In the Park City house, we have three bedrooms that all are set up nearly identically with wall-mounted TVs. We fed the wires through the wall, but then have the pesky cable box to contend with. I wanted a shallow media shelf of some kind that would accommodate a cable box and a DVD player, but be relatively small and unobtrusive. The main problem with some of the products on the market is that they are too deep. I really wanted something about 11 inches deep, which is plenty for the items to be stored. So, I designed a shelving unit that could be assembled from tubing and flat shelves. Here’s what I ended up with. It’s 32″ W x 11″ D x 21-1/2″ H.
I used wall-mounted vanities in the Park City house because I like preserving as much floor area as possible, and because I envisioned using some kind of under-vanity lighting as a “night light” for the bathrooms. I had the electrician wire in switched outlets for each vanity. It took me a year to get around to the the lighting. Here’s what I figured out.
IKEA sells LED lighting strips with power supplies (“Ledberg”). These are roughly 24 inches long and they have a modular connector system so several can be ganged together. I simply mounted these to the bottom of the vanity about 3 inches back from the front edge with the cord fed through a hole in the bottom of the vanity.
This was easy and inexpensive. The light color is a little cooler than I’d like, but overall I’m pretty happy with the results.
Just one defect emerged in the Park City house over the winter. About half of the main roof drains onto the front awning and then onto the paver terrace. A lot of water hits that terrace, and much of it drains down through the terrace instead of running off the front edge. As a result, the pavers settled a lot over the winter. One of the architects had suggested the possibility of inserting a 12″ c-channel into the paver surface to serve as a gutter from the point where the water hits the terrace to the edge. I wasn’t wild about introducing a 2-3″ groove in the terrace, as I thought it would be a trip hazard. Instead I designed a nifty welded gutter assembly with a slightly sloped top surface which feeds a 3″ c-channel beneath it to drain off the terrace. Hard to explain, but hopefully the pictures are clear.
The cold-rolled steel roof has oxidized nicely over the fall and winter. It looks pretty good. Most of the steel siding is starting to turn as well, but it is pretty well protected from water, and with temperatures mostly below 50F, the oxidation rate is slow. Still, I’m pretty sure that by the end of the summer, most of the steel siding will have a decent patina on it.
However, the steel panels on the front of the house are very well protected. They basically never get wet. By mid-Spring they were looking pristine. So, I decided I would accelerate the process. Here is the siding in that area before I did anything…
My architects like hanging shelves and I do too. They often take the “cowboy” approach of using galvanized threaded rod and nuts and washers to support the shelving. I wanted something a little more refined, but didn’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for fussy little European hardware bits. Here’s a solution I came up with, which has proven to be excellent in all respects.
The punch list persists for months. But, we have our C.O. (certificate of occupancy). We’ve had house guests. We’ve spent a few weeks in the house. I’m declaring it done.
Here are some exterior shots on a nice winter day, along with a few interior shots. (Furnishing is not quite done…)
Tags: punch list
I finally had a few minutes to sort my actual construction expenses and put them in some reasonable categories. This is a brief summary of the construction costs.
First, the basic parameters of the house:
- 4348 sq-ft of space, including the garage
- 3-level “walk-out” design
- 2092 sq-ft footprint
- 4 bedrooms
- Cathedral ceilings in upper levels
- 5 bathrooms
- Enclosed deck on upper level
- Front and rear paver terraces
The total construction costs were $619,000. This is every dime I spent from the time we applied for a permit to the time we received the certificate of occupancy. It does not include the design fees (architect + structural engineer), which were about $60,000. It also does not include the cost of about 15 trips from Philadelphia to Utah, which cost about $10,000.
The cost comes out to $142/sq-ft of enclosed space. The square footage includes the garage but does not include the enclosed deck off the master bedroom, nor the covered terrace. I believe the calculation should include the garage, because the garage basically has the identical finishes as the rest of the house (same concrete, framing, drywall, paint, windows, casing, electrical, etc.).
The building materials supplier had promised hemlock stair parts would be delivered two days before our target completion date. Eric, the finish carpenter, was ready to install the stair in a day. Then, they flaked out on us, saying it would be two more weeks. We needed Plan B.
We found that MacBeath Hardwood had clear, vertical-grain douglas fir in stock in rough 4/4 thickness. So, we bought a couple of hundred board feet of the material and planned to set up our own mill to make the flooring, treads, and risers. MacBeath delivered the material to the job site in FOUR HOURS. The wood was beautiful and mostly in 14-16′ lengths. Had I known how nice this material was, I would have used it for door/window casing too. (However, it was expensive…about $6/bf for the rough material.)
Making blank walls visually interesting is a challenge. Here’s one idea that worked out very well. I was inspired by the arrival in the mail of my son’s thick catalog of skateboard decks. We found a cool collection of Warhol images on decks and bought five of them for a total of less than $200. Here they are on his wall.
I’ve now observed a few weeks of snow on the roof. So far no ice dams and very few icicles…just what has resulted from the sun melting snow at the fringes of the exposed roof.
The snow slid off one section of the roof (the northeast corner, strangely). It was pretty dramatic when it went. We had a few quite warm days last week (around 35F/2C) and I think the ventilated roof actually allowed melting at the roof surface when warm air vented up through it. The snow bars above the hot tub are working very well.
A surprising amount of work lies between getting a certificate of occupancy (i.e., technically finishing the house) and moving in. In my case, the C.O. was issued on Tuesday and my family was scheduled to arrive on Thursday. I had ordered a house full of stuff which was piled in boxes everywhere as we were finishing the house. But, first, the layers of dust had to be removed. A hardworking crew of husband, wife, and 17-year-old son came in at 5pm on Tuesday and worked until 1am on Wednesday to clean the house. They vacuumed up a lot of dust, wiped down all surfaces, did a quick wash of interior window surfaces, mopped floors, and cleaned bathrooms. Wednesday and Thursday I sealed floors and unpacked boxes.
Eric and Spencer, the finish carpenters, have been highly versatile contributors. They banged out the obvious jobs like hanging doors, installing the wood ceiling, and finishing stairs. But, they also have been willing to do a lot of the interior steel work, they are installing all the door hardware, and they built all the closet interiors (which I’ll feature in a separate post).
One of the cool details in the house is an 18″ wide bench that essentially runs the length of the house. Here, is the bench in progress, along the section of the great room in front of the fireplace. The wall around the fireplace will be 10 gauge steel panels with exposed fasteners. We’re installing those over landscape fabric, as we did the barnwood and ceiling.
Here’s the bench in the more-or-less finished space.
Whoa. It’s crunch time. We’re trying to finish this house in the next 10 days. There are about a dozen guys scrambling all over the place. The great room is still a wood shop, but the painters are trying to work around everything.
I suspect if you have a 12-18 month construction schedule you can avoid this. But, we’ll finish this house 7-1/2 months after breaking ground. That requires some overlapping of tasks.
Of course everyone wants to “go last.” More precisely, the painter, electrician, and plumber all declared that they should be the last people on the job. I suspect that if I had wood floors, the floor guys would also want to go last. The reality is that everyone ends up iterating a bit at the end to work around each other.
I saw a nice wall made by the Lucky Dumpster which was a mosaic of barnwood pieces. I had Trestlewood mill up a variety of colors of barnwood into tongue-and-groove “flooring.” Eric, my finish carpenter, then installed the pieces on the family room wall. It’s excellent.
Here it is finished…
Modern house numbers are fortunately not so hard to find these days. However, they vary widely in price and in size. I wanted a nice sans serif typeface in a large (i.e., 8″ tall) size. If you want a “name” font you pay a lot of money for those numbers (e.g., Neutra numbers from DWR are $48 each, but only 4″ tall) . However, you can get some nice affordable numbers from, where else, modernhousenumbers.com. Their supplier water jet cuts these from 3/8″ aluminum plate in several alternative typefaces. The styles are nice, even if there isn’t infinite selection, and even if they aren’t the famous proprietary typefaces.
Here are my numbers (8″ high, 3/8″ thick brushed aluminum, in “Palm Springs”). These cost $29 per number. Excellent value.
These numbers are easy to install, although very hard to get in plane and level on barnwood. (You drill a 3/16″ hole in the wall and insert a 3/16 pin with some caulk on it. The pins fit into the back of the numbers.) I didn’t get it quite right, but I suspect I’m the only one who will notice.
The baseboard in this house is 1/8″ x 3″ hot-rolled steel strip. It came in 20 ft. lengths and was installed with McFeely’s washer-head combo-drive screws centered on the strip. The finish carpenters did it. They were curious if not skeptical initially. By the end, they loved this stuff. There is only one seam in the entire house (on a 25 ft. wall). It went up easily. I plan to do nothing to this. Everyone likes the way it looks too. Did I mention it is super cheap ($0.60/ft or so)?
I bought a relatively cheap and ugly steel “raised panel” garage door. I then had the roofers apply the steel siding panels to it. Then, the garage door guys came back, weighed the door, and hung it with the appropriate springs. The whole thing cost about $2000, much less than a “custom” door.
Tile is hard to choose. Paint not quite as bad. Still, there are lots of choices.
I’m going with the Benjamin Moore “Affinity Colors” which allegedly can be mixed and matched arbitrarily. Here I’m trying out a few options. Home Depot will mix 8 oz. jars of paint from the Benjamin Moore fan deck chips for about $3 per jar. So, I had a bunch of colors made and tried them out. I knew this, but forgot: don’t test really subtle differences; they don’t matter much, and are so subtle it isn’t clear the small swatches would tell you much. Just test the really distinct alternatives. However, you should definitely test. In my case, I decided that these reds were just too red. I’m not going to use them. I’m using variants on the khaki and two shades of the “pumpkin.”
Of course no one has any money at the end of the job…so the landscapers kind of have to make do. My guys (Sierrascape Landscaping) did nice work over 2 – 1/2 days in early November. They built three nice retaining walls, created a rock-lined drainage ditch around the property, installed a 5-foot wide border of river stone on the ground under the roof line, spread top soil over the site, and seeded it with “cabin mix,” a high-altitude meadow grass. We’re hoping that come spring, this seed will germinate and return the landscape back to nature, approximately.
The wood ceiling in the great room and master bedroom is 1×6 clear mixed-grain hemlock. I had it prefinished, so the finish carpenters just pin nailed it in place, filled the nail holes. It’s then done. No one has to get up there again. This material is not cheap: $1.72/linear foot for the material and $0.67/linear foot for clear finish. So, this comes out to about $5.50/sq-ft of finished ceiling for material, including about 10% waste. My finish carpenter, Eric Epps, first stapled up black landscape fabric (cheap). I had him leave a 3/8″ gap between boards. This gives a nice linear effect. Everyone loves this ceiling.
Picking tile is brutal. I hate it. There must be a million options…in a single showroom. I decided to focus on a nice simple tile scheme and to pick a simple affordable tile. I concentrated on the American Olean line, as they have a little bit of everything and they had a good display in the tile showroom. Fancy tile is $40/sq-ft. Tile at Home Depot is $2-3/sq-ft. It’s all the same material, basically. So, the trick (for me) was to find a mainstream tile that could be used in an elegant contemporary design.
For all the showers, I ended up with American Olean St. Germain in “Creme.” I used the 12″ x 24″ tiles laid up in brick pattern. Here it is being laid. I love it. It’s crisp, clean, and contemporary. It ran about $4.50/ sq-ft for the material. My tile guy is very high end…he charges about $12/sq-ft for installation. But, I didn’t want to mess around with quality on this.
For the 48 square feet of kitchen backsplash I splurged on hand-made tile from Heath Ceramics. The stuff is gorgeous. I figured that this was the place to put the beautiful hand-crafted material. When it’s installed, I’ll post photos.
Here’s the family room “bar” and backsplash. This is super cheap American Olean 3×6 “subway” tile in “biscuit.” For $3/square-foot I’m very happy with this tile. It looks great and goes up easy.
Some shots of the completed spaces…
The doors arrived this week. They’re beautiful. I’m really happy with them. The only problem was the stain/finish guy who delivered them knocked them over in his truck and dinged a bunch of them. He’s fixing ‘em (cheerfully, I might add). The doors came from Lemieux Doors in Canada. They were hung and finished by subcontractors to ProBuild, my materials supplier. They cost about $500 each, pre-hung and pre-finished (for 7 foot doors 1-1/2″ thick). The main entry door was a lot more, about $2000 all in. Worth it.
Minor detail: the gas supply. This requires a contractor to the gas company installing a line (shown below). Then the gas company installs a meter (in my case by a friendly guy smoking a cigar…really, a smoking gas line guy…wonder how long he’s been doing it?). They made a mess…so I ended up working with a spade and bucket to fix the driveway before the concrete guy comes.
Tyler and Danny (Waters Excavating) came back to clean up the front yard and prep for the concrete driveway to be placed. They are can-do guys and pretty much just figured it out and got it done in one long day. They were the first ones on the site back in April and now one of the last on the site in October. Tyler has a bunch of big track hoes, but does a lot of his work with this small Komatsu hoe. It’s really nice and comes equipped with a rubber track so it doesn’t ruin the asphalt as they run around. I’d love to have one of these, but at $55,000 a pop, this is probably one tool I won’t own.
I put in a simple paver surface on the front terrace. I’m really happy with it. The surface is formed from 4″x8″x2-3/8″ Belgard pavers. They are installed upside down, so that the beveled edges intended to be visible on the top are actually hidden on the lower side. That way, I get a nice crisp “brick” look. My contractor was Appian Paver Systems (owner Doug Anthony). He bought 840 sq-ft of material (an even number of pallets) and then just installed it all…allowing the rear terrace to be whatever size it ended up being. That way we got the most area possible for a given cost. These pavers run about $12-14/sq-ft installed, which is more than plain concrete, but about the same as stamped concrete. I much prefer the look to the various concrete alternatives. I also much prefer this surface to that of a wooden deck.
Drywall is a pretty amazing trade. It goes like this: (a) a truck with a big boom on it lifts 40,000 lbs. of limestone into the house (sandwiched between two layers of paper in the form of drywall) , (b) 8 guys descend on the project and in two days “hang” the sheets, (c) a different load of guys show up and tape the seams and finish the surface to deliver nice smooth walls. This all happens for shockingly little money; the whole process costs less than $1/sq-ft of surface including materials and labor.
DuWayne (Gough Concrete Specialities) poured the upper-level concrete floors last week. We specified a 3 inch slab of tinted concrete (the same 2% tint we used on the lower-level slab). A 24-inch grid of #2 re-bar is laid over the hydronic heating tubes before the floors are poured. I had them saw cut control joints in nice locations as I had on the lower level. Looks very nice, even if the floors still need some work with a Swiffer.
I set up a fairly unusual arrangement for the Park City Modern project. Recall that this is a second home for me, and the distance between home and the job site is 2400 miles, about 7 hours door-to-door via Delta and a rental car. Thus, being on site every day was not feasible.
I visited a construction site with the architects last summer and talked to a contractor they had worked with before. This was a monstrous house , which had been under construction for over 2-1/2 years. It was 15,000 square feet and had a budget of $600/sq-ft. (That’s $9mm in construction cost for those who have a hard time with decimal places.) The GC boasted that the owner had only been on site twice. (Whoa.) I knew precisely then that this guy was not for me. His truck was too nice and his homeowner kiss-up skills were too polished. Those guys serve a very important need…getting a great house built for very rich and very clueless owners.
The house will have an 8-foot-deep nearly flat roof over the terrace. It’s kind of like a store-front awning. The architects designed it to be supported by four tie rods, which gives it a cool look, and avoids using any columns to support the edge of the roof. Of course the problem is that this structure has to be designed to handle all the snow from the roof above landing on it in an avalanche. So, it’s incredibly beefy and ties into big steel columns in the walls. This feature of the house probably cost about $10,000 more than a conventional “porch roof.” Still, I can’t imagine a better use of $10,000 in giving the house a distinctive quality.
Yesterday, Chris and Justin from CRS Mechanical started stapling down the 1/2″ diameter PEX tubing that is a key element of the hydronic heating system. The tubing will be embedded in 3″ of concrete, which in my case will form the finished floor. The tubing is stapled down first; then #2 rebar is laid over it; then the concrete is poured. The staple-down phase goes pretty quickly with the right tools (a spindle for uncoiling the tubing so it doesn’t twist, and a pneumatic stapler that has a special nose that centers the staple over the tube.
The roofers have nearly completed the steel siding on the house. I’m very happy with the results. We are using 2′ x 3′ 20 gauge cold-rolled steel flat panels. It is very inexpensive (~$2/sq-ft materials and labor), and I think it looks fantastic. It will rust to a reddish brown when exposed the weather for a few months.
Jose and gang started installing barnboard siding this week. It looks excellent. The barnwood comes from Trestlewood. They provided edged wood in random lengths and in widths of 4″, 6″, 8″, and 10″. By taking shorter lengths and a fair bit of narrow material, the material ended up costing just a bit more than virgin cedar siding. (A consistent irony of building green, is that reclaimed materials usually cost more than those cut fresh from the forest.) My cost for the barnwood ended up being about $3/sq-ft delivered, while #3 cedar siding currently costs about $2/SF, but usually requires staining, which would probably be another $1/SF. (You could leave the cedar to weather naturally, though, in which case it would be cheaper.) Incidentally, bids for the installation labor for this kind of board-to-board barnwood in Park City came in pretty consistently around $2.75-$3.00/SF including the labor to apply the Tyvek. This is probably on the low side because I have no window trim to install, although there are some fussy blocking details between the rafter tails.
We mostly passed our “four way” inspection on Thursday. The four-way includes structure, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing. We were still waiting on some ducting to be finished, but the inspectors were impressed and gave us the go-ahead to insulate.
The traffic in the joist bays has been just awful the past week; a bunch of trades trying to fit conduits of various kinds into too little space between and across the floor joists. The traffic is especially bad just upstream of the mechanical room.
Here are a few pix.
As soon as the framers got the roof decking on, the roofers came by to do the “dry in.” Normally, this step would comprise laying down “ice shield” (a self-stick membrane) at the eaves of the roof and then “underlayment” (30 lb. asphalt impregnated felt paper or Feltex, a modern polymer equivalent). In our case, we laid down ice shield on the whole roof. It cost about $1000 more in materials, but is another layer of insurance against ice damming. Once the ice shield (or ice shield and underlayment) is put down, the house is dry. It can survive several months of weather with no problems. I’ll be happy to get the real roof on in a week or two, but it’s nice to know that weather is no longer an obstacle to progress on the job.
My framer’s 15-year-old son has been on the site this Summer. I proposed a win-win arrangement in which he pre-stained all the rafter tails and purlins for the roof before his dad and crew put them up. This mostly worked well. (In a few cases, one of the framers had to go up and brush a timber or end of a cut rafter.) I paid him $500, which I consider a screaming deal for both of us. This is the only exterior finish that will have to be done on this house, because we’re using reclaimed barn board siding. I used Cabot semi-transparent oil-based siding stain (Slate Gray). I think it looks excellent and matches the barn board very well. I never plan to restain…I’m hoping that even with stain applied, these rafter tails and purlins will weather gracefully.
I love the steel stair. The architects designed it conceptually. I worked out a bunch of structural details. The detailer at the steel company created the detailed design. We iterated three or four times to get it right. This stair cost about $3000 for the steel. Waaay less than having some fancy pants stair company do the design and installation. We’re going to use big, chunky treads (3-1/2″ x 11-1/2″), probably out of reclaimed douglas fir (although they were dimensioned such that pieces of a glulam beam turned on their sides would also work).
The railing still needs to be welded in place…but I love it, even in its rough state.
When the project is completed, I’ll give a more nuanced reflection on the use of steel in residential construction. At this point, I’m pretty satisfied with the outcome, but the process was pretty painful. The short version of the process is (a) the architects create a beautiful form, (b) the structural engineers are asked to make it work, (c) they have to use lots of steel to realize the vision because of things like seismic requirements and snow loads, (d) a steel company “details” each part from what can only be characterized as a suggestive design by the structural engineers, (e) someone checks it carefully (me, in this case), (f) the steel shows up, (g) the framers integrate it into the structure, and (sometimes) (h) the welder comes out to fix mistakes on site.
We had only a few mistakes, and they were the supplier’s errors, so were fixed at no cost to me. What’s challenging about steel is all the coordination and the inability to adapt much during the process. On the other hand, the stuff is remarkably inexpensive, really strong, and looks nice when exposed (in my opinion).
In the interests of completeness, I should also add that a lot of the steel in this house is architectural in addition to structural. We are using tie rods, beams, and channels as aesthetic features. They’re really nice features, and worth the cost. I have no reservations about our use of steel in this way. My main regret is that we didn’t do a bit more creative problem solving in steps (a) through (c) to find design solutions that did not require as much hidden steel…which is expensive with no visual pay off. (The structural engineers point out that having the house survive a heavy snow fall or an earthquake is a pretty important design requirement. Agreed. But, in some cases with a bit more coordination, the architects could move a window three inches to fit two more 2×6s in the wall and thus eliminate an expensive, tricky piece of steel.)
I am using Windsor Pinnacle windows. They are very nice and about 25% less expensive than Pella, which is the other brand I’ve used recently with good results. These are aluminum-clad wood windows, with double Low-E glass. I picked one of the six stock colors (black). The interior is clear pine, which we’ll finish to match the color of the trim as closely as possible.
A shout out to Tim Snyder at Contractors’ Window Supply. He really knows his stuff and made the whole process go very smoothly.
These are big windows…but only one of them has to be field mulled (put together on site). If you can handle the windows during installation, having these big windows mulled at the factory is great.
To calibrate on costs…There are 65 distinct panes of glass on this house. The total cost of these windows was right around $30,000. So, a good rule of thumb for these windows is to budget $450 per pane. Again, these are big…and that includes three patio doors as well. That cost is everything (tax, delivery, hardware, screens).
In stark contrast to the materials I used in the Vermont Mini-Cabin, much of the structure of the Park City Modern house is engineered lumber. The entire floor system is framed from “I-Joists,” or “TJIs” as they are called informally. (The I-Joist was pioneered by the brand TrusJoist Inc., thus the acronym TJI, I think.) The brand is now called iLevel, and is a division of Weyerhauser. Other companies make similar product. The main floor system with the TJIs in place is shown in this photo.
The flatwork guy (Gough Concrete) poured the lower-level slab on Thursday and saw-cut the control joints on Friday. I stopped by on Saturday to take a look. We used a 2% mix of Solomon liquid color, which they call “smoke.” It’s just right. The tint is significantly darker than natural concrete, but still comes across as gray, not black. This color in this concentration costs $39 per cubic yard of concrete. Given that the mud itself only costs $110 per yard, that’s pretty significant. However, given that for this I get a finished floor, I consider the tinted concrete a bargain. This floor cost $5.40 per square foot for everything (#4 rebar, pump truck, concrete, tinting, placing the concrete, finishing the concrete, coating with an acrylic sealer, and saw cuts). This did not include the 15 mil vapor barrier and the under-slab insulation, which my plumbing and heating guy did.
This week we got the foundation installed, the damp-proofing and insulation in place, the footing drains installed, and the sub-slab rough plumbing placed. We’re now ready for the lower-level slab to be poured (with the hydronic tubing for heat installed within the slab).
Here are the photos of the foundation and related steps.
Footings are the roughly one-foot thick slabs of concrete on which the foundation walls of the house rest. They are designed to be large enough to distribute the weight of the house onto the excavated soil surface such that the soil does not collapse from the load. As a practical matter they tend to be 20-72 inches wide depending on what part of the house they support. They usually need to be 24-48 inches below the ground surface (depending on region) to be below the frost line.
Placing the footings is a pretty remarkable thing to watch. A crew of 8 (Stone Construction) arrived at 7am and they left around 6pm. With another two hours of work the next morning to strip the forms and pack up, I had completed footings.
This not a fussy construction task. They take a trailer full of lumber and hammer it together in the rough shape they’re after. They pump the forms full of concrete, and then trowel the top surface to a snapped line, which defines the top surface of the footing. The foundation walls are then built on top of these troweled surfaces. The photos tell the story.
I made a trip to the site to watch the excavator break ground. This was April 28. The site was staked and ready to go. Here is the site on the eve of ground breaking.
Getting a building permit for a new house is a project in and of itself. We filed for a permit on February 23. Today (April 20) we got the permit. That’s basically two months. The most significant technical milestone is getting the approval of the plans inspector (shown here stamping the plans).
My strategy with bid negotiation was to only solicit bids from subcontractors who were highly recommended by trusted sources. That way, I could hopefully focus on price without worrying I was getting bids from guys who do shoddy work. In most cases, I adhered to this strategy, although occasionally I got a bid from someone brought in by a related subcontractor (e.g., a heating guy who got a bid from a plumber friend).
In most cases I got at least three bids. I plotted the results of this bid process for the major subcontractors involved in the first phase of my project. These are the costs to do the work, including materials (except for framing, which is labor only). My house is about 3,700 sq-ft of living space with a 600 sq-ft garage. The flatwork quote includes all the concrete floors in the house, a concrete driveway, tinting the concrete, and applying acrylic sealer.
I just spent a week in Park City negotiation bids on the Mountain Modern house. I’m building the house with the help of Steve, the broker who sold me the land. Steve lives a couple of miles from the site and has built a series of homes in Park City and elsewhere, so has a lot of local expertise. So, while technically this is an “owner build,” I’ve hired a “consultant” to arrange the subcontractors and to keep me informed about construction on a daily basis.
New home construction in Summit County is very slow right now. Just two building permits have been issued in the first 2.5 months of the year. As a result, almost no one in the building trades has any work right now.
Our strategy has been to select 3-5 subcontractors for each task based on the quality of their work, and then to make a final selection based on price. We have let these subcontractors know this is how we are proceeding.
The architect Christopher Alexander wrote “totalitarian, machine buildings do not require trim because they are precise enough to do without. But they buy their precision at a dreadful price: by killing the possibility of freedom in the building plan.” (Incidentally, Alexander’s Pattern Language is a fascinating book on design. This link is to his “Pattern 240″ on “half-inch trim.”) While I don’t see trim in ideological terms, the stuff is a vexing challenge in modern residential design.
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Many of us have a mental model of insulation as the nice fluffy stuff sandwiched between the inner and outer layers of our walls. The (thermally) ugly reality is that most walls contain lots of doors and windows, and that the wall area that is not doors and windows is full of wood and steel.
Here is a sketch (thanks to my newly acquired skills in Google Sketchup) of a typical section of wall for my Park City house.
On a recent visit to my house site, I saw huge accumulations of icicles and lots of evidence of ice damming. Many neighbors have installed heat tape on their eaves, an affront to elegant design in my opinion. I vowed to design and build a house that skirts the ice damming problem without resorting to active heating of the roof, a colossal waste of energy.
Here is a typical roof in the neighborhood. Icicles more than 10 ft. long hang from the eaves. There is probably significant ice damming at the roof edge. Dangerous, ugly, and a potential source of leaking and water damage.
These are my notes on creating nice residential concrete floors. In my primary residence, I put in about 1500 sq-ft of concrete floors in the lower level. I used a 6-inch slab on crushed stone with 1/2 inch PEX tubing for hydronic heating. I’m pretty happy with these floors, although not wild about the results I got in finishing/sealing them. I am in the process of building a second home in which all three levels will have concrete floors. In principle concrete is (a) very inexpensive, (b) a wonderful means of installing hydronic heating, and (c) attractive. But, I’ve found that there is all kinds of confusing information about how to achieve these aims. Here is what I’ve learned based on experience, research, talking to concrete contractors, and my own experiments.
In this post I explain the analysis I did to understand energy efficiency design issues in my new house.
There are two basic contributors to the energy efficiency of a new house:
1. basic form, and
2. energy efficiency features.
By basic form, I mean what shape does the house have, how many stories is it, and how much window area is there. Those factors matter quite a lot. The most thermally efficient shape (ignoring solar factors) has very little surface area relative to its volume, basically a cube (if you assume the surfaces will be flat not curved). In the analysis I did, I assumed for a base case, a 3200 sq-ft 2-story house, with 8′ ceilings, on a 40′ x 40′ footprint. That’s a pretty boxy shape, but quite efficient thermally.
Windows are wonderful, except that they have just terrible thermal performance, even the really fancy ones. So, you basically have to decide how much glass you want and trade that off against how much energy you are willing to lose. About 12.5% of the wall area on an average new home in the U.S. is windows. I assumed that value in my base case.
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In order to give one of the design review committees a better sense of what the house would look like on the site, I made a quick sketch in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.
Here it is. (As with most photos on Baubilt, click to see a larger version.)
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The exterior finish palette for my house is black/graphite aluminum windows, gray barnboard, and oxidized (i.e., rusted) cold-rolled steel. This house, by CLB Architects, basically has the same palette, except that I believe this siding is virgin cedar treated with Lifetime wood treatment.
In my first meeting with architects Eric and Andy (Carney Logan Burke Architects), they asked about my stylistic preferences, invoking the idea of a stylometer for gauging client style. Since I had picked them in part because I liked the houses they had designed for themselves, I was pretty confident the stylometer would give similar readings for us. Here is what I can articulate about my own stylistic preferences, to which I’ll add a few points which Eric and Andy brought to the table and to which I’ve come to subscribe.
I searched far and wide for architects who both shared my aesthetic values and who did interesting, highly site specific, modern western architecture. I looked at the work of maybe 50 residential architects throughout the Rocky Mountain West. I especially liked the work of Carney Logan Burke Architects out of Jackson, WY. Even better, I really liked the houses the architects at CLB had designed and built for themselves. The two architects at Carney who have really spearheaded my project are Eric Logan and Andy Ankeny, outstanding guys, with a lot of talent. Even more unusual is that they are good with schedules and did not shy away from the highly aggressive budgetary goals for my project.
Many of the custom homes in Park City look kind of the same to me. One reason for this is the highly restrictive covenants that most homeowners’ associations have adopted. Almost all new construction in Park City (and in the West generally) is in a subdivision, which usually has a homeowners’ association. In Park City, during the boom period of 2000-2010, subdivisions sprang up like weeds. Each developer basically copied-and-pasted the CC&Rs of some other subdivision (CC&R = codes, covenants, and restrictions). These CC&Rs are really detailed and often highly restrictive. For example, they specify exactly what roofing materials may be used, the range of roof pitches that are allowed, and explicitly outlaw certain design elements. Combine these CC&Rs with fairly homogeneous suburban tastes, and a few stylistic trends, and you end up with houses that could be cousins if not siblings. Here’s an example.
More specifically, the archetypal Park City house has these elements:
- 4′ high stone veneer at the base (certain amount of stone required in CC&Rs),
- staggered facade with gables over each protrusion (CC&Rs do not allow uninterrupted walls),
- complex roofs, with fairly shallow pitch, and lots of valleys (maximum height restrictions, and maximum uninterrupted ridge lengths),
- some combination of stucco, board-and-batten, or shingle siding above the stone base (CC&Rs),
- three garages (the American way),
- single-level living (but usually with a big lower level as a bonus…why climb stairs?),
- arch-topped windows (current style trend),
- timber or log columns (current style trend).