Sunday, 25 September 2011

Job Closeout

Job Closeout
Finishing on schedule and within budget demands careful planning at the start by Stephen Mead

Like a bad dream, a prybar tumbled from the mantel in slow motion, shattering the Italian marble hearth below. This is exactly how a good job goes bad.
Blame it on poor communication. My company had been doing a large interior wood-working project. We were almost finished and anxiously looked forward to our next job, when the owner asked us to build a fireplace mantel. After sketching a few ideas on the wood subfloor, we agreed on a design and a price.
A week later, just as the second coat of varnish had begun to harden, the owner returned to inspect the project. With a look of horror on her face she told me that it was much too large. I started to motion toward our original sketch, but realized that it had vanished beneath the marble hearth that had been set the day before. We argued, but in the interest of a peaceful settlement, I agreed to change the size of the mantel. In my haste to make the change I guess I was careless: the prybar fell, and the nightmare began.
The tile setter informed me that it would take six weeks to get a new marble hearth. Weeks stretched out into months, however, and three months later a frustrated contractor— myself—received final payment less drywall, paint and marble repairs from an equally frustrated owner. There's an old saying among builders that all jobs reach 90% completion and then stay there forever. This job seemed to prove it. Why is it so hard to finish?
Starting out right—As builders, we focus most of our attention on getting and managing the work. As a result, we give too little thought to the final stages of the job. This lack of planning costs us dearly. We spend countless hours either correcting work that should have been done right the first time, or modifying designs that weren't quite right, or waiting months for light fixtures that we thought we'd get right away. This excruciating process of trying to finish is called "job closeout."
The firm that I work for recently studied job closeout. We discovered that we spend 20% of a typical project's overhead on the final 5% of the work. A marketing survey also showed us that our inability to finish jobs promptly affected our clients' perceptions of us. They likened a contractor who spends too much time onthejobtoachildwhowon'tleavehome.In other words, our poor performance at job close-out was costing us money and references. We discussed the problem with clients, subcon- tractors, accountants, architects, engineers—even our spouses—and concluded that the real trick to finishing on time is getting started properly. That means scheduling intelligently and taking time to educate clients and sub-contractors about the job schedule and the building process. It also means actively managing quality at all stages and controlling the final punch list (a list of items to be corrected or completed before the job is considered complete). The big payoff comes at the end because the more time you spend up front, the easier it is to finish.

There's an old saying among builders that all
jobs reach 90% completion and then stay there forever.

Setting and managing schedules—It is said that time expands to meet a task. If you're given four weeks to complete a project requiring two weeks of work, you'll generally finish in four weeks. Most of us put things off until we're forced to meet a deadline, and that's why scheduling is so important.
Scheduling involves estimating the time needed for various tasks and then setting realistic deadlines. On large commercial projects, several employees do nothing but keep track of the job schedule. But good scheduling is as important for the small builder as for the large one, because the efficient use of time can mean the difference between profit and loss. We make scheduling part of our standard job start-up checklist.
The start-up checklist. This simple form can be adapted to fit a particular job or builder. Organizing routine tasks leaves the builder free to focus on the more complicated aspects of a project.

JOB START-UP CHECKLIST                      


1. Set up project directory 
2. Set up files 
3. Project schedule
4. Job buyout 
5. Write subcontracts/purchase order 
6. Accounting budget 
7. Order long lead items 
8. Job meeting
9. Temporary utilities/telephone
10. Trash hauling/dumpster 
11. Job sign 
12. Change order system
13. Requisitions

Making a schedule forces you to build the job mentally and to solve problems early. To schedule successfully, you need to understand the project from start to finish. Separate each task, determine the time involved, and try to develop an understanding of how each part of the job relates to the others. Ask your subcontractors how long their work will take. If sub-contractors aren't available, you can use published estimating guides to estimate production rates. 
A good schedule lets everyone anticipate the future. We use a bar-chart schedule. The bar chart helps you decide when to order materials, and how to most effectively schedule manpower. It also makes potential scheduling conflicts easy to spot. 
To be effective, a schedule should be optimistic, yet realistic. Build extra time into your schedule for bad weather, delivery delays and inspection problems. Professional estimators call this "float," and it gives you flexibility in getting tasks completed. After estimating the total length of the job, subtract two weeks from it. Everyone will finish early, and you'll have two weeks to handle inspections, push stragglers and clean up.
After setting the final schedule, manage it aggressively. Make sure all deadlines are met. When sub-contractors fall behind, ask them to add more workers, or to work weekends. As a last resort you may have to bring in other sub-contractors to help complete the work (you may want to include a clause in your original contract that lets you charge the original sub for any extra expenses). The idea is to manage time so that it doesn't expand.
Educating the players—We've found that most jobs go much more smoothly  if our clients understand the construction process, so we hold a preconstruction meeting with clients and architect. Some clients know just enough to make them dangerous. For example, even though I've hung hundreds of doors, I had one client tell me I was doing it wrong—they had seen a brother-in-law do it differently. A pre-construction meeting lets you determine how much your clients know about the job and about construction. It also allows you to educate them about the problems you're likely to encounter. But keep in mind that most people don't speak the language of construction. For instance, most people won't know what you mean by "coping" a piece of trim; it's better to explain the process in simple, everyday language. The goal is understanding.
We typically start with the plans, taking our clients on a guided tour of the project. We "walk" them through each room, reviewing details, elevations and sections, and making final material choices (many jobs are delayed simply because the clients can't make up their minds). It's tedious and time-consuming, but it can head off many potential problems.
This is also a good time to review the clients' expectations. Few people seem to understand that there are different levels of craftsmanship, that painted wood trim doesn't demand as much care or time as stained architectural millwork. We use photos of our previous work, drawings, magazine photos and actual mock- ups (of trim or hardware, for instance) to show how things will look.
Clarifying expectations at the beginning will help minimize midstream design changes. Doing so is crucial, because even simple changes can have a profound effect on job completion. Changes not only raise costs; they can also lower quality. We've found that we get the best quality on the jobs with the fewest changes.
Tradespeople take pride in their work when they do it right the first time. When a client demands that something be taken apart and built differently, job morale can head downhill, dragging craftsmanship with it. We discourage change orders by charging aggressively for them, and by making it clear that the client must compensate us for overhead if excessive changes make the job run over schedule.
Finally, it's a good idea to spend time reviewing the job schedule with clients. Clarify which items, if any, they'll have to coordinate, and include these in the schedule. Permits and surveys are often handled by clients, as are utility fees and deposits. Beware of the client who lacks a sense of urgency. Set dead-lines together and strive to meet them.
The next step is to hold a final meeting with subcontractors. Again, review the job schedule and ask for delivery information on materials. We note this information in a project control log. This is simply a document that contains information on materials, such as what was ordered, when, and from whom. It's kept with the job schedule. The preconstruction meeting with the subcontractors is a good time to review policies on billing, change orders, punch-list items and payments. We require all subs who work with us to attend this meeting.
Defining and maintaining quality—A big part of getting finished is reducing repairs. This requires an ongoing quality control effort.
Each day our superintendents walk the job like detectives, checking and rechecking the work. We also try to anticipate problems before they occur. Will that outlet be in the way of the backsplash? Are the doors undercut properly and sealed to prevent warping? We pay particular attention to details, such as roof flashing, foundation waterproofing and drainage, backfill and compaction, that can cause big problems later on if not done right.
Before hiring new subcontractors, make sure that they meet your standards. Check their references, ask their suppliers if they pay their bills, and try to determine if they're eager to do a quality job. Remember, you are ultimately responsible for their work. Enforcing high standards early will improve the overall quality of the project and reduce repair and warranty problems.
Packaging the results—Finishing a construction project means tying up a lot of loose ends. To help with this process, we've developed a job closeout checklist (chart below). We also assemble all maintenance information, equipment warranties, guarantees and installation information. We package these and other important documents—including the names, addresses and phone numbers of all subcontractors used on the job—in a three- ring binder. During the final walk-through, we turn the binder over to the client, along with the rolled-up construction drawings. Our clients are impressed by such attention to detail and are much less likely to call us later with minor questions.

Tying up loose ends. 
A closeout checklist can make the end of a job much smoother. Note the amount of documentation delivered to the owner. 
This includes information on cleaning and maintaining appliances and materials.


Preliminary punch list 
Request to subs for owner documents 
Request to subs for final invoice 
Final inspections Certificate of Occupancy 
Documentation to owner
  Equipment warranties  
  Subcontractor list
  As-built drawings
  Outstanding change orders 
  Certificate of Occupancy Final release
Punch-list sign-off 
Subcontractor change orders 
Store job records 
Materials Equipment transfers 
Sub final release and lien waiver 
Job closeout report

Controlling the punch list—After the final walkthrough, there's still one hurdle: the punch list. This is a list of problems that must be corrected before the job is considered complete. Paint touch-up, hardware adjustments and final cleanup are standard punch-list items. It sounds simple enough, but a poorly managed punch list can turn into a builder's nightmare.
Part of the problem is human nature. Once subcontractors leave a job, they feel that their work is complete. Bringing them back to make repairs can be difficult, particularly if they did their work early in the project. To overcome this resistance, discuss the punch list with subs during the preconstruction meeting. Make it clear that they have a set period of time after receiving the punch list to make their corrections (two weeks works well for us), and that if they're unable to do so you'll hire someone else—and charge them accordingly.
Clients can also be a problem. Some clients see the punch list as their last chance to make changes or remedy design problems. For this reason, you'll need to set some standards early. Ask the clients to be specific about punch-list items, and keep changes separate. Don't allow general notes like "touch up paint as re-quired." Fixing something "as required" can take days, weeks, even years.
The gist of all this is that you need to control the punch list, rather than letting it control you. On most jobs, the client and architect assemble the punch list, then hand it over to the contractor. But we always insist on participating in the process. Many punch-list items are misunderstandings that can be easily resolved. For instance, one client complained that a wall had been built in the wrong place. We explained that we had to move the wall to clear a heating duct leading to the second floor. The problem never made it to the punch list. And because most punch-list problems are simply a matter of paint touch-up, cleaning or final adjustment, we try to include in the walk-through a painter, cleaner and carpenter in the punch-list party. This lets us solve many problems on the spot.
It's important that the punch list be written down and that it be understood by everyone. When the punch list is complete, a copy of it should go to each of your subcontractors. On larger jobs, we use stick-on circles, like the ones used in grocery stores, to show exactly where the punch-list items are. The circles help direct each trade to the problems they need to deal with.
A former boss of mine once said that the trick to finishing is to be both cop and psychologist—in short, to do anything necessary to get the job done. You may step on some toes in the process, but you'll have happier clients, a thicker wallet and fewer nightmares.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Future of Home Building

In 25 years,
a new house won’t look like a spaceship, but appearances
can be deceiving

The Future of Home BuildingBY ROGER YEPSEN
The future isn’t what it used to be—not when it comes to forecasting how houses will be built. In the past, Homes of Tomorrow showcased the gee-whiz technology of the moment. Reinforced concrete or steel or plate glass or plastics would deliver us to a better life. We had Mies van der Rohe’s minimalist boxes, Bucky Fuller’s Dymaxion Living Machine, the all-metal Aluminaire House, and Philip Johnson’s fishbowl-as-home. In the 1950s, when Monsanto built its 30,000-lb. plastic House of the Future in Disneyland, Walt Disney suggested that Tomorrowland’s technological wonders could help to foster world peace.
As we move into a new millennium, Walt’s hopefulness sounds almost quaint. Homes of Tomorrow no longer seem to grab the public’s attention. Today, the best-known futuristic home is probably the Jetsons’ goofy space pad. We’ve lost the sense that home building can be a revolutionary means of improving society.
Even the future of home building itself is in question. We have fewer acres ripe for suburban development. Real-estate prices are escalating beyond the reach of many families. Traditional building materials are becoming scarce and expensive. Energy is an enormous concern: witness the record-high cost of oil, a nonrenewable resource whose supplies are finite and whose global demand is increasing. With even the way we build houses under scrutiny, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that design is going to be a big concern.
You’d feel at home in the future
Most consumer items play up technological bells and whistles, but our homes tend to conceal them. “We still like a house that looks like a house,” says Sarah Susanka, an architect whose Not So Big House gospel has gotten a great deal of attention. No matter where building science takes us, the home of the future probably will be packaged in a familiar, cozy form, not in the shape of a bubble or dome or Modernist slab. In part, this may be a reaction to the gangly solar homes of the 1970s, which tended to be overwhelmed by their good intentions. Similarly, A-frames, yurts, and domes haven’t aged well in the public’s eye. Forward-looking architects and builders still are forced to reckon with clients who would rather live in a Leave It to Beaver colonial than an envelope-stretching marvel.
Forward-looking architects are forced to reckon with clients who would rather live in a Leave It to Beaver colonial.
Another factor behind the slow evolution of home design is the reality of 77 million retiring baby boomers. According to a recent survey, an overwhelming majority of this white-haired tide will choose to grow old in their present homes.
Accordingly, the home-building industry can be expected to show more interest in homes that enable living in place, according to Andy Kochera, senior policy analyst with the AARP’s Public Policy Institute. These homes will incorporate many senior-friendly features, such as single-floor living, excellent task lighting, and wheelchair-level appliances, switches, and counters. Another potential barrier for older occupants is dealing with the sophisticated appliances and systems that the future certainly will bring. Robert Hodder, senior policy adviser on transportation and livable communities at AARP, predicts that because this generation of homeowners is defined more clearly as a special market, a broad range of products will be designed with them in mind.
Why bother forecasting the future?
It’s fun to speculate about the home of the future, but what’s the point?
Winston Churchill said, “We shape our homes, then our homes shape us.” And Frank Lloyd Wright boasted he could prove it, claiming he could design a dysfunctional house that would dissolve the marriage of any couple unlucky enough to live in it.
Building new homes and remodelling old ones make up one-fifth of the U.S. gross domestic product. It often is said that housing starts can lift the United States out of a recession.
Heating and cooling our homes consumes 13% of U.S. energy, an expense that may become unaffordable for many households.
In a recent study, 8 out of 10 contractors predicted that their biggest headache in years to come would be a shortage of skilled carpenters.
McMansions or shoeboxes?
Although the colonial, the Cape, the Victorian, and the bungalow seem to be with us for the foreseeable future, it’s less clear if these homes will come in small, medium, large, or jumbo. Houses expand and contract like binge dieters. For now, they keep growing even though the average family is getting smaller. In 1950, new houses offered just 290 sq. ft. per family member; by 2000, that figure had swollen to more than 800 sq. ft.
An unfortunate result, says Environmental Building News editor Nadav Malin, is that advances in energy conservation tend to be canceled out by increases in house size. An often-repeated prediction is that homeowners (and the builders and architects who serve them) eventually will come to their senses and realize that bigger isn’t necessarily better. Smaller homes not only are cheaper to build and live in, but the savings also can be put into finer materials and craftsmanship. It remains to be seen if this revelation will come about only when big houses become forbiddingly expensive.
It’s not difficult to trim excess square footage from a design. But if houses shrink, architects will have all the more reason to break out of the traditional boxy assemblage of rooms, says Jean Rehcamp Larson of Rehcamp Larson Architects in Minneapolis; they will need to create “spatial experiences.” Varying ceiling heights, placing windows on at least two walls of each room, providing easy access to the outdoors: These are some of the strategies that will allow homes to grow small graciously. “Builders have tended to flatten things out,” says Larson. They think in terms of floor plans rather than freely exploring varied levels and ceiling heights. “But AutoCAD has the potential to help builders design in three dimensions. And 3-D modeling allows clients to see what their spaces will be like so that they may be less hesitant to accept these designs.”
Green houses of every colour
Just how green will our future be a generation from now? To date, our strides have been short of remarkable. “In conscience, we must mark the end of the era of substandard housing that is cheap to build but expensive and wasteful to maintain,” wrote renowned timber-framer Tedd Benson. Even crediting Benson with being ahead of his time, it’s disappointing to note that his words were published 25 years ago and are seldom heeded.
While contemporary sustainable homes often may look like the house next door, their design is based on forecasts of our actions on a world that doesn’t yet exist. Virginia architect William McDonough calls the failure to consider the future a “generational tyranny.” For example, what will be the impact of extracting enough petroleum to manufacture an asphalt roof that has an expected life of 30 years? And how about the environmental consequences of disposing of that roof? The life-cycle cost of building materials increasingly will shape
how building materials are chosen. Vinyl is now the most popular siding because of its low cost, ease of installation, and minimal maintenance, but the long view favors other alternatives. McDonough speaks of the “cradle-to-cradle” model of designing with the goal of reusing components of worn-out or obsolete products, rather than junking them or recycling them into a less-valuable form.
Does wood have a future?
If you invite someone to envision the house of the future, chances are the place won’t be made of 2x4s. But ask the same person to conjure up the house of their dreams, and it’s likely that wood plays a role, and not just in token touches, like a scrap of burled walnut on the dashboard of an expensive car.
Wood feels good, smells good, can look better with age, and has a lot going for it from the green point of view. It is sustainable (as long as it is harvested responsibly), healthful (it doesn’t outgas toxins), and relatively durable (if maintained). Compared with other commonly used siding materials, it requires the least energy to produce and involves the least total embodied energy over its lifetime. On top of that, wood potentially has the lowest environmental impact. When a house has come to the end of its useful life, the wood components may live on in another structure—the cradle-to-cradle scenario—as when oak barn beams live on capably in a second or even a third building.
In the green scheme of things, builders also can save the expense, pollution, and energy costs of shipping by using locally produced materials. In looking for native species of wood for buildings at the Center for Maximum Potential in Texas, co-director Pliny Fisk was able to make use of mesquite, a wood best known for flavoring grilled food. Mesquite is too twisted to serve as saw logs, but it can be sawn into small blocks for parquet floors. “If you stick to your region,” says Fisk, “you understand things better.”
Even on a local level, though, as wood becomes pricier, conventional lumber increasingly will give way to engineered products: LVLs, roof trusses, and wall panels, as well as plywood. Just a decade ago, engineered I-joist flooring was used in only 20% of new construction; that figure is now approaching 50%. Engineered wood can be made with relatively little waste, using trees that traditionally are overlooked in favor of awe-inspiring forest giants.
As for traditional clapboard siding, don’t count it out. According to the USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory, horizontal lap siding will be with us for years to come. It does a good job of keeping out the rain, and it has the look that vinyl siding strives to mimic. This isn’t to say that wood can’t be made more durable. Sam Williams, supervising research chemist with the lab, says, “The next generation of siding materials will probably be various forms of wood/plastic composites,” most of it arriving at the site with a factory finish.
Concrete, steel, and dirt
The future of wood-frame construction is far from secure. Steel framing may make dramatic inroads if lumber prices spike. Pulte Homes, the second-biggest builder in the United States, recently began using webbed-steel joists in its manufactured homes. Concrete wins green points for durability and for making use of such potential waste products as the ash residue from coal-fired power plants. Autoclaved cellular concrete may become a household term if this material (also known as ACC) catches on. A mix of portland cement, lime, sand or recycled ash, and water, ACC has a closed-cell structure that makes it lightweight, allows it to be cut to size, and even adds a bit of insulation value. ACC panels can have a timeless look that belies their unusual makeup. Jeannie Babb Taylor, CEO of SafeCrete, an AAC manufacturer, says the material has the potential to be cast with integrated detailing. “Quoins, keystones, arches, and carvings will become the norm,” she predicts.
The redemption of the manufactured home
For centuries, the job of fabricating dwellings has been carried out by hand in a highly visible, sweaty, noisy, and somewhat hazardous process. It is a tradition-bound dance that has changed remarkably little in the past 150 years. “You wouldn’t drive a Ford Model T,” says Nebraska builder Fernando Pag├ęs Ruiz, “but you live in one.” Innovations have been restricted largely to substituting one material for another, rather than taking an evolutionary step forward. True, the stick-built process has been tweaked in recent years to cut costs and to increase energy efficiency, but William McDonough sees this cautious approach as minimizing the bad rather than seeking bold new answers. “We are perpetuating the wrong system,” he contends. Instead, he favors designing houses that can accept new technologies easily as they become economically attractive.
Manufacturing promises to provide the paradigm shift required to dislodge the industry from its antiquated ways. The image of factory-built shelter has been tarnished by the legacy of cheaply built, disposable mobile homes. But change is well under way. While 90% of conventional homes were stick-built 25 years ago, that figure has dipped below 70% as panelized construction has built momentum. The advantages of prefabrication are clear and persuasive.
Tolerances and workmanship are closer in the factory than in the field, meaning less waste. Building a typical single-family home in the field generates an astounding 8000 lb. of leftovers destined for a landfill. Rising energy prices favor prefabs because panels are potentially more airtight than stud walls. Also, standardization allows suppliers from around the country to compete, bringing down costs and stimulating innovation.
The implications are enormous, according to Kent Larson, principal research scientist at MIT’s architecture and planning school and director of the college’s Open Source Building Alliance. He predicts that technology companies and other firms from outside the home-building industry largely will have captured the market by 2015. Beyond that, large nationwide firms will be able to afford to keep current with state-of-the-art practice, and even to invest in new technologies. Their size also will allow them to tell suppliers just what products they need, such as specifying entire wall systems.
Finally, prefab homes require little or no on-site skilled labor from the shrinking pool of capable framers and carpenters. A crew of semi-skilled installers or assemblers can do the job, points out Larson. And if a single supplier provides the home’s utility core, their won’t be the need for a stream of subcontractors arriving in their pickup trucks and getting in each other’s way.
Redesigning the design process
The popular notion of factory-built homes is that they roll out on an assembly line, as identical as toasters. But if MIT’s Kent Larson has his way, prefabrication will allow architects and even their clients to customize homes in a revolutionary way.
Here’s the projection. Dozens of competing suppliers around the country will produce a great array of standardized components, which then can be combined in almost countless ways. To allow prospective buyers to view these components and reconfigure them into the home of their dreams, architects will develop an Internet-powered “design engine.” This program will guide buyers through the design process in much the way that a real architect might. Then, after coming up with their design, the buyers will “tour” a virtual model to see if it suits them. In this way, Larson says, architects will be able to influence the design of modestly priced houses that traditionally haven’t benefited from their professional attention.
Modified concrete as the perfect material? The scarcity of wood and the need for more energy-efficient houses may drive builders to materials such as autoclaved cellular concrete. Extremely lightweight, the concrete mix can be cast into blocks or panels, is insectproof and energy-efficient, and can be cut with a circular saw. 
Larson calls this approach mass-customized rather than mass- produced, and he points out that consumers already may be familiar with the process, having specified the options for a Lexus car or a Dell computer.
For now, most manufactured homes strive to look absolutely tra- ditional, as if to conceal their humble birth in a factory. But the constraints imposed by a set inventory of prefabbed components may have a liberating effect on design. “People say that manufactured houses have no style,” says Jean Rehcamp Larson. “But I like many of them. There is a sense of rigor, a discipline about them. They’re really intriguing, and they still allow for individual expression.” As architects develop a new manufactured aesthetic, we may find that homebuyers begin warming up to the clean, industrial look.
Choreographing a more elegant construction
The usual way of piecing together a house is clumsy—“insane,” as Kent Larson puts it—and is problematic when designing for maximum energy efficiency. Joseph Lsti-burek of Building Science Corporation in Massachusetts cites the wasteful example of carefully crafting a well-insulated, airtight house and then having an HVAC subcontractor install a conventionally sized system that’s too beefy for the job. According to the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a home’s energy needs can be slashed by as much as 50% to 70% if the architects, contractors, and tradespeople work in an integrated way.
Open building is one way of ensuring that the design and construction processes are coordinated. As explained by Stephen Kendall, professor in the urban-planning department and director of the Building Futures Institute at Ball State University, open building “isn’t a technical idea, it’s an organizational idea.” It considers the home’s major systems individually as they will function over time, anticipating the service life of each as well as the likelihood that owners will want to make changes—turning two bedrooms into one when the kids leave home, for example.
The design of an open-built house anticipates the need to repair or upgrade these systems by keeping them “disentangled,” a term used by timber-framer Tedd Benson. One system can be worked on with-out interference from the rest.
Open building is a way of inoculating houses against becoming obsolete as new and improved technologies reach the market. Virginia architect William McDonough gave an example to a Sierra Club forum on energy policy. We can “prepare our buildings now for photovoltaics so that when they’re cost effective, we’re ready to put them on. One of the big problems with design is that people don’t anticipate these things.”
Going high-tech without getting weirded out
No one knows exactly how technology will affect the design of the home. But all indications are that the house will be a terrifically busy place. Digital technology is making it possible for more people to work at home, to shop on the Internet, to pick up college credits online, to do banking and read the local paper, to be entertained, and to grow old gracefully. The home also likely will generate at least some of its own energy, making it still more independent from the outside world. Zero-energy homes are being built now, as evidenced by the article that begins on p. 102 in this issue. Mark Ginsberg, deputy assistant secretary of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, says we should shoot for homes that are net producers of electricity, generating 20% above their energy needs.
Solar remains a best bet for on-site energy production, although the technology suffered a case of the hiccups in the 1970s. Clunky, faltering systems were tacked onto houses with less than convincing results. Although solar- generated electricity is far cheaper today than in that era, photovoltaic juice still costs two to four times that from coal or gas. As nonrenewable resources become scarcer and state and federal incentives come into play, though, PV power will look more attractive. Also, lenders increasingly will allow homebuyers to fold the cost of photovoltaics into the mortgage, making it easier to commit to incorporating PV units with a new home. PVs look more attractive, too. Silicone-wafer panels are slimming down. Still less obtrusive is the newer “thin film” technology that can be applied to the home’s skin and even windows and skylights so that the entire structure is available to generate power.
A new generation of “smart” appliances might perform still better by communicating with the world outside the household. William McDonough suggests that the home’s electrical feed could transmit information as well as kilo- watts, alerting air conditioners of an impending heat wave so that they could precool at night. He even foresees that appliances might be able to search for cheap electrical energy during off-hours and then store it for later use.
Lenders increasingly will allow homebuyers to fold the cost of photovoltaics into the mortgage.
Photovoltaics are looking better all the time. Thin-film, high-efficiency solar panels that can be integrated into a house’s structure will increase consumer demand, which banks and local governments will fund with energy-related subsidies.
Neighbourhoods for the new millennium
Sustainable houses will flourish only in sustainable communities, believes Illinois developer Perry Bigelow, whose homes are legendary in the industry for their energy efficiency. And our suburbs have failed to provide the services—and the neighborliness—that many homeowners are looking for. The boomtown approach to development, practiced by builders since the close of World War II, has got to go. That’s clear to people both within the industry and those taking a critical look at it from other fields.
The community of Amelia Park, Fla., sprang up just a few years ago, yet it looks almost eerily well-established, with mature trees shading front porches and even alleys that serve the garages in the backyard. There is a mix of houses, big and modest; cottages; row houses; and in a throwback to small-town America, apartments above shops.
Amelia Park is one of the new communities laid out according to the tenets of what has been called the new urbanism and traditional neighborhood development. Starting from principles laid down by the Florida architecture firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., these large-scale developments attempt to counter suburban sprawl. Housing is clustered, which serves both to allow setting aside open space and to make it possible to reach neighbors, parks, shops, and work places on foot. The quiet, leaf-shaded streets serve as social spaces, having been planned in a way that prevents cars from threatening pedestrians and bicyclists. New-urbanist communities are exploring “traffic-calming” strategies such as speed bumps, rumble strips, narrowed sections of road, and gateways.
Emily Talen, associate professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says that living more compactly doesn’t have to be a bitter pill. We stand to gain “much better access to services,” she says, “and much higher densities of daily-life needs within easy reach. If you look at places like Seaside, Fla. [the first new-urbanist community], you realize that people are willing to pay a very high price to live in very small places.” Compactness involves more than scaling down rooms. Good design is critical: “Americans will have to become much more knowledgeable about the basics of good design. It will be a good time for architects and homebuilders who have these skills.”
Densely settled, well-planned towns will be easier to serve with new public-transit lines, which tend to be unfeasible when people are scattered thinly and randomly over a wide area. Just as bungalows sprang up along trolley routes a hundred years ago, tomorrow’s communities can be fostered by the speedy light-rail networks now making a comeback in a number of metropolitan areas. Alternatives to cars will become especially crucial to the aging baby-boomer generation, who may be isolated in their homes if they no longer are able to negotiate high-speed freeways safely (or legally). A lack of transportation options has been found to cause older people to drop out of community life, says AARP’s Robert Hodder. The result may be depression, mental decline, physical deterioration, and alcohol abuse.
Another variation on urbanism is cohousing, which combines the appeal of traditional homeownership with the advantages of living in a shared community. Although cohousing communities can be started by a developer, true cohousing is designed with the involvement of the future residents.
Typically, each household has its own living room, dining room, and kitchen, and shares a common lounge, meeting rooms, recreational facilities, and play spaces for kids. There also is likely to be a shared commitment to green values. “Most communities have some level of sustainable living written into their mission statements,” says architect Mary Kraus, who lives and works in a Massachusetts cohousing complex.
Housing and the law
Thomas Jefferson believed that homeownership was key to the health and wealth of the nation. Two centuries later, the laws of the land continue to ensure that homes will be safer, more efficient, and affordable for most Americans. After World War II, the first flush of suburbs was stimulated in large part from FHA and VA loans. The current tax exemption on the interest portion of home mortgages has been called the biggest federal housing subsidy of all.
The future will hold other incentives and types of aid as well. By requiring a certain percentage of lower-priced properties, new laws will guarantee that buyers with modest incomes won’t be shut out of communities in which builders might offer only high-end homes. As described by Randy Udall, head of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency in Aspen, Colo., this lower-income incentive acts as a “subsidy” that builders have to provide to be allowed to sell especially profitable mini-mansions.
After a lapse of 20 years, the recently passed federal energy bill offers tax credits for domestic-solar applications. It’s predicted that states will follow with similar incentives. But laws also can slow the rate of positive change. Architects and builders may run into restrictive codes as they pursue new methods and technologies. Similarly, mortgages either can fund innovation or frustrate it. Recently, the lender Fannie Mae began offering energy-efficient mortgages to coax people into frugal energy habits. Energy-sparing options can be financed up to 5% of the home’s overall value.
Community statutes often state a minimum square footage for houses. In an interesting reversal, some jurisdictions have begun setting a maxi- mum square footage. This restriction helps to ensure that a community won’t exclude buyers with lower incomes, and it also avoids what has been called the “mansioning” of a streetscape with homes that overwhelm their dinky lots. Also, most communities have zoning laws that segregate residential neighborhoods from commercial centers, increasing reliance on the automobile. These laws will have to be amended if new neighbor-hoods are to be pedestrian friendly.
An old idea that fights urban sprawl. To make communities more pedestrian friendly and to give public transportation a boost, future developments may look more like villages that have grown over time, built with varied building types that are America’s small-town arche-type.
The future, without the shock
In architectural writing about what’s around the corner, the word “explosion” comes up a lot. And the phrase “tipping point” is used to get across the idea that home building is on the cusp of cataclysmic change.
Maybe. Keep in mind that concepts are easier to construct than objects that require scaffolds or cranes. And judging by an open-built MIT/Ben- sonwood prototype now under way, the future will arrive peering out through multipane windows and wearing a gable roof. “I don’t think the gable roof is going anywhere,” says Jean Rehcamp Larson.
Stephen Kendall, one of the pioneers of open building, was asked not long ago if someone who stepped into an open-built house would be aware of the fact. “Oh, I hope not!” he said with some emphasis.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Preventing Moisture Problems in Bathrooms

Preventing Moisture Problems in Bathrooms
A poorly designed bathroom is no better than a leaky roof.
As a veteran kitchen and bath designer, I’ve created my share of glamorous bathrooms, complete with oversize showers, giant soaking tubs, whirlpools, saunas and the like. I wish I could say that all of my clients come to me for the bathroom of their dreams; sadly, a lot of them show up at my door after water leaks and humidity have rendered the bath of their dreams unusable. Today’s bathrooms unleash copious amounts of moisture, all of which must be carefully controlled, or the results can be devastating (can you say mold?).
Although I’m glad to have the business, I want my work to last, so I’m always alert to improvements in products, design and construction that address these issues. Following are a few of the strategies that I use to ensure that none of my dream baths ever become someone else’s nightmare.
Complicated bathrooms require careful design, but as long as moisture control is accounted for during every step in the process, even the most ambitious creation can expect many years of useful service.
-Exterior bathroom walls must be able to dry
-Cold-climate wall assembly dries to the exterior In regions where interior humidity levels are typically greater than those on the outside, a vapor barrier is placed on the interior surface of the wall, while permeable sheathings are used on the exterior.
-Hot/humid-climate wall should dry to the interior
-In regions where exterior humidity levels are typically greater than those on the inside, the vapor barrier goes on the outside of the wall, while permeable sheathings go on the inside.
-Ventilation must be effective and easy to use.
-Shower controls are offset for convenience and water containment.
Wall systems are designed to dry.
Antisweat valve mixes hot and cold water to prevent toilet-tank condensation.
Siding Building paper or housewrap 
Foil-faced sheathing (provides vapor barrier)
Unfaced insulation
Gypsum board with latex paint
Drying to interior
Building paper or housewrap
Permeable sheathing
Unfaced insulation
6-mil poly vapor barrier
Gypsum board
Drying to exterior
Plumbing lines belong indoors
If plumbing lines have to be located along exterior walls, the best way to maintain an impermeable vapor barrier (and to ensure that the pipes won’t freeze) is to frame a nonstructural “water” wall for pipes inside the exterior wall.
Placing water controls closer to the door (rather than centered on the shower head) makes them easier to use and lessens the likelihood of water escaping from the shower.
Seal all gaps to keep moisture in its place
To prevent moisture from escaping a humid bath environment and condensing within walls, floors or ceilings, every penetration should be sealed with a long- lasting, flexible sealant such as polyurethane foam.
Polyurethane foam sealant
Drill holes for pipes 12 in. oversize to allow for placement of sealant.
Polyurethane foam
Use the proper wall assembly for the climate
Today’s tight construction methods yield big dividends in terms of comfort and energy efficiency, but they don’t dry out like the drafty walls of old. To prevent trapped moisture, exterior bathroom walls must be designed carefully. In certain climates, a properly installed vapor barrier can be a valuable part of that design.
Assuming all other aspects of moisture control are handled correctly, the main influence on the location of the vapor barrier is climate. Moisture tends to migrate from areas of greater (or warmer) concentrations into areas of lesser (or colder) concentrations. In a heating climate, such as New England where I work, a vapor barrier is placed on the interior of wood-frame walls and ceilings, and permeable exterior sheathings are installed to allow any moisture that gets into the wall cavity to dry to the exterior. In a cooling climate, however, the op- posite might be true. Wall assemblies in general and vapor barriers in particular are controversial subjects. Consult a building science expert in your area to find out what might work best for you.
Leave no draft unsealed
Because most moisture that enters framing cavities is airborne, air leaks present signifi- cant opportunities for moisture to build up behind walls or under floors. Common spots for drafts include rough-ins for electrical, plumbing or mechanical systems; drains for tubs and showers; and cutouts for recessed lights. My policy is that any penetrations in the floor, wall or ceiling must be sealed with polyurethane foam, silicone sealant or some other appropriate material. My subcontrac- tors make sure that any holes they cut in the subfloor are large enough to allow for at least 14-in. thickness of flexible sealant around the pipes (detail 2 above).
Recessed lighting presents another draft problem. Conventional fixtures are way too porous for use in a bathroom. To avoid filling the space above with moisture, recessed fix-
tures located in insulated ceilings must be air tight and carry the IC-rating, which indicates that they are designed to be covered with in- sulation. A better solution is to place recessed lights within soffits or dropped ceilings. From my designer’s standpoint, a well-framed soffit creates interesting sightlines and avoids any penetration into unheated spaces.
Locate showers and tubs on interior walls, if possible
The best solutions from a designer’s stand point don’t always agree with those of a building scientist. These experts tell me, for example, that tubs and showers should never be located along exterior walls. Unfortunately, I don’t always have a choice.
Having done my first bath designs on the Connecticut shoreline—where winter winds off Long Island Sound can freeze pipes in short order—I would never take the risk of placing plumbing pipes within exterior walls. If I were stuck with an exterior-wall location, I would frame a second wall for pipes just inside the exterior wall that would provide room for proper insulation and for the creation of a healthy wall system.
In addition to the placement of the shower, the location of the shower fixtures can have a big impact on moisture control. I like to off-set the water controls closer to the shower door to make them easy to reach without opening the door all the way. I also try to make sure that the shower head is not easily directed at the door opening.
Glass doors provide better water containment than shower curtains, but access can be a problem. Shower curtains can be weighted to hold them to the floor for better water containment. Another simple solution for keeping water inside a curtained shower is to fashion a dam in each corner using a bead of silicone placed at a diagonal.
Keep recessed lights inside conditioned airspace
Although recessed lights that carry an IC-rating can be placed in an insulated ceiling, an airtight installation is extremely difficult to achieve. A better solution (if ceiling height permits) is to install these lights inside a soffit or a dropped ceiling.
One-piece tub enclosures are boring but leakproof
When it comes to the materials to be used for a tub (or shower) enclosure, there are almost no limits as to what is available: tile, glass block, solid surface, cultured marble, plastic laminate, acrylic and gel-coated fiberglass, to name a few. If I listened only to building scientists, the choice would be clear: one-piece tub units. As long as the drain is installed properly, the framing is correct and the floor is supported adequately, experts tell me that the chance that one of these units will ever leak is minuscule.
Most of my clients want more pizzazz, and most of the time they choose tile. Unlike one piece shower surrounds, tile is not impermeable to moisture—largely because of the grout. In my experience, however, as long as tile is installed properly over a cement board substrate, a tile enclosure will be fine. Applying tile directly over the moisture-resistant gypsum (green board) is asking for trouble.
Solid-surface materials such as Corian also require a proper substrate, but they eliminate the need for maintaining grout. Glass block is a good choice for a custom shower because it’s less permeable to moisture than tile. Glass block is also available in many shapes and textures and includes structure and finish in one complete package.
Accessories and built-ins for custom showers also must be designed carefully. Soap and shampoo cubbies must not compromise the water or vapor barriers, so I never design these niches to be set into an exterior wall. I also make sure that the horizontal surfaces of cubbies as well as shower seats are sloped to shed water back into the shower.
Double-seal vulnerable joints to make sure all the water stays in the tub.
The weight of a tub full of water puts great stress on caulked joints. If the tub unit does not have a lip that extends up the wall, use 50-year silicone sealant to caulk the joint where the backerboard meets the tub, as well as the joint where tile meets tub.
Tubs and whirlpools require flexible sealant
Stand-alone tubs generally have fewer moisture problems than showers because they contain water better. The weight of that water can be a problem, however, as can frequent splashing, such as children like to do.
The constant filling and emptying of a tub demands flexible seams where the sidewalls meet the tub. My installer uses only the highest quality silicone sealant. In addition to caulking the joint where tile meets tub, he caulks the joint between the backerboard and the tub.
Wall surfaces surrounding a whirlpool tub that doesn’t get heavy use simply can be painted green board. Whirlpools release a lot of steam, however, so if I know that the client has big plans for the appliance, I insist on the same type of wall assembly I’d use for a shower.
Integral countertops make trouble-free vanities
Undermount lavatories are popular these days because they offer clean lines and easy cleanup. Their only drawback, however, is a vulnerable seam that’s hidden beneath the countertop. For clients who don’t mind poking their heads under the sink a couple of
times a year, this seam is not a problem. Some clients want their baths to be as maintenance- free as possible, however. For them, I recommend an integral basin/countertop made from a seamless material such as cultured stone. Integral countertops can be ordered with or without a seamless backsplash. Occasionally, the client requests a tile backsplash to be installed over an integral countertop; in these cases, I specify that the countertop be formed with a 12-in. tall cove on which the tile will rest. The cove eliminates the seam against the wall where water can collect and eventually escape.
Don’t sweat about the toilet
The plumbers that I use add extra blocking around the toilet’s drain line to stiffen the sub floor. This practice helps to ensure that the wax ring seal will never be broken (for more on proper toilet installation. Properly installed toilets don’t leak, but they might sweat. Condensation on the toilet tank typically occurs during the sum- mer months when the water in the tank might be 20°F or even 30°F cooler than the air. This seemingly harmless occurrence can result in some serious problems: Moisture drips onto the floor and seeps beneath the floor covering, and eventually, the subfloor starts to rot.
Air conditioning is one way to prevent condensation; if that’s not an option, you can retrofit an existing toilet with a prefabricated toilet-tank insulation kit, or install an anti sweat valve in the water-supply line. (An anti sweat valve adds a small amount of hot water to the toilet’s water supply. Adjustable models can regulate the hot-water supply during those months when it’s not needed.)
If purchasing a new toilet, consider one with factory-installed tank insulation or a pressure assist system that stores water in a pressurized plastic tank within the porcelain tank.
An open window is not a ventilation system
Toys such as steam showers, whirlpools and soaking tubs dump huge amounts of moisture into the air. Even a perfectly designed bathroom will suffer if it doesn’t have an adequate ventilation system. While some codes still consider an operable window sufficient ventilation, that’s asking for trouble, as is trying to get by with a cheap, noisy fan. On every one of my bath designs, I specify a high quality, ultra-quiet fan that’s correctly sized to the space.
Don’t just dump it in the attic
The necessary components of an effective bathroom exhaust system include a high quality, quiet fan unit, and a short run of insulated ducting that directs water vapor out of the house before it’s able to condense.
This programmable timer-switch ensures that the fan runs
long enough and often enough to clear the air.
Exhaust systems are rated in cubic feet per minute (cfm) of air moved, and the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) offers a formula as a starting point for calculating the minimum ventilation need- ed for a bathroom: cubic feet of room x 8 (air exchanges per hour) / 60 (minutes) = required cfm rating.
Another easy guide is to figure 1 cfm per sq. ft. in bathrooms that are smaller than 100 sq. ft.; in bathrooms that are larger than 100 sq. ft., allow 50 cfm per standard fixture (shower, tub, toilet, steam shower), plus 100 cfm per hot tub.
Oversize bathrooms can benefit from multiple intake points connected to one remote fan. Typical locations of exhaust inlets are near moisture sources, such as the whirlpool, shower or steam shower and toilet area, as well as near closet or storage areas that might be exposed to mois- ture. With this type of system, it is important to check the cfm at each location.
The installation of a ventilation system is critical. The duct system should take the shortest, most direct route to the outside; but even a short run of ductwork can be troublesome. To prevent trapped condensation, I use insulated, rigid pipe, and I make sure that the pipe has a slight pitch, either to the outside or back to the fan.
In tight, modern houses, an adequate supply of return air must be provided in conjunction with the ventilation. This can be as simple as making sure there is at least an inch of air- space under the entry door or as complicated as providing a passive makeup-air duct.
Even if it’s perfectly installed, an exhaust system won’t get the job done unless it is used. I strongly recommend to my clients that they leave the fan running—with the door closed to make sure moisture cannot escape into neighboring rooms—for at least 30 minutes after taking a shower or using a whirlpool. Placing the ventilation fan on a timer makes following this advice easy. An even easier solution is to connect the fan to a humidistat that will automatically turn the fan on and off according to the humidity levels.
Baths need regular maintenance
After eliminating unnecessary moisture problems, constant vigilance is the key to maintaining a dry bathroom. Indoor air humidity and temperature must be controlled throughout the home. What might be a comfortable condition for the homeowner might not be ideal for the home. Relative humidity between 40% (winter, generally) and 65% (summer), with a constant temperature around 68°F, is best. Frequently inspect visible caulk joints and redo them when they first show signs of degrading. At least a few times a year, get a good flashlight and summon the courage to poke around in the basement, crawlspaces and attic, looking for any signs of moisture leaks, musty odors or nasty bugs.