Safety Starts at Home: Smoke & Fire

It’s that time of the year to check your smoke detectors’ batteries.  In fact, if your smoke detector used to be white, but is now turning yellow, it has expired.  Yes!  Smoke detectors only last 10 years, because their sensors fill up with household dust and paint & cleaning fumes and pet fur.  So shop around for some nice, new detectors.  One in each bedroom.  One in the hallway outside the bedrooms (we like to use a combination smoke & carbon monoxide sensor here).  And one on each floor level, if you have a multi-level house.  Add a newer detector in the kitchen – the photoelectric ones won’t go off every time you cook.  Consumer Reports has a nifty guide for the difference types available.

Check out Consumer Reports again for new kitchen and garage fire extinguishers.  Now there are styles that better match the decor.  Finally – ones that look good!

Green Backs: Save Your Pennies!

Anyone can seal all those cracks around the windows and doors with caulk, add weatherstripping to your doors, and set your thermostat high in summer (use your ceiling fans) and low in winter (be proud to wear your sweater).  Are you a handy-person?  Then consider also adding extra insulation in the attic – a minimum of 12 inches total.  (You can put it right on top of the old stuff, as long as the old stuff isn’t dirty or wet.)

How will the FEMA 50% Rule affect my project?

If your property is located in a Flood Zone (separate from an Evacuation Zone), you may be restricted in what you can do. The FEMA 50% Rule refers to Substantial Improvement of the property – in other words, if you want to remodel or add onto an existing house. If you are building a brand new house, of course your home will have to conform to the current Flood requirements – it will probably be designed over your garage, or at least raised higher than your neighbors’ homes. But, if you are remodeling, you may or may not have to conform to the current Flood rules.
Why? In the long term, the reason is safety. In an ideal world, all the properties in Flood Zones would upgrade or raise their houses to meet current flood requirements.  In the real world, you are highly encouraged to do this, but in the meanwhile, you are allowed some leeway.
The first step is to establish if you are in a Flood Zone. If you don’t already pay flood insurance, find your home on  If your home is in Zone X, you are not in a flood zone, and the 50% Rule doesn’t apply!
If you are in a flood zone (for example, Zone V-11 or AE-9), then the cost of the remodel compared to the market value of the house will decide what you can do. Find your home on (Pinellas) or (Hillsborough), take the Just/Market Value of the property, subtract the Land Value, and multiply the result by 50%. This is the maximum construction cost you can spend before you have to upgrade your existing house to current flood rules.
An exception – if your land value is very high (as are most properties along the water in Tampa Bay), and your result is near $0 to spend on construction, you can use an alternative method. You should employ a Private Appraiser to give you a Replacement Cost Analysis Appraisal (not the one the bank had done). Multiply this number by 50% for the maximum construction cost.
Wait, there’s more! In addition to the FEMA rules, some building departments have additional requirements. For example, a 5-year rolling clock which takes into consideration all the remodels/additions over a 5 year period.
Know this information up front, before you start dreaming of all the changes to your home!

How much does an Architect cost?

We get this question a lot!  And the answer is sometimes more complicated than you want to hear.  That’s because you are asking for a cost for something that is custom designed.  That’s right, even a “simple project” is custom designed, because your house and property are not exactly the same as everyone else’s.

Luckily, we found a great website that discusses Architectural Fees with so much detail, you should just check it out instead:

That website also explores the notion that Clients don’t always understand how much money goes toward the construction of your addition/remodel/home.  And we agree – Clients always think it’s going to cost a lot less.  Although we as Architects don’t estimate the construction costs of your project, we highly recommend talking to local Contractors who have done projects similar in scope to yours.

Greenbacks: Attic

‘Tis the warming season!  Leaky ducts = an easy fix.  Last time you put boxes in the attic, did you feel the cool air leaking from the ductwork?  You could be feeling 30% of your air conditioning right there!  When the weather cools, buy a can of goopy mastic, and take an old paint brush up to the attic with you.  Apply to any seams, over any silver tape, and to any rips in the ductwork.  What about the light you saw coming through a crack from the room below?  Your best friend is called “Great Stuff” and it comes in a spray can in the insulation aisle.  Pull back the insulation from the crack, spray and wait for it to dry, then push back the insulation.  Cheap and easy!

Hiring Professionals: Design

What does it mean to design something, anyhow?  When people say design, they usually mean one of many different words: decorate, engineer, create, develop, intend.  When an architect designs, it means they have taken into consideration a multitude of complications and devised a simple solution to everything.  Although the homeowner wants to “just add-on”, the architect in fact may come up with a more creative or custom solution to the dilemma of an old house with small rooms.  By using an architect, you should expect more than one solution, which, when completed, will seem effortless.  You are paying for the services of someone experienced in thinking in 3-dimensions, thinking about space, materials, color, details, putting in all together in a coherent, pleasing way, and doing this all before the first block is set in place.

Energy Efficiency Is Not Sexy But It Works

“Green” is the word of the decade, and is applied to all sorts of items.  We are urged to keep greening our lives, our homes, our purchases for the good of the planet.  But let’s step back a minute, and recognize that “green” today is just the “energy efficiency” of yesterday, and the “don’t throw it away you might need it again” mentality of years past.  Your parents and grandparents knew what they were talking about.  And today, we can again choose wisely before we purchase.  Choosing quality, durable, long-lasting materials was green before they colored it.  And making smart decisions concerning energy efficiency will save you money long after the purchase.  In fact, it may even cost you less money in the long run.  Windows that don’t leak air, that don’t face the sunset and build up heat in the home, will also let you buy a smaller air conditioning system that won’t run as often.  Money in your wallet.

Design Smart: Best Practices

Don’t be satisfied with “built-to-code” construction.  Although all buildings permitted are built to code, the Florida Building Code is only a minimal standard of building.  You should request your remodeling be built using “Best Practices”.   Found in many trade journals and construction books, this quality construction practice is based on a true understanding of building science, and will ensure beautiful and long-lasting details, and fewer call-backs.  Build with the same pride of craftsmanship like they did in “the good ole days”.