Browsing Topic: Design

An underground shed house?

February 8th, 2009

An interesting idea occurred to us this evening.

Since we have the basement walkout in front of the house, why not build a room underneath the front porch, also accessed from the stairwell, that can be used as a shed house (bike storage, gardening equipment, etc. (See newly posted “Elevations” drawing in the Galleries area to see the area in question.) It also means changing the front porch from wood to concrete. The porch itself would become the roof of the room below it.

We’re really not keen to spend the extra money, but it’s not the sort of thing we could really do after the fact.

The demolition guys will be excavating any day now so if we’re going to do it, we’ll have to decide fast so we can tell them where to dig, and how deep.

[UPDATE: We can’t do it. Yes, we can use the area under the front porch, but only for a cold cellar accessed from inside the house. External access to the room is not allowed.]

Posted by Colin

Redesigning for ICF

March 25th, 2008

Today the architect and Project Manager (PM) had a conference call to discuss the design changes that will be required to move to an ICF system for framing the house.

The PM performed a quick estimate indicating the cost of stick-frame materials and labour would probably be about equal to the materials for ICF. The labour for installing ICF walls for the entire foundation and house came in around $20,000, making it quite reasonable considering it will leave us with around an R50 wall!

Note: The ICFs will frame the house as a ‘box’ only. It seems using ICF for the gables would have involved quite a bit of additional labour so a different wall system will be used for the entire roof area of the house.

The architect has someone redesigning the plans as I type and hopes to have them ready by early next week.

Posted by Colin

Using ICFs to build the entire shell of the house?

February 10th, 2008

A new option has presented itself to us for the framing of the house.

We had initially planned on using Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs) for the foundation walls of the house, but it has been suggested by a number of people that we may want to consider using ICFs for the entire shell. Some of the benefits include

  • Longer lasting and more durable than wood-frame construction
  • Fire resistant
  • Termite proof
  • Improved sound resistance
  • Highly insulative
  • Extremely low thermal bridging

We’re still working out what the cost of switching from the high-efficiency wall design we have now to an ICF would be, but we think it’s an excellent candidate.

We recognize there may be added embodied energy from using so much concrete, but if the house will stand for 1000 (?) years instead of 100-200 years for a wood-frame house, that seems worthwhile.

Our current ICF of choice would be Durisol, since they use recycled materials instead of styrofoam to structure the wall, and additional insulation is provided by mineral wool (Roxul).


Posted by Colin

Standard exterior and interior design colors

September 5th, 2007 hosts a ridiculously useful online tool that will match one manufacturer’s color to an identical (or very similar) color made by any other manufacturers.

Posted by Colin

Revising architectural plans

June 9th, 2007

Today we met with the Joanne at her office in Hamilton, along with Alex and a prospective contractor.

The purpose of the meeting was to try to identify the portions of the house which were causing it to be so expensive. We made some good progress and identified the following items:

  • The ‘c’ shape of the house introduces 4 additional corners to the foundation. It would be cheaper/easier to build a rectangular foundation. This means our ‘cold room’ would be inside the foundation, but if it is well insulated from the house interior and unheated, it should provide us with nearly the same effect.
  • The stairs to the basement are quite expensive and could be added at a future date.
  • According to the energy modeling team, the radiant floors on the ground floor and 2nd floor are excessive for our needs. The house’s structure is going to be so efficient, that it simply isn’t going to take much heat to keep the house comfortably. It’s felt this amount of heat can be easily distributed through the ventilation system. Radiant floors should apparently still be used in the basement because, as Alex pointed out: we’re pouring concrete anyway. It’s hardly any extra work to put the tubing down before we do that.
  • Move Stacey’s writing garret inside the roof of the house.
  • And other smaller changes.

That last point is the hardest one on the list. We think that part ads a lot of character to the house and we’ll be quite sad if it has to go to appease the budget gods. Alex is working on an analysis of what savings we might find from each of the features taken away from the house and we’ll make our choices once we know what we’re saving for each item we’re giving up.

We still haven’t settled on a solution to resolve our parking dilemma, but have mentioned the issue to our neighbours to see if they would be interested in creating a shared laneway to the back yard for parking to be set up there. The other option we’re exploring is narrowing the ground floor to leave enough space for a full parking space at the side of the house.

There is a major difference between these approaches as the former only requires 2.2m of space between the houses, whereas the side-parking requires 2.6m of space between our house and the property line. It also leaves the 2nd floor overhanging the first floor. (I can’t say we really understand why the city wants us to make one of these choices instead of just parking in front of our house as we, and as many others on our street, do now.)

Posted by Colin

Committee of Adjustments decision revision

May 30th, 2007

I went down to the Committee of Adjustments desk at City Hall to discuss the parking pad stipulation on our variance and it was suggested we contact the Manager of the Toronto East York Panel to discuss the issue.

I sent her an email describing the issue and received a phone call in reply. She patiently explained that the committee’s decision actually indicated we must obtaining a parking pad permit before being approved for our plans to build a parking pad, but that our request to provide no parking was approved on its own. (This seems different than what we thought we heard at the meeting, but it’s hard to say for certain. Regardless, that’s how it was noted in the official decision.)

So we are not blocked to build the house as it is, providing we remove the parking pad and plan to provide soft landscaping across 75% of the front of the yard.


She also made clear that the city will tolerate no shenanigans. If we go ahead with no parking pad and no legal parking, cars parked on the existing driveway in front of our house would be ticketed, our curb-cut across the sidewalk would be raised to normal height and cars could park in front of it.

She indicated that they prefer we do this because every parking space added back to the street “adds parking for 4 or 5 other people and is for the greater good.” (I don’t see how this can be true but she seemed quite adamant on this point.)

We’re not sure if the city is just talking tough on this issue with no intention of enforcing the bylaws, but it’s got us thinking very seriously about finding a new layout for the house; One that includes enough room for a legal parking space. We’re discussing our options with the architect and hope to come to a decision reasonably soon.

Posted by Colin

Proposed building enclosure

April 21st, 2007

For our initial meetings with contractors Joanne & Alex had put together a list of materials we will likely use in the home’s construction. Here they are:

Below Grade Enclosure

  • Foundation Wall Assembly
    • Clean, Free-draining backfill
    • 2″ Roxul DrainBoard Foundation Insulation
    • Damp-proofing on cement parging
    • 10″ Durisol ICF
    • 3/4″ strapping
    • 1/2″ DensArmor Plus
  • Basement Floor Slab Assembly
    • 4″ Compacted Gravel Base
    • 2″ EPS Insulation
    • 6mil Polyethylene Sheet
    • 4″ Concrete Floor Slab

Above Grade Enclosure

  • Wall Assembley (R40)
    • Fibre Cement Board Cladding
    • 3/8″ Strapping
    • 4″ Polyisocyanurate Insulation
    • 1/2″ ZIP OSB Sheathing
    • 2×6 SPF Framing at 600mm o.c.
    • Cellulose Cavity Insulation
    • 1/2″ Gypsum Board
  • Roof Assembly (R60)
  • Windows and Doors
    • Fiberglass framed, double-glazed, low-e (SHGC < 0.5, VT > 0.5, overall U-value < 2.0 w/m/K), argon filled, superspacer windows
    • Insulated metal-clad wood entry doors

Mechanical / Electrical

  • Space Heating and Domestic Water Heating
    • Source: High-efficiency condensing boiler (high temperature DHW and low temperature space heat) with integral or external heat exchanger.
    • Distribution: Hydronic Radiant Floor Slabs (all floors)
    • Rough-in for future solar pre-heat and power.
  • Ventilation
    • Direct outdoor air system (DOAS) – dedicated ducted supply with Heat Reclaim Ventilation (HRV). Supply points in all bedrooms and living rooms, exhaust from kitchen and bathrooms.

I think the ZIP OSB sheathing is one of the more interesting products to be used in this project. It differs from regular sheathing in that, once installed, creates a perfect water barrier for your home, before siding is even attached. As a result once the sheathing is on, work can actually proceed on the interiors while work continues to complete the exterior shell.


Posted by Colin

Earth-friendly homes and preventative measures

March 31st, 2007

Time has a posted parallel articles on creating earth-friendly homes and changes you can make in your lifestyle to reduce CO2 emmissions and consume less power.

Posted by Colin

Design Meeting #4

December 5th, 2006

Our fourth design meeting was really good.

The plans are quickly becoming solidified, but that didn’t stop us from making significant changes here and there. The small storage room at the top of the house wsa turned sideways, at Alex’s suggestion. It will now allow quite a bit of light into the main stairwell, and the room will not block the light from getting to solar panels on the south roof.

We had also sent Alex a variety of photos from our neighbourhood showing what style of houses we liked, and which we didn’t. This was definitely a big help in shaping the ‘face’ our house would have. Taking photos of interiors and exteriors that capture your interest will be extremely useful as you move through your design process.

I would really like to post some schematics to show everyone, but I’ve promised the architect I wouldn’t show unfinished work (which I can completely understand — I hate doing that, too). As such a lot of the discussion about why we chose to position everything where we did, will have to wait a few more weeks.

Posted by Colin

Third Design Meeting with Architect

November 24th, 2006

Our third design meeting continued to raise my excitement about actually getting to the ‘building’ portion of the project.

We’re now at the stage where we are playing around with finer detail of the rooms, though we did have a major change in the basement. The basement has its own entrance and we want to make sure (as is popular practice in Toronto) that we have the option of renting out the basement as a self-contained apartment. At the moment we don’t expect to do this and would just like to have a guest-suite in the basement for visiting family. But in thinking about possible uses of the space we found our current design had a serious limitation: with the bathroom in one location, the basement would have to either be entirely rented, or not rented. But when we moved it 5 feet, we suddenly had the option of renting out half the basement and keeping the other half for our own use.

Trying to envision all possible (not just intended) uses of each space can lead to some very interesting discoveries.

We also realized that with the elevated ceiling we had intended for the Master Bedroom, we could create a storage loft above the master bathroom (which would have 8′ ceiling). Since we like to travel/hike we thought we’d set up a wall of shelving nooks in the main hallway to store our ‘found objects.’ At the moment I’m thinking this will be a tall curved shelving system so we can have larger, deeper nooks in the middle, and smaller, shallower nooks at the ends.

And we’re trying to figure out if we need to add some more interest to the ‘face’ of our house. While the interior appearance of our house will change significantly over the years, it is far more complicated to change the appearance of the exterior of one’s home. As such, we really want to get this part of it right, from the start. Changes we are pursuing are a change in the peak of the house (to make it off-centre and provide more solar-panel space on the south edge), and bringing half the house forward a couple of feet, to add some varying depth.

So far, this is all great fun!

Posted by Colin