Whole-House Fans

Hot-outsideHave you ever noticed that later in the day, its often much cooler outside of the house than it is inside? During this time of day, many homeowners deal with this problem by turning on their costly air-conditioning units, which are a huge drain on their power bill. The good news is that this problem can be fixed using a much more economical cooling system known as a whole-house fan.

When it cools down in the late afternoon and evening you open a few windows and turn on the whole-house fan to draw in fresh cool air. Whole-house fans draw in a large volume of air. Systems are typically designed to empty all the air in the house every 4 minutes. These fans are installed in the attic. The air intake is typically placed in a central location like a hallway or in 2 locations for a larger home. The fans typically run on a timer to be run all night at a lower speed.
The advantage of drawing a large volume of cool air into the house is that the air actually cools the house itself. This is called thermal mass cooling. The cool house stays cool for longer period of time because the structure itself is colder. This delays the need to turn the air conditioning the next day until much later.

The constant air flow also creates a breeze inside the house which can make the house feel up to 5 degrees cooler. Another benefit of the fan is that along with heat it removes undesirable things from the air like stale air, pet odors and cigarette smoke and makes the home smell and feel fresher.

Newer homes are built much tighter keeping environmental toxins inside the house. The fans remove Volatile Organic Compounds that are found in carpets and furniture, air borne illnesses, humidity and can reduce the chance of mold growth in wet areas.

I installed a whole-house fan this summer at my own house. I noticed the difference immediately. My air conditioning used to go on at 11 am on hot days. Now it goes on at 4 pm on hot days and stays on for a shorter period of time. During the hottest days of the summer my air conditioning used to go on and off till midnight. Now the house is cool by 8. My electrical bill decreased by $100 during those summer months.

Cl-3100-atticThe good quality fan is quiet producing about 45 decibels of sound. That is about as loud as a refrigerator running. This sound is only heard at the air inlet location so you don’t hear it in the rest of the house like you would by running the air conditioning. Good quality fans also are very energy efficient using as much energy as a 40 watt light bulb.

The fan I installed at my house that I am very happy with is by Quiet Cool. https://quietcoolsystems.com/

Whole-house fans should be installed by an air conditioning contractor or electrician. A good quality dual speed fan with a timer runs about $2000 installed and should pay for itself after about 4 seasons depending on weather and use.

The real difference is the increased comfort in the house that you will feel immediately.

Do I need an Interior Designer?

1903 Craftsman remodeled formal living room.
Remodeled living space with new fireplace surround.

Once you and your architect have gone through the Building department and are ready to break ground on your dream home you may wonder if you need an interior designer.

Interior designers serve many purposes. They educate the client, help the home owner make informed decisions, and act as a facilitator between the homeowner and building contractor. Designers can be helpful in determining how the rooms will best be used and where to place furniture and lighting.

In order to find the designer that is right for you, review the style the designer works in to determine if it is your style. Ask to see examples of previous work and talk to previous clients. Try to clearly define what decisions you want help with. Get a rough time estimate of how long they think it will take to create the plan.

Designers typically charge hourly because the design changes as it develops. They typically charge between $100 and $200 per hour. Some designers may offer a one-time design consultation for about $400. Usually this is limited to a review of the floor plan, cabinets and colors. When looking for an interior designer start with someone who is a member of the ASID (American Society of Interior Designers). Membership in the ASID shows that the designer has a minimum amount of years of study and apprenticeship in design. Look up a local ASID chapter in your area by looking at their web site:
http://www.asid/org/

Decide how involved you want the designer to be during the construction process. Learn about design styles and notice ideas that you like. Take notes and pictures. Bring this to your meeting to help the designer know your preferences.

Next, define the terms of your business relationship with the designer. Clarify the hourly rates and percentage mark-ups on items purchased through the designer.

Some clients are overwhelmed by all the decisions and feel more comfortable working with a designer. Others are too busy with their professional or family lives to dedicate the time needed to make the design choices. For them, hiring a professional is the right decision.

Solar Tubes vs. Skylights

Solar tubes or skylights are a great way to bring natural light into your home. Solar tubes are easier to install than traditional skylights and offer similar advantages. Solar tubes typically take up less space and offer more options in their installation. An installed skylight can cost from $600 or $3000 depending on the condition of the roof and ceilings. A solar tube will cost you about $500 installed.

Solar1
Solar Panel

A solar tube is composed of a dome at the roof level that lets in the light. That dome is connected to a glass panel in the living space through flexible reflective tubing. This flexible tube offers more options and ease of installation than a traditional skylight. Solar tubes can be installed during construction or at a later date as a retrofit.

The solar tube offers passive lighting during the daylight hours and will save on lighting costs. Solar tubes are used in otherwise dark internal hallways or rooms without windows. They provide constant light during the day.

After deciding on a good plan for the location of a solar tube the most important thing to consider is the penetration at the roof. An older roof’s waterproofing is often compromised when solar tubes are installed improperly. Only a licensed roofer can determine the best location and installation technique and help you decide if a solar tube is a good choice for your roof.

Natural Stone Counter Tops

Natural stone is a great option for counter tops in kitchen, bathrooms or fireplaces. Granite and Marble are natural products which are composed of various minerals. They are formed under metamorphic pressure giving each martial its unique and beautiful color and veining characteristics. Granites have been formed over millions of years and marble is more commonly formed over tens of thousands of years. Granites are extremely hard materials made primarily from igneous rock (volcanic) and therefore are extremely resistant to acids in the kitchen, hot objects, scratching from kitchen knives and fading of color.

Marble is much more fragile than Granite. Marble is primarily formed from calcium and is less dense than granite therefore making it more susceptible to acid etching of the polish. It is best not used in kitchen application.

All natural stone products are porous to varying degrees. It is strongly suggested to seal all natural stone with a penetrating sealer closing off the pores at least temporarily then resealing over time. This will dramatically help repel damaging contaminates like fruit juices, sodas, perfumes, fatty foods, oils, etc. Marble especially stains when exposed to oils.

Batchelder Tiles

Ernest Batchelder was a local tile manufacturer in the San Gabriel Valley. His tiles where used extensively in Craftsman homes that accentuated the Arts and Crafts Movement of the early 20th century. Earnest Batchelder had a studio on Arroyo Blvd. in Pasadena before moving to Los Angeles as his business grew.

He featured nature scenes in his hand made tiles and accents. He is famous for his fireplace mantels that are featured today in some of the most beautiful Craftsman homes in the area.

The clay tiles where handmade and air dried. The subtle colorations in his tiles where accomplished by using multiple layers of mineral stains applied with small sponges. After a month of outdoor drying while birds would often land on the tiles giving them minor indents the tiles where kin fired at 2000 degrees to fuse the colors and make the tiles extremely durable.

Original Batchelder tiles are quite valuable. Common 4” square field tile often fetch $40 each. The decorative freezes often go for several hundred dollars. If you are not lucky enough to live in a home with a Batcheler Fireplace there are reproduction tiles available. They are made the same way and reproduce the same beauty that Ernest Batchelder captured some one hundred years ago.

Craftsman homes and bungalows in Southern California

The Pasadena area is a treasure trove of numerous fine Craftsman and Bungalow style homes. After you see enough Craftsman homes you begin to appreciate and perhaps fall in love with the simplicity, efficiency and the details of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Craftsman architecture was developing in the United States at the turn of the 19th century. In Southern California the Craftsman movement evolved quite differently in many respects. These unique differences, details and styles make Craftsman Architecture special to us here in Southern California.

The Arts and Crafts movement began in England with the prolific writings of John Ruskin and William Morris who stressed the virtues of hand made goods as opposed to the machine made goods of the industrial revolution. Gustav Stickley in New York was one of the first Americans to adopt the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement shunning the Victorian and Classical style in favor of simple unadorned handmade basic structural forms.

In the Pasadena area the Arts and Crafts style was being adopted by several local artisans; Ernest Batchelder the tile maker and designer, Highland Park’s Arroyo Guild, including William Lees Judson the Stained glass artisan and founder of the USC College of Fine Arts, and of course the architectural firm Greene and Greene that opened their offices in Pasadena in 1894.

The work of Charles and Henry Greene has come to represent the heart and soul of the Craftsman movement with its simplicity and meticulous attention to materials and detail. The historic Gamble House featured rooms on the first floor that opened onto a terrace and the second floor bedrooms that opened onto an unscreened sleeping porch. The extension of the living space to the outdoors was a revolutionary concept at the time and could be interpreted as a celebration of Southern California’s temperate climate.

Charles Greene, the prime designer in the firm, was said to be under the spell of Japan. The Asian influence can be seen in the corbelled bracing design of the Blacker House which was common in many Japanese temples. He featured the cloud lift which is of a centuries old Chinese design and the use of heavy carved structural members integrating the building and nature. The beams and rafters often extended beyond the roof line accentuating the design. The use of the picture rail above the door and window openings around the perimeter of the room unified the various interior elements of a room such as the doors, windows, fireplace, inglenook and built in furniture. The plastered freeze above that rail to the ceiling had the effect of making the room seem larger.

The Greenes used several interesting details in wood joinery such as strapping several wood members together with metal straps and clevis. Wood beams where spliced together with scarf off set or Z splices with square keepers with all edges sanded round. Perpendicular board intersections where mortised together with round peg keepers. Board corners where joined with finger joints rather than a simple mortise. Beam ends often protruded beyond the intersecting face with all edges sanded round. First floor parapet walls used indigenous river rock, quite often with a Clinker brick cap. Hardware and light fixtures had a distinctive Craftsman design which to this day is duplicated and in demand.

The cost of the Craftsman home with its beautiful detailing and the use of many exotic woods was just a little beyond the average home builder’s budget. Thus keeping with some of the same characteristics and techniques of the Craftsman home, a more modest design evolved referred to as the Bungalow.

The term Bungalow evolved from an East Indian hut called a Bangala which was anglicized into the word bungalow. In England the term came to describe compact no frills resort or vacation housing. In America the bungalow came to represent an affordable, practical, fashionable home greatly influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The popularity of the Bungalow movement spanned the teens and twenties and swept various parts of the country particularly trend setting California. The typical Bungalow floor plan started with a generous front porch which could act as outdoor seating area. The front door opened to a living room with a fireplace located along an exterior wall. This room was intended to be the main living area for the family and for receiving visitors. Quite often the living room opened directly into the dining room with a cased or framed opening for visual separation and frequently had a built in buffet. Next was the kitchen with built in cabinets including a cupboard. These kitchens were laid out so that it had enough room for a small informal dining area, a new concept in the kitchen design. Bed and bathrooms were to the side or rear of the forgoing function or on the second floor. The plans generally where compact and quite functional.

Although the above described is quite common there was considerable variation in the style often incorporating classical and Victorian motifs. Southern California was different in this respect with less influence in the traditional style and in some cases influenced by the Mission style in the San Gabriel Valley. With Californian’s temperate climate and no snow loads the roofs where allowed a lower slope with strong horizontal lines. Structural elements were simple and strait forward. Rather than beam or rafter tails having classical or birds mouth profile, they where strait cut with rounded edges and often projected beyond the roof eves or post supports. Parapets, pilasters and fireplaces using indigenous river rock were a significant feature of the in the Pasadena area. Large entry porches sometimes extending across the entire width of the house where an endorsement of outdoor California living.

It is difficult to say who was responsible as the major influences in designing the multitudes of bungalows across America. Needless to say there was quite a bit of plagiarism between plan books. In most cases we really don’t know. Of course there were less common instances of custom built one of a kind bungalows attributed to an architect but many of the bungalow designs were the creations of unnamed designers, architects, or anonymous underpaid draftsmen. Plans were marketed by the use of books whose complete plans including details and specifications and were sold by numerous sources such as Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward for as little at ten dollars.

An innovation arising from the plan book was what became known as “Kit Homes”. These “Kit Homes” where complete packages of carefully labeled house parts including structural elements, built in furniture, fixtures and finished millwork all meticulously labeled so that handy home owners could build their own houses for as little of $1500 ordered by mail.

There was no uniformity of style in the plan books that spanned the gamut of architectural influences from Victorian to Classical. You can see direct copies of Gustav Stickley homes right here in Pasadena. The house on your block might be a significant copy of a famous architects work. Next time you stroll down the historic streets of Pasadena don’t forget to appreciate the beauty and the history of the homes amongst you.

Redwood Decks – Past and Future

Decks are great place to enjoy the outdoors. Redwood decks are gorgeous when first installed but the elements and time take their toll. Deck owners are always painting and repairing their decks. Most decks have a couple boards that everyone knows to stay away from because they are loose, rotted or just plain dangerous.

Decks and decking materials have come a long way. Typically decks where made of Redwood. Back in the 50’s-80’s redwood was great quality and inexpensive. Many of those old growth forests have long been chopped down and made into patio furniture and wood decks.

Today there are new options available for decks. They fall in three categories; Composite decking like Trex, Exotic hardwoods like mahogany and Ipe and lastly good old fashioned clear Redwood. There are also new ways to install the decking to keep those pesky nails from popping up and boards from getting loose.

Composite decking like Trex has come a long way and is a good long lasting alternative to natural wood. Composite decking runs about $3 to $4 per linear foot of decking material. It comes in a wide variety of colors and textures. Composite decking is made of wood and plastic. The wood gives it a more natural feel and protects it from UV damage and the plastic protects it from rot. This decking material can last 50 years and never needs repainting because the color is integral to the material. Most composite decking is also available with channels cut into the side of the material so hidden fasteners can be used for a cleaner smoother look. Composites are a great alternative to Redwood decking.

Hardwood decking is another great option to Redwood. Redwood decking is very soft and brittle. Hardwood is more resistant to rot and breaking. Hardwood decks are the nicest option. They have a rich natural feel that will enhance your outdoor experience. Hardwood decks are of course more expensive and more difficult to install and maintain. Examples of hardwood are Mahogany, Mangaras, Ipe and teak. They are either installed by either top screwing or installed with hidden fasteners on the sides or bottom. Some are available custom milled with channels to make using hidden fasteners easier to install.

Hardwoods are too hard to accept penetrating sealers. Polyurethanes and varnishes do not hold up outdoors under heavy foot traffic. Typically you use a Penfin or teak oil to seal the wood and it needs to be reapplied every couple years. Hardwood is the best but comes at a price and has additional maintenance issues.

Good old fashion Clear Redwood. The problem it clear good quality redwood costs nearly the same as composite decking at about $3 a linear foot. Redwood is typically installed with screws from the top. There decking clips that can be used but they don’t always work well with Redwood. The deck should be painted with a solid body stain every couple years to keep the wood healthy and looking its best.

The often times bigger issue with Wood decks is the structure holding the deck up. Water kills decks. Every effort should be used to keep the decking on top and more importantly the structure underneath dry. Do not put big pots on wood decks unless they are moved around often or on spacers to keep the deck dry. Do not over water these pots.

Keep an eye on what is going on under the deck like broken sprinklers or dirt in contact with the deck structure. Code calls for wood framing to be a minimum of 6 inches away from the soil. Make sure the deck is well ventilated. Code calls for a half inch gap between the decking boards. This may be tough on guests with heels but it helps keep the underside of the deck well ventilated. Check the connections of the deck framing to houses or walls. This is where the deck typically fails. Most decks are built attached directly to another structure. Try to provide an air space between any ledgers and the house and make sure to use pressure treated wood and stainless steel fasteners at deck connections to houses or other structures.