When you decide to remodel your bathroom, you are breathing fresh life into your home. You begin your mornings in a bathroom you designed and love. This master bathroom was functional, well built, but very cramped and mundane.
We started with a brand-new vanity with a sleek design and raised it off the floor which makes it look more like a furniture piece and not a built-in.
The shower was too small, the tub was not used much, and the vanity simply wasn’t what the homeowner wanted. By removing the tub, we extended the shower, making it much more comfortable. By relocating the access into the shower, we eliminated the conflict with the door into the bathroom.
A bench in front of the shower provides ample space to get dressed. New hardware, mirrors, lights, and finishes completed the remodel to fit with the style that the homeowner had been wanting for years.
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.
A connection to nature inspires happiness. Simply having access to natural settings can create health and happiness. These seemingly subjective tree-hugging proclamations have a significant amount of science backing them up. Hospitals now focus on restorative landscapes because they know the power of these connections in the healing process. Cities focus on creating green spaces because they know the impact that nature has on improving quality of life.
One seminal study published in the early 80’s showed that patients recovering from gallbladder surgery who were in a room that looked out on trees faired far better than those in rooms that looked out on a brick wall. These patients did better in immediate recovery time, had fewer post surgery complications and they needed far less pain medication. Since that study, there have been many others that have expanded on the theme.
When I was a student, I read about a student-conducted study that indicated that people who knew what time the sun rose and set or what phase the moon was in consistently reported a greater degree of happiness. It occurred to me that by designing with these connections in mind, we could create happiness.
A corollary to our connection to nature is our connection to the built world. Recently “a sense of place” has become a popular topic, especially in the field of urban development. But the acknowledgment that a sense of place is an important adhesive in building community is hardly a new idea. The French Philosopher, Simone Weil said, “to be rooted is perhaps the most important but least understood need of the human soul.” We are rooted by our connections to both nature and community.
Though these ideas are usually connected to the design of cities and large institutions of health, they can also be well employed in home design. This is what our Transitions approach to design is about. By creating transitions to natural and community settings, we seek to create the connections that create happiness.
So much of the thrust of modernity is isolating. Nowhere is this truer than in the design of our homes. Automobiles, air conditioning and multimedia have dramatically shifted our relationships to space.
Here in College Station and Bryan we have an excellent juxtaposition showing the impact of the automobile on urban design. Bryan, incorporated in 1867, was designed with pedestrian traffic in mind. The town was set up with a central downtown laid out on a grid of perfectly parallel and perpendicular streets. The residential community was just beyond the retail and other businesses of downtown.
College Station, by contrast, was incorporated in 1938 and developed in patterns governed by the automobile. No grid for easy pedestrian access. With the convenience of the car, there was no need for a central downtown, or close in neighborhoods.
Though, to be fair to the founders of College Station, its original layout was focused on Dexter (now Brison) Park on the south side of the campus and Thomas Park on the east side of the campus. But growth was inevitable and in the 70’s the city sprawled beyond these central points in the leapfrog patterns endemic of auto-centric development. As long as people are willing to drive, it makes sense for developers to push out to the cheapest land beyond current development, leaving swaths of undeveloped land between.
The automobile allowed for the development of suburban neighborhoods, further from the center of town on larger lots. And the footprint of homes became much larger as we brought our cars into the covered space of the two-car garage. With the advent of the automatic garage door opener, we were able to push a button, drive into the house and have the door close behind us without having to encounter nature or our neighbors.
Even more disruptive of our relationship to neighbors and nature was the introduction of air conditioning. How long has it been since you heard the slap of a screen door closing? Our once airy houses with open windows to catch the breeze and large front porches on which to drink iced tea and visit with neighbors have become tightly closed boxes with veneer porches, no longer large enough to sit on. In the south we should all be grateful for air conditioning but we are also wise to take note of the baby that went out with that hot sticky bathwater.
Shut off from our neighbors, inside with our cars and air conditioning, we were not quite isolated enough yet. First television and then the devices of the Internet have helped build walls of separation within our well-isolated homes.
Our Transitions approach to design seeks to challenge some of the assumptions brought forth by modernity without suggesting a return to a more primitive lifestyle. We can overcome isolation without giving up modern conveniences and comforts. However, it does require reclaiming a certain amount of self-determination, to take back some of the autonomy previously relinquished to technology.
Who is to say that sidewalks cannot once again become a part of the suburban landscape as cities like College Station become more focused on walkability? And what is it to keep large front porches from becoming an atavistic extension on the modern home?
When we recognize the importance of our connection to nature and community in the creation of happiness, we can rethink patterns that developed in the absence of such understanding. That is why in the Transitions approach to design we speak about permeability. These are visual and physical transitions to the spaces that connect us to nature, our neighbors and others in the home.
Ironically, in its quest for sustainability, green building has lent itself to some rather unsustainable perspectives. Specifically, the strict focus of the relationship of the building to the environment over the relationship of the people in the building to their environments. Don’t get me wrong, green building, and more directly building science, have made some dramatic improvements in the ways that we construct and manage buildings, just as car have had a great impact on our quality of life. But in both cases we are wise to maintain control of the directions that innovation takes us. While considering the energy that goes into building is vitally important, as consumers, our decisions are informed by the relationships we develop. Like sustainability, happiness is largely a product of our connectedness to the web of existence we find ourselves in.
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Contact: Sheila Lukes
New Division Provides Essential Help for Your Home
College Station, TX (June 15, 2015) “Like the skin on your body, the exterior of your home is a vital organ for the health of the structure and those in it,” says Hugh Stearns, owner of Stearns Design Build; a College Station based remodeling and custom home builder. The company has announced the launch of a new exteriors division that will handle siding, windows, doors, decks and patios.
While Stearns Design Build was founded in 1993, and has always done projects that include these elements, the new division provides crews and processes dedicated exclusively to the exterior of the home. “This is important to two key aspects of our overall mission,” says Stearns. “It addresses both form and function. Our Transitions design concept identifies the outside of the home as an important environment that we feel is too frequently ignored. And, as students of building science, we know the importance of the outside of a home for energy efficiency, durability and health; not just of the home but also those in it.”
Stearns Design Build has developed their own design concept called Transitions. The focus is to create both visual and physical transition into inviting outdoor spaces. In college, Stearns studied psychology and learned that people who are in tune with the natural world, such as what time the sun rises and sets and what phase the moon is in, consistently report a higher level of happiness than those who do not have that connection. The company’s tag line is “we design and build happiness,” which they believe they can do partly by creating connections to nature and the community.
Outdoor rooms are becoming increasingly popular. Stearns Design Build has always made inviting outdoor spaces such as decks, patios and screened porches a part of their projects. Stearns said, “not only does this invite people outside, it also provides low cost, high quality of life space for relaxing and entertaining.”
Stearns explains that replacing siding, doors and windows is much more than an aesthetic upgrade; it is also an opportunity to provide improved air, moisture and sound sealing, as well as improve insulation. “With both remodeling and new construction, we are very focused on what we can do to lower utility costs and increase comfort because this is the best way to maximize return on investment.”
Stearns Design Build is the Brazos Valley’s first green builder. Their exteriors division will continue to focus on their core values of stewardship and energy conservation. For more information Stearns Design Build can be reached at (979) 696-0524 or visit www.stearnsdesignbuild.com