Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Win $2,500 To Renovate & Remodel Your Home

Keep AK On Speed Dial For When You Win!

Hurry! Contest Ends Tomorrow, September 30th!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How To Build An Eco Friendly Home On A Budget

Today we have a guest post from Cynthia Booth: Cynthia shares knowledge with the architecture career choice blog; a nonprofit web site dedicated to offer help for beginning designers who need resources for their careers. With this she would like to increase the interest on eco-friendly home design and change the general public perception of energy efficiency.

Architects and Jersey City residents Richard Garber (assistant tutor at Nj Institute of Technology’s University of Architecture and Design in Newark) and Nicole Robertson of GRO Architects in NyC rose to the challenge of constructing and managing the building of a single-family house that’s a genuine evidence of both innovative design and environmental-friendly technologies.

Denis Carpenter recently purchased one small vacant lot and, to accomplish his interest for the environment, wanted a residence that was efficient and very easy to maintain.

What's so exceptional about this home?

  • In the home, on the ground level, radiant heating below the exposed concrete floor gets warm the full bathing room and two bedrooms.
  • In the loft-like 2nd level, sleek aluminum and stainless steel railings accent the bamboo stairway to the mezzanine, family room and an artfully designed kitchen made with salvaged appliances and cabinetry.
  • Passive a / c strategies like ceiling fans and clerestory windows permit residents to be cool during summer and warm during winter.
  • The roof includes 260 feet square of photovoltaic panels that produce about 2,000 kilowatts of energy annually to a battery stored in the basement.
  • The root have a 2-foot-square area planted with drought-resist to collect rain .

This single family 1,600-square-foot home was constructed in 6 months and won a 2009 American Institute of Architects merit award and the 2010 Green Building of the Year Award from the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency.

Ok now what? How can you completely transform your home into an ecologically-friendly home without spending too much money?

If you're remodeling a home, perform an energy audit first to help you figure out what energy efficiency improvements should and can be made to your home. In this way you'll calculate how much energy your home consumes.

My personal favorite eco-friendly approach is the passive solar cooling/heating design.

Passive solar signifies that your home's windows, walls, and floors can be developed to collect, store, and distribute power from the sun in the form of heat in the wintertime and reject solar heat in the summer season.

Existing structures can be adapted or "retrofitted" to passively collect and store solar heat too.

These 5 factors constitute a comprehensive passive solar home design:

The Collector - The area through which sunlight enters the building (usually windows).

The Absorber - The hard, darkened surface of the storage element. Sunlight hits the surface and is absorbed as heat.

The Thermal Mass - The materials that retain or store the heat produced by sunlight below or behind the absorber surface.

The Distributor - The method by which solar heat circulates from the collection and storage points to different areas of the house.

The Controller - Roof overhangs may be used to shade the aperture area during warm weather or Thermostats that signal a fan to turn on.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tips & Tricks From People With Spinal Cord Injuries

 When updating our own Accessible Design webpage, we came across this neat site: Spinalistips by the Spinalis Foundation in Sweden! The tag line on the tips page is "Tips & Tricks From People With Spinal Cord Injuries" and the page is FULL of tips a certified aging-in-place remodeler can truly appreciate. 

   Here are a few posts we really liked and wanted to share:
  • Two identical sinks with integrated soap dispenser are installed at different heights. The lower one is at the right height for the user and has no lower cabinet. The other is at the standard height and has a lower cabinet with drawers. Her husband uses this sink and the user stores her toiletries in the drawers of the husband’s lower cabinets. 

  • The content of the kitchen cabinets is easily organized and easily accessible for wheelchair users. All counter cabinets in the kitchen have easy-slide drawers. They are used for storing china, cutlery, and pots, and also as a pantry.

  •  Practical desk and workplace next to the kitchen – suitable for wheelchair users.A counter at the right height for the user is located next to the kitchen. She usually sits there and works, talks on the phone and even eats there when she is home alone.

  • Control elevator with wheelchair footrests/front wheels – an option for people without arm/hand function. Helena lives in a two-story house with an elevator. The elevator buttons sit at a suitable height so she can control the elevator with the wheelchair footrests or front wheels.

  • Spacious bathroom - suitable for persons who need assistance in order to shower. Spacious bathroom with large shower stall, bathtub, toilet and two wash basins. The shower is so large that the assistants and the user have plenty of room. On the front is a shower curtain, one side wall is in glass, the other is tiled. 

  • Kitchen with plenty of room - suitable for electric wheelchair users. Large open kitchen with long workbench in the middle. One short side of the counter is used for dining. The user raises his electric wheelchair to the appropriate height, the rest of the family uses bar stools. The other end of the counter also has an area with knee space so that the user can sit and take part in kitchen activities. The user is unable to cook, but the kitchen has room and seating so that he can move around unimpeded and participate without being in the way. The family is very pleased with the kitchen.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Home Safety Checklist for the Elderly

From Accessibility Design: "These tips were originally created by the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, but they are so good we wanted to repost them.  We suggest printing them out until they become habit."

   Home is meant to be a haven of safety and comfort, but for adults 65 and older, hazards in a home pose a serious threat to their health and independence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that half of all falls in older adults happen at home and happen every 35 minutes, someone in this population group dies as a result of their injuries.
   “When I walk into a home, I’m primarily looking at tripping hazards, lack of supports, lighting, accessibility of smoke detectors, and how the older adult performs his or her everyday activities,” said Pamalyn Kearney, assistant professor and vice chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
   Kearney, who specializes in home environment evaluations and works with the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging and Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, offers proven interventions that can reduce home falls and accidents to help older adults live better and longer:
  • Bathroom modifications: Install grab bars, shower seats, hand-held showers, and raised toilet seats in the bathroom.
  • Stair rails: Install railings on stairs, including basement stairs, and consider railings on both sides of the stairs.
  • Lighting: Increase the wattage of light bulbs for ambient and task lighting, while being careful to not increase glare. Add lamps in areas where tasks are commonly performed, such as a dining room table for bill paying or a living room chair for knitting or reading. Add nightlights in the hallway between the bedroom and bathroom, as it takes time for eyes to adjust from darkness to bright light and this transition can increase the risk of falls.
  • Reduce glare: Eliminate or minimize glare by changing curtains to filter the sunlight, trying different wattages or styles of light bulbs, putting table cloths on glass tables, using low gloss polish or wax on floors and furniture, and if there is glare on the stairs, adding additional ambient light along the stairs.
  • Entrances: Install a shelf at the main entrance door to hold items when locking and unlocking the door and install lever handles, as they require less grip strength and can be opened with an elbow or forearm if the person is carrying items, such as groceries.
  • Clear Walkways: Remove things you can trip over, such as papers, books, clothes, and shoes, from stairs and places where you walk, and tack telephone cords and appliance cords along walls to remove them from walkways.
  • Climbing: Keep items you use often in cabinets you can reach easily without using a step stool. If an older adult does have to climb to reach spaces or for over-head tasks, consider a reacher device or a step stool with a handle that offers more stability than a standard step stool or climbing up on a chair.
  • Increase contrast: Avoid low contrasting items, such as a white bathtub surrounded by white tiled walls, and dark plates on dark place-mats on a dark table, as this can make it difficult for someone with low vision to find the plate. Adding contrast is as simple as a blue tub mat in a white bathtub or painting the edge of the steps a contrasting color from the rest of the step surface.
  • Heat safety: In the summer season, it’s also important to check for air conditioners or fans.  Older adults are at an increased risk for complications from hot and humid weather, including heat stroke and dehydration.
   While these generic modifications to help reduce home falls and accidents can be helpful, Kearney recommends a proper home evaluation. “It is important to look at how the individual performs daily activities in the home environment so that recommendations and modifications are matched appropriately to the individual’s habits and routines.”
    AK also has a comprehensive Aging In Place Design Checklist on our website as well as Universal Design Tips for Inclusive Design Kitchens! We're happy to consult with you at your home about what home modifications can improve your or your parents safety and independence while enhancing design!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Avoiding Flood Damage: A Checklist for Homeowners

  Are you concerned about flooding? Would your home be protected in case of a flood? It is hurricane season after all! There are many things you can do, depending on the flood hazard in your area, the characteristics of your property, and the zoning and building codes in your community. Some methods are fairly simple and inexpensive; others will require a professional contractor.  
  This homeowner’s checklist will help you become familiar with what you can do. For more information about the costs and benefits of each method, talk to a professional builder, architect or contractor. You should also ask your building department about building permit requirements. If your home has already sustained water damage, AK has some very important flood clean-up tips for water damage and tips for restoration!

Do you know your flood risk?
Call your local emergency management office, building department or floodplain management office for information about flooding. Ask to see a flood map of your community. There may be a projected flood elevation for your neighborhood. This information will help you determine how much water is likely to come in.

Do you have enough flood insurance?
Even if you have taken steps to protect your home from flooding, you still need flood insurance if you live in a floodplain. Homeowners’ policies do not cover flood damage, so you will probably need to purchase a separate policy under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

It takes 30 days for a flood policy to take effect. This is why you need to purchase flood insurance before flooding occurs. If your insurance agent is unable to write a flood policy, call 1-800-638-6620 for information.

Is the main electric switchbox located above potential flood waters?
The main electric panel board (electric fuses or circuit breakers) should be at least 12” above the projected flood elevation for your home. The panel board height is regulated by code. All electrical work should be done by a licensed electrician.

Are electric outlets and switches located above potential flood waters? Consider elevating all electric outlets, switches, light sockets, baseboard heaters and wiring at least 12” above the projected flood elevation for your home. You may also want to elevate electric service lines (at the point they enter your home) at least 12” above the projected flood elevation.

In areas that could get wet, connect all receptacles to a ground fault interrupter (GFI) circuit to avoid the risk of shock or electrocution. Have electrical wiring done by a licensed electrician.

Are the washer and dryer above potential flood waters?
For protection against shallow flood waters, the washer and dryer can sometimes be elevated on masonry or pressure-treated lumber at least 12” above the projected flood elevation. Other options are moving the washer and dryer to a higher floor, or building a floodwall around the appliances.

Are the furnace and water heater above potential flood waters?
The furnace and water heater can be placed on masonry blocks or concrete at least 12” above the projected flood elevation, moved to inside a floodwall or moved to a higher floor. (You have more options for protecting a new furnace. Ask your utility about rebates for new energy efficient furnaces. The rebate plus the savings in fuel costs could make the purchase feasible.)

Furnaces that operate horizontally can be suspended from ceiling joists if the joists are strong enough to hold the weight. Installing a draft-down furnace in the attic may be an option if allowed by local codes. Some heating vents can be located above the projected flood elevation.

Outside air conditioning compressors, heat pumps or package units (single units that include a furnace and air conditioner) can be placed on a base of masonry, concrete or pressure treated lumber. All work must conform to state and local building codes.

Is the fuel tank anchored securely?
A fuel tank can tip over or float in a flood, causing fuel to spill or catch fire. Cleaning up a house that has been inundated with flood waters containing fuel oil can be extremely difficult and costly.

Fuel tanks should be securely anchored to the floor. Make sure vents and fill line openings are above projected flood levels. Propane tanks are the property of the propane company. You’ll need written permission to anchor them. Ask whether the company can do it first. Be sure all work conforms to state and local building codes.

Does the floor drain have a float plug?
Install a floating floor drain plug at the current drain location. If the floor drain pipe backs up, the float will rise and plug the drain.

Does the sewer system have a backflow valve?
If flood waters enter the sewer system, sewage can back up and enter your home. To prevent this, have a licensed plumber install an interior or exterior backflow valve. Check with your building department for permit requirements.

You may have other options for avoiding flood damage depending on your needs and financial resources. These include building drainage systems around the property, sealing openings such as low windows, building levees, constructing exterior floodwalls around basement doors and window wells, improving exterior walls, elevating buildings above projected flood levels and relocating buildings away from floodplains. For more information, talk to a professional builder, architect or contractor. Ask your building department about building permit requirements.

Text by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
© 2004 Federal Emergency Management Agency