A basement renovation is a great way to create more usable space in your home cost-effectively. Just because basements are cheaper (per square foot) than an addition, this does not mean that you should cut corners. Here are some of the top things to consider or avoid when finishing your basement.
1. Improper HVAC design + Humidity Control
It is very tempting to add a duct or two from the existing HVAC system when renovating the basement. Not only is this NOT code in most jurisdictions, but it also does not work well.
The best solution is for the basement to have its own system. The system should be designed by a professional based on the conditions in the basement. You will have problems if your HVAC contractor installs a system that is too small or too large. The basement will not be comfortable, and you may have humidity issues as well.
In addition to the HVAC system, you should consider a dehumidification system. This will help reduce the humidity when the system is not running. Energy recovery ventilators are also a great way to bring in fresh air while exhausting your house’s air pollutants.
2. BEFORE renovating your basement, you should manage bulk water from entering your home
Basements, by definition, are partly or entirely below grade. Older homes that used brick or cinder blocks were not designed to be waterproof when they were built. Newer homes with solid concrete foundations may have waterproofing in place already. Cracks may still form in the concrete so water can come through. Even though it is NOT code, we recommend internal waterproofing on all basement renovations that include finished space. Bulk water can cause structural damage and mold.
If there was no evidence of water leaking into the house, OR if our clients told us that there were no previous leaks, we would not waterproof the basement again. Due to weather patterns causing previously DRY basements to become wet, we are now recommending bulk water management on ALL of our basement renovations.
Bulk water should first be addressed from the exterior of the house. The grade needs to slope AWAY from the foundation, so bulk water is NOT ponding. Foundations should be waterproofed from the exterior for best results. If landscaping prevents this from happening, then there are interior waterproofing solutions that work as well.
3. Radon testing before renovating the basement
Radon is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer in the US. Good ventilation or leaky houses through passive ventilation can decrease the Radon levels. When basements are renovated, they are brought up to the current building and energy codes. In most cases, this means they are built with fewer air leaks. If the contractor does not design the HVAC system to bring in the fresh air, then the Radon levels could increase! It is best to test for Radon before the renovation starts. Radon remediations are much cheaper BEFORE the basement is finished.
Another good way to deal with Radon and musty odors in basements is to install an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV). ERV’s are designed to remove stale air while bringing in the fresh air at the same time. This is a balanced ventilation strategy which is is better than exhaust ventilation. The Exhaust-only method causes air to come in uncontrolled into the area, which brings in humidity or dirty air.
4. Improper flooring in a basement renovation
If you have hardwood in the rest of your house, you may want the same look in your basement. Traditional hardwood floors are not a good idea in the basement due to potential moisture damage. Moisture can come up through the concrete foundation or from leaks on other levels. Warped hardwoods due to moisture are not ideal.
Moisture-resistant flooring like polished concrete or tile is optimal if they fit with the design. Other composite flooring options that are water-resistant provide a unique look for your basement design.
5. Improper insulation details in a basement renovation
There are 2 types on insulation that you need in basements. The first is insulation for thermal control. The 2nd is insulation for sound control. The thermal insulation should be installed on the outside walls of the basement that are adjacent to the exterior. In some climate zones, insulation should be installed below the concrete slab as well.
So how do contractors mess up these details?
Insulate and Air-seal
Insulation in a house is only effective when paired with air-sealing. Fiberglass insulation is useless if air can pass through it. Air sealing is the process of sealing all of the gaps in the exterior walls. This decreases your heating and cooling costs. Air sealing also helps keep bugs out, which seems to make our clients happy!
Some insulations such as spray foam can air seal and insulate at the same time. We also consider ROCKWOOL, which adds fire protection that spray foam does not offer.
6. Basement Renovation with Low ceilings
When I bought my current house, the basement had 8-foot ceilings without any soffits for mechanicals. Sounds good, right? Most basements barely have 8 feet to the bottom of the main level’s floor joists. I should have been happy.
The previous owner installed a drop ceiling right 8 feet when the floor’s joists’ bottom was 10.5′ above the finished floor. They wasted 30″ of space that should have been wide open.
The best solution is to make sure the plumbing, HVAC, and electrical components are designed to go between the floor joists so you don’t lose all of that space. If the ductwork needs to go below the floor joists, then a 12″ drop ceiling is plenty to conceal the ductwork and plumbing if it is designed properly.
Another option is to use exposed HVAC ductwork similar to a commercial space. It is more industrial looking; however, the space is much larger, and you do not feel claustrophobic.
1. Design to the standard dimensions of the lumber
This may seem obvious; however, many architects do not do this. A sheet of plywood is 4 feet by 8 feet. If the room’s exterior dimensions are designed to be 13 x 13, then there will be a lot of waste with the wood. Designing in increments of 2 feet or 4 feet is ideal for minimizing waste.
2. Consider alternative lumber species
The lumber shortage is mostly in categories that use softwoods. Hardwoods don’t seem to be affected right now, so consider eco-friendly hardwoods for structural components. I received this email from one of my vendors that provides eco-decking:
We have just launched our newest product, Robi® Glulams, the first hardwood glulams constructed out of Black Locust. Combining the durability, strength, and natural class A fire rating of Black Locust with glulam technology, this innovative product enables us to produce wider and longer pieces of wood than is possible with standard solid lumber. Currently are producing 2” thick material that is 12” wide and up to 12 feet long. Soon we will begin producing 2” thick by 12” wide by 16-foot long material. The glulams can be cut and processed to smaller dimensions and are great for structural framing, in-ground applications, benches, handrails, stair treads, facia board, and anywhere the imagination takes it.
3. Reuse Lumber for other projects
Good wood should not go in the dumpster!
If we over-order and the wood is in great condition, it can be returned for a refund. That does not often happen, so we usually take all of the dimensional lumber to the next job site. If it is not perfect, it can be used for forms, site protection, or bracing.
We made a structure for our son’s cub scout pack that was 99% repurposed materials.
4. Advanced Framing
Ironically it is called “advanced framing” when in fact is simplifying the framing process. This framing technique uses less wood while allowing for more insulation which. Not only do you save on framing costs, but you also save on heating and cooling costs as a result of the increased R-Value!
A kitchen is more than just “cabinets and countertops.” If you are redesigning the whole space, design, durability, and building science are major considerations that need to be applied to the plan. Here are some observations on how our industry can do better and suggestions we make for our clients. The good news is that all of these common mistakes are easily avoidable through good design and proper product selection.
1. Improper Use of Contractor Grade Outlets and Switches in Kitchens
Any kitchen design competition that has contractor-grade outlets and switches installed should be disqualified from entry. Sounds petty; however, hear me out, and you will understand why this is important.
Why would you invest thousands on a design grade backsplash, then slap a 68 cent outlet with a 47 cover plate on it? Why would you cut a hole in the side of an expensive island to install that same basic white outlet and cover? Kitchens are one of the most costly rooms in the house, so $50 in upgraded outlets will not break the budget.
If a high-end outlet is not in the budget, you can easily find a Decora-style outlet or switch with a matching cover that is NOT bright white. It will also blend into the surface versus sticking out with all of its utility-grade glory.
SawHorse Case Study
Outlet and Switch Observations
These are images of one of our projects where the electrician just finished installing the outlets. The white outlets on the backsplash made me sick inside, so we selected a color that would blend in better. They did recognize that white would not look good on the peninsula, so they installed black. They also correctly used white on the wall at the end of the peninsula.
Outlet and Switch Solutions
If design grade outlets and switches are not in the budget, at least match the color or find a complementary color. The cost to upgrade to a decora outlet/ switch with a screwless cover is just a few dollars. This small change can make a big difference in the space design instead of looking like a “design wart.”
Here is an example of an outlet that we used on a white kitchen island recently. Yes- that is an outlet. It pops out when you need to plug something in, and it conveniently pops back in after you are done. This looks much better on an expensive island than a cheap utility-grade outlet.
2. Improper Ventilation in Kitchens
There are 2 smells that people seem to like that are not good for your health. The first is the “new car smell”- that smell is full of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). The name alone should be an indicator that you should not breathe these toxins.
The second is the aroma coming from the kitchen. Cooking can also produce indoor air pollution. Natural gas can produce carbon monoxide and other harmful pollutants. Cooking itself can release unhealthy pollutants from the heating oils, especially at high temperatures. Even cleaning is bad. Most cleaning agents contain VOCs as well.
Solutions to help Indoor Air Quality in Kitchens
Reduce the source of the pollutants
Simple using cleaners that do not contain toxic VOC’s is a no- brainer. There are plenty of non-toxic cleaners on the market.
I also mentioned that there are harmful byproducts created in the combustion process with natural gas. If you have the means to do so, choosing an induction cooktop can greatly reduce the amount of air pollution in your kitchen. Induction cooktops also cook faster, so any potential pollutants have less time to enter your airspace.
Properly Designed Ventilation
There are several considerations when designing ventilation for your kitchen. The first consideration is the type of range that you are using. You want to make sure the range hood exhaust is designed with the proper CFM (cubic feet per minute). The 2nd consideration is allowing designed “makeup air.” The final consideration is education on how and when to use ventilation.
Let’s discuss sizing the ventilation for the type of range that you are using first. There are codes and standards that we will discuss in a separate post. The first ventilation device to avoid is not actually taking the air out of the space. There are items on the market that recirculate the air back into the area after some basic filtration occurs. It would be best if you had an actual exhaust hood designed to capture the heat, water vapor, and pollutants and vent them directly to the outside of the structure.
Just because you have an exhaust hood designed to take the bad air out of the house means you are done. For all of the air that leaves the space, you need “make-up” air entering the structure to replace it. A balanced approach that brings in this air through the mechanical system is ideal. Otherwise, you are bringing air in from possible toxic areas such as moldy crawlspaces or smelly attics.
Finally, knowing when you use the ventilation is important. Anytime you are using the cooktop or oven (if you have a range), the ventilation should be turned on. There are some ventilation systems with sensors that detect bad indoor air quality near the range and turn on the exhaust for you if needed.
3. Countertops that are not durable
If you just plan to use your kitchen to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches then skip this section.
Let’s be honest, you are going to use and abuse your kitchen. It is designed to prepare and host meals for your family and friends. The surface that will get the most abuse (along with the floor) is the countertop.
White/ light countertops are trending right now, and everyone loves the look of marble. It has natural veining that brings some more organic-like design to the space. The marble looks great; however, it is NOT kitchen-friendly.
This is why we prefer quartz composites or centered stone countertops if you want that natural marble look. We interviewed NEOLITH and CAMBRIA at the Kitchen and Bathroom Show last year and also created this Pinterest Board showing even more marble top options for your kitchen.
4. Lack of Circulation around island and appliances
The building code only requires that you have 36″ clearance around the island for circulation. This is a minimum! Many designs only use this basic standard instead of increasing it to 42″ or 48″, which allows for multiple people in the space at the same time.
This allows the person to prepare the food to be able to do so safely while others are in their work areas. Wider pathways are inviting when entertaining guests so they can use the space without feeling confined.
5. Design for the appliances in the open position
36″ is OK at best when the oven is shut, and no one is using the fridge. That is not realistic, though. It is best to design the fridge to allow for good circulation when open, NOT closed. Better yet- design it so there is no island within 5 feet of it so there will not be any kitchen traffic jams.
Ovens don’t have to be in the immediate area since you don’t have to watch your food bake. If you have a slide-in range, make sure people can navigate the door when it is open. This allows more than 1 person to use that space at the same time and helps prevent burns.
What other mistakes have you seen?
This could easily be a top 10 list and could turn into a white paper in the future. What other common design mistakes have you seen in kitchen design?
If you need assistance with your kitchen design contact us today:
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I attended the International Builders Show last year in Las Vegas. They hosted over 1700 exhibitors to include ones from the Kitchen and Bath Show (KBIS). This year due to COVID-19, the show is online with just over 300 exhibitors. I remember hearing whispers about COVID-19 when I was at the show in Vegas last year. However, I had no idea what the rest of the year was going to be like. Fortunately, I interviewed quite a few amazing vendors so I could create some videos for my clients. The primary purpose was to talk to key manufacturers about products that my clients need for their houses. I got lucky. Those interviews got over 100K views over the past year. This year I was invited to attend with a “press pass.” I am also interviewing for our sister company and green building directory- Rate It Green.
Even though there are less exhibitors, it is still impossible to see all 300+. When there was 1700, I was barely able to talk to 100 or so and had to walk miles to even accomplish that feat. This time, I get to do all of these interviews from the comfort of my home office. The main thing that I miss from last year is the catered food and after hours events.
This year’s show is online for obvious reasons. I did hear that the first day was pretty rocky due to some technical glitches, however, I did not notice. I was fortunate enough to have interviews lined up off the platform before the show started. Here are a few of the highlights of the video interviews that took place on February 9th.
The first interview was with Johnathan Brill of Infinity Drain. It was a great start to the day, especially since they had such a great story to tell. Aside from being a great product, they had several key points that resonated with me.
Made in the USA
As a Veteran, this gave me goosebumps. The trend is for many manufacturers to take their production overseas. Fortunately, some of them found it more advantageous to stay here in the US. A term that is used quite often in the green building world is “resilience.” While this is commonly applied to buildings, this is the application to companies as well.
Jonathan told me that other manufactures were struggling with supplies since their operations were global. Due to their ability to source and manufacture in the US, Infinity Drain did not experience these same supply chain issues. Since they are made in the US and the materials are also US-based, they could keep up with contractor demands in 2020 and 2021.
In addition to not having supply chain issues, they also introduced some bold initiatives. They created a “next day” custom program for many of their products. This is especially important for showers that are designer grade and need a linear drain that does not have a reveal around it.
Taking care of their neighbors
As we all know, this pandemic has impacted many families, and as a result, “food insecurity” is more of an issue. We only had a short period of time for our interview. Regardless, Jonathan used a large part of that time to talk about community outreach instead of sharing the benefits of their product.
You would think that their commitment to “Made in the USA” was enough. No- they want to feed their neighbors as well. Jonathan was restless, seeing the news that his neighbors were hungry, so he had to get involved. His company now helps prepare 1000 “warm” meals/ month to be delivered to those who need it.
Good job Infinity Drain!
Cradle to Cradle
Their shower pans are made from stainless steel, which is 100% recyclable. They repurpose 100% of the scraps in the manufacturing process. When you renovate the space decades from now, you can either send the metal back to Infinity Drain, OR you can recycle it at a local scrapyard.
Just like Infinity Drain, Broan-Nutone manufacturer in the US, or North America. I was even reminded of this on our YouTube channel comment section by several of their workers when I reviewed another similar ventilation project. The sense of pride is strong with their staff, which means they care about quality and innovation.
David Jones, Senior Marketing Manager for Broan was kind enough to share some of their newest product lines with me. They’ve been busy, especially with new ways to keep your air clean in your house. They have a new bath fan that kills bacteria, an ERV that is self-balancing, and sensors that monitor for bad air.
OVERTURE Connected Indoor Air
These sensors monitor bad indoor air quality (IAQ). They can detect microparticles, CO2, humidity, to name a few. Most sensors give you the data, and you have to take action. These not only give you alerts, but they also take action. They are connected to the exhaust fans in your house and will turn on the nearest fan to immediately exhaust the bad air out of the space.
Disco Bath Fan
David took the time to go through all of their social media channels and mentioned that they were not on Tik Tok (yet). Neither is SawHorse. The next slide in his presentation was a bath fan that changed colors to encourage kids to use it. It is called the NuTone® ChromaComfort™ w/ Sensonic™ Stereo Bluetooth® Speaker. I forgot to mention that it also has a speaker! I’m pretty sure this will be the first item showcased when they launch their Tik Toc channel. Check out this video describing it.
Here is a link to what it looks like on Amazon with a full description. I see that it is blue tooth enabled, so I wonder if you can control it when you are not in the bathroom. It sounds like you can create a “custom experience” for your guests.
Broan® AI Series™ 160 CFM Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV)
David also told me about one of their newest products that can help bring fresh air into your home. I wrote a piece on how ERV’s work for Rate It Green just in case you are not familiar with them. Broan’s video below does a great job explaining the benefits of this ERV. It can also be connected to the OVERTURE IAQ sensors that I described in the first section.
When I first agreed to this interview, I was expecting to see another floor that you can use to heat your bathrooms only. I was NOT expecting the amazing talk that I had with Monica Irgens, the Electro Plastics president.
Her husband developed a self-regulating PTC semi-conductive polymer. What did he do this? It was not to help us keep our feet warm in the winter. It was in response to a death in a car that caught fire when the seat warmer malfunctioned. Now they have expanded into other markets such as heating floors and boats with this amazing technology. They are even helping keep critical components warm in frigid climates for “Uncle Sam.”
How is it self regulating?
Once we edit and share the video, you will see Monica doing an amazing job explaining exactly how it works. My takeaway is that when their product expands, it does not heat up as much. This allows for it to be safe in applications where there is wood or carpet, unlike other metal resistance coils. It is also much more energy efficient to operate than standard heated floors.
I’m not going to lie- we had a great interview for 60 minutes with James Sanduski, president at SHARP Home Electronics Company of America, and Peter Weedfald, SVP of Sales and Marketing SHARP Home Appliances. We covered all of the features of their kitchen appliances and how they are energy efficient. We also spoke about some of their air purifiers that help filter and reduce indoor air pollution. There will be 4-5 videos later just on what they talked about.
They saved the best news for last
At minute 60 min mark in the interview, I commented on how our boys love to cook popcorn in the microwave. They replied that theirs are Alexa enabled. I could imagine my 9-year old telling the microwave what to do from the next room!
When they heard that, they said that they have been coordinating with the brand, Orville Redenbacher, to create the perfect microwave popcorn experience. Once where the popcorn does not burn or where the microwave does not leave an excess of unpopped kernels.
Yes- I did like their new appliances designs and IAQ. However, how can you beat perfect popcorn?
We are meeting with another 15 or manufacturers during the show and will share their stories this weekend.
I created a video demonstrating how an induction cooktop works and shared it on LinkedIn, and the feedback was great. However, most of the comments had indicated that they had never heard of induction cooktops before. When I mention induction cooktops, most of my clients assume that I am talking about electric cooktops. While both of them look similar and use electricity as the power source, they are very different.
Electic Cooktops vs. Induction Cooktops by Category
The best way to compare these cooktops is to look at each of them in several different categories. Just because both use electricity to heat your food eventually, the technology is very different. I’ll also compare each of them based on price (MSRP), time to bring water to a full boil, safety, and energy efficiency.
Now that we got that lesson out of the way, let’s see how radiation and conduction work with common electric cooktops.
Coil Electric Cooktop
There are several types of electric cooktops on the market. The entry-level electric cooktop has exposed coils that heat up, and the cookware sits directly on it. These are called Coil Electric Cooktops. The coil heats up through resistance created as electricity flows through it. These types are not as popular since they don’t look nice and are not easy to clean. However, they do have a few pros that I will discuss later. Here is a sample of what a coil electric cooktop can look like. This one is black so that it will coordinate nicely with darker countertops. This model can come in white as well, while others may offer stainless steel.
Infrared Electric Cooktop
The upgrade to the exposed coil cooktop is an electric infrared cooktop. These cooktops warm from below the surface. Electricity runs through the coil and heats it due to the coil’s resistance, which creates radiant heat. Typically, a surface is glass or ceramic that receives this radiant heat and converts it to conductive heat. This conductive heat transfers to the pot or pan that is sitting on the surface. The radiant heat can heat more evening than the coil electric cooktop. They are also easier to clean than coiled tops since the surface is smooth.
How Induction Cooktops Heat
It is much easier to explain how standard electric cooktops work than induction models. Most of us can relate to radiation or conduction since we experience it every day. So here is how induction works:
MAGIC… (actually) MAGIC MAGNETS!
I wish it was that easy and I have been guilty of using magic to explain how HVAC and Heat Pumps work. I am not looking forward to that blog post…
Induction Cooktops use electromagnetism to turn the cooking pot or pan into the cooker. Unlike applying heat using conduction from the cooktop to the pan, the magnets cause the pan to heat up from inside instead. In the video demonstration above, we placed a paper towel between the cooktop and the pot to show that the surface was not hot. On an infrared cooktop, the paper would have burned!
After the water boiled, the surface was touch with a raw hand to demonstrate that the surface did not heat up at all. All of the energy was in the pot only, which is extremely efficient, leaving very little waste.
Boiling Water: Electric vs. Induction
The benefit of gas cooktops is that they apply a heat source immediately; however, they take longer to heat the water than electric cooktops if both give the same amount of BTU’s. The amount of energy wasted in gas is greater than electric as well. Most of the heat from the surface is transferred to the pot, unlike gas.
However, the real comparison should be between electric cooktop and induction starting from zero and no preheat. This video demonstrates that induction can bring 2 cups of water to a full boil in less than 3 minutes! Gas and electric cooktops take more than twice that amount of time.
Winner: Induction (we are still waiting for 2nd place to complete the challenge)
Safety: Electric vs. Induction
Electric Coils and Electric Infrared both transfer the heat from the surface to the pot. What happens when you, or even worse, when your child touches this surface? It could be a 2nd or 3rd-degree burn if your reaction time is not fast enough!
Induction cooktops do NOT heat from the surface, so if it is on and your child put their toy or hand on the surface, nothing will happen. If they touch the pot on the stove, they will get burned; however, that is the same for all cooktops.
Price: Electric vs. Induction
The demonstration model can only be purchased through an appliance showroom, so I used Home Depot to compare equivalent models. To be somewhat scientific, I only looked at models with 4 to 5-star ratings and enough reviews to make the sample size look reasonable. I have links to each of these through the Home Depot site; however, I have not used any of these and am relying on verified buyers’ reviews.
Here is the most expensive one that I could find that had a good rating:
I expected the entry-level prices to have a sharp difference, and I did not see much of a difference. I did not look at features, only user reviews for similar models. At the upper end of the models, the induction was more expensive.
Winner: Electric (not by much though)
Energy Efficiency: Electric vs. Induction
Gas is clearly the loser even though they did not even enter into this competition. The majority of the heat produced from gas moves around the pot and goes through the exhaust. Electric cooktops are better than gas with regards to efficiency. However, induction has very little wasted energy since there no heat transfer from the surface to the pot.
Like gas, induction instantly can create heat, where you have to wait for electric resistance heaters to “warm-up.”
If you choose a cooking source solely on potential energy savings, then induction will help you keep the most money in your wallet.
Energy Savings Winner: Induction
Pots and Pans : Electric vs. Induction
Induction cannot be the clear winner for all of the competitions. The one major con to induction cooktops is the limited types that actually work with induction. Induction heat with electromagnetism, so they have to be magnetic. Your expensive copper pot and pan collection will NOT work with induction.
However, if you are undergoing a major renovation and your pots and pans are “tired,” you may want to buy all new ones anyway. If they are warped and beaten up, they will not even work on electric cooktops since the bottom is not making solid contact with the burners. This decreases the efficiency when you need conduction to be maximized.
Pots and Pans Winner: Electric (only if you have nice pots and pans that you do not want to replace.
If you are looking for new appliances, that means you probably are considering a whole new kitchen. We would love to take you through the design process and construction of your “heart of the home.” Fill out the form below, and we will give you a call.
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Last year we recently posted a blog explaining the difference between different types of Marvin windows and doors. However, we did leave some questions unanswered. After watching a video that we posted on another site, one of our subscribers still had a few questions. Most of their questions were about the main differences between aluminum and fiberglass options.
What’s the difference between aluminum and fiberglass?
The Marvin Signature series is the window selection that would have Aluminum cladding as an option. The Marvin Essential and Elevate series both have fiberglass as their core. Let’s compare these lines to each other based on each component.
The Marvin Signature series’s core composition is wood, while the core of the Marvin Essential and Elevate Series is fiberglass. Some of our clients prefer a wood window, so we offer the Marvin Signature (Ultimate) to them. The wood core does have some thermal resistance; however, the fiberglass core has a slight performance edge when it comes to energy efficiency. The difference is minimal, so most of our clients do not choose the core based on energy efficiency.
The performance of the glass is pretty much the same for all the windows given the same specifications. If you choose a divided light option, then the performance goes down a littler versus glass clear from edge to edge. The Marvin Signature uses aluminum cladding, which is slightly more conductive than fiberglass. However, both are applied with a tape that does provide a thermal break. The glass performance does matter. Ensure you design the glass based on your climate zone and where the windows are on the house.
Besides the core, the cladding is where you see the biggest difference between the wood core and fiberglass core options. The only options you have for the exterior surface of the Marvin Signature windows and doors are “wood” and “aluminum cladding.” The wood is not a cladding for the Signature series. It is part of the sash and assembly, so it still needs a finish coat applied to it, or the elements will cause failure. The extruded aluminum has a very durable coating called Kynar. This finish is tested to be fade and failure resistant for several decades in areas with direct sunlight.
The fiberglass windows (Essential and Elevate) only have fiberglass as the exterior surface. The Elevate series is slightly different from the essential in that it has wood cladding on the inside of the window or door. This allows for a stain to be added to it or custom paint, not in the standard options for fiberglass.
Both the aluminum and fiberglass come in standard colors, so you don’t have to paint them. If you even did want the option to paint them, the fiberglass is much easier to apply a coating to that of the aluminum. You can’t go to your local hardware store and Kynar. If you want to change the sash and frame color in the future, we recommend Marvin Essential or Elevate series.
Both fiberglass and aluminum clad options are very durable. The warranty on the finish for the aluminum was 20 years, according to their site. This is much better than the oil-based coatings, which will show discoloration between 2-5 years.
Most Marvin showroom has a display showing a metal weight pulling down on a fiberglass sash. Compared to a composite or PVC window, there is minimal deflection in fiberglass. Marvin does not make an all-aluminum window. They are very inefficient unless they have a thermal break. Fiberglass has a higher strength to weight ratio than aluminum. However, this is not a fair comparison since the cladding does not add strength to windows and doors.
Fiberglass may have an edge in coastal environments since it is resistant to the elements and potential corrosion from the salt-water.
Is the fiberglass option more expensive?
You would think that the Marvin Elevate series would be the most costly option due to its versatility. However, that is not the case. The Marvin Signature series costs more due to the extra manufacturing it takes to process and mill the wood. Aluminum is also slighting more expensive to work with. Aluminum needs the extra step of coating it after it is shaped. The fiberglass has the pigments added, so they are the same color through the core.
Which one is easier to work with?
If you have a Marvin Signature Series and Marvin Essential placed side by side, you won’t see a significant difference. This also applies to ease of installation. They can both come with nail fins. They also install the same, and flashing details are the same for both. The main indicator that they are different is that cladding is either aluminum or is fiberglass. Both have a wood appearance on the interior.
What is a “thermal break”?
Highly conductive materials used on window and door construction such as aluminum or steel are very inefficient in more circumstances. During the summer months, the sun’s heat will add to the cooling load of the structure in warm climate zones. Conversely, in the winter months, the heat you are paying for will travel through these materials to the house’s exterior. To minimize heat loss or heat gain, a “thermal break” is needed. This is simply a not conductive material, so the heat will not continue to transfer through it and will “break” at that point. The core of Marvin windows and doors are either wood or fiberglass, which both resist heat transfer, so an additional thermal break is not needed.
Which is best for your project?
Any Marvin product is going to work well on your home. We usually don’t go through each of these benefits with our clients and narrow them down based on the design. Each line comes in different shapes and sizes, so that might be the limiting factor. Marvin Signature will be the best option if you want a custom window to replace an existing one in a 200-year-old church.
We typically start with Marvin Elevate, the fiberglass core with wood cladding on the interior because it is the most versatile. We started getting pushback from some of our clients on the higher end lines. Not due to the price. They wanted the option to be able to paint in 10 years. The Kynar finish is designed to last decades. Therefore, it should not be painted. However, the fiberglass can be painted, even though it was not designed to be or recommended.
If you have additional questions about windows and doors and want a consultation for your home, contact us today. We will set up a time to discuss the best solution for you.
The month of January is dedicated to raising awareness about radon gas. As a nation, we take this time to acknowledge the threat of this toxic gas along with other home air quality hazards. Mold and asbestos are two prevalent hazards that can compromise home air quality as well. The most important part about sustaining a healthy living environment is knowing what to look for and properly dealing with such hazards.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is harmful to humans if exposed for prolonged periods of time. It is caused by the breakdown of radioactive metals like uranium, radium, and thorium found deep underground. When present in the area, radon gas often infiltrates a home’s air supply through gaps and openings in its foundations. There is also the possibility of it seeping into the water supply and corrupting the home air quality through that. This becomes a problem when the contaminated water is used, releasing radon into the air and serving as another outlet for direct exposure.
What makes this airborne toxin such a threat is its nearly untraceable characteristics. The colorless gas has no odor or taste. Without proper air quality testing and diagnosis in a house, radon can easily go unnoticed. Symptoms of exposure include, but are not limited to, wheezing, hoarseness, persistent cough, chronic chest pain, and frequent infections such as recurring bronchitis and pneumonia. Long-term exposure will often cause further damage to the human body, inducing prolonged health complications that may become chronic or even life-threatening. Certain types of lung cancer are now being attributed to radon exposure as it increases the risk. These effects are quite alarming, considering that 1 in 15 homes are estimated to have elevated radon levels. So what can you do to stop it?
One way to protect against radon is to inspect the home yourself routinely. Look out for cracks and openings in your home, especially in basements or ground floors. Be sure to invest in an air quality monitor, as this will provide you with an accurate reading of your home’s air quality. Lastly, if exposure is suspected, hire a professional or licensed expert to examine your home. This will bring your whole family peace of mind that you’re living in a healthy environment.
Mold & Asbestos
Aside from radon, two hazards that may be present in your home are mold and asbestos. These substances will compromise your home’s air quality and wreak havoc on your health if they are not identified and mitigated properly. While both pose serious health risks, they often can go undetected in a home.
Mold is a type of fungus that grows in a place of excess moisture. It may appear green, black, blue, or even white at times. These excess moisture places are caused by high humidity levels, flooding, exterior leaks, plumbing issues, HVAC malfunctions, and improper ventilation. Such conditions will cause mold growth on floor tiles, ceiling tiles, drywall, insulation, and frameworks. Unsanitary conditions and poorly kept living quarters will lead to mold growth as well. It’s important to keep these items in good condition with the tendency to develop in wooden fixtures, carpet, fabric, and other upholstery.
A few dangerous types of mold that can develop in a home are Stachybotrys (Black Mold), Chaetomium, and Aspergillus. Once in the air, mold spores can cause respiratory issues, flu-like symptoms, headaches, and even memory loss. Ways to prevent mold growth and its health effects are:
Control the moisture levels.
Purchase a humidity monitor to keep track of the moisture.
Add a dehumidifier to areas that are mold-prone.
Take care of spills, damp materials and clean your home regularly.
Hire a professional to inspect the home, maintain appliances and the HVAC system.
Asbestos was a popular additive that was used in construction mainly for fireproofing and heat resistance. It wasn’t until 1989 that asbestos use became partially banned in the United States. If asbestos is found in materials like drywall, adhesive, floor tiles, popcorn ceilings, pipe wrap, and electrical insulation, they are referred to as asbestos-containing materials ACMs. These ACMs can break down and release debris into the air. Researchers found exposure to the substance when airborne is hazardous and could even cause acute health problems years after exposure. While the substance is more common in older homes and buildings, any homeowner needs to be wary of the materials used when building or renovating the home. If you suspect ACMs are a threat in your home, it is best to hire a professional to inspect and test the materials in question.
Asbestos exposure is something that can’t be taken lightly. Where radon and mold have immediate health consequences, the inhalation of these microscopic fibers can cause many health issues anywhere from 10-50 years down the road. Asbestosis, mesothelioma, and pleural effusion are just a few severe diseases to name.
So whether it’s radon, mold, or asbestos, homeowners should keep detailed records of all foundational issues and construction or renovation projects done in the past. A home’s history will tell a lot about its future and environment.
In spite of the pandemic, we made it through 2020. This video best explains some of the exciting things that we were working on in 2020 to make you customer experience better in 2021:
I do have fond memories of spending time with friends at the clock ticked midnight ushering in the year 2000. A new day, a new, a new decade and a new millennium all occurred at the same time. There were also other fun celebrations over the last 20 years as well with my family. However, I have to say seeing 2021 for the first time at a social distanced TV celebration looked better than I expected. 2020 as a number could have been great if it were not for the pandemic. Lots of our vendors and product manufactures put a lot of effort into developing products that revolved around 2020. One even had 20 new colors that were introduced in 2020.
2021 is a New Year and it is a positive year for many reasons. We have a new vaccine which brings hope to all of us. We’ve seen the economy recover from the crashes in 2020. With regards to construction, the pace of new homes, home sales and renovations has not slowed down. Unlike 2008, this housing boom is NOT a bubble. The current boom is barely able to keep up with the demand for new housing. Housing sales outpace homes built which is good for the seller. Even with cost increased as a result of disrupted supply chains, housing did not slow down.
So what does this mean for you?
We’ve also been busy coming up with new ways to improve our process and find better ways of constructing homes that will benefit you. We’ve also entered into some solid strategic partnerships that will help us with your projects.
2020 in review
We rebooted our YouTube channel to create content to explain building science and design options for your home. We created a playlist dedicated to fresh air and and ventilation. Thanks to you- we’ve received close to 100K since we started “YouTubing” again.
This increased access to manufacturers that want for us to help promote their products means that we get better customer service from them for your projects.
In addition to the Youtube channel, and New Strategic Partnerships we launched our website on a more blog friendly platform so we can share our thoughts and ideas with you all more frequently.
Plans for 2021
Continue to interview manufacturers so you all can learn about the latest building products for your home or business.
We are know for renovations, however will be promoting new homes built to EarthCraft House and LEED for Homes standards. We’ve seen an uptick in new home requests and want to make sure they are healthy, comfortable and energy efficient.
We will continue to explore advanced home construction techniques to make your home better.
Many still believe that a house needs to have air leaks in order to breathe through “natural ventilation”
The myth that “a house needs to breathe” is still considered a fact by many. 100 years ago, houses did not have thermal control via insulation. Back then, air movement in the building helped dry the structure out in the wet season using natural ventilation. This was 100 years ago, and today our standards for comfort and health are much greater. We no longer burn wood or coal as a primary heat source. We also don’t want to give half our paycheck to the utility company to have conditioned air and hot water.
This pandemic has brought to light many building science principles include ventilation and air filtration. The experts recommend that we wear a mask that filters the air before it reaches our nose or mouth and gets transported to our lungs when pathogens or harmful particulates are in the air. OSHA even requires this for our workers. Especially when working around materials such as drywall that have silica that can cause lung damage. Most prefer a tight-fitting mask to one that allows particulates to enter your lungs.
Education is the key
Several weeks ago, I engaged with several builders on a forum. One of them brought up the antiquated concept that that building must be leaky to breathe. I was polite and stated that the current consensus is that we must “build tight (no holes) and ventilate right.” Not to mention that the energy code also requires insulation and air sealing to reduce the energy needed to operate the house and keep it comfortable.
Like your body, you want to control where the air comes into the house. A mask that has holes in it is not effective. When you bring “fresh air” into the built environment, you want to control where it is coming in. Air coming in from a musty crawlspace or attic that is full of coal residue should not be considered FRESH.
Current building codes and green building standards state that air should enter the structure through a controlled ventilation system. The air will be filtered (for pollutants), and the air could be conditioned as well. Fresh air brought either directly into the HVAC system OR a balanced air system such as an Energy Recovery Ventilator should be installed. Cold air in the Winter or “hot and humid” air coming in during the Summer will increase the heating or cooling needed to condition the air. Conditioning air for humans to be comfortable is one of the top demands on our energy supply.
Top Ventilation Solutions
Most of the top green building programs require “whole house ventilation” systems to be installed. Some newly constructed homes may reap the benefits of updated building codes and new building science techniques recommended by green building programs. We build to the standards set by EarthCraft House and LEED for Homes. These same whole building ventilation strategies should be implemented when design HVAC systems for existing homes as well. We recommend finding and sealing all air leaks, improving the insulation, and then designing the ventilation system. If these steps are completed out of order, then the HVAC system may not work properly.
Balanced Ventilation- Neutral Pressure Systems
Neutral Pressure Ventilation Systems bring in fresh air from the outside while expelling polluted air from the inside. Systems such as Energy Recovery Ventilators can exchange the energy from the conditioned and humidity. Hence, the “fresh air” comes into the structure at a similar temperature and humidity level as the house’s existing air. I have an article and several videos listed below that explain the science behind ERV.
Balanced Ventilation- Positive Pressure Systems
Positive Pressure Ventilation Systems bring fresh air from the outside directly to the HVAC system’s return side. This air is filtered and conditioned as it mixes with the existing conditioned air in the house. If the humidity levels are not ideal, humidity control systems can either add or take away humidity from the incoming air depending on the time of the year.
Let us help you fix your home [holes & ventilation]
Our team can help make your house more comfortable, healthy, and energy-efficient, whether designing a custom new home or renovating an existing structure.
Contact us today to get a free phone assessment of your needs so we can schedule the appropriate next steps to solve your problems.
Here is an article that I wrote for a Green Building Website called Rate It Green that explains ERV in more detail:
Indoor Air Quality, aka “IAQ,” has received lots of attention recently. The world has just started exploring the quality of air and how to make it better. Green building programs have been aware of this for decades and have some good building science principles already in place. We don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”
Thought Leadership and Green Building
We’ve been renovating and building for over 40 years in the Atlanta market. SawHorse was the first firm to offer design + build for remodeling in Atlanta. We were the first contractor to partner with Southface to renovate homes using the EarthCraft checklist. Our promise to our clients is that we will maintain a culture that is forward-thinking and constantly improving.
A major part of green building is making sure the built environment occupants are safe and healthy.
Commitment to improving your home’s Air Quality
One major cause of health issues in houses is bad indoor air quality. The EPA says that the pollution INSIDE the house can be 2-5 times worse than outside air. For that reason, we launched a campaign called FRESH AIR FRIDAYS. We will share a new video each Friday dealing with Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).
Here is a link to our IAQ video playlist created to help you keep your family safe and healthy.
If there is a topic that you would like for us to cover, please leave a comment below OR leave a comment on our YouTube channel.