Friday, December 8, 2017

Fire Safe Construction - Tips

By Matthew Power
In recent years, as many as 2,000 homes (annually) have been destroyed by wildfire, a loss inflated by drought conditions in both eastern and western states, along with steady encroachment of development onto "frontier" lands. Jim Smalley, manager of wildland fire protection for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), notes that some home builders have taken an active role in fire prevention--often getting some perks in the process. The NFPA's Firewise program holds frequent meetings where builders can share ideas with fire experts.
"We had some New York builders who attended our workshops," he notes, "and they added a whole new level."

While "fire people" tend to focus primarily on the use of non-combustible materials, he explains, builders talk about changing the layout of lots or the way streets interact with properties. "Instead of homes on the side of the cliff, for example, they came up with a way to wrap the road around the crest below. That gives them more prime lots with great views, and a firebreak. We've actually seen it work in real fire situations." Of course, product choices still play a big part in fire prevention, but like so many other aspects of housing, they have to be considered as part of the whole package.
"We're especially interested in different kinds of materials for fences and decks," notes Smalley. "A lot of the new [composite] decking materials look promising, because they don't tend to burn the same way wood does. In many cases they appear to sort of fall apart and drop to the ground without further spreading the fire."
From the ground up
What's the incentive for builders to address wildfire risks? "They get a much better project out of it," asserts Smalley. "Rather than doing the design and trying to get it approved--only to have somebody say, 'You didn't take this into account,' you begin the whole process up front. You talk to land planners, national park people, the Nature Conservancy. You say, 'This is what we have in mind,' and collaborate on how to get there," he explains.
"Of course, the builder also wants to maximize profit," Smalley adds. "We have seen some builders using the fact that homes are in a Firewise community as a selling tool."


"We don't need to have an adversarial relationship with builders," he adds. "What we need is more collaboration. The problem has always been that we're interested in public safety and the builder is interested in making a living. We're now bridging that divide." He adds that home buyers need to shoulder personal responsibility for keeping their homes in accordance with fire-safe practices. "That means clearing leaves, cleaning gutters--they need to take personal responsibility," he says.
"Insurance companies don't offer special incentives for Firewise homes," Smalley adds. "That's because wildfire is so unpredictable. But we do know that all the big fires you see on TV aren't the ones that burn homes. It's the little bitty fires, the firebrands and embers that drop on the house from a mile away. Of the 200 homes that burned down in the Los Alamos fire, the majority were 18-inch flames--just ground fires that crept across people's lawns."
1. Stay detached
Keep in mind that many rural fires begin as vehicle fires. Also, outbuildings such as garages and storage sheds often contain flammable materials, such as paint thinners and gasoline. By keeping them detached and well separated (30 feet seems to be the preferred minimum) from the main house, a bigger loss may be prevented.


2. Upgrade glazing
As a general rule, insulated (double-pane) glass holds up longer than single pane when faced with the heat of a wildfire. Consider tempered glass. Sliding doors are tempered and insulated and have been found to withstand heat longer than standard plate glass. In general, smaller window panes survive better than big ones. Also, steer away from acrylic skylights. They can quickly melt and leave a gaping hole in the roof. Another good alternative if budget permits: Add non-flammable shutters similar to hurricane shutters.
3. Armor the roof
On the home's roof, install a Class A, fire-rated material, such as standing seam, tile, slate, or cementitious composite roofing. If you must use wood shakes, apply a good fire treatment but inform owners that the treatment is only good for a limited time (usually five years or so). A steeper roof pitch has much better fire resistance than a flat one. Burning embers roll off before they have time to burn through. Inform homeowners that they need to clean gutters to maintain fire safety.


4. Screen entry points
To keep flaming material from finding a way into the inner recesses of the home, critical areas should be covered with a 1/8-inch wire mesh. These include soffit vents, gable end vents, and even dryer vents. Be aware that nylon window screens may melt. Pay special attention to basement windows, where fire may be hottest and glass may break. Shroud chimneys with a 1/4-inch wire mesh but be sure to consult the manufacturer about proper tolerances--so as not to create a buildup of exhaust gases.
5. Armor the walls
For siding, specify non-flammable material, such as fiber-cement siding, Cultured Stone, brick, or stucco. Avoid untreated wood. Vinyl siding may be adequate if fire can find no route to burn too close to the house (it tends to melt and slough off), but all gaps and crevices beneath the vinyl must be sealed--or fire could find a way into the structure. To protect the base of the siding, where wood sills may overhang the foundation, consider putting a perimeter of crushed stone, so fire can't get a foothold adjacent to the house.


6. Plan decks with care
Wood decks often provide fuel for wildfires and ignite the house. If you do use wood, it should be treated against fire. Better yet, consider building with composites, which may spread fire less quickly. Also, look at concrete products and think about terracing and landscaping as an alternative to a traditional wood deck. Put metal screening around the crawlspace beneath the deck, to keep fire and embers out.

Perimeter Defenses

Site the home with wildfire burn patterns in mind. * Find the level. Wildfire generally moves faster uphill, with longer flames than on level ground. Rate of fire spread may double for every 20-degree increase in slope. Build at least 30 feet back from any ridge or cliff, on level ground if possible.
* Clear the fuel. Encourage the homeowner to maintain a "fuel-free" area of landscaping around the home. Keep dead or flammable vegetation well clear of outbuildings and the main house. Clear small shrubs and trees growing under larger trees. Space large trees at least 30 feet apart, and prune branches to a height of 8 to 10 feet. Place shrubs at least 20 feet from structures.
* Mind the fence. Flammable wooden fences can act like an incendiary fuse, leading flames directly to the house. Create a firestop of masonry between the house and the fence--or simply build the fence of masonry or metal components.
* Open the gates. For gated communities, be sure to include provisions for emergency override of any gate that might restrict fire trucks or emergency vehicles. Also, the subdivision should include two access roads, separated by significant distance.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Staying ahead of the Architecture Curve

Technology is changing architecture. The world of computational design means architects are pursing new frontiers where architecture can be generated through the writing of algorithms and software, where interactive physical mechanisms can be built that respond to their environment, adapting and evolving as necessary.

Advancements in the technology we use in our daily architectural practice will continue to rush at us like breaking waves. As much as the design technology of the future excites our imagination (holographic design, anyone?), the most exciting tech is the kind we can actually use right now: the kind that makes us better designers and leads to a better built environment for our clients.
Recently, on a visit to Autodesk University I found myself engaging with a number of potentially revolutionary technologies. I came away thinking that architects have much to look forward to in the coming years. But my team and I realized that before we can contemplate architecture’s technology of the future, we must look at sharpening our existing set of tools and extending their worth in our industry. Perfecting one’s digital craft is crucial to, as they say at technology conferences, “investing in our digital economy.”

VIRTUAL REALITY AND AUGMENTED REALITY VIEWERS
VR viewers can now be purchased for under $20 (the cardboard version), while posh versions come complete with head tracking devices. VR viewers can be connected to a smartphone and will soon feature software that responds to voice commands. This means we can walk into a client presentation, hand out a pair of Google Cardboard viewers, ask them to scan a QR code, and just like that, have our client virtually exploring their space. Autodesk has come up with a handy Cyberspace Developer Kit, which makes the process of creating virtual environments user-friendly. We must prepare ourselves for the idea that our clients will soon be inhabiting our models.

NVIDIA AND IRAY RENDERING MACHINES
Technology has come a long way in terms of its ability to quickly produce photo-realistic renderings. The latest technology isn’t just faster, it’s also becoming more intuitive. With the right workflow in place (not to mention the RAM and graphic cards required to run these apps), higher quality renderings can be created with confidence. The days of waiting until after construction to inhabit your space are essentially over.

MOBILE WORKSTATIONS AND SKETCHING
Mobile workstations are already in vogue. Typically firms are providing their designers with tablets, a docking station and additional monitors in addition to their trusty rolls of trace paper. This technology enables industry professionals to actively use touchscreen monitors and tablets during the CA process, and issue instant site reports with mark-ups. At Autodesk University, I saw how this technology (currently in use by VOA) enables us to use the touch screen tablet to sketch directly into software, which can then translate information into 3D modeling applications.

ROBOTICS AND 3D PRINTING
The way we make things has changed —but will change more drastically still. Robotics is coming to the construction industry. It won’t be long before we are assisting in designing to a construction process that involves assembly robots. Assisted robotics, in which a human and robot work together to direct the construction process, is also on the horizon.
We’ve seen 3D printing of consumer items, but new algorithms can actually value engineer a structure, while solving the equation for structural resilience and material use. In architecture, we have seen parametric design tools assist in creating amazing structures. Now the use of large-scale 3D printers will help push the materiality of those structures. 3D-printed construction will greatly expand the limits of construction technologies.

A SHOUT-OUT TO REVIT
Much of AU focused on the technology we use most at VOA, Autodesk’s building design software, Revit. My team welcomed improvements in Revit 2016, the flexibility of Revit to interface with a multitude of Autodesk products to enhance workflow, tips and tricks for bettering your production flow and your Revit families. Many of the features we dreamt of having in Revit are being added to each new version. These features offer the ability to temporarily add or remove a view template from a view, show worksets in color, and a new fan favorite e-transmit. 3D modeling is already an industry standard, and I only see more uses for it out there.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

How to Properly Manage Millennials

1. Attitudes toward “paying your dues”

Older millennials were in the workforce during the 2008 recession, and likely experienced a career pivot or lifestyle adjustment during that time, which taught them how to restructure their career paths and gain perspective on being employed. For most of their lives, they exclusively saw corporate executives as people who had spent their entire careers in one company or industry, starting from the bottom and working their way to the top. The young, billionaire founder/CEO persona did not exist in their minds until several years after they had already been in the workforce. As a result, older millennials will see hardships, repetitive work, and new gray hairs as part of paying their dues as they work their way to the top.
Younger millennials hold a much more egalitarian, real-time view where intelligence, abilities, and performance at any given point (that day, that month, that performance cycle, etc.) hold more weight than any relevant past experience. To attract and retain young, top talent, I’ve seen more and more tech companies adapt to this thinking through “pay for performance” policies, meaning the company will pay equal money for equal work regardless of years of past experience. Setbacks and repetitive work can sometimes feel like an assault on younger millennials’ upward career trajectory. One lesson I learned early on is to never force perspective on young millennials. It really doesn’t matter if the vast majority of people follow a certain path; their reality is with outliers, and they benchmark themselves against the top 1%.

2. Expectations of management

It’s often said that millennials have higher expectations from life in general, and this is an area where I see the biggest split between the older and younger group. Older millennials see you as human, flawed, and thanks to alternative rock, Janeane Garofalo, and other variables more commonly associated with generation Xers, this group has learned to lower their expectations about many things in life to avoid disappointment. Low expectations have pros and cons, but in my experience, low expectations yield lower performance—it’s a cycle.
I’ve found that it’s specifically younger, not older, millennials who have high expectations of life and work, and you as their manager are no exception. Embrace it! Younger millennials see you as a partner who is responsible for helping them reach their full potential. They have incredibly high expectations of you from day one, which can also mean that they are quicker to trust you, push you to be better manager, and your potential to make a meaningful impact on their growth and career is enormous. When they work hard and achieve goals, they hold you accountable to making sure that they are rewarded, recognized, and (most importantly) given new opportunities to excel.

3. Preference for learning

I recently heard Adena Friedman, president of Nasdaq, say at a roundtable on career growth that she sees three tiers of competency in a role related to compensation:
  1. those learning how to do a job,
  2. those who are dependable with a job, and
  3. those who are an expert at a job.
In my experience, using this framework, younger millennials are far more likely than older millennials to choose No. 1 again and again, while older millennials seem to prefer finding stability with No. 2 on the path towards No. 3. This makes sense considering where the groups are in terms of life stages; however, even 10-plus years ago, older millennials sought structure in their career paths where mastering certain sets of skills and roles were considered a necessary part of upward mobility.
Herein lies a powerful win-win situation for the company and younger millennials: Reward and recognize younger millennials by giving them opportunities to learn something new. Younger millennials are more averse to doing a job that they feel they’ve already done, or “mastered”—even if they’ve only done it once or twice. Giving these team members the opportunity to earn new, exciting problems to solve and acquire new skills on behalf of your team helps your overall team grow and evolve and creates a more fulfilling, rewarding experience for high-performing young millennials. Then challenge the older millennials (and generation Xers, and boomers, etc.) on your team to take something done very well once or twice, and up-level it by making it world-class and highly scalable. One challenge here is that this management approach is counter-intuitive (and you may receive push back as a result); however, I’ve found this aligns nicely to what makes older and younger millennials different.

SOURCE: http://qz.com/781748/what-to-know-about-managing-older-versus-younger-millennials/

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What’s an architects day like?

So what exactly does an architect do all day? Chances are the answer is “a lot” and depending on the market sector in which they focus, probably something somewhat similar and somewhat unique compared to all the other architects out there working away. I thought I would put together a post that explained what I do and how I spend my time on any given day.
Of course, this was just one day … which happened to be last Thursday, September 20, 2012.
The day started just like any other day, with me waking up at 6:00, groaning and generally wishing I didn’t have to go to work. This normally wears off by the time I have completed my shower but the likelihood that I am wishing I won the lottery at 6:01 is pretty high. I try to make it into the office early – normally before 7:15am because I have to leave at 5:00pm every day to pick my daughter up from school. I will admit that I get into work early because once I’m up, I’m ready to get busy … I don’t like sitting around (unless that’s the point because I’ve won the lottery.)
6:50am
First thing I did when I got into the office was to review a proposal for a new project we are going after that has a fast turn-around. I met with the clients yesterday afternoon (Wednesday) and they were making a decision on who they were going to hire 36 hours later … and wanted my proposal by mid-day today.
8:15am
Next up was some site plan sketches that needed to be prepared. We have a nice addition/ renovation project that I am working on and we have a client meeting tomorrow at 1:00pm. The various schemes are mostly complete but I need to put together some site plan drawings to show how the various schemes sit on the site. Nothing too tricky but I do get to pull out my Sharpie pens.
8:45am
The exciting task of preparing meeting minutes for distribution. Preparing some sort of record of what was discussed, what was decided, and assigning action items is incredibly important and most residential architectural firms don’t bother. Although I will always acknowledge their value, there are fewer things that I hate doing more than preparing the meeting minutes.
All Day Long
Generic telephone shot because I am on the phone a lot and I didn’t feel like recording each time I had a phone call. In all, I had 27 separate phone calls today … I made 19 and received 8. None of which were from my wife [sad face] she’s more of a text person since she’s in more meetings than any other human being I’ve every known. Whenever I feel like I have a lot going on, she can always scoreboard me:
Bob: Whew! Today was cray-zee! I must have received 50 emails today … AND I had 4 meetings. How does anybody expect me to get any work done if all I ever do is meet and talk about how we are going to get the work done?
Michelle: I had 50 emails before I made it into the office and had 16 meetings today. I had 3 meetings scheduled for the same time … and went to them all.
Scoreboard.
10:00am
Meeting with one of the partners to review the plans and the preliminary cost estimates for the project. This was a quick meeting, we basically discussed what the roles each of us would have in the meeting – I would present the design and he would present the costs.
10:30am
More phone calls, checking on consultants, making sure that schedules will be met, and asking (a lot) “why can I do for you, is there anything you need from me?”
11:30am
Lunchtime … except I won’t be eating lunch unless I get my errands completed quickly enough. I am currently starting a renovation project on my house (see the introductory post “Working on your own house sucks“) and I had to run out and pick up some door hardware that I have to get to the door manufacturer before they will actually start making my door… I’ll go into detail on that story another day.
The place where I picked up my hardware was TKO Associates and they have a showroom full of groovy things – one of which is this freestanding bath tub from Blu Bathworks. Normally I wouldn’t lie in a tub like this but I didn’t actually want my face in the picture (it’s looking a little doughy these days…)
3:15pm
Back in the office and I am trying to work out some stair details (I hate detailing stairs – they are way more complicated than anybody who has never drawn them or built them realizes.) I designed this stair about a year ago but I wanted to adjust and supplement the details to make things as good as they could possibly be. The contractor is getting close to start the framing in this area and I don’t want to be caught with limited options because I didn’t plan ahead.
.
5:00pm
Leave the office so that I can pick my daughter up from school and start working on her homework. (not that I mean that I’m doing her homework but since she just started 3rd grade, I sit with her as she’s doing it.)
6:02pm
You know that proposal I reviewed this morning? The president of the company called me at home while I was going through spelling homework with my daughter. I didn’t recognize the number so against my regular judgment I answered the call. He told me that he had some questions about the proposal I submitted this morning.
6:05pm
The president informs me that they have decided to retain our firm for the project and that they are ready for us to start work immediately. Cool … nice way to end the work day.
.
The rest of the day – from 6:05pm to 11:00pm (when I generally go to sleep) is not related to what architects do … it’s what most grownups who have children do. I love being an architect but I have to carry my weight around the house (those bugs aren’t going to squish themselves.) I put this outline together and I fully expect any other architects who read it to shake their head and say to themselves “yeah, Tuesday was just like that for me.” Being an architect (for me) is a really engaging job and I love the fact that I am presented with a myriad of responsibilities and tasks to perform most days. The days of me coming into the office and drawing all day on one project are long gone – I juggle 5 or 6 most days now.
So how about it? What’s your day like?






Thursday, August 16, 2012

How to Become a Licensed Architect!

 

There Aren't Many Architects

Don't feel alone if you are uncertain how one becomes an architect. Many architecture students and even some in the field, don't have a grasp on the licensing process. One of the reasons for the mystery is simple: there aren't many architects. Even in the most populous state of California (my home sweet home), there are far fewer licensed architects than lawyers and doctors.

So, before we get started on how to become a licensed architect, here are two things to keep in mind:
  • There are national standards, but every state issues their own licenses and sets their own requirements.
  • The process continues to evolve. By the time I'm done writing this, they've probably added another test or internship requirement.

The Four Basic Steps to Becoming an Architect

1. School

As you would expect, you'll most likely need to go to school. Not just any school, but an accredited program. There are currently about 150 accredited schools. To find one, you can start by checking with the National Architectural Accrediting Board.
There are a few types of degrees that you can get in architecture that qualify:
  • Bachelor of Architecture (BArch)- Your basic, intense-limited-sleep-and-social-life-most-of-your-courses-are-predetermined, undergraduate university degree. I graduated with one of these degrees about 10 years ago and although I'm not as bitter as I may sound, I am still tired. Also note that BArch programs are five-year programs, so tack on an extra year of tuition compared to a typical major.
  • Master of Architecture (MArch)- You don't need an undergraduate architecture degree to apply for a graduate degree, but there are masters programs that are shorter for those that already have a BArch degree.
  • Doctor of Architecture (DArch)- If you decide to become one of the dozen people in the world that have one of these rare degrees, then you are too smart to be reading this blog. Move along.

2. Internship

If you still want to be an architect after school, you'll need to get a job working for an architectural firm. While you work for (often little) money, you'll be completing your internship hours. There's a system to this internship madness and it's called the Intern Development Program (IDP). The bad news is that IDP involves documenting work hours. The good news is that IDP's intention is good: to give young professionals a well-rounded experience in the architecture field.
IPD completion requires 700 training units (8 hours per unit) divided into 16 or so categories that cover a diverse spectrum of what architects do. This program is intended to better educate interns and prevent young professionals from being abused by only giving them repetitive tasks (stair details anyone?) that do little to provide the necessary real-world education.
Some states also have extra internship requirements (such as California), so be sure to check with the state architects board.

3. Testing

Long gone are the days of prospective architects taking a four-day paper and pencil exam administered once a year. Since 1997, national testing has been computerized, offering candidates the "opportunity" to take the different portions of the exam in any order and at any time they can get an appointment at the local computer testing center.
The national tests, or Architect Registration Examination (ARE) as they are known have multiple divisions or tests that must all be passed. When I took the ARE, there were nine tests that I took sporadically over several years as I found time to study while also working full time. There are now seven divisions, with combinations of multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and graphic portions, which require test takers to draw and create layouts in a CAD-like program.
Some states also have additional testing requirements such as California's Supplemental Exam. I took this unpopular, formal, oral formatted test and it was not fun. Good news for California architects-to-be is that there are rumors that the California Architect's Board is changing the oral format of the exam.

4. Licensure

So, once you've completed the above three steps, you'll need to register (meaning pay a fee) with your state (or multiple states) and verify completion of the requirements. Once you're licensed, you can officially call yourself an architect.
Architects can put the initials R.A. (Registered Architect) after their names, but it's more common to see AIA (American Institute of Architects), meaning they're a member of the national professional association for licensed architects.
Many states (and the AIA) have continuing education requirements, which means architects have to document educational hours in topics relevant to the profession to renew their licenses.

10 Reasons to Become an Architect!

Would you like to become an architect? What classes should you take in school? How do you get started in your career? And (we have to ask) how much will you earn?
This page answers some of the most frequently asked questions about careers in architecture. The advice comes from several architects who participate in our discussion forum, and from Dr. Lee W Waldrep, an Architectural Education Consultant and author of Becoming an Architect.

1. It’s a lifestyle, not a job.
Architects typically tend to think about architecture all the time, I know I do. Not just the big ‘A’ type of buildings or projects, but every little thing from every where I go. I go somewhere and start looking at materials, form, massing, lighting, etc. If I take a trip somewhere, I start by planning it around the buildings I want to visit. Probably 90% of all the books I buy (not including children’s titles) are about architecture – I even put them on my Christmas list.
2. People respect architects.
Even if they don’t really understand what we do, there is a perception that architects are ethical and responsible and will endeavor to make the right decision to our own detriment. It’s part of the reason that ‘architect’ is chosen so often as the vocation for title characters in movie and TV roles. Architects aren’t generally viewed as driven by financial rewards like doctors or as scurrilous as lawyers (can be).
3. Job is constantly evolving.
Architects are not artists – we have to address building technology and programming. There are constantly evolving materials and construction methods out there and we are required as a profession to address the demands of the public at large (building performance, energy consumption, incorporating recycled materials, etc.). Architects create new design concepts that push how modern day construction is executed. Architecture is one of the few professions that is never static.
4. Artistic freedom and personal expression.
As an architect, we are given certain project parameters that help guide the direction of our projects. We are then given the freedom to pursue the artistic embodiment of those parameters. 10 architects with the same client and the same project parameters will provide 10 different solutions. Every time.
5. You can be your own boss.
You can be your own firm of one and still be a viable service provider on almost any size project. You can enter contests and win commissions for major projects by yourself – I can’t think of another vocation that can provide similar latitudes. I have also seen a team of 3 people design and prepare construction documents on a mall over 1,000,000 square feet.
6. There are tangible (and sometimes euphoric) results.
Anyone who has ever seen a building that they worked get built knows exactly what I am talking about. I am still excited to watch one of my projects getting built – it’s like having your own laboratory where you can experiment and refine things that you consider to be important and worthwhile. It ties into the artistic freedom listed in #4 but architects generally have a sense of ownership on every project they work.
7. We can positively impact peoples lives.
It is rewarding to develop a personal relationship with your client, particularly when you know that the process will yield a more fruitful end product. By understanding the process, our clients appreciate the product. By appreciating the product, they are acknowledging the role it plays.
8. Experimentation is expected.
Despite architecture having to contain building sciences and technology, the final esoteric product does not have a definitively right or wrong answer. Because no two architects will ever come up with the exact same solution given an identical set of parameters, there is a liberating sense that you are here for the purpose of imparting your own personality on the project. We are expected to try new things, explore different materials, and incorporate emerging technologies into every project.
9. Longevity of Career.
You can practice the profession of architecture for as long as you want – you’ll always be an architect even when it isn’t your job anymore. Most architects don’t really start to become good until later in life – I’m talking in their 50′s. I imagine that you have to come to some sort of understanding as to who you are as an individual before you can start to be consistent with imparting your imprint onto a building.
10. Incredible variety of options within the profession.
Unlike other professions, you graduate with a degree in architecture without having to know what type of architecture you are going to focus on. This is really great because when you graduate, you don’t know enough about the possibilities to know what you want to do. You can float between big and little firms, the role of project architect, designer, or management. You can work on building types from different market sectors like hospitality, residential, civic, retail, etc. and will still be an architect. Your degree will have a marketable value beyond the time of your immediate graduation.
Bonus. We can wear ridiculous eye wear and get away with it.
People expect architects to be a little bit nerd mixed with creative artist. This conflict of known social paradigms allows generous liberties to be taken with your personal billboard (but you have to earn it).

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What is Sheathing?


Sheathing is a layer of plywood or press-board that covers the exterior of a house's frame. The plywood sheets range from 3/8ths to 5/8ths of an inch thick and come in 4X8 foot sheets.
To make plywood, layers of wood are shaved from trees in the same way the government removes money from our wallets: one layer at a time until there is nothing left. These sheets are glued together to form large flat boards.
If you examine plywood closely you may notice a repetition of the wood grain pattern. These patterns are similar in nature to the patterns in clouds. With some imagination, you can make out interesting images. I once found a board that looked uncannily like President Coolidge.
In general, I do not recommend spending time looking for images in plywood. Your time would be more profitably spent using a transit to make out faces on the surface of Mars, for goodness sake. At least on Mars you know that your best imaginative efforts will not soon be covered by siding or shingles.
Plywood sheathing performs three functions: 1) it serves as a stabilizing influence on the frame; 2) it acts as a platform on which to put siding and shingles; and 3) it keeps the neighbors from being able to see what you are doing inside your new addition.
Plywood is precut to a width that should fit perfectly on a frame built 16- or 24-inch on center. The length, however, will likely need adjustment. Though a circular saw is best for this cut, non-motorized methods will work. The faithful hand-saw can cut through plywood, but it is a tedious process that can add months to a job. (This is a good excuse to buy a circular saw if you do not already have one.)
Putting on sheathing is considered a two-person job, especially if you are working on the second story level. The difficulty lies in holding the awkward and heavy sheet against the wall, while at the same time trying to start a nail. The problem is compounded by the fact that it is impossible to lean a ladder against the board that you are applying. To get around these problems, I have developed my famous, secret, one-person, sheathing application method.

Source: http://www.homehumor.com/sheathing.shtml

How to Build a Wall (for dummies)

When building a wall you will need a bottom plate and two top plates to attach the wall studs to. The double top plate is needed to comply with building code, code requires a double top plate for load bearing walls.

Layout the bottom plate and one of the top plate at 16" on center. That means you will place wall studs every 16 inches. This is a typical spacing for most residential construction. Place your door openings where you want them and layout the correct rough opening size.

When building new construction or remodeling, it is best to stack your wall studs directly over the floor joist.. Guess what?...most floor joist are also placed on 16" centers. There are many reason do this, let's start with the obvious:

  •  Strength of the building is increased as every stud bears directly over the floor joist, which in turn is bearing directly on the foundation
  • Mechanicals such as heating and plumbing are much easier to run from floor to floor
  • Studs stack over each other in stairwells
  • Future renovations or after thought wiring will be less difficult
  • Wall sheathing and drywall panels install with less cutting
You will need to pick a corner of the house to start all layouts from. Including floor and wall systems. The best spot to start from is where the two longest walls of the house or addition meet, or come together in a corner. Using this one reference point to complete all layouts from will produce the best result. While this will take a little extra time, and some thought to complete, the benefits will far out weigh the minimal time investment.

Source: http://www.ezhangdoor.com/how-to-build-a-wall

Insulation Materials?


Insulation is a key component of sustainable building design. A well insulated home reduces energy bills by keeping warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and this in turn cuts down carbon emissions linked to global climate change.
In terms of energy efficiency, investing in high levels of insulation materials for your home is more cost-effective than investing in expensive heating technologies. It is worth taking the time to choose the right materials in the context of whole building design.
Insulation materials are used in roofs, walls and floors. Solid wall structures such as stone, cob and adobe cannot be insulated, but they have good thermal mass to compensate. Timber frame homes need wall insulation in the form of batts (pre-cut sections that are designed to fit between stud walls), rolls or boards. Other types of construction such as brick or concrete insulate with spray foam, loose fill or rolls. It is far easier and cheaper to install insulation in the walls and floors of a new build home, than to retrofit an existing home. However, insulating roofs is easily achieved in any home using rolls or bags of loose fill.
Insulation materials work by resisting heat flow, measured by an R-value (the higher the R-value, the greater the insulation). This R-value varies according to material type, density and thickness, and is affected by thermal bridging, unwanted heat flow that occurs at joists, studs and rafter beams.

Conventional Insulation

Conventional insulation materials are made from petrochemicals and include: fibreglass, mineral wool, polystyrene, polyurethane foam, and multi-foils. These materials are widely used because not only are they inexpensive to buy and install, but there is an assumption from the building industry that their performance ability is higher than the natural alternatives. On the downside, almost all conventional insulation materials contain a wide range of chemical fire retardants, adhesives and other additives, and the embodied energy in the manufacturing process is very high.

Natural Insulation Materials

The green alternative to synthetic insulation is natural insulation. There are many different types available, including:
Sheep's Wool
This material usually needs to be treated with chemicals to prevent mite infestation and reduce fire risk, although some natural builders use it untreated with success. It has very low embodied energy (unless it is imported) and performs exceptionally well as an insulation material. Thermafleece is the most common commercial brand available.
Flax and Hemp
Natural plant fibres that are available in batts and rolls, and typically contain borates that act as a fungicide, insecticide and fire retardant. Potato starch is added to flax as a binder. Both materials have low embodied energy and are often combined in the same product. Examples include Isonat and Flax 100.
Cellulose
A recycled product made from newsprint and other cellulose fibre. It is one of the most favoured materials of natural builders because it can be blown into cavity walls, floors and roofs; used as a loose fill; and is also available in quilts, boards and batts. Like hemp and flax it contains borate as an additive. Products include: Warmcell and Ecocel.
Wood Fibre
Made from wood chips that have been compressed into boards or batts using water or natural resins as a binder. It has very low embodied energy and uses by-products from the forestry industry. Examples include: Pavatex, Thermowall and Homatherm.
Expanded Clay Aggregate
These are small fired clay pellets that expand at very high temperatures to become lightweight, porous and weight-bearing. They can be used in foundations as both an insulator and aggregate. They have excellent thermal insulation properties, but high embodied energy.

Insulating for a Better Environment

Natural insulation products have many advantages over conventional materials. They are low impact, made from renewable, organic resources and have low embodied energy. They can be reused and recycled, and are fully biodegradable. They are non-toxic, allergen-free and can be safely handled and installed. They also allow for a buildings to breathe by regulating humidity through their absorbent properties, and reducing problems of condensation. This keeps the indoor environment comfortable and protects any timber structures from rot. Unfortunately, natural insulation materials are currently up to four times more expensive than conventional materials, which can be prohibitive to builders, architects and developers. But the environmental and health benefits of natural insulation materials far outweigh their costs, and growing consumer demand combined with government regulation, and rising oil prices will inevitably drive prices down. Despite the high price, natural insulation is an energy-efficient, healthy and sustainable choice for a better indoor and outdoor environment.

Source: http://www.sustainablebuild.co.uk/InsulationMaterials.html

A Green Roof

Plants have been used on roofs for thousands of years, from sod roofs in Europe to the hanging gardens of Babylon. But in the last 50 years this practice has evolved into what are now called green roofs, living roofs or eco-roofs. Green roofs are those that have been planted with specific vegetation using a well-researched sustainable design methodology. They are an exciting new development in the sustainable building movement, and are gaining in popularity across the world.

Types of Green Roof

While there is no standard classification for green roofs, they can be divided into two basic types:
  • Intensive Living Roofs - these incorporate plants from between 1 to 15 feet high, including shrubs and trees. They require deep levels of soil to support them and a weight-loading roof. They support a high level of plant and wildlife diversity, but require ongoing maintenance and extensive irrigation. They are not suitable for most domestic buildings.
  • Extensive Living Roofs - these incorporate low-lying plants from 2 to 6 inches high. They require only a few inches of soil to support them, and only need a low weight-loading roof. They are low maintenance and can be used for any kind of roof, including sheds, garages, houses, balconies, extensions and outhouses, and also commercial buildings.
Both types of green roofs can be used for flat or pitched roof construction. Flat roofs are the most common and the easiest to establish and maintain, but green roofs can have a pitch up to 45 degrees. With sloped roofs, there are design issues affecting drainage and soil loss that need to be carefully considered.

How to Construct a Green Roof

A green roof system consists of layers that mimic natural processes and also protect the building and roof. The basic components are: a waterproof layer, root repellent membrane, filter cloth (to allow water to drain but prevent soil escaping), moisture blanket (to ensure enough water retention for plant life), drainage system (to drain excess water), soil substrate, seeds and plants. The soil is the growing medium and should be lightweight and free draining, but also be able to hold enough moisture for the plants to survive. Recycled aggregates such as crushed porous brick are often used in the soil substrate, with the added benefit of increasing its sustainability index.

Plants suitable for extensive green roofs are low growing, rapid spreading, drought-tolerant, have a fibrous root system (to protect roof membranes), low irrigation and nutrient requirements, low maintenance requirements, use native species, and are allergen-free. Short perennials, wildflowers and succulents such as sedum (stonecrop) are commonly used. To help cut down on planting time, impregnated sedum and wildflower mats are now commercially available. These can be rolled out directly onto the soil.
Living roofs can be designed to grow native plants that might otherwise become endangered, and to encourage a wide range of important wildlife including insect species such as butterflies, bees and beetles, and local birds.

Benefits of Green Roofs

There are a number of social, economic and environmental benefits to green roofs, including:
  • Increasing home energy efficiency - cooling in summer, insulation in winter
  • Filtering and cleaning toxins from both air and water
  • Reducing carbon dioxide emissions
  • Retaining rainwater before it evaporates, reducing the likelihood of flooding
  • Reducing urban temperatures and associated smog
  • Insulating against sound and noise
  • Preserving and enhancing biodiversity
  • Providing aesthetic appeal and 'green space' recreational opportunities
  • Using recycled materials like aggregates and plastic sheets

The Movement to Green Roofs

Green roofs are a relatively new sector in the construction industry, but have become a widespread feature across Europe. They are most common in Germany, where over 10% of houses now have green roofs, and the industry is growing at 10-15% each year. Because of their environmental benefits, some European countries like Germany have integrated green roofing into their regulations, and many others provide subsidies and incentives to encourage their development and maintenance. In the UK there has been a lack of government support and guidance on living roofs, which has hindered their uptake. However, green roofs directly address the UK's Sustainable Development agenda and this situation is likely to change as new policies and standards are developed to support their design and construction. Green roofs are set to become an increasingly important option for builders and planners, turning dead and dull places into green, living spaces.

Source: http://www.sustainablebuild.co.uk/RoofPlants.html

Sustainable Architecture Technique

Sustainable architecture is basically designing homes, buildings and office spaces by focusing mainly on safeguarding the environment and sustaining it for as long as possible. The techniques employed range with a plethora of ideas that are masterminded by few of the industry’s leading architects in the real estate market. Considering the various facts that are currently affecting the economy, sustainable architecture can be an expensive affair for those that are unaware of the techniques and standards that are involved. While there may be a few expenses to incur, individuals that opt for this revolutionary concept should consider it as an investment rather than a procurement so as to help cutting down on utility bills significantly. In a larger perspective while taking into account various political and economic issues, many sustainable architects, particularly in the state of Vermont, have sought to reduce their negative impact on the environment by augmenting moderation and efficiency in the usage of building energy, materials and space development.
Most large homes utilize a tremendous amount of energy for their heating and cooling needs. Averagely, they also consume more building materials that have their own impact on the environment. In a strategy to put away wastefulness, most small homes prefer conserving energy to avoid the depletion of natural resources. Solar energy is also a great option for Vermont sustainable architecture as they are one of the best means to conserve energy. While they may be the perfect tool to conserve energy, they cannot be the only one due to the fact that Vermont has a very disturbing weather which would not produce enough sunlight throughout the year. For this purpose there are a plethora of other installments and techniques to enable sustainable architecture in Vermont as the new trend to save the environment. All the procedures and techniques that are employed by developers are effectively eco friendly and are carried out by the guidelines stated by the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States.

Fire Safe Construction - Tips

By Matthew Power .  In recent years, as many as 2,000 homes (annually) have been destroyed by wildfire, a loss inflated by drought condi...