Saturday, March 23, 2013

Making Countertops the Best they Can Be

The Homeowner Wanted Sink on the Clear Side
When you select granite or marble countertops, you start by selecting the slabs first at the supplier's yard.  As you move up in options and cost, nature's movement in the stone makes each piece unique.  So when you first see the stones, the initial color and movement grabs you.  From there, you take the sinks and template them and have a template meeting where you discuss where you want the cutout for the sink to go.  People like to do this, so that patterns or interesting portions of the particular slab you are selecting are not covered by a hole.  This picture is a stone called Colonial Cream.  You can see the natural movement going on in this stone, and just to the right the cabinet extends to legs and there is a table there that will accept another piece of the countertop so that people can sit there while the homeowners are cooking or entertaining.  The homeowner was given advice to put the sink on the lighter side of the slab, so as not to interrupt the brown flow of the counter on the left side.  There was some miscommunication and the under mount sink was installed on the other side.  It is still beautiful but this just gives an example of why people place templates on the slabs.  Countertops are personal and an expression of your tastes and home so if you have an opportunity to visit the fabrication process ahead of time I highly recommend it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

How to Build a Retaining Wall

Concrete Footer with Rebar

 Construction techniques never cease to amaze me.  When I visualize something, I am guilty sometimes of not letting it go and learning through the "baptism by fire" approach of diving right in.  These are actual photos of a backyard I envisioned on a hillside with significant sloping topography. The goal was to have a completely flat backyard for the kids to play, while having an incredible hill top view.  In order to achieve this, an engineered wall needed to be created. I had plans drawn from a local engineer who estimated the size of the retained load and designed the wall accordingly.

To build this, you must start with a concrete footer.  This footer has to be wide enough and deep enough to where it doesn't rock back and forth when soil and water pressure build behind it.  It also must have steel emitting from the bottom to pass through the hollow CMU blocks that will be stacked on top like legos when ready.  The next step is to have masons install the CMU and when desired height is reached, to fill it with concrete and cap it with what's called a  bond beam.  Here, you need to make sure that you have adequate drainage below the base of the CMU wall, and have installed some sort of waterproofing system against the back to allow water to drain below.  Finally, back fill with proper materials and make sure that you proper slope for drainage.  I'll be honest this process at this level was not easy.  It took a couple months and costs about as much as a small pool.  I think though that things like this are what truly make homes unique and can be worth doing if it completely changes your experience and your budget allows it.  

Now let's go build something.

CMU Blocks Being Installed
Finished Product with Graded Base

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Photographing Interior Walls During Construction

Having photographed interior walls is worth its weight in Gold
Recently it was 5:00pm, sun was going down and I'm flying over neighborhood speed bumps single focused trying to get to my destination before it's too late.  Emergency?, you bet.  I needed to get to this house prior to losing too much daylight to photograph the interior walls before insulation the next day.  The homeowner was there, wanted to chat and I had to put the mission first and not talk very much.  Luckily he was very understanding.

I place such a high value on this task because it can really help you out of a jamb later on during the construction process.  It's also great for record keeping in case you ever need to get behind walls.  This is an actual photograph of one wall section in a home I recently photographed.  I usually average about 30-50 pictures and I upload them to our clients project portal so they always have access as well.  When you build a wall, there are things like electrical, plumbing, HVAC lines, low volt and in this case a pest control system as well.  When you insulate and cover the walls with sheetrock, unless you have the best memory in the world there is a good chance you will be flying blind and cause unnecessary aggravation and expense digging and search for things.  I used to really take my time almost like a professional photographer, but over the years I've gotten it down to where this task takes about 10 minutes.

If you are in the middle of a construction project or have any walls exposed in your future, I highly recommend this simple step.  You'll be surprised how much you refer back to it.

Now let's go build something.