The Green Builder in Little Rock, AR

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Home Design / Custom Build / Live in a Green World near Little Rock, AR

Springtime porch remodel

April 28th, 2011

Spring time is a great time to think about adding on an entertaining porch or BBQ patio to your home.  And when Little Rock Arkansas weather brings you winds that lift and drop giant trees in your backyard, that makes the PERFECT time to do some remodeling.

Here are some hand sketches of just such project compelled with those motivations.  The beautiful Federal styled home gets an outdoor salon porch complete with brick fireplace.  Symmetry is important.  Revisions to this scheme include an even simpler but grander porch.

Renovation of a modern home.

March 29th, 2011

I came across a magazine review of one of my projects from 2001.  The client was a renovation junkie.  He had remodeled his house three times before.  The family room above was a library addition originally designed by the last architect before me.  I rebuilt and refinished every surface including these to bring the entire home, the new pool and the extensive dance hall and guest house addition into one unified whole.  The house, I gutted, restructured and refit.  The kitchen is a Bulthaup stainless steel design.  The rest of the project required art museum finishes fitting the vast pop art and toy collection.  The exteriors were recovered with dry stack granite stone, fiber optic lit glass walls and cedar.

Clink on the following link to read more.  Linda Barth wrote the article about this home.  Luis de Santos took this photograph and others in the article.

 

EcoHouse uses safety protection at work

March 27th, 2011
Boots and Gloves

My daughter Izzy demonstrates our enthusiasm over safety.

Remodeling deals not only with green design and building, but common sense safety.  The environment we live and build in has many hazards such as lead and toxic contaminants, abrasive material handling, and dangerous power tools.  Be safe.  Take safety precautions.

Heifer USA to host session, “Local Food as Economic Development”

March 22nd, 2011

SBNCA announces that one of its members, Heifer USA, intends to do some major investment here in Arkansas to stimulate a local food economy. EcoHouse Construction is all in favor of creating a rich community including food production. Perhaps urban homesteading will be a topic?

Here is the invite:

Heifer USA, a division of Arkansas-based Heifer International, is preparing to launch a bold new effort to create living-wage jobs, combat hunger and diet-related diseases right here in Arkansas. Later this spring, Heifer USA will unveil a multi-year, multi-million dollar investment plan for alleviating hunger and poverty throughout the state of Arkansas. We have invited friends and colleagues from health, education, agriculture and government sectors to join this discussion in an effort to enrich our plan with the input of potential stakeholders and partners in this endeavor.

The session will feature Ken Meter, one of the most revered food systems analysts in the United States. Mr. Meter has completed an Arkansas-specific data analysis that:
1. projects the economic development potential of constructing a localized food system,
2. illuminates issues that are unique to the state such as acreage devoted to sustainable production, the value of commodities produced and the value of direct sales from farms to consumers; and
3. charts a course for economic recovery in Arkansas.

The event will be held at Heifer Village in the Global Impact Room on Wednesday, March 23, 2011, from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. If you know of others in the business community who might also be interested in participating, please feel free to forward this invitation to them.

To RSVP or for additional information, please contact Gretchen by email at gretchen.schirmer@heifer.org.

Sculpting walls of a modern home

March 15th, 2011
Master Bedroom for modern custom house

Latest design for master bedroom remodeling.

We have revised our design for this modern home. The black floors have been replaced with rich caramelized coconut flooring and the drywall ceilings and walls have taken a life of their own. The house always had punched openings in thick walls. We have given this room an updated spin with sculpted niches and light alcoves. A new study area graces the sitting room over looking the gardens.

Simple trim carpentry for a Craftsman Bungalow

March 8th, 2011

Door header trim detail

We are trimming out a bungalow in the Capital View neighborhood of Little Rock and want to keep the original and traditional trim style, but want to use the economical and green materials of modern construction.  The proportions of a simple trim for a window and door gives the openings their elegant appearance.  We place a 1×4 on the jamb casings, a ledge trim and a 1×6 header casing.  The change in width of material gives the doors and windows a taller look.  The edges are square to give a more strong, less frilly look. The ledge trim hides the joint between materials, and allows the eye to overlook minor imperfections in an old remodeled wall.  Trim carpenters have always sought to make the best of aethetics with the most economic means and materials.  Being green follows the same historical trend.

The difference between age-old and modern trim carpenters, besides their awesome tools, is their use of modern manufacturer’s materials to help in the process.  Instead of consuming large stands of old growth forest to harvest high grade wood to make the door jambs, smaller rapidly renewable trees are used for smaller pieces of wood that are finger joint cut and glued together.  This conservation practice is both green and economic.  The casing trim is even finer bits of wood compressed into medium density fiberboard, MDF.  It has the benefit of not warping or having knots.  It takes the intended paint very nicely.

We have installed traditional 3/4″ wood hardwoods to match the existing front rooms.  The boards are laid first, so that the trim and doors are placed precisely and level.  We will come back later, after the painters have cleaned up their mess, to sand and finish the hardwoods.  Overall, we will achieve a handsome traditional look to match the historical neighborhood, without much fuss or unnecessary expense.

Craftsman wood carpentry details

Where to recycle in Little Rock Arkansas?

March 4th, 2011

Check out our recycling page dedicated to finding the best places for those items best not sent to the landfill.

EcoHouse Architects’ latest bungalow design under construction

March 4th, 2011
Hillcrest Little Rock bungalow remodel designIn the heart of the Hillcrest neighborhood of Little Rock Arkansas, a bungalow home is being restored, remodeled and enlarged.

Hillcrest of Little Rock has always been a rich neighborhood full of art, music and enterprise.  One local musician is restoring a bungalow right near her haunts in Hillcrest on N Palm St. But before she could move in, the entire house needed work.

The structure was in good shape and the rooms proportioned well, but time was cruel to this house.  It badly needed restoration, energy upgrades and a new second story addition.  Rather than making a big box house according to the pervading style of inner city development, the owner decided to keep the lines of the original roof.  Two bedrooms and a family room with barrel vaulted veranda were proposed upstairs.  New insulation, windows, doors and cement siding have already been added to replicate the original style.

You can see the original sketches for the design on here: EcoHouse youtube channel

Progress is well under way on the interior.  Designs for another second story house addition have just been completed nearby on N  Spruce St.

Remodeling a home I designed and built years ago

December 29th, 2010

There are not many modern homes out there.  When commercial clients of mine asked me about buying a modern home, I told them about one I had designed and built years earlier for some other clients.  The old clients were moving and needed to sell.  Everyone was happy.  Old clients moved out.  New clients moved in and bought new furniture.  Happy everyone was, until the second child came along.  Now they needed more room.  This will be one of those strange happenstances when I get to remodel one of my original designs.

You can see photographs of the original design on my website. www.ecohouseconstruction.com In fact, the home occupies the left most spot on this blog’s titleblock.  It has wood siding, cement stucco and concrete block exterior.  In its nature, the house is simple in its construction, complex in its inter relationships, and rich in garden views on a tight lot.  To change the balance of the forms posed a deep challenge to me.  I love a challenge.

I closed in the porches that the clients have never used and made the master bedroom and guest room larger.  Windows span the entire height from floor to ceiling to view the garden and the courtyard with similar panes as used in the living room.  Drywall ceilings are removed to expose wood trusses and mechanical systems.  Siding and cmu finishes are brought into the rooms to give the feeling that they are outside rooms, but the finish materials are upgraded to match the luxurious feel of the inside: siding goes from pine to walnut, concrete block goes to travatine tile in a running bond.  Floor finishes are upgraded and lighting is upgraded.  Overall, the rooms become more open and polished.

This is still a study of possible finishes.  We have much to develop in terms of selection and budget, but I am glad that the design is coming together.  View the presentation animation on youtube.

How to build a craftsman bungalow porch column.

April 26th, 2010

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_mhKv6CcgXEg/StFPvUBTVqI/AAAAAAAAACU/hSMFIL6T-io/S660/420+N+Palm+Rendering.jpg

How to do craftsman architectural details like porch columns?  Look at the classics.  The most distinctive element in this bungalow house is the craftsman columns adorning the generous porch facing the street.  How we make this time honored detail makes the house.  In the day, these craftsman details were aptly named because a craftsman carpenter would craft them from small pieces of wood and hand nail them with an eye to proportion and frugal use of material.  Painters would preserve the work in near-toxic paint.  Those skills seem lost in the production of houses these days, some for good reason, but our builders now have new materials and methods that make labor savings and durability the more prized attributes.  Still, the look of these columns are essential to building even a new bungalow.  We take a look at how modern craftsmen build the better, more efficient craftsman bungalow porch column.

Perhaps in the reverse order that you might suspect, the house and roof are constructed first by a lightning fast framing crew who leave the job site holding up the strong porch beams with “deadmen,” or 2×4 temporary posts that stand up the porch day and night in wait for trim carpenters to place the real columns.  Tim, our Master Carpenter, surveys the work done by the framers and checks the beam and porch for level and divergence.  Minor deviations are tolerable because he will be covering most of the framers work with more precise trim material.  He judges how much shimming he can do and if he needs to correct any previous out-of-tolerance work first.  With plumb bob string lines from the beam, he marks where the column centers will be based on the architectural plans, the built work and what he thinks will look best.  A lot of measuring is involved to divide the porch length correctly and space the columns evenly once he determines how far in from the edges the outside columns will be.  And after all that, he steps away to the street, turns and looks back to the house with the eyes of a potential purchaser or a critical visiting auntie who wants to find anything wrong to talk about.  He creates a mental picture of how his work will look.  He particularly looks at how the columns will divide the view of the back wall of the porch.  The columns must grace the house, not block the windows and doors.  He does not trust the architect’s sketches or blueprints (often called the funny papers by the trades)  Rightfully so.  How could the architect predict how all the thousands of contractor decisions and material purchases that are involved in a house construction really will look in the end?  In this case, the architect was correct in his number and placement of the columns.  The Master Carpenter will concede to the design…in general.

Having specifically placed the columns, the carpenter gives the porch over to some hand picked masons to lay the concrete blocks of the column base.  The first masonry crew who did most of the house brick work, had tried to build column bases on what they thought were the column details.  This first work was removed as unsatisfactory.  The new masons measure once and measure twice.  They know the dreaded Tim will check their work.  The dimensions of the block base are kept to an easy 16″ by 16″ square footprint.  These dimensions are dictated mostly by the size of a Concrete Masonry Unit (cmu) which is nominally 16″ by 8″ by 8″.  They lay the brick from top to bottom in their measurements, a tricky proposition that gravity does not allow easily.  Tim has given them a rough height.  He in no way means that the measurement is rough.  Far be it.  He only means the rough material of cmu shall be at a certain height which he has calculated based on the known sizes of his finish materials and a certain tolerance for error.  He sets the rough material height a bit higher than perfect dimensions would suggest, since he knows he can cut the trim material to fit, but he cannot stretch it.  Knowing where the cmu will have to top off, the masons start laying the block carefully on a strongCarpenter levels the 24"x24"x3" cast stone base on  the 16" square CMU base for the bungalow column mortar bed set directly on the foundation spread footing so that the actual height of a cmu and a standard mortar joint will course out correctly at the top dimension.   Tim returns to check the mason’s work.  The tops have to be sanded with a block rasp to remove the coarseness and get a level bed for the cast stone bases, but he approves… roughly.

His journeymen set the trim board on the bottom of the porch beams, which involves moving the deadmen around and keeping an eye on the weight of the building and avoiding potential cracks in the bead board they have already put on the porch ceiling.  Meanwhile the Master turns a trusting back to his journeymen while he concentrates on the first finish material of the column to be placed.  It is a precast concrete pad 24″ by 24″ by 3″.  It must be level to the eye.  It must look strong like it can hold up the house better than a couple 2×4 deadmen.  The architect, builder and carpenter had discussed the thickness of this material and had gone to other houses to look at their column bases and weighed various sizes in their discussions until they could come to a consensus.  3″ looked best.  The 24″ was chosen to cover the finish stone that will be laid over the 16″ block.  One might set the base an equal 4″ around the 16″ cmu column, but there is no guarantee that the string lines or the masons’ work would be exact.  Tim checks and rechecks the dimensions of his columns and determines that he will set the 24″ finish base where it should be for the column and ignore the bases.  The various setbacks from the 24″ base to the 16″ cmu can be mitigated in the stone work itself.  The trim is less forgiving.

Permacast Craftsman Columns were purchased off the shelf.  Unlike their wood forefathers, these cast plastic shells will weather our Little Rock humid climate without rotting or warping.  They come in standard 52″ lengths with a 16″ base and a 9″ top.  Molding is applied on top of that.  Tim has made the finish opening between the beam trim and the base a little less than that for tolerance sake, so he has to measure each one and cut to length.  But first, he must find square.  On a tapered column, this is not a quick task.  Having acquired the knowledge somehow through trial and error and then finally asking someone, he knows to mark the center point of each column face at the top and bottom.  Drawing a line between the two center points, he has the center line.  He can cut square from this line and can plumb the column itself on each face without having to do trigonometry on each column face.  With a lift of a 2 ton house jack, he nudges the beam a bit higher and lifts the column into place making sure it is plumb, square, and beautiful.  Lowering the jack, the column is set.  The molding is added to trim it all out.

A fieldstone that matches the porch floor is applied to the concrete block for its rustic appeal.  However, before the steps can be finished and the columns painted, a spring robin moves in to build a nest.  Nature approves the construction, but paint will have to wait.

Ready for paint.