Sunday, May 5, 2013

Waiting for spring and finalizing plans

So, red is a go... for now.

We were so close to getting building permits that it really started to feel real.  I was constantly going over every detail in my head, questioning all the big decisions and having dreams about it too. I felt like it had to be right. As we started looking at finalizing the plans, we came up with several changes.  Because of these changes, we had to go back to our structural engineer and we are now waiting on updated calculations from him before submitting everything to the muni.

  • We added a dormer and windows to the South side of the garage.  The original plan was to leave that space as storage, but the more I thought about our life, I thought it would be really nice to have a more flexible space.   We had already planned to heat it and finish it, but by adding more windows, it will be a more pleasant space, if we decide we need a studio space, and small apartment, band practice room (as Erica suggested), or place to have group activities with our homeschooling friends.  

  • We also raised the height of the ceiling on the first floor of the garage. 10' with 9' doors.  It might look a little tall, but we will likely get a ski/cargo box for the top of our Toyota Sequoia and I still want to be able to park in the garage when we do.  We would be cutting it pretty close with 8' garage doors. 

    Model view of SW corner of Living room with higher ceilings
  • In an email, I mentioned to Erica that I had a bad dream about our future ceiling heights.  I dreamed they were too short.  She replied that she had recently realized that the ceiling height will be about 8' 8" (not 9', as I thought).  I freaked out a little.  We are currently living in a house with 8' ceilings and I hate it.  It feels a little claustrophobic to me. Our Atlanta house had 9' ceilings and felt wonderful.  I innocently asked if we could make it taller on the first floor (all the living spaces).  It is a little complicated because we are building with SIPs.  It is easiest to use either 9' panels or 10' panels.  Anything in between would cost as much as the 10' panels plus additional manufacturing cost to shorten them.  9' panels caused the shorten ceiling heights, lower window heights than I was expecting and a custom dining room door.  10' panels create a 9'9" ceiling on the first floor, which at first seemed too tall.  But after thinking on it and looking at Erica's work studying the model I think the height will be nicely proportionate to the room sizes and allow for more choice in light fixtures.

  • After some feedback from friends, I looked at changing the gable windows slightly.  Our gable is large, due to a steeply pitched roof full of good insulation. It will not feel like an attic upstairs (no slanted ceilings).  I love that look, but this design is much better for insulating purposes in the our high heating-days climate.  After studying all the photos of houses I love, we pulled the square windows out horizontally (as far as we could) and centered then vertically on the larger windows.  We tried other things, but this is what we have settled on.  It works on the interior really well and has a more cottage/whimsical feel from the exterior.  I actually like it a lot better and I hope those of you who shared your thoughts, do too.  We're still playing around with siding finishes...

Before window changes
Before window and door changes

After window changes
window inspiration by Rehkamp Architects

  • We also made some changes to the dining room door and windows.  French doors are notorious for not closing well, being drafty etc.  Several folks (architect, builder, window guys) suggested to us that we consider switching to a single door for better efficiency, but I was slow to let go of the look.  After much consideration, we changed the dining room French door to a single door with windows on each side.  I think it will be fine and is a reasonable compromise which brings better efficiency and lower costs.  Besides, there will probably always be too many mosquitos to swing open a set of French doors.

After window and door changes

Erica set a new set of plans the other day and I had no comments for her. :)  Now we are just waiting on the final calcs from the structural engineer, so we can submit for permits, SIP plans, and trusses.   Next up will be drilling the well (next week), finalizing a contract with our builder and getting everything into the bank. It feels like it is taking forever to get started, but it was snowing yesterday, so it still feels like we have time.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Walls and Windows

We have been busy thinking about the details of this structure.  About a year ago, Erica (our architect) and I were busy reading up about various wall systems and trying to pick the most energy efficient system that would fit in our budget.

We explored double-wall, cellulose filled walls, REMOTE walls, plain ol' 2x6 walls, ICFs, and somehow end up on on Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs).  Based on performance, construction time and costs, we decided to use 10" SIPs which will create a tight, well-insulated house (~R-38).  Because we are building with SIPs, which are manufactured out of state, many things have to be final when the plans are submitted to the Muni and to the SIPs manufacture.  Once the panels are ordered, windows placements are final and based on a window manufacture's specifications.  So, changing window sizes, placements, brand, etc, would cause problems, to say the least.
10" SIPS make thick walls and deep windows sills! - photo from Scott Homes

A house with super insulated walls probably ought to have pretty good windows. We have been looking for triple pane windows, with good performance numbers.  It is overwhelming how complicated window shopping can be.  Things to consider include, but are not limited to, the U value (opposite of an R value, so the lower the number the better),  Solar Heat Gain number (how much solar heat the window lets in), Visual Transmittance number (how much daylight comes through the glass),

There are plenty of aesthetic options too, that can affect performance as well.  Do you want wood/vinyl/fiberglass, aluminum clad or not, warm bar spacers for your simulated divided lights, internal or external divided light bars, and much, much more.

I think we have landed on a Kolbe, a window manufactured in Wisconsin and sold by a dealer in Fairbanks.  My builder seems supportive, but would prefer a local dealer. The dealer is planning to fly down here for the delivery, which is nice to know. Anyway, the other day I received my weirdest package to date: a window corner sample. It is sitting on my bookshelf along with exterior color samples.  I will return it to the dealer when we are done with it.
Kolbe window corner - aluminum clad exterior with pdls

Kolbe interior with square pdl option and square bead option
Performance wise, it is probably middle of the road for triple-pane windows.  There are some European windows have significantly better U/R values, but would cost as much plus the shipping from Europe to Alaska. There are some other American made windows with better U values and mirror heat glazing, but aesthetically cannot compare and the mirror heat glazing has some strong critics.

The Kolbe windows have all the aesthetic details we were looking for, including matching triple-pane doors.

Here are a few of the criteria I considered when choosing Kolbe over comprable windows (including Marvin and Loewen)

  • smaller divided lite muntins - ⅝”, ⅞”
  • square muntins
  • square glazing beads
  • warm edge spacer
  • pine interior available (we plan to paint the interior)
  • hidden pull down shades available
  • triple pane doors available
  • flat panel on doors (no raised panels on this house, inside or out)
  • low U values - .20/.18 fixed
  • triple pane
  • double argon
    1. Interior wood raised panel
    2. Interior wood flat panel
    3. Exterior extruded aluminum raised panel
    4. Exterior extruded aluminum flat panel
  • adjustable shgc for South side of house

I think they will look beautiful and they will perform significantly better than your average double-paned window.  It is one of the biggest single expenses we will have and it is a tough decision to make.  The research is done, so now I am going to cross my fingers and hope we love them when the are installed.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

For the love of red

We were contemplating modeling our exterior after this house:

Kell Architects

Our builder, our architect and Dan all love it.  I really like it, but when it came time to actually pick the colors (siding stain, window colors, roof), I kept thinking how boring it seems.  I was trying to pick an interesting color for the door, but couldn't figure it out.

Then, while perusing Houzz, I saw this snowy scene:

Hmm.  Red.  Red in the snow.  Red and grey.

Then I started thinking about all the red houses I have fallen in love with over the years (while on my search for the perfect house plan and before we hired Erica).  Like this one (I actually brought this photo to show Erica):

Traditional Exterior by Baxter General Contractor Northway Construction Services

There were even more, but you get the idea.

So, I played around with our Sketch-Up model (I have no idea how much I paid for Erica to create this model, but it was worth every single penny).

I went from this idea:

to this:

It looks a little cartoonish, but it sure helps me imagine it better. The challenge may be finding the right red stain for the cedar siding.  I am going to try out some out later today. Maybe I will also go take a picture of our snowy, well-tree lot and put this image on top of it.

So, what do you think?  Greyish or Red?

Or there is always, my favorite; navy blue...

I love Sketch-Up, maybe even more than I love red.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Plant-based ideas and resources

There are thousands of stories of folks who have found health by eating plant-based whole foods.  Most are much more dramatic than mine.  I will list a few of my favorite sites below where you will find success stories, advice and recipes, as well as more nutritional information and recipe ideas.

I know changing your diet is challenging and this is not for everyone. Since I had been making small changes for a long time, I was ready to make this one. I have been telling my kids that I want to live to 100. I thought it was time I figured out how to do that well. I was also tired of feeling tired and want to feel better every day. It felt like a sacrifice at first, as I gave up more foods, but the funny thing is, now I don't feel like I am missing anything. I love the food I eat.  It is beautiful, nutritious and gives me real energy.

You have the power to change your health, if that is your goal.  If you want better cholesterol numbers, a lower blood sugar number, avoid Type 2 diabetes, get to a healthy weight, get your body ready for exercise, get off medications, avoid heart attacks, dementia and strokes, reduce your cancer risk, you can do it, by giving your body the nutrition it has been craving.  You won't need sugar, caffeine, salt, baked goods or chips. Whatever it is you think you need now, your need for it will fade.

The big surprise to me, is still, that eating nutritious foods, will make you healthy and correct your weight.  I give my body the foods it needs and in turn, my body is healing itself.  I am not flawed, the food I was eating was.  I truly believed it was about exercise and calorie restriction.  It is not!  Some very educated and intelligent folks say it is 90% diet, 10% exercise.  I now believe it.  So, eat until you are satisfied.  You don't have to be hungry or exercise an hour every day to lose weight (I didn't exercise in earnest until recently).

Here are few guides that might help keep you on track, as you get started. Dr. Fuhrman is little more flexible than other plant-based proponents.  He shows people how to eat the most nutrient dense foods available and still have a some meat and dairy.  It might be good place to start.

The other big group supporting a plant-based diet is the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.  Dr. Campbell (The China Study), Dr Esselstyn (Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease), and Dr. Barnard (Power Foods and many others) are all part of that group. They put out the Power Plate.  My kids love the Power Plate. It is a great tool in helping them round out their meals on their own. Here is a quick read about the Power Plate and a little info about why plant-based diet is such a healthy diet.

I try to limit my grains to one serving a day, as suggested by Dr. Fuhrman.  He said if you have become insulin-resistant or have difficultly taking weight off, you might have better luck with less grains.  Other plant-based proponents suggest differently, but if I ate grains at every meal, I would not lose weight.  I know, because I have tried it. :)

We have the above magnet of Fuhrman's food pyramid and the Power Plate on our refrigerator.  "Salad is the main dish" seemed weird to me at first and I remember saying it out loud more than once. Now it feels like second nature.

My favorite cookbooks:
Eat to Live has lot of recipes in it and I have tried quite a few, but mostly smoothie, dressings and sauces. Honestly, I like to see a picture for more complex recipes, so I bought a few other cookbooks to help me figure out what to eat.

Happy Herbivore, Everyday Happy Herbivore and the Happy Herbivore Abroad, written by Lindsay Nixon.  Low fat, oil free, plant-based and easy! Recipes are noted as gluten-free, soy-free, quick, etc. I use the Everyday Happy Herbivore multiple times a week. I am still getting to know the other two.

Let Them Eat Vegan and Eat Drink and be Vegan by Dreena Burton. Delicious, perfect special occasion recipes and her baked goods are tried and true.  Her recipes are not quite as low fat, but full of whole grains, and a perfect introduction into baking without dairy. We have also found quite a few favorite dinner ideas from her cookbooks.

Spice it up and be prepared!
One thing you won't find in a cookbook, is the spice mix I use on my beans, almost everyday.  I make it at home and keep it near my cutting board. Atlanta folks, remember Tortillas - the restaurant?  They gave away their recipes when they were closing.  One of them was their spice mix for their beans.  I modified it only by reducing the salt.  I mix this up every couple of weeks and use it on our beans and often as a shortcut in any mexican style recipe.  I have a few other mixes, but this is my favorite: 1 tsp salt, 5 tsp chili, 3 tsp cumin, 2 tsp garlic, 2 tsp black pepper.

I didn't like salads much before last year.  I thought you had to put dressing on them to make them taste good and most dressing left me feeling guilty about the calories.  My salads are crazy good now and the only thing I pour on top is balsamic vinegar. First of all, I use a dinner plate for my lunch salad.  Dan uses a giant bowl for his.  I find that makes loading the dishwasher more challenging, but I digress.  Anyway, today's salad started with lettuce, cabbage, power greens (spinach, mizuna, chards, arugula), topped with shredded carrot, garbanzo beans with spices and fresh garlic, peas, green onions, avocado, tomatoes, pecans.  Sometimes, I add sautéed mushrooms or other cooked vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, etc, usually leftover from the night before.  I try to mix things up, but I also admit to being completely happy with the same ingredients for days on end.

You can prep a lot of these ingredients ahead of time, like enough for the weekdays.  Some folks even prepare all their weekday salads ahead of time.  I make mine everyday, but if I am packing one for a take-along lunch, I prep it upside down with the heaviest stuff on the bottom, i.e. beans, peas, tomatoes, etc, topped with my greens. That way things won't get soggy.

One of the most challenging parts of eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, is getting to the grocery store. Here in Anchorage, it takes some calculating to get to the store on a day there is stock. I would shop at the same place every time, but sometimes they don't have spinach for days or any yellow bananas, so I have to head over to another store.  It took me a while to figure out how much to buy and how often I have to go, and which store to go to.

Be brave and share your decision!
I rarely told anyone that I wanted to lose weight. I told Dan, of course and he was supportive from day one.  He had already given up dairy and was willing to support me.  This feels different though, because you are not just trying to eat less, you are going to be eating differently than most of the folks around you.  It feels socially awkward at first, but will get easier. So, a week into it I told my closest friends here in Anchorage, while we were eating out.  One dear friend, who shall remain anonymous, actually laughed out loud, but only because she knew how frustrated I was when Dan tried a vegan diet 6 months earlier (it made dinners very difficult, so beware of annoying your partner).  My friends were curious and supportive. Less than 2 months later, Ms. Anonymous gave it a try.  Then two other friends and my mom. Each in their own way and their own pace.  I gave up meat and dairy immediately, others slowly removed things from their diet or only eat them occasionally now.  You have to figure out what works best for you.

If you are ready, tell me!  I am happy to offer support, advice, encouragement, or all three. I have enjoyed watching folks around me make big changes to their diets and gain incredible health benefits too. I love sharing our successes together. Once you get started, tell your friends and family and maybe they will give it a try too.  People will be skeptical at first, as I am sure some of you still are, but how can anyone even argue with the idea that eating more fruits and vegetables and less processed food is healthier than the standard American diet?  Do some reading (Eat to Live, for starters) and you will have plenty of scientific research to support your dietary choices.

For daily encouragement, I check in on the following folks online. They all have websites/blogs, facebook pages, and pinterest boards.

The Physicians Committee for Responible Medicine
Dr. Fuhrman
Dr. Neal Bernard
Engine 2 Diet
Happy Herbivore - she also offers affordable weekly meal plans with a grocery list
Dreena Burton

There are other Facebook groups that can offer encouragement. They are not endorsed by the above folks, but if you want to ask advice from regular folks, they can be helpful.

I almost forgot! There are two great movies that can help!  Forks Over Knives and The Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue. Both are available for streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

That's all I have for now, but feel free to ask me questions.  I know I probably sound overly enthusiastic, but changing what I eat, changed me, from the inside out.  I'd much prefer to have a face to face conversation than sharing all this on a blog, but alas we all live in different places, with different schedules.  On the chance that my experience could help one of my dear friends find better health too, I am pushing myself out of my comfort zone.  If this is not your thing, that is fine.  You have to find what works for you. More questions? Ask away. I'm a softie though, so be kind in your comments!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

On going plant-based

The first three weeks were the hardest. Besides giving up meat and dairy, I quit all my vices: sugar, coffee, chocolate, alcohol and the occasional diet coke.  I had to figure out what to eat.  Dr. Fuhrman's Eat To Live set out a simple plan which I tried to follow.

I admit, I got started, but was quietly having a little pity party for myself. Why can't I eat like everyone else?  I ate in moderation and even counted calories. I buy organic, rarely eat out, never fast food, no junk, reduced sugar, whole grains, etc. Now I have to give up dairy and meat?  I didn't feel fair, but I was willing to do what ever it took at the moment and really, there was really nothing left to do.

But, then I realized I had a lot of habits to change.  My morning coffee, my late morning coffee, a diet coke at the grocery store, afternoon sweet snacks, a few chocolate chips here and there. I had to muscle through those first few weeks, but I wanted to change, so it didn't feel too hard. However, giving up caffeine is not easy on your body. I felt tired every afternoon and had a mild and constant headache for the first 2 weeks.  Most afternoons, I would lay down and rest, but not fall asleep for about a half an hour and then go on with my day.  I was losing weight, and that kept me going.

I also felt like I was letting go of part of my identity.  I am good cook, I can bake anything, and I know how to put out a delicious spread. I had a hard time wrapping my head around not being those things anymore.  But I thought, where had that gotten me?

I continued to read and finish Fuhrman's book quickly and the pity party also ended quickly.  The book is full of information, motivating research, personal stories, and menu and recipe ideas.  There is one page that gets right to the point and I often go back to it:

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify  
Breakfast: fresh fruit
Lunch: salad, beans on top, and more fruit
Dinner: salad, two cooked vegetables (1lb), fruit dessert

I started each morning, and still do, with a delicious chocolate smoothie made with spinach, unsweetened almond milk, flax seed, unsweetened cocoa powder, banana, and frozen blueberries.  Delicious and chocolately without any added sugar. By the way, I did not have a Vitamix for the first 4 months, and I got by just fine, but I do love my Vitamix now.  Lunch is a large salad, such as one the pictured below.  I like a spicy salad, so my beans always have a chili/cumin, spice mix on them and fresh garlic, I also include onions and herbs on my salad and top it with balsamic vinegar.  Lots and lots of flavors.  If I need a snack, I eat fruit or veggies, which admittedly was easier in the summer when a variety of fresh local veggies were available.   For dinner, I usually eat another smaller salad, cooked veggies, a stir fry, curry dish, bean burger, or veggie chili. I make everything from scratch.

For those first few weeks, I focused on my own needs and for dinner, Dan and the kids ate a lot of easy meals, including plenty of sandwiches.  After a while we started changing the kids diet too and we all gave up meat and dairy (Dan had given up dairy 6 months prior). Making dinner for everyone has been the biggest challenge and we are still trying new recipes all the time, but we have quite a few favorites now.  In those first few weeks, I also bought 2 excellent and now favorite cookbooks: Let Them Eat Vegan and Everyday Happy Herbivore.  We have found many favorite dinners, muffins and cookies for the kids in those books.

After those 3 weeks, I felt better and it wasn't just willpower propelling me.  My back stopped hurting, my carpal tunnel and other aches and pains disappeared and little things changed, like my ankle stopped popping while walking down the stairs.  Also, my period got shorter, less crampy and lighter.  Later my skin cleared up completely.  My BP was reading 95/65, last September, my total cholesterol was 105 (down from 185), my resting heartrate is 55, blood glucose down to 85.  So, I knew it was working for me.  The most surprising part is still that you don't have to be hungry and exercise like crazy to lose weight.  Given the nutrients your body needs, it will heal itself, which includes stabilizing your weight.

I have been on a long slow walk in this direction for a some time.  I finally feel like I have figured it out for myself and real change has happened.  I can not imagine going back to the way I was eating before.  It is hard to explain, but I no longer feel controlled by food.  I don't need caffeine, sugar, alcohol, or decadence.  I don't treat myself with food.  The real treat is the joy I feel everyday.  I am less grumpy and more active and I feel like I am a better mom, wife, daughter, sister, and friend.

I don't think of my diet as restrictive. Instead it has open up a new and delicious world of food. My taste buds have truly changed.  I eat super nutritious food because I want to and that leaves very little room for other foods.  I love what I eat and my body loves it too.  I am thriving again, not just surviving.

The best part, is there are so many excellent plant-based cookbooks out there, that I can still put out a good spread and I promise, you won't think you are missing out on anything and you won't feel a bit of guilt about it eating any of it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

On changing everything and finding myself again

My friend Carol and me out on a ski at dusk.  It was about 10 degrees
that evening. I think I had that giddy smile on my face most of the weekend!
I just got back from a fantastic weekend with friends.  We spent our time crosscountry skiing, enjoying the hottub, sharing stories and eating deliciously healthy food.  We did this same trip last year, but I didn't go skiing and the food was delicious, but different.  I enjoyed the trip last year, but this year I felt almost giddy the entire time.  I went skiing! Last year, I didn't think I could keep up, so I didn't ski. This time,  my skis gave me a serious workout, not because I am not fit, but because I don't weigh enough for them to work right.  No kick.  I borrowed my friend's extra skis for the last 2 outings and loved it. In many ways this weekend, I felt like my old self and could finally admit out loud, that being overweight was crappy.  I don't like to wallow in self pity, so I couldn't even admit it to myself before.  I just kept moving forward, trying to find the answer and the energy to make things different.

I feel like I have been moving this direction for a long time, but there were many other pressing issues: motherhood, miscarriages, more babies, homeschooling, moving, planning a house, 7 years of sleep deprivation, etc, etc.  By March of last year, I had been logging calories online and exercising and had managed to lose 4 pounds.  In two months.  Not exactly big progress.  I started thinking that maybe it is not as simple as calories in/calories out. Thankfully, a pivotal moment came at the end of March. I was sitting on the couch with a fever, watching my kids play outside with their dad.  I decided to watch a movie on Netflix called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend this movie, but it was the arrow that pointed toward the rabbit hole.  A man goes on a road trip around the Lower 48 while juicing fruits and vegetables   He doesn't eat any solids, meat or dairy.  He loses a bunch of weight and heals many of his health issues. I was intrigued.

The movie was inspiring, but I wasn't willing to juice for 60 days.  I am a parent, a homeschooling parent too.  My kids are with me nearly 24 hours a day.  I consider myself a role model to them in every way.  I have to be what I want for them.  So, I have never talked about my weight in front of them, I never degrade myself out loud about the way I look, I have never gone on a fad diet, and have strived to put what I believed to be healthy food on our plates every day.   Juicing was not an option I was willing to do in front of my kids.

I googled "most nutritious way to lose weight."  At the time, the second item was to Dr. Fuhrman's website.  I checked it out, I was skeptical so googled him some more, found blogs of people who had read his book, read reviews on Amazon and within a few days ordered 2 books- Eat to Live and Engine 2 Diet.  While I had that fever, I quit caffeine and dairy.  A day later, I decided I had eaten my last turkey sandwich.

I began reading Eat to Live by Dr. Fuhrman.  Based on a significant amount of research, he advocates for a nutrient-dense diet, focusing on a whole-foods, plant-based menu.  I decided to give it 100 percent for the first 6 weeks, during which I lost 15 pounds, without adding exercise.  Then I decided to give it another 6 weeks, then I was on board until I lost all the weight I wanted to lose.  In the meantime, I fell in love with all the wonderful foods I was eating every day; so many veggies and delicious summer fruits and trying new recipes with the kids.  I also read The China Study and learned more about why it is such a healthy way to eat. I was busy doing activities with the kids, but I was not exercising in a vigorous way, just my usual outdoor adventuring, but I felt so much better about it.

From Thanksgiving through January, my weight loss plateaued (not a pound gained or lost over that time), which is an accomplishment in itself. I made a few adjustments recently, and began losing weight again. Since starting last March, I have lost 60 pounds without counting calories, being hungry, excessive exercise, or compromising my health.  Rather, I have dramatically improved my health and my life.  I am working on losing another 25 pounds and have recently started exercising without my kids because I want to, not because I think I need to.

All three friends that went on this weekend trip, eat like I do.  I am so excited that I helped inspire them to make a change for health too.  While losing weight was my initial motivation, it is not my sole motivation now.  Great health and a long and healthy life are my goals, but really, I love, love, love the food.  I don't want to eat any other way.

Our weekend felt indulgent, mostly because as moms, it is rare that we have free time or someone else making our meals. We took turns with the meals and if you are wondering what we ate, here is an abbreviated menu: after our first ski we had veggies and salsa with a few chips, a hearty curry stew with sweet potatoes, cauliflower, lentils, carrots, mushrooms on top of spinach, peas, green onions, with avocado and cashews. We had some heart-healthy black bean brownies for dessert and there was wine too. The next morning we made smoothies and oatmeal, skied, came back for lunch, which was a big salad topped with mexican quinoa salad, and homemade hummus and veggies and pita, fruit, back out for a ski, then back to the hottub. Dinner was a moroccan sweet potato stew with greens and a bit of wine.  The next day we had a similar breakfast, ski, and big lunch.

I headed home grateful for my heath and new found energy, grateful for old and newer friends, looking forward to the next trip and new skis!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The design program

We had an initial meeting with our architectural team, accepted a scope of work and cost proposal and then met with them again. At that second meeting, we got into a few more design ideas, talked about our old house and our current house, how the rooms might flow in the new house and I shared the following document with them. Sometimes it is called a Program. Sometimes architects make their own version after listening to your needs, but we had been thinking about this house for a long time and had a clear vision of what we were looking for in the design. Maybe we should have been more open minded about the design, but we knew what we liked, and after a disappointing experience with a different architect, we thought it best to be clear about what we wanted. Thankfully, our new architects, Erica and Liz, were willing and able to design a house even better than the one we'd been imagining.

As I read it again, I kind of wanted to edit it. It has been over a year since I handed it to them and few things might not matter anymore. More than that, I really want to ask Erica (the architect who designed our house) what she thought about this list, but maybe I'd be too embarrassed to hear an honest answer. At the time, I really wanted her to know more about who she was designing this house for and what we hoped it would be for our family.

Whatever she really thought, she is an amazing professional and I don't think I could have found a better person for me to work with in Anchorage. Traditional design is not the norm here and is not necessarily Erica's style, or anyone else's here. There were lot of reasons we picked Olberding and White, but a tiny part of it was that Erica grew up in Alaska but went to school at Savannah College of Art and Design and was familiar with the architecture of the South. After living in an architecturally rich neighborhood of Atlanta, I kind of liked that. She was the right person to help us create an Alaska appropriate home that had some of the character of a more traditional home. She and Liz were also interested in helping us build a beautiful and energy efficient home.

For the most part, I am impressed with how much the plans match this list. The biggest difference I can see, is that we went over on the square footage, which also raised our budget. :(  We are at about 3400 sf on the interior of our 10" SIPs walls. When we had a preliminary design, Erica did suggest we start whittling it down, but I said I didn't want to. So, it is mostly because we didn't make many compromises from this list. We could have gone back and cut things, but we didn't.  I feel like we are getting the house we wanted, but we had to wait an extra year to start building it.

So here it is:

The Boorsteins - Dan, Kjerstin, Oliver, Benton, Linnea, and Birdie (the dog)

Our lives center around our house and the adventures we go out on.  Dan works from home and I spend my days learning with our three children at home.  We cook our meals at home and eat together and everyone gets in the kitchen to help.   

We enjoy outdoor activities all year long.  So, we are often heading out for an activity or coming back in with all our stuff that needs a place.  When we are home, we have many hobbies.  We are all avid readers and everyone has their pile (or two) of current favorites, everyone spends time at a computer, Dan does woodworking, and I love to sew and bake.  

We like to be together, but everyone needs a quiet spot sometimes.

We would like our daily activities to follow the sun (morning sun in the family studio and kitchen, evening sun in Living Room).

We like the house to be tidy, so all those books, learning and art materials, games, toys etc, need a place to go when we are not using them.  As well as all our outdoor gear and such.

I love a party, so we have lots of special occasion items, including dishes and serving ware, speciality appliances etc.  Dan also brews beer, so we have considered a kegerator in the house.

We want a place where out of town guests can be comfortable, but not a room that sits vacant the rest of the year.

We would like a semi-attached or detached two car garage with storage space for seasonal items and outdoor gear and workshop

As silly as this might seem, we have a family website called the Solstice Cottage (we were married on Summer Solstice) and we kind of like the image that conjures up for this new house; a sunny, welcoming home, with a nod to at least passive solar, if not active.

General Design Concepts
  • Front facing gable
  • Covered front porch
  • new old house
  • living in the attic
  • modest looking - simple traditional shape, appropriate massing
  • about 2500-3000 square feet - medium sized rooms, open (not vaulted), but defined spaces, with more built-ins, plenty of storage and or closets
  • Highly energy efficient, great windows, passive solar, possibly active solar
  • Sustainable and healthy home  - low VOCs, no-added formaldehyde products, radiant heat, properly ventilated with fresh air exchange system, if used, non-toxic spray foam insulation (TEP or TCPP) and foam board (polyiso), check for radon, whole house water filter/purifier (if needed), durable products (timeless)
  • safe home - built-in fire ladders upstairs, sprinkler system?, carbon monoxide detectors,
  • LEED certified? LED lighting, wired for technology, audio
  • considering a standing seam metal roof

The following is what we have imagined our house to include, but everything is up for discussion.

1st Floor
  • spot for everyday and guest coats, boots, hat/mittens
  • 1-2 benches (boot storage underneath)
  • a bit of a gathering area - we often have another family coming and going with all their winter gear while we all greet them or say good bye.
  • little dream - wide front door w/2 square stained glass windows we already own
Mudroom – connection to attached garage and or side or back doorindividual storage areas
storage for assorted gear ( small walk-in?) - seasonal items, extra backpacks, etc.
dog area- feeding spot and food storage

large room for both laundry and storage
storage baskets for dirty linens and rugs
Cleaning supplies area, including spot for vacuum and floor cleaners
Utility sink

¾ bath Guest Bedroom/Sewing Room 2 closets would be nice, but not necessary (one for sewing, one for guests)
may have a murphy bed, so I can use the room for sewing the rest of the year.  

Living Room
wood-burning fireplace or woodstove
symmetrical fireplace and cabinetry 
built-in bookcases
room enough for 2 small sofas/loveseats, and a chair (at least 14’x14’),
preferably not larger than 18’x18’
TV space (54” tv behind cabinetry)

Dining Room
Everyday dining
Round Table – size 54” expandable to 108”
Built-in storage
china, glassware, silverware storage, specialty dishware storage or display
linen storage (tablecloths and napkins)
small wine and liquor storage, kegerator

Kitchen - For me, this house starts with the kitchen, its functionality, an unconventional amount of windows, and its connection to other spaces.
large sink – dish station –sink, dishwasher, storage,
more windows, less upper cabinetry
either large stove & oven  but could do a separate cooktop and ovens
baking area – large mixer, baking supplies, 
trash and recycling area
near kitchen - small spot for phones and calendar, small household tools, etc.
Walk-in Pantry
storage for bulk pantry items, occasional items, freezer?

Family Studio  
connection to kitchen
semi-open (double pocket doors/barn door)
closet or built-ins –kids’ learning, arts and crafts supplies
space for kids table for crafts and learning projects
wall space for computers (2-3 desktops)
space available for a sofa or even built in spot to read books together 
Our current space is about 16x12 plus, 10x10, but just 16x16 should be plenty

Master Bedroom
space for queen sized bed, dresser, chair and ottomancloset for 2 (walk-in?)possibly a small fireplacebuilt-in bookshelvesdreamy extra - sitting area 

Master Bath
double vanity double showerlinen closetprivate toiletfreestanding tub 

Kids Rooms (2)
1)  large enough for 2 twin beds, 2 dressers, closet space for 2 kids
2) same or smaller room (1 child) (she has a day bed with a trundle bed)

Kids Bathroom
double vanity
private toilet
bathtub?/shower (height adjustable shower head)
linen storage

Dan’s office
south facing windows - he dreams of a 3rd floor tower.  :)

Possible Extras Upstairs
upstairs linen closets(s) and storage for 2nd vacuum cleaneradditional laundry closet built in bookshelves and/or cozy window seat

Outdoor Living Ideas
deck and covered front porch

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Rearranging plans

A little over a year ago, we began working with Erica White at Olberding White Architects to design our future house.

We had a few goals in mind:

a beautiful and functional house suited to our family
orientated to take advantage of southern exposure
classic architecture - still appealing over time, elegant
energy efficient - well insulated
adaptable to future technology - i.e. solar power
classic finishes
healthy indoor air - long term

I have looked at this list over and over, both to remind myself and to check if the design is meeting the goals.

Our deeply loved home in Atlanta was a starting point for the design.  A small front facade, defined, but open living spaces, classic design.  From there we thought about how to fix all the not-so-functional parts of that house, got a guest room, moved the family bedrooms upstairs and added a family room off the back of the house (remember our screened porch in Atlanta?).  This design is everything I had hoped and more, with the minor exception of it being more square footage than I expected.

The design has met all our goals so far. I think it will fit our family's full life at home (work at-home dad, homechooling kids, crafty mom, woodworking dad), until the kids leave, then it might feel a little big. It is classic but has modern elements, namely the extra large windows.

We worked with both our architect, Erica, and the builder throughout the design process, thinking that it would help keep the house within budget. It took a while to research wall systems for a super insulated house in Anchorage (no one has done it here), windows and to start getting real numbers. By the time our selected builder had a solid estimate, it was June 2012, almost too late to start here in Anchorage.  The numbers were also about 50% higher than we expected. Besides, being too expensive, the builder was still in the middle of another big project, so we wouldn't be able to start soon anyway. We decided to stop the whole process and had to come up with a new plan.

Another builder (one of our top choices) happened to call us shortly after we put a stop to everything.  He offered to give us another set of numbers.  I think he was eager to get started, but we weren't sure we wanted to spend the money to build the house we designed.  Thankfully he came back with significantly better numbers.  He was also willing to work with us on pricing the details and his subcontractors had much, much better numbers.  We realized we should have selected him in the first place and began moving forward with a plan to build in May/June 2012.

We actually took a nice long break from thinking about the house over the winter, but we recently met with both our builder and our architect to get back into it all.  We need to finalize a few details and then go through the local permitting process.

Take a look at the following images.  We will be rearranging the kitchen, so don't worry about the details there and changing a few minor details such as closet door swings, and the crawl space access location.  The bottom of the floorplans is the South wall.  All those living spaces will get lovely southern sunlight throughout the day.  The sun will start on the Eastside in the Family Room and Kitchen window and upstairs in the Master bedroom, then work its way around the to long wall of windows in the Kitchen, Dining and Living areas, finally setting on the West end through the windows in Living Room.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Back to the blog?

I kind of miss writing, but haven't felt like I had much to say.  Or maybe I have just been too busy to think in depth about anything.  I just read that last post and it was from almost a year ago.  Yikes.

Meanwhile, we have done some rearranging of all sorts around here.  We rearranged our pantry and refrigerator and dramatically changed our diet.  We rearrange some big family plans. We also rearranged our house. Oh, and Apple ditched me so I had to rearrange this blog.

What do you think of the new header?  It is an drawing of our future Solstice Cottage.