Monday, April 20, 2009

Screened Porches

Owning a screened porch on a buggy summer evening is like owning a castle with a moat when the barbarians attack. The screened porch provides a place to relax outdoors without having to pay attention to the barbarian bug population.

In general, the screened porches we design are larger than the average open porch. Most often they are designed as outdoor rooms and are furnished with sofas and chairs as well as dining tables and occasionally a fireplace. Screened porches can even be a cool place to sleep on a warm summer night.

New technology has made the screened porch even more attractive by extending the useful season and almost magically allowing us to change an open porch to a screened porch a the push of a button.

One of our clients wanted a large porch for entertaining and dining and to take advantage of the stunning view from that side of the house. The problem was that almost like clockwork at 5:00pm when they were getting ready to greet their guests, swarms of bugs would appear. They also did not want to obstruct their view at times and seasons when the bugs were not present. The solution was an automatic roller screen system which was hidden in the soffit most of the time, but when needed would descend and make the wide open porch into a comfy screened porch.

We have also included radiant heat pipes in the stone floor of some screened porches which allow the owners to comfortably use the porch earlier in the spring and later in the fall. When combined with interchangeable glass panels, the screened porch easily becomes a three or four season room.

These days we have more options than ever when designing the perfect screened porch. Bugs just don’t know what they are up against.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Adding On

About half of the work in our office is new construction and half renovations and additions. When designing a home from scratch some of the most important elements to study(besides the clients wishes) are views, site features, sun and wind direction, and the approach to the site. The most important single element in an addition/renovation is the existing building. Sometimes the portion you save and restore is key to the rest of the project. Although it is almost impossible to perfectly match the 200 year old materials which have aged in place, flooring recycled from salvaged barn beams comes pretty close. In the northeast we are particularly lucky to be working with craftsmen who take their work as seriously as the people who built the original homes

A case in point is a project we recently finished which included additions, renovations and restorations. Like most old homes it had been added onto by successive generations of home owners. Also like most old homes, some additions were done well and others were not thought out quite as fully. The historic portions of this home set the tone for the rest of the project. In addition to relating to the existing home and meeting the spatial requirements of our clients, it was critical that we save two large very old oak trees. Needless to say the oaks are doing fine.

When adding to a very old home every wall that is opened reveals the secrets of the carpenters which has been hidden away for sometimes centuries. Those carpenters often recycled posts and beams from even older structures. When times were tight, it seemed they used every piece of scrap wood they could cobble together to make the building stand. Most of all those explorations inspire awe and respect for the people who built these wonderful buildings by hand.

Not every renovation/addition project has a great existing building to take inspiration from. Often the portion which is added becomes the stronger design element and therefore influences the rest of the existing home. I don’t know if that is the tail waging the dog, but sometimes perhaps the tail should do the waging at least in home design.

I must admit, that adding onto an historic home is like working with a colleague whom I respect and admire. We are challenged by those homes to do our best.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Cutting Construction Costs

When designing a home or addition, part of the fun for the owner is imagining the project finished without any compromises. When bids come in from the contractors, many home owners are eager look at ways to reduce the price without loosing space or the character of the project. As the architects, our job is to help bring the price down as far as possible without loosing the qualities that the owners loved in the first place. It must be understood that some money saving choices could diminish the long term durability or energy efficiency of a home or addition.
The following are 6 ways to either design the most cost effective project from the start or adjust a design once the bids come in:

1. Keep it simple: Generally the simpler the overall details and structure of a home, the less expensive it is to build-the exception are extremely precise modern details.

2. Consider cost effective materials both on the exterior and interior of the home. There can be a $20/square foot or more difference between higher priced flooring materials and lower priced choices. The same is true of exterior materials. Before making those choices be aware of the trade offs, sometimes they are minimal.

3. Keep built-in cabinetry to a minimum. In the long run those elements can be added, but in the short run they are expensive. You may need to buy more furniture to take the place of cabinetry.

4. Explore the trade-offs of lower priced windows and doors. For exterior doors and windows the savings may not always justify the change. Make certain that the alternatives are durable, attractive, and energy efficient before making those changes.

5. Review choices for the mechanical system. There are many ways to heat and cool a home. Not all systems are designed equal, but the cost differential between the most expensive and the least expensive is substantial.

6. One sure way to reduce prices is to pick the next lower price point of each category of non structural elements of the house. Always bear in mind the trade offs.

Bonus idea: Add a porch. Few additions to a home add as much beauty, functionality, and pleasure as a porch and for a fraction of the cost of interior space.