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

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 useable 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. If it is not a walk-out then you would be required to put in an egress window well. 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 then a room just for you 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? Well get away from the rest of 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!

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

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.

Historically the kitchen was a place to cook so 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. It was 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 and 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’s kitchen has evolved into a place of gathering with large islands for laying out food for guests as well as doubling as sitting areas. Clients of mine install music as well as media into these spaces to make it 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 but people have completely opened up their homes to have an uninterrupted flow directly to a comfortable couch for lounging in the adjacent space. It is truly the center of today’s home but not 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

A drip edge is 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 (well it did get mentioned in the 2012 IRC but New Jersey never adopted that code). The drip edge could have been enforced under the general statement of Section R903 Weather Protection where it states the “assembly shall serve to protect the building or structure”. But I assume the code writers felt this was just not enough.

What is a drip edge? It is defined as a metal flashing located at the roof edge 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 angled piece of metal that gets tucked under your shingles at the roof edge. The code requires the drip edge to be mechanically fastened (not adhered) directly to the roof deck at the eaves and then the underlayment goes above it, however at the rake (the sloped side of a gable) of a roof the drip edge gets installed 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. This item gets installed 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 but 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 to insure weather tightness of your structure and protecting your wallet. Ask your architect and contractor to make sure your construction project is being properly flashed and let your local building official no 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?

The ABC’s I am referring to are the ones regarding different types of fires. There are four types of fires and are classified as A, B, C and D. Class A fires are created by solid organic materials such as wood, paper and cloth. 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.

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 found in fertilizer.

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. The Fire Extinguishing Trades Association and the Independent Fire Engineering and Distributors Association claim 80% of fires are put out with extinguishers!

Each structure, other than a seasonal rental unit, shall also be equipped with at least one portable fire extinguisher in conformance with rules and regulations promulgated by the Commissioner of Community Affairs 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. “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.

If I had a seasonal rental I would put a fire extinguisher in there as well, I see no reason not to!
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.