Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Drywall, Electricity and Doors, My Oh My!

We're making serious progress now. We have started the LEED certification process. It is looking like gold status is within our reach, depending on some of the final choices that are made.

Drywall is in and finished. Priming and point-up is almost done. Electricity has been connected to the house. It's very exciting to see the house lit up to get an idea of how it will feel to live in it.

This is a wide angle view of the basement. From the left: Door going out the areaway, the short blue wall is actually a used solid wood door that will be finished to look like it is part of the wall. Through the door will be storage, hot water heater, one of the air handlers, and the sump-pump.  Next to the door are the stairs, the black square is the air return, and two 200 amp electrical panels.  If you look closely you can make out an extension cord plugged into the wall, not a temporary pole outside. Fantastic!

These spotlights that are throughout the basement and first floors are meant for a track lighting system. We reworked them to work with the exposed conduit. The lights originally had paint on them and they have been painstakingly sanded down to expose their raw metal.  Not only was it an exercise in obsessive behavior, but it better matches the electrical conduit.

This is the view as you walk through the front door. The unfinished room to the left is the half bath. 

This view is of the ceiling by the front entrance. Some of the steel in the ceiling will remain exposed along with the sprinkler system.

Various views of the first floor.

As you're walking up the stairs the AMS USA stamp on some of the steel beams can be seen. Details, details, details. 

Views of one of the bedrooms on the second floor. All interior doors are fir to match the window jambs. Most of the doors are 8' tall to keep in scale with the ceiling height.

Around the window and door jambs are half inch aluminum reveal trim.  That is the finished look. No other casing is to be applied.

Views of the full bath.

View of the master bedroom.

The FSC certified maple flooring has arrived. It will acclimate in the house for a couple week before it is installed to get the moisture content within a few percentage points of the subfloor.  That will*hopefully* prevent cupping and gapping of the floor.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Progress on the 30x30 House Continues

Progress on the 30x30 continues by leaps and bounds as the ductwork, plumbing, and electrical are roughed in. Although this will all be hidden behind drywall, it has been carefully thought out and planned so that the finished product remains clean and simple. Final finishes to the outside have been completed as well. This allows the owner to get a taste of just how energy efficient the structure will be when we go on "walk throughs". Even with DC's springtime temperature fluctuations, the interior temperature has remained steady. It's great to see the final product coming together and the fun stuff like faucets, tile and appliances are being chosen next.

The gutters have been added to the outside, along with the final roof trim. The series of stacked windows on the left side of the house will be frosted, as they all look into bathrooms. The frost will also give the windows a continuous, top-to-bottom, flowing look.

Here you can see the continuation of the roof trim, the addition of the handrails on the balcony, and the final color of the steel vertical beams (it's hard to see but they were painted green to match the windows).

Views of the upstairs balcony. Ipe wood decking was chosen for its hardness and natural resistance to the elements. Ipe takes very little maintenance. The ends are sealed with a wax to resist cracking and checking. It has a slightly higher up-front cost, but it will last longer than chemically treated woods, and looks better from both above and below than composite decking. Tension cable railing were chosen for its modern aesthetic and it also allows for the least obstructed view. This large balcony is accessed from the master bedroom and will serve as an excellent escape for the owner. Views of the Potomac River can be seen in the winter from up here. 

The interior stairwell is nearly finished. Tension cable railings are carried through from the outside to the inside. Pine wood 2x4s have been repurposed as the handrails and will probably remain natural.

Old growth "real" oak 2x4s that were salvaged from the old razed house are repurposed as the stair treads. It is a little hard to see in the picture, but a steel dowel will be placed on the edge of each tread to prevent wear and tear on the aged wood and to add a design accent that fits with the tension cables. 

The owner wanted to retain an open feeling between landings but close off direct view into the basement. An acrylic panel with mesh wiring inlaid is used to accommodate this need. 

Due to the building codes in Montgomery County all new houses must have a sprinkler system. Fortunately, this requirement fits in wonderfully with the open ceiling plan. We chose to keep the sprinkler pipes raw and we cleaned them up with vegetable oil to allow their original color to show through. The rawness of the color works well with the steel beams and electrical conduits will be left raw as well. 

All the steel I-beams and joists are painted a neutral but warm grey that goes well with the warmth and aged look of the oak ceiling planks. 

A view into the Master bedroom and bath. Ductwork is lovingly tucked in between the flanges of the steel beams to minimize the final size of the bulkheads. Plumbing is roughed in for the master bath. The wood that you see is blocking for easy attachment of shelving later.

The home is going to be heated and cooled by two zone 16 seer heat pumps. They have variable speed fans so that they can cycle on and off with more efficiency. The home will be so well insulated that it is actually difficult finding HVAC units that are small enough. The picture above is the air handler unit for the upper floor tucked above the ceiling of the hall bath. Access will be through a hinged mirror in the master bath.

Ductwork in the basement. Two 200 amp electric panels have been roughed in. One panel is for the house. The second one was roughed in to feed a subpanel for a future sea container garage that will be built on the property.  

Basement ductwork will remain exposed. Here's another detail of the acrylic panels placed near the stairwell. A good amount of light can come through them while still preserving privacy.

Although the basement is 5 feet underground and has 12" thick concrete walls, we sprayed 4" of foam insulation to insure the highest level of energy efficiency possible. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Panels and Trim!

So this is the fun part. The 3030 rapidly starts to look like a home. The exterior skin goes up in 40" panels that span the entire length of the house. It goes together like regular vinyl siding; the top overlapping the bottom. Except they are about ten times bigger. Notches have to be cut around the windows and the raw ends finished with extruded aluminum trim. Those are the kahki colored pieces around the windows and doors.

The panel profile is a wave, but there are many other options. There are flat panels, standing seam, and they can be installed both horizontally and vertically. It is an matter of personal preference and comes with a 20 year warranty on the paint. Windows and doors installation is finished except for one more window in the front. It will span the structural beams between floors on the left hand side of the house. It has to be modified to work because it can only be as thick as the panels themselves.

The last picture isn't that sexy, but necessary. It is the sewer and 2" water service. The home will have a sprinkler system so we installed an oversize service.

Friday, November 28, 2008


There has been great progress on the house. The majority of the windows have been installed. One big difference that this house has from conventional building is that the windows go in before the walls are on. Once the walls are complete, everything will be trimmed out and it will really start to look like it is finished.

The windows are aluminum clad (of course!) and low-e. They also have a film that blocks 99% of the sun's UV rays that would damage furniture and window dressings.


The roof panels are one piece from top to bottom and are stacked side by side. They are made from a metal skin that sandwiches 4" rigid insulation. The insulation is roughly an R8 per inch which is equal to an R32. The system is high performing and fast to install. The entire roof only took about 4 hours to install.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Frequently asked questions about the 3030 house.

We've been getting all kinds of strange looks when people hear that we are building a steel house, followed by questions that have been pretty consistent. Here we try to answer them and if there is something that we have missed that you would like to learn more about, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Why steel? We believe that wood construction is inherently inferior. Straight 2X4s are difficult to come by and need to be chemically treated in order to increase their longevity. Wood is more susceptible to termites and fire. And you need fewer pieces of steel to frame a house.
What makes it more green? Steel has recycled content in it and is easily recycled when done. The pieces are all made in a factory and shipped to the building site. That means there is very little waste. In traditional wood framing there can be many dumpsters of waste. So far, there has only been a truck full of waste.
Do you need traditional insulation behind the drywall? You do not have to. The insulated wall panels already meet the code requirements for insulation. But we plan on filling the ceiling and walls anyway. The nominal cost to do that will give super insulated walls and the interior will be as quite as a library.
Is it more expensive to use steel versus traditional housing materials? The upfront material costs are a little more but the assembly time is less than wood. So the overall cost is roughly equal.
Was the design process different then if you were designing with traditional housing materials? It is more involved. Whereas plans for a traditional wood framed house will not show every framing piece, steel plans do. Every piece of steel is made in a factory so it needs to be planned out accordingly.
Does using steel limit your design possibilities? As a matter of fact, it does the opposite. There are many more things you can do with steel than wood.
How have the neighbors reacted so far? There has been tremendous support from the neighborhood. People are happier to see a conscientious home go in their neighborhood over a McMansion any day.
What will be the maintenance on the steel over time? Much less than wood. The finish on the exterior has a twenty year warranty.
Is the building inspection process any different? It is, but not by much. The county does not inspect the structure. A third party engineer certifies the structure for the county. The mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and sprinkler systems are inspected by the county.
Why is it called the 3030 house? Because that is its footprint. 30' by 30'.
Who is the architect? Greg Lavadera of Lami Design in conjunction with Ecosteel, who did the engineering and procurement.
Do you plan to build other steel houses? We would love to. This is a process and an aesthetic that we passionately believe in. We are constantly looking for like-minded people who want to share in the experience.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


It is important to us that the cold of the steel be balanced with the warmth of wood. To do so, we found a local dilapidated barn that we recycled into the ceiling. It works well against the exposed bar joists. We also saved the 2x4s from the razed house (they were old growth "real" 2x4s). We epoxied and pressed the 2x4s together, planed them down, and placed them as stair treads. Green reuse is only limited by your imagination.