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.