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We are always trying to keep our clients up-to-date with interesting things about custom timberframe homes, as well as Log & Timber Home Shows in Canada and the United States.

Net Zero Homes

You might have heard of a Net Zero home in the news or read about it in a magazine.  So, what is it?  A Net Zero home means that a house produces as much energy as it consumes. Energy consumption within a building is rated using the HERS index (Home Energy Rating System.) Reaching a 0 rating means the home is completely self-sustaining. A typical house has a HERS rating of 100-130.

 

A Net Zero house minimizes energy use within a house and any energy that it needs, it produces through renewable energy systems like solar panels.  Therefore, the house is not dependent on getting its energy from an outside producer.  It is self-sufficient.  Sound pretty nice? Well, below are some ways that you can incorporate some of the Net Zero concepts into your home:

 

Footprint:  Utilizing a modest building footprint and not over-building for your needs may be a first good step.  The larger and more spread out a building is, the more energy it will consume.

 

Climate Responsiveness:  Employ passive design techniques such as south-facing windows that promote natural heating and daylighting. Also, limiting east/west exposure in hot climates helps to reduce cooling loads.

 

Quality Construction:   Incorporating good building practices such as correct flashing, sealing, framing, effective insulation, etc. to achieve a super-tight envelope is important. Quality of the construction should be integral to the design and really helps to minimize envelope loads.

 

Systems Sizing:  Integrating and sizing systems efficiently including heating, cooling, ventilation and dehumidification can really help to optimize the building’s performance.

 

Renewable Energy:  Homes need to utilize on-site renewable/alternative energy to generate power and heat. Solar panels, fuel cells, micro-turbines, etc. can be used to make and store energy to meet critical energy loads.

 

These are just a few of the more important avenues to reach a home that is completely self-sufficient and considered Net Zero.  By studying these important concepts we can produce a house that is much less energy reliant and contains a much smaller carbon footprint.

 

Passive Houses

We all know that having an airtight house cuts down on our heating and cooling costs. But how tight do they need to be?  Is it really necessary to have an extremely high performance house or should we be somewhere in the middle?  Well, in the next few blogs I will be discussing insulation as well as air tightness and several methods that can be used to achieve the specific goal you want to strive for.

 

The first standard I want to talk about is called Passive Houses. Passive Houses are an energy standard that can bring down a building’s heating and cooling loads by 90% over standard construction. There are clearly defined targets that the house must achieve to gain the Passive House status. It uses super insulation methods along with air tightness and other methods to reduce heating and cooling loads to such low levels that the house can be operational through mostly passive measures and minimal active measures.  So, how is this achieved?  Here are the 6 main objectives:

 

Insulation:

The building envelope must consist of highly insulated exterior walls, roof and floor. This keeps the desired warmth in the house or undesirable heat out.

 

Windows:

Highly efficient triple pane windows are a must. They also need to be low-e glazing, argon-filled and have airtight frames. With these windows on the coldest day of the year, you can touch the glass and it will not feel cold!

 

Thermal-Bridge Free Design:

This means no part of the structure can act as a roadway for heating energy that can travel and escape right through your walls.

 

Super-Tight Construction:

With the Passive House standard, air infiltration can be no greater than 0.6 air changes per hour, at 50 pascals. That is a super airtight house!

 

Sun Exposure:

Orient your home so that the sun helps to heat it. Sun exposure can really help to keep your energy costs down.

 

Air Exchanges:

With a super tight house, clean fresh air is a must. By using an Energy Recovery Ventilator your house will experience 7 complete air exchanges in 24 hours.

 

So, you might be thinking that this is pretty extreme.  You also might be wondering how expensive this is. Initially the costs may be higher, but over time your energy costs would skydive. This is just an overview of the Passive House method, but it demonstrates some things that we could do within our houses to help save energy and therefore become less energy dependent.
 

Incorporating the Senses into Architecture

 

Did you know it was possible to incorporate your senses into your new home?  I will discuss our five senses and the strategies you might use to integrate these into your new space.

 

Sight:

Sight is an obvious one and definitely the most used sense relating to architecture.  To view a space is to see not only the solid forms but also the openness and space of an area.  Using both light and structure in combination can make its occupants feel comfortable. The merger of these components can also take your home from just ordinary to something special and a place you want to hang out in!

 

Hearing:

Acoustics of a building, though not initially obvious to us, can return a space’s movements and create an atmosphere that we can connect with.  Increasing sound can boost the intensity of a space just like a sound track from a movie.  To adjust the impact of sound, we can use sound absorbers or sound optimizers.  Also, the forms of the building can affect sound.  The ceiling height or shape of the room can affect the acoustics.  With a high ceiling, sound has further to travel than with a shortened height. Also, different shapes of surfaces can bounce sound in specific directions to create an interesting effect.

 

Touch:

The sense of touch within a building can create a feeling of either relating or dislike.  The touch of building materials itself can create this feeling but it‘s also possible to feel a space without touching its components. You can feel if a space is dim or bright just by being in it.  The easiest example is the feeling of sunlight on your skin as you inhabit the space.

 

Smell:

Smell is our sense that is most closely connected to our memories.  The smell of different materials or fragrances we use within a space can be recorded in our memory for a later time.  Connections to these distinct smells can be recalled later and can stimulate various emotions that we might have had while being in the space.

 

Taste:

Taste is probably the toughest sense to link to in architecture.  It has been proven though that architecture can stimulate taste through vision.  It is possible that by mixing certain colors within objects of a building, it elicits some oral sensations.

 

In conclusion, our senses are how we experience the world in which we live. Within a building we can use our senses to create special environments that are both memorable and a joy to be in.

Incorporating Natural Light Within Your Home

Natural light is a very important component in your new home design.  There are numerous ways you can utilize specific techniques to take advantage of the sun, but also keep excessive sunlight out.  Here are a few examples:

 

Building orientation:

This is probably the most important factor in deciding how your home will react to its natural surroundings and thus daylighting conditions. I have included several discussions about this in some of my previous blogs, so feel free to refer to my articles that address designing for specific climates.  I will point out though that the most important thing to remember is orienting your building to collect sunlight when needed at specific times of the year and then reflecting the sun during the other seasons.

 

Window openings:

When thinking about daylighting, this is probably the first thing that comes to your mind. Windows have two essential functions in a building: daylight admittance and view allowance to its occupants. The size and location of windows are key to both of these functions.  As a general rule, the higher the window head height, the deeper into the space the daylight can travel.  However, the window still needs to be low enough for its occupants to see out.  Another thing to consider is that too much sunlight can make the interior space uncomfortable, so there’s definitely a balance here and it depends on orientation, climate, window size and location.

 

Skylights:

Skylights can be incorporated into a home to admit daylight in from above. Skylights can be either passive or active. Most skylights are passive which allows sunlight to penetrate a diffusing material through an opening in the roof.  By contrast, an active system utilizes mirrors to capture the sun and channels the sunlight down into the skylight well to increase the performance of the skylight.

 

Tubular daylight devices:

This is another type of toplighting device. They use a highly reflective film on an interior surface of a tube to channel light from a lens on the roof to a lens at the ceiling plane.

These tubes tend to be much smaller than skylights, but still deliver sufficient daylighting benefits.

 

Daylight redirection devices:

These devices take incoming direct sunlight and redirect it, usually into the ceiling of a space. They serve two functions, glare control and daylight penetration further into the space.  They usually take on one of two forms: a large horizontal element (a light shelf) or a louvered system.  

 

Building Design Techniques:

By designing a building in specific ways, you are able to direct sunlight.  For example, sloping an interior ceiling brings more light into a space.  Also, designing a relatively narrow home allows more sunlight to enter the space.  There are many other techniques, but these are just a few to consider.

 

So, when you are working on the design of your new home, be sure to consider its daylighting needs from the very beginning. The sooner you identify and incorporate what specific orientations and techniques you desire, the better home you will have in the end.

Bringing Nature into Architecture

Did you know that as humans we crave a connection to our natural world?  Having contact with nature in our everyday lives provides numerous health benefits and makes us happier people! Designing buildings to connect with nature can be accomplished in many ways.

 

 

Views:

Making nature visible within a building elevates the spirit. It gives us a visual connection with the outdoors and our natural environment.  It can reduce stress, produce more positive emotional functioning and actually improve our concentration. Views can be accomplished with glazing placed at strategic locations throughout the building.  Having large expanses of glass means the outdoors can flow seamlessly into the indoors. Windows with views to natural places help to achieve this important connection to nature.

 

Sunlight:

Daylighting also introduces a part of nature into a building.  Sunlight can improve our mood and bring a more natural and comfortable feel to the interior of a building.  It also reduces our reliance on artificial lighting and thus less energy use.

 

Airflow:

Fresh air is an important aspect of introducing nature into architecture as well.  It can stimulate our olfactory senses and provide pleasant breezes that just make us feel in tune with our natural environment.  It can also contribute to the cooling of our spaces without the use of artificial cooling systems.

 

Presence of Water:

Did you know that hearing or viewing aspects of nature such as water can also improve our mood and overall health?  Whether it means including a water feature within our building design or providing openings to listen to or view natural water features outside, water can have a positive impact on our everyday lives. 

 

Material Connection:

The materials that make up our building can also improve our connection to nature.  Construction materials such as wood and stone can create a more natural-feeling living environment that establishes a more comfortable setting.  Colors of interior spaces can also have an impact on our mood and overall mental health.

 

Indoor vegetation:

Having indoor plants within our architecture can produce positive effects as well. The plants purify, humidify and oxygenate the air within a space, thus improving indoor air quality greatly. They also visually help to connect an occupant to his/her natural environment when direct views of the outdoors are not possible.

 

In summary, a connection to nature within our built environment is crucial to our overall well-being.  By utilizing just a few of these methods to connect us to our natural environment, we become healthier, happier and more productive people!
 

Designing for Alpine Climates

This is my final blog covering the four broad climate types we find in North America.  To close the conversation, I would like to discuss Alpine zones.

 

The main characteristics of the alpine climate include:

 

  • Low humidity, high diurnal temperature range
  • Four distinct seasons, winter exceeds human comfort range
  • Cold to very cold winters
  • Warm, dry summers
  • Highly variable spring and autumn conditions

 

Homes in alpine environments have the highest thermal comfort energy use of any climate zone. The general objectives for buildings in the alpine zone is to reduce heat loss, provide protection against cold winds and provide alternate heating sources. Because the need for cooling is low, design strategies can mainly focus on heating energy use.

 

Here are some design ideas:

 

-Sunlight is key.  Try not building on sites without good access to sunlight.

-Minimize east/west axis with good southern exposure

-Site new homes with adequate sunlight and protection from cold winter winds

-Plant coniferous trees on north, east and west sides of buildings to protect from winds

-Locate living areas on south for sun exposure and bedroom and service areas on north

-Consider multi-level designs that allows sunlight into all rooms while maintaining a

compact form

-Provide airlocks to entries

-Minimize and shade east and west facing glass in the summer

-Use windows for ventilation and night-time cooling in the summer

 

It’s difficult to harness the solar radiation from the sun without compromising the insulation effects of the building form. In the Alpine climate, it’s definitely a balancing act.

 

This concludes my series on design for specific climates.  I hope that this has made you aware of various design principles that you can utilize within the design of your new home to better fit your specific environment.  

Designing for Cold Weather Climates

Design for Temperate Climates

 

In this blog I would like to discuss Temperate climates and what specific design characteristics we can employ to react to the distinct conditions of this zone.

 

The main characteristics of the temperate climate include:

 

-Cool to cold winter days

-Cold winter nights

-Warm to hot summers with moderate humidity

-Generally have 4 seasons

-Does not experience the wide variations of some of the more extreme climates

 

A temperate climate typically includes a hot and dry season followed by a wet and warm season and then winter conditions.  This makes it a challenging climate to design in.  The goal is to keep a balance between conflicting requirements.  In the winter, you need to seek solar radiation gain and then provide shading in the summer.

 

Here are some design ideas:

 

-Orient building axis east/west to maximize south side

-Windows should be moderate in size with double glazing

-Windows should face south to collect heat during the winter, but should be shaded during the summer months

-Needs appropriate amount of thermal building mass to absorb excess heat during the day and return it to the space at night

-Plan for cooling ventilation in the summer months but block the wind in the winter

-Insulate building envelope to high standards

-Deciduous trees are beneficial for blocking sun in the summer but letting sun through in the winter

 

Designing in temperate zones is challenging, but by utilizing a few of these design techniques, it will greatly improve the comfort within your home and overall energy demand. 

Designing a Home For Warm Humid Climates Where Germane

 

I discussed the hot arid climate in my last blog and how we can accomplish a more comfortable living environment within our homes by following a few design guidelines. Next, I want to talk about Warm Humid Climates and what we can do to address this specific zone.

 

The main characteristics for a warm humid climate include:

 

-High rainfall and high humidity

-Temperature is relatively high and fairly even throughout the day and throughout the year

-Winds are light and even non-existent at times

-Heavy precipitation and storms occur frequently

 

The main objective with a warm humid climate is to reduce the impact of sun and to provide cooling with wind as much as possible.

 

Here are some design ideas:

 

-Provide maximum shading of solar radiation with large overhanging roofs on the north and south sides

-Try to shade every window if possible

-Minimize east/west exposure as much as possible

-Orient house on north/south axis to provide maximum ventilation and free air movement.

-Use large openings on north/south for cross ventilation

-Avoid heat storage and use reflective outer surfaces

-Use tiled floors and not carpeting

-Use vegetation to moderate solar impact by creating shade

 

These are some important ideas to consider as you begin the process of designing your new home in a warm humid climate. Shade and ventilation are really the key and by thinking about this in the beginning you will have a superior finished product in the end.

 

Designing Homes for Hot Arid Climates

 

In my last blog I discussed how the various climates that we find in North America can influence design and how the four broad climate types we find calls for varying design techniques. The first climate that I want to discuss is the Hot Arid Climate.

 

The main characteristics for a hot arid climate include:

 

-Hot dry summer and a cold dry winter

-Very little rainfall and vegetation coverage

-High temperature difference between day and night

-Very low humidity

-Desert areas include wind and dust

 

The main idea in a hot arid zone is to reduce uncomfortable conditions created by the extremes of heat and dryness. Houses must remain cool in the hot summers and warm in the cold winters.  During the summer, sun is the enemy. It is important to provide maximum shading of direct solar radiation during the day and flush out any stored heat during the cooler nights.

 

Here are some design ideas to accomplish comfort:

 

-Place windows to take advantage of cooling breezes in summer

-Have very small well shaded windows on the eastern and western walls

-Include extensive area of wall and windows on the north side

-Shade windows from summer sun but expose winter sun to interior of house

-Use compact floor plan with less external wall area to minimize eastern and western walls

-Maximize nighttime cooling with high level windows or vents to let out the hot air and draw in cooler air

-Utilize shaded courtyards with water features that draw the cool moist air into the house

-Use vegetation to increase shading

-Paint interior and exterior walls light colors

-For warming at night, capture and store solar energy in solid material such as a concrete floor or brick walls to release at night

 

By utilizing these design considerations, a more comfortable living environment can be achieved with less mechanical means and thus much less energy use.  And ultimately you will arrive at a much preferred and more comfortable home.

 

Designing your Home for the Climate you are Building in

Designing for Specific Climates

 

 

Did you know that each specific climate warrants different design details than others?  A home located in the Arizona desert calls for contrasting design characteristics from one located in the Rocky Mountains or one that is sited on the ocean’s coast.  Below is a short list of distinctive design characteristics for each broad climate type that we typically find in North America.

 

Hot arid climates:

 

In hot arid zones, the main objective is to reduce uncomfortable conditions created by the extremes of heat and dryness. Usually in this climate there are great variations between day and night conditions. It is important to provide maximum shading of direct solar radiation during the day.  Usually these conditions can be controlled easier with compact designs that incorporate shade and controllable ventilation.

 

Warm humid zones:

 

This climate is characterized by high rainfall and high humidity.  The temperature differences are minimal and winds are typically light.  The most important design considerations involve providing maximum ventilation by designing large openings. Also, providing maximum shading of direct solar radiation is important. Generous shading devices can assist with this.  Vegetation can also be used to provide shade.

 

Temperate conditions:

 

A temperate climate typically includes a hot and dry season followed by a wet and warm season and then winter conditions.  This makes it a challenging climate to design in.  The goal is to keep a balance between conflicting requirements.  In the winter, you need to seek solar radiation gain and then provide shading in the summer.  Also, you need to provide wind protection in the winter and proper ventilation in the summer.  Some of these requirements can be satisfied by providing semi-compact forms and an orientation to benefit from the winter sun.

 

Alpine zones:

 

The alpine climate is characterized by low humidity and high temperature ranges.  There typically are cold winters, warm summers and highly variable spring and autumn conditions.  Good access to sunlight is important, therefore maximizing southern exposure is key. Stretching a building out in the east/west direction helps with both sun exposure and essential ventilation which is imperative in the summer months.

 

This is just a preview of a few of the design challenges that you may encounter with these specific climate types.  For my next few blogs, I will focus on each climate separately and discuss specifically what we can do to design buildings smarter and more environmentally friendly for the setting we each live in.  Stay tuned….

Common Floor Plan Concepts for a New Home

How do you begin describing to your architect what kind of floor plan you might want in your new home? Is there a certain type of layout that might fit your lifestyle better?  Is there a way to organize the spaces within your home to suit your specific family?

 

Well, let me begin by explaining a couple of common floor plan concepts that many homes incorporate within their overall design.

 

Open Floor Plan:  This is the most common type of floor plan over the last ten years or so.  An open floor plan caters to a more relaxed, but busy lifestyle.  Homeowners tend to entertain less formally and want to spend quality time with their family whenever possible since their life is more hectic.  An open floor plan provides a space that is both welcoming and relaxing and allows everyone to gather in the same larger space together.

 

With an open floor plan, there is typically a “great room.”  In this “great room” is contained a kitchen, a living space and an eating area.  These spaces are typically open to one another but may be delineated slightly with ceiling changes or furniture arrangements.  Sometimes a formal dining room is eliminated entirely and a dining nook serves as the family eating area.  The idea with an open floor plan is that everyone feels a part of the conversation even if one person is cooking in the kitchen, one is doing homework in the dining nook and another is watching TV in the living area.

 

Typically within an open floor plan, there are auxiliary spaces like a pantry or utility room, mud room, home office, etc. that are usually sited to be adjacent to the great room space.  Also, the master bedroom is often located on the main floor level.  Additional bedrooms may be located on the main floor level as well or may be separately upstairs or downstairs, depending on the configuration of the site.

 

Outdoor spaces are also typically located adjacent to this larger great room space and may contain an area for grilling, an outdoor sitting space or dining area as well.

 

 

Closed Floor Plan:   In contrast, a closed floor plan is one that was more common in older homes.  This concept separates spaces from one another with walls and/or doors.  There is usually a separate room for the kitchen as well as a formal dining room. 

 

The advantages to this plan are that it is easier to handle noise and smell.  By keeping areas separate and being able to close doors, unwanted noises and smells can be isolated.  Also, in closed floor plans you can more easily hide messes when guests come over.  The full sink in your kitchen can be shut off from the rest of the house.   In addition, closed floor plans offer more privacy to their occupants. 

 

 

There are definitely advantages to both floor plan concepts.  You just need to ask yourself which layout suits your lifestyle better.  And maybe, it’s even a combination of the two.    There are endless options to a floor plan layout, so the decision is yours!

Ever wonder what the difference is between an eave and a gable end roof of a house?

We have had various discussions about roofs in my latest blogs.  But, I haven’t yet discussed the difference between an eave and a gable end roof of a house.  What is the meaning of each of these and how do they differ?  Well, let’s first talk about the definition of each.

 

 

Definition:  An Eave is defined as the edge of the roof that overhangs the face of a wall.  This is the portion of the roof that protrudes beyond the side of a house or building.  In contrast, a Gable (or Rake) is the overhang of a building that occurs on the side that is topped by a gable roof. (Refer to my Architectural Roof Types blog.)

 

Function:  Now that we understand where both the eave and gable overhangs occur on a building, why do we need them?  Well, they are important features of a building and actually serve a purpose.  The primary function of eaves is to keep rain water (or melting snow) off the side of a house.  It prevents water from entering the house at the point the roof meets the wall.  Gable (or Rake) overhangs pretty much provide the same sort of protection, but at the end wall of a house.

 

Some other purposes for eaves might be to prevent erosion of the foundation footings below the house by carrying the water away from the edge of the building. They also help to reduce splatter from water as it hits the ground below.

 

In some home designs deep roof eaves and gables may serve to protect the home from solar gain.  They may also be designed to allow important sun angles in to heat the house in the winter and then keep the hot sun out in the summer. 

 

History:  In history, eaves haven’t been just about protecting a building.  They have also been a place of decoration and ornamentation to define specific architectural styles.  For example, a craftsman style home can be categorized by its large eaves and gables that contain decorative brackets.  Also, back in the days of Roman and Greek architecture, the buildings contained cornices finished with decorative molding which served the purpose of eaves.  In addition, in Chinese architecture they utilized dougong bracket systems which are unique structural elements of interlocking wooden brackets.

 

Parts:  Eaves may terminate in a fascia which is a board running the length of an eave to protect the ends of the roof rafters.  The underside of the eaves may contain a horizontal soffit fixed at a right angle to the wall to seal the gap between the rafters from weather. 

 

I hope that this discussion involving eaves and gables (or rakes) gives you a better understanding of their differences and why we need them.  Can you imagine how ridiculous your house might look without them?

Understanding the Importance of Roof Pitches

 

You are working with your architect on designing your new home and he or she starts talking to you about roof pitches.  Do you want a 4:12 roof or an 8:12 roof? How about a 9:12 roof instead of a 10:12? What is a roof pitch?  I’m so confused! 

 

Definition:

Well, the pitch of your roof is the angle at which the surfaces slope. The roof pitch is written in a ratio of inches. It is the number of inches of rise for every 12 inches of horizontal distance. For example, a roof with a 4:12 pitch rises 4 inches for every 12 inches of horizontal roof run.  To visualize this, picture the roof pitch as a right triangle.  The angled side is the roof, the vertical leg is the rise and the horizontal leg is the flat roof run.

 

Standards:

Are there certain pitch standards to abide by when designing your roof?  Not really.  Many builders consider a low-pitched roof to be anywhere from a 2:12 to a 4:12 slope.  Then, a 4:12 to a 9:12 is typically a medium pitch range and anything from a 9:12 and above is considered a steep-pitched roof.  The most common residential roof slopes range from a 4:12 to a 9:12.

 

Considerations:

Typically, the steeper your roof pitch, the more expensive it is to have installed.  Builders usually need special equipment to build steep-pitched roofs and there is also additional risks for workers.  However, a steeper roof removes water, ice and snow more quickly than its shallow counterparts and usually means a longer lasting life for your roof. 

 

Design:

So, what is the correct slope to use on your new home?  In my opinion, utilizing a couple different slopes (one lower-pitched and one higher-pitched) adds interest to the overall composition.  However, you have to be careful not to use too many different slopes in one design.  If you do, the look of the house becomes jumbled and it becomes more difficult to build (and expensive.) 

 

It’s really up to you and your architect and what looks good for your particular design.  The options are endless!

 

Roof Types and the importance within Design

Architectural Roof Types

 

We all know that roofs are an integral part of a house and probably one of the most important elements.  Roofs keep us dry from the rain and snow, shade us from the sweltering sun and block us from the unyielding wind.  Usually roof forms are dictated by technical, economic and aesthetic considerations. Did you know that there are more than a dozen basic roof types and even more combinations of those?  I’m just going to touch on a few of the more popular basic forms for homes:

 

Flat:  Flat roofs are just that, flat.  They are typically used where the climate is arid and drainage is of secondary importance. They are a very popular roof type for warehouses, commercial spaces, office buildings and often residential structures.

 

Shed:  This is the first category of many sloped roof types that I will be discussing. The shed, sometimes referred to as “lean to” or “mono-pitched” contains only one pitch.  You can think of it as a flat roof that has been tilted slightly.  It is often used on just a portion of a home.  The shed roof is usually used in combination with other roof forms to create a home with interesting rooflines.

 

 

Gable:  A roof with two slopes that form an “A” or triangle is called a gable roof. This type of roof is very common on North American homes.  The gable roof can contain roof pitches that are very shallow to ones that are extremely steep.  Also, numerous gable roofs can be placed together at perpendicular angles to cover a home with many wings.

 

 

Clerestory:  A clerestory roof is one that combines both a gable and shed roof.  A clerestory usually contains a higher gable roof that sits atop a short wall with a shed roof below.  This allows for windows to be placed within the short wall for light within the interior of a large space.

 

Hip:  A roof that starts with a gable shape but has a sloped end instead of a vertical wall is called a hipped roof.  The hipped roof slopes upward from all four sides of a structure, having no vertical ends. This type of roof is very common in residential designs.

 

Gambrel:  A gambrel roof is a type of gable roof with two slopes on each side, the upper being less steep than the lower. This roof form is very common in barn designs.

 

Mansard: This type of roof is a hipped gambrel roof, thus having two slopes on every side. It can provide extra attic space or other rooms without having to build an entire additional floor.

 

Pyramid: As the name suggests, this type of roof is shaped like a pyramid.  This kind of roof is usually on a small portion of a house or on small structures such as a garage or pool house.

 

 

So there you have it, the basic roof types of residential construction.  To design a visually stimulating house, a few different roof types may be used together or several of the same forms may be utilized in different ways.  This creates a home that uniquely responds to both its interior function and its exterior individuality.

 

 

Understanding Common Architectural Styles

Have you ever driven by a house that you really liked and then tried to explain the exact style and what you like about it to someone else?  Did you know that a house rarely contains one single architectural style?  And by the way, what is an architectural style?  Well, architectural style is a way we classify buildings according to their features, materials and historic period.  Buildings that belong to the same style often share similar characteristics.

 

There are probably hundreds of architectural styles, but I am going to highlight just a few of the more common styles of today.  Also, some styles may be referenced by different names then I am listing below.  For example, a Craftsman style house may be referred to as a Cottage or a Bungalow.  I have placed a link to the categories that are contained on Canadian Timberframe‘s website under its “Style” section within the text of each specific style that I list below.

 

Craftsman: Craftsman style homes (often referred to as Cottages or Bungalows) get their name from the arts and crafts movement back in the early 20th century.  Designers sought a return to the time of uniquely crafted decorative arts during a time of mass production.  A common feature of craftsman style is the utilization of glass, wood and metal creating something that is both simple and elegant.  It also includes low-pitched gable roofs with wide overhanging eaves, exposed rafters, decorative brackets and porches at the front of the house.

 

Ranch: Ranch house style homes originated in the 1930s. This house combined modernist ideas with the concepts of the western ranches to create something very informal for a casual living style. Common features of a ranch house include a single story with a long, low roofline and large overhanging eaves. The exterior materials usually include brick, stucco, wood and glass.

 

Colonial: This style of home comes from the American colonial period. This style often refers to a rectangular, symmetrical home that is 2 or 3 stories with a high pitched roof and multiple dormers. They usually contain multi-paned double-hung windows placed symmetrically. The exterior materials include clapboard siding with shutters.

 

Contemporary: Contemporary homes (also referred to as Modern) got their start back in the 1950s.  They are often characterized by their odd, irregular shapes and often tall windows and lack of ornamentation. The exterior also contains unusual mixtures of wall materials like stone, wood and brick. Inside houses an open floor plan with cathedral ceiling or flat roofs.

 

Mediterranean: The Mediterranean style comes from the heritage of mission churches built by Spanish colonists. Some characteristics include adobe-like stucco exterior with a flat or low-pitched roof  and clay tiles.  There are usually balconies with wrought iron railings.  Another common feature is and deeply shaded porches and possibly interior courtyards.

 

Chalet: A Chalet is native to the alpine region in Europe.  They were introduced to North America in the mid- 1800s. They are usually constructed of wood with a heavy, gently sloping roof and deep eaves.  The front-facing gable roof is usually embellished with rustic ornamentation made of hand-hewn timbers.

 

These are just a few of the many styles of architecture, but hopefully this will be helpful to begin a discussion with your architect about what features you might really like to include in your future home.

Zoning & Municipal Restrictions

Irritating Rules and Regulations

 

Your architect is ready to begin your new home design, or so you think.  However, before he or she even puts a pencil to a piece of paper for the first time, there are certain parameters that must be followed. These terms I am keying as “Irritating Rules and Regulations.”  No matter how much of a pain they are, you unfortunately must abide by them to build your house. Some of these include:

 

Zoning:

Most land is labeled and distinguished for some purpose.  Some land is marked as being for residential use while some is only for commercial or industrial use.  The zoning may also restrict the number of units or buildings upon a specific piece of land.  This term is probably less irritating than some of them, for you don’t want to live next to an industrial plant, do you?

 

Height Restrictions:

Most municipalities have regulations on how tall you can build your new home.  This is usually spelled out in the city or county building codes.  If you own a flat lot, then this probably isn’t going to be a big deal.  However, if your site is sloped, this may be a major headache.  Personally, I find this irritating regulation one of the most challenging.  Clients commonly come to me wanting a house with a nice vaulted great room space with a loft area above and a walk out basement below.  This can be very challenging especially if the maximum height is 30-32 feet tall. 

 

Also, every jurisdiction has a different way they measure height.  Some measure from existing grade, some from finished grade, and some from somewhere in between.  Some measure to the top of the ridge and some measure halfway up the sloped roof (You’ve got to be kidding me!)  Anyway, just be sure that prior to getting too far with your design, your architect knows the exact method of measurement!

 

Building Envelope/Building Setbacks:

Almost every piece of land has a designated setback requirement or building envelope that your building has to remain within.  This is to insure that you aren’t building right on top of your neighbor and usually has to do with fire protection as well as privacy.  You are usually required to have every piece of your house (including overhangs) within the building envelope, but sometimes low decks and patios are allowed within setback areas.  Check with your local jurisdiction to be sure.

 

Easements:

Easements are imaginary lines that protect something. It may be existing utilities or even natural landforms or waterways.  Also, municipalities may have easements along roadways and streets for traffic safety, etc.  Typically, no buildings are allowed within these areas.

 

Design Guidelines:

If your home is located in a neighborhood with an HOA, more than likely they have architectural design guidelines that you must follow.  Some neighborhoods have barely any restrictions while some have quite the lengthy and costly process.  Often the design guidelines are more restrictive than what the municipality requires.  Design guidelines can regulate items such as the appearance of your house, color, landscaping requirements and much more.  Be sure you know what you’re getting into before you begin the process.

 

 

These are just a few of the irritating rules and regulations.  Unfortunately, there may be many more.  The way to conquer these annoying rules is to research and know what you are getting into before you jump in head first!

 

Communicating your ideas to your architect through a design questionnaire

The Design Questionnaire

 

You are looking forward to beginning the design of your new home project, but where do you begin?  How do you communicate your ideas to your architect?  Well, a good place to start might be a design questionnaire.  Many design firms have a form that they use for clients to express their ideas.  Many times the form they use might be in the style of a questionnaire.

 

Design Questionnaires usually start with specific client/owner information.  This data is used for communication with the client as well as to notate on the drawing sheets for the construction documents.

 

Another question might address the site or lot where the new building will be located.  This information is helpful for the architect to know what sort of site conditions they might encounter when positioning the new house. Questions regarding the steepness of the land as well as views and sun exposure are very important when siting a building. Utility location and utility availability is also key information to know when considering the location of the new home.

 

Then, the questionnaire might propose general house questions.  For example, it could ask why you are building a new home, when you would like to have the house completed and if you have hired a general contractor to work with yet or if you might want to build the house yourself.

 

Another important question is what architectural style you might want the house to be. Do you want a rustic cabin or would you rather have a more contemporary ranch style home?  These are critical concepts to know prior to jumping into the design.

 

Aesthetic and structural information is also key to know.  Have you thought about what sort of foundation or structure you might want? Do you want to include timber within your home? Also, the questionnaire might start your thinking about the specific interior and exterior finishes you want to incorporate.

 

Also, design questionnaires usually list every room you might want in your new home.  This gives you an opportunity to list specific sizes or room relationships that are important to you.  This is also a good place to list outdoor adjacency or specific sun exposure requirements.

 

Specific plumbing fixtures or appliances can also be included on a questionnaire.  This information can be very helpful in designing spaces such as a kitchen or bathroom layout.

 

There may be additional items included in a questionnaire that I didn‘t cover, but these are a great way to start your design journey. The more information your architect knows initially, the better end product you will get!  

Understanding the Architects Design Phases: Schematic Design; Design Development; Construction Documents

The Architect’s Design Phases

 

Working with an architect seems like a complicated process, am I right? But, did you know that most architects utilize a typical design process to complete the design services for your new home? By knowing just the basics before talking with your architect, the process will seem a lot less daunting.

 

There are typically 5 phases that an architect practices to complete a project.  However, in smaller projects such as new homes, I usually employ only 3 of them:

 

Schematic Design:

Schematic design is the first phase.  In this step, an architect talks with the client to determine the project requirements and goals.  The architect usually starts with rough study drawings that illustrate the basic concepts of the design.  This most often includes spatial relationships as well as basic scale and forms the owner might desire.  Also, initial research of  jurisdictional regulations is completed at this time.  Initial cost estimations are also investigated based on total project size and complicity.

 

Schematic Design often produces rough drawings of a site plan, floor plans, elevations and often illustrative sketches or computer renderings.

Design Development:

Design development collects the results from the schematic design phase and takes them one step further.  This phase involves finalizing the design and specifying such items as materials, window and door locations and general structural details.

 

Design development usually yields a more detailed site plan as well as floor plans, elevations and section drawings with full dimensions.  

Construction Documents:

Once the architect and client are comfortable with the drawings produced from the design development phase, they can move on to the construction documents. The construction document phase produces drawings with much more detail which are used for the construction of your project. These drawings typically include specifications for construction details and materials.  Once the CDs are completed, the architects send them to contractors for pricing or bidding as well as to the building department for required permit approvals.

 

Construction documents often include a complete set of architectural drawings (site plan, floor plans, sections, details, etc.) that are combined with structural drawings (and possibly mechanical and electrical drawings) that have enough detail for the contractor to build your project.

Other Phases:

In larger projects there can be a bid or negotiation phase as well as a construction phase service.  These typically aren’t utilized in smaller home projects, but they are an important part of larger residential, commercial or industrial projects.

 

Construction:

So, there you have it.  That in a nutshell is the complete process of an architect’s service.  By being aware of this entire process, it will hopefully help your overall anxiety of your new home project!

 

Bear Rock in New Hampshire, is an example of one of the homes I have designed with Canadian Timberframes and has its drawings posted.

Breaking down architectural language - descriptions and examples of commonly used terms

Architectural Drawings

 

You have decided to hire an architect to help you with your new home design.  Suddenly, your architect starts spitting out all of these architectural terms that you have no idea what they mean!  Are we speaking the same language?  How are we ever going to design a home together when I have NO IDEA what he or she is talking about?!

 

Well, I am here to help clarify some of these architectural terms so you can carry on an intelligent conversation with them.  Let’s first discuss the basic terms for the drawing set (or blueprints.)

 

Site Plan:

A site plan drawing is a bird’s eye view of your house on the piece of land, lot or site.  A site plan sometimes shows topography which involves connecting points of the same elevation height with lines.  These lines show how steep or flat your site may be.  The site plan also shows your property lines, any building setback lines as well as utility locations or existing structures.  It may also locate any ditches, hills, waterways, rock formations, etc. 

 

When looking at a site plan drawing, typically an outline of your house as well as the driveway location is shown.  Also, if your site is sloped, some new grading lines might be exhibited.  These grading lines show how the soil is re-graded to work with your new driveway and house.

 

Your architect will use the site plan to decide how to start designing your home.  They will take numerous things into consideration like street/road location, existing neighbors‘ homes, sun exposure, building setback lines, etc. to determine the best layout and orientation.

Floor Plans:

A floor plan is a drawing showing the layout of your new home.  A floor plan is probably the most common type of drawing you think of when you talk about building plans.  A floor plan is like taking off the roof of your house and slicing about 4 feet above the floor level.  A floor plan shows the layout of exterior walls, interior rooms, kitchen and bathroom layouts, etc. 

 

There may be multiple floor plans that involve a basement plan, a main level plan or even an upper level plan.  Each room is typically labeled and may show the potential positions of furniture and plumbing fixtures.  The floor plan will also have dimensions that show the size of each room and location of each wall, window and door.

Elevations:

Building elevations are drawings that show what the outside of your house will look like. It’s a flat view of a building seen from one side. Elevations show windows, doors, roofs, decks and exterior materials.  They help communicate what a building will look like.

Sections:

Building section drawings involve cutting vertically through the house and pulling away one side to expose what the house looks like on the inside.  Sections are helpful to show roof forms, ceiling heights, stair configurations and interior room compositions.  They also help in determining floor and roof construction as well as room treatment options.

These are just a few of the more common drawing sheets involved in a building drawing set. But, you’re not an expert yet…stayed tuned for more talk about architectural language.  There’s a lot more to learn!

Why Use an Architect? And What is the Value in It?

                                             

 

So, you have been thinking for years about building your own home or maybe doing an addition to your existing home because your family is growing.  But, the task seems just too daunting.  How do I know that this is the right move to make?  How will I ever begin the process? 

 

 Have you ever thought about using an architect for your project?    Does using an architect on your new home project really add value?  Well, I believe it does and here’s why:

 

-Process.  An architect can guide you on where to begin and the correct steps to complete your project.

 

-Spatial organization:  An architect can make your spaces more functional, efficient and comfortable.  You can get something that is tailored to your specific needs. 

 

-Specific site conditions: Architects can perform site studies, research municipal requirements and secure planning and zoning approvals.

 

-Sustainable “Green” design:  Most architects are experts in sustainable design.  They can help you in using recycled materials, green roofs, solar panels, natural light, air and water treatment systems as well as many other green practices.

 

-Budget management:  Architects can assist in helping you understand what the overall cost of the project might be.  They can also save you money through the creative use of space and materials.

 

-Builder selection:  An architect can help you in selecting a builder that is right for both you and your project.  Typically, architects have worked with many builders and have insight to who might be best fit to your specific project.

 

-Creativity:  Architects are trained to present options that you might not have considered. They have the ability to lift your project out of the everyday and create something that is both beautiful and distinctive as well as efficient and environmentally responsible.

 

This is all good and well, but can’t a designer or draftsperson do the same job as an architect?  The answer is no.  Unlike designers, architects are trained to add not only creativity to your project, but valuable technical skills and analysis of your particular needs.  Therefore, an architect adds value to your project and brings it out of the ordinary.  You will end up with a better product (and better place to live!) in the end.

 

So, if you find yourself asking “Should I really spend that extra money on an architect?”  remind yourself that it is totally worth it and you will be so happy you did!

Introducing our new Architectural Blog

                                                         

We are very excited to introduce to you a new blog for Canadian Timberframes “It’s in the Detail”. Alison Noble of Blue Sky Architecutre will blog for us, about hot topics or common architectural questions that are of interest to clients.

 

So, if you have any ideas or suggestions, email us at sales@canadiantimberframes.com with the subject line being: Architectural Blog ideas.

 

We wanted to give everyone a little background on Allison before her blogs start, so we thought an interview was the best way to introduce you to her.

 

Interview with Alison Noble - March 9, 2015

By Jeff Bowes, President & Partner, Canadian Timberframes

CTF: Alison, tell me about how you got interested in architecture?

AN: In high school, I really became interested in architecture after taking a road trip through the Colorado mountains and looking at all of the beautiful rustic mountain homes.  So, I decided to take a drafting class at my high school to see if this was something I wanted to pursue in college.  The class really piqued my interest in drawing and design, so I decided that enrolling in an architectural program at college was the way to go.

CTF: Tell our readers about your education.

AN: I attended Kansas State University's 5 year Bachelor of Architecture program.  While at Kansas State, I studied in Tuscany, Italy for a semester.  I had an amazing time learning about Roman architecture and getting to experience it first hand!

CTF: How did you get started in the Biz?

AN: My first architecture job out of college was for a firm that designed schools in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  After a year of monotonous institutional work, I moved to the mountains of Colorado to work at a firm in Breckenridge that designed custom homes and small commercial projects.  During my 4 years in Breckenridge, I decided that designing custom homes was really my passion.  As a result, I decided to begin my own architectural firm designing what I really loved.  I have had my own business now for almost 10 years.

CTF: What drives you in life? What are your passions?

AN: I really enjoy designing custom homes because houses are something people come back to everyday.  It is their comfort and their security.  I enjoy helping clients design a place that is part of their everyday life and design it to be efficient for them yet beautiful at the same time.

CTF: Every architect has a style, what is yours?

AN: Living in the Colorado mountains has really influenced my style.  Having the beautiful mountains surrounding me as well as historic cabins and mines has shaped my designs.  I love creating rustic homes that blend seamlessly into their surroundings.  However, I have designed homes in many locations across both the United States and Canada and each site is unique.  I enjoy taking each individual setting (whether it be a lake view or a prairie) and generating something amazing that complements the surroundings as well as the client's wishes.

CTF: Tell us about some of the past projects you have been involved in.

AN: One of my favorite projects that I have designed has to be a large home in Collingwood, Ontario.  I worked with CTF on this home to create an amazing hill top retreat for the client.  The entire home is constructed of a gorgeous timber frame structure that encompasses several bedrooms, a large recreation room and an indoor pool structure.  The timbers were upsized to match the scale of the house and were given a rustic look to complement the feel of the home.

Another project I really enjoyed creating is located in Nuttal Ridge, BC on the Pacific coast.  This is a perfect example of fitting a home into its native landscape while taking advantage of the numerous surrounding views.  Along with CTF, we designed a home for the client that complements their relaxed cottage lifestyle.

CTF: Alison, what do you love most about your job? 

AN:  I enjoy both the creative and technical aspects of my profession.  However, I really enjoy the creative side.  I love inventing spaces that inspire the way people live using both design and light.  I also really like the problem solving and creating a layout that works best for a particular lifestyle.  Finally, I love seeing the way people react when they see the spaces for the very first time that I designed for them.  It's very rewarding! 

In Closing:

Alison, we at Canadian Timberframes, wanted to thank-you upfront for your time & expertise that you are lending to us and our readers. We are very excited to offer this ongoing blog. Over time, we would like to be able to add in to our website a comments function so this can become a more interactive experience for all.

 

We look forward to your first blog next week: Why Use an Architect? And What is the Value in It?

 

With sincerest thanks,

Jeff Bowes

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