Growing Pains


As a project progresses, my desk piles with sketches, redlines and other reference material.  It almost always becomes an archaeological dig as the deeper in the pile I dig the older the drawing.  This time the pile was a little deeper to dig through as since the beginning of the year we have been working with four different clients on different types of projects ranging from a simple kitchen remodel to a whole house renovation and addition project.  For a small office like ours, that is still working on a part time basis, this is a large increase in work load making for late nights and early mornings to get the job done as we typically are only working on one project at a time.

The past few months have been stressful and tiring, however with three of the four projects out the door, each project brings us closer to taking Sym-Home full time.  With each project we pay ourselves a fair wage and the rest goes to pay for business expenses. We are following the philosophy of Entrepreneur Architect and building a debt free practice.  This means purchasing the tools we need as we can afford them and building the nest egg for when that day comes to take the practice full time, to ensure we have the cushion to pay the bills as we grow even more.

We are excited for the future as our projects are getting larger and we are receiving referrals from past clients.  As well as new ones finding us online either from our website or social media sites like Houzz.  So continue to follow us as we grow.

Building Science Summer Camp 2013

It’s that time of year again where some of the greatest minds gather in Massachusetts for The Westford Symposium on Building Science, or better known as Building Science Summer Camp.  This event is hosted every year by Joe Lstiburek, PhD. PE and his wife Betsy Pettit, FAIA.  This camp is an all-out building science geek fest where some of the top researchers present studies and new building products and systems in an effort to help design and build more energy efficient and healthier homes.

As this is an invitation only event, I am left glued to my seat to follow and decipher the presentations live, 140 characters at a time from its 430 attendees by following the twitter hashtag #bscamp.  However social media has increased access to this event yet again.  A big shout out goes to Michael Anschel and Stephen Davis for broadcasting live the now famous tweet chat in Joe’s crawlspace via Ustream. Follow their channels here & here.  Thus if you have any interest in the latest building science research, I encourage you to watch last nights crawlspace interview of Joe and to follow the #bscamp twitter chat as today is the last day of the symposium.

Video streaming by Ustream


Building Science Sunday – Knowledge & Practice

I recently read an article (here) from Dr. Joseph Lstiburek.  It wasn’t his overly technical type of writing diving deep into building science, it was more of his personal story of how he began his career and some of the great building science minds of the 60’s & 70’s that he had the pleasure of meeting and learning from.  Yes I did write the 60’s & 70’s.  Building Science is not a new thing, the topics Joe has been presenting have been done before, but no one was doing it and to this day building science is still a mystery to most of the design and construction industry.

Now what I took from that article is not the name dropping of who he met early in his career, but more of what he did with those connections and new found knowledge.  He applied it, he took what he learned from those individuals and put it into his then home building practice.  And to this day he is still refining some of those early construction practices. Read the rest of this entry »

Poor Planning

Recently I went to perform a home energy audit for a homeowner that was looking to take advantage of rebates from the local gas utility program that I work for to do air sealing and insulation work for the home.  Now when I arrived, the furnace was sitting in the front yard and there were 3” holes on the interior of the home in every wall cavity in preparation for wall insulation to be installed.  Not to mention the large holes in the ceiling for the new duct work to be installed.

So what is the issue you may ask? They made my job easy right; I have a clear view into the wall and well, to the underside of the roof as well as a matter of fact.  However it is the fact that when I showed up to the home the entire interior was gutted; the old furnace that was sitting in the basement is now on the front yard with a new one in the attic and brand new flexible duct work ready to be installed throughout the attic.  This is poor planning on the homeowners’ part that is going to cost them over the life of the home now.  Yes, they are going to be reducing the utility bills of the 1920’s home by insulating the walls and attic.  However it is not going to be to the fullest potential.  First there was no plan to provide any air sealing work that could reduce any potential moisture problems with air infiltration.  Secondly, by moving the 80AFUE furnace from the basement to the attic, it is going to reduce the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the furnace, air conditioner and distribution system as it is all going to be sitting in unconditioned space and see the extreme hot and cold temperatures.

Now all of this work is being done with a short time table, and from my brief time in the home, it looks like there was no overall plan.  By working with an architect and even an energy auditor before knocking down the first wall, there would have been a clear plan and better final product.  So it pays to take a little extra time to have a clear and concise plan because in the long term, the home will not only perform better, but function better for your lifestyle.

Design Tools – SketchUp

I have been working with a family that needs to expand their home to accommodate their growing needs.  The challenge is to design a first floor master bedroom suite, great room and to renovate the kitchen to a 1960’s Cape Cod.  As a designer it sometimes slips the mind that homeowners cannot always read floor plans and elevations like we can.  SketchUp rendering of bathroom designOr they can, they just cannot visualize the space, and that is why I use SketchUp to create quick 3D representations of the proposed home design to allow the homeowners to visualize the forms and space better than in a flat two dimensional drawing.  Plus with product manufacturers making pre-built models of their products such as kitchen cabinets, bath tubs, furniture, etc. available, it is quick and easy to allow the homeowner to walk through the space before construction even begins.

However SketchUp is good for more than producing presentation drawings to clients.  It can help solve problems, or allow you to easily see how an addition for instance may interface with the existing home.  Addition design studyThe best part about the software is that it is free to use.  I have been considering upgrading to the Pro package to create my entire set of construction documents.  The pro version comes with additional software called LayOut that allows you to create standard drawing sheets.  I am sure it would take some time to really learn what the software could do, but I have found a few case studies of other design firms (here & here) that have successfully transitioned to SketchUp for their design and construction drawings.  I am must say what they have produced for the home designs are impressive.  To have the ability to present drawings in 3D makes the drawings much easier to understand by the homeowner and contractor.  Therefore it is a tool that is very useful throughout all stages of a project, especially in the early design stage to explain the intent of the design to a clearer set of drawings for contractors to follow.