fixtures: dining room

The architect has asked us to think about fixtures, so here we go! My bride has been fixated on having a linear chandelier over the dining room table. The perfect we-just-won-the-lottery choice would be this one called Cellula at Design Within Reach:

Very purdy but very expensive at (choke, choke) $2,730. 

James R. Moder makes a similar chandelier that, depending on your choice of crystal, ranges from $750  to $2,598:

And finally there's a version offered by Z Gallerie that can be had for $350:

The Foam Ranger

Our house, as currently designed, will have two by six exterior walls with spray foam between the studs, and that's it (not that that's shabby: most new homes have two by sixes with fiberglass batts). Having spent a bit of time reading about passivhaus and Build America, we wonder: Is that enough? We asked the architect, and he said that spray foam coupled with great attention to air sealing hits the sweet spot. Nonetheless, he has another house being built that's being clad with two inches of foam. If we wanted to, we could clad our house with 3/4 inch or an inch of foam. If we do that, that'll set us back 75 cents per square-foot of wall and roof area. I guesstimate that we have 8,000 square feet of wall and roof coverage, so that, with the builder's fee, would set us back about $10,000 to $12,000. hmmm...

Austin's building code, based on the 2009 International Building Code (but with a few more-strident amendments), calls for R-15 walls (2009 IBC calls for R-13), R-30 in the attic (but can be R-21on the roof if the mechanical system is in the thermal envelope), and windows at U-0.51 (2009 IBC calls for U-0.65) with SHGC-0.30. John Umphress from the Austin Energy Green Building Program is quoted by Matt Risinger, a local green builder, as saying that R-21 is the point of diminishing return for cooling and R-38 is the point of diminishing return for heating (I assume he means [as quoted] "cooling climate" and "heating climate" otherwise that does't make sense to me...).

This map of climate zones is from a document published by the U.S. Department of Energy. The DoE says that we're in a hot-humid climate (yep) and that Travis County, the county of our lot, is in Climate Zone 2 but right on the edge with Climate Zone 3 (also hot-humid).

Building Science America recommends the following insulation levels for the different climate zones:

For us the Building Science folks recommend walls with R-15, roofs with R 40, and windows with U-0.30  and SHGC <0.30. Given that we're on the edge of Climate Zone 3, we could go a bit better and hit walls with R-20, roofs with R-45, and windows with SHGC <0.25. And here are details of what  the Building Science folks recommend for a house built in Houston.

A dude over at Green Building Advisory recommends walls at 20, roofs at 60, and windows at U-0.33 for zones 1 and 2.

How do all these R values translate to wall construction? Glad you asked!

So here's your standard wall:

2x4 or 2x6 construction, fiberglass batt insulation, exterior sheathing, and housewrap. R value for a 2x4 wall would be about R-10 and for a 2x6 wall would be about R-13.7.

So here's our current wall design:

2x6 construction (this assumes advanced framing), spray foam in the walls, some flavor of sheathing and house wrap. According to Building Science, this wall, using high-density foam (which an R of 5.5 to 6.5 per inch as compared to low density foam at 3.6 per inch), has an overall R value of R-16 (the thermal bridging in the 2x6s take the presumed R from 21 to 16). 

Here's a wall design with foam on the outside:

2x6 (advanced framing) construction, cellulose in the walls, XPS foam sheathing. This wall has an overall R value of R-20 (1 inch of XPS) to R-34 (4-inches of XPS).

Building Science America recommends that the roof be R-40 to 45 for a compact roof. The handy plot below shows the diminishing returns of increasing R values on energy use (at least for Phoenix) and the logic in choosing R-45 for Climate Zone 3.

It's harder to tell what's what on roof construction with this report.  Building Science Corp recommends 12 or 20 inch SIPs (structurally insulated panels) for Rs between 44 or 74 or lots of insulation in a 10-inch engineering truss and XPS (9.25 inches of cellulose and 6 inches of XPS) for an R of around 60.

One thing I don't get with these studies is why the increased insulation values of the envelope don't show up as energy savings:

(figure from this report on a house in New Orleans)

What's up with that? Windows, air sealing, ductwork, and AC have the biggest bang (which explains why Architect 2d is focused on air sealing). The increased insulation seems to have no effect! (Although the benchmark condition was [oddly] not identified: Perhaps they didn't up the R?] A case study for Houston shows a very similar figure but then states in the text that the higher insulation saves 20 percent of the energy budget. Why doesn't it show up in the parametric analysis?

And then there's Peter Pfeiffer, a well known local green architect with Barley-Pfeiffer (sounds like a very special brew or brew pub...), quoted as saying that "once you hit about R-13 [in Texas], you're really reaching a point of diminishing returns" although he goes on to recommend 3/4 inch insulation on the outside of the exterior sheathing in Dallas. Also pointed out was that windows tend to mess up a whole house R value (if your walls are R-40 but your windows are U-0.50 [that is, R-2] that's like having a nice boiling pot with a hole in the bottom).

So what's a couple concerned about insulation to do?

Since I could't tell what was what, I went ahead and worked up some equations to be able to plot heat flow for different construction assumptions for Austin's climate. The equations look like so (in case you're dying to know...):

The top equation calculates total heat flux based on the thermal properties and areas of the walls, roof, and windows and the temperature difference between the indoors and outdoors. In the spring and fall, when your windows and doors are open, the temperature difference is zero, so no heat flow! This equation also shows why folks-in-the-know recommend greater amounts of insulation in the north than in the south: The temperature difference is greater up north. Here in Central Texas, it gets up around 100 F in the heat of the day in the summer and 40 F in the cool of the night in the winter. Assuming the interior is kept at a comfy 70 degrees, that's a delta T of 30 degrees in either direction. Up north, where the winter temps can be at 10 or 20 F (or lower), you're talking a delta T of 50 to 60 (or higher). The greater the delta T, the more insulation you (probably) need.

The bottom equation shows you how to calculate a whole house R value, interesting for seeing how much your windows screwed up your fancy walls (as I've said before: Vampires have the most energy efficient houses!).

Based on the cost estimate from the architect, I figure we have about 450 square-feet of windows, 6,000 square-feet of walls, and 2,000 square-feet of roof. If we build to the city of Austin's standards (where I think we kinda are at the moment), our total BTU (British thermal unit) heat transfer during a 30-degree delta day is 21,607: 6,750 BTU from the windows, 12,000 BTU from the walls, and 2,857 BTU from the roof. (Note that these are heat transfers due to temperature differences from the outside to the inside and does not consider heat transferred via radiation [the sun shining in a window or heating up your black roof] or advection [air gaps in your house or leaving the front door open].)

I plotted the top equation up for different R-values for the wall to see if we could see the "point of diminishing returns". I think you can see that the curve bends over pretty good at about R-10 to R-15. You lower your btu with more insulation (as the passivhausers will point out), but the real bang for the BTU is up front.

For grins, let's plot this stuff up for different temperature differences:

Just as we suspected, there's greater heat flow for greater temperature differences, and the "bang-for-the-btu" inflection point moves toward the right toward higher Rs.

We can also use this equation (assuming walls at R-15) to figure out how changes in roof insulation and window U-values help or hinder (and how much):

Increasing the R of the roof has diminishing returns (in this particular example) beyond R-30 or so. In fact, taking the windows from R-0.5 to R-0.35 has a better overall benefit than tripling your roof insulation! This is pretty cool because you can start to balance cost with benefit here. Does is make more financial sense to thicken up the attic insulation or get better windows? Hopefully your architect has figured out all this hookamaloo out (as it appears ours has).

So where does that leave us? Good question. Although we've focused on R values here, there are other considerations such as air sealing (all these calculations above assume perfect air sealing...), the efficiency of the HVAC, and how good the relatives are at keeping the doors closed during the heat of the summer (ours aren't very good at that...). Our guys (the architect and builder) seem to know what they're doing (they're both very focused on air sealing), so we'll let 'em have their space and ask questions (hopefully not too irritating [clients don't tend to ask about this stuff {and you don't wanna ask too much because architect's time = $}]) to better understand where they're going and why.


exercises for writing checks

If you build a house, you have to be good at writing checks (you also have to be good at having money in your checking account, but that's for another post...). And there's nothing worse than sitting down for a check writing spree and getting finger cramps, especially if the receiver of said check is watching with horror while you writhe in pain hooting "YYYEEOOOWWWW! MY FINGERS!!! MY FINGERS!!! YIPPIN-YEEEEOOOOWWWW!!!"

Therefore, it's critical that you get your check writing hand in shape BEFORE the check writing binge begins. For example, we just hired an engineering firm and geotechnical firm to start work on our house. Bills will be arriving soon in addition to the architectural bills. We need to get ready.

First, start off with a good stretch. From a relaxed position:

Spread your fingers as far as you can and HOLD (one-two-three-four...):

Repeat three times.

Now that you're warmed up, we'll start with a split squat. First one side:

And then the other:

Repeat for ten reps total. Note that the extended middle finger of this exercise is happenstance; however, as a bonus, this exercise preps you for action when the cement truck cuts you off on the interstate.

Next up are curls. Set your hand on a solid service, palm up:

(Dang my wrist is wrinkly: We may need to forego engineered-stone countertops for Formica for  a wrist-lift!) Now LIFT (one-two-three-four...)

and repeat for a total of eight times.

Next up: Jumping Jacks or, as I prefer to call them, Jumping Bills (as in Dollar Bills). From a pinch position:


And repeat for a total of 15 times (inhale on the return-to-the-pinch movement). Bonus: This exercise prepares you for Saint Patty's day or when you become a dirty old man.

Next up is the quaquaversal lunge. Starting from the I'm-picking-up-a-domino position:

SPREAD your fingers in all directions.

Repeat for a total of ten times.

Finally, we have push-ups. From a prone position on your exercise surface:

LIFT, keeping your palm from sagging in the middle. Once you build some strength, you can place a coffee cup on the top of your hand (with or without coffee) for additional weight.

Repeat this 12 times.

Now, go through this circuit of exercises two more times. For a cool down, turn on your cable television and search the channels for HGTV.

If you do these exercises twice a week you should have no problem writing at least seven checks in one sitting. Just remember to pace yourself: You don't want to be stronger than your account.

Austin Art Yard Tour 2012

A pal and I organize the Austin Art Yard Tour, this being the third year we've done it. Art yards are very possibly incongruent with Modern in as much as they tend to be maximalist (borderline or over-the-line hoarder...) affairs. However, there are some restrained yards (15 foot sock monkey? giant paper mache Picasso things? guillotine? teepee fire pit?) that (perhaps?) fit the Modern meme.

We, too, are yardists, known for sporting (at our old house) a prairie of (some several hundred) blue bottles and walls of license plates and large letters (primarily vowels: I loves me some vowels!). All the bottles and plates (and vowels) are presently in storage with dreams of new fields (and walls) at the new place. We haven't mentioned this to the architects yet (I've read in Cosmo that it's always good to leave a little mystery in your relationship for spice). Probably for the best, I reckon.

If you're in town, check out the tour. It's free!


Google Doodle for Mies

It's Mies van der Rohe's 126th birthday today (I hope they don't spank in heaven...). And Google honored  Mr. Less-Is-More with his own special Doodle of Crown Hall:


whoever said "less is more"...

Flipping through my bride's latest copy of the catalog "Bounce" (looking for [ahem] birthday presents for said bride...), I happened upon this page:

Indeed, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe did not have big boobs. However, he may have sported some fine moobs under those suits he wore all the time....


haiku for the book “Schindler” by James Steele

Wagner, Loos, then Wright
then everything on his own
crystalline structures...

Rudolph Schindler may be my favorite Modern architect, and for several reasons. First and foremost, his houses are gorgeous. From the Lovell Beach House designed in 1922 to the Daugherty (!!!!) House in 1945, his crystalline geometry, long alluring eaves, and unadorned simplicity are sublime. Secondly, he’s something of an architectural underdog, stabbed in the back by “friends” and wrongfully ignored by his colleagues. Thirdly, he was arguably the most little m modern (as in today-modern) of the Modern architects, fusing Wright’s site considerations and Loos’s lack of detail with a hefty helping of client’s needs and budgets, all wrapped in affordable (American) modern construction techniques.

Wolfe House (1928)

In many ways Schindler was Usonian before Usonian was Usonian. In fact, there are many elements of Schindler’s work (the L shaped house plan with plumbing in the elbow of the L; the horizontal woodwork set at unit lengths that dictated the construction of the house; used built-ins to expand space; minimized foundation area; focused on affordability) that appear in Wright’s Usonians.

Born in 1887 in Vienna, Austria, Schindler studied engineering and architecture at eh Vienna Academy of Fine Arts under Otto Wagner between 1910 and 1913 and then attended classes taught by Adolf Loos in 1913, where he met Richard Neutra. While in Vienna, he saw Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wasmuth Portfolio and, at the encouragement of Loos, moved to Chicago in 1914 to work for Ottenheimer, Stern, and Reichert (Ottenheimer had worked for Louis Sullivan). In 1915, Schindler took a six-week trip to California to see a couple international exhibitions. Along the way, he stopped in Taos, New Mexico, and was smitten, designing an adobe house. In Los Angeles, he was fascinated by the sparse, white work of Irving Gill, a former employee of Louis Sullivan in Chicago. In 1916, Schindler began writing Wright for a job. At first, Wright couldn’t hire him (Wright was struggling financially due to the moral backlash of leaving his wife and six kids behind in favor of a client’s wife), so Schindler worked as an engineer at a local firm, Ottenheimer, Stern, and Reichert.

It wasn’t until 1917 that Wright hired him to run his Chicago office while Wright worked on the Imperial Hotel in Toyko. In 1921, Wright asked Schindler to go to Los Angeles to work on the Barnsdall (Hollyhock) House. During his tenure with Wright, he designed several houses for Wright under Wright’s name. In 1921, enamored with the California climate, not able to return to a home ravaged by war, and concerned about wilting under Wright’s long shadow, Schindler started his own firm.

Inspired by outdoor living and camaraderie during a camping trip and the pueblos of New Mexico (and desire to ground his architecture in the vernacular), Schindler designed and built in 1921 and 1922 what is now considered one of the gems of Modern architecture and one of the very first modern homes, the Kings Road House (also called the Schindler/Chace House). The house consists of two L-shapes with a kitchen (the “campfire”) shared between the two units as well as an offshoot of guest quarters. The house is notable for it’s direct connection with the outdoors yet positioning the two units to maintain privacy (a “trick” that Schindler would employ time and again on a number of subsequently designed multi-unit apartments). With this house, Schindler is credited with inventing the sliding glass wall.

Kings Road House (1921-1922)

As a side note, Schindler and his wife separated in 1927. In 1936 she moved into half of the Kings Road House, communicating infrequently with her husband. When she later wanted to paint the outside of her half of the house, he sent her a letter: “Kings Road was built as a protest against the American habit of covering their life and their buildings with coats of finish material to fool the onlooker about their common base. Kings Road was conceived as a combination of honest materials, concrete--redwood--glass, which we to be left to show the inner structure and their natural color.” She waited until he died before painting the house.

During this period, Schindler designed and built the Lovell Beach House (considered another icon of Modern architecture) between 1922 and 1926. It’s with this house that he developed his blocky language informed by the neoplasticism of de Stijl.

Lovell Beach House (1922-1926)

Schindler helped his old school buddy, Richard Neutra, get into Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesen school. However, Neutra left after a few months and moved into the Kings Road House in 1925 where, at the beckoning of Neutra, they joined forces as The Architectural Group for Industry and Commerce. Schindler was something of a beatnik, comfortable with his small commissions. However, Neutra was ambitious, forming the firm to pursue large projects and commissions. The partnership lasted two years before disagreements over credit (Schindler’s name was left off of an award-winning design touring Europe) severed the relationship. Neutra went on to design the Lovell Health House (which, to my eyes, borrows from the Schindler’s Beach House).

Neutra and Schindler (with Dion and Dione Neutra) in happier days...

Schindler was something of an architectural contortionist, forced by California’s topography (and fantastic scenary) to bend his structures to the land and view. He became known for producing as much house as a small lot and budget would support, something his clients appreciated. He optimized his designs to the dimensions of American building materials to eliminate waste. Unlike his European contemporaries, who set up strict design rules and restrictions, Schindler was non-dogmatic, willing to compromise aesthetics to accommodate interiors, views, and clients’ wishes (I reckon that was the engineer in him: aesthetics sacrificed to utility [although I find the majority of his houses quite engaging]). Schindler called his philosophy “Space Architecture”, architecture with an emphasis on the space inside rather than the walls outside.

Schindler’s architecture was heavily influenced by Wright’s site considerations and Loos’s focus on the interior and use of load bearing walls. His unwillingness to follow the dogma of the day and his association with Wright (as well as his penchant for lashing out at his critics) ostracized him from his contemporaries. For example, the 1932 show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, curated by Philip Johnson, purposefully and stunningly excluded Schindler, stating that he “...belongs in the group of Wright followers.” Later, Johnson recognized his mistake: “[Schindler] was badly overlooked during his lifetime and I must confess my part in it. ... Now I believe Schindler was a much more important figure than I had casually assumed...the most important architect in California in his day.” Johnson claimed that he got most of his information about Schindler from Neutra: “Neutra was really evil, badmouthed everyone, especially Schindler...” (of course, Johnson’s not exactly Mother Theresa, so one has to wonder about his blaming Neutra…). Johnson, who helped coin the term “International Style”, pursued a true international style dogmatically (and ill-advisedly) independent of site considerations. Schindler was also inexplicitly excluded from the Case Study House program despite having influenced, either directly or indirectly, many of the houses built for the program.

Schindler designed over 400 projects, 150 of which were built during his career. He tended to build his projects, changing the design (such as window placement) if needed during the design. He also seems to have been a likable fellow (as long as you weren’t unfairly disparaging his work). Dione Neutra noted that Schindler “…laughs a lot and radiates cheerful optimism.” Frank Lloyd Wright said that “Rudy Schindler was too smooth a party ever to learn how to be serious, which is the reason why I liked him.”

Howe House (1925)

Toward the end of his life, Schindler suffered from cancer. In 1953, when Schindler was in the hospital, Neutra, recovering from his second heart attack, was randomly assigned to Schindler’s room. Both were stunned at the happenstance, having not met or talked for nearly 20 years, but partly rekindled their friendship by reminiscing about Vienna and the past. Later that year, he passed away.

Although Schindler’s work had been published in some (primarily regional) architectural magazines, his first real major exposure came in Esther McCoy's “Five California Architects” published in 1960, a book that also elevated the reputation of Gill. McCoy worked in Schindler’s office as did Gregory Ain, Richard Lind, and Harwell Hamilton Harris (who later joined and deaned the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin).

And finally there is this quote from the man himself:

"We have come down to earth.  This is expressed in modern architecture. Modern architecture lies down flat on the ground like a kitten who suns itself.  It does not rise to a pyramid."

Gotta love a dude who uses a kitten as an analogy!

Occasional tables.

dirty deeds (done dirt cheap) part II

Devon brought up deed restrictions and chickens the other day. It occurred to me that although we have posted about deed restrictions before, we haven't posted about the restrictions on our current lot. So even though it feels restricting, let's get on with it!

Early in our design phase the architect asked to see the (dirty) deeds. These (dirty) deed restrictions were put in place by the original developers (there was a tree full of 'em) of Green Acres. Here are the restrictions, filed with the County of Travis on February 21, 1952:

(a) No structure shall be erected on any residential building plot other than one detached single-family dwelling not to exceed two stories in height and a one or two-car garage. Servants quarters attached or unattached are permitted.

(b) No building on any residential building plot shall be nearer than 25 feet to nor farther than 35 feet from the front lot line, nor nearer than 5 feet to any side lot line. The side line restriction shall not apply to a garage located on the rear one-quarter of a lot, except that on corner lots no structure shall be permitted nearer than 12 feet to the side street line. There must be a total of 15 feet of side yard for each residence erected.

(c) No residential lot shall be subdivided into building plots having less than 6000 square feet of area or a width of less than 50 feet each, nor shall any building be erected on any residential building plot having an area of less than 6000 square feet or a frontage of less than 50 feet.

(d) No trailer, basement, tent, shack, garage, barn, or other outbuilding erected on the tract shall at any time be used as a residence temporarily or permanently, nor shall any residence of a temporary character be permitted.

(e) No noxious or offensive trade shall be carried on upon any lot nor shall anything be done thereon which may be or become an annoyance or nuisance to the neighborhood. 

(f) No structure shall be moved onto any lot.

(g) No one-story dwelling costing less than $4000.00, and no two-story dwelling costing less than $6000.00, shall be erected on any lot in the tract, and the ground floor square foot area thereof shall not be less than 1000 square feet in the case of a one-story structure nor less than 700 square feet in the case of a one-and-a-half or two-story structure, except that an attached garage and a covered porch to the structure, may be counted as one-half of their square feet.

(h) A perpetual easement is reserved over the rear five feet of each lot for utility installation and maintenance.

(i) These covenants and restrictions are to run with the land and shall be binding on all parties and all persons claiming under them forever.

(j) If the parties hereto, or any of them, or their heirs or assigns, shall at any time violate or attempt to violate any of the covenants or restrictions herein, it shall be lawful for any person or persons owning any other lots in said development or subdivision to prosecute any proceedings at law or in equity against the person or persons violating or attempting to violate any such covenant or restrictions and either to prevent him or them from doing so or to recover damages or other dues for such violation.

(k) Invalidation of any of these covenants by judgment or court order shall in no way affect any of the other provisions which shall remain in full force and effect.

(l) Absolutely, positively no bunnies.

Whew! Nothing about chickens! Or bees! Or (large sigh of relief) maggots (cough, cough: excuse me:) worms! And we were losing sleep over where to put the servants, but it appears we are covered there as well! But no bunnies?!!?!? (Actually, I made that one up: we can have bunnies, too!)

Although the (dirty) deed says we can put the garage right on the lot line if it's in the rear quarter of the lot, the city would have something to say about that. And so it goes: city regulations trump deed restrictions, state regulations trump city regulations, and federal regulations trump state regulations.


a chat with the builder

We sat down with the builder to go over his estimate and discuss material choices and whatnot, and that was great fun. Builders have a lot of practical experience that can be real useful. And given that this builder has a lot of experience and appreciation for Modern architecture, we don’t have to listen to ”Get the plans from that there architect and we’ll even out them windows during the build and put a real roof on that house.” or “What the hell!?!?! You building a house or a Jiffy Lube!”

Random things we talked about:

1. Stucco: The builder said that stucco with imbedded pigment will crack (which freaks some folks out) and that painted stucco with elastic paint is less likely to crack (and easier to "fix" [seal and paint over] if it does crack). We’re prolly-definitely in the ”freak out” category, so based on that information (and our previous good experience with painted stucco), we’re thinking painted stucco. However, the architect was thinking two layers of the standard stuff with a topcoat of elastic stucco with embedded color to deal with the cracking issue (and lower the maintenance). The builder and the architect will discuss…

2. Outside walls: The architect specified 2x4s for the outside walls. The builder says he hasn’t built a house with 2x4 exterior walls in seven years. Given that his pricing assumes 2x6 exterior walls, we’re going to go with 2x6 walls. We feel better with 2x6ers.

3. Geotechnical: Now’s the time to get technical done!

4. Roofing: The architect specified TPO for the roof. TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin) is white (reflective = green) and typically used in commercial roofing. The builder says that TPO is top of the line, and, if we can afford it, go for it. Otherwise torchdown (sheets of fiberglass, polyester, and bitumen that are melted together with a torch) can be had for a bit less. We can afford TPO. And with a sizable part of our roof visible from the second story, white is even better.

5. Cladding on the garage: Stucco is expensive, so the builder suggested Hardie on the garage as an alternative. The architects thought this was a good idea as long as they could clad part of the house (where the laundry room and master closet are) with Hardie as well to better visually connect the garage to the house. Makes perfect sense with the added bonus of saving even more money on stucco.

6. Drywall finish: The architects specified light orange peel. The builder noted that a smooth finish can be had for 20 percent more. We’re considering smooth in the public areas of the house (something a pure modernist would shudder at since one Modern tenet [at least among some…] is to have consistent finishes throughout the house; we just won’t invite them over for dinner!). Smooth is sweet.

7. Dishwashers: The builder loves Bosch dishwashers. We spent quite a bit of time talking about ’em. We will disappoint him if we don’t get a Bosch dishwasher.

8. Central vacuum: A la Corbu, we demand a (central) vacuum cleaner. The builder says they run $1,400 installed (and are quite handy).

9. Orientation of the garage roof: We want the garage to be solar ready. The garage roof is currently oriented toward the east. The builder says that although it’s possible to orient panels on a roof sloping the ”wrong” direction, it’s better to orient the roof in the right direction in the first place (makes a lot of sense...). His suggestion was to slope the garage roof at the appropriate slope (which seems to be 45 degrees?) rather than orienting the panels to the appropriate slope. We’re amenable to that if the architects think this would work compositionally with everything else going on with the house (see helpful sketches we provided to the architects below; we provided those so they knew we were open to a non blocky roof line if it “made sense”). He also said that fixing solar panels to TPO is a little "disconcerting" (my word to describe his discomfort). He recommended attaching them to standing seam metal. Bonus: Standing seam is 35 percent less expensive to install! Since it appears that you can get 1 kW of capacity per 100 square feet, our ~500 square-feet of garage roof might-could support a 5 kW system.

10. Neoplastic walls: The builder said that footings (just the freakin footings!) for garden walls run $140 a foot. That means my dream of neoplastic walls will run us at least (let’s see here, that, plus about that, plus [squinting] about that, times 140) 20,000 bucks. Gulp.

11. CMU sound wall: The builder says this would run about $8.50 to $10 a square foot (area facing you). So that’s about 5 to 10K. Hmmmm…

12. Building time: The builder thinks he can build the house in 7 months, start to finish! Wow!

In other news:

A. We decided we would rather have the storage space in the laundry room than the ”special spot” for the grill. The loss of storage space plus the (shockingly) high prices for built-in grills (think thousands) prompted this decision.

B. After we staked the footprint of the house out on the lot, we ”looked out” the windows of the house and now think that the over-the-counter horizontal windows in the kitchen would be better up high (where we can see the neighbor’s trees and the sky). Otherwise we’ll be looking at fence.

So there you have it. Builder input. 


architect’s estimate v. builder’s estimate: showdown in the Is-the-project-budget-OK Corral

We’ve enjoyed going through the design process (again...), but we’ve had a growing sense of foreboding. It’s not Architect 2d’s fault. Chalk it up to post-traumatic stress syndrome from Design Process 1.0 where the project crashed-and-burned once it (twice) came in fatally above budget (ultimately fatal to that design and to the relationship with Architect 1.0). The house Architect 2d and the Usonian Expert put together is fabulous nice. And fabulous nice costs money. As the bride put it “I love the house, but I’m worried.” As Design Process 2.0 reached the 95 percent completion point, Architect 2d worked up his in-house budget for the house. And it came in at the goal. Whew! However, given our experience with Architect 1.0 (and after reading Malone’s book), we wanted the builder to take a look at the house and give us an estimate from his point of view at this point.

And the builder’s estimate came in at (drum roll please [cough, cough]) just about the same as the architect’s! Yay, yay, double yay!!! We yipped, we yollered, and we clinked champagne glasses filled with champagne (and drank the contents).

It’s remarkable how close the two estimates are (calling Alex Jones...). When we passed this (good) news on to the architects, Architect 2d replied (and I’m paraphrasing) ”But of course!” Architect 2d has (nearly) reinstated our faith in the architectural profession (we say "nearly" because we haven't seen him dance yet; we withhold full reinstatement until we see him dance).

Back when I threw my hissy fit over Architect 1.0, I said we wanted an architect who did design-build because that meant he would know how much it cost to build. Ultimately that didn’t work out. The economic downturn seemed to dry up the ”low end” design-build firms. However, Architect 2d used to do design-build, so he’s clearly used that experience to properly price out projects.

I can’t tell you how happy we are! 

[photo by mwah!]