Planned Obsolescence

Obsolescence (or reduction of serviceability) is something, that in and of itself, is why I have a renovation and construction company. In addition to growing populations, we have structures that are aging as well as lifestyles and designs that are changing. Even the well built homes constructed in an era when craftsmanship was more a standard than an exception eventually need repair and updating. It is the new era, that I believe has become an era of “unplanned obsolescence”, that we need to pay more attention to.

According to Wikipedia, the phrase “Planned Obsolescence” was first popularized in 1954 by Brooks Stevens, an American industrial designer. By his definition, planned obsolescence was “Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.” By the late 1950s, planned obsolescence had become a commonly used term for products designed to break easily or to quickly go out of style. 

I do believe that there is a place for planned obsolescence… just look at the new swing set and club house I made for our 6 year old little girl. She loves the windows that make a face and can’t wait for her first tea party! You’ll notice it is a bit crooked in places because 1/3 of the materials were salvaged from the old ranch house roof we removed to add a second story, and 1/3 are leftover lumber culled because it wasn’t straight enough for the home under construction. This crooked nature makes things not bind together as well, and I didn’t bother adding water proofing and flashing to prepare for decades of solid building… Why? Because Charlotte is the last little one until grand parenting begins years from now… and I will probably want to build a playset my older body can move around in better- so I planned the obsolescence of the structure and spent less than $1,000 in materials to build the best ever 15 year playhouse my nieces and nephews can enjoy when our daughter has out grown it.


It is easy to find new homes, and renovations that are put together either forsaking sound practices for short term financial gain or taking advantage of a consumer’s lack of information to pitch a lesser cost. Even the consumer is driving this with thoughts of moving more often (a reality according to census), and not wanting to spend money that benefits the next guy. I call these practices, unplanned obsolescence, because many of these defects are born from short term thinking that will have a longer term impact on our housing market. One obvious thing I see are homes that are less than 5 years old that look like they need a new paint job. It looked great with one coat the day they bought it, and because people think it should last about a decade, they are surprised when the trim starts rotting in place. I have been called to look at 3 kitchens this month that are less than a decade old because a developer put in something poorly made that checks a kitchen box. My last rant is the disregard for buying quality windows… many new homes have generic windows with a serviceable life of 10 years installed incorrectly adding to the pain because they leak and create more damage… and surely we can’t be planning on these homes to be tear downs in 10 years.

As proof in the pudding, and me showing I put my money where my mouth is, here is a Halloween treat (and a picture of my house in Sherborn). Simple-yes, smallish – yes. But behind that higher grade siding we recommend to our clients is a layer of exterior foam and cedar breathing material, then a high R-value foam insulation. About 30% more cost than an exterior on any new home in the neighborhoods we work in. However; I will benefit because I won’t be painting for at least another 10 years without rot, my home will be more comfortable in the winter and summer even if I don’t get back all the investment in the insulation that was added, and hopefully no one will tear it down in 20-30 years when I am done with it.

Trends in Home Additions

 

In the 90’s I filled much of our company’s schedule with family room additions. Everyone rushed to attach a room to the back of the home that was bigger than the living room and would be more casual and have a stronger connection to the back yard. That family room extension has morphed over time in towns like Newton and Wellesley, where there is a large stock of housing dating between the 1920’s and 1940’s. These smaller homes with good architecture, but fewer amenities, popularized the family room, kitchen renovation and master suite boom- known in Wellesley, Massachusetts remodeling as “The Wellesley Special”. That trend in home additions continues but it seems that homes without these rooms are targeted by builders looking for teardown opportunities for neo-classic new homes. (There is an official definition for this I found on the web, so funny- but true)

Mc·Man·sion məkˈmanSH(ə)n/ noun: a large modern house that is considered ostentatious and lacking in architectural integrity.

In the last few years, we have spent more design effort on existing space in large and small homes. Often we may add on just enough space to enhance an existing space to accommodate the perfect kitchen, family room or bath. People want their home to work and want it to work for their lifestyle, not necessarily a trend like the family rooms presented in the 90’s. This is seen with clients that share similar demographics with different needs and desires. I am not saying that larger homes are out, we are certainly seeing the economy return to normality and that means we will all have more choices. But I do think that many people have shifted their thinking to “what do I really want”.

A small addition in Newton, just large enough to add a mudroom and get it out of the family room :)

 

 

Indoor/Outdoor Kitchen in Wellesley

 

Of course we all think about our outdoor spaces more when the weather is at its best and we find ourselves outside. Because we live in New England, it is easy to frame our outside time into 3 short months. The good news is that we actually have 3 great seasons to enjoy in our beautiful part of the country and when it is time to renovate the outdoors… think about stretching that a bit with inside/outside space that can offer protection from the bugs in the mid-summer and work when temperatures start with warm Fall days, and slowly ease into crisp fall nights.

This client in Wellesley was frustrated by having inadequate ventilation to grill inside during the winter… that is difficult to do even with the most powerful fans.  Because he already had been planning a major back yard project, he asked about using an existing covered porch for a 3-4 season kitchen/lounge that could make grilling convenient all year round; rain or shine.

Having recently purchased the home, one of the additional places that needed attention was the “too small” master bath and closet. We leveraged the work on the first floor to help make more space on the second floor to enlarge the master. This second floor worked well to provide some relief to the rear of the home, as well as provide some sense of sheltered court to the patio area.

Some things to consider in a similar project include:

  1. Make sure the floor surface and finishes feel good when the space is open to the outside and to the inside.

  2. If you are going to have refrigeration to keep the food items close by and do prep- make sure you have a sink handy so you can keep on working.

  3. Think about a possible heat source if you think you would enjoy hanging out on a winter day. We have used Infratech heaters when the application is right, and they work fast and only need to be on while you are in the space.

  4. Plan the indoor and outdoor spaces together…. The synergy of the project shows in the architectural backdrop to the patio seating

Before- Exterior Shot

 

How Natural Light Can Affect Your Home Renovation

There are a few more things to consider besides the kitchen lighting and where the tomatoes will grow when it comes to sunlight at your home.  I thought I would list just a few so that you can incorporate this into part of your planning and make considerations for the materials or lay-out of your next project.  One of my designers pulled up a useful online tool, www.suncalc.net and you can use this tool to get a real time look at your lot- try and make adjustments for trees and your grading slopes etc.  It is very simple to use and after you put in the address, it will let you see the typical sun angles for any time of year!

  1. Decking- For decking we see the 3 most popular choices as; exotic hard wood, composite (Trex mostly), and PVC which is a newcomer to the “reduced maintenance” products. Today I was chatting with a client who didn’t want to use wood because of the maintenance issues. The deck is in a mostly shaded area of the home. In the shade, many composite materials contain wood fiber and will spot with mold and look less than new quickly- especially in the shade so that was out. PVC decking condensates- and if you want to have your morning coffee overlooking the Charles River- you wouldn’t like the deck to be soaking wet every morning until that dries, and last- many of the issues with today’s mahogany are extreme sun. In this case, a good hardwood deck would require less maintenance than you would think to keep it looking new. Keep in mind that if you have a south facing deck that is all sun, PVC may be the right choice.

  2. Windows- Did you know you can order windows that have additional tinting for your southern exposures and less tints for your northern exposures? This will help with temperature control as well as fading that can occur on your furniture. There can be a noticeable difference when viewing from the outside, so understanding the sightlines of the home should be in the plan.

  3. Tree placement or removal- Before you remove trees to create that mini sport complex- make sure you consider the location with the inclusion of the sun angle instead of a spot that may look good because it is already flat. It might pay dividends in less water use if you remove trees on the north side of the lot and allow some shade during the day to keep the turf and the people cooler. Deciduous trees are also a great way to plan for shade in the summer and sun in the winter when the sun is lower and in more demand. Planting trees in critical sun zones will make every season more enjoyable.

 

The sliding window allows for more/less natural light to enter the cabana to suit the current need

Ice Dams, Again!

We written about preventing ice dams in the past, but given the number of calls I’ve been getting recently, I thought I would write about it again.

Whenever someone calls with ice dam problems, my credibility initially depends on whether or not I was the one who provided the roof. I hear people tell me that the person who installed their roof probably did something wrong and the truth is, that even the best roof installations are no guarantee against ice dams. For a look at what is happening under the ice, check out buildingscience.com. http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-046-dam-ice-dam

There are things that help prevent ice dams, and the key word is “help”. The reason is, all of these things can contribute to better performance against ice buildup and water intrusion- they just won’t guarantee against it for one simple reason; Roofs are constructed to shed water- not hold water. Ice dams create pools of water- and only pools are meant to contain water. Here is the list of things that will “help”:

  1. Install ice and water shield when your new roof is installed- as long as this is above the freeze line by 18″ (it is sold in 3 foot sections for this reason), when water penetrates the first layer of protection, it will stop water from entering under the shingles as long as the roofing nails self-sealed the way the product is supposed to work. Request Grace Brand ice and water barrier in your new roof- it is the best.

  2. Make sure the roof is well vented (unless you have a modern, foam insulated, non-vented assembly-see pic. below). Allowing a good flow of air will help keep the temperatures more consistent on the outside eve and where the heat starts to melt the ice.

  3. If you can- use metal roofing- because it has the best chance of sealing out water, and I don’t remember ever seeing water from ice dams make their way in.

The best prevention is removing the snow… if you remove the snow too late and the dam forms, you will still be susceptible to the water intruding on the next round. I know that many of you that found this article on our blog are probably frustrated because you want to know what you can do now! The best chance of hiring someone is to drive around and speak personally with the roofer. In our area right now even our roofer has put a message on his phone line that he is unable to take on anymore, and hopefully this will be helpful for the next round.

Example of non-vented assembly in Sherborn