I’m Back!!!

After an extended hiatus, doing large commercial projects, I’m back doing residential design. I’ll follow up this post to show some recently completed new projects. In the meantime…

This past summer my family spent several weeks in Europe, mostly Italy. While there I was reminded of the time I spent studying in Rome, many years ago. I spent two semesters there in grad school, and much of the time was spent sketching. We made many field trips, around Rome, and across Italy, always with our sketchbooks in hand. I regretted not thinking to bring a sketchbook with me on this recent trip, but resolved to begin sketching again when I returned home (and I actually have)!

Here are some sketches (and a couple of more finished drawings) from back then:

 

 

 

Jim Burton Architects Featured on Houzz!!


General contractors, home builders, and more ∨

Before starting a bathroom remodel, search for bathroom ideas and interesting products, including a one-of-a-kind tub, vanity and bathroom sink.
Search for a fun counter stool, clock, sectional and storage dresser to spice up your basement.

Jim Burton Architects featured again on Houzz!!


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For small bathroom ideas, browse photos of space-saving bathroom vanities and clever hidden recessed medicine cabinets.

Remodeling on a Budget

Budgeting is an important concern on any project. By starting out with reasonable goals, understanding what you want from the project, keeping some important ideas in mind, and developing realistic cost estimates from the start (and revisiting these as the design progresses), you should be in good shape.

Intent

First of all, think through your reasons for taking on the project. Are you adding needed square footage? Increasing functionality? Making aesthetic improvements? Wanting to add value to home? Understanding your own goals can help make decisions about budgeting easier.

Determine Scope

What is the smallest project that will achieve your goals?  Ask yourself what project will have the most value to you – i.e. give you what you want in the most cost-effective manner. Is it a minor remodel (mostly cosmetic improvements)? Is it a major remodel (involving opening up floor plan, new kitchen, etc.)? Is it an addition, perhaps as part of a remodel? Or is it a total tear-down (or I should say, deconstruction) and new building?

Determine Budget

Think through what your budget is, and remember to consider not just Construction Cost but Project Cost. The Project Cost includes professional fees (architect, consultants etc.), permit fees, bank fees, insurance, in addition to the cost of construction.

Be realistic – account for reasonable costs to estimate your budget. I had a potential client who came to me wanting to do a full second story addition for $40K – and wanted to have it completed (designed, permitted & built) in 4 months!

Some homeowners try to hide (low-ball) their true budget from a contractor, thinking this strategy will lead to a lower cost estimate. I believe it’s better to be up front from the start about what the actual budget is, and then develop a team that works together to respect (and meet) that budget.

It’s always wise to include a contingency in your budget (5-10%). This is especially true in a remodel, where you often don’t discover issues until the existing walls are opened up. A contingency has the benefit of making you feel more at ease entering into a project, and can allow you to splurge on some things further into the project.

Rarely does a client’s initial budget equal the initial construction cost estimate. And guess what? – usually the former is lower than the latter. On most projects there is some juggling of the elements of the project – the budget, scope, or schedule. For example, often the clients have to raise their budget to achieve their goals and program, or if their budget is set in stone, the scope has to be reduced.

Ballpark S.F. Costs

To estimate construction cost early on in a project, the easiest way is to apply typical square foot costs. Numbers I often use are:

New construction = $225-275/s.f.;

Major remodel = $150-225+/s.f;

Minor remodel = $100-150/s.f.

On an addition project, remember to account not just for the new construction, but also the cost of work to the existing parts of the project. For example, in a full second story addition, don’t assume the construction cost only includes the area of the addition, times the new construction factor. There will be significant costs to the existing portions of the house too, where the structure to support the new second story needs to come through to reach the foundation, to connect new to existing plumbing, electrical, mechanical systems etc, in addition to new stairs the reach the second floor.

Strategies to Control Costs

Think small – the best way to control budget is by reducing the size and scope of your project. Often rooms can be combined to serve more than one function – an office can act as a spare bedroom when needed, or the laundry can be located in a mudroom or powder room. And do you really need a separate living room?

If you’re planning a teardown and new house, consider a remodel of the existing structure,. This is not always a cheaper option – it depends on the project.

Keep the floor plan simple. Keep the design simple. Use straightforward vs. complicated elements and details – there can be a beauty in the simple expression of natural materials that don’t need elaborate trimwork to “spruce it up”.

Prioritize your program and concentrate on highest value goals. Save the splurging for the parts of the project that will have the most impact, or mean the most to you. This might be in the areas guests will see, or it may be in the master bath – every project is different.

Phase work within a master plan – sometimes it make sense to break the project up into pieces, and implement them over time as budget allows.

Other Strategies to Control Costs

An open plan makes a house feel larger.

Limit moving of structural components.

Limit mechanical/plumbing/electrical work.

Limit extent of house affected.

Be creative with materials and finishes – sometimes the creative use of off-the-shelf materials can have more of an impact than more expensive “fancy” materials and finishes.

Let components of the architecture do “double-duty” – for example an exposed (perhaps colored?) concrete slab in the basement acts as both the structure and the finish floor.

Do some of the work yourself. Some clients act as their own General Contractor (G.C.), which can save contractor overhead and profit costs, and sales tax on the project. There are risks associated with this approach, so be careful.

Research and source building materials and finishes yourself.

On some projects the owners can stay in the house during construction, and save rental costs during the course of the project. There may be higher construction costs associated with this approach, however (for example the cost of taking more care every day to protect the inhabited portion from construction dust etc.), that may partially offset the savings.

Tips

If you don’t have one already, shop around for contractors – interview 2 or 3 to get a range of cost estimates. And don’t always opt for the lowest bidder!

Select a contractor early in the design process, and get their input about constructability and construction cost as the design progresses.

Do multiple cost estimates as the design is refined.  

Keep long term costs in mind – for example, upgrading to a more efficient heating system can be a big up-front cost, but will pay for itself over time in reduced energy costs.

Salvage/recycle/reuse

Consider adding an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit), or Backyard Cottage. This can be rented out, and provide income to offset its construction cost.

If you have a too-short, substandard basement, consider raising the house a couple of feet to turn it into a fully functional new space.

Consider recycling an old house! A client a few years back bought a house for $1.00 from a builder who was going to have it demolished. We deconstructed the existing dilapidated house on his lot, and had the house he’d bought moved to the site and installed on a new foundation/basement: http://www.seattlepi.com/default/article/Imagine-paying-just-1-for-a-home-plus-moving-1242517.php

Don’t make decisions based on some theoretical future home buyer. Unless you’ll be selling your house within a year or two, it’s better to make decisions based on your own goals and preferences.

Small Lot Legislation

Last fall the Seattle City Council put a moratorium on the creation of small lots in single-family neighborhoods. Now they’re revisiting the issue, to develop permanent legislation regulating houses on small lots. In their words the City “supports infill development in single family neighborhoods, including on legally established undersized lots. However, these lots should be clearly and legally delineated, and neighbors should be aware of the potential for new houses to be built. In addition, new houses on undersized lots should be modest enough to be proportional to the size of the lot”.

The DPD (Department of Planning and Development) offered preliminary recommendations, which the Council is reviewing: http://buildingconnections.seattle.gov/2013/03/20/preliminary-recommendations-for-developing-small-single-family-lots/

The local CORA group (Congress Of Residential Architects) developed our own response to this pending legislation. An important part of this proposes to replace the Mid Block, as the small lot development area of choice, with Corner Lots. If the City allows outright for corner lots to contain two houses, it would at the same time provide the additional development potential Seattle needs, in a way that actually IMPROVES those neighborhoods. As noted in the Walkable Livable Communities presentation I developed with some NW Ecobuilding colleagues, double houses on corner lots take those qualities we love about single-family neighborhoods – i.e. the opportunity for social engagement with neighbors (while doing yard work, taking a stroll, sitting on the front porch watching passersby, kids playing on the sidewalk, even just getting in and out of your car), the benefit of eyes on the street/added security, the architectural/aesthetic benefit of front facade/front porch facing the street, etc. – and extends these qualities to the side streets. The before and after sketches below illustrate this:

re-zoned corner lot

David Neiman, who’s led CORA’s efforts to critique the City’s proposal, argued our case on KUOW’s The Conversation (he calls in around 20:00).

Social Media

Early last year I decided I couldn’t hold off any longer getting on the Social Media train. My Queen Anne House had been the AIA/Northwest Home Magazine Home of the Month the previous November, and I was about to give up hope of ever getting any work out of it. Which seemed strange at the time, since in the past it was published projects and recognition such as this which was the source of most of my work. It finally dawned on me that the old-school style of marketing I’d always counted on just wasn’t working anymore.

So, about this time last year I contacted Rory Martin, whom I’d worked with before in re-designing my website, to bring me up to speed with social networking. He developed a multi-step plan, involving setting up a Facebook page for my company, setting up a blog, optimizing my LinkedIn profile, and doing some search engine optimization. In addition, I created a profile for my business on the Houzz website (http://www.houzz.com/pro/jim-burton/jim-burton-architects).

For a few months I didn’t notice any improvement, although Rory showed me the analytics of how many people were seeing my website etc. Finally though, starting about four or five months after I’d started working with him (which was as long as he told me it would take) I started to see some real results. I began getting potential clients calling again. And interestingly, it seemed like I got actual jobs from these more often than in the past. In other words, I think some of this social media gives potential clients a deeper, more genuine sense of who I am, what I do and how I work, than an article in a design mag ever could. I also found that when someone did contact me after, for example, seeing my blog, I was the only architect they were talking to, whereas more often than not in the past I would be one of several architects that potential clients were interviewing.

And I’m getting some new recognition, which is really surprising me. I’ve been told by LinkedIn that I had one of the top 5% most viewed LinkedIn profiles in 2012. I was featured in a Houzz Ideabook (online article) about how design in Seattle responds to the environment (http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/4184745/list/City-View–Seattle-Design-Reveals-Natural-Wonders). And Jim Burton Architects was chosen as a Houzz Best of 2013 winner, in the Customer Satisfaction category!

Passive Solar

Passive House, or passivhaus, is sometimes confused with passive solar, and although the latter is an important component in Passive House design, the terms are not interchangeable.

Passive solar refers to the strategy of using the building itself – the windows, walls, floors –  without added equipment, to collect, store, and distribute solar energy as heat. A part of passive solar design is also the control of unwanted solar energy in the summer, through the use of overhangs etc. The idea of passive solar contrasts with active solar, which uses equipment (e.g. photo-voltaic panels, or solar hot water collectors) to do the same.

Passive solar requires thoughtful consideration of the local climate, solar access, building siting and orientation, landscaping etc.

There are several types of Passive Solar. The first, and most basic, is Direct Gain, where the interior space is heated directly through south-facing windows (of course this assumes the building is located in the northern hemisphere).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Indirect Gain, a thermal mass, for example a “trombe wall”, is located between the south-facing windows and the space to be heated. The advantage in this method is that the transfer of heat to the interior is delayed, so a thermal mass heated during the day may release its heat to the interior at night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third type is Isolated Gain, using a separate Sunspace, or Greenhouse, to borrow heat from as needed.

Some Passive Solar Fundamentals:

  • Orientation – if possible, orient the long axis of the building in the east-west direction, to maximize southern exposure. Ideally there will be unobstructed access to the sun during most of the day, and the principle use spaces of the building will be located on the south side, with service spaces (e.g. example bathrooms, mechanical, storage) on the north side.
  • Windows (free solar heat generators) – in general, optimize the amount of windows on the south side of the building, and minimize the amount of windows on the other three sides.
  • Control – use the architecture itself (eaves, awnings, exterior shades, sliding screens etc.), to block summer sun, but allow winter sun to penetrate interior. The latitude determines the ratio of depth of overhang to height of glazing. You can also use the landscaping for control. Deciduous trees on south side can block unwanted summer sun, but allow the winter sun to pass through. Evergreen trees on the east and west sides can block unwanted solar gain.
  • Thermal mass – Thermal mass refers to a material that can absorb the solar heat that enters a building – it can be an exposed concrete floor, ceramic tile, even gypsum wallboard.
  • Distribution – Thermal mass distributes the heat by radiation; In indirect or isolated passive solar, distribution can be by radiation, convection, or assisted by mechanical means.

Some Passive Solar Challenges:

  • Passive solar design guidelines often assume a large, flat, unobstructed site with no trees. In urban areas, lots oriented east-west typically have (sometimes tall) neighbors tight to the south, while lots oriented north-south will have a short face on the south side, neither of which is ideal. Sites on north facing slopes are not ideal – sometimes the site itself can block the sun (esp. when the sun is low in winter, when you need the solar gain the most). Conversely, sites on south facing slopes are preferred.
  • Seattle homes are sometimes designed as “View Machines”, and often that view is to the west – maximizing windows for view can be at odds with passive solar ideals.
  • Shading or screening of south-facing windows, to minimize summer heat-gain, can make rooms darker in our already gray winter months.
  • Remodels – passive solar design guides often assume you’re building a new house from the ground up, and so have more opportunity for optimal siting, orientation etc. A remodel or addition project has more constraints, e.g. existing architecture to relate to, structural issues that may make large areas of glazing difficult, etc.

That being said, an existing house can be remodeled to incorporate passive solar strategies, e.g. adding more windows on the south side, adding awnings over south facing windows, or adding thermal mass on the interior.

Without going into detail, I’ll list a few innovative ideas relating to passive solar design:

  • Annualized geo-solar – this refers to capturing warm season solar heat and storing it for several months, until it’s needed in the cold season. A variation on the Thermal Flywheel idea;
  • Phase change materials – usually eutectic salts, materials that store solar energy as latent heat. The sun heats and melts the material during the day – at night the material reverts to a solid state, and the stored heat is released. Phase change materials can be incredibly efficient in storing heat – as much as 80 times as effective as water;
  • Living Walls, depending on the plant type, can allow winter sun through, but will block the sun when it’s filled out in the warmer months;
  • Planning for future active solar – I like to think of this as another passive solar fundamental. Configure the roof to maximize solar orientation and access for potential future PV and solar hot water systems. In projects not installing a solar system, pre-pipe for future installation.

The heat-gain benefits of passive solar design should always be complemented by strategies to minimize heat-loss, such as adding insulation (beyond code), using high-performance windows, making the building super air-tight, using an HRV, using high-efficiency lighting, plumbing fixtures, appliances and systems, etc. This meshes with the goals of Passive House (you knew I was going to circle back to that, didn’t you?) – to equalize, as much as possible, the heat loss through the envelope of the building, with the heat gains, both external (solar) and internal (peoples bodies, appliances, lighting, etc.).

Queen Anne Bathroom Remodel

In my last post I showed two recent projects – one a medium size addition, and the other a new backyard cottage. Here I’ll focus on a very small project, a bathroom remodel in the Queen Anne neighborhood.

The existing bathroom was functional, but just barely so. The built-in tub was tucked into a niche,  under a vaulted ceiling that required the homeowners to crouch down to take a shower. The toilet was located behind a too-big vanity, which protruded into the doorway (the door actually had to open out into the hallway). The goal in the project was to improve the configuration and functionality, introduce some more refined finishes, and do so in a cost-effective fashion.

 

The door opening was moved away from the sink, and the door was re-used as a custom (i.e. substantial) pocket door. The toilet was moved into the vaulted space, because its function allowed it to work well with the lower ceiling there. The tub was moved around the corner, to give it more headroom and bring it more natural light. The new clawfoot tub allows the tile floor to run underneath, and makes the room feel more spacious. Its ring curtain allows the window to be open to the room, but provide privacy when in use. The pedestal sink is set away from the door, and allows easier access into the room. A pedestal was chosen to, again, let the tile floor run underneath and keep the room feeling bigger.

There’s an interesting mix of traditional (the clawfoot tub) and modern (the pedestal sink and toilet) fixtures, which are tied together by similar colors and hardware, and complement each other nicely.

A painted beadboard wainscot wraps the room and connects everything together. Its cap aligns with the window sill, and extends out at the sink wall to provide shallow shelf space, for toiletries, display items etc. A new mirrored medicine cabinet adds more storage, and is worked into the design of the sink and shelf.

 

 

 

We also took the opportunity, once the walls were opened up, to add insulation, do some air-sealing, upgrade the existing plumbing and electrical, and make some structural improvements.