Saturday, November 13, 2010

Kitchen Remodel

I am working with a client on a kitchen remodeling project in Virginia. The deign phase is moving along quite quickly.

The following are some images created to show the client what we are proposing for their new design.

The existing "fridge wall":

The proposed new "fridge wall"
Proposed: 2 utility cabinets, and (2) 30" built-in refrigerators.

The existing pantry wall and butler's pantry (opening into the dining room), with existing wine-refrigerators to the left.

The new area - proposed relocating the Butler's Pantry and installing a new walk-in wine cooler.

A rendering showing a close-up cut-away view of the proposed wine-cooler.

Demolition to start soon!

Monday, October 18, 2010

3D Modeling and Rendering

At Selah Design Services, I offer my clients the unique experience of seeing their design project long before construction begins in full color and detail by using the latest 3D modeling software.

The following slide show is a collection of design project 3D computer generated renderings produced for clients.

With the ability to create these images you and I are able to work out finer details in your project from the basic elements of color and materials to structural issues that may or may not be evident in a 2 dimensional plan view.

I use some of the most current, up to date 3~D building design software. With the combination of drafting, rendering , and pdf generating software, you are able to see your entire house, addition, or office in a virtual 3D model.

The time-saving possibilities of 3D modeling and design greatly reduces on-site adjustments and last minute changes to your plan. We can virtually switch materials and change colors with the click of a button. You don't have to wonder anymore what your house might look like.

You will have a clear vision before you even get your building permit.

3-D modeling give us the ability us to catch potential design flaws on paper before the blueprint reaches the final stage of design. Which saves a lot of time in the field once construction has begun. No tearing apart walls or moving doors or windows after they're framed and installed.

For more information about this feature, please read Why Should I Use Selah Design Services

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

New Home Design

I've been working with a client over the last few months, designing their new home here in Central PA.

This is a computer generated rendering of their home design.

It's close enough to home that I might be able to get pictures in progress.

I'm looking forward to seeing this one when it's done. I don't often get to see my designs after they are built....

Maybe they'll let me stop in sometime. :)

Friday, October 1, 2010

What is all that Green Stuff?

Green homes are designed to minimize environmental impact and maximize resource efficiency. The design, construction, and operation of a home in today's market must focus on energy, water, and resource efficiency while taking into consideration the indoor environmental quality and overall impact on the environment.

Below you will find links and definitions for common green building terms.

Green Building Organizations:

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design): National rating system developed by the USGBC (United States Green Building Council) for recognizing highly efficient and sustainable structures. LEED is a voluntary program that has different levels of qualifications and is based on a point system.

NAHB National Green Building Program: Green Building programs from the National Association of Home Builders. NAHB also offers a Certified Green Professional (CGP), a designation designed to teach building industry professionals strategies for incorporating green building principles into homes, including an understanding that demonstrates enhanced environmental impact and increased performance and health benefits.

Energy Star: Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy’s program to help consumers identify energy-efficient products. Energy Star is a badge attributed to products that have water and energy efficient features.

Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA): Provides education and resources to transform the residential design, development, construction and remodeling industries to profitably deliver energy efficient and environmentally responsible buildings and communities.

California Green Building Initiative: California is a progressive state with its energy efficiency, conservation, sustainability, green building and green purchasing practices. In addition California’s Title 23 specifies a number or energy saving requirements for building. The "Green Building Initiative," calls for state buildings to be 20 percent more energy efficient by 2015 and encourages the private sector to do the same.

Green Terminology:

Energy Efficiency: The Dept. of Energy offers many resources and programs to assist in the area of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy:

Heat Loss: Heat Loss calculations are typically required for new construction. The Dept. of Energy has a program to assist called Rescheck. I use this tool, to quickly capture and record a home's energy load and compliance.

Solar Gain: Increase in temperature contributed to a space by the sun’s rays.

Low-E (Low-Emissive): Coating applied to glass that allows light through but reflects heat, helping control seasonal interior temperature fluctuations due to solar loss and gain.

Glazing: Light transferring portion of a window or door. It is important to consider the thermal and light filtering properties of glazing for energy efficiency and protection of interior.

U-Factor: The rate of heat loss is indicated in terms of the U-factor (U-value) of a window assembly. The insulating value is indicated by the R-value which is the inverse of the U-value. The lower the U-value, the greater a window’s resistance to heat flow and the better its insulating value. Often times you need a minimum U-Factor for tax and energy credits.

R-Value: Measurement of the thermal resistance of a material, frequently referenced as a measurement for insulation. An example of higher R-Values for residential building might be: R-50 ceilings; R-21 walls; R-30 floors. See Recommended Levels of Insulation to determine what is most cost-effective for your home.

CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamp): CFLs use 75% less electricity than incandescent bulbs but also contain a small amount of mercury and should be recycled. In most cases, these lights cannot be placed on a dimmer – so be aware for those applications.

LED (Light-Emitting Diode): LEDs are also known as solid state lighting. LEDs use much less electricity than both incandescent and compact florescent lights are clearly an emerging trend. Learn more about LED lighting at:

Building Materials & Techniques: There is currently a wide range of building materials and techniques available to support green building. As new technologies emerge, expect to see more options becoming available.

Advanced Framing Techniques: a framing technique intended to reduce the quantity of framing materials required while at the same time increasing the insulation cavity areas and limiting thermal bridging. Learn more at the US Dept. of Energy.

ICF (Insulated Concrete Form): Stackable, permanent concrete forms that have insulation on the outer and inner sides. Concrete is pumped into the cavity to create walls that have higher insulation values than standard pour concrete walls.

SIP (Structural Insulated Panel): Considered both a composite and modular system, SIPs are prefabricated systems used primarily for walls and roofs. SIPs employ composite materials, reduce waste through modular construction methods, achieve high insulation values, and may be used instead of many conventional building methods.

Modular Building: Technique that uses standardized components as a building practice. Modularization can occur as pre-constructed components, or as pre-defined rules for construction, such as spacing. This technique is a good method for reducing waste and making the building process more efficient, saving time and money.

Local/Regional Materials: Products harvested and produced within a specific distance from the building site, typically 500 miles. Using local materials is an important green building practice because is supports the community economy and reduces transportation related impacts on the environment.

Certified Lumber: Describes lumber that has been sustainably harvested by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Engineered Lumber/Wood: Composite wood products that include materials which would otherwise have been considered waste, including smaller trees. Encourages more sustainable forestry practices and protects Old Growth forests. Some engineered products are also designed to be stronger than standard lumber of equivalent size.

Composite & Recycled Materials: Composite materials have the advantage of being able to leverage reclaimed or recycled products that are not able to function structurally in their current state. Examples of composites include Recycled Glass Surfaces and OSB sheathing.

Passive Design: Considering the thermal processes of convection, conduction, absorption, and radiation in a design to maintain comfort levels and reduce or eliminate the need for mechanical systems for these purposes.

Passive Heating: Channeling the heat of the sun into natural thermal processes like radiation, conduction, and convection to heat a structure instead of relying on a mechanical heating system.

Passive Cooling: A design where ventilation and the retention of cool air are optimized instead of relying on a mechanical cooling system.

Passive Ventilation: Using the convective nature of warm air and the ability to control windows and vents as the environment changes to control air floor in a structure.

Porous Paving: Hard surfaces that allow rainwater to infiltrate its surface and to reduce runoff, erosion and contamination of surface water.

Rainwater Harvest: Systems implemented which capture and collect rainwater (from roof drainage for example) for use on-site. Some systems filter and purify the water, while others provide a means to distribute it, as in irrigation.

Xeriscaping: Landscaping technique which employs native and drought-tolerant plants in order to reduce water needs and help preserve native species.

Renewable Energy: Energy sources that are naturally replenished, examples are Solar, Wind, and Geothermal. In some cases, energy self-reliance that avoids all reliance on public utilities is referred to as "Off-the-Grid". Several tax credits are available.

Geothermal Heat Pump: Uses the constant temperature of the Earth’s interior to efficiently control the heating and cooling of a structure.

Heat Recovery System: Mechanical system used to reclaim and recycle wasted heat from other sources in order to reduce the need for the primary energy source.

Daylighting: Design practice that uses sunlight to reduce or removed the need for electric lighting. Elements to consider include orientation and placement of windows, light shafts/tubes, skylights, clerestory windows, reflective surfaces, and interior passage of light between rooms.

Carbon Footprint / Neutral: Measured in units of Carbon Dioxide (CO2), a measurement of impact on the environment. Carbon Neutral is emitting no carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, or alternately adopting practices that absorb or offset the carbon dioxide that is produced. Planting trees is one way to help offset your carbon footprint.

Construction Waste Management: Adoption of strategies to control and reduce the amount of waste generated at a job site. Techniques include reusing and recycling, as well as careful planning to reduce excessive waste.

Maintenance: Green products and structures feature low- or no-maintenance materials and designs that reduce the resources required for their continued use. Ease of maintenance also reduces the likelihood that replacement will be needed.

Sick Building Syndrome: Ill-health or discomfort caused by a structure’s design and/or the materials used to construct it. Factors contributing to SBS may include inadequate ventilation and chemical contaminants.

VOC (Volatile Organic Compound): Carbon compounds that vaporize at room temperature, and often contribute to poor air quality in a space. Off-Gassing is the release of volatile, toxic chemicals by products after installation. Off-gassing can be reduced by selecting no- or low-VOC products, avoiding problematic chemicals (such as formaldehyde), and controlling indoor temperature and moisture. Choosing pre-finished materials also helps to prevent the exposure of off-gassing to the design.


What Does Green Really Mean? (Fine Homebuilding Magazine)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Re-Considering Your Bathroom

There's a reason Europeans call them water closets. From our toilets to our tubs, roughly 60 percent of a home's water consumption takes place in the bathroom, according to the California Urban Water Conservation Council.

Any renovations or improvements you make in your bathroom should be done with an eye on the water consumption, especially in older homes. Past manipulations to your existing fixtures may be luring you into a false sense of security about how much water you're actually using.

How Many Times Do You Flush?
The toilet, hands (and seats) down, is your home's largest water user, guzzling roughly 27% of your household supply every year. At that rate, make sure the 1.6-gallon-per-flush (gpf) model you're sitting on really only uses 1.6 gallons each time you flush, it might be using more. A recent study revealed that some 1.6-gpf toilets actually used 1.98 gpf on average, often times due to double flushing caused by poor performance or to malfunctioning parts.

If you've purchased a home with a pre-installed 1.6-gpf model, there's no way of knowing whether the previous owner made any such inefficient modifications. As the parts wear out (they generally last around five years) be sure to ask the hardware store specifically for 1.6-gpf replacements. Some analysts suggest that it's really best to get a low-flow toilet.

Bathroom renovators on a budget will be happy to know that a fair number of water sensable toilets, fall in the low-to-middle price range. Also, keep in mind that some water-strapped municipalities will provide rebates for water-efficient appliances, dropping that price even lower.

Don't Forget to Wash Behind Your Wallet.
While your privy uses the most water in the W.C., showers are predominantly filled with opportunities for waste, thanks to easy manipulation of low-flow showerheads and the rise in popularity of multi-head shower systems, some of which spew an astonishing 80 gallons per minute.

To the ruin of water conservationists everywhere, these systems are legal. Even though the federal standard requires shower-heads to pump out no more than 2.5 gpm, a simple and very large loophole in the legislation lets these heads through. The legislation only applies to single-head units, these multi-head systems can utilize a dozen or more. And, what used to be exclusive of really high-end homes is now becoming more commonplace. I guess people just like to be really wet.

Many showerheads achieve their 2.5-gpm rate with small water-restrictor discs. Often times, a homeowner will get annoyed with these and remove them, resulting in a flow of nearly 5 gpm. Some manufacturers that sell these showerheads go so far as to describe in the product brochure how to remove it.

To check your head, you can measure its water consumption in a few ways. One way is to pour 2.5 gallons into a bucket and mark the water level. Then, take a stopwatch and fill the bucket for a minute in your shower. If your showerhead sprays more than 2.5 gpm, I would suggest getting a new one. Most good ones cost less than $75. It will save you money.

Lastly, if major purchases are in your budget, consider a tankless, on-demand water heater. Households waste 6.35 gallons of water per day waiting for it to heat up; 3.48 gallons of that is for showers alone. Tankless systems heat water when you need it right at the point of usage (at the faucet) cutting wait times down to only about 30 seconds.

Drip Drip Drip....
Last but not least, your bathroom sink faucet, also now subject to government standards, must use 2.2 gpm or less. Taps aren't prone to modifications of the bad sort, but you can increase their efficiency with a 1.5-gpm aerator, available at any local hardware store.

Keeping it Real-ly Green

If you're saving and conserving water in your bathroom, and are still on the looking for other ways to be friendly. Here are seven green items no bathroom should be without.

1. Recycled, processed-chlorine-free toilet paper and tissues.
Look for 2. PVC-free shower curtain. Your cheapest alternative to conventional PVC curtains are polyethylene vinyl acetate (PEVA) liners, as durable as PVC without the hormone-disrupting, asthma-inducing phthalates. Or you can splurge on the eco gold standard, hemp, which also resists mildew.

3. Low-Flow showerhead.
If the Delta H2OKinetics 1.6-gpm showerhead is out of your price range, you can still get a remarkably affordable, ultra-efficient 1.75-gpm model, such as the Niagara Chrome Earth massage showerhead for $19.95.

4. Petrochemical-free personal care products. Read ingredients lists diligently and watch out for the chemicals listed in The Dirty Dozen Chemicals in Cosmetics.

5. Organic cotton bath linens. These can be pricey, but you can build your collection slowly.
  • Fortunately, national retailers like West Elm have some for $6-$19
  • Pottery Barn has their line ranging from $8-$26
  • Bed, Bath & Beyond are selling them in brick-and-mortar stores for $7.99-$14.99 so there's no need to pay for shipping.
6. CFL vanity bulbs.
Repeated on-and-off use of CFL bulbs and the humidity of bathrooms will reduce their lifespans by a few months, but switching to CFLs still cuts energy use considerably.

7. Green Cleaners.
If you don't want to make your own cleaners using baking soda (a non-abrasive scouring powder), vinegar (a natural disinfectant) and tea tree oil (an effective mildew killer), choose least-toxic alternatives.

So, the next time you step into your bathroom...consider reconsidering what you have and what you use. You might just be surprised and what you can save.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Don't Run Off With It

Controlling Storm Water Runoff

Storm water runoff is precipitation that does not soak into the ground where it falls.This is one of the greatest threats to water quality in much of the industrialized world. When water runs off yards, streets, and parking lots into storm sewers or directly into waterways, it carries with it sediments that clog streams and reduce oxygen in the water, as well as chemicals that poison aquatic ecosystems and can render water supplies undrinkable. Runoff also contributes to flooding and, because it doesn't recharge groundwater supplies, it exacerbates water shortages in many areas.

As more and more people move to cities and towns, the storm water runoff problem worsens, because the flattened, impervious surfaces (paved areas) and lack of natural vegetation in these environments prevent precipitation from soaking into the ground. While runoff is a problem of immense scale, there are plenty of simple steps you can take to reduce storm water runoff on your own property.

Following are some tips to reduce run-off.

Minimize impervious surfaces on your property. In nature, most precipitation soaks into the ground where it falls. Plants absorb much of this through their roots, and some makes its way down to the water table, being purified as it gradually percolates through the soil. The "built environment," however, is characterized by impervious surfaces (surfaces that don't absorb water), so that a large portion of rainfall or snow melt becomes storm water runoff. Reducing the amount of impervious surface on your property therefore reduces the amount of runoff.

Line impervious surfaces with gravel trenches. Figure out where water runs off your driveway or patio, and then dig a small trench along the edge. Fill it with gravel to slow the runoff and allow the water to seep into the soil.

Use the water that drains off your roof. A 1,000 square foot roof can produce more than 600 gallons of runoff for every 1" of rain that falls on it. If your downspouts are connected directly to a storm drain, disconnecting them is the single most important step you can take to reduce runoff. Instead of allowing water to go directly into the sewer or to run into the street, direct your downspouts toward a vegetated area, such as your garden or lawn. Use extensions to ensure the water comes out at least 5 feet away from your foundation. Alternatively, install rain barrels or cisterns to collect the water so you can reduce the risk of soggy yards or basement flooding and save some rain for a sunny day. If you don't have any way to make good use of the stored water, consider Dutch drains, gravel-filled barrels with holes at the bottom which slow the flow of water to allow the ground to absorb it all.

Replace lawn areas with native plants. Lawns aren't particularly effective at absorbing and retaining water, especially during heavy rains. This is a problem not only because more natural precipitation runs off them, but also because they require a lot of irrigation, which in turn creates even more runoff. Native plants, such as shrubs and wildflowers, tend to develop more extensive root systems that take in and hold water much better than lawns. As an added bonus, they require less maintenance than a lawn does. If you do decide to keep your lawn, though, water it efficiently to conserve water and reduce runoff.

Add organic matter to your soil. Adding compost or mulch to your soil can make your plants happier, but it can also reduce runoff. Spread a 2-4" layer of organic material once a year.

Don't leave soil exposed. Depending on your slope and soil type, bare soil can be nearly as impervious as concrete. If you can't or don't wish to plant vegetation on an exposed patch of soil, cover it with mulch, wood chips, or gravel. This is especially important for newly landscaped yards that don't yet have established vegetation.

Plant trees and preserve existing ones. Trees' immense root systems effectively absorb water over a large area. In addition, the canopy of a tree slows the fall of rainwater so that the ground is capable of absorbing larger amounts than it otherwise would be. Plant native trees or trees which take in a lot of water and are well adapted to your environment, and take care of your existing trees. For new home constructions, leave trees in place if possible.

Don't create runoff when washing your car. Bring your car to a car wash (preferably one that recycles its water), or wash your car on your lawn. You can also wash a car without water, if you prefer.

Create a rain garden. A rain garden is a garden, planted in a slight depression in the ground, that collects water and allows it to gradually permeate into the soil. Rain gardens come in many sizes and are typically planted at the base of a slope or even at the outlet to a downspout--anywhere where water naturally flows or can be directed. Water-loving plants and a base of permeable soil enhanced with fertile loam and a topcoat of mulch allow the rain garden to quickly absorb even large amounts of water, usually in just a few hours. (more here on Rain Gardens)

Reduce the slope of your yard. If your yard has a severe slope, the soil will have a hard time absorbing even moderate rains. Consider excavating to lessen make steep slopes more gradual. In order to prevent basement flooding and foundation damage, make sure there is an adequate slope away from the house for at least 10-15 feet.

Install berms and vegetated swales. A berm is a slightly raised area, while a swale is ditch with a mild slope. Berms can be used to slow runoff on steep slopes, and swales planted with grass or other plants can direct water to a rain garden. Swales can also direct water toward a storm drain or street: since they significantly reduce the amount of runoff, very little water that enters a vegetated swale will actually make it to the street or drain.


  • If you're building a new home, it's possible to plan your house and landscape to completely eliminate your storm water runoff. In addition to the environmental benefits, lower water bills, and the reduced risk of basement flooding, you may also qualify for tax rebates or other financial incentives. Ask your local water conservation or environmental quality agency for more information.
  • Many jurisdictions offer financial incentives or free tools, such as rain barrels and downspout extensions, to homeowners who wish to reduce their runoff.
  • Many roof gutter systems are too small to adequately handle heavy rains. Consider retrofitting your home with oversize gutters.
  • Need to replace your roof soon? Consider installing a green roof, a roof with plantings atop it. These reduce runoff and can lower your heating and cooling bills.
  • Most of the steps above require little to no modification to your property, but when excavating or installing rain gardens, berms, or swales, it's important to consider factors such as proximity to your home's foundation and your soil's infiltration rate. For example, if a swale or rain garden is installed in soil with a very low infiltration rate, you could end up with a semipermanent pond of stagnant water.
  • While local regulations often favor or require steps to reduce stormwater runoff, they may also restrict the use of certain tools, such as cisterns, or require permits for certain types of landscape modifications. Information about possible permits regarding wetland impacts can be found at your local US Army Corps of Engineers website. Be sure to check regulations before you being work in a wetland area. It is best to check with your local USACE even if you do not believe wetlands to be on your property

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cabana, Pool, and Hardscaping

I am working on another outdoor living design proposal for a client's home in Waterford, Virginia.

We are adding a cabana, hardscaping, pool, spa, & a G-Force pool-slide.

A side view of the pool yard and cabana. Notice the Jumping Jet Fountains along the side of the pool coping.

A rear view of the pool yard and cabana.

Another perspective.

The pool slide.
The spa and raised spa deck with a Cascading Waterfall

A close-up view of the cabana. Included in this cabana are a grill, sink, refrigerator, lots of counter space, open fireplace, & firewood storage. There is a tounge and groove bead-board ceiling and blue-flag stone floor.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I have been referred to as many things over the years: an Architect, a draftsman, an engineer, the draw-er, to name a few. While I am some of those in part, I must clarify upfront with any client that I am not an Architect. Although I do offer practical design consultation, there is a lot more that an Architect will offer to their client that I do not and some times can not offer to mine. What I am is a Building Designer. So, what does that mean?

A Building Designer is first a professional familiar with all aspects of the building trade. Secondly, a Building Designer is one whose plans and designs represent the particular needs, tastes and budget of the client.

The work of a Building Designer varies and may consist of residential (both single and multi-unit) and commercial projects as permitted by the architectural statutes of each state. Here in Pennsylvania, I am fully and legally permitted to design residential projects on any scale however, the state regulations on commercial projects limit me to small office and retail spaces. While I have worked on a number of projects, including churches, medical facilities and other larger assignments, an Architect must be involved in the process to assure the designs meet the strict accessibility and emergency codes that would apply.

A Building Designer's approach to a design problem focuses on practical, functional and economical solutions that will best meet the client's needs, while translating these factors into a concept that is both aesthetic and functional.

A Building Designer offers a complete array of professional services. The Building Designer's primary task is to furnish preliminary and detailed designs for the proposed structure, ranging from the initial concept to complete working drawings and specifications that will comply with all applicable building codes and regulations.

At Selah Design Services, my hope and goal is to listen, hear, and respond to my client's needs and desires in their design project. Whether that project is a new home, a basement remodel, or a dog house, my goal is to create a design project that will reflect and respond to the client's needs.

Building and designing a new home, addition, or remodeling often times brings on a great financial and emotional burden to a family. Often times, the most some people will face in a lifetime. Few families foresee how complex the process can be until they find themselves in over their head in a muddle of restrictive building codes, zoning ordinances, design options and choices. Yet, many states don’t have licensing requirements for residential building designers. If a new home, addition, or remodel is in your future, a specialist in residential design is your best choice to walk with you through the design/building process.

Selah Design Services will provide you with the direction, design ideas, and sound advice for meeting your needs and achieving your goals while meeting nationwide design standards and requirements for the building design profession and construction trades.

SDS is striving to rise to the challenge of the future by researching and studying about new and improved building materials, practices, and technologies that will impact how we live.

Please read Why Should I Use Selah Design Services? to answer some questions you may have about the uniqueness of what I can offer.

Please, see what others have said about their experiences with SDS here.

Take the time to consider your needs on your next building project. Whether it is a new home, an addition, a shed, or interior remodeling, I can offer complete services that will save you time, headaches, errors, and in the short & long you money.

I look forward to working with you on your next project!

(From: The American Institute of Building Design)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Kitchen Design

I am working on a new kitchen layout for a client in Virginia.

Below are some computer generated images of the new design.

The design process to this point is as follows:

I gather data and measurements of the existing kitchen, cabinets, openings, and adjoining rooms; along with photos in order to generate a plan of the existing conditions.

Then, we determine a rough idea of the new space.

Then, we propose some design ideas for the new layout and function.

These images show the client what their new kitchen will look like before we order the first cabinet. Before we begin to remove the existing.