New and Improved plan set structure

By | education, good ideas, projects, super insulated, working with a builder, working with an architect | 3 Comments

I’m trying out something new: a smaller scale simplified plan with all major reference information on the front cover so the contractor has one place to find all sections, details and locate windows and doors.

Robert Swinburne Vermont Architect super insulated house brattleboro

The floor plan gets broken into three 1/2″ scale sheets later in the set. I learned that from looking at a set of very complete drawings from a big-time NY firm that a contractor friend was building from. 1/4″ per foot drawings are more traditional but 1/2″ scale (twice as big) is very relevant to modern high efficiency buildings where framing is much more relevant to windows and doors as well as being easier to understand air sealing details. There are also places where I need to show actual framing in plan.
Robert Swinburne vermont architect Brattleboro

I also try to get relevant section details on the same sheets as the overall sections where possible. I learned this from my days as a carpenter as well as through feedback from builders over the years.

Robert Swinburne vermont architect

Hemlock siding Vermont Modern Robert Swinburne architect

Hemlock – Open Gap Rain Screen Siding

By | affordable modern, cool stuff, education, good ideas, Living in Vermont, products, projects, Small house, super insulated, traditional vs modern, Uncategorized, working with a builder, working with an architect | 6 Comments

My use of eastern hemlock as a siding material has been generating interest. Hemlock is a common wood in Vermont but doesn’t get used a lot except in barns and outbuildings and sometimes for timber frames. My summer job during high school involved working in a small sawmill. We sometimes cut hemlock and I found the wood beautiful, but heavy. One summer, we cut some hemlock for a bridge. Fast forward um… lots of years and I ordered a bunch of hemlock for framing and decking when I built my barn. I learned a bit about how to work with hemlock, how it ages and weathers and I started thinking about how I could use it in my own work. I try to source materials as locally as possible and design within local builder’s abilities and interests – which is easy to do here where builders get together monthly to discuss building science related issues

Eastern hemlock in Vermont

In rural New England, buildings are often sided with pine siding in a vertical shiplap form – and often unfinished. It tends to develop a black mold that is relatively harmless but can be ugly. I found that hemlock is more resistant to this mold. It’s also harder and more rot resistant. It is nowhere near as rot resistant as cedar, a more common siding material however.

White pine siding on my own barn
white pine siding on a barn robert Swinburne Vermont Architect

A brief on open rainscreen siding: Good architect and builders are installing siding with a vented airspace between the siding and weather resistant barrier (WRB). This allows any moisture that gets behind the siding to dry out before it does damage. Modern materials (a better WRB) and the venting detail allow us to use different materials and different details for the siding itself. I have commonly seen the open gapped rainscreen detail used with ipe boards but Ipe is a tropical hardwood related to mahogany. Cement based boards are also used commonly but cement has fairly high embodied energy. Both of these are not locally sourced materials. The gap in the siding also reveals a view of the WRB (depending on the size of the gap) This means that damaging UV rays are also reaching the WRB. And bugs. Thus the need for a better (and black) WRB. There are several on the market designed for this. Both projects shown here use Mento and tapes from Foursevenfive.com

It occurred to me that I could use narrow hemlock boards from local mills to create a very elegant (I hoped) rainscreen siding detail. It would use local and relatively inexpensive materials, it wouldn’t need paint or stain, installation could be simpler and faster if I got the details right, and if I installed it horizontally, the lowest courses could easily be replaced if the siding degraded due to splashback and snow banks. The damaged siding would not present a disposal concern – just toss it in the bushes and it becomes habitat for red backed salamanders.
I was lucky to have a client with a taste for modernism allow me to try my ideas out on his home. The results were rather spectacular and gave me a sense of the potential. Now I am doing my second project with hemlock siding. The builders for this project (Webster Construction of Marlboro, Vermont) are quite familiar with good building science and modern products and methods. They saw the potential and were happy to give it a try plus they were able to improve my detailing in several ways which I can then incorporate into drawings and specifications for the next time around.

modern ski house in vermont near Statton

The hemlock turns silvery gray within a year. The narrow boards create a woven, fabric-like aesthetic.

The hemlock is installed “green” with deck screws. This siding is all 1×3 so gaps will be quite small as the wood dries. Fiberglass bugscreen is installed directly behind the siding. strapping can be regular 1×3 strapping although coravent makes an excellent product for this purpose and should at least be used on any strapping set horizontally such as over and under windows.

hemlock siding installation

This is the corner trim detail the builder came up with and I really like. One side runs long and is cut after installation. The other side is held back for a crisp reveal – very architecty! Of note: the deck is white oak (local) and the post is European Larch which is from a harvest of a Vermont tree farm. European larch is used in Europe as a durable siding material that needs no treatment.

hemlock siding corner detail - Vermont architect Robert SwinburneHemlock siding in Vermont - Vermont architect Robert Swinburne

modern ski house in vermont near Statton with open gap rainscreen siding

detailing around windows is super simple. On the first house I used metal panels (installed by the roofer) to accentuate the windows and wrap corners. Here it is about as simple as it gets.

Eastern Hemlock siding detailVermont modern house by architect Robert Swinburne

A few of my minimal details:
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From the archives – Grumpy architect time

By | good ideas, Living in Vermont, mutterings, working with an architect | No Comments

From the archives – Grumpy architect time:

1.If your house is adequately insulated there should be little temperature differential between the ceiling and the floor.
2. Adequately differs from code. Remember, a house built to code is the worst house you can legally build.
3. If you choose not to build an Energy Star certified home please give your poor starving architect the $2k that you obviously have to spare.
4. Does anybody with any real knowledge of building use fiberglass batts anymore? probably not anyone who reads this.
5. Air sealing folks! do it correctly!- not 6 mil poly vapor barrier – that was the 90’s We are SO over that. There are some great products and great information is available. Check out 475 supply and Green Building Advisor.
6. Why do people want to build a super-insulated house and then put a full on radiant floor heating system in? – see #3 above about where to send all that extra money.
7. Why do people want to build a new house that looks old? I think it’s just a phase this country is in. I see signs that the retro-anachronistic architecture phase is fading.
8. But I do it anyway – gotta feed the family + I enjoy it. Sometimes.
9. Bright side – the science of how to build correctly is settling out in favor of simplicity. That is what draws me to the Passive house approach.
10. Why do people have SO MUCH STUFF?
11. How did it happen that I’m going to my 20th year architecture school reunion tomorrow? – footnote: this was the summer before last and it was a blast!

Thermal bridging and Air sealing – simplified

By | bad ideas, education, good ideas, Passive House, working with a builder | One Comment

Just a quickie about thermal bridging and air sealing. I can explain it in way fewer words and terms and scientific-ness than what you find when you go looking for information on the web. Thermal bridging is when there is too much stuff that is not insulation in a section of exterior wall. This includes most traditionally framed houses. Especially near outside corners and around windows. In the cold of winter, the inside room surface of these areas stay much cooler than the surrounding room temperature and condensation occurs, then mold.

Improper air sealing is when your builder tells you your house needs to breathe and he’s not talking about an air exchange system. Improper air sealing allows air to enter your house through tiny pathways through and near these moldy areas. The mold spores are then breathed in by your children.

Get it?

house for slow living

A House for Slow Living

By | affordable modern, good ideas, Living in Vermont, Passive House, super insulated, traditional vs modern, Uncategorized, working with an architect | 12 Comments

A House for Slow Living
The original concept came to me in a dream (yes – I dream architecturally) I think the dream may have been generated by this image which has been on my bulletin board fora few years:

The original sketch was called “a house for food”

The core concept was centered around the growing, preparation and consumption of food which lends itself to the idea of gatherings of family and friends and leads to the notion of how to live in a close relationship to the local environment. From my own experience I drew upon the old fashioned ideas of hunkering down by the fire on a cold winter evening, opening the house up to the sounds, smells and breezes of a summer day, “putting food by” and making routine preparations for winter in the Autumn, starting seedlings on a windowsill in the spring, caring for children or elders. Also, how can we appreciate the beauty of the winter landscape and light without feeling overcome by it. This is a common issue in the Northeast. Where do you sit to watch a thunderstorm rolling in or to watch the snow fall? Music! – not just acoustics but around here, everybody is also a musician. How does that fit into our daily lives?
Much inspiration is to be found in images and stories depicting rural life from previous times in Europe and America. I am drawn to the imagery of hard working English country houses where the real life of the house centers between the kitchen and the door stoop leading directly to the working yard and gardens. Think: Peter Rabbit in Mr. McGregor’s Garden by Beatrix Potter with a potting shed, cold frames and lots of cabbages.
I am fascinated by early New England farms and town dwellings and how lives were played out in them. Not the big events but the little, day to day, season to season routines. Light and fresh air are celebrated and sought after and even, perhaps, taken for granted in an age before television and telephones. Materials are worn but durable, practical and show their age and history and that is where their beauty lies.

The Building Science aspect of design and detailing that we are all so immersed in lately addresses the idea of being able to lock the door and walk away for a month in the winter and not worry about much of anything. The neighbor has the key and will water the plants. Building Science addresses being what we are calling “net zero” so you are not storing and burning fossil fuel on site and paying for it as well. Building Science addresses the notion of simplicity – who needs a heating system that could go on the fritz and bust your pipes and freeze all your house plants so when your neighbor comes over to water the house plants, he finds an awful mess and has to call you in some recently devastated country where you are doing relief work. Building Science allows you to return in March to a house filled with fresh air and no mildew. (building science can’t help with what you left in the fridge) Building Science can free you from many previously taken for granted maintenance issues and expenses such as painting and periodic repair, maintenance and replacement of the mechanical parts of the house because now you have fewer and simpler systems.

How then, to marry my heady and romantic thoughts with the physics of modern building science? How do I pack all of this sensuality and feeling into a house that celebrates the process of living this chosen life rather than reminding one of the potentially inherent drudgery?
Since these ideas are very personal to me, it isn’t very difficult to make a series of design moves and decisions that bring me pretty close. I have been moving in this direction for much of my life. I am often “pretty close” but getting to that higher level is tricky and elusive. I’m not there yet with this design but it’s still early….

In this design, I’m trying to balance small and simple with a richness of space that goes far beyond light and shadow, a good floor plan and simplicity of form and add my own interpretation of what it can mean to live in Vermont and lead a life integrated with the climate and culture of the place. I’m drawing heavily on history and my own sense of aesthetics as well as all my cumulative observations and experience.

Dang! Maybe I should tear down my own house and build something like this!

For those interested in the Slow Living Movement, Brattleboro has a Slow Living Summit coming up in June associated with the Strolling of the Heiffers parade and festival.

Thinking ahead

By | good ideas, projects, traditional vs modern, working with a builder, working with an architect | One Comment

HA! This happens a lot. I just got a call from a contractor who wanted to modify roof trim on an addition to make it both easier and he thought it would look better. Which it would except that a future phase of the project involves adding a porch in such a way that the frieze on the addition becomes the casing for the porch beam. The continuity was important to the client to calm that side of the building. In the image, the red over the window is where the contractor wanted to case the window with 1 x 4 thus creating a narrower frieze board. When that line got over to the porch on the left it would have to drop down to case in the porch beam. Not smooth. On the windows above, the casing for the windows is independent and below the frieze which is preferable, however, I was setting the three lower windows as high and large as I could over a countertop to maximize light into a deep room. We were squished also in terms of the roof in order to get it well under the upstairs windows. Especially over the porch area. The contractor’s solution would be fine and what I would have designed were it not for the open porch to the right.

I found, during the years I worked as a carpenter, that it was easy to concentrate on the task at hand and lose sight of the overall picture. As a designer, sometimes I’ll make a foundation more complicated in order to make framing or trim more simple. Or sometimes I’ll do things in a more complicated fashion due to an aesthetic historical precedent. (Isn’t much of traditional design like that?) Sometimes I will complicate things to make the end result look simple. Sometimes I complicated things just because I can be really really picky.

Grumpy architect time

By | bad ideas, good ideas, mutterings | 3 Comments

From the facebook page Grumpy architect time:

1.If your house is adequately insulated there should be little temperature differential between the ceiling and the floor.
2. Adequately differs from code. Remember, a house built to code is the worst house you can legally build.
3. If you choose not to build an Energy Star certified home please give your poor starving architect the $2k that you obviously have to spare.
4. Does anybody with any real knowledge of building use fiberglass batts anymore? probably not anyone who reads this.
5. Air sealing folks! do it correctly!- not 6 mil poly vapor barrier – that was the 90’s We are SO over that. There are some great products and great information is available. Check out 475 supply and Green Building Advisor.
6. Why do people want to build a super-insulated house and then put a full on radiant floor heating system in? – see #3 above about where to send all that extra money.
7. Why do people want to build a new house that looks old? I think it’s just a phase this country is in. I see signs that the retro-anachronistic architecture phase is fading.
8. But I do it anyway – gotta feed the family.
9. Bright side – the science of how to build correctly is settling out in favor of simplicity. That is what draws me to the Passive house approach.
10. Why do people have SO MUCH STUFF?
11. How did it happen that I’m going to my 20th year architecture school reunion tomorrow?

Site planning and a holistic aproach to design

By | good ideas, Living in Vermont, working with an architect | 5 Comments

It’s not often I get to do this. I am usually called in when it is too late to have much input into overall site design on a rural project. I am a scholar of historic farm and homestead planning and I am always acutely aware of the relationships between the various elements of the site whether natural, man-made, Solar, weather, history (stone walls and old roads, etc – very important in New England) and the buildings that are located to be a part of the landscape (or not as is often the case) Design often starts with floor plans but is so much richer in the long run when the site is considered with as much rigor and intensity as the floor plans. How a home “lives” is very much a function of how the land outside the walls of the house “lives” from the point outside the front door to the yards to the property lines to the town, region, state…

Designing in my sleep

By | good ideas, Living in Vermont, working with an architect | 2 Comments

Dreaming in Architecture
I have noted before that I have probably spent more time thinking about design in my adult life than most people have spent sleeping. In this post I shall one-up myself.
Sometimes I dream-design.
In a dream a few days ago there were some houses moved onto our property that had been built by my late father-in-law and we had inherited them. It was in the middle of the winter and the property bore no relation to our own and my father-in-law didn’t build houses and there was other strange dream stuff such as the two elderly Asian women sitting high up in a window of one of the houses eating and the sink was full of dishes that should have been frozen in another house. You get the picture.
In one house, there was a specific arrangement of the stairs to the very long kitchen table which set me off into that place in my head where I design things – It seems that whether I’m conscious or not has little to do with it. I started exploring the design and pinning things down on a very personal thesis of some things I really would like to explore in how I would like to live in a house in Vermont.

The idea of a very long kitchen table that was where everything happens formed the basis of my exploration. An important part of the thinking came from a recent photo I had seen in a magazine with a hearth room off the kitchen where the ceilings were low, windows minimal and set in deep walls, books, mattresses, comfy chairs, a stone floor, and lighting only for reading. It is a perfect space for reading in the winter evenings. It is very “Slow Living” Who needs a living room? An advantage of designing while I am dreaming is that my ideas come out with greater clarity. When I wake up and sketch out my ideas I may find that none of them work very well in that they ignore some practical aspects of form and function. This design, however, identifies some issues that I will need to think about and develop. It probably isn’t very marketable as it comes from so deep within my own self but it may be interesting to others in terms of thinking about how design can respond on a very deeply emotional and personal level that goes far beyond searching for the perfect floor plan.

SEON – building science learning group in Brattleboro

By | education, good ideas, working with a builder | No Comments

SEON or Sustainable Energy Outreach Network is a relatively new organization in the Brattleboro area. The mission from the website is to “establish a network that promotes Southeastern Vermont and its neighboring regions as a vibrant center of sustainable energy.” which sounds rather vague. I think they are trying to feel out exactly what their role in the community will be. They are off to a great start by sponsoring a monthly building science learning group. This is in a presentation and discussion format, often moderated by Peter Yost of EBN and GBA, with topics brought to the group by the participants who are mostly local builders.

“Each month over 20 building professionals meet for 3 hours to advance their understanding of building science principles especially as it pertains to the problems they confront on their worksite.  Case studies are reviewed, root cause analysis is applied, hypotheses are generated based on the physics of building science.  The challenge is that there are no clear solutions to many of the problems.  We are still learning in the midst of uncertainty and ever changing product design.  Hence the need for ongoing discussions.”

The discussions are at a pretty high level but are very accessible to everyone as a goal is to bring the general building science knowledge level in this area to a very high level, making this area even more of a hotbed for green building than it is currently. Many of these folks are way beyond the standard hour and a half presentation you tend to get in symposiums such as at Better Buildings up in Burlington – not to knock that one (definitely go!) – and, perhaps had been feeling the need for much more in-depth and collaborative discussion relevant to their own daily work.

As an architect, this is a joy to see because these are the folks that I get to work with on a regular basis. As an architect, I often have to provide a basic education in building science to both the builder and the client. Having a builder who is “hip” to green building and building science issues makes my job much easier.

I encourage any local builders, architects and designers, and any folks involved with building and energy to check this group out. They usually meet from 3 to 6, once a month on a Wednesday or Thursday. Where and when can be found on the website calendar.

Passive House New England Symposium review

By | education, good ideas, super insulated | 5 Comments

Passive House New England Symposium
Saturday, October 27th I went to the Passive House New England Symposium to see what’s what so to speak. I came a way with lots of good information about where to take my own practice, where the state of the art in building science is at, currently, in New England, who is involved with Passive House, how Passive House technology is being used and what my next steps as an architect will be. Read More

Blog: Coffee with an Architect + Rural Studio

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Coffee with an Architect is a blog that has really gotten rolling. Why is it suddenly everybody does this way better than me? In any case what caught my eye recently was some lovely photos of the rural studio work at Auburn University So I followed the link and found a treasure trove of beautiful images of projects completed in the Rural south.
A bit of background on the rural Studio from the website

In 1993, two Auburn University architecture professors, Dennis K. Ruth and the late Samuel Mockbee, established the Auburn University Rural Studio in western Alabama within the university’s School of Architecture. The Rural Studio, conceived as a strategy to improve the living conditions in rural Alabama while imparting practical experience to architecture students, completed its first project in 1994. In 2000, Andrew Freear was hired as thesis professor, and upon Mockbee’s death, succeeded him as director while continuing to teach thesis. Under his guidance the focus has shifted from the design and construction of small homes to larger community projects.

They have created a huge portfolio of community projects and 20k houses. Here are a very few photos grabbed from the website:

Old Fashioned Kitchens

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country kitchen
As an architect I am supposed to like a sleek modern kitchen with a huge and functional island and lots of beautiful cabinetry. And I do. But what really melts my emotional side is a big old fashioned kitchen with a large table in the center. – The original “family room”. The table is where the family eats their meals, games are played, bills are paid, corn is shucked, dough is rolled… A large pantry is off to one side and may contain the refrigerator and a large window for light. The sink is also large and deep. Of course, such a kitchen calls for a big black woodstove that you could bake in – perhaps a bread oven would be a modern equivalent? It is very hard to find a good image of this sort of kitchen even though those of us with more rural upbringings would find it so familiar. The above image is one I stole out of an old Martha Stewart book I found on a discount rack.

build blog

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Along the lines of; How I spend my time when surfing the net, I spend some time every week looking for what’s out there in the architectural world with focus on residential and small scale projects.
Here is a Firm whose website is great, the work they do is inspiring and they have a great blog that fosters thought and conversation. They are located in Seattle.

TED:Ideas Worth Spreading is a collection of talks and presentations that help me keep the world in perspective.

We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.


also GoLogic homes in Belfast Maine is worth checking out. They have some great prototype small passive house designs. When I look to the future of my own firm, This is a great model for one possibility. Although if I were to go this route I would worry that it closes me off from being the small town architect for lots of people and doing more non-residential projects.

Stone Library Renovation

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Here are a bunch of snapshots of the stone library project from a few years back. This was a gut remodel of a stone faced concrete block building from the 60’s that had been used as a private library. We used Loewen windows with Richlite window sills, some cool metal work, a talented mason and a clever builder. Note the very small skylight in the last photo up near the big chimney. This is directly above the fireplace in the view of the great room interior – tiny window = big effect.

Greening your Neighbors

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I just stuck this post over at GreenBuildingAdvisor.com

This is more of a musing than a question. When building a new home would it be more environmentally responsible to forego the triple glazed windows and put the saved money into insulation upgrades on neighbor’s houses? 10 or 20k would go a long way. Likewise, who is greener? someone who builds a net zero house with 40k of PV. or someone who donates 40k to weatherization programs or even buys 4 solar hot water systems for four neighbors?

Triangles in Kitchens

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I have been thinking lately about the work triangle in the kitchen. This was a construct of the 1940’s when men in suits were trying to engineer the function of the kitchen to make women’s lives easier. The work triangle consists of the locations for the storage, preparation and cooking of food. Fridge, sink and stove. The triangle ignores some other important functions such as cleanup, the idea of different types of storage (fridge, dry, long term, short term easy access) Sam’s club (24 packs of paper towel rolls) Also if there are several people working in a kitchen, the triangle may result in conflict. I have sketched my ideal kitchen. It is not for everybody but I have lived and cooked in over a dozen kitchens so I know what I like. I like a large island with a small bar sink for all food prep. A drawer type fridge under the counter is helpful because I like a separate fridge and upright freezer of equal size in a large and very adjacent doorless pantry. (I am a gardener and have lots of frozen food) The pantry allows me to keep things such as my mixer, coffee grinder, pasta maker, food processor, microwave etc. out on a countertop. The island allows me to spread out. Due to my long arms I also like the height of the island to be a few inches lower than the countertops. I like a large cooktop with 6 burners and a good large quiet hood with good lighting. I like a very large deep sink with a tall faucet. When I do my own kitchen someday I will get a restaurant sink and faucet. (foot pedal operated faucet?) I don’t like upper cabinets at all but prefer as much glass as possible over the counter. I also detest corner cabinets and strive to avoid them. A variation on this sketch would be to put wall ovens and a fridge on either side of the cooktop along the outside wall. And perhaps put the sink in the island. This works well if there are no windows over the counter.

New Home Energy Priorities

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A lovely little quote lifted from BSI-014 “Deciding on Energy Priorities when Building New” from Buildingscience.com

Hence, if you doubt energy prices are going to triple over the next 25 years, and have a hunch that PVs will soon get cheap enough to compete with grid-supplied coal power, you might choose to skip the ground-source heat pump, R75 attic insulation and R25 basement insulation, HRV, and LED lights in your next house design. If your hunch is wrong, and energy prices double over the next ten years, or if natural gas becomes very expensive, the owner has a number of significant, low-cost, and easy-to-implement energy-saving upgrades available. For around $5000-7500 all of these changes, except the GSHP, could be implemented in a typical 2200 square foot house. And perhaps just as importantly, ensuring that the design includes a good area of sloped unshaded south-facing roof provides the future occupant of the house the potential to add PV and/or solar hot water.

ART TEC – Guy Marsden

By | cool stuff, good blogs, good ideas, links | 2 Comments

This is what the web is all about.  Guy Marsden has a sprawling website (over 200 pages)  that I highly recommend only if you can relax for a while.  Guy is everything from an artist – he worked on “Star Wars” – to an inventor/engineer.  Much of the site is related to trying to be realistically self sufficient. I found lots of low-budget-do-it-yourself information as well as things for the more engineery types among us (of which I am not one of) (yet) such as his conversion of his gas lawn mower to solar charged DC batteries. ( my solution is simply to not mow the lawn)  I found lots of good materials and product resources as well.  This is something I’m always looking for as much of my work is very budget oriented and I am faced with questions such as ” should I spend twice as much on triple glazed windows or is there a shade or window quilt or storm window or panel that could do the job for 1/4 the cost?”

Architect Enters Stock Plan Market!

By | good ideas, links, working with an architect | No Comments

Recently, I have been examining the stock plan market to see if a hole exists that I should fill. I have won a few design competitions for affordable housing models on the basis of a good plan and great looking architecture with nearly “Habitat” size budgets. I have done this through using proportions and scale to create beautiful simple houses and added my knowledge of “green” and the principles of “passive house” design. Add to this my bag of tricks acquired from years of experience designing and building to a tight budget and learning how to do more for less and I can create houses that can compete successfully in the stock plan market at the $125 – $300 k range where the current offerings seem to look:

  1. Drab and ranchy with “style” either regarded as unnecessary or as something that can be applied to a poor design to dress it up.
  2. Very modern (some of which I really love) which aesthetically still turns off a large segment of the market.
  3. Very “architecty” with cost savings coming primarily from smaller size rather than simplicity of design.

Few of the available offerings also adequately address modern principles of energy efficient design for northern climates such as super-insulation with heat recovery ventilation, passive survivability, passive and active solar opportunities making these potential zero energy homes. Many of them require specific modular or prefab systems. My designs would provide a foolproof set of plans that the average person could hand to their builder, or that a builder can use to build a larger number of houses that he or she can market as green, easily get them certified through LEED or Energy Star, and sell at a profit with minimal effort.

So, in my usual enthusiastic spirit of taking on more work than I can possibly handle, I shall boldly plunge in! [Yes We Can] We (I am assembling a team) have registered www.VermontSimpleHouse.com which will take some time to get up and running. To begin, we will start by bringing one of the award winning houses up to speed with a full plan set to offer for sale over my current website www.swinburnearchitect.com until I can get a pro website up and running at the new Vermont Simple House website. Stay tuned….

Providence Competition House

more on solar hot water – no boiler

By | environment, good ideas, good web sites, links, products | No Comments

An article by Alex Wilson of Environmental Building News in the local newspaper Brattleboro Reformer on solar water heating with some good local links.  I have done a couple houses now with solar hot water backed up with a propane or electric heating element right on the storage tank to boost water temps when needed to serve as heat (radiant) and hot water.  No boiler!  Marathon Water Heaters are how you do it.

see also passive house institute for more information trickling to this country from Europe about how to build carbon neutral-zero energy-heatyourhousewithacat homes

Also Coldham and Hartman architects have done something similar with a number of houses in the Northeast involving upgrading the shell of the house enough to be able to heat with a single space heater such as a through the wall gas space heater in the main living area.

My own house (900 square feet, 1970, poorly insulated cape) has a modern woodstove and electric radiant heat in the ceiling which we use primarily when we are away in the winter.  We heat water with a plain old electric water heater.  The presence of large sugar maple trees prevents us from utilizing the sun.

Sketchup model

By | good ideas, projects, working with an architect | No Comments

I have been using Google Sketchup extensively in the early stages of projects this year.  It helps me zoom in on issues and make good decisions fast.  I have also been encouraging clients to download sketchup which is free.  I can then send them the file of what I’m working on which is quite small, a blessing with my slow connection.  Mastering the visualization tools in sketchup is very easy so clients can play with their design in 3-d.  This fosters good communication.  Here is a .jpg file of an early sketchup model.

Budget modern steel staircase

By | affordable modern, good ideas, press, products | 11 Comments

Hey all you sleek expensive modernist architects with square toed shiny shoes and funny little glasses! Check this out. I designed this very cool steel stair out of stock pieces of steel – two C-channels and a bunch of 1 1/2″ steel angle. Lots of nuts and bolts. Add some stainless steel cable with turnbuckles and there you go! Very Erector Set. No Welding. When it is completed there will be a wooden handrail bolted on and the 2 x 12’s that were bolted in place during constructin get replaced with solid planks of cherry from a tree felled on site. I love the rich patina of raw steel.

see also Stair Porn for a larger photo

Plans are available for this $150. See http://swinburnearchitect.com/wordpress/?p=286

A Good Architect

By | good ideas, working with an architect | No Comments

I am bringing this post forward because, well, because I like it.

As I have mentioned before, much of my work is for people who would never have gone to an architect in the first place, thinking that they could never afford it. Designing a custom home for someone is an incredibly complex endeavor. You can buy a set of plans relatively cheaply that may go 75% of the way towards fulfilling your needs and end up with a descent house. Most people go this route. However, some of my best work to date has been for people who are more concerned with money and value. I have been hired by clients to say “no, you can’t afford it” when they lose focus in the process of building a home and start to make a decision or series of decisions that would blow the budget. A good architect should be able to save a client at least the cost of architectural services if that is one of the stated goals. If you have $250,000 to spend on a house you can buy a plan and build a house that is worth $250,00 or you can spend $20,000 on an architect and build a house for $230,000 that gets you a better looking house with a more efficient and flexible floor plan and nicer spaces that fit your lifestyle more comfortably, a house that costs less to maintain over the longer term. Notice that I keep saying “good architect”. As with any profession there is a wide range of talent and specialties. Always ask for and check references. Find an architect and a builder who you are comfortable with. You need to develop a good relationship with these folks. They’re not just there to sell you something.

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Robert Swinburne in Brattleoboro, VT on Houzz

Contact

bob@swinburnearchitect.com 802.451.9764 72 Cotton Mill Hill Brattleboro, Vermont 05301