Pre-Fab Designs

I've been working on a thought for some time now and I would welcome any comments on the appeal of it. Is there some value in offering for sale a pre-packaged design for a house - designed by an architect - so that one can avoid the need to hire an architect and work through months of design, choosing finishes and fixtures, answering questions and having meetings? Similar to how one purchases a commodity such as a car or a phone, perhaps I could apply all that I know about green building and design to work out a compact, well thought-out, energy efficient home that has a few options but would be otherwise be a completely designed house, ready for construction. I think the first house would fit on a very tight footprint, be mostly vertical and have the latest technological home advancements. My inspiration comes from the Mini Cooper or iPhone, well-crafted machines (with some flaws) that are not cheap but are sexy and attractive and clearly superior in design to what has preceded them.

Please continue visiting my website over the next couple of months to see how this thought about pre-fab homes developes.


NMA's first Kennel project!

I may be a little biased but this is the nicest kennel for dogs and cats (and people) I have ever seen. Really, the owner wanted the kennel to be similar to a house as she plans on spending a good deal of time in the kennel helping her rescued pets get used to a peaceful domestic life. More images to come...

Please visit my website for more residential modern architecture.


Thoughts from Custom Residenctial Architects Convention

Just returned from a weekend at the national CRAN (Custom Residential Architects Network) convention. I was a little disappointed in the amount of attention that was placed on architects who do ultra-expensive luxury residences. Both the early presenters and trade reps focused on +$300/sf residential design. Granted, that's where the money used to be but I felt like the new economy is here and perhaps more focus should be placed on the kind of humble work me and my peers are doing.

Part of the convention featured the AIA Homes Tour which didn't help improve my perception as every home we saw on the tour featured homes in that exact construction cost.

It wasn't until the speakers from more economically depressed regions of the country started talking about the practical concerns of running an architectural office that the convention turned relevant. In particular, speakers from SALA Architects in Minneapolis and Tekton Architecture in San Francisco brought the focus back to reality and made the weekend worthwhile.

By the way, my website has been recently updated so please check out the new residential architect projects that are featured in the portfolio pages.


Latest House Completed

I just wanted to share with all the Wanguhu Residence. Currently a regional shelter magazine is looking at publishing it but it's not definite yet. The house turned out fantastic - 2400sf, steeply sloping lot, energy efficient, tight budget, inventive detailing. I'll put the house on my website more officially in the next couple of months. If you want to see more from a residential modern architect please visit my website.


5 Ways to Save on Building Costs

Biggest Impact in Up-Front Construction Cost (for average size house):

1. Keep Design Simple. Exterior walls should be set to 2' modules, roofs should be single-pitch and have very little variation. Laying out the house on a strong East-West axis will save energy. Think rectangular box for least expensive design. (savings up to $20,000)

2. Use Builder-Grade Windows in Standard Sizes. Aluminum is the absolute cheapest and for some purposes it works perfectly fine. Vinyl windows are more energy efficient but large windows tend to warp so keep to small sizes. I prefer using commercial grade aluminum windows when the budget allows but the cost can be prohibitive (savings up to $10,000)

3. Be Budget Conscious with Interior Finishes. Control yourself and don't splurge. Finishes can generally be high-quality without busting the budget because they are a relative small item in the overall building process. However, there are a lot of temptations out there to splurge. A solid surface countertop like Silestone in a base color can cost as little as $39/sf and that's a reasonable amount to spend for what you get. But upgrade to unusual colors or opt for soapstone or honed granite and you're suddenly you're up to $85/sf. That can easily add $5000 to a project right there. For countertops plastic laminate is the cheapest at $7/sf and can work perfectly well in certain designs.(savings up to $10,000)

4. Use Siding for Exterior Surfaces in lieu of Masonry or Stucco. Cementitious siding products (like Hardie siding) are durable, energy efficient and cost 40-60% less than most alternatives. FSC certified wood siding is also an affordable alternative but there's more maintenance involved in the long term. There's more design options for siding than just a traditional aesthetic. (savings up to $8,000)

5. When using Hardwood Flooring, go for Pre-finished Hardwoods ($6/sf installed). Having to finish the hardwoods on site doubles the cost but it looks better. However, if on a tight budget do you really need site-finished hardwoods? Pre-finished engineered hardwood floors are even cheaper but not by much. If you have a slab foundation then stained or simply sealed concrete floors are the cheapest option at $2-3/sf. (savings up to $6,000)

I post construction costs for every project on my portfolio page. If you want to see some affordable modern house designs, please visit my website.

Coming next: Biggest Savings in Long Term Building Operational Cost.


Latest Work - March 2010

Here are the latest images for the Clarkesville Residence (top two images) that is under construction andthe Wanguhu Residence (bottom image) that is finishing up.

If you would like to see more of our work please view the portfolio of my Austin residential architect firm.


Construction Progress - 11th Street

You've asked for it, so here it is. The lot is 33'wide x 100'deep yet the house feels quite comfortably sized. The house is 3bd/2.5ba and is 1,760sf. There's just enough room for a small yard or garden in the front and a garden courtyard in the rear. The real amenity is the neighborhood. Within four blocks there's 4 restaurants, a cleaners, a pharmacy, a coffee bar and a tv repair shop (every neighborhood needs one).


Finishing Touches: Wanguhu Residence

Kamau and Njambi Wanguhu are originally from Kenya, have two wonderful children and have been anxiously waiting for their house to be complete, which should be soon. The house was quite a challenge to design and build since it straddles a steep hill (more like a cliff), had tight budgetary constraints and bordered a flood plain. To compound matters, when breaking ground we discovered that the site had been an illegal dumping ground that made the soil highly unstable.

Now, it appears the obstacles have been surpassed and there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Plus, as an added bonus, the house is looking very good. Unfortunately the images that are shown were taken in poor light on a cold winter day but they still show the nice siding and stucco techniques that were achieved. Hopefully I'll have some professional images taken that show the interior which is quite dynamic. Stay tuned...