10 Tips for Home Improvement from an Architect

Home improvement, to me, includes not only painting, updating finishes and changing some fixtures or redoing your kitchen. I am thinking bigger picture, such as; additions, renovations and interior alterations. I am going to focus on an actual renovation project where you will be required to enroll the services of an architect. Perhaps you need more space or you want to open up some areas of your home. The following are some tips to drive you to your final destination.

Time

Photo by Kerem Yucel

Take your time! There is no rush to make such a major financial decision. Do not rush into this process without asking yourself what the end game will be. It will cost you more later to change your mind. So make a list of important must haves and a separate list of minor haves. When you meet with your architect it will allow for a great start to communicating your home improvement project.

Selection

 Photo by Jenny Kennedy-Olsen 

Prior to hiring an architect, have them come to your home to discuss your home improvement ideas. Find out how the architect works and discover how his/her process will make your visions a reality. Make sure you are comfortable with the architect and have a sense that he/she will work hard to make your renovation project a successful one. How are you going to find these architects to come out and talk to you? If you have a neighbor, coworker or friend worked with an architect perhaps they will recommend them to you. Ask them what they liked and did not like. If they had a negative experience it might help you in what to look for in your own search. Other great ways to seek out these professionals is to perform an internet search via Google, which provides a list of firms in your area. from there you can go directly to the architect’s website and learn so much more about them. Google is also an excellent place to read reviews from past clients. An additional site to go to is Houzz. Houzz is an excellent resource to discover architects in your area, read reviews and see their work.

Observe

Photo by everdred

Keep a mental or physical notebook documenting features you like around you. Whether you are at a friend’s house, driving around, looking through magazines or scouring the web, create a log of items you enjoy. Be prepared to share this with your architect so he/she understands your tastes and is able to reinterpret then into the design. Once again a great resource for images include Houzz and Pinterest as well.

Coordinate/Compromise

Photo by Asif Akbar

Are you a married couple? Then make sure you and your spouse see eye to eye on the direction you want your home improvement project to take. This is critical in progressing with your architect! Your architect is not necessarily a mediator or marriage counselor, but if needed he/she will help you in your decision making by offering a compromising suggestion to accommodate both ideas into a single solution. It is not unusual for this to happen and a fresh set of eyes can bring your ideas together and make everyone happy.

Ask Questions

questions faced by architects
Photo by Bob Smith

If you do not understand a decision your architect made then ask “why?” Perhaps the idea stemmed from a structural issue, or maybe it was just a whimsical idea he/she had. The architect wants your input and is happy to clarify any confusion. After all you are the one who is going to live with those decisions once the project is complete.

Scope

Photo by stefano franzin

Identify what you are going to do and stick to it. This will define the scope of the project and allow for a streamlined design process. Have a clear vision of your end goal. Do you want to add more space (an addition) or do your want more openness (alteration)? Those are to major different ideas and deciding what you need will help your architect guide you in what makes the most sense.

Dialogue

Photo by Hossein Fotowat Khah

Dialogue is probably the most important tool you have in making a healthy home improvement project successful. Always keep a steady flow of communication between you and your architect. This allows for an efficient development of your renovation plans.

End User

Photo by kevin van belle

Always remember, this is your house to live in! Make decisions based on your tastes and lifestyle. The architect will provide input with his/her  personal ideas and solutions. However, in the end it is important to express your will since your are the end user. Unsure of which way to go, then let your architect give you the pros and cons of each decision, maybe this will help in determining the proper answer.

Be Prepared

Photo by John De Boer

Be prepared because renovation is tricky! Without a doubt when a general contractor goes to open a wall he may find something totally unexpected. With years of experience an architect can make educated guesses as to what is hidden within your ceilings and walls. However, this is never a 100% guarantee. Regardless, the unknown nature of this process certainly leaves room for miscalculation, so it is important to be prepared for the possibility of a surprise or two and an associated additional cost.

Alternative Living Location

Photo by dmitry belopolsky

If this is a major renovation, you may be displaced during construction. Whether it’s because you will be without plumbing and heat or the dust and noise becomes unbearable or it is just too dangerous, plan on making alternative living arrangements during construction. This makes everyone’s life easier and safer.

Good luck with you future home improvements and I hope it is a successful one!

Are You Searching for A Cheap Architect?

The Start

When you start thinking about expanding or altering your home what is one of the first things you are going to Google search? I hope you will be searching for an architect, but what will you put in the search bar? Will it be architect nearby, residential architect, great architect, I need an architect, best architect or will you type in cheap architect? Cheap architect, what does that even mean? Perhaps the correct term would be economical architect. If you do not want to sacrifice quality, but you are looking to save some money, there are options out there.

The Easy Way Out

Some people will go right to HomeAdvisor, Thumbtack, Porch, Architects-Today, Improvenet and the list goes on and on. These potential clients seem to be looking for the path of least resistance to get a bunch of quotes (many sites sending you 4 professionals) without any work on their end. When the reality is that you are just getting random architects calling you desperate for work and perhaps their quality is not that great. When the lead comes through to the architect he/she is required to pay for it so they are most likely going to contact you. I’m not sure I understand the incentive because it would be my impression if you are reaching out solely for quotes you must be looking for a good deal or possibly a cheap architect.

The Ideal Way

I think a better approach might be to actually go on Google and search residential architects nearby and start looking at architects’ profiles, reviews, what kind of work they do. In other words do they sound like someone you are looking for. Google is not the only way to search you can go on the popular site Houzz and also do a search. Houzz also is a great resource for photos and reviews. Once you have read some profiles give the architects a call and discuss your project and if they are able to help you in an economical manner.

The Difference

Some architects have extremely high fees because they will cater to a client’s every need, which includes going to a tile store with them and helping with a kitchen design. Their construction documents, for instance, consist of an incredible amount of details down to the trim around a doorway to the hinges on the door to your closet. When they are done designing your home they will help you pick out a general contractor and then come to your project every week during construction and be your advocate. So justifiably those fees get pretty high some as much as 18% the construction cost. Do you need all of that attention to get yourself an addition to your home? Of course not.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with that approach. However, I know many people do not want that much. They do not want to spend that much money. So are they looking for a cheap architect? I hope not, because when I hear that term “cheap” I think of inferior quality or worth. It also sounds like a service lacking any redeeming qualities. I think they are looking for an economical architect. An architect who cares about his work and also is sensitive to his client’s needs and budget.

Is It Luxury?

People consider an architect a luxury item but it does not have to be that way. I worked in several design firms and took the lead role in those firms as a designer. These firms benefited from wealthy clients. This allows me to take that past knowledge and incorporate it into my current work but on a scaled down version. I always provide my clients with a high quality product, but you can be sure it will not contain a coat hook detail. My clients understand this and are happy to create these little details on their own.

If a client is creating an addition with a new kitchen I send them to a kitchen design store. After all a kitchen is such a specialized space why not go to someone who has their pulse on the most current trends. Above all an architect charging you the larger fees is taking care of this for you as well as all of the finishes. I prefer to have my clients create their own palette of finishes, either on their own or with an interior designer. Being a sole practitioner I only have so many hours in my day. Keeping each client happy is a juggling act. This is why I have this business model.

Put In The Work

In addition, a homeowner is also going to save money by supervising their own project. They will work closely with their general contractor. Of course this is not for everyone but this happen to be my business model. My clients are always able to call and ask a question. If something arises that needs my attention during construction, I am available. This service is handled on an hourly basis. So instead of an architect coming out weekly, writing up a report, noting things the contractor needs to do and charging for this service a homeowner can forego this service.

The Conclusion

I have had my practice for over 25 years. My record has proven that you can get a quality product at an economical fee. However, you are going to need to be involved. In other words less work for the architect and more work for the homeowner. Therefore, I do believe you get what you pay for, which you can read about in an old blog.

The House Addition – Your Solution to Living

Is your home falling short on providing you with the space you need to live comfortably? What can you do? Some people will start searching Zillow for a new home and will need to visit many houses taking away all of their weekends to find just the right fit, that charming neighborhood, the right price and the ideal town that makes them happy. Guess what… it might not exist! If you love your current location, then there is obviously another option! Call an architect and start talking about what you want to achieve and how you can find the proper path to getting to that final destination. Architects who specialize in house addition projects can help you discover hidden spaces and where to add more!

Identify Your Needs

This house ran out of room. Solution house addition!

First thing is to identify what you are lacking. In the photo above it was obvious that this family needed more storage space. But everyone’s circumstance is different… has your family grown and you need more bathrooms, bedrooms or do you just need that space to escape to? Are your parent aging and thinking of moving in with you? Have you always wanted a big kitchen to entertain? After all this is where everyone gathers these days. Whatever the reason an architect can help you generate a design solution.

Identify Location

Where should that house addition take place?

Where does it make sense to create this expansion of your house? There are many options depending on your existing home. For instance, is your home a ranch style (single story)? Then perhaps going up is your solution. How is that even possible? It will take some reconfiguration of your existing floor plan because now you will require a stair to get up to the second floor and a stair takes up quite a bit of room. Do you have a two story house and maybe just an attached garage with no living space above? Voila, here is an ideal spot to create some more space. Of course if you are looking to make a bigger kitchen neither of these two suggestions are ideal but maybe all it takes is opening up some rooms and add a little bit to the first floor. Or maybe you are looking for an entire new in-law suite on the first floor so it might be feasible to convert your existing garage and building a new garage. The possibilities are endless… sometimes.

Impact

So you decide on the idea of a house addition, how is this going to impact your life and what is the impact of the project? Will the location of the work displace you during construction? If so you’ll need to make alternative living plans. Does your property have room for what you want to do? There is this pesky thing called zoning ordinances that could slow you down. Setbacks, lot coverage, habitable floor area, impervious coverage are just a few items to be considered when you identify the location of the project. An architect is going to guide you through this and if you want to avoid the costly delay of seeking a variance this will be a priority in determining how the project will go forward.

Integration

Once you have determined the best plan of action then the integration of the addition to the existing house is key. It is important to understand what adjacencies are important to you and how spaces are going to flow from room to room. A typical house addition will impact one to several rooms to accommodate new circulation patterns. For instance, if you built out over your garage in a typical center hall colonial you would end up eliminating a bedroom or decreasing it in size to get a hallway to the addition. Or if you are just adding on to the rear of your house an existing room may grow or be designated as something else.

Individuality

From my experience every project is different and every client is unique in what they want to accomplish. I have been creating solutions for house additions for over twenty-five years and of course not one project is the same. Some have similarities such as a second floor addition or bi-level house may have parallel solutions but in reality they are all different as are clients’ visions.

Inspiration

Modern Yankee Builders – Great Room Addition Timelapse a great house addition in progress

I tell my clients to think about what it is they are trying to achieve by having long discussions and making a list of their priorities as well as seeking out inspirational photos of how they envision their ideal house. Great resources for photos are Google and Houzz. Take a look at this great timelapse video to see how an addition  to this home manifests itself!

Interpretation

The approach to the solution is a team effort. An architect is going to listen to your needs and interpret them to best of his/her ability. The process is a back and forth discussion. I believe a good architect doesn’t want to insist on being the final say but wants to incorporate your vision into his/her design and figure out the best way to get there in this wonderful journey! So call an architect today and see how thank can help you on an amazing house addition adventure!

What Are the Five Types of Projects Residential Architects Work On?

Residential architects work on house designs for clients. But in reality, we break these projects down into subsets to conform with the New Jersey building codes. The most desirable project is a new one or two family residential structure. Townhouses also fall into this category. These projects conform to local ordinances, such as zoning, as well as the 2015 International Residential Code New Jersey Edition. This is for architects doing work in New Jersey which is where I perform all of my service. I have to believe every architect would love to start from scratch. Creating a new house design for a client is ideal. Alas, this is not always the project that comes along.

The other project types are as follows; renovations, alterations, reconstruction and additions. Let’s define these four categories!  The following definitions are provided by residential architects’ bible: New Jersey Division of Codes and Standards in their Rehabilitation Subcode:

Renovation:

This category is for work that is generally restorative in nature such as the replacement of interior finish, trim, doors, or equipment, but renovation involves the use of different materials. There is no reconfiguration of space. The regulations (NJAC 5:23-6.3) define renovation as “the removal and replacement or covering of existing interior or exterior finish, trim, doors, windows or other materials with new materials that serve the same purpose and do not change the configuration of space. Renovation shall include the replacement of equipment or fixtures.” In general, the materials used and the methods of installation must conform to the requirements found in the materials and methods section (NJAC 5:23-6). When an architect takes on a renovation work there are two Sets of Requirements that he/she must apply: products and practices and materials and methods.

Alteration:

This category of work involves a change in the layout of interior space while other portions of the space remain without rearrangement. Alteration: “the rearrangement of any space by the construction of walls or partitions, the addition or elimination of any door or window, the extension or rearrangement of any system, the installation of any additional equipment or fixtures, and any work which affects a primary structural component.”

There is a short list of materials that may not be used, as well as products or practices which must be used when alteration work is undertaken. The materials and methods requirements also apply to alteration work. To address the possibility that the reconfiguration of space could create a safety hazard, there are some additional requirements for alteration work, which specify that the work undertaken cannot create a nonconformity with the basic requirements that did not exist before the alteration began.

This is a key issue to understand. In an alteration, the portion of the building that we work on does not need to be brought up to the standard established in the basic requirements. The basic requirements are used as a measuring stick. When you do work you can not make it less conforming. The new work will match the basic requirements that exist.

So, there are three Sets of Requirements that apply to an alteration project. These are products and practices, materials and methods, and basic requirements.

Reconstruction:

This category involves extensive work to the interior of a building, floor, or tenant space. We commonly refer to this as a “gut rehab”. Reconstruction: “any project where the extent and nature of the work is such that the work area cannot be occupied while the work is in progress and where a new certificate of occupancy is required before the work area can be reoccupied.” Reconstruction includes repair, renovation, alteration in any combination. Reconstruction does not include projects comprised only of floor finish replacement, painting or wall-papering, or the replacement of equipment or furnishings. Asbestos hazard abatement and lead hazard abatement projects are not classified as reconstruction. Occupancy of such a work area is not permitted.

A reconstruction project has a delineated work area. A reconstruction project involves an entire use, primary function space, or tenancy; projects that do not involve an entire use, primary function space, or tenancy are not reconstruction projects.

Work Area:

Where the work area is an entire use, primary function space, or tenancy, a project becomes reconstruction when two conditions are met: 1) the area where the project is taking place cannot be occupied while the work is in progress; and 2) when a new certificate of occupancy is required before the area can be reoccupied.

Repair, renovation, and alteration work that make up a reconstruction project must comply with the requirements for the applicable category of work. The entire area must comply with basic requirements. Certain reconstruction projects must also meet the supplemental requirements. These apply only when the work area for a reconstruction project exceeds a specific size. Each supplemental requirement has its own threshold of applicability.

A reconstruction project includes three of the Sets of Requirements, products and practices, materials and methods, and basic requirements. It may also include a fourth set of requirements, supplemental requirements, depending on the size of the reconstruction project, and it could include new building elements, depending on the scope of work.

Additions:

Additions comply with the provisions of the technical subcodes for new construction of the Uniform Construction Code. Work in the existing building which relates to the addition shall comply with the requirements for repair, renovation, alteration, and reconstruction, as applicable, where such work is undertaken.

There are also some requirements that apply to additions. The addition cannot extend the height or area of the building beyond the limits established by the rehab subcode.

There are times when a client comes to an Architect and requests that the basement remain. Sometimes the request is one wall of their house remain to take advantage of using the Rehabilitation Code. However, this becomes a gray area. The reality is that building on an existing foundation does not qualify as an addition or reconstruction.

Take Caution!

Caution, the foundation must be sound and is able to support any new imposed loads. Shall residential architects define this house as new construction? Structures partly removed to get around conforming to the IRC will be at the discretion of the local building department. They may consider the project new construction. Recently I worked on a project where the home had a fire. Half of the house was destroyed. Zoning decided this was new construction. The general contractor jumps though hoops to complete the project. However the building department takes a different stance! We see the project as reconstruction/addition/alteration. This project falls under the categories above. Our review will be in conformance with the Rehabilitation Code. So you just never know!

Aric Gitomer Architect LLC specializes in residential construction in all five types mentioned above and we have been creating solutions and following the codes for over thirty years.

 

If The Earth is a Rockin’ Don’t Come a Knockin’!

What does Tennessee, Nepal and the Philippines have in common this week? They are all recovering from earthquakes with the Philippines suffering the most devastation and fatalities.

Every day close to 70,000 earthquakes a day throughout the world. They are not usually mentioned because they are considered microearthquakes, which are rarely felt and register as a 2 or less on the intensity scale. Tennessee, Nepal and the Philippines all felt tremors of 3.6 to 6.4! These numbers represent the magnitude that is referred to as the Richter scale, which was developed from an earlier scale know as the Mercalli Intensity Scale which was subjective and measured intensity by actual visual impact. The Richter scale is a more quantifiable measurement.

Architects in New Jersey are always thinking of earthquakes in regards to designing structures since New Jersey is considered to be in a “B” Seismic Design Category, (categories range from A to E), according to the International Residential Code 2015, New Jersey Edition Figure R301.2(2). In accordance with Section R301.2.2 this zone exempts residential structures such as detached 1 and 2 family houses as well as townhouses from seismic design. Wait, what? My house is not designed for an earthquake? Maybe I should move to an apartment building.

Scientists are predicting a major event is imminent. New Jersey is considered overdue for a moderate earthquake of a magnitude of 5 or greater. A DEP study says intense earthquakes are likely to happen every 100 years or less. The east coast is harder to predict such an event relative to the west coast due to the geological make up of the region. In the east an earthquake’s movement is transmitted much greater distances therefore impacts a larger area. An earthquake in 1783 had a magnitude of 4.9 was located just west of New York City and as recent as 1927 Asbury Park/Long Branch had an event measuring 3.9. Luckily no one was hurt on either of these occasions but had someone been standing near a chimney it could have been a different story!

New Jersey is home to the Ramapo Fault which is an ancient crack in the earth’s crust (my daughter loves pie but we are talking about a different kind of crust here). It is the longest fault in the northeast running from Pennsylvania through New Jersey and ends up in Westchester County, New York. It even runs right through my home county of Morris! Scientists believe it is approximately 200 million years old and extends up to 9 miles deeps! Another interesting fact is that New Jersey is made up of four geological regions; the Valley and Ridge, the Coastal Plain, the Highlands and the Piedmont (home of Morris County). Going back before I was born those last two regions where connected to Africa so you could have had an exit off the Garden State Parkway take you directly to Morocco! One of the cracks that eventually made this exit just a past dream is the Ramapo Fault.

Even though New Jersey’s Residential Code does not require seismic design for certain residential structures the IBC NJ Edition which covers all the other building types will keep you safe!

So the next time you are out for a walk in the neighborhood stay clear of anyone’s brick chimney, you never know when the next big one is going to hit. If you need to have that extra protection in your house be sure to ask your architect about what features can be designed into the structure to give you a little more security.

11 Great Finished Basement Ideas

Finished basement ideas – the concept

Is your home running out of space? Are your little ones leaving their toys all over the house making it a hazard to walk barefoot in your own home? Are your coat closets overflowing with all different seasonal wear? Do you wish you had more usable space to make home life more joyful? Maybe the answer has been right under your nose the whole time or more precisely right under your feet. That’s right, the basement. Many people have unfinished basements in their homes and neglect to take advantage of this wonderful resource! Your basement might not be ideal due to head room or lack of natural light but it still can be turned into some functional space as long as you do not need to crouch down to walk around.

Give your local architect a call and see what he/she can come up with to give you the finished basement you deserve! Take a look at some of the wonderful uses people have come up with to increase the value of their home, get additional living space and not spend nearly as much as an addition would cost.

The Craft Area Basement Idea:

Tired of seeing your children’s art projects throughout the house? Has your kitchen table been taken over by crayons and glue? Or worse yet have you stepped on a roll of scotch tape as walking barefoot through your home? Well how about creating a designated area for your precious ones down in the basement. Kids certainly don’t need a lot of head room and that mess (well I know your little ones creations are works of art and should not be referred to as “mess”) will be out of sight when visitors show up at your door. The craft area should include a sink, table and plenty of storage areas.

The Coveted Media room:

Need to escape the noise of the house so you watch a movie without rewinding every five minutes? Are you getting frustrated as you try to watch your favorite television show as someone else is cleaning up in the kitchen? Where is a great place to view your show in complete silence? In your newly refinished basement! You can create an open area or a closed off area. This can be set up with oversized comfortable chairs and tiered seating or it can just be a simple space to escape and watch your shows.

The Exercise Room:

This is a space everyone needs! Whether you are an exercise fanatic or just like to get on a treadmill for a half hour the basement is a great place to put that exercise equipment. You don’t need to worry about the weight of the equipment because it’s sitting on a concrete subsurface. Set up a television in this space to make the time go quickly as you burn those calories.

The Spare Office:

Need a place to go do some paperwork? The basement offer large open spaces to spread out all of your paperwork and store large heavy files. It’s a quiet area of your home to concentrate on what you are ready and making it an efficient use of your time.

The Cedar Closet:

Need storage space for the winter clothes during the nice weather? What a great place to construct a cedar closet. What’s a cedar closet? It is a closet that is lined on all walls with eastern red cedar planks. The scent of the cedar deters bugs from infiltrating your clothes especially moths. In addition the oils contained within the cedar also prevent the spread of mold and mildew leaving you with a clean smelling closet for storage for years to come. And if that was enough it just smells damn good!

The Second Kitchen:

Some folks like to have a second kitchen where the real mess is made! Or they like to have a second kitchen for religious purposes. But it is a function that would not be used daily but allows for the option to go down there and take advantage of this unique use.

An Extra Family Room:

Is your home small and needing a large gathering space for your upcoming party? The basement is wide open with limited columns. You can create your own great room down there allowing for ease of movement and no walls to get in your way!

The Spare Guest Room:

This is a little trickier because you want to make sure you have a second means of egress of this room to keep your guests safe. If you have a walk-out basement locate the room on that side of the basement and construct a new opening as required by the building code. However, if it is not a walk-out then you will need to install an egress window well. In addition, this gets involved but it is certainly a viable option!

The Man Cave/She Shelter:

Want some quiet time just for yourself? A place to meditate without any interruptions? This room, for instance, is an ideal use of some of that unused basement.

The Wine Cellar:

Well it’s right in the name! Have affection for wine and want to create an area for your collection? The basement is a perfect spot. You can even design a tasting area to bring your friends to and share the love.

The Game room:

Want to bring your buddies home for an evening of card, billiards and loud bodily noises for example? Remove yourself from the other the folks living in your home so they can enjoy their evening as well. You can even set up a bar and a little kitchenette along with a spare bathroom and never need to come up again!

Check out this great time lapse video of some guys finishing a basement, it may inspire you!

In conclusion, the possibilities are endless so don’t ignore this sunken treasure. It might be just the answer to some of your spatial needs. Reach out to an architect and see what incredible ideas they can come up with for you unique needs.

What Everyone Should Know about Home Renovation (but afraid to ask?)

So you have decided your current living space is not allowing you to entertain as you would like or your family has grown and your home is becoming too small. What are your choices? You could start looking for a larger house, but you say to yourselves we like where we live. We like our neighbors, we like the school our children attend and the park down the street is where we have met all of our close friends. Therefore your only real option is to alter your home or put on an addition. So many clients know exactly what they need but to accomplish it is another story.

I visit many potential clients who initially went to a general contractor thinking I’ll go right to the builder and get this job done. What happens? The builder tells the homeowner drawings prepared by an architect will be required before he/she can even think about what you want and what it will cost! So what’s a homeowner to do… call an architect! You typically want to go to a residential architect who specializes in alterations and additions. These projects have their own unique problems and in order to solve these problems the architect will walk you through the process and get you that end result you are looking for. Many clients think they have it all figured out and then the architect comes along and offers a completely different solution that you may have not even considered. A typical scenario is a homeowner requesting an addition off to the side not anticipating all the disruption it may cause and the reconfiguration of rooms. An architect has a keen sense of spatial relationships and how to create appropriate adjacencies of rooms. The architect will ask key questions making you think harder about what you want to accomplish and how to reach that goal. He/she may point out things that you had not considered initially that would create minimal impact and make your home so much more livable!

Are you on a budget? Have you considered just creating more living space in your basement? Or how about grabbing some space out of your attic or over the garage? Should you go up or go out? Your architect will help you decide what makes the most sense.

Before you call the architect make a list of what works in your home and what does not. Create a wish list of major haves, and minor haves and make sure your significant other is on the same page in regard to what you want to achieve.

Every home and homeowner is unique; there is no typical way to do anything. If you can dream it then most likely it can be done! Communication is the most important ingredient in the process of home renovations. A good architect is going to listen to you and give input based on what you presented as your concerns and hopes. All architects are not like you see in the movies who are only concerned about their own ego and what they think is right. After all who is going to live in this house? The architect is a professional that is there for you to accomplish a home that will suit your individual needs.

When seeking out an architect to help with your next project look online at their work and what past clients have said about them. Reviews can give you insight as to how the architect works or if they are good listeners. If an architect’s website is just showing you mansions, upscale homes or commercial work and you are thinking of just opening up a couple of rooms and building a small addition that architect may not be an appropriate fit for your project.

Interested in creating an idea book to get your project started? Many clients create a file folder with images they print out from the internet or drive by homes and see elements they like and take a quick photo with their phone. Another great resource is Houzz.com where there are countless images that you can download to your own personal library at no cost. You can search anything and thousands of images will come up. And if your architect is on Houzz you can share that image library directly with them.

As you go through the process with your architect you may want to get a contractor on board after the scope of the project has been vetted to make sure you are not biting off more than you can chew. If you find you are way over budget this would be an ideal time to scale back the project. Once an architect starts creating construction documents any little change can snowball into hours of revisions to the drawings, especially if a new structural analysis is required.

When you are provided with drawings make sure you understand them. If you have questions do not hesitate to ask. The architect is there for you and he/she want a happy client in the end! Are you unsure of how big a space is? Compare it to an existing space in your home. You will have a set of existing drawings most likely drawn to the same scale as the schematics so you will be able to trace rooms or hold up two drawing and compare sizes to give you an idea of what works and what does not.

Some items to think about if you are creating an addition… will the siding match? Most likely not, so are you going to take on the expense of residing your home? Same issue applies to the roofing and while you are at it are the windows in your addition going to look funny next to your existing windows? Unexpected costs are the nature of renovation. The main reason is because you are never 100% sure of what is behind your existing walls. An architect can make a very good assumption but until thing are opened up or footings in your basement are explored… it’s like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get!

Ultimately it is a stressful task but in the end you will be in a house that will fulfill your needs and give you enjoyment for years to come.

The Kitchen Evolution

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Google Trends

According to Google Trends the search term kitchen is the most popular overall in regards to room names in your home and believe it or not garage comes in second. Where does the term “kitchen” derive from? It is pretty obvious room names such as bedroom, family room, dining room and bathroom are directly related to the activities taking place in these spaces however the term kitchen adds a little mystery. Over time this interesting room that has become the core of any house and a place for gathering may end up changing its name to the “ultimate family room”.

The word kitchen derives originally from the Latin term coquere defined as “to cook” it evolved into various terms depending on the region… cycene, kichene, cucina and then ultimately kitchen.

History

Historically the kitchen was a place to cook. The original kitchen was outdoors over an open fire and then someone came up with a masonry solution to bring the warmth and light indoors as a place to gather and eat. It wasn’t until the 12th century when people realized they could eliminate the smoke and soot by creating a chimney which is seen in castles from that period. It was during this time the kitchen did not even have a sink! This essential feature of today’s kitchen had its own room which was the scullery.

One hundred and fifty years ago (happy anniversary!) two sisters; Catharine Esther Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe (this is the same Harriet Beecher Stowe who penned the novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”) authored “The American Woman’s Home” Principle of Domestic Science and gave their own spin on the kitchen. This book gave a unique perspective on the working kitchen and its planning. It recommended specific work areas. Such as built in cupboards and shelving which we take for granted today but 150 years ago it was ingenious! It created a guide for the servantless home. As well as techniques on adapting to new inventions such as the refrigerator and stove. They created an independent stove room at the center of a home which doubled as a heat source for the home and contained the smells from cooking.

Today

Today’s kitchen has evolved into a place of gathering with large islands. Ideal for laying out food for guests as well as doubling as sitting areas. Clients of mine install music as well as media. These spaces are a virtual one stop shop for eating and living and life’s enjoyment. I do not think the bed will ever make into the kitchen. However, people have completely opened up their homes to have an uninterrupted flow. This flow goes directly to a comfortable couch for lounging in the adjacent space. It is truly the center of today’s home. Not only for the purpose of heating but for the purpose of the warmth of one’s company.

Contact AGA  to help with your next project to turn your home’s kitchen into the heart of your house!

A Drippy Topic

It’s Required!

Drip edge flashing is a required at the eave and rake edge of a shingled roof. This is mandated by the International Residential Code 2015 NJ Edition Section R905.2.8.5. Prior to this code a drip edge was not mentioned. Actually there was mention of it in the 2012 IRC. However adoption of this code did not occur in New Jersey. The drip edge could have been enforced under the general statement of Section R903 Weather Protection. This states the “assembly shall serve to protect the building or structure”. But I assume the code writers felt this was just not enough. It is quite vague. Let’s hear it for those code writers!

What’s a Drip Edge?

What is a drip edge? Its definition is as a metal flashing located at the roof edge. It that helps keep the water from infiltrating your roof edge. It can also protect the roof edge from insect damage. The importance of the drip edge is threefold it improves the efficiency of shedding the water away from building components, it assists and protects the structure in the movement caused by expansion between the roof deck and the fascia board and it gives your home a more finished appearance.

A drip edge is a non-corrosive typically 36 gauge piece of metal with angles to create a path for the water. This metal piece tucks under your shingles at the roof edge. Contractors mechanically fasten the drip edge directly to the roof deck. This conform to code requirements. Contractors do not adhere the drip edges, this is a no no. Then the underlayment goes above it. However, at the rake (the sloped side of a gable) of a roof the drip edge the installation is above the underlayment. The code specifies the required overlaps and minimum measurements for this critical piece of flashing.

In the past contractors believed by just extending out your shingles beyond the fascia would be sufficient in shedding the water away, but this is a construction myth and is a poor practice of creating a method that will fail in protecting your home.

Do you still need a drip edge if you have gutters? The answer is yes! The gutter will tuck behind the drip edge giving you maximum protection to your roof deck structure.

A cousin of the drip edge is the drip cap. Builders locate this item above your windows and exterior doors and serves in the same capacity of diverting water away from the underlying structure. The drip cap is more elusive in the code. For this piece of flashing the code does not specifically call it out as the drip edge. It lays down a general requirement of Section R703.4 Flashing. The burden falls on the window manufacturers’ instructions and the design professional. Many manufacturers have integral flashing built into their windows affording you the protection required.

The code requires flashing in many locations of your home. This insures weather tightness of your structure and protecting your wallet. Ask your architect and/or contractor to make sure your construction project is being properly flashed. In addition, let your local building official know of any of your concerns.

Structural Review of Your Home

What’s required while designing a new home or perhaps adding an addition or altering an existing house? Your architect is going to look at the organization of rooms how they flow from one space to the next and examines how this impacts the exterior. But designing the floor plans and exterior elevations is just part of the process. In addition to the design, your architect needs to consider how it’s all going to stand up.

Have you ever considered all the structural components of your home or any building for that matter? Your home is designed to support loads starting from the top of your roof and transferring them down to the ground below your basement. This is accomplished through the design of roof systems, beams, load-bearing walls, floor systems, columns, foundation walls and footings. But this is just considering the gravity loads broken down into dead and live loads. Live loads are considered temporary loads such as furniture and people whereas dead loads are static loads ones that do not change such as floor & wall finishes, building materials and mechanical equipment which create a continuous strain on the structure. Other items considered are snow loads, wind loads and seismic (earthquake-induced) forces. Analyses of such forces examine compression, tension, shear, uplift, deflection, torsion and bending of different structural elements supporting these loads.

Elements that can be found in an individual structure could be any of the following; walls, beams, columns, arches, trusses, cables, slabs, shells and more. In addition, the materials selected have their own unique properties which need to be considered when creating this analysis such as; wood, masonry, steel, aluminum, concrete and composite materials.

As an example a floor system in your home could be made up of conventional lumber such as 2×10’s or it could be a pre-engineered wood I-joist or open web floor trusses. There are advantages and disadvantages to materials such as a wood I-joist or a truss is going to span greater distances than conventional lumber given the depth of the member however an I-joist is going to burn much quicker than a 2×10. But the point is that these products have different values in terms of strength and when calculating spans and loads being imposed on these components they must be analyzed as such. The structural design of your home is an intense analysis and must be done in accordance with the requirements set forth by the building codes.

You may want to request the calculations from your architect to make sure they are actually running calculations on beams and columns as well as all the other components in your home to ensure you are safe. The local construction official is permitted to request these documents as well but I have never been asked to provide them.

The code has some prescriptive methods for structures however with large open spaces and interesting shaped roof structures it is hard to conform to the prescriptive method without doing your own calculations.

On occasion, I will get a phone call from a general contractor who has been building for years and complains about the size of a beam and he’ll say something like “I think three 2×10’s is more than sufficient for that header”. I’ll respond “did you do any calculations to come up with that solution?” and of course they have not, just their gut feeling or some general rule of thumb. I welcome them to hire a structural engineer to resolve the issue if they feel that strongly about it, but they never do. You do not want someone designing your home that is using their gut feelings or instincts to determine what is going to hold your house up!

Next time you work with an architect don’t be afraid to ask to see the structural calculations, even if you don’t know what you are looking at it’s reassuring to know they went through the process of calculating beams rather than just putting in a double 2×10 header over your window because it seems sufficient.

A Windy Topic

The Atlantic hurricane season of 2018 is almost over with the official end date of November 30th. After seeing the devastation of Michael, are you concerned about your own safety in your home? Does New Jersey concern itself with such intense wind speeds? Well yes and no. No one can predict the power of Mother Nature and mom seems to have a mind of her own in recent years. The International Residential Code 2015, New Jersey Edition contains the section R301.2.1 Wind design criteria which references wind speed charts and discusses how this impacts materials on your home. You can find your own home’s winds speed design requirements at Windspeed Website. If you are in Morris County that design is for 115 miles per hour for a house which is considered risk category II. In addition a wind speed of 115 mph is considered to be a category 3 hurricane based on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale and one can expect the following damage based on this assessment: homes with well-built frames may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes. So even though your home is built to that wind speed you may still suffer damage. The following is a breakdown of the different structures in different risk categories;

Risk Category I
Buildings and other structures that represent a low hazard to human life in the event of failure,
including but not limited to:
* Minor Storage facilities
* Screen Enclosures.
Risk Category II (your home)
* Building and other structures except those listed in Occupancy Categories, I, III, and IV
Risk Category III
Buildings and other structures that represent a substantial hazard to human life in the event of
failure, including but not limited to:
* Building and other structures with elementary school, secondary school, or day care facilities
with an occupant load greater than 250.
* Health care facilities with an occupant load greater than 250.
Risk Category IV
Buildings and other structures designated as essential facilities, including but not limited to:
* Hospitals and other health care facilities having surgery or emergency treatment facilities.
* Fire, rescue and police stations and emergency vehicle garages.
* Designated hurricane and other emergency shelters.
* Aviation control towers, air traffic control centers and emergency aircraft hangars.
* Water treatment facilities required to maintain water pressure for fire suppression.

In addition to the wind speed charts your home’s design also considers uplift resistance which is found in Section R802.11.1 Uplift resistance for exposure category B which is for regions that do not exceed 115 mph winds. This section refers to the type of connections required for your roof rafters so your roof does not blow off!

Keep in mind the IRC is designing to the minimum requirements and if your architect designs a little over the requirements your general contractor will complain and say he has never done that before! Does that make it wrong? Absolutely not but that is a financial question that only you as a homeowner needs to ultimately decide. Always remember your architect is looking out for your health, welfare and life safety. So when you decide to construct your home do not be afraid to discuss how to keep your family safe with your architect!

I Am Not Blowing Smoke Up Your… Smoke Detectors!

Every once in awhile I will go into an older home and notice the lack of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. It is a little frightening to see the absence of this minor fire prevention device that can save you and your family. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has statistic from 2009 thru 2013 which found that 3 out of every 5 home fire deaths occurred in homes without smoke detectors and 1 out of every 5 homes that had a nonfunctioning detector and almost half of those were due to disconnected batteries or dead batteries. When you hear that annoying chirping sound don’t just disconnect the wires and batteries! Replace the battery it could end up saving your life. The actual death rate per 100 is doubled for those in homes without detectors. The average death rate because of this comes in around 940/year and 510/year for homes with non-functioning devices. Some people discover their smoke detector is too close to the kitchen and will go off every time they cook. This doesn’t mean you should just disconnect it! You can relocate it or get a different type of smoke detector such as a photoelectric alarm or one with a hush button.

What do these devices actually do? There are two types of detectors; ionization and photoelectric detectors. The ionization detector has a pair of plates inside that have a constant current acting within them. When smoke infiltrates the plates it disrupts the current causing the alarm to sound. The photoelectric detector has a beam of light and when that gets interrupted it disperses the light and this activates the alarm. The photoelectric type is not as sensitive as the ionization type and is designed to go off during slow smokier, smoldering types of fires. The International Residential Code requires ionization smoke detectors to be a minimum of twenty feet from a cooking appliance and only six feet for photoelectric detectors.

Construction Codes that cover the requirements of such detectors can be found in NFPA72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code and NFPA 101 Life Safety Code which require all new single-family homes to have a smoke detector in each bedroom, outside of each sleeping area and on every level of the home. The most effective system will have all the devices interconnected so that when one sounds they all sound. This can be accomplished with battery operated wireless devices as well as hardwired devices. The code has changed in recent years allowing for technology to play its role, however, the primary source of power for these devices must come from the house wiring. In addition, you can combine smoke and carbon monoxide detectors into one combo unit as long as they are an approved device as per Underwriters Laboratories requirements UL 268 and UL 2075. The Uniform Fire Code (UFC) requires all homes that contain a fuel-fired appliance or have an attached garage, have a carbon monoxide alarm in the vicinity of the bedrooms and all rooms adjacent to such appliances.

Final notes: The United States Fire Administration (USFA) recommends for homeowners to test their detectors once a month and change your batteries once a year. In addition, once your unit is ten years old it is time to replace it. Keep your loved ones safe! I am not blowing smoke up your ***.

Do You Know Your ABC’s?… When It Comes To Fires?

 

ABC 

I’m referring to an ABC fire extinguisher. The ABC’s refer to different types of fires. There are four types of fires and are classified as A, B, C and D. Solid organic materials such as wood, paper and cloth create Class A fires. Class B fires have a liquid source such as petrol products, oils, cooking fats and paint. Class C fires involve anything with electricity and Class D involves flammable metals such as magnesium, aluminum and titanium.

The ABC Extinguisher

To compliment all these types of fires there are five different types of fire extinguishers available; water, foam, carbon dioxide, dry powder and wet chemical. The typical extinguisher you will have in your home is an ABC extinguisher which contains monoammonium phosphate which is a dry chemical and as in the name will put out A, B & C type fires. Monoammonium phosphate is also a chemical in fertilizer.

Home Fire

The most likely sources of fire in your home would be Class A, B or C. The most common home fire is cooking related. In 2016 there were approximately 364,000 reported residential fires of which 50 percent were started in the kitchen according to the National Fire Data Center. These numbers would be much higher without a fire extinguisher in your home because the fire extinguisher is able to handle many in-home events without the necessity of even calling the fire department. Fire extinguishers put out 80% of fires according to The Fire Extinguishing Trades Association and the Independent Fire Engineering and Distributors Association!

Code Compliance

Each structure, other than a seasonal rental unit, shall also be equipped with at least one portable fire extinguisher. It shall conform with rules and regulations promulgated by the Commissioner of Community Affairs. In pursuant to the “Administrative Procedure Act,” P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.) For the purposes of this section, “portable fire extinguisher” means an operable portable device, carried and operated by hand, containing an extinguishing agent that can be expelled under pressure for the purpose of suppressing or extinguishing fire, and which is: (1) rated for residential use consisting of an ABC type; (2) no larger than a 10 pound rated extinguisher; and (3) mounted within 10 feet of the kitchen area, unless otherwise permitted by the enforcing agency.

Exemption

“Seasonal rental unit” means a dwelling unit rented for a term of not more than 125 consecutive days for residential purposes by a person having a permanent residence elsewhere, but shall not include use or rental of living quarters by migrant, temporary or seasonal workers in connection with any work or place where work is being performed.

Conclusion

If I had a seasonal rental I would put a fire extinguisher in there as well, I see no reason not to! If you are working with an architect they should be including a fire extinguisher on their plans!
So now you know you ABC’s and more!

What’s Up… and How Do We Get There?

What’s up is your attic of course! The real question is how you are going to get there or what are you going to use it for. Many homes need that extra area for storage but are you telling your architect your true intensions? Are you just storing some miscellaneous items like old photos and suit cases you no longer use or is it something more substantial like a couch and a refrigerator. Do you plan to sneak off up there and hang out in the future? Some of these answers could help determine the best access to this voluminous space which is typically used to store your summer heat! In addition it will determine the proper structure required to support your ceiling and how to go about insulating it.

The International Residential Code requires access to this area to be a minimum of 22 inches by 30 inches with a headroom clearance of 30 inches. The only exception to this size is if you have some mechanical equipment in the attic, the opening must allow for removal of such, so it could be required to be larger. In addition the opening is to be located in a hallway or other “readily accessible location” in other words anywhere. But is this the way you want access to your attic? Would you prefer a pull down stair or maybe even a full stair giving you the most ease of access. If your budget and space allows for it a full stair is a great option!

What else needs to be considered when creating that opening? Well if your attic floor is insulated (in other words a non-conditioned attic) you need to consider insulating the access panel or stair. This is a quite a task given the International Energy Conservation Code requirement is as follows: R402.2.4 Access Hatches and Doors Access doors from conditioned spaces to unconditioned spaces such as attics and crawl spaces shall be weatherstripped and insulated to a level equivalent to the insulation on the surrounding surfaces. Access shall be provided to all equipment that prevents damaging or compressing the insulation. A wood-framed or equivalent baffle or retainer is required to be provided when loose-fill insulation is installed, the purpose of which is to prevent the loose-fill insulation from spilling into the living space when the attic access is opened, and to provide a permanent means of maintaining the installed R-value of the loose-fill insulation.

I have been in many homes and can safely say this is an uncommon site in older homes and even home that have been constructed within the last ten years.

I have also been discovering in many instances the requirement to make your home conform to the Energy Codes ResCheck software the attic insulation is typically R-49 (this is also the requirement for Morris County in the prescriptive method of the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code) which is 14” thick and would not allow for plywood to be placed over top of attic floor joists to create a proper storage location since the batts are not permitted to be compressed. So that being said you can create a second structure above to get a floor or you can blow in closed cell insulation giving you R-49 in about 8 inches. If this is not the route you wish to take then you can always create a conditioned attic that puts the insulation up in the rafters and allows for no worries below, however this is a costlier attic so make your choice wisely. Whatever you decide advise your architect so they can properly design your home and help you make the best use of your house.

What’s Up “Width” That?

Let’s discuss width. How often do you think about how wide something is? Maybe when you are trying on some new shoes the topic of width may come up, but other than that maybe not so much. Architects think about width daily each time we are sketching a design or considering a space planning problem. Width plays a key role in decision making. Some of these decisions are mandated by the Building Code and others are mandated by the functionality of a space. When you are considering your home alteration/addition/renovation you may want to consider some of the following areas to help your architect decide what is ideal for you and your family; hallways, doors, windows, kitchen clearances, bathroom fixture clearances. Let’s start with doorways. Are you physically fit or do you have some disability which would require you to get around your home in a wheelchair? Or you may even have friends or relatives that come to visit you with special needs. Where you might normally have a 30 to 32-inch wide door you may want to reconsider that and bump the size up to a 36-inch wide doorway. The Barrier Free building requirements do not apply to single-family homes so it is up the individual homeowner to make these decisions. Other areas such as the hallways could become 42 to 48 inches wide to accommodate any disabilities. The kitchen is also another key place of interest to ensure you have proper circulation. If you are hoping for an island you need a minimum amount of space to start out with to make it happen. The minimum clear floor space you want between cabinets is ideally 42 inches and if you plan on cooking with your spouse 48 inches would be a fabulous width to make it a comfortable situation for both of you.

The bathroom is another area to think about width. In regards to a double vanity, code requires a minimum dimension of 30 inches between sink centers but do you want to be on top of the person you are sharing the bathroom with? Same goes for a toilet; code requires 30 inches clear width fifteen inches from the center of the toilet to either side. Is this enough space for a large man looking to have a relaxing experience? I would say no.

Width dimensions are found throughout the building codes, whether it be footing width or the distance between your electrical outlets. The allowable clear widths between the balusters on your stair to the required bearing width for structural members are also items to be considered. On the outside of your home even comes into play with zoning ordinances dictating lot width. You just cannot get away from it!

Make sure your architect is “width” you through the entire design process to make sure you get it right!

Blocking is More Than a Sporting Event

To be more specific I am referring to fireblocking. The definition for fireblocking given by the International Residential Code is as follows: building materials or materials approved for use as fireblocking, (yes, the IRC uses the word in the definition- circular definition!), installed to resist the free passage of flame to other areas of the building through concealed spaces. As you dig deeper into the IRC specifically Section R302.11 Fireblocking will give a more in-depth answer in regards to this important fire safety requirement. Typically you see the fireblocking between floors, soffits, between stair stringers and floor penetrations for pipes, ducts etc. Materials allowed to stop the free passage do not need to be fireproof! Some examples are two-inch nominal lumber, one half inch gypsum wallboard (not required to be fire coded), batts of fiberglass insulation and several other materials are permitted.

Fireblocking is essentially starving a fire of oxygen and prevents it from spreading and is not a recent addition to the building codes. There are references dating back to the 1905 National Building Code at that time it was referred to as a fire stop (I am going to guess it was defined as something that stopped the fire, but these were the days before codes had a definition section). It was not until the 1990’s when the term fireblocking became the proper terminology.

I have seen many people decide to finish their basements without seeking an architect’s advice which is an acceptable approach however, some of these people bypass getting a building permit as well. This is a definite no-no! When you take the proper route your local building official comes out and does inspections to make sure you are conforming to the construction codes and keeps you safe in your home. If you have some handyman or perhaps you even personally finish the basement you may have missed some key components to the International Residential Code one of them being fireblocking! It doesn’t take much for fire to spread quickly throughout your house if you do not construct your walls soffits and stairs correctly. It can take 30 seconds to a minute for a fire to engulf your entire home! I have seen General Contractors that even ignore drawings showing the proper detail for fireblocking. Sometimes they will pop in half-inch plywood or some other material they have handy and call it a day. Guess what, this is not an approved method and your building official will catch it almost every time and have the contractor remediate and do it properly.

So if you plan on doing some home projects on your own seek some professional advice and save yourself some headaches and sleep soundly at night knowing you did the right thing in protecting your loved ones! Give your local architect a call or set up a meeting with the local building department and see what you need to do to complete your vision.

It’s Baaaaacckkkkkkk

The EPA is considering allowing for American manufacturing of asbestos products under its Significant New Use Rule (SNUR). This rule will allow manufacturers to petition for approval of asbestos-containing products through the federal government.

I think most people would have thought asbestos was banned many years ago when in fact it was not. Despite the health hazards and the knowledge that 40,000 U.S. citizens die yearly from asbestos related reasons such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, asbestos is still legal (that’s 20,000 more than die from radon/year!). Asbestos has not been produced in the United States since 2002 which means all of it has been imported. Three hundred metric tons were imported last year alone, which is equivalent to approximately 100,000 bricks! Some of the major producers include Russia and China, and China is the leading consumer. So does that mean asbestos is legal everywhere? It is not and in fact, it is banned in over 55 countries, the US happens to be one of the only developed countries that have not banned it. In the US, corporate profits outweigh the health of its citizens. The US shares the inability to ban asbestos with Russia, China, India, Brazil and Canada.

It is possible in the future, with the Significant New Use Rule, that new building products could be reintroduced into your home if the manufacturer can be persuasive enough! It’s possible.

I have read that a 2011 inventory recorded 60,000 asbestos containing products existed worldwide being produced by 600 companies. Wow!

Asbestos has been around a long time and was praised when first introduced into the building world because of its fire-retardant qualities, its insulative values as well as ease of maintenance and strength. It was first being used in building products in the mid-1800’s but it has been known to have a history going back 4,500 years where it was used in Finland to strengthen earthenware!

The American Institute of Architects responded by issuing a statement in strong opposition to SNUR, here is a snippet:

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is committed to protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Since 1857, this concern is central to all that we, as architects, do. AIA writes to raise our concern and strong opposition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed Significant New Use Rule for asbestos. The asserted goal of the proposed rule is to create a pathway to consider new uses of asbestos. The AIA opposes this goal, even if on a case by case basis, and feels the EPA should use their existing regulatory authority to establish a blanket ban on the use of asbestos. (You can read the entire statement here).

Architects will have to be extra careful when specifying any products for your home should the SNUR go into effect. It is crazy to think this is an actual concern when it is such a problem when one discovers existing asbestos in an existing building!

The Overlay Technique

One of an architect’s strongest tool is a roll of tracing paper and a marker. The simplest and quickest way to explore options is to continuously tear off pieces of tracing paper from a roll and modify the plan with each layer. Each sketch evolves a little bit more until you find the right solution. I do this for every project no matter what size. If I’m not successful initially I can always go back to a previous version I liked and try modifying it until I get it just right. Once I’ve completed this I move on to the computer and draw it up in AutoCAD create a PDF and send it off to the client for their review.

I’m Not Likin’ the Lichen

Have you looked at your roof recently? Ever notice on the north face of your home black streaks or splotchy green starburst patches happening up there? This is the natural occurrence of algae and lichen growing on your roof. Algae loves to feast on the limestone found in your asphalt fiberglass shingle. The lichen loves moisture and humidity that’s why you’ll mostly see it occurring on the north face but if you have a shady property it could be anywhere. It is quite an eyesore going on up there. According to GAF a prominent shingle manufacturer the algae is not something to worry about in regards to the integrity of your home’s roof, it just looks bad. However lichen which can end up growing on the algae (also moss and fungus) can cause early deterioration of your roof shingles. The lichen can grow all around the shingle’s granular finish which protects the shingles from the harmful UV rays produced by the sun. The lichen will eventually dislodge the granules from the shingle causing irreparable damage.

Ouch, so it sound like you should clean that stuff off, but how? GAF recommends applying an “anti-algae solution” which according to their recipe is 4 gallons of water, 1 gallon of bleach and 1 cup of tri-sodium phosphate wait approximately 15 minutes and then wash it off. Do not power wash your roof! Problem! The Sodium Tri Phosphate is some pretty nasty stuff and I believe it is not legal for use in New Jersey. I contacted a local company, Truclean, to find out about what my options are. They informed me that in New Jersey you typically find three methods for cleaning your roof; power washing which is not recommended by shingle manufacturers so that doesn’t seem like a very good option. What happens with power washing is the spray is so strong it will take those granules off which we stated earlier protects your roof from the UV. Another method is shampooing, which is basically a giant roof polisher that sprays out chemicals on to your roof and scrubs them in with a water buffing machine. I reached out to GAF to ask them if this was acceptable and again they informed me they do not recommend this method. The last method is “soft wash” which is basically applying a legal solution of chlorine bleach and water to the entire roof with a very gentle wash. The next step is totally natural which is just wait for the rain to wash it away. This way there is no worry of the granules on the roof being damaged. This application is the ARMA (Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association) approved method for cleaning your roof. According to Truclean, the Algae removal will be noticeable immediately, however, the lichen will take time to restore the roof to its original color after cleaning and could take up to a few months.

In addition to the unsightliness of your roof, if you let it go, your homeowner’s insurance could send you a notice of cancellation if you refuse to clean it! So get out there and take a look and see what’s happening on the outside of your home.

If you enjoyed this blog and previous blogs you can find other architectural related blogs on Feedspot. Check it out! AGA was just added to its “Top 100 List”.

Get Out

Have you ever thought about how many people you can have in your home for a party? How about a holiday gathering? Sleepover for the kids? Well, the International Residential Code 2015 New Jersey Edition does not limit you, so, have at it! The IBC (International Building Code) sets guidelines for other non-single family residential structures such as assembly spaces to dormitories but not for your home. By the way, dormitories are calculated at 50 square feet per person so you college kids out there in a 100 square foot dorm room that’s a limit of two people in your room to have a safe partying experience! The IBC standards help determine hall widths and door sizes however in the IRC the only requirement is a minimum of one means of egress from your home with a clear width of 32 inches measured from the face of the door to the stop, so that door ends up being 36 inches. There is also a clear height requirement of 78 inches and this door must be side-hinged and exit directly to the exterior. So don’t try and make your front door a slider or an overhead door.

So if you have a 3,750 square foot home and you decide to throw a party with 75 of your friends, (I personally do not have that many friends), that will give everyone 50 square feet to enjoy the party… right? Not exactly don’t forget to deduct out all of the furniture, walls, appliances, closets etc. In addition, the IBC differs from the IRC in regards to the direction of the door swing. When space exceeds an occupant load of over 50 the door must swing out however in your home this requirement does not exist and typically a residential dwelling unit’s front door swings in to make sure you don’t get snowed in!

How about those bedrooms? No requirements there except the additional requirement of an “emergency escape and rescue opening” which is a window with a required minimum size determined by its location (5 square feet first floor and 5.7 square feet second floor) that is considerably smaller than the required approximate 18 square foot door opening out of your house. This requirement is actually not for getting out but for firemen getting in. Funny how the code has no requirements for the door out of the bedroom to the living spaces of your home. However, if you want to get furniture in there your architect is going to give you at a minimum of a 30 inch wide door but as long as space allows you will most likely have a 32 inch wide door and for those concerned about being in a wheelchair a 36 inch door would be the appropriate choice. Stair widths, hall widths and one door exiting your house are the basic requirements for single-family residential homes in accordance with the IRC. Does this concern you? If it does be sure to go over these requirements with your architect, but typically even if the code doesn’t require it, since its deals in the minimal requirements, your architect will always be looking out for your health welfare and safety!

So get out and have a happy egress day!

Let’s Try to Be More Open

Have you ever thought about making your home “more open”? Older homes tend to have smaller compartmentalized rooms making it difficult to circulate and give the occupant a sense of claustrophobia. How can you gain space in your home or make your kitchen larger by not creating an addition? Well, the first step is to reach out to an architect to discuss your thoughts and desires. An architect can visualize the space and identify problems that may occur or inform you of the best approach.

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Zoning and Moaning

Are you thinking about adding on to your house? Building a new house? Are you going up or out? Where should you start? One of your starting points should be to consider the zoning requirements for your property.

Let’s start by giving a brief description and history of what zoning is. Zoning is the most critical approach to land use a municipality controls. In Morris County, each municipality creates its own zoning regulations. Each town’s structure of zones seems to be broken down into 25 to 35 different categories. Within these areas, the town regulates what you can build, how big and tall you can build and where on your property you can build. It is to protect your interest in your property and its value as well as create a harmonious planning to approach the town’s growth. All of these are considered for health, safety and welfare of each citizen.

The United States took the concept of zoning from Germany which initiated its own ordinances as far back as 1870. First signs of zoning appeared in the area of San Francisco in 1885 when the city banished the erections of public laundries. This approach was considered to be illegal one year later by the Supreme Court since it was prejudicial against the Chinese immigrants. Zoning spread widely throughout the U.S. in 1909 following the First National Conference on Planning and Congestion held in Washington, D.C. Topics discussed back then are still discussed today such as congestion in housing and adequate parks and playgrounds. You can click on the link and read the entire transcript!

Today when homeowners are thinking of a project they are required to have a current site plan to delineate their property lines and all features on the property and their location. This list includes the main structure, walks, decks, landscape features such as a pool, fencing and accessory structures such as a shed. With the site plan, your architect can determine the scope of the project by reviewing the local town’s ordinance and schedule of area requirements. Typically the schedule will determine the setbacks (this feature was created to protect your neighbors from a potential fire and being too close to their property as well as privacy), height requirements and lot coverage. Lot coverage is looked at in many different forms such as just for building and again for all impervious coverage such as walks, driveways, patios and decks. Generally, these are looked in terms of percentage of the lot and help with drainage quality of your property.

Height makes sense because you certainly don’t want a high rise built next to your single story home. There is certainly logic to all the madness in these verbose land ordinances but sometimes it seems oppressive to make a homeowner seek a variance for relief from the requirements when their impact is minimal. It creates a greater cost on their project as well as sacrificing a tremendous amount of time if the town’s schedule is backed up by months of other projects. You would think by this point a town could come up with a method for projects that are diminutive in nature. Especially when a home is already non-conforming and the owner’s addition doesn’t change the already pre-existing non-conformance, such as a second-floor addition over a pre-existing non-conforming first floor in terms of the required setback.

I believe town wants to work with the homeowner to get them the additional space they need and at times if the project is just too burdensome on the property they will request you to go back and redesign the project to make it more in conformance with the required regulations. But in the meantime, you are adding more time to your project.

The ordinances sometimes will have requirements buried deep and do not become evident until you submit your drawings and the Zoning Officer discovers it, such as an additional kitchen or converting your garage into living space can be frowned upon in some zones. The only way to make this happen is to apply for a variance, get in line and state your case.

So when you consider your next project ask your architect if he thinks it’s feasible or set up a meeting with your local Zoning Officer and discuss your thoughts to understand what might be a red flag.

Get Your Mind Out of the Gutter (Except for Today)

Have you ever looked up at your home’s roof edge and wondered about the history of the gutter? I am going to guess most likely not! Did you know that little feature was first being thought about way back between 1500 – 3000 B.C.E.? It started in the area we know today as Pakistan and Northwest India. At the time this was the Indus Valley. Gutters were being created out of burnt clay. It took many years to start to see more familiar features that we still see today, such as the gargoyle, that would spit or discharge the water away from a building. The London Tower, which was constructed around 1240, was the first structure to use a downspout.

When the colonist of America and started constructing homes in the 1700’s they created wood planks in a “V” shape to create their gutters. They attached them to the roof edge with wood pins or cast iron brackets.

Throughout the years gutter have been created with many materials such as; cast iron, wood, asbestos cement, UPVC, aluminum and bamboo. In the early 1900’s a metal rolling machine was invented which was the start of half round steel gutters. In the 1960’s seamless aluminum gutter machines were developed and are responsible for 70% of today’s gutters.

The popular residential gutter of today is a 5” K gutter. You would think since it is called a “K” gutter it would be shaped like a “K”. Well, you would have thought wrong. The Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association(SMACNA) has a list of 12 gutter types each corresponding to a letter. The eleventh type is K (first type is A, second B and so on) which happens to have the most decorative shape and since most people like decorative things this style became the most popular.

The function of the gutter is to collect the water from your roof during a rainfall and send it to the downspouts which ultimately carry the rainwater away from your home. The gutter and downspouts are sized based on the area of roof and rainfall intensity in the location you live. Does the International Residential Code 2015, New Jersey Edition (IRC) ensure that you have gutters on your home to protect your property? It is a little vague but the intent is there. Section R801.3 Roof Drainage discusses the requirement of a “controlled method of water disposal from roofs, that will collect and discharge roof drainage to the ground surface not less than five feet from the foundation walls”. The IRC never uses the word gutter but it’s clear that they want you to use one!

Make sure your architect sizes your gutter appropriately.

Why Do I Hear My Kids Arguing?

 

The International Residential Code 2015, New Jersey Edition does not address any sound transmission requirements as the IBC does. So if you live in a townhouse or an apartment you may get a better night’s sleep than in your single family home. There are no requirements for air borne sound to be reduced between rooms such as bathrooms, bedrooms or for sleeping areas above or adjacent to a garage. Maybe it’s a good idea to address these if you are building a new home, doing some alteration work or creating an addition. The late Surgeon General Dr. William H. Stewart once said “calling noise a nuisance is like calling smog an inconvenience; noise must be considered a hazard to the health of people everywhere.” This is the same man who initiated health warnings on cigarette boxes!

Noise is around us every day and impacts our health in a multitude of ways. Some known effects are; hearing impairment, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, annoyance and sleep disturbance. For children, noise can impact language and learning development.

How can you keep your house a little quieter for studying or sleeping? There are ways to dampen sound with softer materials such as carpeting and drapes but between rooms you would really want to address the construction of your partitions. Your typical partition in a home is a 2×4 stud wall with a single ply of ½” gypsum wallboard on each side. This partition will give you an STC (sound transmission class) of approximately 34. STC of 34, what does that mean? The following is a guide of STC Values and how they correspond to what you can hear from loud talking in an adjacent room:

STC                 Audibility from a loud speech in an adjacent room

25                   Easily understood

30                   Fairly audible

35                   Audible but not intelligible

45                   Must strain to hear

48                   Barely audible

50                   Inaudible (loud music can be faintly heard)

So that STC of 34 is not bad but it’s not going help you if your teenager decides to play music while you are trying to go to sleep! So what can you do? There are many assemblies to give you a quieter wall. Adding a 3 ½” batt of fiberglass insulation in the wall will help but only give you a value of 36 so, in reality something else must be done if you believe this is a concern for your home. Adding a resilient clip to one side under the wallboard can increase the value to 50 which also happens to be the minimum requirement between attached dwelling units. Other methods are to add layers of gypsum wallboard or create a staggered stud wall.

Another point of noise entry is going to be doors and windows. Your typical interior hollow core door units have an STC rating of approximately 24 – 27 and a solid core door can get you up to and STC value of 35. Of course, you would have to have a seal at the bottom edge to get a true separation which would be very unusual in a house. In general, the windows that AGA specifies fall between 30 and 35 depending on the configuration and type.

Floor assemblies can also be addressed if you have a room below your bedroom that you are hoping to isolate. Your architect can add features into their design to accommodate a quieter separation. Be sure to let your architect know if you have noisy kids, if someone likes to stay up later than you watching television or you have a musician in your home.

Chapter 3 Building Planning is “Enheightening”

New Jersey Architects use the International Residential Code2015 New Jersey Edition on a daily basis. It guides them in many decisions made during the design and construction document phases to get their client’s end result. Chapter 3 Building Planning is especially useful for determining many design requirements for your home. I have to believe that this chapter alone out of the other 43 chapters must have over a thousand requirements! I have not counted but I think my fellow architects would agree.

Vertical measurement by itself can probably account for hundreds. This section deals with 3/8” up to 60 feet! The following are a varied sampling of some:

3/8” is the maximum amount of difference between the smallest and largest riser height in a set of stairs.

1 ½” is the landing height below a threshold when the door swings out over the landing (8 ¼” is acceptable if the door swings in the opposite direction).

8 ¼” is the maximum riser height for a stair riser.

9 ½” is the maximum riser height for a ships ladder.

<18” is the height above the finished floor that makes glazing hazardous.

24” is the minimum height above the finished floor for a window opening that opens up to grade that is greater than 72” below. (That’s a double height requirement!)

30” – 38” is the allowable handrail height above the nosing on a stair, which also applies to a ramp surface (30” – 36” for a ships ladder)

36” is the minimum height for a guard rail at an open-sided walking surface.

6’-4” is the minimum beam height (or duct height) in a basement.

6’-6” is the minimum clear height for an egress door.

6’-8” is the minimum headroom height in a stairway (so if you can get through a 6’-6” height for a door why the need for an extra 2” for the stair?).

7’-0” is the minimum clear height for a habitable room (non-habitable rooms such as the powder room, bathroom and laundry room can be 6’-8”). They may want to rethink that bathroom height I have seen people spend an incredible amount of time in there to the point where they can claim squatter’s rights!

12’-3” is the maximum run for a stair before a landing is required (in case you were wondering if you used the maximum riser that would be 18 steps until you are required to rest)

60’-0” is covered in Table R302.2(3) Height and Exposure and Adjustment coefficients for Table R301.2(2), just in case if you thought I made that number up!

This is just a small sampling of the vertical dimensions in this 44 page long chapter and does not even consider width or thickness. I wonder why the IRC is 674 pages long. Have you been “enheightened”?

It’s Still Winter for a Few More Weeks… Stay Warm for Less!

Have an old home that you have been thinking of renovating but just can’t get around to making the decisions necessary to make that happen? Are your heating bills high and wondering how you can save a few dollars until that dream project happens? Try some of these inexpensive cost reducing tips for your old drafty home to improve the looks of your monthly energy bill;

  1. 1. Check your attic and see if it can use another layer of insulation and make sure the access panel or pull-down stair is fully insulated. Many times that access opening is neglected and you can have heat escaping up and out of your home.
  2. 2. Another popular escape route for heat is your wood burning fireplace. Are you using it or is it just there for decoration. If the latter look into methods of making it more leak proof by using something like a “fireplace draft stopper”.
  3. 3. Are you like me and enjoy a nice long hot shower? Open that bathroom door while you are showering rather than turning on your ceiling fan. This will add humidity to your home which heat loves to cling to.
  4. 4. Check your exterior wall outlets! Do you feel a draft coming through them? Easy enough to unscrew the cover plate and fill the voids with an acrylic latex or a foam sealant and then add a foam gasket to the back of the plate cover and screw back on!
  5. 5. Open up your blinds covering your southern exposure windows during the day. The natural warmth of the sun will fill your home.
  6. 6. Are your windows and doors drafty? Take a trip to Home Depot, Loews or your favorite local hardware store and see what great gaskets and air seals you can get to cut down on those drafts.
  7. 7. Do any of your rooms have fans? Flip the switch and reverse the direction of the fan to blow up at a gentle speed. This will move the warm air trapped at the ceiling down to your feet making you more comfortable without turning up the thermostat.
  8. 8. Speaking of thermostats TURN THEM DOWN if you are able to tolerate a room with a little less warmth you will save yourself some green! If you have multiple zones in your home and rooms are unused double check what setting your thermostat is at. Especially at night when you can get under a warm down blanket and sleep on some flannel sheets turn down the thermostat. You might even sleep better!
  9. 9. Bundling up! Do you have a nice pair of warm socks and a sweater? Put them on so when you do turn down that thermostat it won’t even impact your day.
  10. 10. If you have a room you spend most of your time in why not just invest in a low energy space heater to keep you comfortable without heating the whole house.

These items should hold you over until you get started on the big renovation project where you will eventually get a more energy efficient heating system, brand new insulated windows and more insulation on in those exterior walls! Just because spring starts March 20th doesn’t mean the heat gets turned off!

Should I Go Up or Out? How About Both!

Thinking of adding on to your home? Many potential clients call knowing they need more space but are not quite sure what the best approach is. This is where your architect can be a valuable instrument in deciding which direction may be appropriate for your unique situation. That’s right each client is unique and your architect should treat you as such.

Your architect will first identify your spatial needs and what makes sense in terms of adjacencies by discovering about your family and how you use your existing rooms. Your architect will discuss with you what currently works and what doesn’t in terms of circulation and interaction. Then the next step is to survey your home and property to aid in determining what makes the most sense. Do you have a large enough property that will even permit a first-floor addition? At times zoning regulations will cause hurdles for you to add on (sometimes even adding up). Are the rooms you are trying to create makes sense on a second floor? Obviously, if you are thinking of a large kitchen expansion it will be on the first floor, but how about a master bedroom suite? Are you thinking of those years down the road when those stairs might be harder to manage? Is there a budget consideration? Are you okay being displaced from your home during the construction? There are many factors to be considered and an architect is your best bet to get to the ideal end vision.

Is your existing home already two stories or maybe it’s a split level and you are trying to figure out how all three levels are going to come together to give you the ideal space. Through the design process you will see your home transform into various options of which ultimately you will need to make a decision but it will be easier to see what makes sense for your family.

Some pros of just adding on to the existing house:

Most likely you will not be displaced during construction, so minimal impact on family life during the duration of the project.

If you have an existing ranch and addition will not change your existing floor plan unless you opt to make changes to the existing rooms to open up your home or reconfigure existing rooms.

Most likely your home addition would be at the rear of your house unless you have a wide lot, therefore your house may look the same. This could be a pro or a con!

Some cons of just adding on to the existing house:

You will need to do excavation and most likely re-grading of your property.

You will lose some of your backyards and if you have a deck or patio that would need to be rebuilt.

Depending on how much you open up your existing house to the new structure will determine whether or not you need a large beam which if not sized properly will drop down into the opening.

Some pros of just adding a second floor:

You do not need to do any excavation saving you money on a new foundation, which includes footings, slab on grade, masonry foundation wall, waterproofing, regrading, etc.

Your home will get a new look!

You will almost double your space.

Some cons of just adding a second floor:

You will be displaced during construction.

Your first floor will need to be reconfigured to allow for a stair.

Of course, there is no one solution but working with your architect will most likely give the best result for your unique situation! Also, don’t forget you can always do both with a two-story addition! Call AGA and see how we can help you!

I’m Just Getting Warmed Up! – HDD

HDD, what is that? Hot Diggity Dog? Hard Disk Drive? Well, those are definitions of that acronym along with a couple dozen more but this post refers to Heating Degree Days. Heating Degree Days is a measurement that is generated from the outdoor air temperature throughout the year for a given location. Annual figures vary from approximately 20,000 in Alaska to 500 in Florida and even near 100 in Hawaii. So by those figures, you can safely assume a warmer climate is going to have a lower HDD. Morris County NJ the HDD value falls in around 6,039 according to the ResCheck software. This is the software architects use to make sure your house or addition conforms with the most current energy code and guides them as to how much insulation to provide in your floors, ceilings and walls after inputting exterior surface areas, ceiling areas, floor areas along with windows and doors. According to the US Department of Energy Heating Degree Day is calculated as follows: A unit, based upon temperature difference and time, used in estimating fuel consumption and specifying the nominal heating load of a building in winter. For any one day, when the mean temperature is less than 65 degrees there exists as many degree days as there is Fahrenheit degrees difference in temperature between the mean temperature for the day and 65 degrees. So with that in mind you can understand how Florida’s calculation is so low! Not too many days below 65 degrees and not that much need for heat. In the past 20 years, the average heating degrees days have decreased but I have got to believe after this recent cold spell that calculation has changed! If you take a look at the National Weather Service you will see that in the past week alone Newark, NJ was 147 HDD which is 14% higher than last year’s norm. Brrrrrrrr!

Top 7 Ways to Avoid Ice Dams and Their Damage

What are they?

Ice dams, you want to know how to avoid them but let’s first look at what they are! Ice dams are typically built-up areas of ice at your home’s roof edge which prevents the melting snow from draining off your roof, just like a beaver’s dam but on your roof. This dam causes havoc in your home by allowing the water to infiltrate into the interior and cause damage to your walls, ceilings and insulation which can lead to mold and other headaches. If there are no beavers on your roof how are these dams being created? Weather! Yes, actually it is related to the exterior temperature and the differences in temperature between the edge of your roof and the roof’s upper portion.

A temperature difference can make quite an impact. If the temperature outside is 32 degrees or below and you have snow on your roof watch out. If warm interior air leaks to the upper portion of your roof to start to melt the snow and the lower portion down by your eave is 32 degrees or lower that melted snow ends up becoming ice at the edge causing the start of an ice dam and eventually builds up enough to give you problems. The area above the ice stays in the state of melted snow (water) and will find ways to sneak into your home.

Where are they?

In an existing home, you can identify areas of potential trouble by looking at your roof after a snowstorm. Identify areas that are melting faster than the eave. This is most likely an area where heat is escaping into the attic causing a more rapid melt than at the eave. The goal is to create a uniform temperature throughout your attic.

The 7 techniques…

  1. Provide a properly vented attic. This is enforced in New Jersey by the International Residential Code 2015 and you should make sure your general contractor pays close attention to it. In addition make sure your architect notes them on his/her drawings.
  2. Make sure you have enough insulation in your attic! If you have room to exceed the minimum do so. The prescriptive package in accordance with the International Energy Conservation Code requires R-49 in attics for homes in North Jersey. However using a software called ResCheck can cut this number down by adding insulation elsewhere to help you save money but may end up costing you more down the road in repairs.
  3. Exhausts from all appliances, such as dryers, hoods and bathrooms should all vent through a side wall or roof never though a soffit.
  4. All recessed lights that are penetrating into attic space shall be IC (insulation contact) fixtures which can have insulation placed right over them.
  5. All attic ductwork shall be sealed and insulated with a minimum value of R-8.
  6. Caulk and seal all penetrations such as wiring, vent pipes et al.
  7. Have an ice and water shield installed under your roof shingles in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions. Locations to be addressed are roof edges and valleys. A quality job will include all the penetrations as well! This shield does not prevent ice dams but it can help protect your home if it should occur.

If you see on your existing home that ice dams are forming the best thing to do is broom off the snow at the roof edge and try and melt the ice to allow the water to flow down and off the roof. Travelers, insurance company, recommend putting sodium chloride ice melt product in a stocking and laying it over the source of build up. I’m not 100% sold on this method but it looks like it could be a short-term remedy in a pinch.

Enjoy the winter and be careful!

Regional House Superstitions

Happy Halloween! We are all familiar with the perceived unluckiness of the number 13, (most high-rise buildings don’t even have a 13th floor), or opening an umbrella indoors so in honor of this celebrated day I researched some lesser known superstitions related to the home found throughout the world…

Belarus:

Do not clean your house when someone departs on a journey until that person arrives at their destination. I hope it’s not going to be too long of a trip those dishes could really pile up!

Belgium:

Do not sweep dirt out of your home (you may be sweeping out luck).

China:

One of the most important features of a home for the superstitious Chinese is the entrance way. Any objects in front of the homes entrance such as a tree for example are said to block the entrance of Chi, or positive energy, into the home.

Another important feature is an entrance way on the homes left side with a curved path leading up to it as straight paths are believed to lead evil spirits directly into the home.

Homes with a backdoor directly in line with the front door are bad luck.

Another avoidable feature is staircases that lead right out the front door. It is said that residents will have their fortunes go down the staircase and right out the front door if this is the home layout they live in, especially if an upstairs room has its door open directly in front of the staircase.

Twisting staircases are also unfavorable because they are said to cause Chi to spin, resulting in the creation of negative energy.

A property with its front facing north is bad luck.

Unlucky house Numbers are one that contains the following values; 0, 4, 5 and 6.

Croatia:

In the same room do not open two opposing windows at the same time.

Greece:

The pomegranate is a symbol of happy times, fertility and prosperity in Greek folklore, and in some parts of Greece people take a pomegranate with them when they visit people on New Year’s Eve and smash it on the threshold, so that the household will have good luck and prosperity in the coming year. I do believe this would stain my bluestone and would be quite upset!

No Greek home would be complete without at least one cactus positioned somewhere near the front entrance. In a big ‘feta’ can or garden pot, a cactus with its thorny spikes, takes its place proudly warding off the evil eye from the property. (Opposite of how the Hungarians feel!).

Hungary:

Do not have a cactus as a house plant it is unlucky. (See Greece if you like cacti)

Iceland:

It’s good to move on a rainy day.

India:

If somebody is leaving home for the day’s work and you sneeze thrice, it’s a bad omen.

Italy:

A bird entering your house is bad luck. I think that’s a no brainer!

Japan:

Do not clean your house on New Year’s Day however if you clean your bathroom on any other given day you will have a beautiful baby!

Latin Countries:

A full glass of water placed behind the door absorbs bad spirits.

Mexico:

Don’t have the foot of your bed point toward the door or you’ll welcome in death.

If an owl visits you at home is an indicator there is someone trying to do you harm.

Middle East:

Choose which step to enter a home with very carefully! It is believed that entering a new home with the right foot brings good luck and blesses the new premises; whereas bathrooms should be entered using the left foot or else bad things will happen to you.

Arabs believe finding a beetle roaming around the house is a sign that guests are coming.

Native Americans:

Burning or smudging sage is a popular method for clearing out negative energy and protecting a home from evil spirits.

Philipines:

If black ants frequent your home you’ll come into wealth.

Portugal:

Spilling wine on the table is lucky and you will have a happy house.

Russia:

Do not shake hands over a threshold when you visit someone and they open the door, even if your emotions overtake you, you should enter first and only then offer your hand or embrace the host. You must not shake hands, hug or kiss them over a threshold – you may disturb a house spirit that lives over it, which could create problems for you afterward.

Whistling in a house could bring misfortune to that household.

South Korea:

If your child loses a tooth, it must be tossed onto the roof. I guess those young Koreans are not being visited by the tooth fairy!

Spain:

Leaving your bedroom windows open on November 1st can bring bad luck, as the souls of the dead roam free that day.

Sweden:

Leaving your keys on a table is bad luck!

Turkey:

When constructing a new home a sheep is sacrificed in the foundation to bring good luck.

United States:

If a swarm of bees land on your house it will soon burn down.It’s quite common in the US to see homes in the south painted blue – porch ceilings, fences and shutters, doors and windows, etc. Tradition holds that spirits cannot cross water, so painting a home blue is a symbolic way to keep evil spirits away. Besides, the blue color is supposed to trick mosquitoes and other insects into leaving, as it looks like the sky. On a side note the original blue paint was a pigment mixed with lime which actually did keep those nasty insects away!

Ukraine:

When you build a new house send a cat in first before any other occupant to please the spirits.

Enjoy your day knowing you have already done many of these things and you are still here able to read my blog!

Can you Read Your Construction Documents?

 

Are you having an architect prepare construction documents for your house renovation/addition/alteration? Your architect’s drawing will have a certain order to them as well as many symbols and line types as well as abbreviations and hatches. The following are some quick tips on reviewing and understanding the documents.

The Drawing Order:

The First Drawing

The first drawing in the set will have all the building data information which includes the square footage of existing and new. It will also have the volume calculation of your project. This is provided for the town to calculate your permit costs. Other key data includes Construction Codes that have been followed to create the documents as well as construction type

A drawing list will be on the first page to help you navigate the set.

General notes, which speaks for itself, which gives your general contractor some guidelines.

Depending on the scope of your project some of the following items could also appear on the first sheet; site plan which will show an overall plan of your property as well as the structure and how any addition is impacting the site by delineating the distances from front, side and rear yards which are dictated by local zoning regulations, demolition plans can be present to indicate what existing structure and utilities are being removed.

The Second Drawing

There is some debate out there as to what comes next but traditionally for my office it is the foundation plan. My drawings start from the ground (in this case below the ground) up. This is your basement plan or crawlspace depending on what route you go (https://www.aricgitomerarchitect.com/watch-your-footing/)

These drawing will typically have foundation details as well and structural notes.

The Following Drawings

The set follows with the floor plans, details, sections and elevations.

The Final Drawing

The last drawing in my typical set is the MPE which is your mechanical/plumbing/electrical drawing showing lighting and outlets as well as general notes regarding mechanical/plumbing/electrical work.

If your job is large enough and complicated a set of structural drawings maybe found towards the back of the set as well. But many times the structural information can be found directly on the floor plans.

Symbols/Hatches and More

Each set of drawing has many components to help the reader understand and navigate the project. The following is an abbreviated list of what you may find:

Section symbols and call-outs are a standard navigational tool architects use. This is basically a circle that is divided in 2 with a line and has a number or letter in the top half referring to the actual detail number and the bottom has the sheet number this detail is found. Sometimes these symbols also have an arrow associated with them indicating which direction the detail is drawn. You can sometimes find a symbols legend on the first drawing to guide you in understanding each symbol which could be for an interior elevation, details or a section.

Each individual drawing in a set, which could be hundreds, has a unique name and numbers (or letter) which helps you identify what you are discussing if you need to talk over the phone or communicate via email. In addition directly below the drawing name, you will find a drawing scale. The architect’s drawings are always drawn to scale (even though a general contractor is not permitted to scale a drawing – written dimensions rule!). This scale varies but typically a floor plan is drawn at ¼” = 1’-0” and details vary depending on the complexity and how much information needs to be conveyed. Architects use a triangular scale which has 6 different scales on it!

Lines types also vary throughout the drawings and depending on what drawing you are viewing the same line type may have a different purpose. For instance a hidden line (which is a dashed line) shown on a demolition plan will indicate an item removed, on a foundation plan it will typically refer to the footings, on the floor plan that hidden line could be referring to something above such as a soffit and on the elevation it could be indicating something behind. The architect will typically have a note to help guide the reader. Common line types on a set of drawings are; continuous, hidden, phantom, and center line.

Hatching (shading and architects refer to this as poche) is another method for architects to help clarify what is going on. In renovation work, if you see some form of hatching on a floor plan you can assume that is new work and un-hatched would be an existing condition. Typically in a foundation plan, you will see a cross hatch for new masonry walls, a speckled and free-form shaped hatch indicating concrete. Each plan will most likely have its own unique hatches indicating a typical condition. Look for the notes telling you what they are or a legend.

Dimensions are in every drawing. This is a critical component informing the user of sizes and spacing. Sometimes you will see a continuous string of dimensions or when not necessary and individual dimension may be found. In renovation work instead of cluttering up the drawings with an abundance of drawings, the architect will indicate a note align with existing. In addition, architects vary on how they dimension plans. Some will dimension to the centerline of a wall, others will dimension to the face of stud within the wall and then some will be in the camp of dimensioning to the actual finish wall surface.

Orientation is indicated on the floor plans with a north arrow which can be referred back the site plan to orient yourself to the project. Don’t assume on a set of documents that north is up.

Notes are needed to explain the details and plans. Each note has an arrow associated (unless it is a general note standing by itself) pointing to the item it is referring to aid the reader in a deeper understanding of the drawing.

Abbreviations are frequent and numerous (https://www.aricgitomerarchitect.com/omg-architects-natural-texters-not). This helps keep the drawing uncluttered. Architects use many abbreviations in their work and many are industry standards and some are made up. A set of drawings may have a legend of all the abbreviations. Some typical ones are; CMU, GWB, CONC, GALV, O.C., MIN, VIF, THK, WC and the list goes on and on! LOL

Doors are shown typically with a double thin line with an arc indicating the way the door swings and a dimension of the door are within that symbol. Some architects will indicate the size in feet and other in inches. For instance, a door could be 32×80 which is the same as 28x68 so be careful when checking door size.

This is a brief overview just to get you acquainted with the documents. There are much more components of the drawings but as you go through them you will understand them a little better and the more you review them the clearer they will be. They are created to allow the Building Official to review them and your contractor to construct your project so there will be some type of order to them and navigational tools will be there to guide them. Architects have been trained in many different offices with many different formats and styles and types that will follow an architect throughout his/her life so each individual architect’s sets may be slightly different in style and format but they are all going to get you to the ultimate result – your home!

Is your Home Weeping?

Do you own a home with a brick veneer? Did you ever notice along the bottom edge of the brick near grade you have holes? Why would the mason leave all those holes in my wall? Because brick is actually porous and since it is exposed to the elements moisture gets in behind the brick. It gets behind the brick you want it to get out! My home on the other hand which was built in the early nineties didn’t seem to get the memo! My home is not alone all the development homes I’ve seen built over 25 years ago seem to be missing this feature. So why is that? I did a little snooping and discovered New Jersey’s adopted building code back at that time was the CABO One and Two Family Dwelling Code. If you go back to the 1992 Edition there is one reference to weeps and it is not in the body of any code citing. It is actually depicted in one diagram; Figure R503.4 which is in Section R-503 Exterior Covering. Section R-503.4 Masonry veneer- general references this diagram as to how all masonry veneer structures should be constructed. The above-mentioned figure notes that weeps shall be provided at 4’-0” o.c. It does not describe what an acceptable weep is, how to construct it, where it should be located or having any type of flashing requirement behind it. Hmmm, maybe the code officials at the time just figured it was nothing to be concerned with.

Several years later New Jersey updated its enforcement to CABO 1995 Edition and guess what… the diagram on weeps got a little more detailed and actually referred back to a citing (703.7.3 Flashing & 703.7.4 Weepholes) describing it a with a little more detail. It included the information about flashing, it described the minimum size and it lessened the spacing to 33 inches on center versus the previous 48 inches on center. Many years have passed since the adoption of the CABO 1995 and New Jersey has updated four times since then. We are now using the International Residential Code 2015 NJ Edition and in all those years (over 20) that section has not changed a bit! I guess that a pretty solid endorsement of weeps being 33 inches on center! However, the Brick Institute of America thinks 24” on center is better and maybe 16” on center is even ideal. The bottom line is you want to make sure you get the moisture out of the wall to the exterior before it gets on the inside of your home. If this happens your wall will be the only one weeping!

Parging My Appearance

Have you ever taken a look at the foundation of your home where the siding ends and the earth starts? A typical foundation in this area is constructed with concrete masonry units. A mason will make that above grade exposed blockwork look good by parging it. Parging is the act of creating a covering on a vertical surface. The word parging derives from pargeting which is a technique for waterproofing or decorative plastering to a building’s walls dating back to the 16th century. However, it may have started way before then and lost favor.

The ideal parging for your foundation will be a mortar based product typically “Type N” or “Type S” mortar. Type N is a general purpose mortar and can be used above grade and Type S is a stronger product and typically used below grade. The mason will clean the wall thoroughly prior to painting on a bonding agent and then will trowel on two coats of mortar. He will wait for the first coat to cure prior to applying the second coat. Each coat is required to be 1/8 inch thick but a 1/4 inch per coat is recommended.

Not only does the parging enhance the look of your foundation it will fill any voids created during erection as well as create a weather barrier from rain and snow. It is not a dampproofing product but it does inherently give you some protection. You do not typically want to paint the parged surface because paint can crack and moisture could get in and have trouble getting out. This trapped moisture can give you problems over time. This trapped moisture could end up creating structural damage to your home’s foundation. If are going to coat with something be sure to understand the properties of the product you intend to use and how weather can impact it.

In addition, the masonry wall below grade shall be parged and then the contractor is required to provide waterproofing or dampproofing as per The International Residential Code Section R406. The type of “proofing” required will be determined by whether or not groundwater is present on your property. So this should cover your bases!

An Architect’s Favorite Tool

What I use most in my practice is the pencil. It is great for creating quick layouts and easily erasable. As I work through my plans and elevations the pencil gives the most flexibility and freedom to change and manipulate my schemes. I prefer the 2B pencil which gives me the ability to lay down a dark line or a light line and shade easily. What is the history of this great tool?

First, let’s start out with why is it called a lead pencil? Is there lead in there? Should I be worried about any little ones putting it in their mouths? Rest at ease no lead is used in your pencil it is actually a mixture of finely ground graphite and clay, so why “lead” pencil? The original writing instrument goes way back to ancient Rome when scribes would use a stylus formed from lead to writing on papyrus. The soft metal would rub off on the writing surface.

In the 1560’s shepherds discovered a black substance on the roots of an uprooted tree following a storm. They found this substance ideal for marking their sheep. This substance turned out to be graphite, which is a crystallized form of carbon and was referred to lead because of its similar appearance. It became a very popular writing substance due to its versatility of ease of erasing as well as the ability to draw over it with ink. I do this as well, if I sketch something out I will then go over it with a marker to create a crisp bold image.

1662 was the year pencils finally started mass production as a graphite stick encased in wood. Prior to this string was the preferred encasement. Pencil companies that followed soon after are still in existence today such as Faber-Castell and Steadtler.

The word pencil derives from the Latin word penicillus which means small tail or a fine brush and old French pincel. Some fun facts that I have gathered from the web are; an average pencil can draw a line 35 miles long and before the eraser was developed people used bread crumbs to erase. That drawing was toast if it ever saw bread! 15 t 20 billion pencils are made each year and half of them come from China. The longest pencil in the world happens to be a colored pencil and is 1,509 ft 1.05 inch long. Check out the video here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=cIj6LjQIDC0

The following link is to the largest pencil weighing in at 18,000 pounds making it very difficult to draw with!

https://vimeo.com/64984221

I prefer the weight of my pencil to be under a third of an ounce. So the next time you pick up your pencil realize that if it were not for some sheep herders you may have been picking up something else!

 

The Survey

After you have decided to take on a project whether it is an addition or a new house, what is one of the first things you need to help guide you in your decisions? The survey! What’s a survey and how do I get one? The type of survey you will need is a boundary survey that includes all current improvements and the actual boundary lines of your property. The survey graphically maps out all of the features of the property in question. It can include fences, driveways, walks, easements, utilities and structures on the property as it exists. In New Jersey, this service must be performed by a licensed Professional Land Surveyor. According to the New Jersey Society of Professional Land Surveyors to obtain a license an individual must have a four-year college degree in surveying, three years or more of practical experience, and pass a 16 hour written examination administered by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. Once licensed, the Professional Land Surveyor must obtain 24 hours of continuing education credits every two years to maintain active status. Those are some serious qualifications! I think this justifies the cost which can be in the range of $1,500.00.

Your architect will use this drawing prepared by the Land Surveyor to determine what can and cannot be done on your property without seeking a variance. Your architect will look up your property’s zone and the corresponding restrictions unique to that zone within your community. Townships typically have a zoning schedule indicating various restrictions such as; front/rear/side yard setbacks, building height, minimum lot size, required frontage, allowable building coverage, impervious coverage and the list goes on depending on each communities standards. With this information the architect can set your workable footprint and work within those limits to create your addition or new home. Many people always think it’s no problem to just put a second floor on their house, but zoning-wise that is not necessarily the case. Your existing home could be non-conforming thus you would need to seek a variance to continue with that not conformity upwards.

If people have the time and don’t mind taking the gamble they can go forward with a design that does not conform to the zoning restrictions. It’s just a costlier and more time consuming process until you stick your shovel in the ground. Locally, I was told they rarely (like never) deny an applicant of a request. But you still need to go through the entire process, which includes notifying your neighbors (hopefully you don’t have any neighbors that dislike you), pay miscellaneous fees, submit proper documents, prepare construction drawings and plea your case to the Zoning Board of Adjustments.

Whether you decide to conform or not you need that survey completed to know what you are getting yourself into. So before you get started with your next project make sure you have a current survey of your property or dig into your files and look for an old one and see if it will do the trick.

Top 10 Hacks Architects Can Use Daily

Architects are just like everyone else. They love a shortcut or a trick to have in their tool belt to help complete a task, whether on the fly or in the office. Take a look at some popular methods architects use daily…

1.Use of the architect’s triangular scale is not just for measuring objects that are drawn at different scales, which is the intended purpose of this wonderful tool. It gives you the inherent ability to easily ascertain measurement of 6 different scales. In addition, to this required possession of an architect, it is also used to cleanly and quickly rip off a sheet of tracing paper from its roll which is also referred to as bumwad by all my fellow architects. Why bumwad? Well that’s right it happens to look just like another roll of paper, (which is softer), that appears to look very similar but bumwad comes in varying lengths.

2.Another great use of the triangular scale is to divide a space into equal parts. Let’s say you have a drawing of a room that is 10’-7” and you want to divide it into 5 equal areas, sure it is a little bit over 2 feet for each section. But if you want your sketch a little more accurate, just lay your scale at an angle so that 0 is at one end and an easily divided unit of 5 is on the other and tick off your division marks!

3.Same trick as number two but your scale was misplaced on your messy desk… grab a rubber band tick off five equal division and stretch it out over the plan and tick a way.

4.Overlays! That bumwad is such a critical resource as you brainstorm through your designs. Constantly layering sheets of tracing paper to finally get at that perfect plan that will make your client happy! (of course this is for architects that still draw by hand!)

5.Know your math. My favorite number to know is 43,560… this is the number you divide into the square footage of your property to determine how many acres you are working with. (https://www.aricgitomerarchitect.com/do-you-measure-up/). In addition my favorite decimal numbers to know are; .125, .25, .375, .5, .625, .75 and .875! Those are the decimal equivalents to 1/8, ¼, 3/8, ½, 5/8, ¾ and 7/8. We use them every day!

6.Are you ever in a large space, and in awe, and wonder “how big is this room?” Architects do it all the time and they look for a unit of measure in the ceiling to make a quick calculation. For instance if the ceiling is made up of ceiling tiles you can typically assume they are 2ft x 4ft or a 2ft x 2ft ceiling tiles and quickly count the tiles and come up with a fairly accurate room size! Knowing your body parts also gives you the ability to do some rough measurements. Whether it is your stride, your foot size or the span of your arms!

7.Some other measurement tricks to know is to take advantage of items you have handy such as an 8 ½” x 11” sheet of paper. At ¼” = 1’ – 0” that comes out to 34 feet by 44 feet. Or a dollar bill at 1/8” scale is equivalent to 49 feet by 21 feet. One architect told me he carried around an index card with fingertip to fingertip spread-eagled, thumb tip to index fingertip, height, stride length, elbow to middle finger tip and a few other! Many architects use grid pads that are divided into ¼ inch segments making them great for drawing sketches to scale as well as creating in the field plans!

8.How about the height of a building? Architects will look for key elements that will help calculate the height. Some easy ones to detect are buildings constructed with a brick veneer or a concrete masonry unit. A typical brick will be 8” every three courses and a cmu will typically be 2 feet every three courses. Count away! Even siding will be easily counted once you know the weathered exposure. Back in the day, before my laser and spike gadgets, I would photograph the exterior and back at the office would count the courses! That’s 40 courses below…

9.Architects also try to create foundations in length that end in 0”, 4” or 8” because this will create a full or half course of concrete masonry unit making it easy for the mason. However, it seems whenever I do my additions on existing houses, this never seems to work out!

10.In regards to elevations a site engineer’s drawings will usually indicate feet and inches into a decimal number such as; first floor elevation 232.33’ a simple way to convert this from your existing feet and inch dimensions is to multiply the inch component by .0833333. So for instance a 4” measurement x .083333333 will come out to .33. This makes sense since 1/3 of a foot is four inches! And of course if you want to convert it the other way decimal to inches simply divide by .08333333. You might ask why is a surveyor creating all this work for architects? Well it is certainly easier for them to do their mathematical calculations. I hold no grudges against these people.

If you like these “hacks” please feel free to share on social media and if you have some of your own that you want others to know about send me an email and I’ll add them to the list!

The Hidden Secrets of the Term Square Footage

I always find it amusing when someone needs to know what the square footage of a home is. I would think if you are in the house and it suits your needs it’s big enough. However, some people just don’t think like that. They need to know the square footage before they purchase. Do they really even know what that number means? If someone told you their home is 3,200 square feet and you know your home is 3,300 square feet, does that mean your home actually has 100 more square feet more of living space? I can assure you that the actual living space is not dependent upon that figure that people throw around loosely. Are you scratching your head and asking how can that be?

There are a couple of major factors that could impact the computation of the area of your home. The exterior finish of your home and how many outside corners your home has or maybe the size of your foyer and stair could also greatly impact the calculation. How does the exterior finish matter? The area of a house is measured to the outside face of the exterior finish. So if your home is constructed with 2×6 wall construction and you have ½” wall sheathing and 1” of airspace and then a 4” depth of brick veneer you have a wall that is approximately 11 ½” thick versus let’s say a home with 2×4 wall construction with ½” sheathing and 1” of rigid insulation and then vinyl siding your wall thickness comes in around 5 ¾”. That is almost a 6” difference included in your calculation. Considering this fact, if two homes where each 60 feet x 30 feet the area equals 1,800 square feet. But now consider the interior area of the home. The area you actually live in the difference between the two homes of different construction comes in at about an 87 square foot difference. Then multiply that by 2 for a two story home both equal size on the perimeter and one ends up with approximately 150 more area (that’s equivalent to a 12’-0” x 12’-6” rooms!). In addition, (no pun intended), let’s say someone has a large two story space in that same shell of a structure, well then obviously you are going to have a substantial difference in interior floor area.

In New Jersey, architects calculate the gross square footage based on the exterior face of the wall and from that number the architect can generate the volume of the structure which will dictate the cost of the permit for construction. So when you ask your architect to design you a 4,000 square foot home or you see a figure on the construction documents be aware that this is not the actual living space you are getting.

Houses may seem larger if they are an open floor plan and have higher than average ceilings which will give a more voluminous feel. So my advice to you is to not get hung up on the square footage of a home but to be more concerned about how the house makes you feel. Do you enjoy the space, does it give you a sense of freedom or do you feel constrained and closed in? What makes you comfortable?

Bigger is not always better and bigger is not always bigger!

What’s shaking?

Did you know that there are close to 70,000 earthquakes a day throughout the world? They are not usually mentioned because they are considered microearthquakes, which are rarely felt and register as a 2 or less on the intensity scale. This scale is the Richter scale, which was developed from an earlier scale know as the Mercalli Intensity Scale which was subjective and measured intensity by the actual visual impact. The Richter scale is a more quantifiable measurement.

New Jersey is considered to be in a “B” Seismic Design Category, (categories range from A to E), according to the International Residential Code 2015, New Jersey Edition Figure R301.2(2). In accordance with Section R301.2.2 this zone exempts residential structures such as detached 1 and 2 family houses as well as townhouses from seismic design. I guess that means we are all safe! Well maybe not.

Scientists are predicting a major event is imminent. New Jersey is considered overdue for a moderate earthquake of a magnitude of 5 or greater. A DEP study says intense earthquakes are likely to happen every 100 years or less. The east coast is harder to predict such an event relative to the west coast due to the geological makeup of the region. In the east, an earthquake’s movement is transmitted much greater distances, therefore, impacts a larger area. An earthquake in 1783 had a magnitude of 4.9 was located just west of New York City and as recent as 1927 Asbury Park/Long Branch had an event measuring 3.9. Luckily no one was hurt on either of these occasions but had someone been standing near a chimney it could have been a different story!

New Jersey is home to the Ramapo Fault which is an ancient crack in the earth’s crust (my daughter loves pie but we are talking about a different kind of crust here). It is the longest fault in the northeast running from Pennsylvania through New Jersey and ends up in Westchester County, New York. It even runs right through my home county of Morris! Scientists believe it is approximately 200 million years old and extends up to 9 miles deeps! Another interesting fact is that New Jersey is made up of four geological regions; the Valley and Ridge, the Coastal Plain, the Highlands and the Piedmont (home of Morris County). Going back before I was born those last two regions were connected to Africa so you could have had an exit off the Garden State Parkway take you directly to Morocco! One of the cracks that eventually made this exit just a past dream is the Ramapo Fault.

Even though New Jersey’s Residential Code does not require seismic design for certain residential structures the IBC NJ Edition which covers all the other building types will keep you safe!

So the next time you are out for a walk in the neighborhood stay clear of anyone’s brick chimney, you never know when the next big one is going to hit.

Watch Your Footing

Many potential clients I meet with discuss their desire for an addition and in their minds, they always seem to think they will save some money by creating a crawl space under the addition. When we walk around the property it seems that about 80% of the time the rear yard slopes downward and is usually greater than three feet below the existing finished floor. Why would that matter? Well, it matters because in North Jersey the required depth for the bottom of a footing is 42”. The footing is at the base of your foundation wall and is typically a widened portion at the bottom of the wall that transfers the load over a wider area helping to avoid settling. So, in reality, the foundation wall of your addition needs to be at approximately the same level as your existing basement! So for a few more shekels, you can get yourself a nice area for additional storage or future living space. Depending on how much your property slopes could end up determining how to use this unpredicted additional space.

Why does the footing need to be so deep? It helps to prevent heaving caused by ice lensing. Most people are familiar with this phenomenon as frost heave. In the winter the soil gets very cold and frozen closer to the surface. Water is drawn from the unfrozen soil below as it is drawn upward the water turns into layers of ice which in turn force the soil particles to separate as it pushes upward. This ultimately pushes up your footing if it is not deep enough and wreaks havoc on your home. That is some strong ice! It could cause cracking in your foundation wall, as well as crack windows and pipes. So if you have your footing deep enough are you safe from ice lensing? One would think so but actually one would be wrong! Ice lensing can also occur adjacent to your foundation wall. This is known as adfreezing and can be as harmful to the foundation wall as a misplaced footing. This can be avoided also by placing a well draining granular backfill.

Three key elements must be present for adfreezing and ice lensing to occur;

  1. The soil adjacent to the foundation is vulnerable to frost such as a soil with heavy concentrates in silt and clay
  2. Water needs to be present in the earth adjacent to the structure
  3. Freeze thaw cycling adjacent to the structure.

All three elements must be present for this problem to occur.

So if you are considering that addition, a basement might sound like a great idea!

What’s the deal with Building Permits?

When you decide it’s time to do some work on your home you may not think of everything. But make sure you understand whether or not you need a building permit from your local construction department. Let’s take a look at when you may or may not need a permit to perform the work required…

Ordinary maintenance does not require a permit. What is considered “ordinary maintenance?”

Painting, wall papering, wall repair as long as it is less than 25% of the wall area in a given room (so if you are re-drywalling an entire room you need a permit!) is all considered ordinary maintenance as is exterior and interior trim, but guess what? Paneling is not considered ordinary maintenance!

Windows, doors and garage doors are all considered ordinary maintenance but have some caveats with them. The glass in the windows and doors need to conform to the building codes and window replacement cannot reduce the existing opening size of the pre-existing unit. The same rule applies if the door you are replacing is an egress door, the width cannot be reduced.

Flooring replacement also considered ordinary maintenance however roofing and siding are not unless it is less than 25% of the entire structure. Other exterior work includes gutter replacement, porch repair (as long as it is not supporting a roof structure) and window screens (you probably thought I would have forgotten about that).

If you are doing any plumbing work, make sure your plumber knows when and when it is considered ordinary work. Even if you do not need a permit you are still required to replace certain fixture with code compliant ones. Same goes for any electrical work, make sure your electrician is familiar with what is considered ordinary maintenance!

Fire and smoke detectors no permit required and many heating and cooling repairs are considered ordinary maintenance. Wow, you can do a lot of work in your home without going through the process of obtaining a permit!

So what does need a permit? Everything else!! The New Jersey Administrative Code Section 5:23-2.14 explains in details when a permit is required. The following is a brief summary for those who are not interested in reading all of it…

If you plan to construct, enlarge, repair (unless it is an ordinary maintenance repair), renovate, alter, reconstruct or demolish a structure then you need a permit. So any work you plan on hiring an architect will most likely need a permit. What do you need to obtain the permit? The New Jersey Administrative Code Section 5:23-2.15A Construction permit of a single-family residence will cover this. Basically you need a minimum of two signed a sealed sets of documents from your architect (should you decide to go the route of using a design professional – I highly recommend this!) conforming with all the plans and details conforming to the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code along with all additional applicable codes. The above-referenced section lists all the required documentation required to submit. Your architect is not required to provide all the information required. The state allows your sub-contractors to submit information. Item permitted are Plumbing plans, electrical plans and mechanical plans which may be prepared by licensed plumbers, licensed electrical contractors and mechanical contractors, respectively, in accordance with these regulations. In addition, Energy subcode compliance documentation may be submitted by your mechanical contractor.

If the work is minor the Code Official can waive some of these requirements.

After you get all the required documentation into the town they have 20 business days to review and grant the permit. If they see any deficiencies in the submission they shall notify you in writing citing the appropriate code sections they are concerned with. You shall then address those concerns with a letter or revised drawings and then the town official will have another 7 business days to review and issue your permit. Grab your hammer and get started!

So that is, in general, the “deal” regarding permits!

Do Architects Fear the Roomba?

By Chris Bartle – http://www.flickr.com/photos/13963375@N00/3533146556, CC BY 2.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11549752

The New York Times wrote a story this week about how your “Roomba May Be Mapping Your Home, Collecting Data That Could Be Sold”. Wow I love that. I am not one who typically enjoys an item in my home watching me and reporting to the world of my activities. I am always wondering what my “Alexa” is telling people about me. She seems to always be listening in.

So you may ask me, why? I would love to go to a client’s home and have some quality time with them discussing their needs, whether it be an addition or changing some rooms around, while my Roomba is cleaning up their home and gathering floor plan information at the same time. I would be so popular, the Architect who cleans your home as he discusses your future expansion! Not such a bad marketing plan. That is full service!

But seriously I am always looking for ways to cut down my time in a client’s house. On average, a 3,500 square foot home takes a good four to five hours to sketch up plans and document the existing conditions. I have managed to reduce my time on the exterior through the use of Spike by Ike. This gadget is not a robot but it allows me to snap pictures of segments of the house and when I get back to my desktop computer I am able to take the images and grab any dimension I need.

I think all architects should embrace technology which allows us to streamline our services and give a great product in an expeditious manner. We all used to use a 100 foot tape for exteriors and a 25 foot steel tape for interior work. You had to do acrobatics at times to measure in a room full of furniture and breakables and it was a two person job because you needed someone to hold one end of the tape. Now since we have a laser it has become a one person job and the time has been easily cut in half! Being a sole practitioner any tool that can eliminate a helper is a blessing!

Do I ever fear a robot taking over my job? Absolutely not! Every architect has their own unique perspective and problem solving techniques and design ideas. I find it unimaginable for a robot to take in all the data required to solve a homeowner’s unique issues. I do believe they will aide in a variety of ways, such as code compliance, zoning compliance and just all the nitty-gritty details that are important but not to the extent of imagining the end users space and formulating it for them.

I have an Architect friend that truly believes the use of the pencil (or just drawing by hand) as a tool for architects is on the way out. This is just not acceptable to me. I personally will always use some form of hand drawing in developing my design ideas. I need to feel the lead on the paper as I freestyle through the process rapidly coming up with solutions.

So for me I hope one day, in the future, to come clean your home as we discuss your expansion ideas as I sketch them out before you eyes!

What do 80% of our Homes Have in Common?

I’ll give you a hint it is on top of your house… that’s right. Many houses have some form of asphalt shingles on their roof. That’s a pretty strong showing if roofing was in a popularity contest. Asphalt shingles in general consist of two types; fiberglass shingle and organic. The shingles are similar on the surface since they both have an asphalt surface, however, the base is different. The base of organic shingles is sometimes made from a paper product and a fiberglass shingle has a fiberglass matt.

So what is the difference, which is better? They both have their unique advantages and disadvantages.

Fiberglass shingles are more fire resistant than organic shingles and they are lighter so easier to handle and therefore less expensive to install. But since they are lighter they do not hold up as well as an organic asphalt shingle, which is heavier (because they have more asphalt) and will hold up better in extremely cold winter regions. However, despite its durability, it comes with a drawback. The organic shingles are more prone to warping due to wet weather conditions because they actually absorb water! Wow for a minute there I was thinking I should go with the organic but for this region, it seems to make sense to stick to fiberglass shingles.

Not only do the roofing shingles differ in the actual composite of materials they also differ in durability and styles. These shingles are typically broken down into two types; three-tab (or strip) and architectural. Three-tab shingles are the least expensive and most likely the least popular. They don’t have much style and are used as an inexpensive way to get a new roof that may not last as long as you would like. Developers who are building spec homes may sometimes use these to cut costs. The architectural shingle is a heavier grade of roofing product giving you a more durable roof. In addition, it has style! They are dimensional giving them the look of a shake shingle which is the name for a wood shingle that has been sawn and has a unique appearance or a slate look.

So when I specify a roof shingle it is typically an architectural fiberglass shingle. Times, when that is not the case, if the roof does not have enough pitch (slope) or if the owner wants a metal roof (the other 20%). You may be wondering about the torfbær roof. Sadly I never get that request.

 

Top 11 Reasons for a Flooded Basement

Hurricane season is here again! It comes every year and this year it started June 1st and doesn’t end until November 30th. Being an annual event it may cause some concerns for homeowners. My top concern would be will I end up with an indoor swimming pool in my basement? There are many reasons for such a catastrophic event and here are my top 11 (not in any particular order):

  1. Basement location: It’s below grade (ground level) and that is where groundwater naturally occurs. Depending on your home’s location the depth of the water table could be below or even above our basement floor. Given hydrostatic pressures, this could give you troubles.
  2. Lot Grading: Is the earth around your home properly graded? Make sure the top surface of your yard slopes away from your foundation wall. If it is not, water will sit on the foundation and seep into the earth and possibly penetrate your basement walls.
  3. Foundation Drains: Typically a home has a perforated drain pipe installed adjacent to the footing of your foundation wall. If the drain was not installed properly it could become clogged and ineffective. Its main purpose is to catch water coming down the foundation wall and carry it away from your home, or to a sump pit with a pump. So if it is not doing its job you will have a problem.
  4. Clogged Gutters: Your roof catches all the rainwater coming down over your home and diverts it to the gutters. If the gutters are clogged the rainwater will come off the edge of your roof in a sheet and will drive down into the earth adjacent to your foundation. It will be too strong to be carried away by a properly graded home. Make sure you check your gutters during a storm to ensure they are working properly. In addition to flooding, this type of water saturation could erode the earth under your foundation’s footings leading to structural cracking of your foundation wall.
  5. Downspout: If the gutter is working well then make sure the downspout is also functioning and installed properly. The downspout should be piped away from your home a minimum of 10 feet from the foundation wall.
  6. Pavement: Do you have a paved driveway? Make sure it has not settled by your home’s foundation. If it has it could reverse the water to flow directly against your home’s foundation.
  7. Sewer Back-up: We don’t even want to think about this but I think it speaks for itself!
  8. Sump Pump Failure: If you have a sump pit in your basement that is equipped with a sump pump make sure it is operating properly. Also, it’s a good idea to have a battery back-up type of pump for those times when the electricity goes out.
  9. Underground Utilities: Water supply lines or even a lawn irrigation system could become penetrated and fail to cause water to keep pumping into your foundation wall without you even knowing it until it’s too late.
  10. Heavy Rain: Ground saturation is just going to get you if Mother Nature wants it to!
  11. Burst Pipe: Maybe sometime during the winter your exterior hose bib froze and you were not even aware of it. Then summer comes and someone goes to grab some water from the hose bib and for some reason you see mold growing in one of your finished rooms in the basement! It’s not until you open the wall and Voilà you discover your copper pipe has been compromised!

Radon is not your friend

Did you know the second leading cause of lung cancer is radon! It could be lurking in your house. It is actually the number one cause if you do not smoke so that puts it at the top of my list. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas which is released in rock, soil and water and takes approximately 20,000 lives annually in the U.S. It can build up in your home, whether it is new construction or old. No home is immune to the potential of radon gas exposure. Radon is colorless and odorless, so the only way to know if you have it creeping around your home is to test for it. You can check Consumer Reports for the quality of the different available test kits but in general, they run around $25.00 and long term kits are recommended (they take 90 days). They measure how many picoCuries per liter are in the air (named after French scientists Marie and Pierre Curie). A picoCurie is one trillionth of a curie and if you are interested, a curie equals the radioactivity of one gram of radium. If you find the results to be between 2 and 4 the EPA recommends remediation. The cost of remediation can run close to $2,500.00 but it’s worth it to stay healthy! You really need to test your own home even if your neighbor doesn’t have high levels because radon levels vary greatly.

Morris County is in Radon Zone 1 (the highest potential) and Essex County falls in Zone 2 (moderate potential). There are 3 zones total. Being in Zone 1 indicates the average is greater than 4.0 pCi/L. The national average is only 1.3.

You might be asking why doesn’t the building code take care of this. Well as a matter of fact it does! New Jersey Administrative Code Title 5 Community Affairs Chapter 23 Uniform Construction Code Sub Chapter 10 Radon Hazard Subcode has got you covered. If you look at Appendix 10-A you will find all the municipalities listed as Tier 1. Tier 1 is the threshold for communities required to conform to the code requirements. Also the EPA recommends the RRNC (Radon Resistant New Construction) as a guide. The items addressed in the code are briefly as follows;

Provide a continuous 6 mil. Vapor barrier with 12” overlapped seams under your basement or crawlspace concrete slabs. Under the vapor barrier should be a minimum depth of 4” crushed stone. If you have an interior pipe drain you are required to install a minimum of 3” diameter vent that pipes to the exterior. If you do not have an interior pipe drain you are required to have one 3” minimum solid vent with a “T” fitting placed in sub-slab aggregate. The vertical pipe is required to be run to the exterior.

All joints between slab and foundation walls are to be filled with non-cracking polyurethane or similar calk.

Many people have sump pits and these need to have a cover.

At the top of your foundation, the contractor is required to fill all voids in hollow masonry wall cavities. This is just a general guideline of items required.

As of today, Parsippany is not listed as Tier 1, which requires the above-referenced techniques. However surrounding areas such as Morristown, Morris Plains, Randolph and Roxbury are considered Tier 1. All of Essex County is exempt from these requirements, but it is still a smart practice to put your mind at ease and get your home tested!

A Paneful Story

 

This is a sequel to What‘s your Threshold of Pain post.

How many of you like taxes? I would guess most of you do not, but see it as a necessary evil. Did you know that in 1696 England imposed a window tax on its citizens? It did not go over well! Some people decided to brick up some of their windows to either lower their taxes or eliminate them all together. They always assumed they would go back and reglaze them at a later date. Well, they had a long wait because that tax lasted until 1845! The tax system that was put into effect was essentially two parts: a flat tax rate on your house of 2 shillings and then an additional tax for the number of windows exceeding 10. Properties with 10 to 20 windows were subject to a 4 shilling tax and for those fancy properties with over 20 windows, an 8 shilling tax was imposed. It is hard to calculate what that converts to in today’s dollar but I imagine the shilling is valued at less than ten dollars. Despite the fact it was nowhere near what you pay for your residential taxes today; people were angered and considered it a tax on light and air. France had a similar tax that lasted until 1926! Those French are always looking to outdo everyone. There were some exceptions to the tax. All cheese rooms, dairies and milk houses were exempt. I would have labeled my dining room a cheese room and my kitchen a milk house, which should have done the trick! Relabeling and repurposing room names are a topic for a future blog.

Before the tax, windows were a rare sight. Many years prior windows were just openings in an exterior wall and had shutters or animal hides to cover them when it was needed. As time went on translucent animal horns, thinly sliced marble and in the Far East paper was used as a window material. Eventually, Romans developed the glass window pane around the time of the first century. This was when windows, as we are more familiar with today started to evolve.

I hope this gives you a clear understanding as to the title of this blog!

Happy American Housing Month

Sorry for the belated greetings but I am still in the month of June! June has been declared American Housing Month by the trade association American Bankers Association(ABA). Let’s enjoy the celebration with some interesting facts about residential living. I have discovered that the U.S. Census Bureau not only performs a census every ten years but creates and carries out over 130 surveys per year. One such survey is the 2015 American Housing Survey. They surveyed approximately 133 million residential units and came up with some of the following facts:

  1. The average residential unit size is 1,500 square feet.
  2. The median space per occupant is 700 square feet.
  3. The following chart shows in thousands how many rooms a residential structure has (these numbers are approximate and do not include non-habitable spaces such as bathrooms and closets):
1 room 2,710,874 +/-22,380 2.0% +/-0.1
2 rooms 3,352,655 +/-16,678 2.5% +/-0.1
3 rooms 12,145,729 +/-29,822 9.1% +/-0.1
4 rooms 22,082,400 +/-68,846 16.6% +/-0.1
5 rooms 27,114,074 +/-71,129 20.3% +/-0.1
6 rooms 23,988,832 +/-28,065 18.0% +/-0.1
7 rooms 16,297,702 +/-36,208 12.2% +/-0.1
8 rooms 11,309,920 +/-49,890 8.5% +/-0.1
9 rooms or more 14,349,654 +/-96,621 10.8%

 

  1. The survey breaks it down a little further if you are interested in how many bathrooms and bedrooms people have (also in thousands)…
Bedrooms                                                            
None 1,179
1 15,674
2 35,774
3 53,672
4 or more 28,490
Bathrooms                                                            
At least 1 complete bathroom 134,693
1 47,496
1.5 15,926
2 40,104
2.5 16,911
3 11,755
More than 3 2,501
No complete bathroom 97
Sink and toilet present 37
Tub and toilet present 19
Sink only present 5
Tub only present 5
Toilet only present 22
No sink, bathtub, shower, or toilet present 9

 

  1. Did you notice that 1,179,000 units had no bedrooms? That reminds me of when I walked into a client’s house and two kids were sleeping on the living room floor. That was addressed in our renovation solution and I am happy to report these kids now have a room!
  2. You can calculate from the tables that in 2006 of all new single family homes constructed, 1.6% had 3 or more bathrooms as compared to 2016 which had a whopping 5%. That’s a 312% increase in toilets! No water conservation going on there. The bathroom seems to be becoming the most important room in the house. Similarly, in that same time period, 4 bedrooms or more in houses increased by 260%. I wonder how big these houses are going to be in another ten years.
  3. Curious about the Laundry Room trend in the Northeast? In that same ten year period in new home construction, the laundry rooms have been elevated in status. 156% more laundry rooms are moving up to the second floor! Way to go laundry rooms! I find that almost all of my renovation projects homeowners are very anxious to get that laundry room out of the basement and up to the second floor where all that dirty stuff is being accumulated.

The next time they put out a survey they should check out the use of the master bath spa tub versus the soaking tub. I am a firm believer that the soaking tub is going to win!

If any of these facts fascinate you be sure to go to the U.S. Census Bureau and see what other endless goodies they have.

Once again Happy American Housing Month, be sure to send your favorite house something nice.

 

 

The Hottest Place to Be

Just got back from Iceland and despite its name, it is truly a great source of heat. This little island which is approximately the size of Pennsylvania is formed at the intersection of two tectonic plates, the Eurasian and North American plates. This makes it a geological hot bed for volcanic action and geothermal energy. Because of its limited size and a population of approximately 334,000 people which is about 150,000 fewer people than living in Morris County, NJ they are able to provide 90% of its residents with heat via geothermal energy! Despite the fact that the United States produces the most energy via geothermal energy in the world, it cannot benefit the areas where most of the population lives. This geothermal activity takes place in the west and all the people live in the east.

Not only does Iceland benefit from its supply of geothermal energy it also taps into its tremendous source of water with hydropower.

This country has an endless supply of waterfalls. As you drive around the country it seems like everyone has one in their backyard! In addition to the geothermal and hydropower, they are now tapping into wind as a resource for energy. So if you want to experience a country using 100% renewable energy venture on over to Iceland and see what’s cooking. The funny thing is that heat is probably the best deal in Iceland. Power is about 40% cheaper in Iceland but watch out because everything else is through the roof! A doughnut and a cup of coffee can cost over $7.00!

Iceland is Going Green

I just returned from an incredible family trip to Iceland. We traveled the Ring Road and saw the most amazing sites such as; waterfalls, sheep grazing free, endless vistas, moss covered lava fields, lupine covered fields with majestic mountains beyond, geysers and geothermal activities I could never imagine. One item we saw during our drive was grass covered houses or Torfbær (turf house). Why would anyone put grass on their roof? Well, it was clear to me it was an easy way to create insulative value to their homes in such a brutal winter climate. In an area where it is difficult to get different building materials, it makes sense to use what is available to create a comfortable indoor environment. In addition, this method allows for a more consistent interior temperature during winter as well as summer months. This method is also referred to as “earth sheltering”. It creates a thermal mass to help maintain moderate temperatures within the structure. It is popular amongst environmentalists who are fans of passive solar energy techniques and sustainable architecture. The R-value discussed in “Warm me up” is hard to calculate for these green roofs because of moisture absorbed and depth of materials and since it is living it is constantly changing, but studies have been done showing values varying from R-17 to R-38 have been achieved.

Not only is it a great way to insulate your home, save energy and use materials indigenous to the area it makes for great photographs as well as a food source for the local sheep. If you have the time to get away I highly recommend Iceland and traveling the Ring Road!

Greenhouse gases, what can I do to help?

Did you know that residential structures emit more greenhouse gases than cars? If you combined all building types inclusive of commercial, institutional, industrial and residential you come up with almost 50% of all greenhouse gases emitted! Vehicles which always seem to get the focus of our problems only make up for approximately 10% of all greenhouse gases.

What is a greenhouse gas? It is any gas contributing to the greenhouse effect. Oh, that clears it up! Wait what is the greenhouse effect? It is actually a naturally occurring process that helps warm the earth. Then what is so bad about it? It’s not bad if we were not enhancing the effect. With the abundance of greenhouse gases being emitted, we are causing more heat to be trapped in our atmosphere than would naturally be occurring which in turn is heating up the planet.

So if you live in a home, which I assume everyone reading this does, there are simple things you can do to make an impact. Some of the obvious ones are; buy energy efficient appliances, use less hot water – wash your clothes in warm or cold water rather than hot water, turn up the thermostat in the summer a few degrees and down a few in the winter to use less energy and always turn off the lights, computers and electrical devices when not in use.

You can have a major impact by changing your light bulbs to LED bulbs. According to the EPA, there are about four billion sockets in the United States with old inefficient light bulbs. If they were all changed to LED we could save 1.5 billion dollars annually in energy costs. Not only do we get the cost savings we would prevent 17 billion pounds of annual carbon pollution. On average a car emits 6 tons of carbon pollution per year so that 17 billion is the equivalent of getting rid 1.4 million cars in the United States alone. The government required the lighting industry to make their incandescent bulbs more energy efficient but they still do not come anywhere near the lifespan and efficiency of a CFL (compact fluorescent lighting) or a LED (light-emitting diode). In general, today’s incandescent bulb will last 2,500 hours, but a CFL will last 10,000 hours and LED lasts 25,000 hours! Sounds like a one-time switch to me! So how many people does it take to change a light bulb and make a difference? One and that’s you!

Dreaming of Architecture School? The First Day

(Image taken & altered from Virginia Tech:

http://www.archdesign.vt.edu/home/images/home-1.jpg )

Ever wonder what it would have been like to have gone to architecture school? It seems like 75% of the time someone asks me what I do, their response is, really? I always thought about being an architect. What did you miss out on? What would that first day of architecture school have been like if you chose that career path? I am sure every school is completely different and each individual experience is unique, so I can only tell you about my personal experience. I attended Virginia Tech which has a rich tradition of problem solving through experimental as well as trial and error methods. You are required to do a lot of internal reflection and independent analysis in seeking your personal architectural expression by creating and inventing your own architectural problem/solution. From the very first day you begin your journey which will continue for five years of school, (five years is how long it takes to acquire a Bachelor of Architecture degree), and then carry on throughout the rest of your professional career. So what is that initial project that gets your senses prepared for this lifelong journey and does it work? The following is my personal experience as well as some memories of my peers who were kind enough to share along with some architecture schools’ professors.

On my first day all the first year architecture students are sitting at long rows of tables on stools waiting for the professor to walk in. No one has any idea what to expect. The professor finally walks in late, (I think it was intentional to build up the suspense) and hands everyone a single sheet of a heavy stock paper approximately 18 inches by 24 inches and some balsa wood sticks. We were instructed to create beautiful curves only using those two items. We all looked at each other wondering what is going on. But who were we to question such a request, so we all started manipulating the paper about the stick to create our beautiful curves.

What makes a curve beautiful? In my opinion, all curves are beautiful. Once we completed the task we had to take out our sketch books and draw the beautiful curves and then the negative space the curves formed. This was the warm up exercise to get us ready for the next critical step. We were instructed to go outside and find ourselves a nice twig (not too big) lying about on campus. Once we had the twig we had to rotate it and draw the space formed as we rotated the twig, not the twig the actual volume of space formed. The next step was to make it three dimensional with limiting your model to two sources and no glue. Quite a few people took a beating from the professor on the dimensionality of their model. Until this day I am unclear on the aspect of their criticism. Maybe they just wanted to belittle people.

That first day had an incredible influence on me because it unlocked my perception of common items and my understanding of them in different ways. The exercise gave me another dimension of appreciation for an object and how it impacts its surroundings. How did the light affect the space via highlights and shadows? What spaces did solids create? Negatives and positives coming together. Spatial relationships and how can I make a connection without any bonding agent. I think about that simple twig until this day. So for me, my introduction to architecture via the design studio was quite impactful.

 

Peers and professors memories:

For my friends who went to other schools the following is what they could remember;

I drew my hand.

I did a technical drawing of an exacto knife.

I created a guest house for an existing modernist house.

Our professor had us design a “regeneration unit” another term for a bathroom an exercise in rethinking a common place.

The prompt was when is a box not a box… we had three days to respond.

Had to drop my keys on my desk and explore the patterns.

We took a piece of famous art and made a square, rectilinear representation of it.  Then, from that, we developed a 3-d representation, in the form of a cube.

We had to read Louis Kahn’s “Between Silence and Light” then go out and photographically capture concepts within the book such as Order, Joy, Touch, Site, Wonder et al. (Grad School)

We were required to do sketches of everyday objects (10 a day) for about a week. Then chose one sketch, abstract it, and create a 3D model of the abstraction. I made a “beautiful” abstract 20oz coke bottle out of cardboard.

We had to walk for an hour through town sketching as we walked never letting the pencil leave the paper.

We were given a sheet of paper and instructed to create depth by scoring, cutting or folding.

We were asked to create a model of an object whose “differential was the resultant of a tetrahedron.”

We were called over to a large work table; the professor placed a sweet onion on it. With a grin the professor said something to the effect of, “I’ll be back in 20 minutes and we will discuss the onion and how it can teach you about architecture.”

A bag full of unshelled peanuts was emptied from a sack and then asked “what are these?”

We had to take 10 strips of paper approximately 1” x 18” each and a box of paper clips and construct a tower. No other items could be used.

We had to create a single unit into many and that many would become a new unit.

Professor walk into studio presents a box of computer cards and a bundle of piano wire and tells us to make something architectural

We created a sloped and a flat platform out of chipboard and then with just toothpicks and glue we had to create structures to support bricks.

Take a simple object and make it complex… I turned in a crumpled up piece of paper.

We were handed a hunk of heavy gage copper wire and instructed to make something beautiful.

We give a very complex multiple day project involving the manipulating of two 4”x4” cubes and their intersections to create one object. The assignment involves a two dimension (cruciform) pattern which is to be folded creating a transformation from the abstract to the concrete. Three terms considered are: superposition, twinning and interpenetration.

Students get into small groups of 5-6, and on a large piece of paper (6’ square) draw a series of concentric, freehand circles. One student begins by drawing a circle in graphite, about the size of a fist. The next student attempts to correct the imperfections in that circle by drawing one around it, also in graphite (1” bar of soft graphite). They continue on this way for a few days until the circle is about 4-5 ft. in diameter. We discuss the idea of circle, of what makes a circle, and the tension between the relative and absolute, between the idea of a thing and the forces acting on something coming into the physical world. The project is simple in that everyone knows a circle, but most haven’t spent much time thinking about them. In just a few days, large questions about the role of media, tools, drawing, ideas, geometry, history, and context have been introduced, and these are returned to throughout the year.

Design a model of visual opposites. “Begin”!!!!

We were given a Pink Pearl Eraser and sheet of sand paper. I proudly carved mine into what resembled a F-1 race car. He picked it up, laughed, and said I should consider industrial design instead of architecture. Then he announced to the studio not to do what I had done, gave me a new one, told me to start over and try harder not to make it not to replicate other objects. He also instructed me to switch from my dominant right hand to my left…

Assignment: do five translations of your hand.

We were all given an add/drop form. You know, the forms to add and drop classes from your schedule for the semester. We were asked to build a model from this form, or was it in response to this form, without using any glue or tape. If we were unable to do this, then we could fill out the form and leave.

We were either given, or told to go out and get, a bar of soap and a nail. We were told to make something for our hand.

First project was to show the difference between positive and negative, but you could not ask any questions of anyone.

We were left alone with a white onion for three hours and told to write about it.

Conclusion:

So if you thought you were going to walk in on your first day and start designing buildings you would have been sadly mistaken, but the journey they take you on to get there is magical!

 

Summer is a comin’

 

With summer approaching a lot of outdoor time is about to overtake our lives. Whether you are going to the beach, lake, mountains or just hanging in your backyard, you want to be outside enjoying the elements! But when you are home how can you seek relief from the brutal heat on those blazing sun filled days. Well, it will depend on your home’s orientation. My rear yard happens to face south, which means I have the hot sun cooking my deck all day long! Despite the fact I have a light colored deck with the belief this would have reflected the heat as opposed to a dark colored deck absorbing the heat it just is not the case! My deck gets so hot I truly believe I could fry an egg on it on those scorching days. So how am I still able to enjoy my deck? I had considered a retractable awning since those commercials make them look so great and everyone is enjoying a nice piña colada in the shade. However, when you actually take a look at the sun path for New Jersey it is never directly overhead. However, if you are in Florida it is pretty close to directly overhead! In New Jersey, the sun reaches a peak angle of about 72 degrees on June 21 (the summer solstice) and then in spring and fall, we are down to 49 degrees. So let’s say you purchase a retractable awning that projects out ten feet, at peak time in the summer you will get at most five feet of shade on your deck and when we get closer to the brutal month of august you are practically getting no shade! It does shade the exterior wall of your home so you will benefit on the inside, but don’t you want to be outside sipping that piña colada?

So what other options do you have? If you are lucky enough to have some very mature trees in the backyard they will definitely provide some relief giving you shade throughout the day as long as they are tall enough (plant early!). Another option would be to build yourself a large gazebo with a fan. The gazebo should be constructed away from your exterior wall so you can take advantage of the shade it provides throughout the day. The shade will be moving but so can you without the restraint of your home’s exterior wall! If you do not have the funds to take on this structure you can buy a temporary gazebo at a big box store and assemble it at home with quite a bit of ease. But if you want to enjoy your outdoor living in a permanent style think about building a deck with a gazebo! It will give you enjoyment throughout the years. You can go out in a rainstorm in the morning and enjoy a cup of coffee as you read the paper and then later have some of your peeps over, fire up your blender and enjoy!

7-Eleven is not just for convenience, it’s for comfort as well

According to an article written in Applied Ergonomics titled “Stairways risers and treads: acceptable and preferred dimensions”, it was discovered that the ideal riser was in fact 7.2 inches and a tread depth of 11 inches (or 12 inches). There are many rules out there to guide you in creating your treads and risers and they all seem to conflict with each other just a bit. Back in the late 1600’s Nicolas-Francois Blondel also known as “The Great Blondel” and French architect determined the ideal stair would follow the equation of 2xR + T = step length. It was determined that average step length, according to Arizona State University Extension, was 30 inches for a man and 26.4 inches for a woman. Sounds like we need his and her stairs! In 1675 this equation, created by The Great Blondel, was approved by the Royal Academy of Architecture (I am not a member because it is has been defunct for over 200 years). The Academy was a leader of influencing architectural theory and education back in the day. They determined 2R + T = 2 Paris feet was the appropriate proportion. Here we go again some strange measurement that was not covered in my previous blog “Do You Measure Up”. A “Paris Foot” going back to the Carolingian system of measurement is based on the “royal foot” coming in at approximately (in today’s measurements) 1.066 feet. Therefore according to this formula, the end product should be a touch over 25 ½ inches! So approximately 315 years later this equation still holds up. I wonder how much money and time they spent on the Applied Ergonomic study.

A stairway is a common place for injury for young and old alike. So if these are the ideal ratios, why does the IRC NJ Edition only require a maximum riser height and a minimum tread depth? According to Section R311.7.5 Stairs treads and risers, a riser can be a maximum of 8 ¼ inches and a tread depth shall not be less than 9 inches. These dimensions ironically fall pretty close to the ratio, however, the code does not maintain any requirement as such. So a riser could 8 inches and a tread 12” and bam we are not even close! I believe many states have adopted ratios and lower maximum riser dimensions; however, this is not the case for NJ. What about that 8 1/4 inch number? That is quite odd. Well, I believe the builders once again dictated the code back in the day so they could get away with just 12 risers in a house with 8 foot ceilings. However the houses I work on today rarely have 8 foot ceilings, they have grown to 9 and 10 feet. Maybe it’s time for New Jersey to add a little more safety into their residential code. Sounds like the convenience of “7-Eleven” is not so convenient!

What’s your orientation?

This seems to be a topic on many peoples’ minds… what direction does your house face? When buying a home you typically do not get to choose if the front of your house gets southern or northern exposure. You generally look for a house available in a particular town, neighborhood or near a desirable school. Many times the orientation of your home is not even considered. You walk through and look at all the possibilities of your potential purchase and you may just not even think that the driveway on the north face of your house in the winter is going to be a continuous sheet of ice or the southern exposure deck is going to be so hot in the summer with the sun blazing down on it. Some cultures, on the other hand, are very in tune with their homes orientation.

The Chinese philosophical system of Feng Shui places emphasis on energy based on living in China. This system places emphasis on positioning your front door on the south or southeast side of your home. The reasoning is because in China the north side is where sand and cold winds of Mongolia come from. In contrast, Vastu Shastra, a Hindu system of architecture, believes the front entry should be on the north face, the source of the magnetic field or the east face where you receive the good energy from the sun! The north face will draw in positive energy into the mouth, the front door, of your home. I don’t think you want to know about your home if that front door is facing southwest! Well, it happens to be the gateway for the devil bringing struggles and misfortune. Is this is your home? Don’t worry, Amazon has items to keep you safe!

What’s the ideal orientation for your home in New Jersey? I guess it depends on your preferences and how you lay out your home. If you live mostly in the back of your home and you like lots of daylight, then the back should be facing south. Do you like getting up at the crack of dawn by the morning sun? Then put your bedroom windows on the east side. Do you paint and you want a nice even light in your art studio then definitely go with the north side with large windows. Each room in your house has a unique function and uses the natural light in different ways.

In addition to the sun, you may want to consider where the prevailing winds come from to take advantage of a nice breeze through your home.

If you are looking for energy savings, then most likely you are going to want plenty of glass on the south side to absorb rays of sun throughout the cold winter days and provide a decent overhang to avoid the summer sun. That’s called passive solar! Here is a great link to more information on orientation from down under: http://www.yourhome.gov.au/passive-design/orientation.

There are many things to consider when it comes to orientation; I guess that’s why it’s in the news so much.

What’s your threshold of pain?

 

As I sit here with a bandage on my pinky toe, I realize my threshold of pain is the transition from my master bedroom to my master bath. That’s right the marble threshold between floor finishes. Why do we have those pesky thresholds also know as saddles? There are multiple reasons. They are a transition from one-floor finish to another, they protect your interior from the exterior elements, but the main reason you have one typically between the bathroom and adjacent room is that the tile in your bathroom needs a firm substrate to prevent cracking. To get that firm substrate a tile layer will install a mortar bed which is referred to as a thick-bed installation or thick-set installation. The mortar bed aids in leveling out the existing sub-floor. It reinforces the subfloor that could be subject to vibration, allows for radiant flooring if this is your chosen form of comfort as well as enables the floor to be sloped if for some reason you require a drain in your floor. So in creating this full bed, it raises up the floor from the adjacent floor finish creating the need for a transition. The tile could not just end without the threshold because not only does the threshold create the transition it protects the tile edge which is not as durable as the marble slab.

Sometimes you will see a tile layer install on a thin-set which is a more economical method of installing the tile, however, you will not benefit from the soundness of a full bed and possibly you will regret it later down the road when the tile cracks.

What else do we know about the threshold? Well, they have been using them for a long time! There is history of them going back to the time of King Solomon’s Temple, which is over 2,500 years ago! It was noted that the temple had thresholds 6 cubits wide. Go back to my blog “Do You Measure up” to discover how big that is.

Different cultures look at the doorsill in terms of symbolism. For example, the Chinese believe the sill creates a boundary between one’s property and the outside world. They also view the sill as a symbol of status. The higher your class the higher your sill height. I guess if you are physically challenged and rich you are going to have a tough time getting into your home. In the USA we have the Americans with Disabilities Act and New Jersey conforms to their own barrier free code. Of course, this does not apply to residential but the IRC does have a restriction regarding the threshold Section R311.3.1.

The threshold even inspires traditions and superstitions. We all know the groom carrying the bride over the threshold. I’ve read a couple of reasons for this, one is to bring good luck and keep away evil spirits and the other is actually the groom forcing the bride into the home to take her virginity giving the illusion that she is not too anxious. Russian and Polish cultures have similar superstitions of not greeting a visitor at the threshold and Romans always made sure to cross the threshold with their left foot.

So next time you walk through a doorway take notice of what is underfoot!

Architects love their toys

Friedrich Froebel invented the word kindergarten (garden for the children) and he also created “Froebel Gifts”. We all know about kindergarten since we have all gone there, but who knows about the Froebel Gifts? I would say most architects know! Frank Lloyd Wright received this influential toy from his mother who purchased the toy at the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia. It influenced his entire future. So what is it? They are a series of the first educational toys that were created to educate kindergartners. The influential “gift” on Frank would have been the building blocks, but other toys consisted of yarn and colorful elements. Frank was not the only one influenced by Froebel; Buckminster Fuller, the founder of the geodesic dome, also spent his fair share of playtime with the blocks. And guess what? It was not limited to architects, artists Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky managed to find pleasure in making their own creations. Albert Einstein got his kicks from an offshoot of the Froebel blocks that were created out of faux stone.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, John Lloyd, felt that by 1916 it was time for something new. After being influenced by one of his pop’s designs, The Imperial Hotel, he created Lincoln Logs. How many of you people had Lincoln Logs? I did, and loved them! This was before I had any idea what an architect was.

When you were in kindergarten do you remember those giant building blocks that were arches and rectangles and ramps? Well, those were influenced by Froebel as well. They are Pratt Unit Blocks, created by whom else… Caroline Pratt! Another influential teacher was Patty Hill who created… you guessed it the Patty Hill Blocks! Much larger blocks, making it a two child job to manipulate them. Not only did Patty create these block, she is the founder of the modern-day kindergarten. But her biggest achievement was co-composing with her sister the tune to “Happy Birthday to You”!

Many variations on these toys have followed throughout the years introducing colors and shapes. Some of the unique ones are Meccano (mechanical model building set) 1901, Tinker Toys (inspired by watching kids play with pencils and spools) 1914, and the Erector Set (metal construction) 1913. The most recent entry is the Lego 1949. The Lego has even inspired a New Jersey Architect to create an entire program of influencing young as well as old people to create structures on a grand scale. In addition, a new Legoland Discovery Center opened in the Philadelphia area just this past month! Planning my trip!

I have to admit I still love playing with blocks if the opportunity arises. I have my own arsenal of wood blocks and toys. My favorites are my Swiss made Naef toys purchased in Switzerland back in 1982. I keep them hidden so my girls don’t play with them! I hope my wife is not reading this.

Play on!

Doorways

We all go through them every day but have you ever thought about them? Doors are a welcoming element to your home and maybe one of the most important elements. A red door in the past was a symbol for a safe stop for travelers. If you go back over 3,450 years ago and your doorpost and lintel had red blood painted on it, you were spared a heinous event which corresponds to a celebration taking place this week (Passover). It seems many of us think a doorway is the safest place during an earthquake, but disappointingly it’s not.

It seems people always had doorways, even the opening to a cave would be considered a doorway! Today’s doors swing (some swing in two directions that’s a Mead door), slide, pivot, rotate, fold, and even go up and over. Sounds like a great exercise routine. The door provides an introduction to one’s home. It can provide light and ventilation. It is also there for protection from the elements and people you want to keep out.

Your front door can make a statement about your home through color. Feng Shui has recommendations for the color of your front door depending on your home’s orientation. For example, a north facing front door should be blue, black, white or grey and never green, brown, yellow, red, purple, orange, and deep pink. So I guess if your home faces north you will not be welcoming any travelers into your home! Psychology studies link the color of your door to your personality so if you have an orange colored door you are considered a social butterfly whereas if you have a grey colored door you are indecisive (you could not choose between black or white). I think the facade of your home should be a balanced palette and the door just being one element that harmonizes with all the other finishes which include your home’s exterior siding/brick/stone/stucco, windows, trim work, roofing shingles, gutters etc.

What does the code have to say about the front door? It requires the door to resist wind loads; they are required to be a certain width to provide clear egress passage as well a minimum height. They also need to be insulated to conform to Energy Code standards. They are required to be side hinged and easily opened from the interior without a key. In addition, they require testing by independently approved laboratories to ensure the safety standards are met.

Exterior doors today are typically made from wood, fiberglass or steel. Wood is usually the most expensive and the most maintenance. Steel being an economical choice but be sure to get a 22 gauge door rather than an economic 24 gauge. It will hold up much better. Fiberglass is a great option for low maintenance and you can get a wood grain finish to mimic the wood door. Whichever you choose make sure you make a statement about who is behind that door!

Warm me up

What is that stuff in my walls that has brown paper on it? That is fiberglass batt insulation. The brown kraft paper is a vital part of it. It creates a vapor retarder. The vapor retarder helps reduce water vapor transferring from the interior of your home (the warm side) to the exterior (the cold side) where moisture could build up and create havoc in your home. There is debate as to its functionality but it is required as per International Residential Code 2015 NJ Edition Section R702.7 Vapor retarders.

Insulation has a history going back to ancient Egyptian days when mud bricks were used to control interior temperatures. The insulation in your walls today, the pink stuff (most common color), is just that, insulation and is classified by R-value. It is composed of resin and very fine glass woven strands. It is a material to resist heat flow and in simplistic terms the bigger the number the better the insulating power. It used to be enough to have a 2×4 stud wall exterior and fill it solid with R-13 batt insulation; however, with the International Energy Code in effect, it is not possible anymore to have such an exterior wall for your home. New Jersey switched to the IECC back in 2007 and has adopted updates along the way. If you build with 2×4’s you will be required to also wrap the exterior with a continuous rigid insulation (with a value of R-5) or you can go with a 2×6 exterior wall and get R-19 or R-21 batt insulation and be able to conform to the governing code requirements without wrapping the outside. There are many other factors that impact these numbers but as a baseline, this is a good rule of thumb. The US Department of Energy notified New Jersey that by the year 2030 due to this and other techniques will save nearly $195 million annually in energy costs.

You may ask yourself how much R-value my winter coat has. Well, clothing has a different method of calculating warmth. The clothing industry uses the clo” unit of measurement for warmth. This standard is based upon the insulation required to keep a resting person warm in a windless room at 70°F which is equal to one clo (the value of 0 clo equals being naked!). Guess what? You can convert “clo” units into R-value by multiplying by .88. To keep yourself warm outside on a cold winter day you typically layer your clothes and if you are sporting about a 4 in clo you are probably warm.

I am glad spring is here!

Venting your problems

attic

Why do I have to vent my attic? Well for one reason it is required by code, but the reason for the code is to yield the benefits that come with venting. In the cold months it allows your home to maintain a cold roof temperature helping avoid ice dam from occurring. An ice dam is a ridge of ice that is created at the edge of a roof and prevents melting snow (water) from draining off the roof edge. The water that collects and backs up behind the dam can infiltrate into a home and cause damage to walls, ceilings, insulation, and surrounding areas. In the warm months venting helps alleviate heat build-up in your attic, lowering your cooling requirements for your home which lowers your energy costs. Other benefits include prevention against mold and rot.

IRC 2015 New Jersey Edition Section 806 describes requirements to vent your unconditioned attic. Unconditioned is the key word in this article. Unconditioned is when the attic is insulated in the floor (just above your ceiling). Typically you will have a kraft paper faced batt insulation installed above your ceiling. The kraft paper is considered a Type II vapor barrier which will allow you to vent your attic based on the ratio of 1/300. This ratio refers to the square footage of your attic which is the determining factor in calculating your ventilation requirements. Let’s say your home’s roof footprint is 35 feet by 60 feet, therefore the total square footage is 2,100 square feet. You take this area and divide by 300 which equals 7 square feet. You have to keep going because ventilation free area is based on square inches. Seven square feet is multiplied by 144 (the factor used to convert to s.i.) to give you 1,008 square inches. Am I done yet? Not quite but we are getting there. When the air comes into your attic it needs to leave and the best way to do this is to allow air to flow into your eaves and out the top via a ridge vent or vents on the roof close to the top. Should you just split it up half and half? Studies have shown that you actually want to pressurize your attic and to do so the ideal method is to create 60% venting in the eaves and 40% at the ridge. So 1008 x 60% = 605 square inches of free area in eaves and 1008 x 40% = 403 square inches up top! It is also important; to determine how much free area the vent specified has, to make sure your venting is working appropriately. Also make sure all penetrations in your ceiling are sealed up tight to avoid any air leakage. Penetration could be recessed light fixtures and air grilles.

Now you know!

Do you measure up?

United States of America, Liberia and Myanmar – what do these three countries have in common? If you guessed that they all use imperial measurements you are 100% correct. What is imperial measurement? That is feet and inches. Everyone else uses the metric system. Where did these strange forms of measurement come from? Way back when, body parts were the way people measured… a man’s foot length, finger width, the king’s pinky knuckle (which equaled an inch) and his stride were all accepted forms of measurement. Recently I was listening to a reading regarding the building of a holy structure and the measurements were in cubits. A cubit is approximately 18 inches in length and comes from the distance of a man’s fingertip to his elbow (cubitum is Latin for forearm). If they used my fingertip and elbow they would have had a much bigger structure! I’m coming in at over 19”. Other units used in ancient times where the foot-hand, which converts to 4 inches. I would imagine this comes from the width of the hand. If so I’m perfect.

In the United States we use the United States Customary System (USCS) and the following is a review of how some of these units relate to the world of architecture and construction.

In architecture we use a variety of measurement terms; the most used of course are feet and inches. However as you delve further into a set of construction documents you are going to find an array of terms. Let’s start out with the site plan. Your property is based on an acre which is equivalent to 43,560 square feet. Well, that is such an unusual amount to you and me but it comes from early farming days and was the equivalent of the amount of land one man and one horse could plow in a day. If we look even closer into this number we discover the dimension is based on an area of one chain by ten chains. What? What’s a “chain”? A “chain is a system of measurement that gets broken down even further into links! One link equals 7.92 inches (that’s a lot of king’s pinky knuckles!). And for those into horseracing 10 chains equals a furlong. The chain was a popular method of taking land measurements going back to the early 1600’s. Another method is the rod unit in which an acre is equal to 40 rods by 4 rods.

Now let’s move to our architectural framing plans and details where we see items like 2×4’s, 2×6’s etc. Does this mean the framing member is actually 2 inches by 4 inches? No it does not but at one time in its life that 2×4, for example, was 2 inches by 4 inches but then it went through a drying process and became approximately 1 ½” x 3 ½” hence we came up with a nominal system. The nominal system is commonly found in wood and masonry products. Dive a little further into the framing and you may see the nomenclature “d” on some nails. D comes from a roman penny which is a denarius and a 2d (or 2 penny) nail is equivalent to an inch long nail. Each 1d increase will add another ¼” to the nail length.

Now take a look at the building elevations and you see some fiberglass shingles for your roofing material that may be called out by its length of warranty perhaps 30 year but the contractor is going to have to figure out how many squares he will need. A square is the amount required to cover one hundred square feet. At the roof edge you might see the gutters or fascia indicated by gauge. Gauge is a unit of measure used for sheet metal and is determined by an average weight per square foot per inch! The funny thing about gauge is the bigger the number the thinner the metal. Do you think this is what Mies van der Rohe meant by “less is more”.

The U.S. has discussed many times about converting to metric which would be so much easier in terms of calculating since everything is based on units of 10 but the impact would be monumental. I love the eclectic nature of the imperial system and being in the second half of my career I hope it does not happen during my time!

Building codes go way back

building code

Architects are constantly referencing building codes. It is their job to insure that their designs conform to the most current regulations. This leads to creating a safe and healthy environment for the end user. New Jersey is always updating the codes keeping architects on their toes. New residential construction is dictated by the International Residential Code 2015 (IRC), New Jersey Edition along with many subcodes. However, if you are creating an addition, renovation or an alteration (for definitions see: https://www.aricgitomerarchitect.com/thinking-renovating-home/) the code of choice is the NJ Rehabilitation Code which was adopted back in 1998 to help make the option of sprucing up your home more feasible. This code was written under the premise that most existing homes are safe and do not need to be brought up to date to the most current and restrictive codes. Before 1998 construction officials had more control over deciding what they were going to enforce, making it impossible in many cases for a homeowner to know what the expense of one’s project would be until after submitting for construction permits.

Today if an item in your project is “technically infeasible,” which refers to an accessibility issue in your proposed construction, it is much easier to conform to the Rehab Code. The premise of this section is to “do what you can.” Let’s say you want to finish your basement but the headroom in the stairwell does not allow you to conform to the minimum height requirements to get down there. What do you do? Well if you can structurally modify the opening and stair with ease then you remediate the situation. However, if that is not the case then the stairs can remain as is according to this code.

If you are replacing windows throughout the house and you are not changing any of the sizes then nothing else needs to be considered. If you decide, for instance, that you would like a wider window or a circle-top in your bedroom, then perhaps you will have opened up yourself to the responsibility of putting in an egress window. I personally prefer to provide egress windows for my clients whenever possible.

Even though New Jersey has the Rehab Code, at times the renovation still needs to conform to the IRC. If you decide you would like to take advantage of the attic space over your existing garage then you will be required to conform to section R302.6 Dwelling-garage fire separation.

The code is constantly evolving and getting more voluminous. I recall about ten years ago being in the office of a building official and he pulled off his shelf his oldest residential building code manual. It was basically a pamphlet. Oh how times where so simple! But the oldest building code goes back to the days of the Babylonian King Hammurabi. In the 18 century BCE Hammurabi had developed a code of laws consisting of 282 rules. Rules 228 through 233 dealt with construction. They are the following:

  1. If a builder builds a house for someone and completes it, he shall give him a fee of two shekels in money for each sar of surface.

229 If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.

  1. If it kills the son of the owner the son of that builder shall be put to death.
  2. If it kills a slave of the owner, then he shall pay slave for slave to the owner of the house.
  3. If it ruins goods, he shall make compensation for all that has been ruined, and inasmuch as he did not construct properly this house which he built and it fell, he shall re-erect the house from his own means.
  4. If a builder builds a house for someone, even though he has not yet completed it; if then the walls seem toppling, the builder must make the walls solid from his own means.

This code was discovered in 1901 carved into a stela of black diorite weighing in at a whopping 8,000 pounds. So even though the building code was only 6 items, (quite scary ones!), they still managed to keep it voluminous!

Instagram Selfies by Architects?

 

I have always been fascinated by Instagram and how people show so much love for other peoples’ selfies. I constantly ask myself: why? When you search “selfie” in Instagram you will see almost 290 million tags posted. Wow that is a lot of faces! Try that search with the term architect and the results seem dismal in comparison (about 10% of the total). As a student of architecture one is constantly looking at images of buildings in magazines and in the real world, whether it is for admiration, inspiration or to broaden your sense of understanding structures and their limits. How does the building impact you and its surrounding environment? You walk down a street and take note of shadows projected by a building, its scale and perhaps your own reflection within a mirrored surface, (great opportunity for a selfie). You experience the materials, the details the proportions and question the intent. Did the architect intend for that window to be there or did function rule? You strive in your own work to advance your design skills by taking these external influences and internalizing them and creating your own unique version.

Once you are out practicing architecture you take pride in your designs and in some cases make extreme efforts to have them published to share with the profession and the world. Are these magazine submissions an architect’s selfie? Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could make it possible for people to approach a building and push a heart, comment, share or save button? The ultimate insta-archigram! Architects take such great joy in their creations and want others to enjoy them as much as they do. It is their identity or self image. I have read in different blogs about the power of the selfie so let’s put that power towards an architect’s selfie.

 

Hot Topic: home fire sprinkler systems

I recently attended a local gathering of concerned residents following a fire in a neighboring townhome. Members of the community were so concerned about their own future safety given the fact the hydrant outside the townhome had failed and the townhome was not protected with a fire sprinkler system. The adjoining townhomes where only impacted by smoke given the fact that the units are separated by fire separation walls which were extremely effective in holding back the flames. This opened my eyes to the ongoing debate of residential sprinkler systems for single family homes as well as townhomes. As of today the International Residential Code 2015, New Jersey Edition Section R313 Automatic Fire Sprinkler Systems has been deleted for townhouse as well as one- and two-family dwellings. It is my understanding that the New Jersey Builders Association has been very persuasive through their lobbying to keep New Jersey from adopting this section of the IRC. Legislation in New Jersey was passed to accept the use of sprinklers however the governor vetoed it. Twenty three other states have adopted some form of a residential sprinkler system.

Why does the Builders Association not want a life safety item in their homes? It seems to me it is all about money. So what is the cost of a system? If you look online I have seen prices as low as $1.35/square foot or some figures quote around $4,000, however I have found this to not be the case. I have gotten figures from local installers ranging from $10,000 to $25,000. Of course that figure varies on the size of a home and several factors. One company quoted a budget figure of $2.50/square foot. Why such discrepancy, well it depends on each individual home. Let’s say you want to use your new home’s attic for storage well you have to provide sprinklers up there and guess what, the attic is typically not insulated so this requires a special system driving up the cost. If the local fire official or the utility authority wants you to install a dedicated service line just for your system (even though the system is not even required) you need to conform to their request which will drive the cost up more.

Are there savings on my homeowner’s insurance if I install a system? That depends on your insurer. My insurance company said no discount, however State Farm Insurance gave me a quote on a fictitious 4,000 s.f. home valued at over $900,000 and informed me I would save a whopping $47/year (that is quite a period of time on your payback).

But really the issue is not money it is about life safety! The evidence is clear that a sprinkler system is going to save lives in the event of a fire. The 13D system has sprinkler heads in each room of your home. Depending on the size of a room will determine how many heads are required. Each head provides coverage of approximately 12 feet x 12 feet. Each individual head has a glass tube with mercury in it and when the temperature reaches 150 degrees in that location the glass will shatter and open the valve and water will come rushing out onto the fire. Only the head in the location of the fire will be activated. According to the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition a head can put a fire out in 1 ½ minutes, I do not think the firemen are getting there that fast! I believe the time it takes them to arrive is approximately 10 minutes from the time a smoke detector goes off.

Homes today are being constructed with lighter materials, which in terms of strength are fabulous but in terms of combustibility are even better! But you might say I have smoke detectors, isn’t that good enough? Studies have shown that most children can sleep right through the alarm, (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/4/1623?download=true), I wish I could sleep that well! So I guess the answer to that question is no!

Sprinkler systems have also been found to be better for the environment according to FM Global’s research there is a reduction in pollutants, they reduce greenhouse gases from fires by 98% and water consumption up to 90%. Wow that’s a lot of good stuff for the earth!

The following is a link to the benefits of a home sprinkler system:

https://homefiresprinkler.org/please-share-to-spread-the-word-about-home-fire-sprinklers/

Since an architect’s job is to look out for health, welfare and safety of their clients, it seems that this is one of those times it makes sense if it is economically feasible to recommend a home sprinkler system over the deleted Section R313!

Do I need an Architect?

Do I need an architect for my home renovation or addition? What a great question! In accordance with the State of New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Division of Codes and Standards Bulletin 96-2 item a) On applications for construction, alteration, repair of or addition to single family dwellings, including accessory structures, for the exclusive occupancy of the owner, who also prepared the construction documents and will construct the dwelling by himself or herself [N.J.A.C. 5:23-2.15(f)1.ix].

In other words if you feel comfortable in designing your home creating construction documents that will be submitted to the town for approval and are ready to take on the job of general contractor then you can!

I have not met too many people willing to take on this gargantuan task. The other route is to hire an architect. Not only is the architect going to provide you with his years of expertise and experience he is going to listen to all the things you want to accomplish and make them a reality. He will study your home and determine the best way to go about creating the spaces you desire. He will insure the structure shall be designed to be in accordance with the increasingly stringent building code, (The International Residential Code New Jersey Edition 2015), to insure your safety. He will specify in detail the type of insulation required to keep your home in accordance with the International Energy Conversation Code. Your architect is constantly referring to the building code to make decisions such as minimum stair widths to locations of tempered safety glazing etc.

The architect will take pride in making sure your home is not only a safe place but pleasing to the eye as well. He will create sketches as he develops his ideas and constantly refines his thoughts as he travels through the design process. Does a window line up on the first floor with the second floor; should I create a pattern of windows, should the dormer be a doghouse or shed dormer? Should the roof pitch be 6 in 12 or 10 in12? It’s possible that some decisions will be impacted by local zoning ordinances which your architect is going to be familiar with, or at least know how to go about getting the information he needs to conform to the local zoning requirements.

The bottom line is if you are looking to save money by doing it yourself, it may not end up necessarily being the case and you may run into many unanticipated headaches along the way. You can certainly give it a try by searching for that inner architect in yourself but I think in the end if you want a well thought out quality design your best bet is to seek out an architect. If you are thinking of creating an addition please give AGA a call to see how we can help.

OMG Architects are natural texters… or not

 

It recently occurred to me why I enjoy texting my daughter so much… creating construction documents and texting are so similar. You start with a blank canvas whether it be a 24” x 36” sheet of mylar, (well today it is my desktop computer), or your phone screen and you start to create drawings and information versus dialogue and emojis. What is unique about the architectural experience is that my drawings are full of abbreviations, which is common throughout the industry. Let’s take a look at just a few that cross over but not in the same way, (guess which one is an architects’ abbreviation);

ACC: access or anyone can come

ADD: addendum or address

AT: asphalt tile or at terminal

ATM: automated teller machine or at the moment

B: bathroom or be/back

BD: board or big deal

BM: bench mark or bite me

BOT: bottom or back on topic

CB: catch basin or coffee break (this one has a few others lol)

CM: centimeter or call me

CRS: course (s) or can’t remember sh*t

DA: double acting or “the”

DF: drinking fountain or don’t even go there

DH: double hung or darling husband

DL: dead load or download (hey that one was close!)

DS: downspout or darling son

FB: face brick or Facebook

FF: finish floor or follow Friday

FRT: fire retardant or for real though

GA: gauge or go ahead

GAL: galvanized or get a life

GB: grab bar or goodbye

GL: glazing or get a life

GT: grout or good try

HW: hot water or homework

INS: insulation or I’m not sure

JC: janitor’s closet or just chilling

JT: joint or just teasing

KIT: kitchen or keep in touch

NTS: not to scale or note to self

OH: overhead or overheard

OJ: open joist or only joking

OP: opaque or on phone

QT: quarry tile or cutie

R: riser or are

SH: shelf or same here

SQ: square or square (eureka! We have a match)

SS: stainless steel or so sorry

SYS: system or see you soon

TOJ: top of joist or tears of joy

UR: urinal or you’re

WB: wood base/wallboard or welcome back

WC: water closet or welcome

 

So after over 30 years of using abbreviations everyday it’s needless to say my daughter does not always understand my texts for instance one time I was telling her about the toilet overflowing and the damage it caused…

 

You get what you pay for

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. (1935 – 1945). Federal Housing Administration – Houses – Construction – Group looks at plan at construction site Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/5e66b3e8-85c9-d471-e040-e00a180654d7

Recently I received a lead from Homeadvisor and initiated the process by reaching out to the potential client. We scheduled a time for me to come to the home of the proposed project. All I knew about the project was the location and description I received:

Project Description:

Design – Create architectural drawings

I thought since the project was so close to my office I should respond… Prior to my visit the homeowner decided to share some drawings with me. I initially believed he was going to share his ideas and sketches. However it turned out to be Construction Documents of an addition at the proposed property. I contacted the homeowner to discuss his actual needs since these documents were completed within the last month. It raised my suspicion as to what this person actually needed. It turned out that he was looking for a builder, mystery solved!

After hearing this I decided to take a look at the drawings he had sent for his addition. What architect doesn’t like to look at someone else’s work? Well it was quite shocking to see the quality of work and realized how some architects are able to provide potential clients with incredibly low fees. The drawings referenced outdated codes, had details that had nothing to do with the project, structural members were not coordinated between plans and details, proposed concrete footing was not dimensioned to the correct depth below grade for the project location, insulation specified was inadequate to conform with the current energy code, and the list went on and on. I felt an obligation to let the homeowner know what I saw within just a 5 minute review of his documents. Most likely the local Construction Official will catch all these errors and notify the general contractor to have the architect correct or clarify. The problem will be that the general contractor gave you a price on the documents you originally presented to him, so guess what? That’s right he will end up charging you more. In renovation work there is always a factor of unknowns, especially hidden conditions within walls or below grade such as the size of your existing footings. These extras are sometimes unavoidable however a bad set of documents is avoidable! If you are considering a few architects in your search and one’s fee is much lower, maybe you should request a sample of each architect’s work to get an idea of the quality of drawings they will be providing to you. In your review take into consideration the following: do the documents seem to be complete, are references on the drawings accurate, does one architect show more detail than the other? A homeowner is not necessarily going to know what is missing but I believe you will notice a quality difference in documents. Quality is a priority at AGA so if you are considering a renovation project please reach out and see how AGA can help.

Thinking of Renovating Your Home?

thinking of renovating your home

Tired of looking at the same walls every day, small rooms, dark spaces? Wishing you had more closet space, spacious areas to relax in and socialize. Wish people would come by more to make your home their home? Then maybe it’s time to consider a renovation, alteration or even an addition. Hey what’s the difference between those three choices?

As per the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code: Rehabilitation Code the definitions are as follows: “Addition” means an increase in the footprint area of a building or an increase in the average height of the highest roof surface or the number of stories of a building. (You would have to check with local zoning ordinances if this is a possibility – factors to consider: lot size, setbacks, house height, lot coverage).

“Alteration” means the rearrangement of any space by the construction of walls or partitions or by a change in ceiling height, the addition or elimination of any door or window, the extension or rearrangement of any system, the installation of any additional equipment or fixtures and any work which reduces the load bearing capacity of or which imposes additional loads on a primary structural component.

“Renovation” means the removal and replacement or covering of existing interior or exterior finish, trim, doors, windows, or other materials with new materials that serve the same purpose and do not change the configuration of space. Renovation shall include the replacement of equipment or fixtures. “Repair” means the restoration to a good or sound condition of materials, systems and/or components that are worn, deteriorated or broken using materials or components identical to or closely similar to the existing.

Whatever you choose to do make sure you start making a list of your priorities. For instance what are you most dissatisfied with in your home? Is that kitchen dated and too small and non-functional? Is the kitchen the center of your universe but wish it were part of the Family Room while cooking up a gourmet meal. Or maybe your master bathroom is not big enough for you and your spouse or the master closet is just not allowing you to buy all the clothes you want! Oh, how about your basement? Is this an area where you can grow your home (make sure you have headroom!)?

How will this change impact your life? Will you be able to live in your home during the work anticipated by your desires… that would depend on the scope of disruption. Will the roof be removed? Will your water be turned off? Will your heat be working if it is cold out? Some of these modifications will force you out of your home during a period of time so make sure you have an alternate place to stay. If you are just opening up some walls or creating an addition that does not impact the rest of your home you probably can stay put!

If you are ready to plunge into the world of change give me a call!

Top 10 questions potential clients ask this Architect

questions faced by architects

                                                                                                                                                                                              image courtesy freeimages.com

1. How much will it cost to design an addition?

I would say 75% of potential clients call and ask this. Every job is unique so it is impossible to quote a fee without seeing the property and meeting the client. It is important for an Architect to visit the physical property to acquire an idea of the scope of services required to complete the project. It is also an opportunity to discuss the project with the potential client and discover how focused they are on what they want. After this initial visit I can determine a fee.

2. Do you work on small jobs?

The simple answer is yes! Whether it is as small as roof rafter damaged by a tree falling on it or a two foot addition to create a larger kitchen (I have done both of these), I have happily accepted these jobs. I enjoy meeting new people and helping them to solve their problems.

3. What is your design process?

It is typically a four step process:

1) Initial consult: to gain an understanding of the project.

2) Survey: measuring your home to generate accurate drawings to use as a base to create designs

3) Schematic Design/Design Development: this is the actual designing portion of determining the layout and sizes of spaces and what your home will look like on the outside. Some firms break this down into two separate phases however given the scope of services I combine them, streamlining the process.

4) Construction Documents: The production of the drawings your general contractor will use to secure a building permit and construct your project from.

4. What style of architecture do you do?

I am not bound by any “style” but if you had to pin me down I would say contextual, which to me means I want to work with physical properties of the surrounding architecture and compliment it whether that be heights, openings, angles, lines etc. I will use those items to influence the end product.

5. How long will it take to get a set of drawings?

That is a very tricky question! Some people know right up front exactly what they want and do not waiver in their commitment to a design. In these rare instances the design process is very quick however this is generally not the case. Once we start to look at spaces and options new thoughts are generated as the plan evolves. This can take a week, weeks or months depending on how often you change your mind. Obviously my goal is not to take more than a few weeks by discussing your desires up front and getting a solid handle on what you expect. After the design has been finalized the Construction Documents generally take 3 to 6 weeks depending on the scope of the project.

6. Will I be working directly with an Architect or some draftsman in your office?

I am a sole practitioner so you will only be working with me throughout the process. You will be getting over 30 years of architectural experience in your project as opposed to a large firm where your project may just be handed down to an intern or young professional.

7. I want to design a new kitchen can you help me?

Kitchens are very specialized and I would recommend you go to a kitchen designer; however that does not mean I cannot help you in other ways. If you are thinking of reconfiguring your floor plan by opening walls or moving the kitchen or adding on, this is where I can help discuss space planning and provide final documents to get your permits. So if it is more than just replacing cabinets give me a call.

8. How are you able to be so economical?

There are different methods of creating a set of construction documents to get your project built. I have found over the years that not everyone wants to spend 10% of the construction cost on architectural fees to get a full set of documents and specifications (this fee includes a very detailed set of documents which detail down to how many hinges each door should have as well as construction administration). This is why my business model is based on creating what is called a builder’s set which is a minimum set required to get you out of the ground. This takes some additional effort on the owner’s part to communicate with the Contractor as to what he shall be providing. This method does not sacrifice anything in the designing of your project. Each project is unique and treated as such taking as much time as needed to create your vision.

9. Will I have a say in my design?

Absolutely! I believe in a team approach. It’s your home and you know what works for you best. I will bring my expertise to the table by interpreting your thoughts into what I think makes the most sense and is aesthetically pleasing and hope that my experience is a valued asset in the process. But ultimately I will respect each client’s personal desires if they do not correspond with my thoughts.

10. When can you start?

After the initial consult and review of my proposal… I require a signed proposal along with a retainer. Then I set up a date to survey your home, typically within one week, in order to get started. Once the survey is completed I get to work on the initial designs for you to review. This characteristically initiates additional ideas or questions in designing your home.

 

Top 10 Tips for Home Renovation from an Architect

home renovation in new jersey

   Image courtesy stocksnap.io

Time
Take your time, do not rush into your decision making, it will cost more later to change your mind.

Selection
Prior to hiring an Architect, have them come to your home to discuss your renovation plans. Find out how the Architect works and discover how his process will make your visions a reality. Make sure you are comfortable with the architect and sense a trust that he will work hard to make your renovation successful.

Observe
Keep a mental or physical notebook documenting features you like around you, whether at a friend’s home, magazine or on the web. Be prepared to share this with the Architect so he understands your tastes and is able to reinterpret them into your project. (more…)