Tag Archives: construction materials

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

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

Slab-on-Grade or Crawl Space: Which Foundation is Best for You?

Until recently, crawl space foundations were the favored type of foundation, but in recent years slab foundations have become increasingly popular. While there are advantages and disadvantages to each type of foundation, the choice ultimately comes down to a combination of personal preference plus site-specific considerations regarding where the home is being built. Continue reading

Bamboo Flooring: Pros and Cons

Is Bamboo Flooring Right for You?
As a flooring material, bamboo has many of the same benefits and drawbacks of hardwood flooring. Like wood flooring, bamboo is an attractive natural material that generally adds real estate value to a home. While the bamboo plant is a type of grass, not a tree, bamboo flooring behaves much like wood flooring—it can even be refinished in the same way. Bamboo is every bit as hard as most hardwoods and is slightly more water-resistant. But like wood, bamboo can be scratched, and it is prone to cracking in conditions where humidity levels swing dramatically. Continue reading

Natural Building Ventilation

Historically, all buildings were ventilated naturally. In modern buildings, many of the opportunities for natural ventilation have been compromised by placement of interior partition walls and reliance on mechanical systems. With an increased awareness of the cost and environmental impacts of energy use, natural ventilation has become an increasingly attractive method for reducing energy use and cost and for providing acceptable indoor environmental quality and maintaining a healthy, comfortable, and productive indoor climate rather than the more prevailing approach of using mechanical ventilation. Continue reading

7 Brands of Fiber-Cement Siding for Your Home

Fiber-cement siding stormed onto the scene a few decades ago and revolutionized the house siding business because it possesses the best of many worlds. It offers the look of authentic wood shiplap siding, even with lookalike textured wood grain. Unlike wood, it is fire resistant. Unlike vinyl siding, it can be painted. Fiber-cement siding, while not inexpensive, is a high resale value siding choice that offers equally high aesthetic appeal. While more fiber-cement siding manufacturers have popped up in recent years, fiber-cement siding production is a large-scale, energy-intensive process. As a result, the fiber-cement siding playing field is small and competition is limited. Still, a few of the best fiber-cement brands and manufacturers can be singled out for the quality of their products and their attention to customers’ needs. Continue reading

Comparing Window Materials: Which Is Best?

As with every window replacement project, the better informed you are about the window materials, accompanying products and services you will need, the more closely the project’s outcome will meet your expectations. Because of constantly changing replacement window technologies, it’s important to let go of your preconceived notions about the best window materials to use. What was once considered standard “go-to” materials for window manufacturers in the past, may no longer even meet today’s stringent energy certification requirements. Continue reading

Fire-resistive Roof Types

Common Roof MaterialsNo material is “fire proof” however, proper use and assembly of fire-rated building materials can reduce a fire’s spread and extend the amount of time it takes for a home to ignite and burn. (Structural assembly is the process of layering materials when building exterior walls and roof.) Your roof is vulnerable to wildfire because it is the largest surface area of your home. The exposed, uneven surface of a roof can easily trap hot, wind-blown embers. Simple roof forms are easier to protect than complex ones due to less surface area and intersections, which may create heat traps. Use class A or B roofing materials to reduce risk. Continue reading

Cost–Effective Building Design

Every owner wants a cost-effective building. But what does this mean? In many respects the interpretation is influenced by an individual’s interests and objectives, and how they define “cost-effective”.

• Is it the lowest first-cost structure that meets the program?
• Is it the design with the lowest operating and maintenance costs?
• Is it the building with the longest life span?
• Is it the facility in which users are most productive?
• Is it the building that offers the greatest return on investment?

While an economically efficient project is likely to have one or more of these attributes, it is impossible to summarize cost-effectiveness by a single parameter. Determining true cost-effectiveness requires a life-cycle perspective where all costs and benefits of a given project are evaluated and compared over its economic life.

A building design is deemed to be cost-effective if it results in benefits equal to those of alternative designs and has a lower whole life cost, or total cost of ownership. For example, the HVAC system alternative that satisfies the heating and cooling requirements of a building at the minimum whole life cost, is the cost-effective HVAC system of choice. Components of the whole life cost include the initial design and construction cost, on-going operations and maintenance, parts replacement, disposal cost or salvage value, and of course the useful life of the system or building.

The federal government has numerous mandates that define program goals with the expectation that they be achieved cost-effectively.

The challenge is often how to determine the true costs and the true benefits of alternative decisions. For example, what is the economic value in electric lighting savings and productivity increases of providing daylight to workplace environments? Or, what is the value of saving historic structures? Alternately, what is the cost of a building integrated photovoltaic system (BIPV), given that it may replace a conventional roof?

The following three overarching principles associated with ensuring cost-effective construction reflect the need to accurately define costs, benefits, and basic economic assumptions.

Utilize Cost and Value Engineering Throughout the Project Life Cycle
As most projects are authorized/funded without a means of increasing budgets, it is essential that the project requirements are set by considering life-cycle costs. This will ensure that the budget supports any first-cost premium that a life-cycle cost-effective alternative may incur. Once a budget has been established, it is essential to continually test the viability of its assumptions by employing cost management throughout the design and development process. An aspect of cost management is a cost control practice called Value Engineering (VE). VE is a systematic evaluation procedure directed at analyzing the function of materials, systems, processes, and building equipment for the purpose of achieving required functions at the lowest total cost of ownership.

Use Economic Analysis to Evaluate Design Alternatives
In addition to first costs, facility investment decisions typically include projected cost impacts of, energy/utility use, operation and maintenance and future system replacements. At the beginning of each project, establish what economic tools and models will be used to evaluate these building investment parameters. The methodologies of life-cycle cost analysis (LCCA) will typically offer comparisons of total life-cycle costs based upon net present values. Other methods usually used as supplementary measures of cost-effectiveness to the LCCA include Net Savings, Savings-to-Investment Ratios, Internal Rate of Return, and Payback.

Consider Non-Monetary Benefits such as Aesthetics, Historic Preservation, Security, Safety, Resiliency, and Sustainability
Most economic models require analysts to place a dollar value on all aspects of a design to generate final results. Nevertheless it is difficult to accurately value certain non-monetary building attributes, such as formality (for example, of a federal courthouse) or energy security. The objective of a LCCA is to determine costs and benefits of design alternatives to facilitate informed decision-making. Costs can be more readily quantified than benefits because they normally have dollar amounts attached. Benefits are difficult because they often tend to have more intangibles. In some cases, these non-monetary issues are used as tiebreakers to quantitative analyses. In other instances, non-monetary issues can override quantitatively available cost comparisons, for example, renewable energy application.

These cost-effectiveness principles serve as driving objectives for cost management practices in the planning, design, construction, and operation of facilities that balance cost, scope, and quality. Analyzing the environmental costs through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) can be complementary to the dollar cost implications of the design, materials selection, and operation of buildings. The LCA methodology, which can enhance information gleaned from an LCC, includes definition of goal and scope, an inventory assessment, life-cycle impact assessment, and interpretation-an iterative process.