Friday, November 30, 2012

Design vs. Budget

Understanding the budget goals of the project requires a good understanding of construction costs, something that many designers are not qualified to do. Conceptual and preliminary estimating should be available during the design process to prevent surprises and manage the design to the budget. Many projects have remained on the drawing board when the owners discover that the cost to build is over their budget.

Designing to a budget is an effective way to ensure that a design gets built. Once again, by beginning the estimating process during the design phase, surprises can be minimized. When establishing a conceptual budget, we have some tricks that help us understand the owners' needs:
  • Architectural Digest, Southern Living or DIY magazines
    Depending on the type of design magazines that the owner prefers, we can get a hint of where we should establish a budget. The high-design and details shown in Architectural Digest are demanding and some builders may have difficulty achieving the level of quality; Southern Living magazine demonstrates attention to detail but is not as demanding, and; DIY is usually about achieving bang-for-the-buck at the best price.
  • Aluminum or Wood-Clad Windows
    There is a broad range of window preferences among many home buyers, from: specific name-brand high-end products, to; no preference at all. While the wood-clad windows are more expensive, the preference is often driven by demand to achieve a high level of quality and performance. These expectations can influence many of the other products and systems within a home.
  • Appliances and Plumbing Fixtures
    Appliances and plumbing fixtures can be large ticket items within a home's budget, but the customer selection has more to do with the overall budget than just the appliances or fixtures themselves. It's been our experience that when buyers want specific appliance and plumbing fixture brands, they won't compromise otherwise. We can reduce the size of the home or make other cutbacks to save money, but they often will not consider other brands.
Did all that make sense? These are our observations after working with dozens of owners. Establishing a conceptual or preliminary budget can be more involved that just adding up costs. A good estimator can help establish a realistic budget, and then a good designer can design within the budget.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Design Strategies

There are two sides to the process of designing a home - aesthetic and functional. Even if "form follows function", design preferences play a key role in managing the expectations of the customer. Some people are drawn to the work of a designer because the aesthetics appeal to their taste, while others prefer designs and styles they are familiar with. In all cases, good design is a function of understanding, what the customer likes, what they need and, what they can afford.

Photos and scrap books are a great way to collect design ideas. During the early stages of the design process, try not to think too literally. Use your ideas to inspire the designer. Show the designer what you like without telling him or her what you want. You may be surprised what a little thinking outside of the box will achieve. Allow the designer to express his interpretation of your requests. He may have ideas and solutions that you hadn't considered.

The personality types of both the designer and owner, play roles in the design process. There's a big difference between practical and flamboyant. Accountants, athletes, entertainers and CEO's may have completely different agendas. A responsible designer should know which type of owners he can please and refer others to another designer.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

CFL Lighting

CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lighting) are available in a variety of styles or shapes. Some have two, four, or six tubes. Older models, and specialty models, have separate tubes and ballasts. Some CFLs have the tubes and ballast permanently connected. This allows you to change the tubes without changing the ballast. Others have circular or spiral-shaped tubes. In general, the size or total surface area of the tube determines how much light the bulb produces.


  • Efficient: CFLs are four times more efficient and last up to 10 times longer than incandescents. A 22 watt CFL has about the same light output as a 100 watt incandescent. CFLs use 50 - 80% less energy than incandescents.
  • Less Expensive: Although initially more expensive, you save money in the long run because CFLs use 1/3 the electricity and last up to 10 times as long as incandescents. A single 18 watt CFL used in place of a 75 watt incandescent will save about 570 kWh over its lifetime. At 8 cents per kWh, that equates to a $45 savings.
  • Reduces Air and Water Pollution: Replacing a single incandescent bulb with a CFL will keep a half-ton of CO2 out of the atmosphere over the life of the bulb. If everyone in the U.S. used energy-efficient lighting, we could retire 90 average size power plants. Saving electricity reduces CO2 emissions, sulfur oxide and high-level nuclear waste.
  • High-Quality Light: Newer CFLs give a warm, inviting light instead of the "cool white" light of older fluorescents. They use rare earth phosphors for excellent color and warmth. New electronically ballasted CFLs don't flicker or hum.
  • Versatile: CFLs can be applied nearly anywhere that incandescent lights are used. Energy-efficient CFLs can be used in recessed fixtures, table lamps, track lighting, ceiling fixtures and porchlights. 3-way CFLs are also now available for lamps with 3-way settings. Dimmable CFLs are also available for lights using a dimmer switch.

LED Lighting

LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) are solid light bulbs which are extremely energy-efficient. When first developed, LEDs were limited to single-bulb use in applications such as instrument panels, electronics, pen lights and, more recently, strings of indoor and outdoor Christmas lights.

Manufacturers have expanded the application of LEDs by "clustering" the small bulbs. Today, LED bulbs are made using as many as 180 bulbs per cluster, and encased in diffuser lenses which spread the light in wider beams. Now available with standard bases which fit common household light fixtures, LEDs are the next generation in home lighting.


  • Long-lasting - LED bulbs last up to 10 times as long as compact fluorescents, and far longer than typical incandescents.
  • Durable - since LEDs do not have a filament, they are not damaged under circumstances when a regular incandescent bulb would be broken. Because they are solid, LED bulbs hold up well to jarring and bumping.
  • Cool - these bulbs do not cause heat build-up; LEDs produce 3.4 btu's/hour, compared to 85 for incandescent bulbs. Common incandescent bulbs get hot and contribute to heat build-up in a room. LEDs prevent this heat build-up, thereby helping to reduce air conditioning costs in the home.
  • Mercury-free - no mercury is used in the manufacturing of LEDs.
  • More efficient - LED light bulbs use only 2-17 watts of electricity (1/3rd to 1/30th of Incandescent or CFL). LED bulbs used in fixtures inside the home save electricity, remain cool and save money on replacement costs since LED bulbs last so long. Small LED flashlight bulbs will extend battery life 10 to 15 times longer than with incandescent bulbs.
  • Cost-effective - although LEDs are initially expensive, the cost is recouped over time and in battery savings. LED bulb use was first adopted commercially, where maintenance and replacement costs are expensive. But the cost of new LED bulbs has gone down considerably in the last few years. and are continuing to go down. Today, there are many new LED light bulbs for use in the home, and the cost is becoming less of an issue. To see a cost comparison between the different types of energy-saving light bulbs, see our Light Bulb Comparison Charts.
  • Light for remote areas and portable generators - because of the low power requirement for LEDs, using solar panels becomes more practical and less expensive than running an electric line or using a generator for lighting in remote or off-grid areas. LED light bulbs are also ideal for use with small portable generators which homeowners use for backup power in emergencies.

Energy Efficient Lighting

Electric lighting burns up to 25% of the average home energy budget. The electricity used over the lifetime of a single incandescent bulb costs 5 to 10 times the original purchase price of the bulb itself.

Additionally, the heat created by incandescent lighting adds to the latent heat-load and requires the air-conditioning system to work harder to remove it. This is especially an issue in the southern home.

Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) and Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs have revolutionized energy-efficient lighting.

CFLs are simply miniature versions of full-sized fluorescent lights. They screw into standard lamp sockets, and give off light that looks similar to the common incandescent bulbs - not like the fluorescent lighting we associate with factories and schools.

LEDs are small, very efficient solid bulbs. New LED bulbs are grouped in clusters with diffuser lenses which have broadened the applications for LED use in the home. LED technology is advancing rapidly, with many new bulb styles available. Initially more expensive than CFLs, LEDs bring more value since they last longer. Also, the price of LED bulbs is going down each year as the manufacturing technology continues to improve.