Mountain and Lake Home Curb Appeal

Mountain and lake homes don’t usually have curbs, but the phrase “curb appeal” still applies.  There are few among us who haven’t driven, walked, or even boated by a nice neighborhood and admired the beautiful houses.  Everyone appreciates a well designed home with pleasing proportions, balanced massing, well placed windows, and coordinated materials.  A nice looking house draws the attention of people passing by, and especially catches the eye of prospective home buyers.

Mountain Home in Winter

Subtle Curb Appeal – A Mountain Home in Winter

Having a home that meets your spatial requirements, functions well, and doesn’t cost too much for operation and maintenance is important, and any new home design should be able to accommodate these basic requirements.  According to a recent survey conducted by Professional Builder magazine, respondents indicated that the most popular criteria people used to decide on whether to buy a property was the exterior look of the home, or its overall design and curb appeal.

While this is not a shocking discovery, it is worth noting that despite recent challenges in the housing market, people still value nice looking home exteriors and are willing to spend extra to have a home that looks good from the street.  Despite what the term “curb appeal” suggests, the best aspect of a home’s exterior isn’t always the side that faces the street, and sometimes it makes sense to enhance the curb appeal of a home as seen from other vantage points.  This is often the case on waterfront homes we design, and should also be considered for homes that front on a golf course, ski slope, or public park.

Rustic Shingle Style Lake House

This lakefront home’s roofline has its own subtle curb appeal

Most of our clients, now and in the past, are building homes that they want to live in for a long time.  In general, they place a high value on having a home that looks good to them, their guests, and to the other residents in the neighborhood.  Creating a home with enhanced curb appeal not only leads to greater owner satisfaction, it also gives the property an advantage when it comes time to sell. It is likely that a good looking home designed by a creative Architect will appeal to a new buyer as much as it did to its current owner, and that the perceived value of good design will be realized in the form of a higher contracted sale price.

Designing a home may seem like it is not difficult to do, and in the case of a basic box shape with a simple roof that may well be true. Many people who have built homes think that since they know how all the pieces go together they can design a nice home, and I’ll admit to thinking the same thing when I built homes before becoming an Architect.  However, the process of creating even a moderately complex home requires very careful attention to spatial arrangement, building form, proportion, materiality, detailing, and the buildings relationship to the site. Architects have extensive training and experience in contemplating these “right brain” aspects of design and resolving them with the nuts and bolts requirements imposed by material limitations, building codes, budgets, and zoning restrictions.

What gives a home its curb appeal is subject to individual preferences, but most people would agree that the exterior presentation of a home conceived of by a skilled Architect is unmatched when measured against a similar home designed by someone with lesser credentials. Most people know better than to seek investment advice or trust their money to someone without extensive training in financial management.  It seems logical to suggest that the same should hold true for choosing an Architect, to help you realize the best potential from what may be your most valuable asset, your home.

Tom Russell, Architect, LEED AP

Hendricks Architecture specializes in mountain and waterfront homes.  Our home designs have been featured in and on the covers of various periodicals, including Mountain Living, Timber Home Living, Cabin Life, and Cowboys & Indians.  Please visit our projects page for examples of some of our most recent projects.

Previous Post: Outdoor Living Spaces for Mountain Homes

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Outdoor Living Spaces for Mountain Homes

Throughout its evolution, Mountain Architecture has held true to the basic idea that spending time outdoors is an essential part of quality living.  One of the primary goals we strive for in designing mountain homes is to create a strong connection between the built environment and the natural landscape.  In the ideal, a quality home should provide a sanctuary from the elements when necessary, and at the same time be able to open to the outdoors when conditions allow.  Inhabitants should feel like they are a part of the surrounding environment, not isolated from it.

Mountain Home Outdoor Living

Mountain Home Outdoor Living: Decks, patios, bar, fire pits and spa

A well designed home for mountain living should be hewn from the materials at hand, harmonize with the landscape, and offer the inhabitants quality spaces both indoors and out.  Depending on the local climate, covered and uncovered outdoor spaces can be mixed to provide a variety of options for relaxing, entertaining, eating or watching the sunset.  In moderate climates, outdoor living rooms and kitchens can provide all the conveniences of modern life without the constraints of walls and windows.  Recent trends show that homeowners place a high value on quality outdoor spaces.

Trellis over Outdoor Living Space

Trellis over Outdoor Living Space

In just about any climate, covered outdoor space is a virtual necessity.  It opens up the option to be outside when the weather isn’t great, offers a shaded place to relax on a hot sunny day, and also allows for a storage space that can be utilized year round.  In many mountain and lake environments, bugs can be a deterrent to otherwise hearty lovers of the outdoors, especially in the evening.  We have been designing a lot of homes with screen porches lately, including one that utilizes Phantom screens, an innovative system that rolls up and out of sight when it’s not needed.  I’m particularly fond of a hallmark of old Adirondack camps – the screened sleeping porch.  These seem to have lost popularity in modern times, perhaps due to the widespread use of air conditioning.

screened porch

Screened Porch

Porches, patios, and decks are another common feature in the mountain and lakefront homes we design.  When the weather is good, nothing beats sitting outside reading or having a nice meal.  If a home site has good views and it works with the design, we often add upper level decks or balconies to offer the occupants a place to get off the ground and enjoy an enhanced view of their world. We typically include a covered front porch as well, which offers a venue to engage with visitors and should be considered as an important social element of any home.

Covered Front Porch

A Small Covered Front Porch with Mountain and Lake Views

Many of our clients want outdoor spas or hot tubs, and a deck or patio is the ideal spot to relax and have a nice soak. Some might be deterred by the thought of heading outside on a cold winter’s night to get wet, but for those willing to brave a little discomfort it can be a rewarding experience.  For homes in places that have significant winter precipitation, I recommend locating a hot tub under cover but open to the outdoors.  You will get a lot more use out of it during unpleasant weather, and if you put a clear roof over it or keep the roof high, it still feels like you are out in the open.  My opinion was validated this winter when I watched numerous hot tubs become hopelessly buried under Schweitzer’s record snows.

Covered Patio Spa Bar

Covered Patio Spa and Bar

We, like most residents of mountain resort towns in the West, live here because we enjoy being outside and connecting with the natural world.  An important element in the quality of life we enjoy is the proximity to incredible outdoor environments, often right out the back door.  In acknowledgement of this, we strive to create beautiful, sturdy homes that allow the inhabitants to live comfortably indoors or out regardless of the season.

Tom Russell, Architect

LEED AP

Bridge to Stone Deck

Bridge to Stone Deck

Hendricks Architecture specializes in the design of timber mountain style homes and cabins.  Most of the homes we’ve completed are in mountain resort areas throughout the West, and have been featured in Timber Home Living, Mountain Living, Cowboys & Indians, Cabin Life and other publications. If you are interested in a mountain home, or you have any other inquiries, please contact us.

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Hydronic Radiant Heating

When designing a home, it is important to consider early in the process what type of climate control system the home will be using. Mechanical systems used for heating and cooling work best when they are properly sized, thoughtfully laid out, and have adequate space for all the components.

There are many options for heating and cooling a home. Many homeowners these days are opting for hydronic radiant heat systems, and we get a lot of questions from our clients about radiant heat systems and how best to configure them.  Radiant heat is a great, energy efficient choice for homes where heating is the primary concern and cooling is secondary.

Unlike forced air heating systems, radiant heating warms the objects in a space, not just the air. Because of this, the space will feel warmer and the ambient temperature can be kept lower than it would be in a space that is heated with warm air.  Other benefits of radiant heat are the lack of moving air that can transport dust and allergens, and the ability of radiant heat to maintain an even temperature without noticeable fluctuations.

Hydronic radiant heating uses a central boiler to heat a fluid that is then circulated through piping concealed in the floor system.  The choice of floor system is a major determinant in the performance of a hydronic radiant system, but the choice of floor system should not be based only on what type of heating the house will utilize.

The best radiant heat systems use a concrete floor slab as a thermal mass (see related concrete slab vs. wood framed floors).  Heavy duty plastic tubing is embedded in a slab that is insulated both on the perimeter and on the underside. The amount of insulation depends on the local climate, the level of efficiency desired, and the budget.  The biggest advantage of this system is the substantial thermal mass of the concrete slab, which will store and radiate heat over an extended period of time.  The slab will also double as a collector and storage medium of any passive solar gain. On the flip side, the slab will take a while to heat up, so this type of system does not lend itself well to turning the heat down during periods of inactivity or absence.

Leaks and damage to tubing that is encased in a concrete slab can be costly and difficult to fix, but thankfully they almost never occur.  Problems due to tubing failure can be mitigated by making sure the tubing is thoroughly leak tested and the slab subgrade is well compacted granular material.

When a concrete slab floor is not practical, radiant heat tubing can be embedded in 1½” or more of lightweight concrete or gypcrete poured on top of a wood framed floor.  This is often done on homes that have hydronic heat on upper floors or where a crawl space and wood framed floor is necessary.  Since a 4” concrete slab is too heavy to be supported by a wood framed floor, a thinner, lighter slab is used.  It has significantly less thermal mass, but does provide some heat storage capacity and also helps dampen floor vibrations common with wood framed floors.  Floor framing has to be more substantial for this type of application than it would be for a floor that doesn’t have to support as much weight.

For radiant heat applications where a wood framed floor is preferred or required and gypcrete overlayment is not used there are a few different options.  Warmboard manufactures a plywood subfloor sheathing that has integral channels milled into it that allow radiant heat tubes to sit below the top of the subfloor.  The channels are clad with sheet aluminum that radiates heat upward into the living space and makes for rapid warming of the floor above.  In this sense, it outperforms the concrete embedment systems, but it lacks the thermal mass and ability to moderate temperature fluctuations.  Warmboard is relatively expensive, but by most accounts it functions well and is a viable alternative when concrete or gypcrete is impractical.  Misplaced nails or dropped tools can easily damage the tubing, so pressure testing is required before covering and after flooring has been installed.

The staple up radiant tubing application is the least expensive and easiest system to repair or retrofit.  As a trade off,  it is also the least efficient and easiest to damage.  Staple up systems involve installing the tubes on the underside of the subfloor between floor joists.  The tubes are held in place by staples and sometimes backed with foil faced rigid insulation or installed with integral metal heat transfer plates.  In order to be reasonably efficient, a staple up system needs to have more than code required insulation in the joist bays, and shouldn’t be used where floors are cantilevered out beyond heated space below because of the potential for condensation.

For more on floor system options to use with hydronic radiant heating, see our article on concrete slab vs. wood framed floors.

Tom Russell, Project Architect, LEED AP

Hendricks Architecture specializes in custom mountain style homes.  Our homes have been featured in Timber Home Living, Mountain Living, Green Building and Design, Cowboys & Indians, Cabin Life and other publications.  We’re located in Sandpoint, Idaho.  Subscribe to Hendricks Architecture’s Blog

Previous Post: Concrete Slab vs. Wood Framed Floors

Concrete Slab vs. Wood Framed Floors

One of the most common questions a residential architect is asked is, “Would it be better to have a concrete slab or a wood framed floor with a crawl space?”  When choosing what type of floor system will be best for a project, several factors need to be considered.  Site topography, where the house will be located on the site, seasonal groundwater levels, the number of floor levels the home will have, the type of heat desired, and budget constraints all need to be weighed before making a decision.

A concrete slab on grade works well on relatively level sites with a first floor (or basement) level that will be relatively close to existing grade.  Since fill will need to be imported into the house footprint to bring the grade up to the underside of the slab, floors that will be high off the ground are not logical candidates for a slab on grade floor.  On the other hand, if your site has a high water table, is subject to flooding, or has surface water nearby, a slab on grade floor might be your best bet.  Since a concrete slab is always poured over granular fill that can’t wick water upward, they typically work well on sites where a crawl space might be susceptible to flooding, provided the floor level is high enough to be above any potential surface runoff.

Concrete slabs are also the most efficient for hydronic radiant heating systems, as the thermal mass of the slab helps hold heat.   Concrete slab floors do require that all subgrade utility rough ins be completed before the slab is poured and be accurately located.  Retrofits for plumbing or mechanical changes later can be difficult and costly.

Wood framed floors with a crawlspace (or basement) below have the advantage of access to space that can be utilized for running utilities (plumbing, electrical, and ducts) and for storage.  They also work well on sloping sites or where the floor level will be significantly above the existing grade.  Wood framed floors require more labor and material to build, and have potential for squeaks, creaks, and vibration if they are not properly designed and constructed.  A gypcrete overlay can add rigidity and a solid feel to a framed floor, but is only practical if it is used as part of a radiant heat system.

On wet sites or where flooding potential exists, crawl spaces and basements need to be carefully designed to reduce the potential for moisture problems. They also need to be properly ventilated or heated as if they were living space. The building code has special requirements for crawl spaces or basements that are below the 100 year flood elevation, and in some areas, homeowners insurance rates are significantly higher if a wood framed floor is used where the floor elevation is close to the flood plain elevation.

As a rule of thumb, the installed cost of a slab on grade vs. a wood framed floor with gypcrete are about the same. Installed costs are, however, subject to a lot of project specific variables that can make one system significantly more expensive for a particular application. Factors like existing soil conditions, fill requirements, hauling distances, and ease of executing the concrete pour can affect the costs of slab on grade. Similarly, local labor costs, required floor framing member sizes, and current lumber pricing will determine the cost of a framed floor system.

We are often asked if finish floor options will be limited if one floor system is chosen over the other. The short answer is “yes”, but not significantly. Some wood flooring options don’t perform as well on concrete slabs, and likewise for some hard flooring options on wood framed floors. In general, however, most flooring choices will work on either type of sub-floor and shouldn’t be a major determinant in which system you choose.

At Hendricks Architecture, we specialize in designing western mountain style lodge homes.  We design homes with both concrete slabs and wood framed floors.

Tom Russell, Architect, LEED AP

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