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My Thoughts About the Article…

The following article written by Gerard Arias Fuentes lists the top ten things wanted in a new home and is further broken down into wish lists for men and women.  The number of people quieried for the survey was 1000.  As the author questions the wish lists, he follows with future residential building trends.  I agree with some trends, others need to be more aggressive.  It’s a start…

What Would You Want In A New Home? « The Complete Residence.

What I find interesting yet sad is that the wish list includes a garage or parking space as number one in both the men’s and women’s list.  Each wanted master bedroom suites which I concur.  Both wanted ample storage and large closets… an indication of our consumer ‘accumulation of stuff’ mentality.

Gourmet or updated kitchens were include as well as a large yard.  I understand the kitchen want but the large yard typically means perfect manicured lawns, shrubs and trees requiring mowing, fertilizer, watering which ultimately pollute our soil, air and waste water.

No where in the wish lists was there anything about conserving energy, conserving water or minimizing waste much less… trying to create a home that even attempts to strive for zero waste, zero emissions, and zero ecological footprint.  This should be the ultimate goal.

I agree with the article the use of personal transportation needs to be minimized by access services via non polluting means such as walking or bicycling.  This requires a mindset change with in society and/or new modes of transportation that is independent from fossil fuels.

Building vs Transportation Energy Use…

Buildings, however, are the biggest sources of energy consumption by nearly 2 to 1 over transportation.  Check out the following organization Architecture 2030 to see what this group is attempting regarding issues of energy consumption goals by the year 2030.  As quoted from their site Architecture 2030 website:

Data from the US Energy Information Administration illustrates that buildings are responsible for almost half (48%) of all energy consumption and GHG emissions annually; globally the percentage is even greater. Seventy-six percent (76%) of all power plant-generated electricity is used just to operate buildings.

Buildings account for almost 2 times the amount of energy consumed than transportation.  While others are working on the transportation fuel consumed and emissions and my interest and experience is in building design, my focus is how to work towards zero… waste, emissions and ecological footprint.

Rethinking How We Do Things…

Currently I’m reading “CRADLE to CRADLE… Remaking the Way We Make Things” written by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in 2002.  I’ve not finished but their mindset is not for energy efficient design but rather energy effective design.  The concept is to not lessen the mistakes of our current thinking making a bad system better but to totally rethink how we do things.


Consider the Following Renovation Project

The Existing Situation, Conditions and Goals

The homeowners had been in the home for a number of years. Their family of 4 was outgrowing the spaces and there were problem areas they wanted to fix.

One of their renovation goals was to not enter the home at mid level between the two levels of this midwest split level ranch whatever. The owners wanted their own master suite so they didn’t have to share the bathroom with their growing teenagers. They wanted a whole new look similar to homes recently renovated in the neighborhood. And then they wanted to eliminate the water flowing down the driveway into the garage and make the bedrooms over the warmer during the winter. They knew generally what they wanted.

They took the next step…

They measured the house and created plans from which to start drawing their new addition. They were going to save money and do the design work themselves. It’s always good to save money but without experience and design knowledge, this can be a costly start to a project.

One thing I noticed, when I got involved was they didn’t pay attention to the survey. They laid out plans for their new addition that encroached on side yard setbacks. No worries, they’d decided to get a variance… not knowing the process or implications. It’s hard to declare a hardship needed to encroach on a setback when they lived on nearly and acre of land.

Another thing I noticed, the husband doing the drawings did not have an understanding for appropriate room sizes and spaces. While they had a budget, his designs where far exceeding the cost factor. He did not have a good association between spaces with traffic patterns and uses. On top of the whole thing, he was a teacher in school obtaining his masters degree and juggling his time with sports, school and home renovations. I do this for a living and find I don’t have time for some of the work associated with renovations.

With Little Design Success, They Asked for Help…

I could see they were struggling, so I offered to help… with conceptual design only. Knowing the site setbacks, I decided to stay within them. That was a no-brainer. Next, my experience has taught me what works for specific spaces and how they are appropriate with the existing home. Meaning, I didn’t want to add onto a home that didn’t blend with the existing scales nor overbuild for the neighborhood as cost as a concern. These were my general parameters for starting my design efforts.

Within an 45 minutes, I had roughly sketched out both floor plans meeting the above criteria. The husband was kind of shocked that I got everything included but until his wife saw the plans, nothing was approved. She loved it. I was then hired to provide construction documentation for permit approval and contractor bidding and construction. The next photo is the finished project…

Next, I’ll Discuss Design Specifics…

Where Do You Start A Renovation Project?

–A Zen saying… ” To climb a mountain, start at the top.

Dream.  Create a concept, brainstorm, mental imagery… do any thought process without concern for cost.  If you lived in your home for a while, I’m sure there’s a few things that you’ve grown to hate that weren’t all that bad when you purchased.  Or you overlooked them, knowing they’d be fixed later.  Well later is coming.  Start making a list.  Organize the list by room.  Or organize the list by problem areas.  What you’re doing is developing a building program.

For example, when you moved in, you remembered having to take the hinges off the door to a bedroom or two.  Why did you do that?  Maybe you don’t care but good design considers these situations.  Maybe the original home builder put a closet in a room and just bumped out the wall and getting into the room was no problem EXCEPT when you spent hours trying to get a dresser into the room.

What’s Your Renovation Goal?

In my opinion, the underlying goal of renovation design is to meld form and function to create a living space that entices you to return at the end of work. Start by seeing the end result, then make a list of those items to renovate before figuring out how to accomplish the tasks.

Seeing the end result may be hard but there are a plethora of magazines, websites and TV shows devoted to home renovations.  Surely, you can find something that sparks an interest.  Make copies or take photographs and start to develop your wish list in a visual format so that you can communicate your ideas to your designer and eventually to your contractor.

While You’re Thinking… Start Measuring

A critical thing with renovation work is to acquire accurate as-is conditions of the building.  Without this information, architects and engineers can only guess at what is needed.  In design and construction, guessing is not allowed.  Starting point of as-is drawings is the Plot Plan or Survey received when you purchased the home.  This gives you the outline of the building from which to do your floor plans.  As-built plans should include site plan, floor plans and exterior elevations as the starting point of all renovation design work.

Without them, it’s an expensive shot in the dark.  A couple of comments are needed here…  If you’re not experienced with architectural drawings, as many are not, remember, walls have thickness.  Also, just because a Plot Plan is signed and sealed by a Licensed Land Surveyor, does NOT means it’s accurate.  It’s not that they made a mistake… it just depends on where they measure.  Do they measure to the foundation of the siding?  If by chance you happen to have existing plans to your home, it’s almost certain that they are not accurate.  Your job in measure is to field verify existing conditions and document them accordingly.

Why all the fuss about as-built drawings? It’s my obsessive-compulsive behavior.  I liken the as-built plans as the foundation of all renovation work.  A weak foundation causes problems with the rest of the building.  Spend a little time getting the existing information.  Get it down on paper, then you’ve got a starting a communication tool that everyone can work with.

As an incentive, your architect or designer needs the information but they’ll charge for the service.  And while you’re measuring, you’ll become much more familiar with your surroundings…  BUT why so concerned with accuracy…?  “We’re not building a watch.”  When design issues are critical, there are times when moving a wall 1, 2, 3 or 4 inches can have a major bearing on the outcome and function of a space.  I know, I’ve been there.

Home Renovations on TV… Be Aware.

It’s amazing to watch TV shows about home renovations or flipping shows. Rarely do I see any plans, just reactive yelling and screaming to unanticipated problems.  With renovation work, you must accept the fact that things will go wrong.

Don’t bury your head in the sand, things will go wrong, expect it and be prepared to react rationally and logically… with as little emotion as possible.  And that’s not easily done when the problems always cost money.  Having somewhat accurate as-is drawings can help determine load bearing walls, direction of floor joist or rafters, define where mechanical and electrical elements are located.

The starting point for renovation design is a concept, a wish list and existing as-built plans…

Next, follow a past project for design insight…


Types Defined

This is fairly simple to define. The activities, once defined, are not so simple to perform if your end result is to build a beautiful usable functional space utilizing local materials, minimizing waste and energy consumption.

The first type of construction is ground-up or new construction. But isn’t all construction new. Yes but in this definition, the second type of construction is renovation work on existing buildings. So there is ground-up new construction and renovation construction of existing buildings.

Renovation Construction

In my opinion, renovation construction is more complicated than ground-up new construction because one must work with the existing idiosyncrasies of previous owners and builders.

Years of implanting an owner’s personality into a building need to be erased to accommodate a new owner. Previous renovations done by the owner or his contractors may have been done with varying degrees of success or competency… or maybe no capabilities at all.  And work could have been done without permits or worse, not  built to minimum code standards.

Ground-Up New Construction

The other type of construction is ground-up new and this is like starting with a blank palette. Of course, I don’t mean to cut down every tree to plop a house or building in the middle of the lot.  As has been said to me too many times to count, “We used to just throw a rock on the site and that’s where we built…”

Site planning is an integral part to ground-up new construction. One needs to consider the exact locale regarding solar orientation, winds during summer and winter, vegetation, frost-depths, water tables, soil conditions, etc.

What I mean building with a blank palette is to do it right. Homes in suburban tracks are on straight streets with the houses… facing the street. Newer developments are done are winding roads with the houses… facing the street. Most of these homes are mass produced with time and budget being the driving force with little regard for quality.

Doing it right means to orient the home to maximize solar gain during the winter, minimizing it during the summer. Aligning the home to direct prevailing winds through the home during the summer and blocking them during the winter. Minimizing waste and using local products versus getting that gorgeous marble from Italy is doing it right. Designing spaces to accommodate more than one use is doing it right. Making the home efficient by conserving energy and even harvesting energy is doing it right.

What’s Next?

You want to do a construction project and it’ll be one or the other.  If you’re not accustomed to the process, where do you start?  Future blog entries, will hopefully help organize the information and thought processes required to undertake a construction project.  As a friend, colleague and mentor used to tell me, “Construction is not a venture, but an adventure…”

I’ll tackle renovation work first because in this economic climate, renovating your existing home can be more economical AND more aligned many Green Pundit advisors.  Where do you start?  Next up: beginning a  renovation project… is to dream.

We’ll use the following home as an example…

Existing Front Elevation


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October 2020

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