Friday, December 17, 2010

Solar- complete

As 2010 is coming to a close, we finally have all of our solar components in place- the water heaters are -alas- finally up on the rooftop and the tank & equipment is being installed by Valley Solar's team in the garage. we are really excited to see the water heater work and use the energy of the sun for a good hot shower. Progress on the inside has slowed somewhat unfortunately- the holidays are approaching fast and everyone wants their work finished- so the subs are stretching their resources thin and sometimes don't show up for work. That's frustrating for us and Abe alike.
However, we are still confident, that most of the critical equipment will be in place by the end of the year and that only finishes and a few other small items will carry over into 2011.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Solar Panels (2)

They're finally up- During the past week, the crew of California Green Designs installed the panels, the disconnects (all 3 of them) and the inverter to complete the solar PV installation. Now, we only need to hook it up to benefit from the sun.
On the inside, the cabinetry is taking shape: Michael, our cabinet maker, has installed most of the boxes and is now waiting for the slab fabricator to put on the countertops before he can tackle the finish panels for doors and drawers.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Solar Panels

One year into construction now.
We originally had planned to celebrate Thanksgiving in our house- but the numerous delays did not allow for that.
On Wednesday, the solar sub started with the installation of the substructure for the PV array- aluminum channels mounted on S-5T! clips that attach to the standing seam roofing without penetrating it, The panels will be delivered and mounted early next week-
Note that Mt Baldy in the background has snow on it's top again! Winter has arrived in Southern California!

Monday, November 22, 2010

A stucco safety net

Past Friday, we started with the main building's stucco (The Saturday before, we already did the bathroom box). In order to reduce the risk of cracks in the finish plaster, we applied a self-adhesive fiberglass mesh to the brown coat (after all brown coat cracks have been fixed and the control screeds cleaned and taped). The mesh installs easily- The hardest thing is to get it off the roll though. The stickiness makes it somewhat hard to unroll.
In areas of rough brown coat, we helped a bit with 3M-77 spray adhesive. In one day, we covered a bit more than half the building (the stucco crew actually applied two coats of the 30/30 sand finish on half of the area and one coat to the rest, since it was already getting dark. The subsequent rain on Saturday prohibited us from continuing and the stucco sub will pick up teh work tomorrow. With a bit of luck, they'll be done on Wednesday- if not on Monday after Thanksgiving.
On the inside, the tile work is almost done (except for the backsplash areas and the grouting). Michael, our cabinet sub, started to put in some boxes already and we hope that we'll finish the rough work by Thanksgiving. The doors are on-site and being stained and the solar panel installer will start with the framework tomorrow. On Monday, the garage door installer will then follow suit.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bathroom finishes

Over the past week, the finishes of the bathrooms have been one of the focal points of construction- Mortar beds and waterproofing have been added to the walls and the first pieces of tiles- in out case Cafe Creme Marfil from Daltile, a limestone, set in place. The main focal point of the Master Bath is the "picture of a tree", a piece of a Rainforest Green slab that has been put in the center of the wall. The natural veining of the stone resembles the branching of a tree. The tree appears to be leaning towards the bathtub on the left and you almost have the impression to sit in a pond under a tree.
The rest of the slab will be used for countertops in the basement to minimize waste.
We also set some more trees in the ground and now have only 3 of the major trees left to plant: The Butia Capitata, the Bismarckia and the Brahea Armata. They have to wait until the scaffolding is removed from the site to avoid damage to the plants.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Stucco finish

We're finally getting to a close of our stucco finish. Last week, the stucco sub has put the yellow finish coat on the rooftop chimney for our review- and the 30/30 spray -n coat came out nice and evenly. Once the repair of the brown coat cracks have been completed, we'll start installing the fiberglass mesh (helps to reduce cracking of the finish coat) and the stucco guys will go over it with their color coat right away.
We got our finish coat factory mixed- That way we avoid the unsightly variations in color that you often get when small areas and single family homes are being stuccoed.
So far it looks great- Let's see what a bigger area looks like.

We also ordered our fruit trees- A Lemon, an orange, a lime, a fig and an avocado will complement the apple and apricot already on site. They'll be watered by the graywater system.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Our tropical forest delivered

A few weeks back, we hand-picked the trees ourselves (at Gregory Palms in Orange). For the backyard, we selected a variety of drought tolerant palm trees, most notably a Dypsis Decaryi (on the far left-with the characteristic triangle shaped crown)a Bismarckia Nobilis (second from the left-with the large blue canopy), a Butia Capitata (produces edible sweet fruit), a Sabal Palmetto (not on the photo-looks like a Washingtonia, but is not as tall and not nearly as prolific, a Brahea Armata (5th from the left-a bluish slow growing desert species with beautiful flowers), a Chamerops Humilis (second from the right-as a shrub),a triple Archontophoenix Cunnighamiana (far right) and some Strelitzia Nicolai as background green.
Palm trees belong to LA like the sun and the smog. They've been planted for decades along the boulevards and avenues. So we want to make our backyard into a lush green oasis without wasting water (the palm trees are being fed by the graywater system) and will have a backup irrigation system until they're established. We are really excited to see them grow!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

moisture is the essence of

The typical exterior plaster application consists of 3 coats- The first 2 (scratch & brown coats) are of the same material (and no, brown coat is not brown, but gray), the finish coat is sometimes mixed with integral color (like in our case)and sometimes painted.
One of the important things about plaster is, that it has to dry slowly- if the moisture is being sucked out too fast, it'll show excessive cracking and the house looks like it has been through an earthquake. Cracks also facilitate the transport of water through the stucco and put additional stress on the building paper. Thus, it is a good practice to keep the stucco moist by covering it from the sun and wetting it for the next 48 hours.
After the brown coat is on, one needs to wait a minimum of 7-10 days before the final coat can be applied.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mud on the walls

After the gypsum board panels have been installed, the metal corners are set and the mud crew comes in to finish the drywall. This is the time to smoothen out bumps and to see, how good a job the framer really has done. Uneven areas will be visible in the light later on- and that's what we want to avoid. We opted for a smooth finish for the best light on the interior - The photo is a shot from the kitchen high counter via the dining room to the living room fireplace. It shows pretty well the diagonal of the first floor design- a concept we used to integrate the outdoor spaces into the interior, rather than sticking on decks and balconies to a boxy building. When the big sliding glass doors are open, you can wander from inside to outside to inside again in one straight line- Thus, the outdoors become a part of the building which we feel is very important to SoCal Living. The unfinished box to the left is the place where the bookshelf will go.
On the outside, the stucco sub has started with the scratch coat, had to stop (good, because we had this heat-blitz last week) and will continue tomorrow with the scratch coat.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Drywall almost done

This week the last of the drywall is being installed and then, the panels will be taped & topped with gypsum topping. Parallel to that, the lathing on the exterior continues and we expect to see scratch coat by the end of the week. This is the time to nail down finishes decisions- tiles, wood floors, stone etc. Sometimes, the materials picked earlier are no longer available and alternatives need to be found.
The photo shows the upper floor clerestory with the high windows we'll use to vent the hot air out in those warm summer nights (yeah, not this year- but in general). The drywall on the jambs and head is still missing.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Snug Fit

On the weekends, Grit and I are also doing some work on the site- like a few days back when we discovered that the A/C sub forgot to install the vent pipe into the chimney up to he roof. Unfortunately, the whole chimney has been lathed and the only opening into it in on the main level was a small gap behind the BBQ counter. Everyone tried to get through the small hole, but failed (including myself). So Grit had to exhale and slide through the gap, take a reciprocal saw, some pipe fittings, glue and a ladder along with a headlamp to the inside of the chimney, cut the holes and put the pipe together. The photo shows her exiting the chimney- quite a snug fit I would say.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


With most of the rough items completed, the dywallers moved in and started to cover the walls and ceilings with gyp board. Since we are always on the lookout for new stuff, we are trying a special sound-blocking gypsum panel in the basement next to the rec room. The product is called Quietrock 525- A composite panel consisting of one layer of gypsum and one of a cementitious compound. The manufacturer claims that the sound blocking quality is superior to a lot of standard assemblies (they say it is as good as 6 layers of regular gyp board- and that's how they justify the high price- it costs about 6 times the amount of regular drywall.) We are using it only in a small areas (actually only 2 panels) and we'll see, whether it really lives up to it's promise.
The rough drywall should be done by the end of the week- then the joints will get taped and topped and a skimcoat will be applied over the panels.
The photo shows the living room walls & ceiling- Note the sloped light fixtures in the underside of the stair to the basement and the taped-off air return above the powder room door to the left to protect the ducting from dust during construction.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Installing the Air Barrier

One of the requirements for the green building certification is to protect the main residence from the fumes and gases of the garage- Car exhaust is not exactly healthy. Build it Green thus requires to either detach the garage from the house or- as in our case- provide an air barrier that prevents the spread of VOCs and other toxic gases to the residence. So we bought the heaviest plastic sheeting available and started to staple it to the studs of the garage walls and taped the joints prior to the gyp board going up. The picture shows Grit taping joints at the ceiling.

Monday, August 30, 2010

And now to the stuffing...

The exterior has been fully wrapped- with standard black building paper for the stucco areas and the orange vaproshield for the areas to receive the rainscreen facade. With everything now waterproofed, Abe started to insulate the exterior walls- He's using Knauff Eco Batts, a formaldehyde free fiberglass insulation product, made from recycled glass and with formaldehyde free resins. The product is as good as fiberglass insulation can get- It's not quite as good as Ultratouch, the recycled cotton insulation though, but this super-green product is also 3 times the price of fiberglass insulation and therefore way out of our reach.
Parallel to that, the stucco sub is installing channel and control screeds on the exterior and we hopefully will have the building lathed by the end of next week.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Paper or Plastic?

We’ve moved on to the next step- to wrap the house in building paper and to install the required screeds and flashings. There are a myriad of different products on the market- each promising to be better than the other one. There’s Tyvek and Typar, which both are in an advertising war against each other (the concept is pretty interesting and we had looked into Tyvek for a bit (Tyvek has a pretty high UV resistance which allows it to be exposed to the sun for an extended period of time)- but since the code requires a 2-layer weather resistive barrier system- so we would have had to have either 2 layers of Tyvek or one layer of Tyvek and one layer of regular paper. We finally decided to go with paper and not plastic- Since the code requires that 2 layers of building paper are being used, some manufacturers offer paper with a double-thickness (theoretically the strength of 2 layers of paper, but the reason why 2 separate sheets should be used lies elsewhere- The tiny gap between the 2 layers functions as a drainage plain- a micro channel where water, which manages to get through the first layer can drain vertically down to the weep screed. Sound pretty simple- and yet, you see the double-layer strength paper being used all the time. The photo shows the South- west corner of the building being wrapped already.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Making it look like one

One of the downsides of wood frame construction without using structural steel is the reduced spanning capability of the naturally grown material- While steel can create exciting cantilevers, wood does allow for some, but needs more regular support through vertical members. This becomes in particular evident in the many corner windows that we have in our project. We decided to incoroporate those vertical members into the aesthetics of the openings- making them part of the window, rather than having them stand out as a cloumn by their own. We achieved this by cladding the posts in the same material as the windows- class 1 clear anodized aluminum. We think this looks great- but see for yourself on the photo above. It shows the corner window of the 3rd bedroom towards the street (see also on the street view rendering above).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How do you cover your deck?

With deck coating, of course- We have 2 outdoor areas on the 2nd floor- one above the garage for the 2nd and 3rd bedrooms (see the rendering above) and one for the Master bedroom. In order to provide a walkable surface that also serves as a waterproofing membrane AND provides a class A fire resistance rating (very important in LA's hillside areas), we had to pick a deck coating product, that would fulfill all these requirements, and still look good.
We went with Endurokote, a local manufacturer and installer of deck coating products. They have a long track record, offer a variety of finishes and do a nice job- The deck coating consists of several layers: A base coat with a metal lath, a second, elastomeric layer, a third cover coat (the current state shown on the photo), a texture coat and a finish color coat. The last 2 coats will go on, once the stucco is in place to avoid damage by the plastering crew. Over the years, the finish coat needs to be maintained, the other ones should last a long time.
The bright spots on the deck are mini-puddles from condensate water that collected over the night on the roof ran down the metal panels onto the deck.

Solar water heater panels are waiting to be installed

This week, the two solar water heater panels from Heliodyne arrived. They are big but look cool and will provide us with hot water from the sun for the largest part of the year (we also have an instant backup heater for cloudy days. They will go on the roof of the main house and attach to the standing seam metal legs with S-5! clips (in order to minimize penetrations thru the roof membrane).
We changed our plans from a passive system to an active system- due to the higher efficiency and the lower cost of the latter.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Finally, we got our windows delivered- and some of the have been installed so far (The picture shows the garage window). In terms of window manufacturers, there are a lot of different choices- some are really cheap (and you certainly get what you pay for there), others deliver quality that will last. We had the choice between Arcadia, based in the City of Industry and Torrance Aluminum, based in Perris. Both offer good quality windows and the profiles we needed for our house. In the end, we went with Arcadia, since they could offer a shorter turnaround time, have most of the facilities in-house and they're much closer to the construction site, thus we were able to have several pre-fabrication meetings at short notice and could work out tricky detail questions with their engineers rather quickly.
Customer service was very good and the windows are awesome- Energy efficient Solarban 70 glazing, nice hardware and thermally broken sturdy frames- We simply love our windows (Bill Gates can only dream of someone praising his "windows" like that)!!!
Our special Thanks go to James, Eric and Neal from Arcadia !

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Preparations for the windows

On Wednesday, the installer will start to put in the doors and windows. What might look like a simple straightforward action is in reality a sequential process that involves a number of steps that need to take place before the windows and doors go in. Take the sliding glass doors in the living room for example:
These sliders provide access to the deck area which uses cantilever beams that backspan into the house. cantilever beams are nice to look at, since they don't come with the typical heavy looking post and girder structure in front of the house, but they go back inside the building and thus they need to be protected from decay and insects. In order to do that, we had to flash around each of the beams with a self adhering waterproof membrane (called bituthene in construction), over that membrane, we installed the joist jackets (see photo) and over that goes a sheet metal beam flashing that protects the beam-to wall connection from water damage. On top of that flashing goes the door sill pan and then finally the door.
So, we are understandably excited about out new doors and windows-and tomorrow, we will see the first ones in place!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Stair's poured

The photo is taken from the same position as the formwork picture on the previous post. Note that the stair slopes slightly down towards the right to direct rainwater away from the exterior walls of the basement. The stair has a rise of 6.75 inches and a tread length of 12 inches and walks pretty well. During the next week, the decks above the garage and at the Master bedroom will receive their deck coating finish. Then, Abe will put up the scaffolding to be ready for the fascia and the metal roof before the doors and windows arrive (which we expect on Friday).
From then on, the building can be wrapped in the weather resistive barrier so that we can start to install the moisture sensitive finishes, such as gypsum board and wood.

Monday, June 21, 2010

back to the outside

In the past couple of days, Abe has begun to prepare the garage floor and the side stair to receive rebar and concrete. The side stair leads from the main level alongside the house to the basement and the garden. Great care must be taken to achieve a uniform tread-riser layout, an adequate slope to direct water away from the building and a smooth uniform surface that has enough friction to avoid slipping. Once concrete is poured, you're pretty much out of luck to change things- unlike with wood, where you'd only pull out a few nails and then start all over again, concrete is not forgiving at all and it is very hard and costly to adjust the material once it is hardened.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The place has guts now

At least in the literal sense- Most of the ducting, wiring and piping is in place now and makes the ceiling spaces look cramped in some locations (the photo shows the kitchen). We already had to sacrifice one coved ceiling light to the framer (he was so creative to put in a beam where there was none in the plans and thus effectively eliminated the cove light location), now we had to sacrifice another one to the A/C guy who had problems to fit in his ducting in the tight space above the powder room soffit.
That leaves us with one remaining cove light in the dining room- and we'll keep that one for sure. Space for ducting is always tight and most of the time, the designers don't even bother thinking about it- and that's why there are those boxed-out corners and ceilings in some places. And although we spent a lot of time to figure out, where the ducts and pipes would go ahead of time, we still got a few surprises- but only in the garage (where it doesn't really bother us) and the powder room soffit. For the most part, however, the advance planning and drawing of all ducts and pipes on the plans paid off and we could avoid the boxed-out corners and ceilings in the living space.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The heat is up

When most people think of sun and going green, they immediately relate to solar power. While a PV array is part of the NobHillHaus' concept, it is not the only way the resource sun (of which we have plenty out here) can be harnessed. By far the simplest is to use the energy of the sun directly to heat the water to be used in the house.
A solar water heater can be a very simple device- and if you browse the web, you'll even find sites that show you how to build your own using old refrigerator parts. It is really amazing, what is current happening in underground green technologies.
There are 2 basic systems of solar water heaters: A passive system (i.e. essentially a big storage tank on the roof that uses the sun to preheat water from the city's water supply. The pre-heated water then passes thru a backup heater and when the water isn't warm enough anymore- e.g. when you and your whole family have your morning shower- the backup heater kicks in.
This system does not contain any moving parts, is simple (does not contain a secondary circuit) and works only for non-freezing conditions (i.e. NOT in Big Bear). However, if the water is either too hard or too soft, the system may suffer damage over the years and it is to our surprise- since a lot of large format copper tubing is used- actually more expensive than an active system.
Which leads us to the other option:
An active system has a separate loop from the water tank to the rooftop heating panels (they're much smaller in size and cost way less than the passive panel).It also needs a pump(which needs power and is a moving part that can break down)to circulate the water in the loop. Heat is exchanged with incoming city water in a tank. At the exit of the tank is an instant backup heater for emergencies.
In our case, the active system was 30 less than the passive one, so the decision was a no-brainer. But everyone needs to evaluate the situation in regard to their own personal needs. There's a lot of different suppliers out there (ProgressiveTube for passive, Heliodyne and Sunearth for active systems).
Whichever you choose, you can be assured, that you save quite a bit of CO2 and fossil fuel.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pause Normande

For the past 3 weeks, we have been out of town and out of the country- we've been traveling to France and had a phantastic time visiting friends in Normandy and touring Paris. Now I could start talking about the great cheeses of the Pays d'Auge, the rich architectural heritage, green pastures, great people, delicious seafood and heart warming Calvados -But that'll be a bit outside of the subject here. I can only recommend- Go to France and eat for yourself- oh pardon- see for yourself.
So like us, this blog had to take a little break as well, but we'll be back soon with a lot of new interesting things- so stay tuned-or as they say in French:
A tout a l'heure...

Monday, May 3, 2010

About Water- Part 3: Gray is the new Green!

In a world of a constantly dwindling water supply (see the book "Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner")the use of alternatives to potable water for non-potable applications in household and garden is nothing new and gaining more and more importance every year- In Europe, rainwater is frequently used to flush toilets and even to run washing machines.
Since in Los Angeles the rainfall pattern is everything but evenly spread throughout the year, an other, more reliable source for non-potable applications had to be found:
Graywater is defined as water generated by bathroom sinks, showers, tubs and washing machines that has not come in contact with human or solid waste. While its use is not permitted inside the house, it can be used for irrigation purposes. Given the fact, that more than 50% of the water use in a single family household is outside the house and does not have to be drinking-quality water, the use of graywater seems to be the logical solution.
The Nob Hill Haus has the first permitted system in the city of Los Angeles (see this newsletter article: )
and therefore forays into terra incognita of sustainable water use. But it was a step that we considered absolutely necessary and long overdue. We hope that many more will follow this example and help reducing the pressure on our fresh water reserves:

Be Green- Go Gray!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Oh Scupper, my scupper

With even more rain on the way (we're already way above the average rainfall this season), we had to rush the installation of waterproofing on the roofs. One important item to get the water down from the roofs is the scupper.
When you look at buildings with flat roofs, you're most likely to find them near the top- about 2ft below the coping of the parapet. In most buildings, the scuppers are the stepchildren of the designer's attention. They're normally unsightly sheet metal boxes, that get squished into a hole through the building and beaten, stepped on, hammered on and in the end they look dinged and dented like an old coke can.
When we go back in history, the grandfather of these sad metal boxes are the glorious gargoyles of the grand Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages in Europe. Being most of the time the only elements in the whole building for which no proprietary design was dictated by church regulations, they were the true pieces of art of the stone masons. The masons used them to portray their superintendent, a financier or their own wife- as a dragon, gnome or another outlandish creature.
No two gargoyles were alike and each one of them seems to make fun of the hassle and bustle far down below...
Fast forward to 2010.
For us, the scuppers (and we have 4 of them) should be more than they are for most other designers- they are part of the building and deserve some attention of their own. That's why we didn't go with the standard home-depot hole-in-the-wall, but with a custom made streamline scupper that pays tribute to their own important function-to get the rainwater off the roofs and into our cistern.
Oh scupper, my scupper.....

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Moving to the inside

With most of the framing complete, work has continued on the inside- The photo is taken from the living room and shows the kitchen/dining/entry area (see sketch from February 4 2010). Electrical and plumbing subs started to put their part of the work in place and next week, the built up roof over the bathrooms & kitchen will go up. With more rain in the forecast, it is about time to get the place waterproofed so that the other interior trades such as the mechanical sub can get started as well. We're about four to six weeks behind the initial schedule at this point.

Friday, April 16, 2010

"Das Boot" has arrived on Nob Hill Drive!

It appeared like a shadow from the murky waters of the North Atlantic, gray as the ever-present mist over the cold and unforgiving ocean, barely distinguishable from its surroundings. Just like straight out of Wolfgang Peterson's movie "Das Boot". But it is not a submarine- it is our rainwater tank. And it is not going to dive into the waters, but get buried in the dirt and filled with water- Anyway, it is almost a shame to hide this thing away in the ground, because it looks really cool. But it will serve its purpose to store 1500 gallons of rainwater from our roofs and help reducing the water usage of the Nob Hill Haus. So take a final look at the submarine before it dives away- never to be seen again...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A place in the sun

This morning we met with our solar PV consultant on site to explore the solar potential of our roof.
With LADWP steadily reducing the incentives to go solar, we felt it was time to check out, whether a PV system would be right for us. John from California Green Designs brought his little Solmetric SunEye, a high- tech fisheye camera with computer that determines the solar potential of a given site. What you'd be getting is shown in the picture- A scale with the month of the year running from top to bottom and a scale depicting the time of the day is on the bottom, running from left to right. Along the edges of the photo you can see the trees that cast shadows on the early morning and late afternoons on the roof.
We came out at an average of 96% for the whole roof- mainly due to the tilt of the roof and the orientation of the site. But it still is a good number and it makes it worth the effort to go solar.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

On top of things

With the roof sheathing completed we climbed all the way up and enjoyed the commanding view from Glendale to South Pasadena and the San Gabriel Mountains. Soon, the roofing will go up and then, the solar PV array will occupy the roof along with the solar water heater. We also worked out most of the details with the window manufacturer- We'll be using class 1 clear anodized aluminum windows with Solarban 70XL dual glazed panes.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Framing almost complete!

Abe is now almost done with framing- The roof sheathing is up and only the ripping, parapets and guard walls are missing. The photo above already gives a pretty good impression of what the house will look like. On the inside, most walls are framed, too and when walking though the house, you can already get a pretty good feeling of the spaces, visual connections and views. The design plays out well in reality so far- We have views of Mount Baldy from almost every room and bedroom #3 makes up for the lack of it with it's generous opening to the deck.
The stair from the first to the second floor with its open side connects the upper floor visually to the first floor and creates the impression of flowing spaces.
While the last remaining framing is being put in place, Abe is also working on the concrete stair from the sidewalk to the garden which will take approx. 2 weeks. Then, the only remaining concrete work is the garage floor slab and the driveway. We expect to start with the interior some time next week- Plumbing will be the first discipline to be installed.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A beautiful day

Grit is calling Mt. Baldy-
Winter seems to have given way to summer- It's getting warm in L.A. again, but there's still some snow on Mt Baldy, as the picture shows, taken on this beautifully clear day.
As always, we are on site on Sunday to check on progress and to see what's up next and what's needed from our side- usually drawings and details.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Framing & Rain Harvesting

The second floor has been framed to about 50% and will be almost completed by tomorrow. We have ordered the facade panels (they'll go to a fabricator first for cutting and pre-drilling)and are now zeroing in on the rainwater cistern to be used. Our research showed, that not every underground storage tank works for that- even if they say it would.
The most rugged products are made from fiberglass- such as the ones by xerxes corporation (heavy name- heavy product- Xerxes himself would not have been able to ruin those things)- but they also come with a price tag too high for us.
On the other side are PE-ribbed "bruiser" tanks. They are being sold by a number of firms, but when you go through the smallprint, you'll find, that they cannot be left empty, but need to be at least 25% full at all times. In a semi-arid climate like the one in Los Angeles, where there simply is no measurable precipitation at all for at least 6 months, those tanks are not an option either.
So we are down to the Dominator water tanks by Snyder or the Septic tanks by Loomis- both would work, we only need to see which geometry works best with the site constraints

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Big Beams

With the first floor almost framed and the garage wall foundation cured, Abe continued to install the wall & ceiling framing over the garage. (Note the big glulam beam in the garage sitting at an angle).
The metal panels to both sides of the garage opening are Hardypanels, metal structures that take over the shear (= earthquake) loads which always are a problem at garages, when standard plywood can't be applied and the expenses for a steel frame will blow the budget (-or steel does not fit into the concept- as in or case).
We had intended to go entirely without steel members and use only the renewable material wood for the structure while maintaining a progressive and innovative design- and it is possible!
The picture was taken form the same perspective as the rendering at the top of this blog.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Catch a glimpse of a view

With the framing progressing at high speed, I was already able to climb up to the second floor and catch a glimpse of the view from the bedroom towards the North-West (Glendale/Burbank). Unfortunately, it was quite hazy that day- so I couldn't get a clear view of the mountains- but the perspective alone is awesome. The other photo shows the view from the same spot towards the East.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Finally- The rains have stopped- We can continue with construction

After many long weeks of intermittent rain and many interruptions, the forecast finally has some sun to offer. Today, the rebar and formwork for the garage and retaining wall footings have been set and concrete will follow on the spot. This requires a good deal of coordination to allow for sleeves for all the openings through the walls (water, sewer, graywater, electrical etc.). Drilling through hardened concrete is much much more difficult...
After the footings are poured, framing of the first floor walls can commence and the building can finally take shape...
The picture shows the first floor subflooring with the stair hole and the formwork for the garage footing in the background.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rain & Recompaction

After another forced break due to rain (and more is on the way), construction resumed again. This year proves to be one of the wetter ones in recent history- Out of the 15 inches that normally come down in the entire rainy season, we had already 13 of them- before this last rain. This is good for the water reserves of the state, the plants, the wildflowers- but not for us- not this year.
The basement had an inch of water at times, a lot of wood got wet and rusty nails stained the concrete floors.
So, construction continued at a slowed pace- The basement walls are framed and the manufactured I –joists for the first floor framing are mostly installed with plywood sheathing over about half of them.
Outside the basement, the grading sub started to backfill and recompact the area under the garage for support of the floor slab.
On the design side, we have been working out the façade panel layout down to the screws to minimize waste and to get then most out of the material. Unfortunately, we had to scale back the extent of the façade panels- The first victim to value engineering.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Discovering the Nobhillhaus

Now a little bit to the spatial design of the Haus:
We feel that is very important to create events, vistas and exciting connections in the interior and exterior of a building. A house that gives its goodies away at first sight is -frankly speaking- boring. You get one "Wow"- and that's it: Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.
When you approach the house, you first need to pass through the first entry gate, an open steel structure that forms a symbolic barrier between the public street and the semi- private front garden of the building. Semi private means, that you can see it from the street, but you can't get there without being let in. Once buzzed through the gate with its pilasters on both sides, you pass through the cactus garden, an arid landscape which -ironically- houses the rainwater cistern below. This area is not irrigated and will only receive water from the cistern- as long stocks last.
You’ve now reached the covered portion of the entry right by the door and you can finally enter the building.
Inside, there’s a generous landing where visitors can be received. From here, you can catch a glimpse of the living room in the distance with the tree tops at eye level. The landing then leads down a few steps and at the end of the short run, you have the entry to the kitchen- the heart of the house. A few steps further and you reach the stair, offering views up through high windows and then on the right side comes the dining room with the living room with it’s generous glass doors and vistas of the mountains. Finally, you step out onto the deck and see Mount Baldy in the distance.
The main level has windows in almost every direction and offers different views- from green vegetation to the rooftops and mountains.
The upstairs part of the house accommodates the bedrooms, the basement the workshop, storage and the recreation room.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Saving a tree or two

In the meantime, framing has started. Abe is almost done with the basement walls and started to lay out the first floor framing members. We decided to use a manufactured joist system. That means that we don’t use fully grown trees for these large members, but plywood, assembled from smaller trees, normally taken out of overgrown forests to make room for the others to grow.
This puts these saplings to a good use without cutting down old trees. It also takes advantage of the geometry of the members, using a minimum amount of material (=weight) and getting a maximum amount of stability for it- and as a little side effect, the members don’t shrink (and cause squeaky floors down the road), like solid “green” lumber and you get green points for it, too.
A real win-win scenario.

Keeping the feet dry

Winter in California does not only stand for overflowing storm drains and Venice-canale-like streets, it is also standing for wet basements. A lot of homes constructed in earlier days did not pay attention to waterproofing the basement or providing for a way to get the water out- Particularly in hillsides, where water frequently trickles down into the soil, passes a rock layer or two and then hits an impermeable barrier on which it then flows- until it hits your basement wall. If there’s no waterproofing and drainage layer in place, the wall will soon soak, cause dampness and efflorescence and make the basement a wet and unpleasant (and even unhealthy) place to be.
The centuries old saying that a house needs a good hat and dry feet is still valid- and so we carefully designed our waterproofing & sub-surface drainage system accordingly.
The photo shows the sticky bituminous membrane, directly applied on the foundation & walls with the drain board in front of it. At the bottom you can see the filter fabric of the “burrito drain”- it contains gravel and a perforated drainage pipe to conduct the water away from the house to keep its feet dry.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Exactly what we needed- One week of rain!

Abe has been working hard to finish the masonry work by this weekend because there's one week of solid rain in the forecast- and by Sunday 4PM it had already begun. The site looks like a local Cristo Project- again- and we probably have to wait a full week before we can resume construction again.
This means a one week break in the schedule- but it also means that the concrete can cure and develop the required strength before the walls can be waterproofed and backfilled.
In the first week of February then, we estimate to start with the wood framing- basement interior walls and the first floor framing will start to go in place.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Going up fast

We're now eight weeks into construction and with the foundation and slab poured 2 weeks ago, the CMU walls are almost up to full height now. The photo shows the shot blasted wall in the basement recreation room that will be left exposed as a decorative element. The other CMU walls are even higher at this point in time. Abe, our contractor hopes to finish the masonry today, because the forecast has a full week of rain coming and thus there won't be a lot of activity possible in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Selecting a Green Rating System

I hope everyone had a good start in 2010- The construction on the Nob Hill Haus has progressed as planned- more to that in the next post.
We also finally opted to get our project certified as a green building- and out of the options available on the market, we selected the Green Point System by California based "Build it Green". This rating system originated in the Bay Area where it has become the number 1 rating system for homes- and mandatory in many cities. Some of the many advantages over the LEED for homes system are: more cost efficient (and therefore better for custom home builders), more direct verification (rather than 3rd party verification) and a more project oriented point system that allows to select from a variety of possible features rather than a lot of mandatory measures, that would drive up cost without having a significant positive effect on the environment.
Summarizing, the Green Point system offers less of a boiler plate and more of a project specific rating and would accommodate our needs the best.
More information about the rating system can be found here: