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Do you use Houzz.com?

Have you been to Houzz? Houzz is a social media website dealing with home design ideas, from furniture and fabrics to custom and homes and remodeling projects. Houzz is a place for homeowners to browse a database of more than two-million photos of residential interiors and exteriors. Home owners can browse photos by room, style, and location, and bookmark pictures in a personal collection called an idea book, similar to Pinterest’s idea boards. The search engine works great to pull up very specific ideas. We set up private idea books to share photos with our clients and allow them to share photos the find in Houzz with us.  This helps them communicate their tastes and wishes, and it allows us to show them ideas that they can view at their leisure.  It is a wonderful tool for collaboration.

Houzz started with a home project of co-founders Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen as they worked conceiving their dream home. The couple started thinking about their remodeling project with a stack of magazines. Tired of cutting pages out of magazines for their inspiration file, they thought ‘there has to be a better way.’ This is when they came up with the idea of creating an online database for those interested in the process of building, remolding and interior design which is now known as Houzz.

The Cohen’s first started Houzz as a side project but it has since grown into a community of more than 20 million homeowners, architects, interior designers and. Houzz is a bottomless well of inspiration at the tip of your fingertips. Get inspired by visiting our Stearns Design-Build Houzz  site where you can view past and ongoing projects. Also be sure to browse our daily updated idea books full of inspirational ideas for your custom home or remodeling project.

SITING A HOUSE

It is easy to get caught up in all of the new building materials and technologies that are available and lose sight of the important fundamentals such as properly siting a house.  There are few things that will make more difference in terms of energy use than this.  The predominant paradigm in what some refer to as custom home building is for a family to choose a set of house plans from a catalog or compute screen with no regard for how that plan will integrate to a lot, which has topography and vegetation.  And builders, who should know better, most frequently place speculative housing stock with no consideration of these variables.

Managing the Elements

When siting a house there are many variables to consider. Four of them will put you well on your way to making a wsie decision.

  • Sun
  • Water
  • Air
  • Infrastructure

Sun

There is nothing that affects the energy efficiency of a home more than the sun.  In cool climates the goal is to harness as much of the suns warmth as possible.  In the hot humid climate of the Brazos Valley we are looking to minimize that impact through most of the year.  One of the most important considerations is the cardinal orientation of the house. In general it is best to orient a house so that its long axis runs east and west. This provides the best shading from the eves on the long southern exposure.  Orientation of the house will help provide direction for window placement as well. Existing and future plants can also play a role in protecting a home from the sun as well as inviting it in during the winter months.

Water

The single largest contributor to insurance claims is water. Obviously it is important to place a home out of a flood prone area, but that alone is not enough to avoid water problems. The way the water flows across a lot must be taken into consideration to provide protection for the structure and to maximize the potential of this critical element.  It is also important to consider possible future development because this can dramatically impact the flow of water onto and off of a lot.

Air

Air is another important factor to consider when siting a house.   Is there a wind block available to provide protection from the north winter winds? In College Station and Bryan our prevailing breezes are from the south east do we have trees that will help direct that breeze to where we can make the best use of it? Are there air borne pollutants that we need to take into consideration?

Infrastructure

A frequently overlooked but important consideration when considering a location for a home is infrastructure.  How far will water have to be piped? Is it even available? How about electricity and sewer?  If your goal is to reduce your environmental foot print, it is a good idea to be near a mass transit line and amenities that can be walked or biked to.

There are many other site related variables that can and should be taken into consideration when designing a home.

Should You Replace Your Windows?

In February the Federal Trade Commission handed down a complaint against five window manufactures for making wildly false claims in their marketing material about expected energy savings from their replacement windows. This is not to say that you should not pay attention to your windows with an eye toward energy savings and possibly even consider replacing them.  But on average most window replacements will reduce overall energy bills less than 5%, not the 50% claimed by some manufactures.  But there are other reasons than return on investment that may encourage you to replace your windows.  One of those reasons is comfort.  Good windows will make your home more comfortable.  The other reason is aesthetics.  Windows frame the world beyond and should be just as beautiful as your best framed work of art.  Indeed, a properly placed window may be your best piece of art. A high quality window will encourage you to open it on a nice day, unlike poor quality windows that must be fought to get them opened and closed. These are good reasons to replace windows, but most people are sold new windows on the idea that they will have a short return on investment, which is seldom the case.

But you do not have to replace your windows to improve their energy efficiency. Typically windows pose two energy loss problems: Thermal transfer and air leakage.

In our hot humid part of the world we are primarily concerned with transferring energy into the house.  Shading is a key factor in reducing heat transfer into the house.  This is true on all exterior surfaces but especially on windows that have the least resistance.  One of the first things that might be considered is landscaping.  Can a large tree or other shade plant help out?  On western windows awnings might be an option to consider.  Pergolas and covered porches can also be an effective way to provide relieve.  Since 2002 low-e coatings have been required on windows in conditioned spaces in Texas.  On homes older than this, these coating can be added though it is a touch process that puts the coating outside of the glass rather than between two panes of glass where they will last much longer.  Blinds and shades can also provide effective protection from sunlight.  Solar shades can provide a dramatic reduction in heat gain on windows that get a lot of direct sun.

Making sure that windows are properly aligned and well caulked will help reduce air leakage. Storm windows can help reduce both heat transfer and air leakage when properly installed.  Making sure that sashes are properly shut and locked will also help reduce air leakage.

You can find more information on reducing energy loss though windows here.

What Does Building Science Have To Do With You?

Building science looks at a house as a system, recognizing that it consists of parts that work together to make up the building enclosure. All of these parts, their connections, and their relations affect the envelope of the building, which in turn dictates performance, efficiency, and comfort. One part of a building that people don’t automatically associate with building science is the occupant. In other words— you!

When you realize how your lifestyle and needs affect the way a building is designed and used, it makes sense to consider yourself a part of your home’s system. Take, for example, windows. Windows penetrate walls and create a potential for thermal leakage, but they are necessary for our health and happiness. As a result, techniques (like double and triple panes of glass, weather-stripping, air sealing, etc.) have been developed which increase the efficiency of windows as part of the building system. This is building science in problem-solving-action!

When building science is included in your home’s design, construction, remodeling, and even daily operation, it will help you create a long-lasting, enjoyable, and efficient sanctuary. So take some time to learn about building science, and how it can impact your home for the better. And if you encounter questions along the way, we’re happy to help answer them.

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Developing Green Products: Flame Retardants

Today’s blog is a shout out about a flame retardant product that is being developed and tested at Texas A&M. It’s made from natural and renewable resources: layers of clay and a polymer from crab shells. These layers are designed to help prevent a fire from igniting a surface instead of trying to extinguish it after ignition like most fire retardants. In one test, the product was applied to a foam block and then exposed to flame. The clay-crab shell layers not only successfully kept the foam from igniting, but also prevented the foam from melting or hardening. The team at A&M is even exploring and testing other layers of polymers for potential fabric flame retardants. It’ll be great to hear news of their progress in the future! Who knows– this may be a product that we eventually use for fire proofing homes.

Here is link to a short article with a little more information about the product as well as a photo.