Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Radio Show Interview - all about Sweden, Prefab, USA New Wall & Swedish Platform Framing

Sunday afternoon I was on an internet radio program called Burning Down the House hosted by architect Curtis Wayne and discussed the broad range of topics that have been covered in our Letters from Sweden series.

Burning Down the House covers all matters of Design and Architecture and appears on the Heritage Radio Network - essentially an internet broadcast, the show went out by live stream on Sunday afternoon and is subsequently available as a Podcast. Heritage has a bunch of great shows on cooking and food, wine and beer, so all you foodies following out there may enjoy some of the shows they offer.

Curtis had done his homework and proceeded to lead us through the broad range of topics that we have covered in the course of our study of Swedish housing. As you might expect, we were not able to plumb the depths of all this content, but we did speak in some detail about many points. Curtis suggested I come back for another show where we could delve into some of these areas in greater depth, an opportunity I'd welcome.

There are several ways to listen to the show. Its on iTunes if that's your thing. Or you can listen online on their site, or download the audio file. If you are looking on the list it is show #81 from 11/13/11. Its best if you up the volume a bit since I was mumbling - I really got to work on my radio persona!

Continue reading "Radio Show Interview - all about Sweden, Prefab, USA New Wall & Swedish Platform Framing"

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mineral Wool - first local install

Last year I started writing about my enthusiasm for Mineral Wool insulation, and now this past week I've seen the first installation of this insulation on a local project.

The mineral wool was used for renovation project, the conversion of an uninsulated 3-season room to full time conditioned space. Because the room has so many existing windows we wanted to achieve a higher insulation level in the roof. The existing framing was only 7.5" deep, not much room for insulation. So we added a 2x furring strip, combined two layers of mineral wool, one R15 3.5" (typically used in 2x4 stud walls) and one R23 5.5" (typically used in 2x6 stud walls), creating R38 in the 9" cavity we had available. We put Certainteed's Membrain over it for the vapor retarder. Its an un-vented roof and we wanted to be sure it would dry to the inside if any moisture got into the roof, so this variable permeability nylon is perfect in this case. You can see it in the photo above awaiting the finished ceiling. End note: The builder did all the cutting of mineral wool with the owner's 18" kitchen bread knife!

The owner emailed me his impressions:

The insulation is truly amazing. We are not far from the flight path into Philly. When standing in the Florida room last night you could barely hear the jets. Last night when I went to take Penny (pet dog) out by the Florida room door the room was amazingly warm and we have yet to turn on the heater this fall! When I opened the door the difference between the outside and the Florida room was remarkable.

This is why I'm advocating for mineral wool in the USA New Wall, because it achieves higher performance in the same amount of space as the status quo fiberglass batts, and the process of installing and working with batts is similar enough to not be intimidating to contractors. The contractor on this project had never worked with mineral wool before. Granted for the first time they did not like the differences from fiberglass, but they did complete the work with the same labor force and in essentially the same amount of time as they were accustomed to working. That is what makes mineral wool superior to blown in cellulose or spray foams when it comes to bringing people along, and coaxing higher performance out of builders who are not versed in higher performance.

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Friday, September 30, 2011

0970 Lagom House Construction Prints - very close to finished

I've been working slowly on the Lagom House Construction Prints over the past few months. As the first of our house plans to feature the USA New Wall, and the Swedish Platform Framing right out of the box, I've had more than the usual amount of work to prep the plans. But we are almost there.

Also a feature of the Lagom House plan set will be the unique foam insulation formed slab on grade. Similar to a frost protected shallow foundation, this is an "Americanized" version of the slab forms that are a commodity in Sweden. These allow for home foundations to be made quickly, with low labor and low material costs, resulting in a highly energy efficient foundation system. Beats spending money on muddy holes in the ground.

Look for the plan set to break in the catalog very soon. We'll take pre-orders any time. In fact, if you are the negotiating type and you want pre-order discount, then you better get on the horn now, because once the plan set is posted to the catalog negotiation time will be over!

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Raising our standard of care

One of the foundations of how the Swedes build houses is the air tight barrier created at the vapor retarder/barrier plane of the wall. There is a movement about in the US to push that air barrier to the exterior of the wall, and the vapor retarder with it which raises a whole host of other problems. One of the issues is that its well known that its nearly impossible to seal an air barrier around the floor joists of a two story house. Well how do the Swedes do it? Simple, they use this:

Doh! Why didn't we think of that? Why not is a good question. Its because our standard of care is too low. Builders everywhere in the US use fiberglass batts with asphalt impregnated craft paper as their vapor retarder. This is trimmed loosely around obstructions and never achieves an air-tight barrier. Now that more builders are thinking about this I see decent air barriers installed, but the space between joists - spray foam is recommended. Another subcontractor, another process, another reason for a builder not to bother. So that's why the Swedes have these clever folded vapor barrier sheets - so they can quickly wrap and tape off a penetration by a floor joist or beam. They don't need a special insulation for between the joists or new trades or subcontractors.

Continue reading "Raising our standard of care"

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Energy Smart Housing Innovation, The Swedish Way

I am very tardy in introducing this book to you. I've known of it for some time as it was written by Holger Gross, a friend of Scott Hedges, my co-author in the Letters from Sweden series. In this book Holger makes a thorough introduction to many of the techniques and products used in Sweden to create energy efficient houses.

Holger comes from a structural engineering background but spent a large part of his career in the timber framed housing industry. He has since written several books as consumer guides to home ownership and condominium ownership. This book takes a consumer guide approach to explaining the ins and outs of energy efficient house building.

You will find first a background on Swedish housing and energy use, and basis for what has driven Sweden to refine their techniques for building efficient housing. He continues to outline conceptual approaches for improving performance, and then launches into a detailed look at the various components of building.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

0751 RS House - now direct from us

When we first started offering the RS House as a house plan it was not here on our own catalog. Why? In many ways the house is inconsistent with our other house designs. Its a very specific design solution created for an individual client. It was not designed to be a product as are the rest of our designs.

At the outset I just felt that this made the house too different from the other designs and I decided to offer it through other house plan vendors instead. After a couple of years of this we've reconsidered. The truth is we think we can do a better job marketing this house than any other vendor. And I think we have more followers interested in this kind of house than any other vendor. So we are making a place for it here in our catalog. You can now find its own catalog page.

The house is still very different from the other offerings, and because it originated as a custom commission we've made a special collection for designs like this. We are calling it LamiDesign+, jumping on the + bandwagon with Googles' new social media site. The meaning is that the genesis of these designs is something more than our other Collections. They represent the outcome of an intensive design process with one of our individual clients. As such these house designs will be a product of that collaborative process. So these are not just LamiDesign houses, they are LamiDesign+.

Another stark difference from the rest of our plan offerings is the pricing. Because the development cost of these house plans has been paid for we can offer them at a much reduced pricing. Any house design you will see available here will be offered with the full consent and cooperation of my client for whom the original house was designed. In each case I will be entering a pay-back arrangement with these clients, so that sales of the plan will off-set their investment in design services, with the ultimate goal being a complete reimbursement. I think this is a completely unique proposition in the world of house plans, and for that matter in architectural practice. Its intended as incentive for people to invest in design, to build better designed houses, and to encourage the results of that investment to be used to further spread good design. I think its a tremendous win-win, and the latest innovation we are bringing to the house plan industry.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

0751 RS House - Photography of the finished house.

We long ago promised fresh pictures of this house when spring came and the trees leafed out. Well the trees did their part, and we did return to take more photos towards the end of June.

I was joined by my friend, photographer Glenn Hudson. Glenn is an amazing nature photographer and portrait shooter, but he was keen to shoot the house. Unlike most staged architectural photographs you'll find his shots of the house have a natural feeling - not a propped and dressed magazine shot. We like this. Houses are for real life, not for magazine shots. So enjoy these, and enjoy more of Glenn's photography on his flickr site.

The sky was overcast that day, but it actually made for an even north light on all sides of the house. Good for seeing what the house looks like, if not for a dramatic shot of the sky. After the link below you'll find more photos from our visit in June 2011.

Continue reading "0751 RS House - Photography of the finished house."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

West Chester Leed House - new local build

This new home project from my local practice may be the first project to use a variation on the USA New Wall. But even if it does not we are vetting a number of interesting tech here and it should be fun to watch.

This is not a modern styled house, so no eye candy for our modern house following, but there will be lots of interesting tech and well worth watching the build. Even though the house has a craftsman style feel to the exterior, the floor plan is very modern, open plan, to accommodate contemporary living. And as the name suggests it will be Leed Certified.

This house is utilizing Superior Walls, a precast, and pre insulated basement wall product. This allowed the basement to be installed in one day - no concrete formwork and much abbreviated prep time. Rather than a conventional footing and fragile, relatively speaking, basement wall, the precast wall is very strong and stiff and only requires a stone bed beneath it. This stone bed spreads the load out to meet the undisturbed soil at with a load pressure within its bearing capacity, and this is how it precludes conventional footings.

We are encouraging the use of Mineral Wool in a USA New Wall Better Wall configuration. It may instead use foam and blown in cellulose, but still in the Better Wall configuration. In case you are curious this will not be using Swedish Platform framing, rather conventional western platform framing is being used. But the Better Wall configuration with an exterior insulation layer does improve the thermal bridges inherent in western platform frame.

Our client Intersect Homes is the owner/builder of this project, so we have a build dedicated to building green. Slide show below after the jump to get more of a feel for this project as it starts.

Continue reading "West Chester Leed House - new local build"

Saturday, June 18, 2011

USA New Wall - Swedish Platform Framing in detail

Its time finally to look at the Swedish Platform Frame in detail. Lets compare Swedish Platform Framing to Western Platform Framing side by side.

What we are going to look at is how SPF framing improves thermal performance over WPF, and how SPF lends itself to off-site construction better than WPF. We'll hit those points at each step. Behold, the Swedish Platform Frame, in all its glorious simplicity. Seeing the wall system in its entirety makes clear the importance of the wiring chase. This element contributes the essential mechanisms by which the wall can be made air-tight and thermally improved.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

USA New Wall - Swedish Platform Frame, the future of house building

At the end of my Best Wall post I promised to introduce the Swedish Platform Frame. First we will look at the context. The Swedish Platform Frame is the next evolutionary step in stud framing. Thats a pretty bold claim for a nobody architect from New Jersey. But its true.

Balloon Framing revolutionized house building in America with the introduction of the first stud framed system. Wester Platform Framing refined the method making the required studs smaller, easier to transport to site, easier to mill. Its served us well, but house building is under new pressures to deliver greater energy performance, and the once brilliant Western Platform Frame is simply no longer up to the job. Times have changed. The Swedish Platform Frame method is the next sensible evolution of these stud framing methods and is destined to replace them as the way we build houses in the US.

Continue reading "USA New Wall - Swedish Platform Frame, the future of house building"

Friday, June 03, 2011

USA New Wall - The Best Wall

The third configuration of the USA New Wall is the Best wall. Nothing earthshaking or revolutionary in this version. We simply take the two version of the Better wall, the exterior insulation version, and the interior insulation version - and combine the both.

The Best wall has the exterior insulation layer in the rainscreen cavity, and the interior insulation layer in the wiring chase. We've just added R14 to our R23 2x6 wall or our R28 2x8 wall, and two insulated thermal breaks for the studs.

Continue reading "USA New Wall - The Best Wall"

Sunday, May 29, 2011

USA New Wall - The Better Wall

The second configuration of the USA New Wall we are going to look at is the Better wall. The Better wall is all about breaking the thermal bridge of the wall framing. We start with the Good wall, and add insulation layers inside or outside that keep the studs from sending your heat directly through the wall. The framing of the wall is still kept simple so you already know how to build this.

The Better wall comes in two flavors, so lets start with the interior insulated wire chase version. We add an interior wire chase to a basic wall which provides a space to run wires and mount electrical boxes that will not puncture the vapor retarder/barrier. This is a huge asset for maintaining the air-tight envelope of the house. Wires are easy to run, and can be snugged between the furring and vapor retarder. Plumbing supply lines can also live in this space.

Continue reading "USA New Wall - The Better Wall"

Friday, May 27, 2011

USA New Wall - The Good Wall

The first configuration of the USA New Wall we are going to look at is the Good wall. The Good wall is all about what is the greatest gain for the least effort. How can we make the wall we build every day perform better without loosing any sleep or worry about how to build it. We don't want to know about sprays or blows - we want to work the way we know how to, but we want to build a Good wall.

The Good wall is all about increasing the insulation value in the wall cavity. So first of all we use 2x6 studs and the configuration of the framing is expanded to 24"oc. Mineral wool batts rated at R23 are used in place of the more common fiberglass at R13 or R19. Mineral wool batts are unfaced, so that means we need to introduce a vapor retarder or vapor barrier membrane. Which you use will depend on which climate zone you are located in, and whether or not your home has air conditioning.

Continue reading "USA New Wall - The Good Wall"

Thursday, May 26, 2011

USA New Wall - Good, Better, Best

One thing I've discovered at I have studied Swedish building techniques, and eventually how to apply them here, is that there is a storm brewing in building science in the US. There are many differing opinions on what is the best approach to improving performance, and as many expert opinions as there are, there are multiples of lesser informed second hand opinions spiraling off of the expert opinions. Through all this I see nobody talking about how to bring the reluctant building industry into these higher performance practices. Nobody is considering the reality of an entrenched and mature industry, with supply lines and practical experience which will not be willingly cast aside. This is where the USA New Wall comes in.

The USA New Wall design is informed by the building practices in Sweden which are in turn a natural evolution of the building techniques widespread in the USA. By looking at the results of 30 years of building science development in Sweden we can take away some very plain lessons on how to improve our building without upsetting the apple cart that is the industry.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

MoTrad House - porch and patio

The owner has moved back into the house - a great milestone. But while his time is now split between getting settled and finishing the details, some things were getting finished outside.

The original house had a small front stoop, but now with the great overhang on the front of the house we've expanded it into a full width front porch. With steps all around and no hand rails it retains its open feeling.

Around back a similar concrete patio has gone in outside the living room windows where life can move outdoors during fair weather. These are modest paved areas, yes, but will give much utility back to the house. More photos after the link below.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

MoTrad House - rails part III

Another step taken with the handrails - the temporary wood panels for the stair have been installed, and they look great.

But these are simply luan plywood - thin quarter inch plywood that is typically put under tile or vinyl floors as an underlayment. However it does help you imagine a nice baltic birch ply as an alternate to a glass panel. But we are not done - the wood handrail that will top these is yet to be installed. You can see them on the floor in front of the railing in the photo above.

A few more shots after the link.

Continue reading "MoTrad House - rails part III"

Sunday, May 08, 2011

MoTrad House - rails part II

The rail for the stair has arrived, and before it went in the temporary stair treads were OUT, and the final stair treads were IN.

All of the rails still await the in-fill panels that will complete them, but for the time being its a bit less precarious going up and down the stair. I really like the parallel strand lumber that was used for the stair treads. This is an engineered wood product made by laminating small strips of wood under great pressure. The resulting wood is stronger and more consistent than solid wood lumber and it is used for structural beams in wood frame construction. This is a great appropriation of that material for another use where the interesting grain pattern can be displayed.

More photos after the link below.

Continue reading "MoTrad House - rails part II"

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

MoTrad House - night shot

A few photos of the night lighting added to the house with the addition/renovation.

The front steps here will be updated with a new front porch that will stretch the width of this recess. The deep overhang here has recessed lighting, as well as the overhang around the master bathroom bay on the second floor level. And there are some shots of progress made in the kitchen. Photos after the link below.

Continue reading "MoTrad House - night shot"

Friday, April 29, 2011

MoTrad House - rails

You know you have an owner dedicated to design when in the course of the schematic design they travel, not once, but twice, to far reaches of the country in order to go on home tours in places where he will see recent modern houses. And so now that the details are beginning to come together we are starting to see the fruits of the inspiration he took from other houses he has visited. The stair began with an idea this way, and now the rails.

These are 2" square tubing, with tabs off the posts to support tempered glass panels. The small extensions you see protruding from the top will support a wood handrail at the proper railing height. A great combination of wood and glass and steel. Its always satisfying to see a house plan customer do a great job finishing out their house, to see them make great material choices, and to see them realize the dreams and inspirations they have gotten from reading their favorite design magazines or blogs. Here the same thing is happening as the owner gets to make real the small parts and pieces of the house in a special way, as he saw in the houses he toured.

This is a big deal to me. It validates for me the whole premise of offering modern house plans. The customers for my house plans were always assumed to be design savvy, to be able to tell the difference between an inspired design and a mcmansion with a nose job. For the cost of house plans its not possible to provide the custom and personalized details that you would get with a custom designed home. But the modern house plan customer is smart, resourceful, and they can make these details happen for themselves. And in the end when they make these things happen for themself it makes the house take on more meaning for them and builds a closer tie to their home. I've seen it in a dozen house builds by my customers, and the MoTrad House proves it out again.

A few more railing photos after the link below.

Continue reading "MoTrad House - rails"

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

MoTrad House - covering those floors

And in a blink of the blog's eye those dusty plywood subfloors are gone, and finish flooring rolls out in its place. Stained bamboo in the living area, planks recycled from the original kitchen in the office, and carpet upstairs in the bedrooms. I know there is still a lot of finishes to complete, the bathrooms for instance, but this place is starting to smell like Done.

Construction momentum is an amazing thing, and this project has had it. Every week the house took a significant step, even when mother nature was throwing everything she had at them. So its looking very done, but the baseboards and other trim are not in, and the kitchen as you see still needs to be assembled. None the less, an amazing transformation over the past few weeks.

As always more photos after the link.

Continue reading "MoTrad House - covering those floors"

Friday, April 22, 2011

MoTrad House - exterior all but finished

The weather broke, just for a few days, and the stucco men and siding hangers rushed in and finished up outside. Given how much snow and how much cold we had this past winter this house pushed through the foul weather and made great progress.

I thought this owner GC'd build would move more slowly, but I was wrong. A determined owner has kept the work moving, including the tasks done himself. Looking back the owner did the bulk of the demo, including salvage for reuse, excavation, and some of the footing work, he has built the stair, and will install the cabinets and much of the flooring and interior trim work. Good inspiration for my other customers who plan to have their hands in their construction work as well. More photos of the completed exterior after the link below:

Continue reading "MoTrad House - exterior all but finished"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

USA New Wall - an update on my work on a new wall system

So much has happened since I posted my concept for this wall system back in Jan11. I've had dissatisfying discussions with fiberglass insulation makers. Very positive contact and support from Mineral Wool insulation maker Roxul, I've visited Bensonwood's facility in New Hampshire and seen their wall systems and their fabrication process first hand.

Regular readers know I have proposed this wall system as an easy first step towards high efficiency for builders who have not tried green building before. The goal was to make a wall design that performed significantly better, yet used the same materials and techniques as status quo walls. The idea is that builders can use the same subs they already have relationships with and the same suppliers they get materials from. They don't have to try new materials which they are unfamiliar with, new subs they have not worked with before, nor estimate time and cost with unfamiliar process. All deal-killers for getting status quo builders to try something new.

Continue reading "USA New Wall - an update on my work on a new wall system"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

MoTrad House - circling the wagons

Well, circling the kitchen cabinets actually.

Installation of the kitchen cabinets has begun. A few more photos after the link below.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

MoTrad House - the finish begins

Its time - all the rough work in the house is complete and its time for finishes to begin.

The drywall work has been painted, at least a base coat of white to begin. The owner has moved in the kitchen cabinet boxes, which are actually being re-used from the original house. He built these himself for the original house, so he dismantled and salvaged them for the new house, and we made sure they would fit in the new location in the addition portion of the house. I suspect he has some new pieces to fabricate and some existing ones to alter, but its still largely ready to go.

Other finishes in the house will begin in earnest soon as well, and we've actually entered the last major phase of construction. More photos in an image browser after the link below.

Continue reading "MoTrad House - the finish begins"

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

MoTrad House - the owner builds a stair

The owner buckled down and got to work this past weekend and built his own stair. With some inspiration from our friends at PostGreen Homes, developers of the famous 100k house project, the MoTrad House owner fabricated his own dual stringer stair, made from oriented strand beams.

He had priced out a custom made single steel stringer stair, for which he would still have made the thick wood treads. But alas the price for the steel was outside his value range. Thats a polite way to say it was too much. So confident, and industrious, and with a good role model, he forged ahead and made his own. He did still source a custom steel bracket to support the stringers at the top, but the rest was by the work of his own hands. And power tools.

More photos after the link below:

Continue reading "MoTrad House - the owner builds a stair"

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

MoTrad House - sheetrock happens

The house is "rocked" as they say. The gypsum wall board hangers came, and my client reports they hung the drywall in one day. Like a gypsum tornado, an experience crew can make short work of drywalling a house, even a house such as this one with some odd angles, and some very high spaces as you will see in the photographs.

While the gypsum magic was happening inside, the plasterers were busy outside trying to get the stucco coats on the house. Unfortunately the weather has not cooperated and we've had a late March revisit of February weather. Its been too cold and they have to come back when it warms up some.
More photos in the photo browser after the link - you know what to do. Enjoy! Continue reading "MoTrad House - sheetrock happens"

Saturday, March 26, 2011


On the way to a visit to Bensonwood in New Hampshire we made a stop in Connecticut and paid a visit to this unique modern house right on the coast of the sound.

The house had just been published in the New York Times last week and when we realized that it was nearby we took a drive over to see it. We met the architect, Gernot Bruckner, who was kind enough to give us a tour of the house. He is marketing the house and several other very cool designs in a "build on your site" business model which is an interesting approach. The house is beautifully done, a minimalist box on steel pilotis, reminds me of LeCorbusier's exhibition house at Stuttgart, and the striped work of Swiss architect Mario Botta.

Gernot rolled up his sleeves and completed many of the custom details that really distinguish the house from everyday construction. We wish him luck! Check out his offerings at Brio54.

Continue reading "Brio54"

Monday, March 21, 2011

MoTrad House - black tie and tails

Well the Motrad house is not exactly putting on a tux and stepping out on the town, but it has gotten a second wrap of black asphalt coated building paper and reinforcing mesh in advance of the start of stucco application.

What we have as a result is the first indication of the different materials the house will have on the facade. The areas now wrapped in black paper will start receiving stucco - like as I am writing this. The areas wrapped in the white house-wrap material will receive wood siding panels - I think, at least the last time I spoke to the owner specifically about this..! In either case there will be a second and contrasting cladding material on these areas which will emphasize the form of the house.

A few more shots in a slide show after the link below.

Continue reading "MoTrad House - black tie and tails"

Thursday, March 17, 2011

MoTrad House - insulation

The rough in of electrical and plumbing is complete and the insulation of the walls, roof, and ceiling have begun.

The owner is using EcoBatts by Knaupf insulation, a european company that has brought this recycled glass batt insulation to the US. R-values are consistent with other fiberglass batt products. Notably the glass fibers are brown from the color of the various recycled glass that goes into the mix.

A few more photos after the continue reading link below.

Continue reading "MoTrad House - insulation"

Sunday, March 13, 2011

0751 RS House - some late winter photos

The owner passed along a few photos shot through the trees on the side of the lot.

Still winter, hinting at spring. I'll visit and take some photos once there is green in the trees.

Continue reading "0751 RS House - some late winter photos"

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

MoTrad House - plumbing begun

Work has begun inside, and not much looks different outside, yet we have some new photos of the house from the owner.

There is some house wrap missing on this side, so still some catching up to do before the cladding goes on. The finish will be stucco. Click through for a photo browser of the new pictures.

Continue reading "MoTrad House - plumbing begun"

Monday, February 21, 2011

Motrad House - roof on, windows in

Its official, the roof is on, the windows are in, the interior work will now commence in earnest.

Seems like just yesterday we were trying to imagine what the house would look like when the roof was framed, and here is all shingled up, all those wall holes filled with windows, and looking all very housey.

Well we have some treats for you today, because if you follow the link below not only will you find the usual selection of further images of the progress of the construction, but also two wonderful videos that the owner has made of a short walk-thru of the house. Its still all just framing inside, but there is no better way to finally understand the collection of rooms and spaces shown on a floor plan than to take a little stroll through them. So click on dear reader..

Continue reading "Motrad House - roof on, windows in"

USA New Wall - so called Advanced Framing

So called Advanced Framing has been promoted as a technique to improve efficiency and energy performance for house walls. But it also seems to have been designed to ensure that nobody adopts it.

First we should cover the basics - what is Advanced Framing? It is a "system" or practice of house framing that endeavors to reduce the amount of wood going into the wall, and as a result reduce thermal bridging and increase energy efficiency. It is also interchangeably referred to as Optimum Value Engineering or OVE which perhaps speaks more to the process that came up with this. Value Engineering has come to be a euphemism for cutting costs. In this case, cutting out everything but what is essential to frame a house.

Before we look at exactly how Advanced Framing accomplishes these goals let me just air my gripe. The details of the AF framing techniques are smart, efficient, and dare I say common sense. Yet taken as a whole "system" it is overly rigid, inflexible, and lacks resiliency. To follow a strict application building elements must fall on the proposed modular grid. This limits possibilities, and dooms existing house plans to significant redesign. Its lack of resiliency means its advantages can be quickly overcome by deviation from its strict use. And while it can save up to 20% in material, it really does not go far enough to create a high performance wall system. I feel this combination is a barrier to adoption that will prevent it from becoming the de-facto method for framing houses in the US. Yet many of the individual details are easy to implement, and many builders have already taken this hybrid approach. With the help of this diagram lets look at some of the key aspects of AF, the ones that are easiest to adopt.

Continue reading "USA New Wall - so called Advanced Framing"

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

0970 Lagom House - Design Prints for new northside Lagom House are ready

Today, on the occasion of the official introduction of a (sort of) new house plan design - the northside version of our Lagom House - I thought it would be worthwhile to review the design in its entirety to make clear how this relates to the Lagom House we've been looking at for the past year.

This new version of the Lagom House features the same smart plan layout. At just under 1500sf, and with 2.5 baths and 3 bedrooms, it delivers an open living/dining room with separate but connected kitchen, a small home office area, and a homework area for the kids. It is a very family friendly yet very compact home. This is a house that is small enough to be a first home, a "starter" home if we can still use that term in today's world, but lives large enough for a family of four.

read on for the complete history of this house design

Continue reading "0970 Lagom House - Design Prints for new northside Lagom House are ready"

Monday, February 14, 2011

Motrad House - house shell all framed up

The framing of the shell of the house is now done. There is a little bit more of partition framing going on inside, but soon the Electricians, Plumbers, and HVAC men will be on the job installing the guts of the house. Finish work to follow.

I'm very pleased with the how the house is coming out. The progress photos line up very nicely with the design sketches which is very gratifying. And best of all its shaping up to be one very cool house!

And after the link we have a photo browser with more pictures - enjoy!

Continue reading "Motrad House - house shell all framed up"

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

0970 Lagom House - northside version underway

If you recall any of the details of the 0970 Lagom House that was entered in a green house design contest last year, you may remember that there were to be multiple versions. The initial version posted to the catalog was configured to be on the south side of a street, with the roof facing south for solar exposure. Soon we will also have design prints available for the north side configuration.

The south side version faces the sloping roof towards the back yard, while the north side version faces the sloping roof towards the street.

Once this second versions design prints are ready we will move on to prepping the Construction Prints for this efficient house design. This will be the first plan set to be documented to use our New American Wall system for high energy performance.

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Monday, February 07, 2011

MoTrad House - snow does not let up

And neither do the carpenters. The roof is way along now, the front more so than the back, but we can see the massing of the house now. Its no longer overshadowed by its neighbor.

And after the link we have a photo browser with more photos.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

MoTrad House - rafters landing

As the rafters begin to go in you can start to get a sense of the massing of the house.

If you take a look at the project page at our web site you'll see more illustrations of how the house will finally appear. This may help you make sense out of what the rafters are doing here.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

MoTrad House - second floor cometh

The second floor partitions, and the roof in as much as it is tied together with the partitions, have begun to be framed up. Very soon the overall massing of the house will take shape. Already you can start to get a sense of the second floor spaces.

So click through to see the most recent photos from the second floor.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

MoTrad House - second floor platform done

Not big news, but what this means is that since the second floor platform is in place you can now get a good sense of what the rooms on the ground floor feel like. Some new interior shots and a comparison to the design sketches.

So click through to see more of the main spaces from the ground floor shot from different angles. And I'm going to try to post a short video clip of the ground floor that the owner posted.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

USA New Wall - a proposal for a high performance commodity wall system

We've been kicking this idea around for about a year, ever since we created our 0970 Lagom House for a design contest. Inspired by our study of Swedish construction we wanted to create a high performance wall for the US market that lent itself to panel fabrication, and was accessible to any builder using the skills and experience they already have.

Why not use new materials and techniques? How can you make a New Wall that everybody is going to know how to build? We want to create a wall that can be widely adopted, something that any builder can start building tomorrow without any new training, without finding any new suppliers, with out changing the way they run their business. If we want the greatest number of builders to build more efficient houses we need a wall they understand immediately, we need a wall that they can purchase materials for from their existing suppliers, use their existing sub-contractors, and a wall that is familiar enough for them to reliably price and schedule. New materials and new techniques throw off all of this and become barriers to adoption. We don't want barriers. We want everybody to start building more efficient houses. Continue reading for a detailed explanation of this simple but robust wall.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

MoTrad House - damn the snow, keep on framing

Snow over the weekend, and more coming today, has not slowed the pace of framing at the MoTrad House. The main level of the second floor platform is on and decked, and I suppose we can expect the master bedroom level to follow shortly.

I expected this project to move along more slowly than usual as the owner is doing GC duty himself. But I've been wrong at the framer is moving at a good clip, and the excavation and foundation work was well coordinated and happened quickly as well.

More photos if you click through to read the rest.

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Saturday, January 08, 2011

MoTrad House - framing up

A quick transition to framing, and the walls are now rising quickly.

The height of the walls here gives us a little clue about the relative ceiling heights. The rear portion of the house at the kitchen and living room enjoy an extra hight ceiling due to the master suite being a few steps up from the rest of the second floor. Stay tuned for more as the carpenters always seem to make short work of the framing. You'll find a photo-browser with more images after the link.

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Friday, January 07, 2011

Letters from Sweden - The path lies in revising our roles

Scott, my partner is studying Swedish housing, posted a comment at the Green Building Advisor blog post on my look at Swedish walls. His comment was very thought provoking, so much so I thought it important to repost it here. It is all about how the roles required to build houses in Sweden are different than they are here. As such the expectations are different, and coming to grip with that will probably be more important than any of the hammers and nails involved in changing what we do. In the end buying a house in Sweden is more like buying a kitchen in the US.

I think that any benefits from the Swedish methods are going to be because guys like the ones reading this figure out how to make all this both profitable and beneficial to their lives - because it is good for customers, profits, and their own sense of enjoyment of work. There are some important cultural and trade practice issues. James mentions "replacing skilled labor" by the idea of ordering his walls ...

I wanted to comment about how I saw this kind of factory based building impact the lives of the people who build houses in Sweden, as far as I could tell from my time there.

The Swedes had managed to change the supply chain in light residential construction and consequently they changed the nature of the work involved in building a house.

The closest way I can describe it is to compare it to the work of cabinet installers in the USA. The builders in Sweden come to the job with the same level of "kit" to build a house that we would take to install a kitchen. It is not that cabinet installers in the USA are unskilled - they just need different skills than framers.

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