another brick in the wall

Weve been discussing cladding, the stuff that goes on the outside of the house, with the architect. And there are lots of choices out there. If we were Steve Jobs rich, we would get something really cool like this underlain by a rubber rainscreen. But were not. So we must choose cladding for mortals. Like bricks.

And thats fine, except that its relatively difficult to find cool icetones in bricks, especially locally. Elgin-Butler bricks comes to mind, in part, because I've toured their factory. Several years ago, a friend and I organized and published a geological guidebook that focused on the Sandow lignite mine and the Elgin-Butler clay mine (We filled said guidebook with photos of the lignite mines namesake, Sandow, a bodybuilder from back in the day. Were pretty convinced we produced the worlds most homoerotic geologic guidebook.). So when I think of local bricks, I think of Elgin-Butler.

And Elgin-Butler makes beautiful bricks. Their clay is whispy light, and they glaze their product smooth as baby butt. Plus, they have non-standard dimensions (we like long and thin). Unfortunately, Elgin-Butler cater almost exclusively to institutional customers, and their bricks tend to be twice as much as standard (yawn) home-building brick. Yet the Butler bricks call to us (and, it seems, the architect). So well see how the initial price estimating goes with the house to see if we can afford them

Another potential local choice is Acme. Bummer of bummers, they dont really have any good whites. The white they do have looks like it had a 30-minute tussle with a terracotta pot and a high school football locker room mop. And lost.

If we squint and peer north, Bilco Brick out of Dallas-Fort Worth might-could be considered local. They have a white brick, but in standard brick dimensions. However, maybe their bricks could be Frank Lloyd Wrighted to look more non-traditional and uberhorizontal.

The white bricks by Hansen called Snow Mist (that name fits our IceHaus!) are a definite possibility. These could also be pointed in the style of the Wright to increase their horizontal cool factor. In fact, these might be the same bricks used on a project our architect designed on Lamie Street, a hunk of which he left on our front porch today. Hansen also has a brick named White Splitface that has horizontal macrotexture (good for the caterpillars) and, perhaps, nonstandard dimensions (3 x 10). These bricks are from Mormon country, so they arent exactly local, but they are closer than, say, Australia, right? And both of these bricks are from their Texas Collection. That counts as local, right?

Addendum: The brick search continues Snyder Brick & Tile Co. out of Snyder, Texas (famous among certain circles for Mr. Peanut” [Yep, I've been there…]) makes a white and psuedo-blocky brick called Village Frost Brickstone that may be promising. Metro Brick and Stone out of the Dallas Area have several flavors of white brick: White Ivory, Silverado, and Cottonwood, among others. Going south of the border to Santa Catarina, Mexico (distribution out of Edinburg), theres TecnoIndustries with some beautiful white brick named Artic with slightly longer-than-standard dimensions that also comes in a split face version.


haiku for the book “architecture for dummies”

is it a building?
or is it architecture?
Thats my outhouse!
Ive been looking for a good book on architecture. And after reading this book, Im still looking. But having said that, this is the best beginners book on the topic Ive read. I dont heartily recommend it, but I recommend it.
Needing something fluffy and fun to read at the beach a couple weekends ago and not wanting to partake in unrequited love between vampires and young girls from the south, I downloaded this book to my iPad, slipped said iPad into a Ziploc freezer bag (a trick of the trade!), and marched out to the sand and sea.
This dummies book is written by Debrah Dietsch, a trained architect who is now a journalist. Being blessed with ovaries, Debrah builds a pleasant female angle into what has been (and is?) a mostly male-dominated sport. I have several architecture books, but the often-pompous writing is too much for me, a simple soul searching for simple words. Give it to me straight, O Dummies book! And it does, albeit sometimes (too) brutally so (and with some failed attempts at hipness). Nonetheless, youll walk away with a frame and foundation, however shaky, of understanding.
One of the most enjoyable sections was a list in the Part of Tens section on the ten most fascinating architects working today. Not being immersed in the culture, I hadnt heard of many of these folks, but it was a hoot to use the iPad to Google and explore their work (the book doesnt have much in the way of images, so be sure to be near a surf-station). One of the highlighted architects, Antoine Predock, designed our (Austins) city hall.
Another section I really enjoyed concerned post-modernism (what the cool kids refer to as po-mo), a style that causes vomit to bubble in the back of my throat, and various named contemporary styles (sensuous minimalism, deconstructivism) (side note to The Architect: Is our house sensuous minimalism?). And Ive fallen hardhat over steel-toed boots in love with Richard Meiers stunning you-can-have-any-color-you-want-as-long-as-its-white work that unabashedly steals from modernisms roots. Without the Dummies book, we would not have met


honey: Who shrunk the house?

After some (ahem) mildly uncomfortable budget discussions, we’ve thrown our house plans into the dryer and pulled them out somewhat shrunked. After starting out at 2,863 square feet and creeping to slightly over 3,000 square feet, our house is down to an affordable (knock on wood…) 2,360. We lost a bedroom in the process (there goes the exercise room!) and the walls crept inward in almost all directions, but we’re happy that the spirit of the originally designed home (including the sandcrawler) is still intact.
We hooked up with The Architect yesterday at Captain Quack’s to discuss window placement and cladding (the stuff that goes on the outside of the house). The Architect surprised us with the last batch of PDFs by including some color realizations of the house. These aren’t the final colors, but good-golly-gee look at that sucker pop! I now know how folks felt when they got their first color TV…
I’ve noticed driving around town that the building business is picking up. That’s great for the economy but perhaps not so great for us. Less competition equals higher building prices. We’re going to start talking to some builders to get guesstimates on how much it might cost to build our house. If the costs are too high, we may be back at the drawing board…


reports from the consumer

The latest Consumer Reports magazine has a number of items of interest to the future homebuilder. A sizable part of the mag is dedicated to nearly everything associated with kitchens, especially appliances, flooring, and countertops. And there are some interesting findings. For example, it seems Viking can only make good stoves. Refrigerators? Nope. Bottom of the list despite being tops in pricing. A Miele dishwasher that, after more than two hours of dishwashing, leaves dishes dirty. And for Gawds sake, dont put in a bamboo countertop unless you like scratches, burn marks, and stains.

Engineered quartz countertops are the tops for counters (followed by granite), but stay away from the Eco line by Consentino: its the only countertop that cracked after placing a hot pan on it (this is a serious bummer to us because we had selected [drum roll please] Eco countertops for our house). Of the wood for wooden floors, engineered woven bamboo by EcoTimber was top ranked for being resistant to wear, scratches, stains, and dents. Brandwise, Whirlpool appears to make the sturdiness stuff, topping the fewest number of repairs list.

Pick up an issue for all the gruesome details. Better yet, get a subscription. Its well worth it.


that’s a cool house, sir

We ventured into the 100 degree heat to gawk and gander at cool houses. Yep, it was Cool House Tour 2011 in Austin today, and we visited one shy of half dozen of the 16 homes on the tour (it takes a long time per house when you have lots of questions). Put on every year by the Texas Solar Energy Society and the Austin Energy Green Building Program, its a great way to get inspired to be energy efficient (and save a little green!).

The homes are the listed attraction, but the real hoot is interacting with the owners who are pleasantly obsessed with the energy efficiency and greenery of their homes and are more than eager to talk in detail about it (crowds would literally form about these folks). Plus, I got into a friendly argument with a woodworker about geothermal (me: I have a degree in geophysics and have concerns about heat transfer in dense chalk. he: I did experiments in high school. I know it works.).

Stuff we learned:

- You can get motorized windows for your clerestory (assuming you have one).

- Our current countertop choice looks awesome.

- Kohler make a nice cubist bathroom sink.

- Theres some nice composite planking out there.

- Pervious plastic paving material is pretty darn cool (and its pervious!)

- One homeowner said to use blown-in-wall cellulose in walls and spray foam in attic (this said from a waste perspective since spray foam in the wall has to be cut back and the waste cant be used).

- If you get a multi-zone HVAC, get one with three lead dampers because the interface is badass. The homeowner said he could send heat to one room and AC to another if he wanted to through a Star Trek-like touch screen interface. However, because of compatibility problems with his system, he was downgraded to two-lead dampers. Not. As. Cool.

- Tall ceilings just feel right.

- Oak plywood, edge-up, looks freakin awesome on steps.

- Base trim that consists of, from the bottom up, 1x4 wood, then a 1 gap, then 1x1 wood looks pretty cool and modern.

- If your bathroom consists of three walls of glass block on the south side of your five-star house, it gets a little warm in there.

- You can now hook rainwater up to your toilets (visited the first house in Texas to have (legal) dual plumbing [city and rainwater]).

- Its a good idea to have a single shutoff for all of your external hose bibs for when it freezes.

- You prolly should worry about heat gain and loss through the edge of your slab (if you are on a slab).

- Aline the vertical relief seams in stucco with each vertical edge of the windows and doors else you will get cracks.

Plus I was able to get a photo with Austin Energys awesome HVAC guy (he said that was a first)! All in all a good day. Wished they did it over two days so we coulda seen more houses!