How to Improve Your Home’s Efficiency

Energy performance should be a discussion in any home renovation where there is an opportunity to make improvements in energy consumption and improved comfort. While it should be part of the conversation, the outcome may be that additional insulation in a small sub-component of the home could actually be a bad thing to do.

Good building science works well when different components are assembled with synergy. In the 70’s during an energy crisis, insulation factors were significantly increased without simultaneously modifying the components it worked with. This resulted in premature exterior paint failure from vapor trapped in the structure, and required ventilation retrofits to make the system work “better”. 

I have also seen the “green movement” in building science morph into a few camps based on ideology instead of a simpler health, and energy science. If you want to improve the energy performance of your home, start with increased insulation value while accounting for the rest of the building system. Second, change all the lighting in the home to LED.  This will reduce excess heat in the summer and will reduce your electric bill right away with a short term payback. The third place to look is the heat plant. If you have older low efficient heating and cooling equipment, the change in efficiency from 80% to 94% will show up right away. Last but not least… if you are doing an entire exterior make-over… replace the windows. One at a time this doesn’t really change things. If you want to know what to do next… INSULATE MOREJ!

Here is a project we just completed in Wellesley. As part of a kitchen expansion, we did a complete exterior (and interior) make over. With blown in insulation in the budget along with all new windows, we discovered that a less effective insulation (about R9) had been installed by the last owner when they installed aluminum siding. We couldn’t get more insulation in the cavity so for the price of the blown in budget (about $5k) we suggested a one inch foam board to provide a thermal break. This pretty metallic red board does more than add 25-40% more to the insulation factor, but delivers a contiguous external thermal blanket that reduced hot and cold spots. This project with attic insulation and a new high efficient gas boiler shows the proof is in the pudding. Check out the comparison of last year’s energy report that came with the EverSource bill and the recent report!

The pictures of the home show the 3 phases of the exterior renovation (paint starts in a month or so).

Step one, strip to bare sheathing boards.

Step two, install a vapor barrier with 1” of foam board (they did finish the whole house… I showed up during that for the photo).

Step three, we sided with Hari Plank siding and Azek trim for a long lasting and beautiful low maintenance exterior that can be painted every 10-15 years.

How To Properly Install Shutters

Exterior makeovers are nothing new to our company.  One item that always adds a quality and charming feel to a home are authentic window shutters.  I am not talking about the screwed to the house variety-I mean the shutters that sit on offset hinges and come with an assortment of hold backs, properly known as “shutter dogs”.  The difference in the aesthetic is easy to see when you drive by a home that has authentic hardware.  The shutter stands off the home enough to see the relief in the siding which will produce a shadow line that adds extra elegance.

Something I am often asked about when we are ordering or installing shutters is the durability. My preference in New England is the historically common louvered shutter.  They’re constructed with cedar and pre-painted by the shutter maker.  Cedar will make the shutter last much longer than pine. Unfortunately pine is often used, in case you are wondering why you have to paint your shutters every five years, that’s probably why.  Another reason I prefer cedar shutters has to do with the more authentic appearance they have close up compared to composites and their ability to accept the hardware installation.

We are also often asked if the shutters are backwards when we install them.  You may notice that most homes have the bottom of each louver sloping away from the home which is usually a selection the painter makes when screwing shutters back on the house; and commonly found in the vinyl variety.  However, shutters were once a necessity and had to work properly.  Back when glass was so fragile and windows not so watertight, the shutters needed to be closed in advance of the storm and the louvers needed to shed water away from the window.  So when opened, shutters should display with the louvers in the opposite direction draining toward the siding if you want an authentic installation.

There are some composite shutters that look nice and claim to be lower maintenance. The ones I have seen are best used for a paneled shutter- not as common in our area because the wood ones take on water at the joints easier.  If you’re looking for that style, which is more appropriate on an English or French Country style home, I would suggest using composite.

If you are looking to buy shutters and are not renovating, we recommend contacting a company that specializes in this, and locally that is New England Shutter.  When we are installing ourselves, we like to buy from Exterior Solutions where we can order them easily with the finish, size and hardware all in one spot. If you’re wondering what they cost, each pair will set you back about $600-$800 installed, pre-painted and with cedar.

Happy shopping! 

2017 Kitchen and Bath Trends

Every year the National Kitchen and Bath Association holds our annual trade show. I have been attending most years for the past quarter century to keep up on new building science, trends and innovation. The conference has become product centric in many ways and many reasons. First, the great recession led to publishers and show managers turning their focus to the deeper pockets of manufacturers, over designers’ education. Then, the publishers of home design content were lured (rightfully so) by the craving for design photos shown in places like Pinterest and Houzz. Because we don’t want to bore you with what we think is more important to our clients, design and business acumen, we gathered a few photos of some interesting insights.

First of note, we saw the growing choices in hardware finishes. Holy Cow, Rose gold plumbing fixtures? I personally wouldn’t buy that on an iPhone so I probably won’t be recommending it. And before you decide that black plumbing fixtures, think about how much soap spots will bother you in between cleaning.

Another strong theme throughout was natural wood. Rustic may be in for a while, but in a different and more modern way. Think about this walnut wood with rustic knots, in more tailored higher end woodwork.  It could work for traditional and contemporary styles. This is from our trade partner, Plato Woodwork

Making your cabinetry exactly what you want. Fully custom cabinetry offers interesting opportunities. We are often asked about ways to add and hide drying racks- we loved this! 

And what if you just want to smile every time you open the vanity drawer. Ok, maybe “interior painted pink” isn’t for you, but we thought it was a great way for the cabinet maker to show off their willingness to do whatever it takes. 

Another strong movement in design is patterned tile. We saw a lot of geometrics. Almost every tile manufacturer was showing off unique patterns and textures. 

Our design team will be having great fun with upcoming projects and all these new cool ideas. I hope you enjoyed the pics! Don’t worry; we attended many educational seminars on management and design. As well as presented two educational seminars to the industry to help them help their clients with more than product. Alexandra and Lisa presented a class on helping people improve their design to benefit the clients daily lifestyle (while making it beautiful), and I presented a class on how to provide clients with an accurate budget, without relying on change orders. 

If you would like to speak to our design team about incorporating these trends into your upcoming renovations, contact us here

Finding the Right Flooring for You

In the Northeast, the most popular flooring we install is white oak planks. This type of floor has remained popular because it is durable, and has a lasting aesthetic that can survive trends by re-finishing.  Refinishing an oak floor completely can be done 3-8 times (depending on the experience of the refinisher) and each re-finishing has a lifespan of about 20 years.  Not a bad long-term investment!

There have been other wood species that are popular in our area, such as Brazilian cherry. It is warm and dark with more of a redder tone than walnut. My advice is to think about the whole house and overall architecture before making a selection since it is important to have consistency through the interior where you install wood. Plus, it will be part of the architectural tone of the interior for some time.

In one home we renovated in Dover, the owners had installed wide plank walnut throughout when the home was built. The New England neo/shingle style made this a perfect choice. The floors are a great timeless statement. These planks were about 6” wide, which I know many people do enjoy a wider floor.

If you are adding on and have a lot of good existing oak, one great idea you can use that will keep a good consistent flow is to use wider boards in the same wood for the new family room. Then re-finish the entire first floor at one time. This would keep a sense of cohesion while making one space feel more upscale/casual and all the floors would have a similar matching color and grain- you could even stain them to match. Keep in mind that the wider the board, the higher the cost and it is recommended for boards over 4” that the flooring be glued and nailed to avoid cupping.

Now a day, wall to wall carpet has become increasingly popular in Master suites.  I think this has a lot to do with creating a soft and warm surface when we swing our legs around the bed for those first morning steps.  Additionally, the bedroom is where a pattern on the floor can create great synergy with the design and add a layer of texture.

There is a common misconception that carpet is less expensive than wood, which isn’t always true. The first time I learned about fine carpeting was about 20 years ago. The client asked me if using carpet would save them money if they installed it in their master bedroom; I said sure! Off they went to a very nice and reputable dealer and selected a beautiful Tibetan Wool carpet that was approximately $30 per square foot installed. Don’t worry; a good wool carpet is available for about the same cost as wood flooring.

No matter what you want your floor to do, make sure it is part of the overall design discussion when you begin planning.

Happy renovating! – Ray

 

Ice Melt Alternatives

It’s that time of year again! For some of us, there are special challenges around keeping our entry safe for family, the delivery folks and guests.

If you have a nice flat walking path to a covered entry- all you need is a shovel and some ice melt. But wait! Before sprinkling anything down there are a few things you should look for.

Some ice melt products can be very harmful to certain surfaces or your pets. Concrete is especially susceptible to calcium damage if the concrete is new or the product is overused. Read the labels carefully and if you must put down salt, do it sparingly.

Last winter, I went to see a previous client in Weston about another renovation in the middle of February. They have a long sloped walk that leads to an entry that ends up collecting a lot of snow and drips. The sloped walk keeps water flowing when it melts and freezing on the path in the cold which makes this an ongoing maintenance issue, even with a mild winter.

If you have wood steps like mine, you know that a mild day of drizzle with below freezing temperatures overnight leaves a very slick surface. If you have a slope with an area of runoff that makes the ice difficult to keep up with, constant snow melt can damage the steps and be very time consuming to keep up with.

That Weston client had these rubber mats leading down the walk that were heated and were also very skid resistant. I decided to try them on for size in a very unusual lay-out as shown. Last year I had temporary pressure treated wood on there and didn’t mind throwing salt and sand on them. I couldn’t imagine salting the new Ipe walk, and I had to promise my wife that I would buy these mats if we went with wood over masonry so the morning walk to the bus wasn’t a daring act of balance.

A couple of quick notes:

1) What you see cost about $1k (my in-laws are worth it).

2) Most exterior outlets are 15 amps. Each 5’ section is 2.4 amps and each step is .7 amps.

I didn’t need a new circuit like my friend Bob in Weston but I did buy a remote so I wouldn’t have to go outside to turn them on. You could add an outlet with a timer switch if that works for you and only run them when you need them. In my test today, they warmed up in about 10 minutes while 25 degrees outside and the manufacturer says it melts 2” per hour.

Happy Winter! – Ray