Friday, February 20, 2009

Trim, the thick and thin of it all

These days we are bombarded with more options than we care to have to review when it comes to selecting what we wrap our window and door frames with, bump the vacuum into, or hide the sheetrock joint at the ceiling line.  These items fall into the category of interior trim.  When selecting trim, keeping the basic design of these three elements in the same family is key to keeping the hodgepodge to a minimum.  If a period style, such as Federal is being built, it would be architecturally incorrect to put anything other than moulding profiles that were common to that period of history. Consistency in design selections plays  a key role in the enhancement of spaces.  

In recent years, I have been pleased to see MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) being used for some of the trim components.  When this product first hit the market, may years ago, trim carpenters didn't care for it because when cut, it would chip and flake.  Since then, the products have become far superior and trim carpenters tend to prefer to use this product for crown.  Its most redeeming features are that it does not expand or contract like wood, and it takes paint really well.  With wood, when winter sets in, the low humidity often  causes cracks to form along the caulk joints of trim because of the amount of shrinking that takes place. What we have found that works best is to use MDF for the crown, and keep the casing and base as wood, most commonly Poplar.  This minimizes the cracking problem and puts easily repairable wood in places than can get damaged.  Not only is MDF more stable at varied moisture content, it also is less expensive than solid poplar,  and some manufacturers produce it as "green". What more you could you ask for of a product?

MDF used as crown moulding has become a great asset to residential architecture, combining workability, longevity, and cost savings into a single product.  I highly recommend its use.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Crawl Spaces - The pit of despair, or maybe not... Read on.

Back in the 50's North Carolina adopted a building code from Minnesota.  Not sure why, but they did.  One of the requirements of the code made it necessary to have the areas that we all know as crawl spaces be ventilated.  Come to find out, this code has probably caused countless numbers of health issues with the people living over these spaces.  
Here in NC, when the summers are hot with temperatures into the 90's and humidity also in the 90's, one could not ask for a better place to grow mold than in the average crawl space.  Not long after the hot, moist air enters the cool crawl space, the water is pulled out of the air and the environment becomes ripe for mold growth, and insect infestation.  The air in a house flows upward and it has been estimated that 20 percent of the air in the main level over a crawl space was recently in the crawl space.  
To combat this problem, we are sealing crawl spaces. A thick membrane is installed over the ground so that all moisture gets blocked from below.  Around the perimeter of the crawl space, a rigid insulation board is applied and all vents are sealed up.  The crawl space then becomes what is referred to as "Sealed".  For more detail on this technology I would suggest that you go to  This site is the result of an intensive research study concerning crawl spaces in our Southeastern climate.  
A vented crawlspace in the Southeast may very well be the worst code ever created.  I, for sure, will never specify another one.

Construction Administration - What's this about anyway?

The term "Construction Administration" typically references what an Architect does during the time the General Contractor is building a project. In a Commercial Project, this phase is rather mundane doing activities such as shop drawings reviews, site inspections, and draw requests. However, if the project is Custom Residential, construction administration becomes an entirely different task. Since design is a never ending process, it certainly does not stop when you start building.

Clients often have a hard time visualizing things until they start to come up out of the ground. On many occasions, I have worked to tweak specific design solutions during the process to make them better. Whether it's aligning panels on the cabinetry, finalizing the design of a fireplace surround, assisting with railing selections, or even figuring out a way to hide a TV behind a motorized panel - there is plenty of design to be done once the house is under construction.

I have heard that some builders say that there is no need for an Architect to be involved during construction. Those builders obviously don't understand design and continuity of a home. Yes, without an architect's involvement, you will end up with a roof over your head. But will the hinges on the exterior doors match the hinges on the interiors doors? Probably not.

If I had my way, I would change the name "Construction Administration" to "Design Enhancement".

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Communication with your Architect

Over the years I have found that a paper trail is important for all decisions that are made during the design and construction process.  With email becoming the universal primary means of communication, try and stick with it when you are communicating your needs to the architect.  Talking about your needs is still O.K. but it should only come after you have had a chance to put your thoughts in an email.  Set up a folder for all items sent to the architect.  If you are not confident with your computer's ability to sort things, print out a copy an place it in your project folder.  Now that verbal communication has been documented, what do we do about the drawings that come in the mail, or via the internet?  Most architects these days use a program called Autocad to do their drafting work.  Revit is also another product that is gaining market share.  Both products are made by Autodesk.  These programs have the ability to create a readable and give the client the ability to mark up the drawings with comments.  No more scribbles all over a plan!!  The software for reading is available for free at the website. It is called Design Review.  Once you mark up you plan, you can email it back to the architect where he or she will be able to superimpose your notes right onto their drawings.  For clarity sake, ask the architect to put a 2' grid on the plan so you can understand how big each space is.  This has proven to be very helpful for our clients.  Adobe's pdf files also work well with communications, but come second to the Design Review software.  

The primary point is that all communications should be electronically documented so you and the architect can follow the progress of design decisions from beginning to end.  
It is easy to become confused moving forward if you cant remember how you got where you are.