Whether in the kitchen bathroom or elsewhere, cabinets are a focal point of craftsmanship. This is why we maintain our own cabinet shop. To be totally honest, we are cabinet snobs. We demand 100% solid wood cabinets, built to exacting specifications, we use the very best hardware to ensure durability and functionality and we build each piece custom fit to its exact location. .
A well-built cabinet is a piece of furniture that will last more than a life time. A poorly built cabinet is a liability that will find its way to the landfill.
The first sign of a quality cabinet is the materials used to build it. A favorite low-cost material for many cabinet manufacturers is Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF.) This material does not hold a fastener well and it swells with minimal moisture contact. Over time MDF got a bad reputation. Rather than giving up on an inferior low-cost material many manufactures simply renamed it “furniture board.”
Another sign of inferior quality is thin plywood. Where ¾” plywood should be used, many manufacturers use 5/8” and even ½” plywood. And locally the most common method of building cabinets is to build them right to the wall without a plywood box. Any movement due to an unstable foundation or changes in humidity will cause the doors and drawers to become misaligned.
Many builders will further cut corners by using plywood face frames. The face frame is the front of the cabinet that the doors and drawers fit to. Rather than using solid wood which is more expensive plywood is used. Opening the door on a cabinet will reveal if it is plywood or solid wood. You will see the laminated layers of plywood if this has been done. Though some manufacturers will put a thin veneer band on the plywood to mask it. The disadvantage of plywood is that it will delaminate over time and sanding can expose the underlayers of veneer.
Hinges and drawer slides are other places where costs are often cut at the expense of durability and function. A well-made cabinet will close gently and will hold an adequate load over the years. The drawers will slide out far enough to reach everything in them. The majority of hardware used in today’s homes will not function well and/or endure well. Well-made drawer slides cost more. This is an unseen cost that can easily be cut without most homebuyers realizing the added cost and frustration over time.
College Station, TX, Stearns Design Build, a local residential remodeling company, has announced that they are now offering furniture grade cabinets to the general public. For some time, Stearns Design Build has built high-quality custom cabinet for their remodeling clients.
In a desire to better control quality in cabinetry Stearns Design Build started building their own cabinets rather than subcontracting this work as is done by most general contractors. Owner, Hugh Stearns said, “This was a significant commitment in staffing and equipment investment, but it was worth it in the level of quality that we can provide.”
Stearns Design Build recently hired David Oddo to manage their cabinet shop. Oddo is a third-generation woodworker and journeyman carpenter. He previously owned his own woodworking shop in Houston. In addition to managing the cabinet shop, Oddo also assists in the design of custom cabinet. “I look at each project as an opportunity to build a relationship through creativity,” said Oddo.
In addition to custom cabinet, Stearns Design Build also provides custom entertainment centers and built-in furniture as well as a full line of residential remodeling including kitchens, bathrooms, and additions. “Often clients want a custom entertainment center or built-in without doing a full remodel. Now we offer that as an option. We will work with the client to design a piece that fits exactly what they need,” said Stearns.
Stearns Design Build has served the Brazos Valley for 25 years. Twice the recipient of the Newman Ten award, last year the company achieved national acclaim by being named to the Remodeling Big50, an award for remodeling excellence that goes to fifty of the top companies in America and Canada every year. Stearns Design Build also received the GuildQuality Service Excellence Award, which goes to the five companies of the Big50 class that had the highest customer satisfaction ratings. For more information Stearns Design Build can be found on the web at www.stearnsdesignbuild.com or reached at 979.696.0524.
In this project, we used wood and brick siding to not only promote green building, but to also reduce the thermal mass of the house, to cool the temperature of the home.
Don’t you love the look of Austin stone on a home? Many neighborhoods in Bryan and College Station require a high percentage of brick or other masonry products on the exterior of their homes. It is a great look but not a great approach, especially if you are interested in green building or even just reducing your utility bills.
Brick and other masonry products are known as thermal mass. Thermal mass is the ability of a material to absorb and store heat, in this case, your siding material’s ability to absorb that heat. In other words brick heats up all day and disseminates that heat to the house.
But, you may be wondering, what about adobe? Adobe is used in hot dry climates, not hot humid climates. The difference is that in a dry climate, temperatures cool down at night. The heat absorbed by the adobe does not make it into the house before it is cooled by the night air. Water in the air also serves as somewhat of a thermal mass, holding heat longer than dry air, which is what keeps or night time temperatures higher than in the desert.
The vernacular architecture of hot humid climates usually feature siding for a reason. But, if you are stuck with neighborhood controls requiring a high percentage of masonry or if you just like the look of stone, there are some things that you can do mitigate the negative impact of a thermal mass.
Perhaps the most effective thing to do is use a veneer stone which is much thinner than traditional stone. Also try to avoid masonry on the west side which tends to get more direct sunlight at the hottest part of the day. Want to learn more about siding that we recommend. For even greater shading use larger than normal overhangs where possible.
As always, use landscaping as a design element for beauty and function. Deciduous trees on the west provide crucial summer shading while allowing the sun through in the winter.
Brick can also create moisture and potentially rot problems if a proper drainage pan is not created behind it. Of course any cladding can become a problem without proper moisture sealing. This is an area that you should question a builder about before hiring. There are no requirements in Texas for builders to have knowledge of building science and this is a place that lesser builders tend to get themselves into trouble.
In a previous post we spoke about the importance of using thermal mass on the inside of a home in a hot humid climate like that in Bryan and College Station. This time we will talk about home design ideas that will help achieve this.
Most homes in the Brazos valley are built on monolithic slab foundations. Not only is this probably the largest structure in your home, it is also tied to the earth; which actually provides geothermal heating and cooling. Though a floor may be cool to bare feet in the winter, most of the time it is much warmer than the outside temperature. Most builders use a great deal of carpet as a means of keeping the cost per square foot low. Although this is an effective way to reduce the upfront cost of a home, it covers and minimizes a large and expensive asset.
Maintaining the thermal mass of the foundation is a great way to reduce energy costs. This can be accomplished by staining the concrete or, more commonly, by using a stone or tile on the floor. For those cold winter feet, use area rugs in high traffic areas. This allows enough exposure of large areas of thermal mass to be of benefit.
While most fireplaces are a large source of energy loss, using rock or brick around them can add beauty and thermal mass. In your home design, consider extending this outcrop of hard surface. However, be mindful of the connection of this thermal mass to the outside where it will conduct outside temperatures into the house.
In our custom designed homes, we usually incorporate rock or brick walls where possible. This is especially effective at entryways where a visual connection to the outside material can help create continuity. Thermal mass walls can add contrast and texture to tall walls. An especially beautiful wall can be created with a process called rammed earth; which is exactly what it sounds like. A precise combination of sand and clay is used to create a manufactured sandstone using pressure to form the structure.
These are not features commonly found in tract homes as they add to the cost per square foot but they add beauty, grandeur, elegance and energy efficiency which makes them a great consideration for custom homes. These can be considered practices for green homes but they are smart and beautiful practices for any home.
This is a visual of the effect thermal mass has on your home.
Here in College Station and Bryan we have a very hot and humid climate, which presents a unique set of design and construction challenges. For one, traditional approaches to thermal mass walls are out for us. However, this potentially beautiful design approach is not necessarily a bad idea; if we modify its application from what is traditional.
Thermal mass is thick, highly dense material. This category includes stone, adobe, and brick. The idea is that through the hot day, heat does not penetrate the full depth of the thermal mass. Then, at night the outside temperature cools down enough to pull the heat out of the wall so that the process can start over the next day. Yet, because our humidity is high, we do not cool down enough at night to pull the heat out of the wall. Consequently, over time the wall serves to heat the building.
It is odd that brick is the preferred veneer through most of the hot and humid gulf coast south. Even though this is not usually structural brick, there is an air space between the brick and the insulated wall. Nonetheless, the brick is a very affective solar collector that creates a hot surface next to the house.
On my own house that was built in 1950 and once had a 100% brick veneer, I removed all of the brick that was serving to heat my home. I replaced the brick with a second insulated wall and sided it with fiber cement siding. In doing this, I was able to more than double the insulation, create a better air seal and reduce the heat next to the house. I also happen to think that it looks a lot better.
Okay, so now that we understand the process of eliminating thermal mass, how can we use it to positively affect the Brazos Valley? As we pointed out, thermal mass works well in hot, dry climates that cool down at night. In a hot, humid climate we can bring the thermal mass inside, away from the source of heat; and have it work for us. When this is done, the mass assumes the ambient inside temperature. Consequently, as temperatures rise through the hot part of the day, it helps to reduce the cooling load required to keep the house comfortable. It does this by absorbing some of the heat in the air. Although the same amount of energy is needed throughout the day, there is less of a peak load required for the hottest part of the day; which allows us to reduce the size of equipment needed to keep the house cool.
Unfortunately, more research is needed to quantify this effect. Currently, there is nothing in the program that calculates equipment size that takes this into account. Good air conditioning companies are reluctant to deviate from the standard sizing of equipment. We love our AC mechanic and have a huge amount of trust in him. However, we frequently push him to reduce equipment size because we design in ways that reduce load but that are not considered in load calculations.
Next time I will talk about using interior thermal mass in home design.