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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.

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.

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!

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!

 

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.

 

Download our free Photo Lookbook & find an architectural style that inspires you!

 


 

Craftsman Style Architecture:

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.

 

Explore the Craftsman Style

 


 

Ranch Style Architecture:

The 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 roof line and large overhanging eaves. The exterior materials usually include brick, stucco, wood and glass.

 

Explore the Ranch Style

 


 

Contemporary Style Architecture:

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.

 

Explore the Contemporary Style

 

 


 

Chalet Style Architecture:

 

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-sawn timbers.

 

Explore the Chalet Style

 

 


 

Colonial Style Architecture:

Colonial style homes 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.

 


 

Mediterranean Style Architecture:

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.

 


 

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.

 

Looking for potential timber home design inspiration? Download our free Design LookBook.

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!

 

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. See examples of designs/floor plans.

 

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.