Building a fine home means a lot more than building a large house at a tract housing quality level with a few glitzy details added on. A fine home starts with conception and planning, and its implementation begins with placement and elevation. A fine home takes time to build and requires experienced craftsmen and oversight. We believe in time proven materials and techniques whenever they are available.
Unfortunately, people in the forestry business are harvesting trees much faster causing a negative effect on the quality of lumber. Because the quality of wood has deteriorated in the last several years, we sometimes look to newer products as substitutes for certain applications. We use many time proven substitutes which allow for high quality construction and often reduce future maintenance. As a result, we have been building with sustainable methods long before it became fashionable. We feel that the importance of sustainability is an ever increasing part of fine home building.
Correct size and proportion contribute to aesthetics as well as architecturally correct details. For instance we are able to build dormers that are correct in detail as well as have modern insulating qualities. The implementation of period correct moldings and trim have a large impact on the end result.
We try to build our houses on a basement whenever possible. A basement gives a very cost effective means of storage, recreation and future expansion. Homes on basements also heat and cool better. When we build a basement it is done the old fashioned way with masons laying masonry walls. While this takes longer than forming walls with poured foundations, the result is a much truer and plumb platform from which to build on. The importance of getting off to the right start is highlighted by the fact that Steve personally directs the excavation and foundation phase of every project
We use dimensional lumber for the floor systems whenever possible, again slower and more labor intensive, but we are not convinced of the long term dependability of TGI’s. We build our exterior walls with 2×6 dimensional lumber placed on 16” centers and take the time to crown each stud. This greatly reduces future nail pops in the sheetrock and waving in the exterior siding. The 2×6 studs also provides a nice cavity for additional insulation. Depending on the type of roof line, some roofs are framed with dimensional lumber. When roof trusses are used they are placed on 16” rather than 24” centers and sheathed with 5/8” rather than 3/8” sheathing. This process nearly eliminates sagging and provides a much more stable platform for the roofing material. We also secure trusses to the interior walls to help prevent full load liftoff, reducing potential sheetrock damage.
INSULATED CONCRETE FORMS
If the architectural style of the house will allow, we are particularly fond of the use of IFCs instead of wall framing. These are large hollow, insulated blocks which are stacked up and then filled with concrete. They afford truly remarkable insulation values as well as a much higher level of security.
STRUCTURAL INSULATED PANELS
A SIP is a panel of thick, rigid, foam insulation sandwiched between two structural skins of plywood boards. They are used for walls, floors and roofs. SIPs can also have advantages over “conventional” methods in certain applications.
“Hurry and get it covered up!” “It doesn’t show anyway!” These are not philosophies found in fine homebuilding. The rough-in stage is an important opportunity to have the home function with all systems in harmony to provide its owners the best possible comfort. What is comfortable varies for different people; it can be as sophisticated as a smart house which is programmed to do many of the functions which have in the past been performed by occupants, to as simple as being able to walk through a dark house and having the light switches convenient to you. It is a good time to run extra low voltage wiring and conduit to anticipate future upgrades or technologies. It means using metal duct work and wrapping it in insulation, rather than the quick and easy duct board or flex ducts which expose you to breathing fiberglass.
Heating loads should be properly calculated and the size of the supply ducts should be in proper relationship to the cold air returns. We prefer to put cold air returns in all rooms which have doors that shut, rather than relying on doors which were cut too short at the bottoms to supply enough air flow. While abs plastic is uniformly accepted as the best piping for waste water, supply lines are not so simple. Decisions should based on the kind of water available to the house. Some materials, while good in certain applications can be quickly deteriorated by water conditions in other situations.
If a home is historic or a reproduction, the materials and techniques should be in keeping with its architecture. Certainly time proven materials such as brick, stone and copper work to this day. Some newer products are better suited for use in modern construction. It is possible to maintain an aesthetic appearance with the proper application of such materials as non-absorbing metal standing seam roofs, composite concrete siding, faux-slate shingles, abs plastic windows, and pvc moldings, to name a few. A home designed in a more modern architectural style allows for more flexibility in the selection of materials.
The difficulty is striking an aesthetically pleasing balance between appearance, energy consumption and low maintenance. If a home is historic or a reproduction, care should be taken with the selection of paint schemes, which should be historically correct. Attention should be paid to architectural detail, such as: if shutters are used on the windows, they should be able to close within the window frame; and sofits, facia, freeze and rakes should have appropriate moldings such as shingle mold, rake mold, and cove mold. Railings should be built on site made up of several members and, dormers, depending on time period, should have siding running with the angle of the roof, rather than horizontal.
Details matter… Most people can not specifically point out why a properly finished house looks great, but they see the difference. As an example, you can take a component as simple as a window. To look right, the different trim pieces should have a good proportional relationship not only to themselves, but also in relationship to the baseboard, crown molding and other trim in the room. A properly sized sill extends past the casing on the sides the same amount as the overhang on the front. The apron is mitered on the ends and forms a return to the wall. An apron mold sets directly under the apron, is mitered on the ends and returns to the wall. If the window is replicating an 1890’s to 1930’s time frame, the casing might be blunt cut at the top to allow for a sash mold to be set on top (also mitered on the ends and returned to the wall) allowing a header piece to be stacked on top of that. There would then be a cap mold set on top of the header piece spaced to the top, also mitered and returned to the wall.
Many other elements follow in the same discipline. When a house is built with multiple stories, ceiling heights are usually lowered, along with height of windows and doors as you ascend levels. This theme continues with the down sizing of baseboards and other trim, casings and moldings.
We have often decreased the width of hardwood flooring, to keep everything in a proportional scale, as we floored 2nd and 3rd floor levels. This attention to detail brings about a pleasing harmony that is reflected in correct architectural proportions.