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Paint- It’s about the Sheen

April 13, 2012

(C) 2006 Suncrest Builders, Inc.

Although the color of your paint selection is the glue that holds your design together, there are many other aspects to getting the most value out of the paint color selections for your project.

If you’ve hired a Designer, they will be walking you through these detail decisions.  General Contractors and Painting Contractors are not Designers. Unless they are offering up their services as Designers, it’s like asking a bus driver to help you with the mechanics of making the bus run. The painter’s job is to take you from point  “ A” (needing to paint, or repaint a particular project) to point “ B” (doing the work to get the project complete). I’ve heard many painters share resentment about situations where homeowners have asked them to help make decisions regarding color or sheen. If you give this situation careful thought, you can understand that they bid out the project based on a certain amount of time. If their bid, or “Scope of Work”, does not include a consulting fee, it’s unreasonable to expect that they should donate unpaid time to save money for a homeowner trying to cut corners. They could be spending that same time on another paying job or at home relaxing. When asking for this kind of consultation for free, you will undoubtedly get what you pay for.


The proper sheen is going to add substantial value to that perfect color choice.

I use 3 main paint sheens for just about every project:

  1. Flat
  2. Egg-shell
  3. Semi-Gloss

There are no hard and fast rules about which sheens go where, but there here are some good guidelines to follow.


I strongly recommend a flat paint on ceilings. One big reason is that flat paint hides a lot of imperfection in the drywall texture and the tape that covers the seams, under the texture. When natural light hits the ceiling, it tends to show off every imperfection and flaw, of which there are always many. Flat paint, and now a new “Flat Flat” that can be found in some brands, hides a multitude of sins.

The exception to that rule is in areas that get a lot of moisture: kitchens and baths. In that case we may use an Egg-shell finish that is more washable. If your kitchen has a high ceiling that is contiguous with other living space, Egg-shell is not necessary. Every home offers unique situations that need to be weighed.


The most popular sheen for walls is going to be Egg-shell.  Although there are new flat paints that are more washable, they still don’t compare with the wear-ability, but most especially, the look of Egg-shell. Especially in the no-VOC variety, Egg-shell is used on walls primarily for its durability. The one down side to it is that it’s not as easy to touch up Egg-shell after it’s been on your walls for a while. Personally, I like the added dimension that Egg-shell or Satin has to offer and never use flat on walls.


Always use Semi-gloss on painted woodwork. It’s tough, very washable and durable, looks great when it’s properly caulked and painted.


Keep the color light and the paint washable and durable. Semi-gloss can be sprayed on shelving and walls for a uniform durable finish.


House logic published a very comprehensive Paint Sheen Guide. I think it’s a good resource with the exception of saying that Semi-gloss works well for kitchens. For commercial kitchens, it’s just fine. For your home, absolutely not.

Another post I would recommend reading is in Small Space Style. Jim has a bit of a different take than I do on flat for walls, but I understand what he’s saying and appreciate that it’s just a different style.

I hope that sharing these details has helped to create a more general understanding about some of the detail decisions that should be made when deciding on the paint plan. I’ll write another post about where to color. It’s a great topic that requires it’s own space.

If you have a basic understanding of sheen, having a discussion with your painting contractor about the products that he or she prefers and why, will be productive time. They know their products and have good reasons why they prefer one brand over another or products within the brand.

If you have further more specific questions about Sheen, I would be happy to answer them. Your comments and questions are always welcome.


Paint Me Perfect With 7 Easy Tips

April 9, 2012

(C) 2009 Suncrest Builders, Inc.

Selecting the perfect paint colors is just about the most important decision for a beautiful and balanced design that will be made for any home construction project.  It is easy to pick good color. However, the results from a good color and a great choice are a WORLD apart. Paint selection will add the most direct value for the amount of time and material investment of any design choices made. I believe that we can all agree; it’s the one single thing that is done poorly most often. Many folks change paint fairly often, feeling that it is more of a fashion statement and should be changed to suit their emotional health and well-being. If you are looking for a balanced, holistic design that adds to your emotional well-being from the moment you enter your home until your next required outing, enter this decision making process very wisely.

Color is reflective. It is entirely dependent on what other colors (light really) is reflecting off of it. Without getting too scientific here, I’d like to make an important point. Paint colors are the glue that will hold your design together. You will want to pick out a color that is specific to your design in your own home. All of the materials in your home are going to be affected by, and reflect off of that color even when they are in different rooms. Our brains have an amazing capacity to acclimate to our surroundings. When we leave one room and go to another, it takes us a while to acclimate to the new surroundings. Consistency, will create harmony, even for

(C) 2009 Suncrest Builders, Inc.

bold designs.

If you understand what I am saying, you can understand why picking out a fabulous color from a home improvement magazine or store display is not going to give you the best value for your investment of time, materials and possibly professional services.

I have 7 simple tips for selecting the perfect paint color for your special environment:

  1. Never pick out colors from the small (or even medium sized) paint chip samples given away for free from the store. They are worth exactly what you pay for them. Always pick out at least a couple sound selections from those chips and purchase the smallest amount possible in the same sheen you will be using for your project.  (I’ll go into sheens in more detail next post)
  2. Find your color ideas in materials you already have. Those materials are your color palette that you will be working with. When designing a kitchen or bathroom with a stone counter, the stone becomes my color palette. If the paint color tone is complementary to what is in there, it’s going to work beautifully with all other selections. I hate to be the party crasher for some of you but, only one accent paint color is needed in each room.
  3. Always paint your samples on a large piece of poster board. My size of preference is about 16”x 20”. I find them at the $1 store. Paint the samples generously so that none of the white is showing through. This may require a second coat. There is an urban legend that a lot of folks follow which has you painting all of your colors on the wall, and then even next to each other! when deciding on color. Preparing for this post, I found several so called home improvement advice sites that suggest this very thing. If after reading this post if you think this is still a good idea, seek the help of a professional (designer- of course!).
  4. When you have your samples painted large and in charge, put them in the pile with your other materials i.e. cabinet doors, tile, fabrics, upholstery, carpet. You can walk around with your samples; hang them next to those materials that are locked in place. Make sure you  have good lighting, we become more color blind with less light. By carrying your samples around, you can more easily control your light. Sunlight is best, but not necessary.
  5. Remember the 3 second rule: When you look at your selections all together, if you don’t love it immediately, you need to persevere in your search for the most perfect match. When your friends see you in your outfit, do you want them to have to think for even 3 seconds about whether or not you are coordinated? Do you want them to have to “live with it” for a while to see if they grow to like it? Same with your home. Keep trying other colors with new samples. It can become tedious, but it will be entirely worth the effort.
  6. White is a color. There is no such thing as “just white”. All whites have reflective properties. Some will reflect more blue and some more yellow while some are both-green. Just going with white is not any more of a safe choice than any other color you can select. If you’re a fan of whites it’s great as your neutral base color, but you still want to go through the same selection process detailed above.
  7. When starting with a clean color slate inside, consider the colors outside as part of your outfit. If you are looking at an exterior wall of your home or fence through your window, unless you’re planning on keeping your blinds closed, those colors become part of your inside as well. This does not mean that your interiors must be green or brown, but when you open your front door to invite your guest in, think of the colors they’ve become acclimated to on your porch.

If you have chosen the most perfect colors for your special and unique home, you will find no need to change them unless you find yourself in the midst of a large remodeling project when your corner stone materials are changing. Your paint will complement all of the other selections you’ve made and add value to your home as well as your sense of well-being.

What are your thoughts or experiences with regard to color. This is a fascinating subject. Please share!

Add Value to Your Investment

April 6, 2012

(C) 2007 Suncrest Builders, Inc.

How to invest in your home to get the best tax benefits as well as biggest bang in the resale market has become a much larger priority in these years since the housing bust. When designing a new home or re-designing an existing home, some consideration should be given to this concern. How much emphasis should be placed on resale or tax benefits is always dependent on the personal situation of the homeowners. My suggestion is always to hope for the best but plan for the worst when designing homes. I’ve heard many a homeowner say that they plan on being carried out of this house on a stretcher. But then when radical change occurs in their lives, they find that they need to sell their home much sooner than expected. Some of these unexpected events can be good, of course (i.e. winning the lottery or a fabulous new job or life-partner with another home) but more often than not, they are bad and the value of their home becomes an important part of their personal portfolio.

A recent post by AP Mortgage Marin, did an excellent job clearly defining the best places to invest and where to look for tax benefits. I’m happy to link to his post here and suggest you read it. It answers the most basic but confusing questions that haunt homeowners getting ready to build new or make a home improvement.

What AP Mortgage doesn’t discuss is the whole issue of thinking of our homes solely as investments and not as the place where we LIVE. Our homes are our comfort zone and sanctuary; where we gather socially and privately. The concept of our home becoming a savings account for retirement or an upwardly mobile lifestyle is new to the baby boomer generation. The “Greatest Generation” made home improvements when increasing the quality of their lives was necessary. For example, when a new child was on the way or mom was moving in, a new bedroom or bath might be necessary. If the floor rotted through, a new floor was in order!

As homes became piggy banks, folks were able to justify adding extravagant amenities to homes that they believed were appreciating more than the costs of the improvements, regardless of the quality, necessity and taste of the improvement.

In today’s home market, I am seeing a new sensible balance. Think about how we purchase our cars. The retained value may be a consideration, but not the driving factor.  We know that a car we drive every day is a place we spend time, a lot of time for some folks.  For some of us, it’s important how we look when driving our cars. For others, the functionality of the car is much more important. Regardless, we don’t expect to see an increase in value when it’s time to find a new car that better suits our needs.

I can see that in general, people have started thinking of their homes in much the same way. In a buyer’s market, a home that is designed well, is clean and contemporary with up to date conveniences, is going to sell with less time on the market. But there are many personal definitions of value. Only one relates to cash in the bank. When thinking of increased value in your home, think “Value Added” as a broader definition.  The majority of us spend much more time in our homes than in our cars. Try to think of your home as the place that adds the most value to your life. When smart planning, innovative and sustainable design are practiced, you have an opportunity to add to your bank account as well. But primarily, your home is a physical asset and tool used to create a happier, more efficient and rewarding life.

How do you define value? Enjoy!

The Mysterious Job of a General Contractor

April 5, 2012

(C) 2005 Suncrest Builders, Inc.

I recently tried to explain the phrase, “You don’t know what you don’t know” to a class of 4th graders. They just couldn’t get their heads around it and all 21 were hysterical with laughter.

I’ve spoken to many homeowners who got in over their heads on their “little” home improvement projects who weren’t that kind of hysterical when they discussed their experiences.

When deciding to start most home improvement projects, it’s hard for most folks to foresee how  involved and costly their project is going to end up. We get our ideas lined up, shop for cabinets, tile, and light fixtures then feel that the hard part is done and it’s time to get started. In these cost conscious times, everyone is thinking of how they can save money.  Do your own demolition? Nah, that’s kinda messy and hard work too. Setting your cabinets is a possibility, but they cost a lot of money, and it would be a shame to ruin them with a poor installation. Tile work? That would be fun, but it’s something that everybody is always looking at, and needs to be done right. Why don’t you just hire a bunch of sub-contractors to do the work, and just act as your own General Contractor?  Easy money right? Well, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Let’s start with the plans and permit. You could draw your own plans, and with some perseverance, eventually get them approved. Having this done by someone who understands the process, and is familiar with the building codes, will save you a lot of time and aggravation. In additions, the cost for the service can cost surprising little compared to the cost saving of designing a more efficient use of materials or space.

Next it’s time to put your team together. This includes the people who are actually doing the work, as well as suppliers and vendors. You could ask your friends if they know anybody, go on the internet, or contact contractor referral services. By and large, those services refer from a list of businesses that pay for the referral. Who are these people you’re hiring? What talents do they have? Will they work with each other in a coordinated effort that results in a smooth, efficient job? Remember, the chain is only as strong as the weakest link. When one person fails to do his job when scheduled, the whole job can suffer. Hiring the right contractor who has developed a broad professional network introduces you to a whole a team, already in place. The Contractor knows who he’s hiring, makes sure they can, and will work together, and unites everyone in one cohesive effort.

Maybe you can do all of this. You downloaded a free CAD program (maybe even paid for one!) to draw your plans, get your permit, and have enough contacts to assemble your team. The project gets started, you have all your deliveries scheduled, and the subs are lined up. I can guarantee you, something unexpected is going to happen. The tile that was advertised as 20”x20” is in reality only 19.5”x19.5”, so you end up being short 5 sq. feet. Your supplier says it’s been discontinued, and isn’t sure he can get any, at least not right away.  The cabinet comes damaged, and the manufacturer blames the shipping company, who blames the local supplier who delivered it to your house. There is never a shortage of blame to go around on any cooperative effort. Seldom is there a volunteer willing to risk their reputation or pay check by taking responsibility. Your project is no different. Maybe your trim guy shows up, and says he can’t match the existing finish material, and he’s looked all over town, and the painter is coming tomorrow. All these things happened on one recent small remodel project. None of these incidents could have been anticipated. Any one of them could have derailed the job for some time. They all were taken care of by, you guessed it, the General Contractor. He’s the guy who, if he’s doing his job well,  you’re never quite sure what he’s actually doing. But if he wasn’t doing it well you would certainly know. The happy ending to this particular story was that the problems were fixed without the homeowners having to know that there were any problems. They were able to be at work making money, doing what they do best. There was no delay on the project because the contractor knew where to go, who to talk to and how to talk to them and how to reach a speedy resolution.

The internet is a wonderful place to get lots of useful information. Much of it is even true. You can buy everything you need for your home improvement project there. You can even get the names of local tradesmen, and sub-contractors. Getting informed and mapping out your job is not an exceeding difficult task. Beware though; something will happen that throws that schedule out the window. In our experience, it’s always something different, but it’s always something. It’s not the things that you know that are going to get you, it’s always what you don’t know.

Solid Surface Counter Top Basics

April 3, 2012

2 cm edge- laminated to equal 4 cm finished.
Flat Polish (Suncrest Builders,Inc.)

Most of my clients are surprised to learn that a natural stone counter top can often be less expensive than tile counter tops. The reasons for this are that while material costs have come down, labor to fabricate the stone has also come down. Some shops have very sophisticated water laser cutting equipment. Other shops that are cutting by hand have had to bring their costs way down to compete for the limited amount of work that had been available over the last few years. However, I believe that we will be seeing prices inch back up due to the recent surge in remodel work being done in the US.

3cm Corian type material. Non-laminated edge. (Suncrest Builders, Inc.)

Tile counter tops not only require a lot of labor, but the special tiles for the edge are also crazy expensive compared to the plain edge kind. In case you’re interested, the front edge tile is called “V Cap”. A “bullnose” or finished edge tile can be used as well.

Edges for solid surfaces are a bit trickier to explain. Commonly, slabs, whether natural or

6cm edge created with a 3cm slab. Thicker plywood rough top was used. (Suncrest Builders, Inc.)

man-made, come in two thicknesses, 2 cm (centimeter) or 3cm. The 3cm is thick enough to put on top of the counter top without needing any plywood between the top of the cabinet and the bottom of the slab to support the weight. That saves minimal cost. The stone is 50% thicker so it will cost approximately 50% more per square foot. I’ve been seeing that many of the home improvement stores as well as the big box chain Costco now sell only the 3cm counter tops. Because of the thickness, the edge is finished, as is.

When searching the web for “granite edge profiles”, you’ll find a lot of information so I’m not going to address that here. What I would like to address is the difference in the two types of styles so that when you’re talking to your contractor, designer, or home improvement sales person, you will know the difference

Edge Profiles showing a few of the laminated and laminated choices.


and know what questions to ask. At right, you’ll see an edge detail chart

to help explain. All of the drawings that have a dotted line are created with 2cm thickness stone. If two pieces of stone are glued together, it is called a lamination. The lamination will be twice as thick as the slab. For example, if your slab is 2cm, then the edge of the counter will be 4cm thick. Still with me?

The reason this is done is to give the counter a thicker, richer, look and cover up the very top of the cabinets. The end costs for a 3cm counter finished and a 2cm laminated should be about the same for the consumer if one of the more simple edge details, like square  (sometimes called flat polished), bullnose or double bevel is used.

Profile of a laminated edge. It will sit on top of plywood (rough top) placed on top of your cabinets and cover up the plywood as well as the top edge of the cabinet.

In the Western US where I have worked, 2cm counters with a laminated edge have been the norm, but since the invasion of national chain stores, we’re seeing a lot more 3cm slabs. I am suspecting that the reason is because their mark-up is bigger with the stone coming from cheap labor markets like China. If anyone reading this has information to the contrary, I’m all ears! Recently, I was helping with a kitchen remodel in the Boston area. I found it very interesting to learn that 2 cm slabs are very hard to find there.

A word about “Pre-fab”slabs:

Fairly new on the scene are semi-finished counter tops called a “pre-fab” slab. The crates of these tops that I have seen are manufactured in China. They come with only the front edge finished, one or both sides finished, or all four sides finished for islands. They can be very cost effective for the perfect situation, and that’s the catch. If your kitchen or bathroom has a corner where the stone top wraps around, it will be impossible to get the two sides of the stone to

2cm laminated counter with only one seam. Bet you can't find it! (Suncrest Builders, Inc)

“butterfly” match. In those situations, the corner, or seam where the two pieces of stone come together can look terrible. A good quality fabricator uses a full slab of material to create a perfect match. But if your kitchen is what is called a “galley” kitchen with straight counters that stop at the end of the cabinet run,  a wall, or refrigerator, pre-fabs can be a big cost savings. Edge details are limited. I’ve seen them in the standard bullnose, or flat polished for a more contemporary look.

How a fabricator matches their seams on the top or the laminated edge can make all the difference in any home where natural stone counter tops are being used. It’s where I can always tell that someone has gotten a “deal” on their counters!

And FYI- Man-made materials also come from their manufacturers in slabs, 2cm or 3cm.

After looking at the photos I’ve inserted, I am very interested to know what you think. Do you have a preference for the laminated edge look or the single layer look better? What’s the norm in your area?

Solid Surface Counter Myth Busters

March 31, 2012

Granite Counter-top

Lots of hype has been circulated over the past half-decade or so about the evils of granite versus the virtues of fabricated solid surface counter tops. I’ve designed using granite, marble, and man-made products for the better part of my career and will happily use any of them, if the situation calls for it. That said, I have watched these same counter tops age with the home and have seen no problems with any of the natural stone that we’ve installed. The same can not be said for any of the man-made materials with one exception, IceStone.

By man-made materials, I’m referring to solid surface material such as Corian, Caesarstone, Zodiaq,  Ice Stone, Vertrazzo, and concrete that requires a factory process to create.

Here are a few myths I’d like to bust:

  1. Natural stone stains easily. Man-made stone does not. NOT

Natural stone must be sealed properly when it’s installed. Some stones are so dense, they don’t necessarily require a sealer but for the $50 or so that a good sealer costs, I believe it’s worth the investment with all counter tops we install. The ONLY sealer to use is what is called a penetrating sealer. It seeps deeply into the stone, and protects it from the inside out. NEVER use what is called a “Topical” sealer. I’ve seen this type of product sold at all the big box home improvement stores. Topical products sit on top of the stone, yellows with time, gets waxy and sticky.

A sealer we’ve been very happy with is: StoneTech- Impregnator Pro. After washing the counter with soap and water, spray on the revitalizer diluted with 50% water and then wipe off with a clean cloth. You can use a sponge scrubber or even steel wool (for hard water stains around the faucets) to clean your counter. Granite has survived a millennia, it will survive you.  When sealed properly, you can leave greasy pizza boxes or cooking oil bottles on it over night or over the weekend. It doesn’t stain. If it hasn’t been sealed, don’t leave anything on it. My sister’s counter suffered a nasty oil stain from a banana peel left over night by our dear grandma before it had been sealed.

Marbles, on the other hand, are a bit different. They are very soft and porous. I don’t recommend them on a kitchen counter, with the exception of a “Rain Forest” style which is in between granite and marble.

Once stone is sealed properly, it requires almost no maintenance. There are products that can be used to keep your stone beautiful and continually sealed called revitalizers. Granite does not need to be resealed if a revitalizer is used every so often. has a comprehensive article about all of this.

IceStone does require sealing but holds up better than any other man-made surface we’ve worked with.

2. Man-made resin products such as Zodiac or Caesarstone don’t burn while granite can. NOT!

NEVER put a hot pot off of the cook-top on a man-made surface. It can and will melt. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It will also melt if buffed.  Although putting something that is scalding hot on granite is not recommended and should be avoided, your chances of having a problem are infinitesimal compared to man-made materials. Read your warrantee for the man-made counters very carefully. You’ll find that you’re on your own if any of the above happens.

3. Man-made products don’t scratch as easily as natural stone. TOTAL MYTH

IceStone shower bench

In our experience, we have found that the Corian type products buffed out beautifully when scratched.  Natural stone can always be buffed out if it does happen to chip or scratch. I’ve never personally seen an edge chip with natural stone, but I have heard of it. A stone fabricator can apply a hard colored resin and buff that out with the stone to conceal edge damage. The man-made materials that contain glass can chip. This material can also we buffedand repaired.

We have found IceStone to hold up to scratching. On the other hand, we have found the edge of a Vetrazzo counter top to be in constant need of repair due to the little pieces of glass falling out. Very disappointing.

The Green Factor? Natural Stone comes out of the ground so wins the green star in that regard. Where it looses it’s green factor is when we burn fossil fuels to get it to the final destination.

The sealers are anything but green. I’m not proud to admit it, but except for the most dense stone, it’s a necessary evil. Even concrete counter-tops require sealer.

One more quick thought I’d like to leave you with is VALUE. Those of you who have read other posts of mine know that sustainable value is always at the forefront of my design decisions. A beautiful natural stone counter-top will give you more value for your investment than the man-made options ,  with one exception. The recycled glass tops made by IceStone are beautiful, very desirable and hold their value as well as natural stone if used properly in an integrated design. They are not for the budget conscience and need to be cared for properly.

Do you have experience with solid surface counters that you would like to share? Is there something that you would like to know about these counters that I didn’t cover in my post? Please comment and I will respond.

6 Sustainable, Efficient Design Building Blocks

March 29, 2012

The first meeting with folks who want to design a new custom home is always a fun and exciting experience. Inside their heads is a pile of ideas that are just waiting to explode all over a blank sheet of drafting paper. Usually, they’ve been looking at magazines, on-line articles, photos, open houses and quite often HGTV.  They have a lot of great independent ideas. The problem is getting all of those ideas into the most consistent design that will return the greatest value for their investment without bursting their enthusiasm bubble.  It’s like herding cats with song instead of a Taser so that when we get to where we’re going, we are all thrilled about the final result.

Getting the most value from your investment requires a holistic approach. We never consider the design of the home as an island. The topography of the property, the age, number and lifestyle of the residents and the values of neighboring properties, among other things, are all integral to developing the most value in this most important investment. Buying a home plan out of a book might seem like a cost-effective way to get a plan that works on paper, but, in our experience, the plans are the smallest expense of this huge investment. Saving money on an inadequate design can cost thousands of dollars in extra energy costs, wasted interior and exterior space, loss of enjoyment for the life of the home and loss of resale value. Likewise, those who go to an architect or residential designer paying large sums of money don’t always end up with the most value for their investment either.  We’ve seen many plans designed by highly regarded architects that are more of a monument to the architect than an efficient, sustainable, livable design. We’ve seen many plans drawn by professionals that never visit the property!

There are more elements to creating intrinsic value than can be counted, but below are what my husband Greg and I believe to be 6 of the most important building blocks of a sustainable design:

  1. Less exposed exterior wall surface area equates to greater energy conservation. Remember that every inch of wall that is exposed to the elements is allowing energy (hot and cold air) to escape, no matter how good your insulating qualities are.
  2.  South facing windows need overhangs (awnings or eaves)  that are specifically designed for your home’s latitude.   Living in a home with solar energy will simply feel better in the home, winter and summer. If you have a lovely south-facing wall with lots of windows, that’s great for winter energy bill savings, but without the proper awnings, you’ll be spending all of your savings to cool your house in the summer.
  3. When designing the footprint of your home (think of it like the dead man chalk line that runs all the way around the perimeter), every time you move your chalk in and then back out, it’s costing money that you won’t necessarily recoup in the value of your home. Not only do you pay for additional concrete for those footings, but the excavation costs to dig the trench and the labor to build the forms are all added costs. Then, look up. Your roof line will have to follow those ins and outs. Ching Ching!
  4. Minimize window sizes on the north side of your home while maximizing windows on the south side. Design trade-offs quite often necessitate creation of  bedrooms and living areas on the north side, but armed with this insight, there are design choices you might be able to make that will enhance the livability of your home.
    Examples are:
    Can you put your garage on the north side?
    Can you put closets on the north side?
    Can you put bathrooms on the north side?
    Can your wall of kitchen cabinets or pantry be on the north side
  5. Eliminate halls where ever possible. Hall space costs as much to build as a bedroom. This little tidbit is forgotten as often with impressive designs drawn by expensive architects or simple “free” plans found on-line. Homes with creative use of interior space have much more living or storage area than their less fortunate neighbors with expensive hallways.
  6. Value engineering.  In designing your home, it is important to have someone who understands the building process.  Minor changes to the layout can mean substantial saving in building costs.  Especially in multilevel dwellings, it is important to understand load paths from the roof, all the way down to the ground that it sits on. Sometimes moving a wall just a few feet can result in thousands saved in the construction process.  Planning for this while in the design stage can help to eliminate expensive changes or wasted material expense down the road.

With all this said, you might be wishing that you were in love with rectangular boxes and that your best design for resale is a rectangular two story box. If this were true, we’d all live in Colonial Style homes. Thankfully (and I know that I’m going to offend lots of folks here), this is not true. There is always a lot of compromise that takes place in the design process but as some wise person once said,

“If you don’t know where you’re going, how you will know if you’ve arrived?”

A new post was published by Solar Feeds that will give you some other ideas for energy-saving design. I would caution though about two of their suggestions.

1. We don’t believe that skylights are the best solution for letting in light. They also allow warm air that rises in the winter to escape and allow heat to transfer in from the sun in the summer. We’ve found that leaking can be intrinsic to the nature of skylights. They are fairly high maintenance. We believe that a better, more sustainable choice is a solatube

2. I mentioned this in #2 above, but a word of caution: Adding eaves ( suggested in #15) without proper consideration for size, location, solar calculations, and other factors can be an inefficient addition.

If you have any questions about a design you are working on now, comments about designs you’ve lived with, or would like to shout out about how much you love your Colonial Style home, please share below.

The Numbers Do Add Up on Green Improvements

March 20, 2012

Below, you’ll find an archived post by Preston written last April for his blog Jetson Green. Although it’s older, I believe it will help to clear up the confusion for those who say , “Show me the money!” when considering energy saving upgrades for their homes. With bank appraisers now using the new Appraisal Institute   form that will directly add value for energy saving upgrades, reduced energy costs are only part of the savings picture.

Primarily, Preston writes his blog posts for others in the building industry but I believe that this post is valuable for the average homeowner as well. When trying to decided where the best place to invest money in your home would be, start by finding out where everyone else is putting their money. When it’s time to sell, buyers are going to be looking for these same amenities. Homes that have energy saving improvements are going to sell for more and sell more quickly as well. Until the end of 2016, the Department of Energy will continue offering a 30% tax credit on renewables, with no upper limit! The chart below showed that only 6% of homeowners are putting money into renewable systems, but those numbers have been revised according to a  March 14, 2012 Reuters post which disclosed that “the national solar industry installed a record number of panels in 2011, more than double 2010, and is likely to see strong growth again this year”  With ever increasing energy costs, energy harvesting systems are a fabulous fad that will not be leaving us any time soon. These facts should prove that renewable energy is a great investment in your home or office building.

Green Projects to Save Money [Survey]

By Preston on Apr. 7, 2011 | Topics: News, Renovation | Comments (1)

American Express sampled 2,045 people (18+ years old) and learned that 64% of them will invest in renovation projects this year, according to a survey taken in the first week of March.  These homeowners are only planning on spending about $3,400 — down from $6,200 last year — but 32% of folks with home improvement plans will look into green home improvements.

Specifically, here’s where homeowners plan to make green home improvements:

  • 16% – energy-efficient windows and doors;
  • 12% – insulation;
  • 11% – roofing;
  • 10% – heating, ventilation, and cooling;
  • 9% – water heaters; and
  • 6% – alternative energy systems.

The dominant reason for green improvements, according to 31% of homeowners, is to reap long-term, cost-saving benefits.  In other words, people are looking for ways to save money at home.

Consumers are investing in green improvements to increase their savings over time and choosing to handle renovation projects on their own to save now.  Many also plan to use their tax refunds to pay for improvements,” said Pamela Codispoti, a representative of American Express, according to a recent press release.

Other than green improvements, generally, interior projects (55%) are more popular than exterior projects (29%).  In terms of how they’ll make the improvements, 64% will do some of the work themselves, 20% will hire a contractor to do all of it, and 11% will get a family member to do all of it.

Are you planning any green home improvements?  What kind and what’s the budget?

What You Need To Know About Cabinets

March 17, 2012

Full Overlay Cabinets

For this post, I’ve collaborated with Kitchen Designer, Greg Fineman of Osborne and Dermody, Sparks, Nevada. Greg has been a General Contractor and has 30 years’ experience in the industry specializing in kitchen remodeling. I’ve always enjoyed collaborating with Greg because he takes a holistic approach to the design instead of trying to sell the most cabinets in the full space allowed. This kitchen to the left is our collaboration within a very challenging space.

Have you decided to replace your horrid tile or scratched and stained laminate counter top,  but you’re trying to decide if new cabinets are worth the expense. It is a big expense and the temptation to refinish the old cabinets becomes great once the bids start rolling in. Become educated about your options first.

7 things to consider when making the decision of whether or not to replace your cabinets:

1.   How old are your current cabinets? Do they have 10 yrs. left to them? (Your new counter top will)

2.   Are the hinges exposed? This is very old school so unless you’re REALLY into retro……

3.  What is the quality of the cabinet door hinges and drawer glides?  Do you have drawer glides?

4.  Are any cabinet drawer fronts or doors broken?

5.  Are the drawer boxes stapled and/or glued press-board. Or, are the drawers made of solid wood boxes with dovetail joinery at corners?

6.  Is your counter top going to be replaced?

7.  Are you happy with the configuration of your existing cabinets’? (The layout) Or do you have

wasted dead space? Most commonly found in corners.

If you are going to replace your counter tops, you might be throwing good money after bad by trying to hang on to old cabinets.  Those old cabinets with exposed hinges are not going to add value to a new kitchen. Drawer hardware should glide, not be sticky or wobbly. I can tell you from my own experience (or lack thereof at the time), once you spend money on new counters, sinks, back splash, etc., you’re never going to think to replace the cabinets again. Do it properly the first time and get the most value for your investment.

Before Photo- Standard Overlay

My advice is, if your budget is that tight, use an inexpensive counter top for now. It’s much less expensive to replace that in a year or two when you have more money saved.

All new cabinets are not created equal. When the final decision must be made, your budget may be the determinate, but I believe that an educated decision is a good decision.

The _4_ most important things to look for when shopping for your new cabinets are:

Standard Overlay- Note space between doors & drawers.

1.       Are the cabinet doors “Full Overlay” ( see photo at top). More expensive cabinets will offer doors that fit together tightly next to each other against the face of the cabinet. If there is a big space between the doors and drawers, there is considerably more dead space in the cabinet box. The smaller drawer boxes will be where you will notice this the most. If you have a minimum amount of space in a smaller kitchen, this is especially important. If you have a large space with a lot of doors, think of how that will look across the expanse with the door-space-door-space-door-space pattern.

2.       What do the drawers look like inside? The less expensive cabinets will have press-board drawers with a drawer front either screwed to it, or as the 4th side of the drawer. Those drawers do not hold up well when required to carry a lot of weight (i.e. black hole type junk drawer) or if they are slammed by little loved ones, drama queens or heavy-handed big galootes.  ( I wouldn’t be referring to my  own husband of course).  For best quality and a long life, look for a drawer that has “Dovetail” style drawers.

"Dove Tail" Solid Wood Drawer Box

3.       Door and drawer hardware is very important for lifetime durability and pleasurable daily use.

Full extension glides allow the drawer to pull out all the way so that the back 20-25% of the drawer is accessible. This hardware comes in the self-closing variety that has a shock absorber to guard against slamming. The hardware will actually pull the drawer back in by itself when given a shove.

4.       The finish from a semi-custom cabinet manufacturer can actually be longer lasting than finishes from a custom cabinet maker. Custom cabinets can be beautiful and I support buying local. However; you should know that the finish from a factory is a catalyzed baked on varnish which is a chemical reaction created with heat that allows superior bonding or adhesion of the finish onto the wood. This process requires huge industrial type ovens that allow the cabinet finish ( be it stain, paint or even a natural finish) to  “cure” onto the cabinets, thus giving a result that cannot be duplicated in someone’s home, small shop or garage!

Did someone say accessorize? Cabinets come with the most fun gadgets today. All kinds of space saving devices are available for just about every cabinet size. If budget is no option, get them all! If your budget is modest, have your kitchen bid out without any gadgets at all. You can then start adding. The best bang for the accessory buck is the pull out shelving for your bottom cabinets. Price all extras individually in order to make the most well informed choices.

Is there something else you would like to know about cabinets? Do you have something that you can share to be helpful to other readers? Please comment below.

I believe that this recent post by Jamie Goldberg might be helpful for additional information.

Passive Solar Design- Free Endorphins

March 11, 2012

Trolling the internet in search of sustainable housing in the last year, I’ve noticed that the amount of sites offering “Green” and “Passive Solar” homes have sprouted up like cheat grass in the spring here in Nevada. We live in a passive solar home now, but the first passive solar home that I had ever experienced was the one my husband Greg designed and built for us in Truckee, California in 1984. For those of you who don’t know about Truckee, it’s a little town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 5800 ft. elevation, between San Francisco and Reno Nevada.  Freezing temperatures have been recorded during every month of the year there, but in an average year, the sun is out for about 284 days.  This makes it an ideal place for passive solar.

Greg designed our home to be as energy efficient as possible. The design itself had to be as very cost efficient, but we were also needing to think about resale value so a geodesic dome was crossed off his list of options (by me). We were just married, building on a shoe string, needed to keep our expenses to a minimum while  at the same time maximize value.

Passive Solar Homes- Iowa 1980

Home heating costs in the area are necessarily high due to cold ambient temperatures most of the year. We had just come from a trip to Iowa where we found a whole development of homes that were built on relatively flat ground but had earth piled up on their north side. We purchased property in Truckee with a South Facing hillside.  The north side of our home was dug into the hill. The back walls of the home were 8 ft. high. The earth insulated that side which doesn’t get solar exposure. The south side, however, was glorious. The sun beat in the windows during the winter months and warmed up “thermal mass” on the inside. This mass radiated back the heat all night. The result was a home that cost us approximately $35/month (including wood, propane and electricity) to heat and power on a 12 month average. This was done without active solar panels (unaffordable to us at the time) which is why is it called “Passive Solar”. The house is still there today and has been copied many times since its construction; a lovely compliment.

Why did the home work so well?

What makes Passive Solar construction work especially well, is that the entire house acts as the collector. The solar radiation enters the south facing windows, where the heat energy is then stored in anything from water jugs to stone to dark tiles or concrete. For part of our thermal mass, we constructed a concrete block wall, faced with river rocks (gathered by hand) approximately 10 ft. high, and 20 ft. long located behind our wood stove, on the main living level. When the sun is low in the winter, it shone directly onto that massive collector. This wall also absorbed heat from the wood stove. On the lower level, Greg designed a unique thermal floor. Concrete blocks were laid sideways on top of rigid foam insulation, so the voids lined up to form horizontal air passageways. A concrete slab was poured on top of this, and dark tile was laid on top of that. The sun reached far back into the bedrooms during the day and warmed up those floors.  At night, a duct system would circulate air from the very peak of the cathedral ceiling upstairs, thru the voids in the block, and into the downstairs bedrooms. Insulated shades could be dropped down to keep the heat from transferring through the windows. If we had been able to afford them, we would have had that additional benefit. Even so, there were many mornings when Greg would go out for the paper with only a tee shirt on, not realizing that it was below freezing outside.

Overhangs were designed for the summer months. Greg calculated the arc of the sun so when the sun is high in the summer, the overhangs shade the solar energy from coming in. The mass works in reverse and absorbs some heat to help keep the house cool.

Greg developed other design innovations that were instituted, but what I’ve just described is the basic premise of Passive Solar. It’s simple.

The most important thing we learned from that home was how much better we felt being warmed up by the sun, rather than being in the small space in front of our wood stove or air from heating ducts where air is moving and cooling as it moves. The energy radiating from the sun is not only warming, but good for the psyche. That it is FREE, is only so much better.

Next time I write, I’ll share some of the designs I’ve found in the pre-fab home market place that profess to be passive solar and why we believe that they are or are not.

Meanwhile, enjoy the sunshine, but watch out for those solar flares!

Here’s a link to another post with information on Passive Solar Construction that we believe is informative.

If you have Passive Solar experiences that we could learn from, please share.

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