Sunday, March 15, 2015

I have a confession... I've become obsessed with chickens. This is the start of an idea on how to apply sustainability and permaculture to home construction

I have a confession... over the last several months I've become obsessed with getting some chickens and raising them at my home. Most people think "OK, they are cute, kind of like having pets and you get fresh eggs... and he's a little weird." All of which is true! But the journey I have gone through in researching how to raise poultry in a suburban environment has diverged and expanded in such a huge way that I now look at the way we interact with the world in a different way. I have the beginnings of an idea as to how to see new home construction in a new light. 

The words sustainability and permaculture are weighty words. Sustainability is defined as the endurance of systems and processes, ecologically, it is how biological systems remain diverse and productive. Permaculture is a ecological design system that develops sustainable architecture that is regenerative and self maintained, improving the land it is on rather than depleting it, as is the current agricultural model. My seed of an idea is to apply these systems to the construction of our homes. Most people will recognize the great shift underway to develop solar powered homes and energy efficient systems with the Energy star program. I believe that this can be expanded to develop an integrated system in home building that allows a new home to use resources, but also contribute back to the land in which its built. The application of new technologies with ecological and agricultural systems will allow for a much small carbon footprint and a much more sustainable design, without compromising the comfort and lifestyle people expect. 

As a builder, I have designed and built many homes. The normal method is to take a piece of land and decide on the most visibly appealing placement of the home, taking into account usage such as driveways, lawns play areas, pools, and any specific needs. The next step is to design the home, this is usually driven by several factors, the budget, usability, attractiveness, and style. Then we construct the house using building codes, economic materials, speed and scheduling to build a beautiful home for an affordable budget. The last step involved is to landscape, making the area surrounding the home, attractive and usable to the homeowner. In this area that includes lawns, perennial and annual planting beds, driveways and outdoor living spaces. Most of these steps are driven by budget, comfort and aesthetics. But I believe that with a little effort and thought, the home being built can become a system that not only provides shelter and comfort but also can improve the land it sits on and provide economically to the homeowner and community. 

Often houses are looked at as a blank slate that people move into and make into a home by adding their own touches. I think that this belief is a taken to an extreme. What if we designed homes as integrated systems that include energy saving systems, beautiful designs and sustainable use of the land. Including things right into the design like a composter, trees, shrubs and plants that are beautiful but also provide food and medicinals, water collection systems, waste disposal systems and natural heating and cooling retention systems, chicken coops, and many more systems that benefit the people and the land. These systems are all doable as an individual after the fact, but the benefits of having them done by professionals that understand the systems and the efficient use of them is huge. It becomes a single layered system that works together to provide comfort and economic gain to the homeowner immediately.

This will be a work in progress. I want to start working towards being able to offer a home that works together as a layered system, where each part benefits another, with a net positive gain to the home, the earth, and the homeowner. It's also important to me to make it a beautiful home that is attractive and comfortable to the homeowners, thus making it a reproducible effort. I think most homeowners care about the environment and are willing to live a more ecologically sustainable life, but are limited by current trends in building. I hope to be able to build this theory into a practice for new homes that are attractive to everyone.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A clean simple way to add a screen porch to your home.

Most of us nowadays think of aluminum storm windows and doors as a "normal" way to add screening to your home. With the focus of many people on having their homes covered in vinyl and aluminum to make them "maintenance free" a lot of homes lose their character, especially here in New England where we are known for beautiful homes. I'm going to offer up a different option that may appeal to you.  Hand crafted cedar screening on a porch. I will also say that in most cases using cedar and nylon screening is less expensive and will last just as long as prefab aluminum panels. 

Aluminum screen, nylon screening, bugs, screens, porch, patio, wood, cedar, panels, clean

 On this particular home, a reproduction cape style house, vinyl clapboard siding combined with vinyl trim moldings allowed us to balance ease of care and maintenance with the classic cape style found here on the Connecticut shoreline. The homeowners wanted to add a bit of wood to make the outside of their home feel warmer. We found untreated cedar to be the right answer. It offers the warmth of wood with the natural ability to resist the weather and rot. It will also weather to a natural light gray color which will add to the charm of the house.

Aluminum screen, nylon screening, bugs, screens, porch, patio, wood, cedar, panels, clean

Framing a rail out of cedar 2x4 and 4x4 posts gives an easy place to staple the screening which is then covered by the 1/2" by 1 1/2" strips ripped from the same cedar. very simple and easy to do. Stretching the vinyl screening takes a little time and practice, but can be done by any DIY homeowner. Replacing a torn screen is also easy, it takes about an hour to do, and it will look just like new.

Aluminum screen, nylon screening, bugs, screens, porch, patio, wood, cedar, panels, clean

 Taking time to lay out the pattern of the panels helps to make it appealing to the eye as well. I chose to leave the upper panels larger than the lower to allow better sight lines from inside. A few other tricks I used to make this screen room have clean lines are; I hid the screws used to install the rails and posts in inconspicuous places so they are not readily apparent. I drilled weep holes in the bottom 2x4 plate to let any water out that might get inside(the floor is pitched out as well). I also lined the screening up so the mesh is perfectly vertical and horizontal with no wrinkles in the fabric. 

Aluminum screen, nylon screening, bugs, screens, porch, patio, wood, cedar, panels, clean, rot resistant

 Oh yes, one last thing, No Painting! I almost forgot, to mention that the cedar is a perfect choice to leave in its natural state! It weathers to a nice light gray color and really takes very little maintenance.   

And that's about it! Not very difficult, but taking care in the design and installation makes it a beautiful clean porch that will last a lifetime.
As always, Don't forget to check back regularly for your Builder Fix! Please Comment, ask questions, and don't forget to follow me in the sidebars 

Monday, March 2, 2015

A simple homemade kitchen chalkboard does wonders for scheduling and organizing a family. Don't miss the secret ingredient to add a real WOW factor!

A homemade chalkboard is a creative organizational tool for any family to add to a kitchen or home office, and it is very easy to do with a few tools and some paint. The nice thing about doing it yourself (other than the bragging rights of being so crafty) is that you can put it anywhere you want, and make it a size that works for you.  
This is a fun project that anyone can do, and it will look great in your home! 
Lets get started!
Chalk, board, homemade, diy, do it yourself, Crafting, project, easy build,, Magnetic paint, magnetic, black, colored chalk, Organization, children

This is a project that you can get creative with very easily, The frame around the chalkboard paint can be anything your like, painted window trim, rough sawn pine like you see here, or even a painted border of another color. That's the most difficult part of building this chalkboard!

The next step is gathering the materials you need, Let me give you a list of the tools and materials that I use.

Ok, now that you have everything you need, it's time to get started.

The first thing you want to do is find the area and size you want to make your Chalkboard. I recommend marking it out with pencil and the level. Mark the edges of the frame minus 1/2" on each side. So if you want to make it 36" by 48" to the outside of the frame, mark it on the wall 35" by 47" and draw a pencil line all the way around. this will give you an edge to paint to without having to me overly careful, you have a 1/2" oops zone. and you can keep it a little inside the lines as well depending on how wide your trim is. Make sure you use the level to make it level and vertical. Once thats done mark each corner with a faint line 1/2" outside the lines. This is to align the frame and make it straight and true.

The next step is to paint the wall with the paints. Start with one of the sanding blocks, and sand the old paint a little bit(sand the entire area 3 or 4 passes in each spot, we just want to smooth it out a little, not remove the paint.), this will help you to make it a smoother surface when its all painted. once its all sanded, the first step is to used the magnetic paint to get a base coat on the wall. The more coats you put on, the better it will hold magnets. I recommend 3-4 coats minimum. Cover the roller and paint tray with plastic wrap and it will be fine between coats(4-6 hours). Once thats done, wait 12 hours and sand it gently again. Now break out the chalkboard paint and put on 3-4 more coats, letting them dry between each one. Sanding between each coat, after a 8-12 drying period will improve the final finish, but is not required.
Now you have your Chalkboard!  The great thing about this way of making the chalkboard is that if it gets marked up, Permanent markers are just that..., you can add another coat of paint and you have a brand new finish!
The final step is to add the frame to it. I recommend cutting both sides as one unit and the top and bottom as a unit, that way they are sure to come out the same size. Measure and cut each piece on a 45 degree angle on each end, this will give you perfect corners. A quick tip if this is a little daunting to you, your friendly neighborhood carpenter or wood worker is generally happy to cut them to size for you, just ask, it is a 2 minute task for him and most of us are happy to help, even if you just pull up to the job site and ask nicely. Once you have them cut, apply a small bead of construction adhesive to the back of each piece, hold it up to your marks and fit the corners together. A couple nails in each piece will hold them in place until the construction adhesive dries.

And with that you are done, a beautiful and creative organizational tool added to your home that you can decorate to your hearts content. One final note, a recent idea I saw was to take a large photo/painting frame and hang it over the painted area. This makes it easier if you don't think your carpentry skills aren't up to making the frame.
I highly recommend this project for anyone, with a little ingenuity anyone can do it and it will come out beautiful!

Remember to always come get your BuilderFix! I am here to help you finish all those little projects around your house! If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave a comment below, and I will get back to you with an answer!