We passed the LEED AP Exam!



It's been a little quiet here on the blog as we've been busy studying.

LEED for Homes was still in the pilot testing while we were building our house, however we did make a significant effort to make the best of site orientation and use green materials wherever we could.  To familiarize ourselves with more of the details of LEED, we decided to pursue accreditation.  Now we are officially accredited professionals! 

During the design process we relied on a few good internet resources for viable green products and systems.  One of the best is Building Green (the publishers of the excellent Environmental Building News).

Art Room Cork


We spent a recent weekend installing two large cork panels in the Art Room for the little ones.  Having a spot where they can pin up all their drawings really changes the feel of the room.  Homasote makes these panels with a natural cork tackable surface with their recycled paper backer board.  Read about the product here:  Homasote NovaCork

Lessons Learned: Construction Process

Following our first Lessons Learned, here are some items that are good to keep in mind during construction. 

  1. Balancing personalities is an art form, especially during the chaotic times when you realize a mistake has been made at 4 PM on a Friday.  Establish a courteous relationship with your GC and subs, be very clear about your expectations at the beginning and express your satisfaction as much as possible.
  2. Be more thorough about material pricing with the contractor (garage siding, concrete flatwork,etc.). If you are at all like us, you will never be satisfied with the most basic or lowest level materials, so be clear about that when you select your finish material.
  3. Listen to your sub-contractors, but don't let them make decisions on what they are going to install, just because they are familiar with it and/or have done it this way a thousand times. Be prepared to hold your ground and push them if necessary.
  4. In the rush to get a sub on-site at the correct time in the schedule, don't take whoever is available. Get the best person for the job and get referrals. It's best to look at their work on other jobs and contact their references.
  5. Don't feel guilty about making a sub tear out something if it's not right - if you've specified and documented your details -- and it's not built right, then be a stickler, it's your money.
  6. Never assume a sub can read your mind. Be very specific, if you are making an on-site decision. Mock things up, measure and mark if necessary. Never assume the subs are going to know where you want your heat registers, hooks, towel racks, lights.  Be available and around to help with all layouts that are important to you (lighting, fixtures, tile, etc). Sometimes it looks right on paper, but be prepared to make changes on site.

Lessons Learned: Design Decisions

OK, everyone seems to ask the same questions when walking through our house:

Is it how you imagined?  Were you on budget? Would you change anything?   

And we say YES to all of those.  Nothing is ever perfect -- live in it, evaluate it, and think about how to make it better for next time.

Here are some things to consider and others we will change when we do it again:

  1. Even if you can't afford radiant floors, do a short run for bathroom floors if possible.  Forced-air works for keeping the air warm, but tile floors without radiant heat are not comfortable to the bare feet during the winter.
  2. Install a drain in your laundry room. We always had plans to have one, but somehow it didn't stay on our plumbing priority list. It only took one laundry sink overflowing to recognize the importance of having one. Just a few gallons of water on the floor can cause a lot more damage than you might think.
  3. When detailing floors at indoor-outdoor areas, provide durable and weather resistant materials at operable openings.  I'm envisioning some sort of strip that catches dirt/dampness between the threshold and where the wood flooring starts.
  4. Beyond just thinking about shades, actually pick a brand that you can afford and detail the head/jamb returns to accommodate them.  (We talked about creating an actual recess, but the amount of gymnastics to achieve this was beyond our budget.)
  5. If you are planning on having pets (cats) plan for them and their litter boxes. We promised our kids that we'd get kittens when we moved to the new house. Don't ever make promises like that and if you do, be sure to figure out a way to accommodate their litter boxes. When you have an open floor plan it is difficult to confine odors unless you are diligent about cleaning.
  6. On tight urban lots, what is more important:  More square footage on the main level, or an attached garage?  We went back and forth on this and went with a detached garage so we could have a bigger main level (this is controlled by Denver Zoning requirements).  It's more of a lifestyle question, but one that has a big impact on the overall layout and access to spaces in the off-seasons.
  7. Evaluating products for green, quality and cost is VERY challenging. Decide early on what your priorities are and what your budget is. Figure out what you are not going to budge on (but allow room for flexibility :-).  If you are trying to build entirely green and use the most energy efficient systems and the greenest products you will be very challenged to do so unless you have the ability to pay for it. In most cases, we tried to select green products/systems but we had to make numerous compromises because of our budgetary constraints.  Ultimately, we decided on SIPS and great windows and compromised on items like radiant floors, and planned future installation on items like solar panels.

Siding - Horizontal Cedar


The Haida cedar siding has arrived from the staining shop.  Nicholas and his crew started installation right after completing the door and window installation. 

We are getting our heads around the fact that the “representative” samples we received from the stack aren’t that spot on.  Considering our entire house is being covered with this stuff, its character will define it.  Unfortunately, there are some very, very dark pieces and a significant number of them. We were trying to achieve a more uniform and lighter look.

Nicholas has been dutifully blending the batch, but the outcome on the first two elevations is very stripey.  Some may see it as adding a richer character to the exterior, however, we had always envisioned it being a clear and even color throughout.  Nancy will explore some additional staining options - maybe we can tone the spectrum of color down a bit.

Other than being extremely wasteful (ordering a lot more than we need and picking through it), I don’t see many other options to getting a single color product from a mill. 

Steel Trellis & Swing

Gerry Wallace and his crew came over for a full all day push to install the simple steel frame over our back patio today.  We've had this in the works since early on in the design process, as the west facing walls of our house take on brutal amounts of solar gain during the summer months.  Instead of huge overhangs or individual shading devices for each opening, we decided that a nice seasonal shading device would be more appropriate.

Our large sliding door openings are low-e and have triple pane glass, however, glare is still a problem, so instead of lowering the indoor blinds, we can have this nice canopy covering the entire patio space.

During the winter months we can take down the solar fabric and get the direct sunlight when we need it (or want it).

The swing frame attaches to the garage and provides a nice spot for the kids to play - they refer to the area as their hideout.

Landscape Details

Bob and his crew have nearly finished the landscape.  Everything has come together very nicely so far.  The one unfortunate item is the lack of availability of some plant materials this late in the season, so we'll have to wait until next spring for the remainder.

The StepStone pavers went in nicely, and the fine granite rock that R-Design specified for the beds blends nicely with the rest of our exterior colors and textures. 

The guys at No Hassle Fence put on a nice horizontal fence that has a very understated but subtle design to it - we just alternated 1x6 and 1x4 rough sawn cedar to give it a bit of character and stained it a solid silver gray.

Next up is the steel trellis over the back patio and the steel frame for the kid's swing, and we are done!!

Plants Arrive

All of our trees and plants arrived yesterday on one truck.  It looked like a nursery around here for a while!  Since we could not find any Buckthorn for the tall "screening" trees in the back, we substituted Hornbeam which R-Design suggested as a good alternative.  Tomorrow the plants should start going in... 

Stepstone Pavers


It felt like xmas time again last Friday - new presents arrived on a big truck!  We got beautiful pre-cast concrete pavers from Stepstone for our landscape edging.  R-Design suggested these as part of the landscape design scheme, and we are happy to have found such well crafted quality planks.  Concrete always looks so good when it’s formed in a controlled environment.  In the field it’s always kind of a crap-shoot to be honest.

This edging will go around beds and at the edge of grass areas.  We also plan to make a little hardscape area out of them for a spot for the kids to play on.

If the weather holds out, we should finally see some plant materials being installed mid-week!

Landscape has begun!


It’s taken us a few months, but we now have found a good landscaper with an acceptable bid.  Bob of RES and his crew started on Thursday with cleaning the site and tilling/mixing the soil.  Today they are working on the sprinkler install. 

For cost reasons we’ve eliminated a few items from the original design, but feel that we will still be achieving a similar feel with the overall result.  The steel trellis/solar shade at the rear patio is also being fabricated as we speak. 

Before the landscape is finished it would also be good to get the fence in.  We’ve got a look we are happy with, now it’s just getting it all started and installed in the optimal sequence.