mold: darkness, dirt, water.  Yum.

 

See below for more:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So: if an Architect were involved, you’d probably get better subterranean waterproofing and that’s going to help a lot.  The main point here: HIRE AN ARCHITECT.  Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of people who are trying to cheapen your construction because they though that’s what you asked them to do.

 

Beyond that, for a basement retaining wall, what else can be done to prevent mold growth?  Well: if you’ve got a house that is already leaking water through the retaining wall and exhibiting mold growth, because you happen to have purchased a used home that you had no control over, when it was built in 1981, what now?  Well, this architectural firm sees this all the time.  As a matter of fact, they just fixed a home like this in the mountainous region of western North Carolina.  And the new homeowner didn’t want to have to pay the price to dig down all around the house’s foundation walls to clean, seal and re-waterproof the exterior side.  So what now?  Well, it so happens that this architectural company is knowledgeable of special chemicals that can be applied to the interior of foundation walls to stop the penetration of water. It actually works and has been tested on other projects.

And so, once that’s been applied (after fumigating) what then?  Well, remember that item about keeping the air moving and dehumidified?  So you then need to have the Architect (and this takes an Architect to understand exactly what to do) use special wall studs that permit air movement between them, then multiple dehumidifiers need to be installed, then have sections of ductwork installed between them and this special vent zone all along the basement retaining wall, then additional fans need to be installed to keep the air moving, then hard-piped condensate lines need to be installed to remove the moisture from the dehumidifiers.  Whew.  That’s a lot of technical know-how.  This architectural company knows how to do this.

 

Now then, that’s the hard part.  What are the easy things any homeowner can do to help prevent mold?  Super easy: DON’T TURN OFF YOUR HEATING OR AIR-CONDITIONING WHEN YOU LEAVE YOUR HOUSE FOR EXTENDED PERIODS OF TIME.  The most damaging thing any homeowner can do is thinking they are saving maybe 10 bucks a month on their electrical bill (or whatever), then turn their HVAC systems off or so low that their heat and air systems are pretty much useless in terms of mold prevention.  DON’T DO THAT!  It’s a false economy.  How so?  Because your mattresses will grow mold and be entirely ruined (resulting in you paying to have a trash company remove them from your house, and several hundred or several thousands of dollars to replace them).  Same thing with  your drywall, rugs, wood and nearly everything else in a house.  Stop growing mold!  That’s what you’re doing, every time you turn your thermostats either off or too low.

 

What can you do when leaving your house for weeks or months at a time?  For heating: set the thermostats no lower than perhaps 65* or so.  Any lower, and you’re going to probably warp or separate your flooring (including woods, laminates and others).  And set your A/C no higher than perhaps 82* or so.  Otherwise too much hot humid air, which mold spores love, will begin to build.  When you are in residence, set your heat to around 69* and your A/C to around 75*.  Under no circumstances should you ever shut your heat and air down entirely, nor shut off the main power to  your house, unless you are having electrical work performed.  Otherwise, all the money you have spent to make a nice house will be thrown away, because mold can and will grow.  Some entire homes become so infected with mold, they become a total loss, a tear-down. What a waste, just to save a few bucks each month on the utility bill. 

 

But there’s more to mold-proofing a house.  We’ve only touched on a few things.  More later.  And hire an Architect to design your mountain project so that you won’t have to worry about this.

 

 

 

 

tags: mold in the mountains, Cashiers, Sevierville, Aspen, Highlands, Hendersonville, Lake Toxaway, Sapphire, Glenville, Portland, Orlando, timber frame, post and beam

 

 

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

August 7th, 2017

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed is about how this Architectural firm custom made wide plank flooring out of plywood for a rich look on a low budget.

distressed plywood plank floor whitewashed

Distressed plywood plank floor whitewashed (C) Copyright Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Firm project in basement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And actually, this architectural firm also GRAY WASHED some of the planks, to give “motion” to the floor appearance and also varied the amount of white washing and sanding to give some variation, which, in their opinion, makes the floor more interesting and appear richer.

NOTE: this firm is Not recommending that anyone and everyone do this as a DIY project.  Why: it will consume much more work than you ever imagined, including sweat and blood and you could really hurt yourself.  The company recommends that you always hire a licensed Contractor to perform all of these activities and steps.

 

Why did the company do this: because one of their staff members didn’t want to pay $4 to $11/sf for the material of normal hardwood flooring, then another $2 to $3 to a specialty installer to get a wood floor in their basement.  They didn’t trust laminate flooring; they had seen some online reviews that indicated that this type of flooring could possibly become “unclicked” in the middle of the floor, resulting a very difficult repair, involving possibly half of the installed flooring.  So, the decision was made to Not go with any sort of “floating” thin flooring, including “pre-engineered” hardwood thin veneer prefinished planks, which are typically very narrow in width.  So: the staff member decided to buy sheets of pine plywood, which is real wood, slice them into about 12″ wide planks, distress them, white-wash them (and gray-wash), then glue and finish nail to the OSB sub-flooring.  The cost of the plywood sheets: about $0.60/sf.  Yes: way under a buck a square foot.  But a lot of sweat equity was required to get the final installation looking like you see in the above photo, and there were some other costs.

 

Read more below for the step-by-step method:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 1:
BUY SHEETS OF PLYWOOD
Buy sheets of 15/32″ Georgia Pacific plywood grade B-C sanded one side.  Lowe’s carries this usually in stock.  Hand pick each piece.  You want sheets that are flat, even and straight, with as few knots as possible in the finished face, and with undamaged edges.  Calculate 32 sf (Square Feet) per sheet of plywood and always figure an extra 10% or so to make sure you don’t get caught short.  For this little project, the actual sf required was 540 sf, so 18 sheets of plywood was purchased (576 sf) which the firm felt was close enough, because they knew the installer and also knew that there would not be much waste.

STEP 2:
HAVE PLYWOOD SHEETS CUT INTO PLANKS

distressed plywood plank floors whitewashed

(C)Copyright 2017, Home Architect, PLLC. Stack of (72) 15/32″ x 11-7/8″ x 8′ “planks”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have a woodworking carpenter with experience and a nice table saw cut the sheets of plywood into approximately 12″ wide strips, all 8′ long.  Note: in our case, this turned out to be 11-7/8″, to account for the width of the saw blade.  IT IS IMPORTANT THAT ALL OF THE PLANK WIDTHS BE IDENTICAL.  They all have to align when you’re putting them down.  So, our 18 sheets of plywood were cut into 4 strips (planks) each resulting in a total of 72 planks.  In our little job, we had to pay the carpenter $250 to cut our planks.  Lowe’s refused to do this, even when we offered them an additional payment.  So, that added another $0.44/sf to our material cost, jacking that up to about $1.04.   Still not bad.  Do NOT try to do this yourself with a Skill Saw.  Not only would that be dangerous, your cuts HAVE to be perfectly straight, and they won’t be if you try to do that.  Can you cut these sheets on your own table saw?  Sure, but once again, that can be dangerous and mistakes can happen.  And do you really need to own a table saw? 

 

STEP 3:
DISTRESS PLANKS
The idea is to try to simulate old warehouse flooring from a hundred years ago, that you were savvy enough to reclaim and re-purpose in your project for next to nothing.  The reality is: reclaimed wood is a huge market and nearly always has a stiff marked-up cost, because many people want this material.  So what you’re going to have done to your “planks” will lend them a little age and character.  Why: because we really don’t recommend using just the plywood faces as they are.  Why: because they look like plywood, due to the wide grain, which is nearly unmistakable, if left unaltered.  Why is that a bad thing?  Because it looks cheap (and it is). 
We’re trying to conceal and misdirect here. Sort of like how a make-up artist makes your favorite Hollywood actors look more glamorous than they really are. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So how do you do that?  Methods are up to your imagination.  We’ll share a few that we used with you.  However, be careful: remember: this is plywood.  The face veneer is probably less than 1/8″ thick.  If you’re too aggressive, you can tear chunks of that right off the “plank”. 

Okay, here’s what we did:

A.  Sanded the exposed face of each plank:

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

(C)Copyright 2017, Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Using B&D orbital sander, which worked great.  We also micro-beveled all of the edges: which is critical to avoid splinters and to help blend the planks together when you install them.

 

Forget the DIY blogs telling you to do this by hand using 100 grit sandpaper.  That’s insane.  It would take you forever.  We bought a $25 Black & Decker orbital sander.  One of the best purchases of our lives.  So easy to use, reliable and cut our time sanding by 90%.  And we used the loop and lock (like Velcro) sanding discs.  We did our first sanding using 80 grit.  Worked great.  Took some elbow grease, but we got 95% of the plywood maker’s paint, grade stamps and other markings off the wood.  Wait a minute: isn’t this plywood supposed to be already sanded on the finished face?  Yeah, well, it’s not good enough.  And you still have all those grade stamps and other marks on the wood.  So get over it.  You have to sand the planks.   Oh: use protective eyewear (goggles), gloves and a dust mask or respirator.  Did we?  No.  But we have to say these things so you don’t hurt yourselves.  We did wear gloves.  Avoids splinters.  Took about 10 minutes per board x 72 = 720 minutes/60 = 12 hours.   Not for the faint of heart or weak of arm.  DIY is a lot of sweat equity.  I don’t think we’re going to be doing this ever again. 

 

B.  Hand file diagonal scratches into the face of the planks:

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

Hand filing scratches into the planks. (C) Copyright 2017 Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

We bought a medium file at Lowe’s for around $10 and a handle for it for another $10.  We made the scratches in groups of 2, separated about a foot or two apart.  Then we went back in the other direction.  Another 5 minutes each plank.

 

C.  Gouge radial marks like a large diameter old saw blade using a hammer claw:

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

(C)Copyright 2017 Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Showing how we used a claw end of our Estwing hammer to gouge curves.  Be careful: easy to start scrapping away chunks of face veneer with this technique.

We thought this technique was the coolest, but it turned out to be almost invisible on the white-washed boards.  It did have some effect on the darker gray-washed planks. Another 10 minutes each plank.

 

D.  Hammer blows to the face of the planks using the claw end:

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

Claw marks pounded into plank faces to conceal future furniture and other marks. (C)Copyright 2017 Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

 

We went at an angle one way down the board, then reversed the angle and went back the other way.   Another 2 minutes each plank.  And: you’re going to ask why this should be done: because this is pine plywood.  It is a softwood.  Your furniture, high-heels, pet claws, dropped things will dent the wood.  Having distressed marks on it to begin with will turn future marks nearly invisible.

 

E.  Hammer blows along edges.

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

(C)Copyright 2017 Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Showing the rustication of the edges at the micro-bevel. Be gentle along this edge!  Another 1.5 minutes per board.

 

This gives a more rustic look to the edges of the boards, giving the illusion that they are thicker and rougher than plywood could ever be.  Be careful: do this gently, or you’re going to splinter long chunks of veneer along the edges, which happened to us a few times before we got the feel of what the wood wanted to let us do to it. 

F.  Result:

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

(C)Copyright 2017 Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Looks pretty nice, huh? But we’re not sure all this effort is worth it, in the final product. Only the darker gray-washed planks showed the radial “big saw” marks.

Here you can see some of the raised grain we caused by our distressing.  You could have also hit it with a chain and other methods.

 

G.  Second Sanding:

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

(C)Copyright 2017 Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Yes, this 2nd sanding is necessary.

Due to the raised grain and splinters and imperfections you caused during distressing, you must sand the planks again.  Ugh.  This time we used a 120 grit sanding disc(s), to result in a finer finished surface.  Don’t go crazy.  Just trying to make sure the splinters are knocked down.  Remember: you’re dealing with a thin veneer here.  Another 5 minutes per plank.

 

STEPS 4 & 5:
WHITE-WASH AND GRAY-WASHING

White-washing and Gray-Washing

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

(C)Copyright 2017 Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. White-washing the planks.

 

The Architect suggested and the team used a white-wash of 1 part latex flat paint with 3 parts water.  That turned out to be a good mix.  But that’s actually kind of strong.  So we wiped about 75% of the boards with rags to remove some of the white-wash almost immediately.  There was only 1 gallon of white latex required with 3 gallons of water in one 5 gallon pail, and only a quart of gray with perhaps a gallon of water in another 5 gallon pail.  Not a lot of cash there.  And a fabric roller and a paint brush (4″ cheap). 

Then after letting the white-wash dry overnight, the team applied the gray-wash (same ratio and type of paint to water for the gray-wash), using a stick and roller.  We didn’t really get the effect we were after: of having the darker gray settle down into the distressing grooves.  It covered everything.  Even though we wiped it off almost immediately, we still ended up sanding more off later.

 

STEP 6:
SANDING THE PAINTED BOARDS

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

(C)Copyright 2017 Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Sanding one of the gray-washed boards to expose some of the wood grain.  This resulted in an entirely unexpected rich-looking plank: gray and brown.

Not again?  Yes.  You now need to sand the boards yet a 3rd time.  Why: because otherwise the paint will take over the planks and you’ll have a hard time understanding that these are made of wood.  You’re going to need to expose a little wood grain.  Not too much!  But some.  And our objective was to knock down some of the gray-wash to start seeing the white-wash under it, but that didn’t happen.   Another 5 minutes per board using the 120 grit disc.

And we guess that’s okay, because we made each board different from the others, to give the floor more interest and what we call “visual movement.”

 

STEP 7
GLUE AND NAIL DOWN THE PLANKS
(after you sweep and vacuum the floor substrate twice).

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

(C)Copyright 2017 Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. These aren’t glued down just yet.

First, we just laid down the planks across the width of the room to make sure that we didn’t end up with tiny slivers on one side.  Worked out well.  Only had to cut off 1″ of the last row of boards. As you can see, we are purposely randomly mixing the white-washed and the gray-washed boards, to create interest.

And here’s what we’re using to glue the boards to the OSB structural floor:

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

(C)Copyright 2017 Home Architect PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Ecologically sensitive adhesive. Unlike many of the previous construction adhesives that would just about guarantee breathing problems.

Eco-Bond Heavy Duty construction adhesive (out of Wisconsin, USA).  No perceivable VOCs and no odor at all.  Probably one of the safest construction adhesives out there today.   Now then, we weren’t sure that we had ordered enough Eco-Bond, so we hedged our bets and also bought more adhesive with reportedly low VOCs (Locktite PowerGrab).  As it turns out, the Eco-Bond was all we needed.  about a dozen 10 ounce tubes was enough to coat the rear sides of our 72 boards.  They were each about $5.50/ tube.  We used an “S” pattern like the board below, and then filled in with straight “dashes” between the curves.

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

(C)Copyright 2017 Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. This pattern of glue turned out to work very well.

Then the guys laid the boards down into position. 

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

(C)Copyright 2017 Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Note the pleasant coloration of the white-washed boards.

And then using an 18 gage finish nail gun, hit each board with 3 nails across and about 10 rows.  So we used a little over 2,000 nails.  And because they are small gage, you really don’t see them, unless you get down on your knees are search for them. 

We started each row of boards with varying lengths of custom cut board length, using a chop saw.  All the saws were set-up outside.  You don’t want anything creating debris that could get under the boards to make them be anything but level and even.  All of the boards were pushed tight together along their sides and ends.  But we maintained 1/2″ of clear gap along all of the perimeter at the walls, to allow the flooring to expand and contract with humidity variations throughout the seasons, to avoid buckling of the planks.  The wall base, which is 3/4″ thick, will cover that gap.

 

STEP 8
INSTALL DONE: VACUUM AGAIN

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

(C)Copyright 2017 Home Architect PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Getting close to the final steps.

Believe it or not, this mess is the completely installed flooring. We cleared away all the left over boards and tools, then vacuumed again, to prepare for the next step.

 

STEP 9
POLYURETHANE LIQUID COATING

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

(C)Copyright 2017 Home Architect PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Tony could have attached this special fabric and foam applicator to a handle, but he said he got a better job when we got close to it right down at the floor. That’s dedication talking there.

Here the floor installer is using an oil-based liquid polyurethane over the cleaned and fully installed wood floor.  This first coat will stand there, with nothing on it at all for 24 hours.  We bought 3 gallons of oil-based polyurethane (Min-Wax), but I think we’re only going to end up using 2 of those.  Lowe’s accepts unopened and unused merchandise. 

And here’s what the completed installation looks like:

Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed

(C)Copyright 2017 Home Architect PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Note the very cool one of a kind custom architectural ceiling, also designed by this architectural firm.  Note that the coloration of the ceiling boards is fairly close to the floor boards, and that the white-primed boards for the ceiling “blades” was used for the wall base and window and door trims for a harmonious total composition. The drywall has a medium knock-down finish and a light beige flat latex paint (“Cream in my Coffee” is the actual color name).  The ceiling area above the architectural dropped ceiling was sprayed a flat black to conceal all the utilities, insulation and structure up there, which the Owner wanted to remain accessible for maintenance purposes.

 

STEP 10
FINAL POLYURETHANE COAT (#2) ON THE FLOOR
You can put on 3 coats if you like, but we felt pretty good going with 2.

 

All-in I think we’re probably around $3/sf for only the flooring labor + material.  Not bad, when lower budget hardwood is probably going to be more like around $7/sf or so (labor + material).  But that doesn’t include the personal slave labor to distress, sand and white-wash all those boards.  Never going to do that again.  So I guess we’ll pay more the going rate the next time around. 

 

Note: this firm is a mountain style residential Architect.  This particular project is one of a kind: extremely low budget for a basement finishing mini-project, and also using a lighter palette for a special circumstance, to reflect more light, due to limited windows and lighting. Normally, the firm has darker wood stains and more elaborate details.  In the end, coordinating with the Owner about what they want for each and every project. And the result above is exactly what this particular Owner requested and received. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tags: Distressed Plywood Plank Floor Whitewashed, Cashiers, Mountain, timber frame, Lake Toxaway, Highlands, Glenville, Sevierville, Hendersonville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dirty Secrets about Custom House Construction

July 25th, 2017

Dirty Secrets about Custom House Construction is about, well, things that no one in the business wants to talk about: not Contractors, Architects or anyone else.

dirty secrets about custom house construction

(C)Copyright 2004, Home Architect, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But this particular company tells the truth: HOME ARCHITECTS.  Good, bad or ugly.  Even if what they design is downright beautiful.  They win design awards: 4 last year, 1 the year before and are working on another 5 award-winning projects for next year.

 

So what’s the big deal?  What are the secrets that no one wants to talk about?  Do such secrets even exist?  They do.  Instead of building up to the #1 largest secret in the business, here it is straight away:

 

The number one, biggest secret of the custom house construction business is:

That the dream house of anyone and everyone will ALWAYS end up costing more than the homeowners ever imagined.

In many or most cases, A LOT more.

 

So why does this happen?  This leads to another secret within a secret: no one in the business wants to have to explain this next factor, which is WHY peoples’ dream houses end up costing so much more: as in WHO is to blame for this happening:

 

The Builder?  Not usually.
The Architect?  Probably not.
Well, what’s left?  How about: THE OWNER.

 

Oh no!  No one want’s to tell the Owner that!  And due to basic human psychology and the tendency to blame others for our unfortunate situations, the Owner would never dream that they are at fault.  Hey: this is their project!  They TOLD the Architect and the Builder what they wanted to spend:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Usually the amazing sum of $100/SF (Square Foot). And that’s the start of the problem.  How’s that?  Can’t the Owner dictate the budget amount, demand everything they want, then have the cost be that?  Unfortunately NO! 

 

That’s not the way it works.  Why?  Because misinformation and a loud voice does not remake reality.  And because nice houses with wood floors, upgraded roofs, complex shapes (like multiple gable roofs), multiple garages, nice appliances, large bathrooms, multiple porches, upgraded paving materials, outdoor stairs, multiple fireplaces, higher-end finishes and the like will NEVER be coming in anywhere near $100/sf.  Even tract housing hasn’t been built in that price range since about 1980.

 

There’s some really bad misinformation out there on the Internet about construction costs (as in lowball).  And when people find it, they apply that bad information to their dream castle, as if they are selecting another color of paint on a wall.  You simply can’t build a $300/sf house for a third of that these days.  Sorry.  That’s the truth.  That’s the main dirty secret that no one wants to tell you.  So is the Contractor or Architect responsible for planting the $100/sf idea in the Owner’s mind?  Highly doubtful.  More like wishful thinking on the part of the Owner. THAT is why most Owners become outraged and surprised when they finally receive a price quote from a Contractor.  The disconnect between the Owner’s misinformed wishful thinking and the realities of construction costs required to be spent to obtain all of the features and sizes and materials the Owner wants in their dream house is the reason.

 

The reality?   Read on (below):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To obtain a reasonably nice middle of the road sort of house, you’re probably going to need over $200/hsf (Heated Square Foot).  And you better be careful if you think that allows you to go big with other peripherals, like 3 car garages, giant timber frame porches front and rear, firepits and other goodies.  The HSF price will only go so far and you can break that budget quite easily when you overdo the exterior square feet.  And end up being more than $300/HSF.  Owners need to be careful and ask their Architect for guidance regarding size, features and materials, but NOT blame the Architect.  Why: because the Architect is not the one who said they needed a 6 bedroom, 7 bathroom house with a 4 car garage and Olympic swimming pool.  That requirement came from the Owner.  So be careful what you ask for.  To get it, you’re going to have to pay the Builder what it costs, plus a profit for his/her efforts. 

 

Another dirty secret: BASEMENTS ARE NOT FREE.  For some curious reason, unknown to this firm, people have the delusion that basements are free, or nearly so.  They are NOT.  As a matter of fact, some Contractors have a term for this: they call this their “Basement Profit Center.”  And what they mean by that will horrify you.  Do you want to know?

 

Okay: you asked for it: They mean that they KNOW that the homeowners have asked for an unfinished basement because the homeowner BELIEVES that for just a few extra bucks (as in: next to nothing), they will be able to bully or otherwise coerce their Contractor to add the insulation, drywall, electrical, plumbing, windows, doors, HVAC, paint, trim, stairs and other items to convert that basement into completely finished space by the end of the main house construction.  Here’s part of this dirty secret: CONTRACTORS ARE JUST WAITING FOR THIS!   (to find out more, read on, below):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They KNOW what you intend. How? Because they have likely built dozens or even hundreds of houses since they’ve been in business.  Maybe even they were hoodwinked into this the first time.  The first time.  They have vowed never to allow that to happen ever again.  Why?  Because they have a family and employees to feed and pay, and they aren’t in business to give you free things.  So now, they are going to make a profit on that.  A very good profit. So if you’re thinking that you’re going to get your Builder to give you a finished basement for next to nothing, think again.  And even the unfinished basement is going to have a pricetag.  Does that mean that contractors are bad, evil and mean?  Of course not. It means that they are business people who have to earn a buck, just like everyone else, including you.  They are not Santa Claus.  And if you also think that excavating deep into the ground with big, heavy equipment and building a steel reinforced cast in place concrete wall 12′ under the ground along with larger footings, drainage fabrics and piping, and wall waterproofing costs less than a normal stud wall above the ground, you’re going to discover otherwise. 

 

And that’s probably enough of popping balloons for now.  Perhaps more in the future.

 

But what now?  How to avoid these dire circumstances detailed above?  That’s surprisingly easy: Ask your Architect.  He/she will NOT and should not attempt to estimate your construction cost, as that road is fraught with liability, because actual costs are always sure to be more expensive. However, your Architect can tell you when they believe that your expectations are not aligned with construction cost reality.  And some Architects (such as the sponsor of this website) knows how to arrange its bid forms and construction documents in such a way so as to give their Clients a fighting chance to help control their costs through such techniques as their own unique: “Owner Optional Bid Items” list.  Contact the firm to learn more about this and how they can help you on your next house.

 

 

 

tags: Dirty Secrets about Custom House Construction, mountain design, Cashiers, NC, Lake Toxaway, Highlands, Atlanta, Hendersonville, Asheville, Sevierville, Aspen, Telluride

 

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