Category Archives: Resources

Three Design Concepts for a More Livable Home

Whether you’re building a new home from the ground up or undertaking a major renovation to an existing house, hiring an architect is money well invested in creating a more livable home that suits your personal lifestyle while simultaneously improving the value of one of your most important assets. Before hastily purchasing a set of stock plans (seriously, why would you?) or making your wish list of home renovation improvements, consider the following three concepts first.

Important things first.

What’s important? Differentiate the decisions that need to be made as either difficult-to-change-later or easy-to-change-later. Important decisions are the ones you need to make early in the process. Less important decisions are those made later and can be changed in the future without major disruption to the more important ones.

Selecting the right context (e. g., urban, suburban, rural) is the first step followed by the neighborhood and then the specific building lot. Having your architect conduct a site analysis to determine the best location for your home is critical and ensures that the end result takes advantage of the site’s assets while mitigating any disadvantages the lot may have.

The next step is organizing the spaces, and the relationships between them, that you need and want. You and your architect will want to discuss things like a typical day for everyone in your family. What works well now, and what doesn’t? What activities require dedicated spaces? What interior spaces should have direct access to the outside, and which do not? How should the flow of space move people through the home?

From here, other aspects of the design are incorporated, including the construction method, building systems (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing), exterior materials and colors, and interior materials and finishes. Working out decisions with your architect from most important to lesser important decisions will lead to the development of a comprehensive design solution.

Smaller can be smarter.

Meis van der Rohe adopted the motto “less is more,” a phrase originally attributed to Ad Reinhardt, an abstract expressionist artist. Think of designing and building a more livable home as distilling the best features and options into a smaller but more impactful home. Consider what activities can occur together in the same space. What spaces should be adjacent to each other, possibly eliminating hallways?

In the case of renovation projects or additions, aim to maximize and improve what you already have first. Identify those areas that are rarely used or no longer contributing to your lifestyle. These spaces are resources that could be repurposed to serve your family’s current needs. Additionally, you may want to address the furniture layout of an existing room to improve your homes livability and reduce the need for additional construction.

A home should be a dynamic assembly of spaces and functions if it’s going to serve a family with a myriad of different interests and priorities. An architect’s service is invaluable in making the most of all the decisions that go into building a new home, renovating, or adding to an existing home.

Take it outside.

Along the South Carolina coast, and particularly more so in Florida, outdoor living spaces are used year-round. Here in the Lowcountry, the addition of an outdoor fireplace can increase the usable living space during those colder winter evenings.

Porches are ubiquitous throughout the South, and they work best when connecting interior living spaces with outdoor dining areas, kitchens, terraces, and pools. Balconies that provide enough space for a couple of chairs and small table are a great feature for less public rooms in the home such as bedrooms or a study.

A new residential design or improvement project should improve your family’s connectivity as well as satisfy each family members individual needs. Selecting an architect specialized in residential design will help you increase your odds of getting it right by coordinating all the important decisions necessary for a successful project.

Your High-End Home Isn’t a High-Performance Home Without Proper Ventilation

Ventilation is an essential component in achieving healthy indoor air quality, and if your high-end home isn’t proving that to you and your family, it could be increasing your chances of poor health for everyone who lives under its roof.

Ventilation – The catch phrase use to be that homes needed to ‘breathe’. They still do, but not in the uncontrolled manner they’ve been allowed. Buildings are now being constructed with more air-tight envelopes. This has led to the need for greater control over a home’s breathability by introducing controlled fresh outside air in addition to a home’s typical HVAC system. Controlled whole-house ventilation is a cost-effective and energy efficient way to supply fresh air throughout the living area.

Here’s why you high-end home needs to prioritize ventilation:

Removes excess humidity (we do live in the South)

One of the primary reasons for using a properly sized, well-designed ventilation system in conjunction with airtight construction is to lower humidity levels that have a negative effect in two ways. First, Significant differences between indoor and outdoor temperatures can pose a problem by causing condensation inside the structure of a building and the spaces within. When this happens in your high-end home, you can end up with high levels of mold and mildew. Second, a lower relative humidity level dramatically improves the comfort for those living in the home.

Reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies

Respiratory problems like asthma can be triggered by damp and moldy conditions. Without adequate ventilation, your airtight high-end house could be producing excessive humidity levels that promote mold spores and dust mites. In general, keeping the relative humidity below 50% considerably reduces the growth of dust mite. A whole-house ventilation system extracts the excess humidity and keeps mold and mildew from forming.

As we say in the South, it pollens instead of snows, and pollen is one of the major causes of seasonal allergies. An effective ventilation system filters out pollen and other large particles while suppling fresh air that results in improved health for seasonal allergy sufferers. Keeping the windows closed during high pollen levels helps ensure that your air conditioning system is running as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Reduce exposure to Radon gas

Radon is a colorless and odorless radioactive gas that is found most commonly in areas where granite and other ‘igneous’ rocks make up a large part of the geography. While not a problem here in the lowcountry and coastal areas, high-end homes in the mountains and foothills of South Carolina should take precautions against exposure to radon gas. It can be pulled into living spaces from the ground around basements and crawlspaces by air pressure differences between the interior of the house and the exterior.

Reduce the impact of chemical pollutants

We spend much of our lives inside. We also live and work in environments where there are far more chemical compounds in the air that can have negative health effects. Many of these come in the form of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. While you can’t see them, they do usually give off a smell.

VOCs are found in paints, stains, sealants, carpets, furniture, and even house cleaning products. A newly built or renovated house can have VOC levels that reach as much as 1,000 times higher than outdoor levels. When designing and planning your new home, renovation, or addition, choose finish materials that have minimal off-gas.

A whole-house, balanced ventilation system utilizing a HRV or ERV unit (preferred for hot humid climates) that introduces a constant stream of fresh filtered air to dilute and control a wide range of pollutants. Stale air is then typically exhausted through spaces like bathrooms and kitchens. To ensure your high-end home provides a high quality indoor living environment, be sure to prioritize a high-performance ventilation strategy from the outset.

Prioritizing Your Priorities: 4 Tips to Help Your Design Project Go Smoothly

Starting your new design project is an exciting endeavor. There are more questions that await your decisions than you’ve probably considered. Fortunately for you, the decision to work with an architect will greatly help in answering all the remaining questions more manageable.

Throughout my practice, I’ve found that the best way to move a project ahead efficiently during the design phases is to address the many issues in the following order:

  1. Resolve Upfront DecisionsResolving decisions that others need from you will help them understand the scope of your project, begin the work on time, and keep to your project’s schedule. Ask your architect for all the information that they will need from you. Your program (the area, function, and number of rooms needed) and other design objectives, a current survey and soil test of the property, anticipated construction budget, and a desired completion date are a few of the things you’ll need upfront to get the project moving.
  2. Identify and Resolve UnknownsIdentifying and resolving unknowns is critical to avoiding costly changes or re-design. It may seem like your time and investment could be better-spent designing what you’ve been dreaming of, but it’s not. You will waste more time and money accommodating the unidentified unknowns later in the project than it takes to resolve them up front.
  3. Take on the Important Stuff EarlyTake on the important design decisions early so you aren't overwhelmed as your deadlines get closer. The important stuff includes ‘big picture’ issues that will determine whether your project ends up being the best possible design solution or a costly example of missed opportunities. The important stuff is often the intangible, or more usually, the unseen decisions when your project is finally complete. Careful site planning and orientation, program layout, structural integrity, efficient mechanical and electrical systems, indoor air quality, daylighting strategies, and sound attenuation are just some of the important stuff that will determine the quality of your project. Good design isn’t fast, so take your time and think things through with your architect. Your future self will be glad you did.
  4. Leave the Not-So-Important Stuff for LaterLeave the not-so-important stuff for last because nothing else depends on it and it depends on all the important stuff. So, what’s the not-so-important stuff? Often clients begin preparing for their design project by collecting images of beautifully furnished interiors and finely crafted exteriors. This is great, and I highly recommend doing this to communicate your design goals. However, things like paint colors and stains, accessories, decorative fixtures, window treatments, and other finish level decisions generally don’t impact the important stuff. Like everything, there are exceptions. Ask your architect if something you have your heart set on should be taken into consideration earlier on in the process.

Implementing these tips will help you engage your project during the design process on a deeper level than just what people will see in the finished result. I will also give you valuable information as a custodian of architecture in the maintenance and life cycle of your building project.

I’ve found that it helps organize the decisions you’ll need to make under these four headings. If you’re not sure about something, ask your architect. It’s a great feeling to see a simple, and even fun, list of stuff between you and your project’s finish line. To get more helpful tips on preparing for you design project, you can download your free guide here, Preparing For Your Design Project.

Just Another Hurricane Season in Paradise

The end of August marked the 24 anniversary of Hurricane Andrew slamming into South Florida, and it’ll be 27 years this month since Hurricane Hugo ripped into the South Carolina lowcountry. Both events caused significant damage and more importantly, loss of life.

Just another hurricane season in Paradise, right.

The vernacular architecture of the lowcountry, and southern coastal regions in general, developed as a response to the heat, humidity and storms typical of our region.

As building science and technology have advanced, there are more improved ways of building your coastal home to withstand severe weather events like floods and hurricanes. Here’s the 5 strategies for building not just a beautiful home, but one that is also a flood and hurricane resistant one.


1. Don’t let it blow away.

Aside from the necessary structural engineering, the shape and configuration of your home can actually have an influence on whether or not it stays put in a hurricane.

For example, studies have been done on what shape house, what type of wall construction, and which type of roof  bests performs in extreme weather conditions.

Square houses were found to be the sturdiest shape for high winds, while rectangular configurations with length to width ratios of 1:3 or less are also perform well. Week spots are typically created at inside corners.

Reinforce concrete block walls outperform other wall construction methods, but properly engineered wood-framed structures also perform well.

Hipped roofs with an angle of approximately 30 degrees outperformed other roof types and slopes, but are more costly to build. Simple gabled roofs are acceptable. Overhangs perform best when they’re between 1 1/2 – 2 feet in depth if enclosed or 8 inches if open.


2. Elevate the building.

Avoiding damage from flood waters is simple, build above them. Homes in flood zones are required to be built at or above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) depending on where you’re building. For example, in Miami Beach, the first floor of a home has to at least be built at the same height as the BFE. In the City of Charleston, the minimum height is 1 foot above BFE, but in Charleston County, the first floor of a home is required to be built 2 feet above BFE.

The BFE is determined by Flood Insurance Rate Maps, or FIRMs, and is a regulatory requirement for floodproofing of structures. The relationship between the BFE and a structure’s elevation also determines your flood insurance premium.


3. Keep the rain out.

Rain comes from all directions during a storm, driving moisture into exterior walls. It’s therefore good practice to provide a drainage plane directly behind the siding to allow water to escape instead of getting trapped inside the wall.

Other areas susceptible to wind-driven water intrusion is attic vents, areas around windows and doors, soffits, wall penetrations for utilities, and cracks in exterior finish materials. Making sure these are properly detailed and constructed is critical to keeping your home dry.


4. Use materials that can get wet.

Two of the most common building materials widely used in hurricane and flood prone regions are also most susceptible to water damage. Can you guess what they are?

Well, the first is paper-faced gypsum board, also known as drywall.

The best thing to do is simply don’t use it. Using non-paper-faced gypsum on the inside of exterior walls is a better solution because it stands up to moisture better.

The second building material to avoid is fiberglass batt insulation. You know, the pink fluffy stuff.

Should that insulation get wet during a flooding or hurricane event, you’re gonna have problems. Instead, your home should be insulated with rigid foam or rock wool boards on the exterior. They’re hydrophobic, a fancy word meany that they tend to repel water.


5. Design the building so that it can dry out when it does get wet.

Once your home has been designed using the strategies above, the final step is to take a worst-case scenario approach, meaning you should consider what happens when things do get wet.

Walls, floors and ceilings should be designed so that they can be opened up and allowed to dry. This is easily achieved. For example, detailing walls so that they can be opened at the top and bottom allow for air flow to remove moisture in the wall.

In addition, consider thees recommendations for resilient design from the Urban Land Institute in their article Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season.

Know What You Can Build Before You Buy

Here’s a question for you.

Say you’re in the market to purchase a property that you plan to build a new home on. Or, maybe it’s a vacation home. Now, ordinarily, you’d be looking at a few properties, and trying to make a decision based on their individual locations, features, problems, opportunities, value, etc.

That’s all well and good. But, what if you could see into the future of one or more scenarios that you’re considering?

What if I told you that you could get critical insights about how the property would inform the planning and design of your new home, and how your new home would enhance the experience of the property BEFORE you buy?

How valuable would that be in making the best decision on a very important purchase?

I’m guessing you might be saying to yourself, “How is that possible?”

Well, it is! And, here’s how you can.

One of the services I offer my clients is what I call my Discover and Focus consultation.

Site analysis for a Discover and Focus consultation.

With it, you’ll get just what it implies, you’ll discover the opportunities and limitations of the property, as well as gain a clearer focus on the how your needs and wishes could enhance the site.

Purchasing a property for a new home or a vacation house is a big commitment. This low-cost consultation can help you avoid making the wrong decision.

It will also give you valuable information in making many right decisions after you’ve decided on a property.

One of three site planning options for a Discover and Focus consultation.

If you’re looking to buy a property and build, you owe it to yourself and your family to know WHAT you can build BEFORE you buy.

Call (843–276–2074) or email me to schedule a free meeting at my office to talk about your building plans and what how my Discover and Focus Consultation can help you.