Beaufort SC Lowcountry Sunset

Rooftop Solar in South Carolina

The state legislature passed a bill this week that signals a win for rooftop solar in South Carolina! It's called the SC Energy Freedom Act. The bill will allow the expansion of the solar market, both large scale and for residential installations.

Solar panels on custom spring island house
This house on Spring Island has a 10.50 kW solar array

In 2014, a state law passed that made South Carolina a viable market for solar power by enacting tax credits and net-metering requirements. To appease the power companies, the 2014 law included restrictions (or caps) on the amount of rooftop solar allowed in the service areas of SCE&G (now Dominion Energy) & Duke Power. These caps were reached this Spring. Without the bill that passed this week, the solar market would have collapsed in SC because net-metering would no longer have the same benefits.

What is Net-metering?

Net-metering is the process by which a home with rooftop solar sells excess energy to the utility company, and draws energy from the grid when the solar system is not producing energy (like at night). The customer will always have electricity, provided the grid is functioning properly. The new legislation requires that the utility companies buy power from customers producing excess energy at the same rate that they sell to consumers.

What about battery storage for solar energy?

Batteries like the Tesla Powerwall can be connected to solar panels to store excess energy. At times when the solar panels are not producing energy, the consumer can tap into the energy stored in the battery. These batteries are really cool, but they may not be practical for the average consumer. They are expensive and one battery probably does not have the capacity to power a whole house. The technology is rapidly advancing, and battery backup may soon be a more practical option. We have a number of clients who have installed solar connected batteries in order to keep essential appliances and lights on in the event of power failure. In our hurricane prone area, I think this approach is smart. Often, the days following a major storm are sunny, but it may take utility companies days to weeks to restore power. A house with a solar array + battery would be sitting pretty!

Two Tesla Powerwall2 batteries at a recent project
Two Tesla Powerwall2 batteries at a recent project

Net-metering is an essential piece of the growth of solar power in South Carolina. I congratulate the legislators that championed this bill. Alternative, renewable energy will continue to be a sound choice for South Carolinian's; both for our wallets and for our environment!


Bathroom Trends 2019

Accessibility

The American Institute of Architects’ most recent home design research focused on bathroom trends. The findings report that 62% of new and remodeled projects have larger showers that are designed for easy accessibility. This includes a shower seat, a curbless entrance and grab bars. As a result, manufacturers are responding to the increase in the demand for grab bars with great looking options. Standalone showers without a separate bathtub continue to increase in popularity. Homeowners are only installing bathtubs as a personal choice and not in response to future resale.

 

Luxury curbless shower with mosaic tile
Here is a large curbless shower in a recent project with a seamless transition from bathroom to shower.

Technology in the bathroom??

When shopping for plumbing fixtures it appears that smart toilets are the wave of the future. But the research shows that the demand is not there. Only 13% of respondents reported an increase in requests for these easy cleaning, one-piece toilets with heated seats, Bluetooth technology and foot-warmers. I am certain that the high price tag is reason enough for the low demand. The list price of Kohler’s top of the line smart toilet is eight thousand dollars (Kohler Numi)!

Design Styles

The web based company Houzz.com also conducts consumer research and reports that contemporary design is the most popular style for bathrooms followed by transitional design. Over 60 % of homeowners match the finishes of the faucets, hardware, bath accessories and light fixtures. Brushed or satin nickel are the most popular, followed by polished chrome. Oil-rubbed bronze is losing popularity and might soon join avocado appliances in the graveyard of dated finishes. Since 2016 the specification of oil-rubbed bronze finishes has dropped by 40%.

In master bathrooms, double under-mount sinks continue reign supreme. Houzz reports that vessel sinks popularity grew 50% since 2016. This is not consistent with our clients who find vessel sinks difficult to use and clean around.

Master bathroom with undermount sinks and custom walnut cabinetry
Undermount sinks for bathrooms and kitchens remain very popular for a sleek look and easy cleaning.

Tile Trends

Tile shapes and patterns are making strong appearances with hexagons, large-format shapes, mosaics (like the gorgeous mosaic in the photo of the first shower), herringbones, and chevron patterns. Full accent walls of decorative tiles that spill down on the shower floor are replacing horizontal strips of deco tiles.

Decorative tiled wall makes a luxurious statement in this master bath
The curved, tiled wall makes a statement and separates the walk-in shower from the tub

Finally, LED back-lit mirrors are all the rage in contemporary bathrooms.  They provide the perfect light for applying makeup or shaving. The mirrors are anti-fog and easily cleaned.

Bathrooms can be a great place to make a design statement, and while I've titled this post bathroom trends, these design elements have staying power.

You may enjoy our previous post on the hottest trends in kitchen design too!


The Case for Resiliency

Credit NCDC.NOAA.org

According to NOAA, since 1980, the US has sustained at least 241 weather and climate disaster where the overall damage exceeded one billion dollars. Hurricanes are a combined 919.7 billion in total damages with an average of 21.9 billion per event. The other natural disaster in order of costs are drought, wildfires, flooding, freezes, winter storms and severe storms. The South and Southeast regions experience higher frequency of billion dollar disaster than other regions. In 2018 natural disasters cost the US $91 billion dollars.

Despite the evidence – we are ignoring the consequences of building in vulnerable places.

According to the National Institute of Building Science's research found that mitigation funding can save the nation $6 in future disaster costs, for every dollar spent on hazard mitigation. They also demonstrated that investing in hazard mitigation measures to exceed select building code requirements can save the nation $4 for every dollar.

They estimated that implementing these two sets of mitigation strategies would prevent 600 deaths, 1 million nonfatal injuries and 4,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Resiliency is similar to sustainability but there is a difference. Sustainability is reducing a building’s impact on the environment and resiliency is reducing the environment’s impact on a building or community. Generally, sustainability initiatives are add to a building’s resiliency but some resiliency requirements are not as sustainable, especially when they are creating redundancy.

Resilience is about surviving and thriving regardless of the challenge, whether it is a chronic stress or an acute shock. Chronic stresses weaken the fabric of a city on a day-to day or cyclical basis. They include issues such as global warming, poverty, homelessness and aging infra-structure. Acute shocks are sudden sharp events that threaten a community. Often acute shocks are weather related but they can also be human induced such as an act of terror.

Four Kinds of Resiliency

Climate Resiliency

Architect, Lance Hosey identifies four kinds of resiliency. The first is Climate Resiliency which is reducing the environment’s impact on the building. Depending on the anticipated hazard buildings and landscapes may be protected or hardened against the elements to withstand hurricanes, floods, and fires. Other options include adapting or retreating.

In the case of rising sea levels the options of protecting is building levees or other “hard” methods, accommodating would be raising structures or using “soft” or natural protection measures such as wetlands restoration, and finally retreating would be accomplished by moving or demolishing flood-prone buildings.

This is a huge issue for us because the southeastern US alone represents nearly 70% of the entire projected populations at risk.

Functional Resiliency

The second is Functional Resiliency.  This includes the systems where the building is still habitable and functions. Current standards and codes focus on preserving lives by reducing the likelihood of significant building damage or structural collapse from hazards But they generally don’t address the additional need to preserve quality of life by keeping buildings habitable and functioning as normally as possible, what we call ‘immediate occupancy.

Community Resiliency

The third is Community Resiliency which focuses on municipal and neighborhood resources that help people bounce back to normality or better.

The National Institute of Standards & Technology’s Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems (Guide) provides a practical and flexible approach to help all communities improve their resilience by setting priorities and allocating resources to manage risks for their prevailing hazards.

Aesthetic Resiliency

The fourth is Aesthetic Resilience which is best described by the Senegalese poet Baba Dioum, “In the end, we conserve only what we love.”


2019 Kitchen Trends

White kitchens and subway tile have been in the rage for most of this century. 2019 kitchen trends show homeowners moving away from all white and instead we are seeing the rise of color, texture, and drama with an added emphasis on the functionality of the space, cabinets, and materials.

Cabinets and Storage

Many kitchens do not have as many wall cabinets as was once popular, which adds an open and airy feel. Full wall storage cabinets and large pantries have replaced them. Cabinets in deep rich hues of blues and greens are very popular. Cabinets of different colors are also seen with dark base cabinets and lighter wall cabinets. The amount of open shelves is minimized to only display decorative items, not everyday items.

Large pantries serve as additional work space with a second dishwasher and sink. Small appliances are located in the pantry for a clean open look in the kitchen. Pantry storage is a combination of open shelves and cabinets.

Countertops and Backsplashes

Color, texture, and drama are all visible in the backsplash. Book-matched stone slabs running from the countertop to the ceiling create a beautiful look that is easy to clean. Encaustic cement tile in bold colors, traditionally seen in Europe, is all the rage. Non- rectilinear tile, such as scallop shapes and circle add an interesting texture.

Stone slabs with a lot of color and movement are showcased on islands with complementary plainer slabs on the other countertops. Waterfall countertops add a clean modern vibe to the kitchen. Quartz which is a manufactured material is sought after for its durability and wide color palette.

Appliances

Recently, the only colored appliances were the super expensive brands of la Cornue and Aga. KitchenAid’s introduction of colored ranges makes them more accessible and more popular.

This Berkeley Hall kitchen incorporates many of the 2019 kitchen trends. The book-matched walnut cabinets add warmth and visual texture. A full height storage wall replaces traditional base and wall-hung cabinets. Open shelving is now being used for decorative items instead of general storage.  The backsplash is a continuous slab that runs from the countertop to the ceiling. The design allows for the couple to work together in preparing a meal. The husband works in the cooking zone, while the wife is the sous chef in the cleaning zone. See more of the Skwarek's house in our portfolio.


Aging in Place

Our office recently attended the American Institute of Architects Custom Residential Architects Network Symposium in Cincinnati. We toured a 1980’s modern house that was designed for a client who uses a wheelchair. The three story house included a sculptural interior ramp connecting each floor. Designing for aging in place does not have to include an interior ramp; in fact accommodating the possibility of being less mobile is relatively easy. There are three major areas of consideration for aging in place; life-safety, fall prevention, and convenience.

Life Safety

The number one life safety issue is providing an accessible exit from each bedroom. This could be an interior ramp or it could be exterior doors from the bedrooms opening onto an area of refuge, which might be directly on grade or a balcony large enough for a wheelchair.

In two story houses and houses raised up out of the flood plain, we often install  a residential elevator or stack elevator sized closets for a future elevator. When planning for a future elevator the closet floor should be framed for easy removal. In houses less than five feet off the ground, we often include a ramp to the back or side door. A custom designed ramp will fit in with the overall architecture of the house.

Accessible doors are 36 inches wide and will preferably have flush thresholds but a maximum threshold of ½ inch exterior and ¼ inch interior. Hallways should be at least 42 inches wide. Every room including bathrooms should have an open space of 5 feet by 5 feet for wheelchair maneuverability.

Fall Prevention

Floor material, adequate lighting, and grab bars are the keys to help prevent falls. Floors should be smooth, firm, and slip resistant. Carpet should be low pile (less than ½ inch) with a firm pad. There should be plenty of natural light as well as both overall room lighting and task lighting. Particular care should be given to lighting stairwells, showers, entry doors, and exterior walkways.  Stairwells should have switches at both the top and bottom and hallways at both ends.

Stairwells should have handrails on both sides of the stairs. In bathrooms, install or provide blocking for future installation of grab bars in the shower, bathtub, and around the toilet. Likewise, you might want to install blocking in the hallways for future grab bars.

Convenience

For greater convenience you might consider one floor living, low maintenance materials, and a 5-foot accessible aisle in the carport or garage for wheelchair access. Lever door handles and faucets are easier for arthritic hands to open.

Smart home technology can assist in aging in place with voice controlled lights, small appliances, and locks. Video doorbells allow the homeowner to see who is at the door before answering it. Doors can be opened by motion sensors or remote control.

Finally, the construction of a separate guest house or two master suites can accommodate an aging relative or a live in nurse.

For more information visit the National Aging in Place Council website www.naipc.org

 

 


Landscape Lighting

When designing your house one of the last considerations is the landscape lighting. Often the exterior lighting is limited to a decorative fixture by the front door and security lights on the corners of the house.  Light pollution regulations that require fixtures to be shielded also need to be considered. Exterior lighting can either be for you or the neighbors. When the front of the house is lit, it makes a statement, but you cannot see it from the interior.

Expand Your View

Most of our local houses have large windows to take advantage of the great views of the lowcountry landscape. Without the proper landscape lighting the windows become black mirrors at night creating a boxed in feel. Layering light in the garden connects you to the outside even at night by visually expanding the interior space.  It is important to remember that you are not recreating daylight, but a dynamic composition to enliven the outdoor room.

Layer Light

Like interior lighting, you want to use different levels of lighting in your garden.  Task lighting is used for grilling or reading. These lights are typically down lights and should be switched separately from the other exterior lights. Ambient lighting is indirect lighting that softens shadows.  Accent lights provide depth and dimensions and should be used sparingly.  Finally decorative lighting is the finishing touch.

Path lights are ambient lights that bounce off the ground. Care should be used in selecting one with a fully shielded light source so they do not appear to be a runway. Stair or step lights can be mounted in sides of the steps to illuminate the treads. This is also a safety concern to prevent falls. Step lights should also be shielded to only light the steps.

Accent lights are spot lights that are directed on statues or specimen plants. If they are located on the ground, they should be screened by the surrounding plantings. Be sure to layer accent lights with ambient lights so the garden does not appear spotty.

Decorative lights can be tricky because they are often way too small for the location. Remember that the decorative fixture will be viewed from a distance and should be in proportion to the door, porch and size of the house. Fixtures appear smaller in enclosed showrooms than in exterior spaces. If you are uncertain about the size of a fixture, make a cardboard silhouette and place on the wall.

Besides creating a safe environment, landscape lighting can expand your enjoyment of your garden when designed in anticipation of how you will use the space, whether it is alfresco dining, a swimming pool or enjoying a specimen tree from the inside.


Construction Costs

Many people who are contemplating building a new home are surprised at the cost of construction. The sticker shock is often due to the expectation of the same costs that were available during the recession. Our firm’s historical data of residential construction show that the average new home construction costs are still 38% less expensive than the few years before the great recession. So now is a good time to consider renovating or building a new house, while costs are greater than 2010 they are still less than 2007.

Designing for Hurricanes & Earthquakes add to the Construction Costs

Construction costs are higher in Beaufort County because we are in both a hurricane zone and an earthquake zone. The requirements to mitigate both of these hazards include the following:

  • Building the first floor above FEMA’s base flood elevation which adds to the foundation cost.
  • Structural Engineering fees to design code compliant structural systems.
  • Connecting the roof, through the walls to the foundation and footing with threaded rods, go-bolts, hurricane clips or other code approved methods. This adds to both the material and labor costs.
  • The shear walls required for lateral stability are more expensive than sheathing options available in other parts of the country.
  • Window and door openings must be protected from windblown debris. Impact rated windows can cost up to twice as much as non-impact openings.

Best Practices

There are several best practice options that will cost more initially but will either save money on your home insurance or utility bill that we recommend.

  • A secondary roof under a metal roof that ensure water tightness if the roof is compromised during high winds.
  • An U.L. certified lightning protection system will add $7,000 to $10,000 to a 2500 s.f. house but will protect your house and electronics from lightning strikes during our many lightning storms.
  • Spray foam insulation is typically 2 to 3 times more expensive than fiberglass insulation but is a far superior product. It stops air and moisture infiltration, will not sag, keeps dust and pollen out and reduces capacity requirements, maintenance and wear of heating and air conditioning equipment.

TV remodeling shows also add to unrealistic time and cost expectations. Those shows often have donated materials, low cost fees from the contractors and have pre-built a large portion in a warehouse prior to the show.

Cost, square footage (both inside and outside) and quality of materials and workmanship are the triad of construction. If cost is the driving issue in your project you must be flexible in the size of the project and the quality of materials and workmanship.


Lighting your House

Have you ever had the experience of arriving for a visit at someone’s house and the porch light wasn’t on? We end up wondering, ‘Are they expecting me?’ Let’s say it turns out that they are expecting you and you are ushered into a kitchen to chat under bright lights and then into a dining room that is somewhat dim. Lighting your house is essential for the right atmosphere.

Contrast this to pulling into a well-lit space on the driveway and following a path of attractive footlights up to a front porch that has a welcoming glow. Inside, sofas and chairs bathed in the glow of nearby lamps as well as some ambient lighting from above. When you step into the kitchen to help the chef, task lighting eases your vegetable chopping. Upon being invited into the dining room, the chandelier is the centerpiece over a dining room table on which the crystal and china seem simply lit up. Wondering how this has been accomplished, you notice two spotlights shining down onto the table from the ceiling, adding luster to the scene.

Layering Light

But let’s say you are working on a task one evening and entertaining the next. We like to use layering of the lights to achieve the desired effect. This way you are able to use ambient lighting so you can see to get through a room, task lighting for just those areas where you need it, ‘jewelry’ lighting like chandeliers for special occasions, and spotlighting to heighten the attention or effect. They can be used separately or in combination, particularly on special occasions.

Now, let’s say you’ve figured out or worked with a lighting designer to determine how to get just the right combination of lighting for a dinner party. That can be programmed into a control panel, as can several other lighting combinations. Then, it’s just the press of a button on a control panel or iPad to get the same arrangement again. Of course, we still like to have traditional switches on the wall so that visitors or grandparents will know how to work the lights.

Most of our local houses have large windows to take advantage of the great views of the Lowcountry landscape. Without the proper landscape lighting the windows become black mirrors at night creating a boxed in feel. Layering light in the garden connects you to the outside even at night by visually expanding the interior space.  It is important to remember that you are not recreating daylight, but a dynamic composition to enliven the outdoor room.

Garden Lighting

Like interior lighting, you want to use different levels of lighting in your garden.  Task lighting is used for grilling or reading. These lights are typically down lights and should be switched separately from the other exterior lights. Ambient lighting is indirect lighting that softens shadows.  Accent lights provide depth and dimensions and should be used sparingly.  Finally decorative lighting is the finishing touch welcoming you to the house.

Lighting is essential to being able to use your house in multiple ways and create the appropriate atmosphere for the occasion.


Choosing the Right Paint Color

Painting a room is the cheapest and easiest way to update a space. The most difficult part of the process may be deciding on the paint color. The options seem to be endless and can be overwhelming. For success in choosing the best color follow these seven steps.

Don't pick the color first

Don’t pick the color first. The paint color should be determined by the furnishings in the room. A large piece of art, an oriental rug or a fantastic fabric should be the inspiration for the wall color. Choose a color in the inspiration item that will highlight the piece. The goal is to create a visually harmonious space. The eye blends colors so the color does not need to match exactly but it should coordinate pleasantly.

60-30-10 Rule

Think about the 60 -30-10 rule when choosing the wall color. One color should be sixty percent of the room. This is often the walls and rug. Thirty percent is the secondary color and ten percent is an accent color. These colors can be drawn from the inspiration item. Don’t forget to consider all the finishes in the room including the wood in floors and furniture and metals in light fixtures. Rooms with large windows have the landscape as an additional color.

Paint Color Undertones

Use the paint manufacturer’s paint fan deck to narrow down the shade options. Often it is difficult to determine the undertones of lighter colors. Look at the darkest color on the strip to see the undertone color.

Get single color paint chips to compare with the inspiration item. The hues look different when they are not next to the colors in the fan deck. Also remember that a bright color on a small chip will be intensified as it gets larger.

Paint Color Sample Tests

Paint one or more test colors on large test boards to view in the room. The advantage of test boards is that you can view them on all the walls and one at the time. The quality of the natural light will affect how the paint is perceived. Live with the test samples at least twenty-four hours to see how the paint looks at different times of the day. Warm colors are often used for rooms facing north and cool colors in rooms facing south or west.

Don't Forget the Ceiling

Remember the ceiling, it does not have to be the standard ceiling white. Painting the ceiling 50% lighter that the wall color is a good rule of thumb.

Finally, do not approach color in a vacuum. Consider the progression through the house and make sure the color changes are coherent.


Cleaning Up After Florence Floods

Cleaning up after the floods of  Florence will be a daunting task. Here is a review of the best practices in cleaning up after  floods.

Safety First

One should approach the task with safety first. If the foundation, exterior walls and/or roof appear to be compromised or there is more than two feet of sediment from the flood deposited in or around the building, have the structure reviewed by a professional before entering. Architects and engineers trained in safety evaluation are deployed by the South Carolina Guard after a disaster and can determine if your building is safe to enter. Turn off all your utilities, even if there is no power in the neighborhood.

Floods can be full of bacteria and other contaminants. Make sure your tetanus shot is up to date and wear protective clothing, boots, and gloves when cleaning out after a flood. Shovel out as much mud as possible before cleaning with a disinfectant such as household bleach.  Snakes and other wildlife may also be in the building, so proceed with caution.

Dry it Out

Dry the structure and your belongings as quickly as possible to help prevent additional damage from mold and mildew growth. Cross ventilation is the most effective way to promote drying; open all doors and windows. If you have a generator, fans and dehumidifiers can supplement the drying. Remove all water soaked carpets and pads, upholstered furniture, mattresses, and pillows. These items contain bacteria from the flood waters and are a health hazard. They also slow down the overall drying of the structure. Mattresses and pillows should be thrown away. Upholstered furniture should be cleaned by a professional.

Remove  Material Damaged by the Floods

Wood floors and subfloors usually need to be replaced, if they cannot be dried. Tile floors installed on a wood subfloor may also need to be replaced because the subfloor cannot dry out.

Drywall and paneling will need to be cut away a foot above the high water mark if the building was flooded for longer than two hours. If the wall contains insulation, it should be removed. This allows the interior of the wall to dry. The wood studs should be completely dry before new insulation and drywall is installed; this might take up to six weeks.

Even if the water did not reach the ceiling, the ceiling may be compromised. The extreme humidity from the flood can cause the drywall ceiling to swell and detach from the ceiling joists. Minimally, the ceiling would need to be re-nailed and refinished; replacement may be necessary. The attic insulation should also be checked to make sure it is dry.

Solid wood doors and cabinets should be watched for swelling and cracking. Wood veneered doors and cabinets constructed of plywood or particle board will delaminate and deteriorate and will need to be replaced.

The mechanical and electrical systems need to be thoroughly checked by a qualified professional. Air ducts may need to be professionally cleaned and disinfected if they were not underwater or replaced if they were flooded. Appliances often have motors located near the floor and can be easily damaged by the flood waters. They should be checked by a qualified appliance repair person prior to using and reconnecting to power and gas.