Category Archives: Santa Cruz Architect

Recover and Rebuild: Expedited Building Permit Processing in Santa Cruz County

Santa Cruz County Planning Department indicates that it is committed to an expedited and streamlined process, to ensure that our community can rebuild as quickly as possible. The Department indicates that the immediate first step is for it to conduct Assessments regarding basic infrastructure and property status before an Owner can begin planning for rebuilding. County staff, in coordination with Cal Fire, are in process of assessing public and private infrastructure and are working hard to assess properties as quickly as possible.

After that:
1. Once an Owner’s property has been assessed for damages, the next step in the process is for the Owner to file a claim with your insurance company.
2. If the Owner is considering temporary housing in an RV or other temporary accommodation either on or off site the property while they rebuild, Owner can file and online application form for a temporary accommodation permit.
3. Owner files an online Calamity Application with the Assessor’s Office. Through this process, Assessor’s Office staff will initiate re-assessment of the Owner’s property, which includes enabling the Assessor to share property record information with the Owner.
4. Owner obtains Building Permit records, including archived project plans, by emailing a request to the Records Room staff. County recommends to signify the Email title “Fire Records Request” to allow for expedited processing. These records are required by County staff to determine next steps in the permitting process.
5. Owner obtains Environmental Clearance for debris removal from the site.
6. Owner is then cleared to make online building permit application after which Planning Department will conduct building permit review processing. Most single-family residential projects will require a Building Permit only; however, some locations or projects may need a discretionary development permit, environmental resource permit, or other special exception or consideration.
7. After obtaining requisite permits, Owner will be cleared to conduct construction activities.

Detailed information is available at the County Planning Department’s website, https://www.sccoplanning.com/PlanningHome/recoverandrebuild.aspx

Gypsum Plaster : Advantages and Disadvantages

Gypsum is a soft sulfate mineral composed of Calcium sulfate dihydrate (CaSO4:2H20). It is widely used as a fertilized, in sculptures and as plaster material. Gypsum is a chalk like material and is very light in weight. It is available in crystalline form in nature. In recent years, the construction sector has witnessed a number of new trends, technology advancements and innovations across applications, all aimed at making construction faster and delivering higher performance. Gypsum although a much older material than the cement & sand plaster has rarely been used extensively in construction industry. Now a days, Gypsum has proved to be a miraculous material aiding interior construction due to its properties. Continue reading

What is Thermally Modified Wood Decking and Siding?

There are many types of thermally modified woods. In general, the thermal modification process makes woods more stable, more rot resistant and longer lasting.  There are many thermally modified woods species and different thermal modification processes.  Thermally modified wood is an environmentally friendly high-performance option to consider for decking and siding projects. Continue reading

Exceeding the WUI Code: Home Design in Wildfire-Prone Areas

Recent fire events in California have caused many homeowners to embark upon better understanding ways to defend their homes and property against the risks of wildfire. California’s building codes (CBC) currently prescribe certain requirements for homes built within the Wildland Urban Interface, or W.U.I. Yet in many instances homes, even new homes built to current CBC standards were destroyed, leading many constructing within the WUI to ask themselves if they should build in excess of current codes. Continue reading

What You Need to Know About Exterior Cement Plaster

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Exterior cement plaster (stucco) is an exterior finish consisting of portland cement, sand, mixed with water to form a workable plaster. Admixtures may be added to for various purposes including workability. It’s advantages include utility, relatively low first cost, and minimum need for maintenance. Plaster can be a desirable facing material: hard, strong, and most of all, fire-resistant.
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Not So Big House: 5 Ways To Make Your Home Feel Bigger

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Alta House: view of Kitchen. Note windows and skylights for ample daylighting, variety of ceiling heights, and cozy inglenook space with windows on two sides.

Many homeowners are now gearing up to create that long-postponed new or remodeled home. Many of those homeowners are keen to attain more home at less expense, and so in our architectural practice we are seeing resurgent interest in the Not So Big House.

The Not So Big House movement was kicked off by the 1998 publication of The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live by Sarah Susanka. In it is spelled out a comprehensive strategy to build smaller, more cost effectively, and smarter by favoring quality over quantity. The book was an instant phenomenon, and the movement has understandably experienced resurgent, sustained immediacy over the past several years.

Here are five key ways to attain the benefits of the Not So Big House in your new home or remodel:

1. If You Use It, You Should See It
Rooms that are isolated from other spaces, hidden behind hallways or staircases first of all tend not to be used and secondly contribute to a house that feels kludgy, closed in, and claustrophobic. Certainly some rooms do need privacy, but if you can, opening up the view through and between the kitchen, family area, dining area, study, and other public spaces you will contribute to a feeling of lightness and spaciousness throughout the home. Doors between these areas can be dispensed with entirely, building instead a framed opening a foot or two wider than a regular doorway. And even if you can’t open an intervening wall completely, you can make an interior window instead. That little strategy by itself will make your home both feel and live bigger.

View from bedroom, through bathroom, to windows beyond. To create spaciousness the owners elected to dispense with any intervening wall.

View from bedroom, through bathroom, to windows beyond. To create spaciousness the owners elected to dispense with any intervening wall.

Doors between these areas can be dispensed with entirely, building instead a framed opening a foot or two wider than a regular doorway. And even if you can’t open an intervening wall completely, you can make an interior window instead. That little strategy by itself will make your home both feel and live bigger.

2. The Diagonal View
Another secret to making your house feel larger is opening up a diagonal view, a line-of-sight that extends from one corner of the house to another. To do this, in new construction we make sure there are no intervening walls. In remodels, consider removing all or part of a wall that’s blocking that line-of-sight. If that’s outside of your comfort zone, again you might consider installing a framed opening or interior window. The opening need not be inordinately large, but instead need only be strategically placed, to achieve the desired result.

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Alta House: note spiral stair featured as sculptural element highlighted by daylighting. Not hidden behind claustrophobic walls, instead it’s an architectural focal point on a diagonal line-of-sight.

3. Double Duty
The floor plans of many of today’s homes have failed to keep pace with the realities of actual lifestyle. For example, for many families today the formal living room is in reality just expensive, rarely-entered real estate used to showcase rarely-utilized furnishings. Instead, consider consolidating the living area with dining area resulting in a space that can serve both formal and informal functions. If a formal dining room is an essential commodity, consider lining it with bookshelves so it can double as a library. The result will be an elegant, lived-in sensibility which at the same time frees up space elsewhere that can be used for something else, such much-needed additional resources in your home office or media room.

4. Shelter Around Activity
Children instinctively understand the concept of creating shelter around a specific activity, for example creating cozy playhouses out of cardboard boxes. This is instinctual in adults, too, and an alcove or inglenook is the adult equivalent of the cardboard box, doing the double duty of providing an alternative space for dedicated activity within a larger space. The larger space feels larger by contrast with the smaller, while the nook provides semi-private comfort for dedicated activities.

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Alta House: diagonal line of sight from the kitchen reveals variety of ceiling heights, open upper landing, and window openings in interior walls used to create a feeling of spaciousness.

5. Vary Ceiling Heights
In order to establish variety and contrast, employ the strategy of adjusting and varying the height of the ceilings. For example, a lower ceiling over the kitchen, a medium-height ceiling over the dining area, and a tall ceiling over the entry will provide spatial contrast, a hierarchy of activity spaces, so that the entire house actually ends up living larger. This is a strategy readily employed in new construction. In the case of the remodel, raising a ceiling can be accomplished by raising the roof by means of a dormer. An even more affordable solution is to lower parts of the ceiling without changes to the support structure. When you lower a ceiling, you’re not affecting the structure, thus making it a relatively easy strategy to accomplish.

5 Kitchen Remodel Ideas That Pay Off

Kitchens are a place of sustenance and sociability. Food, family, and friends mingle to create a winning combination. So it makes perfect sense that remodels are so often geared toward the kitchen. What about thinking of your kitchen in the long-term sense, in terms of investment and return? Will your kitchen remodel projects be a positive contribution to your home’s value or will they erode that value? Continue reading

A Step-by-Step Guide for Building Your Custom Home

You know you want to build your dream house, but don’t know how to begin? It can seem like a daunting task to build a custom home. And admittedly, it is complicated. This 3-part checklist is aimed at getting you on the right track and providing an overview of the process. Continue reading

Five Best Design Practices for Small Homes and ADUs

Over the years our architectural practice has worked out some best design practices for the design of small homes and accessory units, as well as the design choices that should be avoided. You can benefit from our experience. Here’s a list of common design mistakes people make when planning their Not So Big House or accessory dwelling unit. Continue reading

What is the Heat Island Effect?

Urban Heat IslandsAs urban areas develop, changes occur in their landscape. Buildings, roads, and other infrastructure replace open land and vegetation. Surfaces that were once permeable and moist become impermeable and dry. These changes cause urban regions to become warmer than their rural surroundings, forming an “island” of higher temperatures in the landscape. Continue reading