firepit at night

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

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.

What Are The Environmental Regulations In Beaufort County?

River Corridor Setback

The environmental regulations in Beaufort county are essential in preserving the natural beauty of our region as it grows. All the communities in Beaufort County have River Corridor Setbacks to protect the rivers from undesired toxic runoff. The setback is a strip of land between the edge of the water and the developed area which requires existing native plants be preserved to filter the runoff. It also serves as habitat for wildlife, enabling them to move along the river’s edges. The river buffer preserves the views from the water by putting the buildings back from the water’s edge. A surveyor can delineate the critical line at the edge of the water.

Some vista pruning is allowed to open to open views to the water. An arborist is a valuable team member to incorporate in the landscape design. They can prune trees to open the views and remove deadwood to keep trees healthy. They will prepare a report that assesses the health of all the trees. Significant trees close to the construction should be monitored and protected during construction with tree protection fencing.

Storm Water Management

In addition to river buffers, Beaufort County requires the management of storm waters to preserve the integrity of our river systems. The requirements are based on the characteristics of your individual site, such as the soil quality and lot coverage. When applying for a building permit, you will need a plan for storm water management in place.

There are several ways to manage storm water runoff, any or a combination of these methods are acceptable:

• Rain Garden - a depression that is landscaped with plants that enjoy a wet habitat.
• Cistern - a tank for storing water that can then be utilized for irrigation or even non-potable water for the house. It is connected to the gutters and downspouts.
• Rain Barrels - a smaller water storage tank that is connected to the gutters and downspouts.
• Dry Well - a rock filled hole under the downspouts. Excess water can slowly fill around the rocks before seeping into the ground water.

What Can I Expect From An Architectural Review Board?

Architectural review board policies and procedures are a common concern among people who wish to build or renovate. The process seems lengthy,the forms can be confusing, and people worry that the board will prevent their project from moving forward. The first step is discuss the process with the administrator.

Homeowners who have hired an architect will find themselves at an advantage in the review board process. Local architects have established relationships with many of the review boards in the area. The architect will help you through the process by completing forms, compiling submissions, and presenting your project to the board. There are two types of review boards. In Beaufort and Port Royal, there are public review boards whose members are appointed by the local governments. These review board are tasked with preserving the integrity of the historic districts. The meeting are open to the public, so they will vote and discuss projects in front of the architects and owners.

Many private communities in Beaufort County have their own review boards. Generally, these boards are populated with other homeowners and have an architect adviser. The boards often meet in private but will allow your architect to present the project and answer questions. Local architects will be familiar with private review boards processes.

Lightning Protection

We recommend lightning protection systems to all of our clients because of our intense storms. Damages can range from loss of electronic equipment, to damaged chimneys to total destruction by fire.

According to the National Weather Service, central and southern South Carolina average 50 to 70 days with thunderstorms each year with approximately 395,962 lightning hits to the ground. South Carolina is ranked 12th in the nation in the number of lightning hits to the ground. The Insurance Information Institute reported in 2013 that South Carolina ranked 8th in the nation in lightning damage with 4,011 claims with insured losses of over twenty-three million dollars.

“The good news is most personal injury and property damage caused by lightning can be prevented.” Says Leslie Chapman-Henderson, CEO and president of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, Inc. (FLASH). For personal safety, heed the adage “When thunder roars – go indoors.”

“Home and business owners needn’t take their chances with lightning,” explains Bud VanSickle, executive director of the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI). “A professionally installed lightning protection system which meets U.S. Safety Standards … will prevent lightning damage by providing a safe electrical path into the earth for lightning’s destructive energy.”

Lightning Protection System Components

A system designed to meet National Fire Protection Association 780 Lightning Protection Code has five basic components:

  • Air terminals, or lightning rods which are made of copper or aluminum. They are mounted on the highest points of the roof and chimney to intercept the lightning strike.
  • Cable conductors, made of braided copper or aluminum cable which run from the lightning rods to the ground rods and connects to other parts of the system.
  • Ground rods which are driven at least ten feet into the ground and direct the lightning’s energy away from the building.
  • Bonding points connecting other metals in the building to the cable conductors and ground rods. These connection are important to prevent side flashing.
  • Surge arrestors and suppressors installed at the electrical panel(s) to prevent over-voltages caused by a lightning strike near a power line. Additional surge protectors should be installed at electronic equipment.

While lightning protection systems can be installed at any time, it is best to install it during new construction because it is easy to hide the cable conductors in the walls. The costs vary depending on the size and complexity of the building. VanSickle estimates that the system will cost about one percent of the building’s total construction cost.  The costs can be offset with potential home insurance savings and the peace of mind that your home is safe from lightning.


Flood Zones and FEMA's 50% Rule?

In the lowcountry, flooding is a major concern. New structures are required to be elevated above the base flood elevation if they are in a flood zone. Base flood elevations are reevaluated periodically, so an older home may be below the flood elevation and subject to FEMA's 50% Rule. A surveyor can determine the flood zone the house is located in and provide an elevation certificate to verify that the building is properly elevated.

Flood Zones are as follows:

V-Zone - (Velocity zone) coastal high hazard subject to 100 year flooding and storm surge
A-Zone - 100 year flood plain
B-Zone - 100- 500 year flood plain
C-Zone - Minimal flooding

Be An Informed Home Or Property Buyer.

Special consideration should be given before buying an existing home where the first floor of livable space is below the base flood elevation. Make sure you receive a flood elevation certificate as part of your closing package when you buy in the lowcountry. A surveyor can provide a elevation certificate.

Beaufort County and the municipalities within the county all participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA establishes a base flood elevation above mean sea level which is revised periodically. New buildings must meet the NFIP requirements which include having the first floor above the base flood elevation or higher depending on the flood zone, along with other requirements.

FEMA's 50% Rule

If the cost of improvements or the cost to repair a damaged building exceeds 50% of the market value of the building, the entire building must be brought into compliance with the NFIP requirements. The market value is for the building only not the property, any landscape improvements, or detached accessory buildings. The value can be determined by a licensed appraiser or the county’s property assessment.

The only items that are excluded from the cost of improvements or repair are as follows:

  • Plans and specification
  • Surveys
  • Permit fees
  • Cost to demolish storm damaged buildings
  • Debris removal
  • Landscape improvements
  • Detached structures. If the detached structure is habitable space it is subject to the same rules.

Many existing houses in the county do not meet the NFIP requirements and must adhere to the 50 % rule or raise the building out of the flood plain. Most houses built in accordance with the 2009 or 2012 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) meet the NFIP requirements and are not subject to the 50% rule. Municipalities often adopt a cumulative substantial improvement policy which combines any combination of repairs, reconstruction, rehabilitation, additions, or other improvements to a structure during a finite period of time that is limited to the 50% rule. The cumulative substantial improvement policy for Beaufort County and Bluffton is 10 years; the City of Beaufort is 5 years; and Hilton Head currently does not have a cumulative substantial improvement policy.

Lifting your house seems like a very big undertaking, but it is a wise move if your house is below base flood elevation. In a world with rising sea levels and increased instances of severe weather, flooding is a nightmare that is only getting more prevalent. We recently completed a transformation of a dated beach house on Fripp Island, and have a time-lapse video of the house raising here.

Upgrading your house for hurricane protection

The ASHRAE Guide for Buildings in Hot & Humid Climates recommends to design and construct buildings in hurricane prone areas using the following steps in order of priority: keep the building from blowing away; keep the rain out; elevate the structure above the flood plain; build with materials that tolerate soaking; and design the wall assemblies to easily dry when they become wet.

IBHS Fortified Home

The ASHRAE priorities may not be practical when retrofitting an existing house. Therefore consider using the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety’s (IBHS) FORTIFIED Home™  Hurricane Standards for upgrading  your house.  The IBHS FORTIFIED Home™ relies on an inspection to certified that your home meets one of three levels bronze, silver, or gold. Potential home insurance savings are available with each level.

Bronze Standard

The bronze standard for the FORTIFIED Home™ is focused on the roof. If the roof has less than five years life left it should be replaced. When replacing the roof, the existing shingles should be removed and the new roof should comply with the following:

  • the roof deck should be a minimum of 7/16” plywood or OSB,
  • attached with 8d shank nails spaced nominally at 6” on center or 4” on center for buildings within 600 feet of the ocean,
  • sealed with a qualified system such as a full layer of self-adhering polymer modified bitumen membrane. If the roof is asphalt shingles the membrane should be covered with 15# building felt,
  • a drip edge must be installed, and
  • the new roof covering must be high-wind rated and installed per manufacturer’s installation instructions.

If the roof does not need to be replaced, it can be structurally reinforced and sealed with closed-cell, polyurethane foam applied to the underside of each roof rafter or truss. Replacing attic insulation with closed-cell polyurethane foam at the underside of the roof deck solves other problems as well. It keeps hot humid air out of the attic, therefore creating a more efficient building envelope and heating and air conditioning system.

Silver Standard

The silver level builds on the bronze by certifying that all doors and windows are pressure and impact rated. If the existing opening do not meet the pressure and impact requirements you can protect the opening with qualified opening protection systems. This can be as simple as pre-cut 5/8” marine grade plywood or advanced as custom made hurricane shutters. The silver level also requires attached porches and carports to be properly connected to prevent uplift.

Gold Standard

The most advanced level, gold, includes stabilizing gable walls and installing connections to prevent uplift. The house will be tied together from the roof rafters to the walls, the walls to the floor, and the floor to the foundation.  Chimneys must also be properly attached to the building.


Another important preventive measure is to keep trees trimmed of dead wood. Dead wood is the first to become detached and a potential missile attacking the house.