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

 

What We Do That Others Don’t

June 23rd, 2017

What We Do That Others Don’t is about the things this licensed Architect does in the design of custom houses that perhaps not all other design firms do.

what we do that others don't

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

 

(see below)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. SPECIFICATIONS

For instance.  Most Clients take this phrase for granted in our society: “Plans & Specs.”  In other words, most people having a house designed for them ASSUME that their design firm is including detailed specifications.

Reality check: NO.

Most people would be shocked to hear this.  But the reality is, most firms that design houses do NOT include detailed specifications.  Mainly what they do is include a few text notes on the drawings, pointing at things like the outside walls of the elevations, stating terms like “siding.”  And that’s pretty much it.  Doesn’t that just horrify you?  It should. 

Specifications are no joke.  Detailed specifications, written in a comprehensive CSI format (old school 1-16 or otherwise) provide the necessary requirements to direct the Contractor who is building your project what the quality levels are of the various materials, where to install them, how to make various connections, required wind speeds and other loading conditions, thicknesses, types and R values of insulations and how they are to be installed to give you the best thermal envelope, waterproof membranes under your roofing, types of wood in your cabinets and doors, type-thickness and energy values of your glass, psi of your concrete, flashing metals, gutters, downspouts, garage doors and about several thousand other things that can burn you big-time if not properly stipulated in detailed specifications.

So what does HOME ARCHITECTS® provide its Clients?
Detailed specifications.  Usually 10+/- sheets worth (at 24″x36″ size with 10-point type).  You just can’t properly specify a residential project in much less than that.  Unless your Clients want to roll the dice with their Contractor and hope he’ll “do the right thing.”  Note to self: with hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake, no Contractor is going to give away anything for free. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what normally happens without specifications?  Guess…Here it comes: The Contractor is going to make choices of materials and techniques that save him money while you continue to pay as if top-notch materials and systems were being used.  In other words: secret value-engineering on the part of your Builder, without your knowledge, to result in a more profitable job for the Builder.  And why not?  If there aren’t any specs, why should the Contractor spend his hard-earned cash to give a Client something for nothing?  They won’t do it.

In other words: Specifications (detailed) help to insure that you will get what you are paying for.  HOME ARCHITECTS provides detailed specifications.  And if you think that every Architect of houses or other designers do too, think again.  It’s just not the case.  And this Architect uses the state of the art in residential specifications: ArCHspec™, from the global professional architectural organization, ArCH (Architects Creating Homes).  It doesn’t get any better than that.

 

 

2.  RESPONSIVE COMMUNICATIONS

When was the last time you wanted to phone or email your Doctor, Lawyer, CPA or Architect “After Hours?”  If you’ve ever had that frustrating experience, guess what?  HOME ARCHITECTS ® answers its phone 365 days a year (yes, including Christmas) from 9AM to 9PM everyday (maybe a little later, if they’ve been up until 3AM working on your project, which happens frequently).  And returns emails usually immediately, or certainly within a few hours.  Even on Saturdays, Sunday and during the week, during normal office hours and after, until well after dark. 

(continued below)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Architect understands that your investment of several hundred thousand dollars or perhaps millions is probably the largest investment of your lifetime and takes their obligation to serve your needs seriously.  No clerical menu trees to dial through.  No irritating elevator muzak.  You get to the Architect of your project on the first try, immediately.  Now then, try calling your Doctor on a Sunday evening and see what happens.  Or another Architect. 

 

 

3.  DOCUMENTED SUCCESSFUL PROFESSIONAL PROJECT PROCESS
Any Architect or designer that immediately starts drawing is just wasting your time and money.  Because you are paying them to do that.  Most people think that’s how Architects work. No.  Architects should NOT begin immediately drawing.  That wastes your time and money.  Well, let’s see, what should happen first? 
Hmm.   How about asking you what you want? 

Isn’t that a better place in which to start?  There’s a name for that.  It’s called PROGRAMMING.  That’s the first step in the architectural project process.  HOME ARCHITECTS wrote an online e-book about this process.  You can download it for free here:
http://www.homearchitects.com/client-centered-architectural-design-process

And don’t let the term “book” scare you.  It’s only about 30 pages or so, with diagrams and other graphic images.  After reading this, you’ll understand the process everyone should be using to design a house.  And you’ll also understand that any other way doesn’t make sense. 

(continued below)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now then, are there other Architects that use a similar process?  They should.  That’s what they are taught, in major universities and while serving an apprenticeship at other firms for years.  However, for some unknown reason, when it comes to a house, many designers tend to forget the basics and think the rules don’t apply, as if “it’s only a house, we don’t need to do that.”  As the Client, spending hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, HOME ARCHITECTS ® certainly understands that “By golly, it IS a house, and that deserves our undivided focus and best efforts!”  The design of a house is one of the most complex tasks an Architect can undertake. That deserves all the skills and experience the design person can bring to bear while creating your dream house.

 

4.  DESIGN AWARDS FOR RESIDENTIAL PROJECTS, SPECIALIZATION
This Architect has received multiple awards from National and Global professional Architectural organizations, many of them specifically for residential design projects, specifically custom SFR (Single Family Residential).  That’s significant. Here’s a link to the 2017 ArCHdes™ design award winners.  Scroll down.  5 of those are from this firm. 

Do you want some person who designs grocery stores or car dealerships designing your house?  Or do you want a specialist?  Someone who really knows what they are doing?  Did you know that the design and construction of houses has a entirely different Code book?  It’s called the IRC (International Residential Code).  It is almost a thousand pages.  Do you really think that people designing office buildings or laboratories or Industrial plants know much, if anything about the IRC and the design of a single family house?  Highly doubtful.  Each of us only has so much time on Earth to become acquainted with things and with something as detailed as architecture, the people involved tend to focus on certain specialties.  Just like a cardiac surgeon doesn’t fix fingers and toes.  Professionals specialize, and are very good at their specialty.  Were you aware that this applies to Architects, as well?  In other words, the fact that this firm is called “HOME ARCHITECTS ®” says it all. That’s their specialty.  They are very good at that.  You deserve the best.  You’ve worked your entire life to amass the wealth necessary for you to realize your dream house.  Hire the best.  A specialist.

 

5.  MORE DETAILED DOCUMENTS
This results in fewer construction Change Orders. Why?  Because your Contractor is looking for reasons to charge you more.  Why?  Because they make some mistakes while pricing your project and they’d like to make up that loss. Or: they simply would like to make more money that you have to pay them.  However, if they bid a specific price, based on thorough, detailed drawings and specifications, there’s not going to be much they can point to and cry: “This wasn’t covered in the documents!  I therefore demand that you pay me $25,000 more if you want me to provide this in your project!”

This happens everyday on most projects.  Not very often on this Architect’s jobs.  Why?  Because this firm provides very thorough drawings and specifications.  How does this help the Client?  Because during construction, there is very little, if anything, the Builder can find that wasn’t properly covered in the documents.  Almost nothing about which a Change Order can be based.

And if you don’t know what Change Orders are: they are dirty words to most Clients.  Why: because that’s extra money your Contractor’s demanding from you, often to receive something you already thought you were supposed to be getting, included in the price. 

So: don’t most Architects and other design firms provide detailed documents?  Good Question. Answer: NO.  And what you pay your Architect to provide detailed documents pales in cost to what the Contractor’s going to hit you with in Change Orders, if you don’t have detailed documents. 

HOME ARCHITECTS ® provides detailed documents to help protect their Clients and get them the house they hoped for, when they sign the agreement to build it with their Contractor.

 

SUMMARY OF FEATURES THIS FIRM PROVIDES THAT OTHERS MAY NOT
1.  Specifications.
2.  Responsive Communications.
3.  Documented Successful Professional Project Process.
4.  Design Awards for Residential Projects, Specialization.
5.  More Detailed Documents.

And there are more, but we wanted to keep this to 5 items.  Can other firms provide some of the above good things?  Of course.  Do most of them provide all of the above?  Doubtful.

Hire the best to design and manage your dream house: HOME ARCHITECTS ®.  The name says it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tags: What We Do That Others Don’t, mountain, residential design, Cashiers, Highlands, Glenville, Lake Toxaway, Hendersonville, Aspen, Telluride, Asheville

 

 

 

 

 

Facts are What this Website is About

June 4th, 2017

Facts are What this Website is About.  This website is mainly intended to provide useful information to homeowners and want-to-be homeowners, so that they can make good decisions.  The majority of the content on this website has been written by a licensed Architect who specializes in the design of residences.

facts are what this website is about

(C) 2015, HOME ARCHITECT, PLLC, All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone’s decisions are their own, made on all available information and each person is responsible for the directions they take.  However, HOME ARCHITECTS ® performs and reports research, monitors and reports on new developments, creates designs, administers the construction of projects and then reports the results on this website: what works best, what doesn’t work and what appears to make sense for the future of residential architecture.  Some of that is professional opinion, much: facts.

 

How does this help people like you?  Well, if you’re thinking about having a new house designed and built in the future (soon, medium-term, or into the future), the information obtained on this website may be of assistance in helping you make better decisions to help you achieve your objectives. 

facts are what this website is about

This is why this architectural company continues to refuse the participation of non-Architects in the creation of new articles for this website.  They phone or email the company nearly every week.  But this architectural firm wants the information to be solid.  Non-Architects may be able to write well about many subjects, but they simply don’t understand residential architecture the way that licensed Architects do. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the advice of anyone but licensed Architects about architecture can be worse that just “puff-pieces”, they can be dead wrong.  And we want good information here.

 

So that’s what you’ll get on this website.  Never starry-eyed over-reaching about something untested, but rather, down in the dirt, gritty facts about products, materials, practices and quality-oriented construction and design. 

 

Sometimes the articles are about septic grinder pumps being installed along sewer lines.  Other times, more rarefied high-profile design considerations (dealing with mass and void, space and solid, the best view orientations, color schemes, and other design subjects).  And sometimes articles about materials, such as a recent one about a drainable housewrap.  Very useful information. And don’t forget the BookStore on this website: several online e-books written by this Architect, providing detailed information about how to hire an Architect, how to hire a Contractor, a Home Planning Guide, Client Centered Architectural Design Process, Specifications for Residential Architecture.

 

There is also helpful information about the cost to build a house.   And why most people delude themselves about the true cost to build their future residence.   Once people understand this, they can begin to approach their projects more realistically.  There are also useful articles about why it is best to have an Architect design your new residence, like: What’s In It For Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s an oldie but a goodie: House Plans on the Internet and Why Free Doesn’t Mean Satisfied.   Probably 50% of the people approaching this firm may start in utter frustration, with pieces of torn bits of “plans” that they have taken off the Internet, then struggled mightily trying to put them together to create on their own floor plan, from preconceived floor plans created by other Architects and designers for other Clients in other locations with different needs.   Through several discussions, this firm explains why this approach doesn’t work.  Check out that article to understand why and save yourself this struggle.  Sort of like trying to tell a cardiac surgeon how to handle an upcoming heart bypass surgery, or telling your Attorney how to keep you out of jail, or telling your Accountant how to prepare your taxes. 

 

There’s more than 1,000 pages on this website, the largest residential architecture website in the world.  More information than you’ll find anywhere else on the subject.

 

 

 

 

 

tags: facts are what this website is about, residential architect, custom, Cashiers, Highlands, Lake Toxaway, Hendersonville, Sevierville, Atlanta, Lake Tahoe, Aspen, Telluride, Asheville

 

Drainable HouseWrap

May 29th, 2017

Drainable HouseWrap is about recent technology developments in WRB (Water Resistive Barriers) and exterior water draining behind cladding.

drainable housewrap

Image courtesy of Benjamin Obdyke, (C) Benjamin Obdyke

HydroGap by Benjamin Obdyke (B.O.) is a major step forward in drainable housewraps with integral WRB (Water Resistive Barrier) and water vapor breathability/ protection.

HOME ARCHITECTS ® is in the process of shifting from more expensive multiple step/ multiple component High Performance Rain Screen system/ materials to the more value engineered B.O. HydroGap.  It appears the B.O. has created a better “mousetrap” for a more effective price point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In one layer, they have integral bulk water protection and drainage plane.  They have integral 1mm plastic spacers spread over their housewrap, that keeps the exterior wall cladding spaced by that 1mm from the housewrap, thereby facilitating drainage of water that penetrates the cladding and out the bottom of the wall system.  All in a one-layer application.

1mm = about 1/25th of an inch.  This means that no field installed insect screening is necessary (as is required with the more costly HP Rain Screen systems) because the default insect grid screening protection used in architectural projects is 1/16th inch. 1mm is smaller than this, which means it should be almost impervious to normal insect infestation.  Certainly better than the typical insect protection grid used by most Architects designing houses and other projects. And once again, more costly field application of insect screening is avoided, as is required with the 1/4″ thick HP Rain Screen systems. 

Perm rating of HydroGap: 16.  Now then, the IRC calls for a WRB (Water Resistive Barrier) of 15# asphaltic felt.  And this has a Perm Rating of around 5.  That’s for vapor permeance.  And you really shouldn’t be using anything LESS permeable to vapor (a lower number) so that water inside the wall system can breath and dry out (either toward the interior or exterior).  So, the B.O. HydroGap, while resistive to bulk water, also helps the wall system to breath and dry out better.  Once again: a better mousetrap.   Architects can make this informed change.  For instance: while our firm is not a fan of Tyvek, which is the main housewrap used by Builders these days, it has a Perm Rating (per Dow) of 58.  The fact that building departments across the USA and world allow this perm rating of more than 11 times that of what the IRC indicates, leads us to believe that we would be just fine, in terms of code issues, specifying a quality membrane like HydroGap with its Perm Rating of 16.  Do Not confuse water penetration with vapor penetration; they are Not the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the way, HydroGap’s Water Resistance: PASS, per ASTM D-779 (Boat Test), PASS, per AC38 Section 3.3.2 (4.2.1) (Hydrostatic Head), PASS, per CCMC Guide MF07102 (Water Ponding).  No Penetration.  In other words, in no less than 3 different WRB (Water Resistive Barrier) tests, HydroGap successfully holds back water from entering the system.  See B.O. website page: http://www.hydrogap.com/

Now then, let’s also throw into the mix the fact that many Architects and higher quality Builders are now using Continuous Insulation.  In our firm’s practice, we specify 1″ of Formular XPS t & g closed cell Styrofoam (and don’t tape it).  This Styrofoam product has a Perm Rating of 1.1, which means it doesn’t breath very much, which is another reason to not tape it’s t&g joints, in hopes that it will breath a little better.  Also, if you tape the joints, you are introducing reverse shingling, which means that as the adhesive of the tape breaks down over time (and shrinkage of foam boards), that water hitting the face of the foam can run down behind the tape, onto the foam board, then into the wood (or other material) and into the wall system, wreaking havoc. 

You want to put the B.O. HydroGap immediately under your exterior cladding, in order to help drain rain water penetrating the cladding and keep it outboard of your wall system, that means the HydroGap will be located outboard of your C.I. (Continuous Insulation).  The HydroGap as a 16 Perm Rating and the 1″ XPS thermal sheathing has  Perm Rating of 1.1.  So, the combined result will be not a very breathable wall, mainly due to the thermal sheathing, which is required by IECC (International Energy Conservation Code) as one of the main options to better thermal performance.  That’s an issue that has not really been adequately addressed.  But for the time being, we believe that’s the method we’re going to be using henceforth, based on current technology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re betting that by ELIMINATING  the likelihood of water penetrating our future walls from the exterior, we’re not going to be terribly concerned about getting potentially non-existent water out of the outer layers of our walls, which will have that drainage plane. And for any moisture already in the wall system when built or coming from the interior, the wall system should be able to breathe and dry towards the interior, as long as the recommended integral kraft paper (asphaltic coated paper on the rear of fiberglass insulation) is used as recommended toward the interior, which does permit some breathability.  This was mentioned for the very likely fact that more and more framed (and other types) walls will be using C.I. in the form of closed cell foam insulation rigid sheets over the structural sheathing.

So, HydroGap appears like a very good direction in which to go.

 

 

 

tags: drainable housewrap, post and beam, timber frame, Cashiers, Hendersonville, Lake Toxaway, Glenville, Highlands, Sapphire, Sevierville, Aspen, Telluride

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