Feb 172011

As an architect on ski/snowboarding vacation in northern Vermont in February, 2011, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tour HGTV’s Dream Home, which was built in the resort town of Stowe.  Furthermore, as a part-time blogger, I could not pass up the opportunity to write about my visit.  I don’t need to go into too much detail about the products used or construction process because you can read all about it here and here.  I will, however, share my observations on the experience of visiting a Dream Home and probably throw in some philosophical thoughts along the way.

Exterior Photo of the Dream Home

The Stowe Dream Home exterior as I saw it.

I had only been to Stowe once or twice before, and this was the first time going to the actual ski resort.  For those who don’t know, historic Stowe is in the valley below the actual ski resort.  The character of the town reminds me of Princeton, NJ, only without the collegiate Gothic university buildings flanking one side of main street.  So to get to our tour, we drove through historic Stowe and up to the resort.  It might not be readily apparent on the HGTV website, but the home site really is right in the middle of a giant ski resort complex.  The actual access to the site is through one of Stowe’s Spruce Peak parking lots and up a driveway identified as “Ski Club Lane” on Google maps.  Since our tour was supposed to start in Spruce Peak Lodge, we parked in the main resort parking lot on the opposite side of the Lodge.

Dining in the Dream Home

My view of the kitchen island, dining room, and exterior beyond as seen from the mud room.

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Jun 262010

Our neighborhood was one of the areas hit hard by the severe thunderstorms that moved through quickly on June 24th.  I was at work a few mile north when they hit, and all I knew was that we got some heavy rain.  As I made my home, however, the evidence of a serious event mounted quickly.  Traffic lights along most of the major 4-lane roads on my route were without power leaving everyone to attempt to take turns at intersections.  There were ponds of water at low points, and as I got closer to home, there were entire trees taking out power lines and multiple lanes of roadway.  When I finally reached home, the power was out, but everyone was safe and sound.  The storm shredded some of our softer landscaping (ferns, flowers, etc.), snapped and bent back some healthy 3-4″ branches on an oak tree in our back yard, and it pushed over the old TV antenna that was clamped to the plumbing vent on our roof.

A view of our old rooftop TV antenna after the storm pushed it over.

Here is a view of our old rooftop TV antenna after the storm pushed it over.

Our neighbors actually had it much worse – a giant poplar tree, at least 60′ tall, snapped off at the ground and landed on the back of their house.  Later, I took a walk around the neighborhood and found more trees on wires, houses, streets and cars.

The weather experts say that we did not experience a tornado.  It was only straight-line wind gusts at hurricane speeds of ~75 mph.  On the bright side, I’m glad to know that my 1950’s brick spec house can withstand hurricane force winds.  However, the movement on the TV antenna prompted me to finally get around to removing this last major architectural vestige of the analog age.  You may be thinking, architectural?  really? Well, let me put it this way: all of the houses on my street are cape cods, and the distinguishing architectural features are the number of front dormer windows, the placement of the front door on the front of the house, and the color of the brick, with a few other exceptions.

A photo of our house showing the TV antenna.

The TV antenna was particularly visible from this approach to our house.

Our house was the only one with a TV antenna (unless you count satellite dishes).  In this context, the antenna, as a permanent attachment to the house, helped to distinguish it from our neighbors’.  As such, I am comfortable calling it a piece of architecture.  Not a beautiful piece of architecture by any stretch of the aesthetic imagination, but it was architecture.

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Mar 132010

According to AccuWeather, we’ve received at least an inch of rain and probably closer to two in the past 24 hours.  Combine that with about 3′ of snow that just recently finished melting into the ground, and the soil has gotten pretty saturated around here.  It’s pretty obvious when we can look out the window and see ponds in the back yard and streams in the swales between our house and the neighbors’.  We’ve had several heavy rain storms over our first year of owning this house, but this one was different – this was the first one that actually came in.

Photo of the curious basement window.

This basement window is sealed tighter than an aquarium.

Let me step back for a moment.  When we had our home inspection, we did see some signs that the basement got wet at some point.  There was also a broken water heater that was leaking all over the floor, so it was difficult to know exactly where the water came from.  However, there was also this one window in the basement.  Someone had gone to great lengths to keep it shut and sealed tight: it was caulked, covered with a board, caulked more, grouted, and duct taped.  There was also a small garden hose coming out of a hole in the sill and running over to the laundry tub.  We figured they must have wanted to drain the window well, but we found it hard to believe it could be that bad.

Ok, back to today.  I was taking some tools back down to the basement to put them away, and I thought I should look around to see if any water was getting in.  I’ve done this during each big rain storm to try and get an idea of how wet/dry the basement really is.  There were a few damp spots along the base of the basement wall, particularly on the uphill side of the house (i.e. the water flows towards those walls).  But the real eye opener was that crazy window. Continue reading »

Mar 012010
Icicles hanging off my roof.

Water: you don't want this stuff inside your walls in any form.

As anyone in the AEC industry should be able to tell you, water is the enemy of building structures.  It’s really pretty obvious if you think about it: we slope our roofs so that rain and melting snow run off, we finish the roof with weather resistant materials that don’t mind getting wet, in many areas of the country we use gutters to collect the water and divert it away from the foundations, we clad the vertical surfaces of our buildings with a wide variety of materials that keep the rain from getting inside parts of the building where it can cause rust and decay, we slope the ground around our buildings away so that water does not collect and sit against the walls, and anything that goes into the ground, especially basement walls and floors, have to be built with waterproofing materials and details so that water in the ground does not compromise these elements. (We could, of course, talk about all the fun things we can do with water when we talk about sustainable design, but even then, we pay careful attention to the details so that the water remains where we want it and not in the structure). Once we have done everything necessary to keep outdoor water out, we also take steeps to keep indoor water from creating problems.  For example, water supply pipes have shut-off valves in multiple locations so that leaks can be easily stopped and repaired; and drain pipes are carefully sloped and vented to prevent clogs that can lead to floods.

If your home is anything like mine, you may find many of your maintenance tasks relate to this fundamental issue of keeping water in its place.   Continue reading »