Saturday, November 19, 2011

Little Blue Cottage Featured in Better Homes and Gardens

Hi there remodeling friends, great news!  Our very first project documented from start to finish here at TPC is featured in the November issue of Better Homes and Gardens.  The snappy design of the Little Blue Cottage won over countless readers and we couldn't be more flattered that it also caught the attention of the pros over at BHG.
For those of you who fell for the little cottage that could, pick up November's Better Homes while you're stuck in the Denver airport next week, flip to page 66, and read the back story of the family that turned their starter home into their dream home.
*Special bonus - there are way better photos than I ever took, and more rooms that I didn't show you!
**Extra special bonus - The Little Blue Cottage is also being published in the BHG's new decorating book, aptly titled New Decorating Book, available here and at fine local booksellers in your neighborhood.  Pick up a copy for that shelter-loving love in your life, or add it to your own wishlist!
***Double extra super special bonus - Yours truly will be appearing at the world famous Builders Booksource in Berkeley, CA on Friday, December 2 from 7-9pm to sign your copy and answer all your burning questions about how this house came to be so awesome.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Residential Aluminum Windows - Locally Made in California

Metal windows are unique in that they are equally at home in residential and commercial architecture, modern structures and old-world historic buildings.  They have a timeless minimalist profile, derived from the strength of the frames, which affords narrow sight lines even in very large windows. 

In the Rustic Modern house, we installed the Bonelli windows you see below.  These are black anodized aluminum frames with satin nickel hardware.  The durable anodized frames require no maintenance, look great, and are locally made to boot!
Keep in mind that aluminum and steel windows work best in temperate climates, like here in the San Francisco Bay Area, because the metal frames do not have a thermal break.  Metals are great conductors, making these windows transfer heat and cool from outside into the house, rendering all that insulation less effective.  In areas where it gets very cold, condensation can also be an issue, particularly if you don't have heat vents near the windows.
For steel windows and doors, look to Hope's Steel Windows and Doors out of Jamestown, NY, Torrence Steel Window Company out of Torrance, CA, or Crittall Windows Ltd.  You'll need to go through a local distributor.

For aluminum windows and doors, you can order directly from the manufacturer.  Blomberg Window Systems out of Sacramento, CA has great shop drawings and customer service.  Bonelli Windows and Doors made the lovely units you see on this post.  They're out of South San Francisco.  They don't do shop drawings, but offer very competitive pricing, have a library of standard details, and will build to alignments you submit.  Although I haven't used them, I've heard nothing but good things about  Fleetwood Windows and Doors in Corona, CA.  They have been serving contractors and homeowners since 1962.  What other manufacturers do you guys like?  If you have a local vendor you love, send them a shout out!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Board Formed Concrete Fail

So much has happened since I last wrote, I know it's been a while.  I had a post all lined up to boast to you about how we formed the huge concrete wall using panels constructed by affixing HardiPlank siding of varying heights to sheets of plywood. 
I was going to tell you how this best-of-both-worlds approach proposed by our concrete subcontractor would take advantage of the flatness of plywood and the wood grain texture of siding to give us the look of perfectly uniform board formed concrete.
It was going to be so great!  But, here's the rub.  It didn't work.  Like really really didn't work.  You see, HardiPlank is a product made of fiber*cement* and what sticks to cement better than cement?  Well, it turns out, nothing.

The concrete crew neglected to use form release oil, but several experts since have offered that even form release oil couldn't have prevented the disaster that resulted from all the HardiPlank forms being permanently and very stubbornly stuck to what is meant to be the single resounding architectural element of the entire project, our giant concrete front wall.
For those of you who aren't schooled on board-formed concrete, let's back up and I'll tell you how we got to this point.  Traditionally, concrete forms were built from framing lumber like 2x8s or 2x10s. The concrete is poured between the wood forms and when the boards are stripped off, there is a slight imprint from the wood texture. Some concrete slumps between the boards leaving horizontal lines at the seams too.  You see this look a lot in modern architecture.
Given  that our wall is 16' high, 25' long, and has an exposed steel beam that spans a 17' wide gap in the wall, it's crucial that the wall be very flat.  Lumber tends to warp and move, so the thought was to form with plywood for flatness and the add siding with the wood grain pattern for texture.
2 months and $25,000 later, we have reached a resolution.  It looks beautiful, it looks intentional, but I still cringe at how we got to this point.
The solution?  We soaked the wall, scored the siding, and took chippers and grinders to every inch, being careful to not damage the concrete underneath .  It was time consuming, labor intensive, and awful.  Then, we hired a sandblaster to blast off the fine layer that was left and smooth the texture.

The lesson?  If someone on your project claims to have invented a new wheel, ask a lot of questions.  Ask other people in the field, suppliers, vendors, and reps.  Go to the forums and ask people who do this all the time what potential trouble you might run into with a new process.  I love finding better ways to build, but I hope you all can learn from my mistake on this one.