Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Condensation on Windows - What's the deal?

A friend of mine has a 1950's house in which cheap replacement inserts were installed. He asks,

"Hey Abe, I want to pick your brain a bit. We have vinyl double hung windows in our home now with storms on the outside. When the weather cools down, moisture and frost almost immediately appears...a few of the storms are cracked so we ended up removing them yesterday, and they appeared to be pretty snugly installed, somuch that I broke a couple of the windows during this process since they were cracked already.

I'm not sure if the brand of windows matters, but do believe they aren't very high quality. Not sure if purchasing new storms would help? Any ideas or suggestions for a cost effective solution would be greatly appreciated."

The cause & solution depends: Is the frost on the storm window or on the interior window? Frost will almost always appear on the storm window and it usually indicates that the interior window is working OK! That's because it is keeping the heat in the house and the storm window is the cold surface.

However, it can occasionally indicate a different problem which is leakage of humid air from the house outside. This is sometimes from the replacement windows themselves, and other times due to the fact that they are an "insert" and there is leakage around them. It is hard to say.

I generally recommend leaving the storm windows in place. If the frost is inside the house, that is a different problem for us to talk about. That is probably a problem with humidity levels inside the home, or, having window coverings left down too long, or, in the mild fall weather, a VERY inefficient window.

You can also have a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR test completed to help determine other sources of air leakage and heat loss, and that testing will evaluate the potential energy savings from window replacement as well.

Degnan Design Builders Announces Alliance With New Business Associate

Abe Degnan, President of Degnan Design Builders, Inc. of DeForest, Wisconsin, is pleased to announce his company's alliance with AnneMarie Dresen of AnneMarie Design LLC. AnneMarie is an interior designer with over 20 years of experience. "We have chosen to work with AnneMarie because she has a heart for the interests of our clients, a long list of satisfied clientele, shares our values and has a wonderful talent for interior design."

AnneMarie received her training at the Colorado Institute of Art in Denver, Colorado. Since graduating, she has built experience through association with interior design firms in Colorado, North Dakota and Wisconsin. She has owned Annemarie Design LLC for over seven years.

Are you choosing to build, update your existing home through a massive remodel--or perhaps a less drastic change? Degnan Design Builders and AnneMarie Design will work together to create a unique and beautiful environment by giving their attention to the tiniest details so that your home will function well, represent your personal lifestyle and tastes, and be attractive to all who enter your home.

Our firms recently collaborated on a condo remodel project in Merrimac, Wisconsin. While Degnan Design concentrated on the construction aspect of the project, AnneMarie worked her charm to create a warm, inviting aura of Wisconsin in each remodeled condo.

One of the fireplaces at Summer Oaks,
a remodeled Condo in Merrimac WI.
General Contractor, Degnan Design,
coordinated the construction
while AnneMarie Design created the
"look and feel"

One of the values we share is that AnneMarie listens until she understands your needs. Her goal is to create a custom environment that is tailored exclusively to your taste, your unique individuality and any special dictates of the space. She provides benefits and needs that become uniquely yours.

A custom look created by
AnneMarie Design LLC

Together, Degnan Design Builders and AnneMarie Design strive to exceed your expectations. We at Degnan Design work out the construction details while AnneMarie devises the look and feel that is distinctively you. The result is minimized stress, an enjoyable remodeling process and the satisfied confidence that a knowledgeable team is guiding you.

Call us when you are ready to begin your next remodeling project. We will be happy to involve AnneMarie in our discussions to guide you with the decorative aspects of your remodel project planning, furniture layout, color consultation, custom window treatment, or to consult on space planning while we put together your remodeling plans.

Visit AnneMarie's website at http://www.annemariedesign.com/ to see more photos of her work.
Visit http://www.degnandesignbuilders.com/ to see photos of our projects.
You can find us on facebook .

Friday, December 4, 2009

How should you build your walls - balancing cost and efficiency?

A former employee of mine, Nick Thompson (who is also my cousin) recently asked me a question about how we build our walls now, compared to the early 2000's when he worked for me. For most of this decade we followed the principles of the Intelligent Wall method. Nick observed that on arecent project, we changed our methodology somewhat. We did this for specific reasons. Here are the details.

Nick asks, "Reading different stuff, some from your Facebook page, and comparing to what I thought I knew and what we did when I worked for Degnan Design Builders, Inc. Why is house wrap over foam not redundant? I always thought builders who put house wrap over foam were throwing money away."

The fact is, Nick - it is redundant, in a way. But as we've done some projects in the last 3 years we found reasons why to use Housewrap in addition to foam.

1) We found out how much foam shrinks over time. In 2007 we remodeled a home where my dad had done an addition in 1987 with 2x6 walls and 1" foam sheathing. When we re-sided, we found that all the seams in the foam had been taped. But, the foam shrunk and the tape broke loose, leaving some gaps and air infiltration. The housewrap will prevent that from happening.

2) On the big house in Pewaukee, we were intentionally redundant. We had a lot of stucco for the finish on that house, and we wanted a bond-break between the foam and the OSB wall sheathing. That house was fully sheathed in OSB, then it has housewrap over it, then it had foam, then the masonry or stucco finish. The stucco wire lath was fastened over the foam, and the stucco will adhere to the foam. The housewrap created a bond break to allow the stucco and foam to move interdependently (a tiny bit) compared to the structure of the house. This will keep the house energy efficient and air-tight and also it will help prevent cracking of the stucco.

3) So my new general rule is this: There should be 2 layers of "something" and the seams should overlap.
-When re-siding a house and adding a layer of foam over existing sheathing, those 2 layers will provide air tightness just by their sandwiching together. Taped seams will suffice for air sealing, and the sandwiched layers of material will provide the backup if there is shrinkage over time.
-It is noteworthy that Polyiso foam such as Tuff-R or R-board does not seem to shrink, based on the same 1987 project - Tuff-R on the old house did not shrink, but Styrofoam on the addition did shrink. So, using polyiso might be another solution.
-When building a new home, if you are using just foam you should also use housewrap, so that you have a redundant air barrier of the housewrap as the foam may shrink over time.
-If you apply OSB to the entire house first, then foam over it, with the seams offset, you should be OK to skip the housewrap in most cases (with vinyl siding or brick, for instance) because the OSB and foam will work together to form a redundant air barrier sandwich. Still, tape the seams during construction, as maybe the foam won't shrink in the future.

4) I also have some possible new methods using spray foam insulation, but that is a whole other story!

Thanks for asking.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

THE REVEAL! 2009 Green Built Home Makeover


On November 6, the 2009 Green Built Home Makeover turned the keys back over to Terry and Tammy Moss. The family had not seen the inside of their house since the Sept. 25th kickoff. They are excited about their new home, its new look, comfort, and the energy efficiency savings. They have AnneMarie Design to thank for the tasteful d├ęcor of the home. The boys’ bedrooms were decorated with new beds and storage pieces from American TV. The entire house was painted and new lighting fixtures and fans installed.

Little Terrell couldn't wait for the "Reveal" to see his new home.
He just had to take a sneak peak.

Abe Degnan of Degnan Design Builders coordinated the project by lining up volunteers and scheduling the crews so the work could be completed in 5 week’s time. It was challenging but particularly important to keep the work flow moving along and overseeing quality control, and that we met the projected deadline for the family to return to their home.

Volunteers, family, and friends gathered at the "Reveal" Open House held on November 6 to see the changes that were made and share the Moss family's excitement.

Tammy Moss, Abe Degnan and
AnneMarie Dresen in Tammy's new living room at the "Reveal"

New beds and storage pieces

Merry Christmas to the Moss family from the Madison Area Builders Association, Project Managers Abe Degnan and AnneMarie Dresen, product and material donors, and all the volunteers who worked on the project.

Visit us on Facebook!
See a complete list of this year's 2009 Green Built Home Makeover donors. Click here.


Monday, November 30, 2009

2009 Green Built Home Makeover


A South side Madison family is thankful for the best early Christmas gift ever this year!

2009 Green Built Home Makeover kicks off!

Terry and Tammy Moss, with their four boys ages 18 months to 12 years, were chosen for the 2009 Green Built Home Makeover project—now in its third year. Degnan Design Builders with 40+ member volunteers from the Madison Area Builders Association went to work remodeling and upgrading the inside and exterior of this home with energy efficient materials, products, and practices following a September 25, 2009 kickoff. The Moss family was chosen for the Green Built Home Makeover by the Madison Area Builders Association because of their need, their efforts to help themselves, and the ability to significantly transform the home. The family had previously replaced windows and doors and added a garage and driveway. They were trying to do what they could. Terry Moss says that the improvements by the Green Built Home Makeover volunteers will help them financially and to get ahead.

Siding in need of repair ................Work in progress

The Moss' home was built during the post World War 2 era. Homes of that era were small and some were built on a concrete slab. Such is the case with this 800 square foot home. GDS Associates began the Project with Home Performance with ENERGY STAR™ testing to determine the location of air leaks, moisture problems and overall energy inefficiencies. The report allowed Project Managers, Abe Degnan of Degnan Design Builders, Inc. and AnneMarie Dresen of AnneMarie Design LLC to determine what improvements would make the most difference. Without a basement, the floors are very cold, even—with carpeting. Volunteers from Sierra Concepts dug down about two feet around the foundation and installed insulation to warm the floors by preventing heat loss through the slab. New siding was added after 1” thick foam sheathing was installed, to prevent thermal bridging through wall studs and provide additional insulation and air sealing. This, along with R-38 Bio-based spray-foam insulation in the ceiling, provided the Moss family with a snug and quiet interior.

Tyler from Maly Ceramic Tile Company
volunteers for this year's project

A closet area that housed the old furnace, water heater and washer/dryer was completely remodeled. There were no heat ducts, so the furnace blew only into the living room and not to any of the bedrooms! As long as the kids can remember, they have woken in frigid bedrooms. Now, new ductwork from a new high efficiency Hybrid Heat Pump furnace and air conditioner installed by volunteers from Cardinal Heating and Brown Heating comfortably heats the entire house including the three bedrooms. Terry and Tammy will no longer have to turn on space heaters two hours before their kids go to bed to warm their rooms. For the first time since they have lived in this house, they will all wake up to warm rooms in the morning and dress in comfort.

Thanks to Closet Tailors for
the new closet systems

A tankless water heater and a water softener are now in a small portion of the hallway closet. The water heater provides a continuous supply of hot water for showers and laundry at a fraction of the cost of the old tank – it runs about 38% more efficiently than a tank heater and has no standby heat loss! A new ENERGY STAR stacked washer and dryer donated by American TV sits alongside a cabinet/counter system donated by Closet Tailors. The unit will give Tammy a place to fold clothes and needed storage space. Closet Tailors also installed a closet system in the master bedroom and shelving in other closets.

The bathroom was depressing with a low ceiling and visible mold around a rotting window and on bathtub walls. Volunteers completely gutted the bathroom to remove the damaged materials. Spray foam insulation in the bathroom walls will prevent condensation on cold surfaces, and a cement board substrate for the tile shower walls will never become moldy. A new tub from Renew It was installed along with new plumbing fixtures and an acrylic block window. An air-to-air exchanger provides ventilation for the bathroom and the rest of the home to remove excess humidity and provide fresh air. A colorful shower curtain and new light fixtures chosen by AnneMarie Design set off the new, bright look. Tammy just loves her new bathroom.

A colorful shower curtain
chosen by AnneMarie Design
brightens the new bathroom

In the kitchen, an ENERGY STAR refrigerator was installed, and a new over-the-range microwave has its vent run outside the house to remove steam and cooking odors. The range, cabinets and countertop were in good condition and reused. Tammy will totally enjoy making and serving scrumptious meals with her new energy efficient appliances for her family and guests and snacks for all the neighborhood kids who congregate at their house

Materials that could not be reused were taken by Royal Container Service to their recycling facility in Madison for sorting and recycling. Degnan Design Builders has always reused and recycled materials in their home remodeling projects. This practice will become the standard for all contractors in 2010 when a new Madison City Ordinance goes into effect. The Ordinance will require homeowners and contractors to reuse and recycle all construction materials for 1-, 2- and 3-family dwellings among other types of projects.

While this project was valued at about $50,000, the story is not necessarily about payback on energy efficiency alone. The improvements did result in air infiltration reduction of 24% and estimated energy savings of 15%. But the bottom line is that the home just didn’t work! The furnace and water heater needed replacement. The house is finally set up with proper distribution of heat, and the systems will improve indoor air quality by providing the proper amount of fresh air and preventing mold in the future. The home will be comfortable and safe since space heaters will no longer be used to supplement the bedrooms. When so many maintenance issues exist, it is important to go the extra mile and make the house work properly to be prepared for the next 50 years of its life. Now, that is green!

Watch for the "REVEAL" in our next post.

To see a list of this year's Green Built Home Makeover donors, click here.

Visit us on Facebook.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Degnan Receives National & State Award Recognition

Degnan Design Builders, Inc. holds the distinction of being the winner of three 2007 "A Cut Above the Rest" remodeling awards from the WBA Remodelers Council. Two of these projects received Honorable Mention from the Qualified Remodeler 2008 Master Design Awards. The projects were in the categories of Finished Basement, Green Remodeling project, and Bathroom over $30,000.

Finished Basement project: The goal of this finished basement project was to create a space with the atmosphere of an old Chicago pub combined with an industrial modern influence. The clients enjoy entertaining family and friends. One of their dreams was to have a custom-made restaurant booth for snacks or playing cards. Our clients also had a number of needs including:

-Computer and AV workspace,

-Home entertainment center with HDTV,

-Piano/reading/fireplace area,

-Informal party/entertainment area,

-Game table with reversible top,

-Hot tub area and bathroom/changing room with continuous tiled floor, and floor drain to accommodate wet guests,

-Exercise area with padded workout floor.

All of this was carefully fit into a compact footprint of under 1,000 feet.

Bathroom under $30,000 project: Our clients requested a larger shower and more contemporary finishes. One of Degnan Design Builder’s first suggestions was to enlarge the window looking out of the house. This window overlooked the fenced-in backyard and acres of farmland beyond. The cabinet designer created a furniture look to the cabinetry through the use of bun feet and bumped-out base cabinets on each side of the single lavatory sink.

Green Built Home Make-over: In 2007, the Madison Area Builders Association decided to embark on a philanthropic project that would educate the public about green remodeling and energy efficiency by remodeling a home. The Annual Green Built Home Makeover project came to life. After two months and the help of dozens of volunteer companies and donors, senior citizen, Hazel Tookes, was given the key to her Green Built remodeled home – with more than $100,000 in energy efficient, environmentally friendly improvements.

Read more about the Green Built Home Makeover projects:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pewaukee Lake House - Part 2: Insulation and Energy Efficiency

Material selection for the Pewaukee Lake House has been driven by several factors: energy efficiency & greenness, appearance, and authenticity. This has led us to several new suppliers and many new techniques! At the same time some of our standards have not varied: the house is well insulated, energy efficient and airtight thanks to foam sheathing, housewrap, and dense-pack cellulose insulation. I'll focus on energy efficiency systems in this article.

There is 2" foam insulation under the basement floors and also 2" foam on the exterior of the concrete walls. The concrete basement floors have radiant heat installed by Cardinal Heating and they are finished with an acid staining technique by Hottmann Concrete. On the inside finished walls there is another 1" layer of foam, then fiberglass batts. By encapsulating the concrete in these layers of insulation, not only do we have over an R-26 wall it also helps to use the concrete wall itself as thermal mass.

The main framed walls of the house also have foam and dense-pack cellulose insulation by Rainbow Insulators to achieve R-25 in most areas. This is an even-better version of the Intelligent Wall system that we use on new homes and additions. The standard system uses 2x4 walls with R-13 fiberglass insulation and 1.5" of foam to achieve a greater overall insulation value than standard 2x6 walls without any foam can. In this home we have used R-15 cellulose insulation, continuous OSB wall sheathing, 2" foam, and housewrap for a belt-and-suspenders approach to energy efficiency, moisture & air infiltration, as well as structural strength over-and-above what is required.

The home has had two Wisconsin ENERGY STAR Home inspections during the construction process and will have a final test after completion. These two inspections led us to complete additional quality-control, energy-saving, and air-sealing work as we found the spots that we had previously missed. As meticulous as we are, without the ENERGY STAR system we would still miss big opportunities for energy efficiency and comfort in our homes. The fact that we fix the problems during construction gives our clients the comfort of a home build right, and when we finish, we have testing numbers to prove our quality control and construction techniques work.

The complicated truss roof system has continuous venting but better yet it has been filled with as much as R-82 in cellulose insulation! Cellulose insulation is a particularly green product because of its insulating properties, its ability to help with air sealing, and its diversion of waste from landfills.

Careful detailing was required to fill the trusses and wall cavities. The ENERGY STAR blower door test, along with use of the thermal imaging camera, helped us to find a few voids in the complicated truss system. We also found a few unsealed connections of the walls and roof where the timber framed Great Room connects to the hand-framed walls and roof of the other parts of the house. We were able to locate these areas and fix them by having the insulators add insulation in truss voids and using expanding foam to seal complicated areas. The results of our work will be revealed in the next month or so when the homeowners have moved in, doors are adjusted, and final exterior details are completed.

I'll address the heating and cooling of the home in an upcoming post.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Degnan at Extreme Makeover Home Edition - Part 2

Doing the trim package at Extreme Makeover Home Edition was, without a doubt, the most challenging part of the project. Our shift was from 3 AM to 3 PM on Day 5 of the project, a Tuesday. We were recruited by my friend and frequent Green Built Home Makeover volunteer, Mike Twohig, whose company trims for Veridian Homes in addition to other custom builders for whom he works. Even though he has a substantial employee base—over a dozen people, he figured we needed 20 trimmers to get the job done.

Nighttime work at the site:

Now, 20 people in a 2500 sq ft house may not seem ALL that bad. But, on top of this there were about 10 cabinet installers and another 10 people whom we didn't know what they were doing! So, in fact, there were closer to 40 people in the house, and it was a crowd.

We planned to arrive to the site around 2 AM so that we could begin unloading equipment and start as soon as possible. It was a very hot July, and even in the middle of the night it already seemed warm. As the day continued we were certainly sweating buckets! It didn't help that the super-mix of concrete for the foundation was still curing in the walls and under the floor. So even through the insulation, heat was radiating into the finished basement. Walking into the unfinished basement with no insulation protection was nearly unbearable. I would guess it to be 120 degrees from the heat of the curing concrete in that area, while it was in the 90's during the day inside the house.

We divided into teams and each had our own area of production—window jambs, casing, doors, baseboard, etc. Challenges arose, whether it was locksets that had the wrong setback or window extension jambs that were too narrow. To be honest, I cannot now even tell you how we solved many of the challenges. What's the most important thing is that the work was completed— and it was very well done! The bumps in the road were many, but the finished product would not reveal that story. It was very good!

The evening before, Monday night, Anthony and I were called upon to help with some of the quality control. Monday afternoon, we had been working happily in the Production Tent, helping craft the special projects for the Design Team. Around 6 PM, David Simon of Veridian approached me and asked us to make repairs to the main stairway. There was miscommunication and the stairs, which were to have a finished layer of hardwood floor on them, were instead framed for a standard carpet installation. Left alone, they would not have met building code which measures from the rough dimension of carpeted stairs, but from the finished dimension of wood-surfaced stairs and floors.

The bed that Anthony helped to build:

While we wished to get some rest before our early wake-up call, Anthony and I headed in for the stairway repair. Another carpenter overheard and offered to make the repair to the basement stairway. Anthony and I went at the main level stairs, taking off the 1-1/2" thick treads and replacing them with 3/4" thick ones. When finished with another layer of 3/4" hardwood, these stairs would now comply with code.

While we were working, I heard David behind me talking to the camera. We had been given strict instructions not to intentionally look into a camera if they were near us when we are working - if we are on film, they want us working rather than hamming it up! David approached me and said something like, "We had a little problem with the stairway, but Abe is here to repair it. You can see he's putting on lots of adhesive to make sure there are no squeaks when the house is done, right Abe?" "No squeaks, David!" I replied. Unsure of the filming status, my back was to the camera the whole time. As it turns out, I did make it on film -- just not on the show. Anthony and I can be seen in Veridian's behind-the-scenes DVD that they privately produced.

The site is a production studio as much as it is a construciton site. Here they are filming Paige Hemmis. I was in the background working on Paul DiMeo's project but did not make the cut.

We thought we were done and packed up our tools and started to carry them out to load up. Soon, a project manager ran out after us and cried, "We need you to tear the basement stairs apart again! The other guys didn't fasten them correctly!" Much to our dismay, at that point (less than 6 hours until we had to be back on site), we found out that while the other carpenters replaced the treads, they did not properly fasten the treads and risers, leaving the thinner 3/4" material to flex. Luckily the adhesive was not yet dried, so our second demolition went much faster. Anthony drove in concealed screws to securely fasten the risers to treads, and within an hour the stairs were finally done correctly!

People have asked me about quality control on these homes. It is my experience that this home had excellent quality control, consistent with Veridian's standards. In fact, every one of Veridian's foremen/supervisors were on the job—someone was there 24 hours per day in charge of quality control, and that is how the stairway error was discovered, checked, fixed twice, and re-verified. The home was tested by Wisconsin ENERGY STAR Homes and a private, independent building inspection team was on site 24 hours per day to handle any inspection issues so work could continue. While errors certainly did happen, I choose to focus on the way that they were fixed. In any home, the final product is what counts. Errors can be fixed when they are caught, and the team was there to make sure it happened!

Volunteers Nick Hoehl and Jon Benninger is the basement "outdoor room" of the house - Paul DiMeo's special project. Abe helped fabricate the brackets from which the equipment is hung.

So we finally packed up our equipment after fixing the stairs, grabbed a late dinner around 9:00 PM, and then headed to a nearby vacation cottage belonging to one of Mike Twohig's employees. We wound down, got about 3 hours of sleep, and did make it back to the jobsite for our 3:00 AM starting time. And going full circle, that is how this story began.

The brackets:

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Green Built Home Makeover 2008

The second annual event featured a different type of project: A post-war ranch home which had lead paint threatening the children living there. This project was different in scope and goals. Rather than expecting a huge transformation in energy usage, our goal was instead to transform the owners lives by allowing them to open and close their windows without worry of lead dust harming their children. Exposure to lead is particularly damaging to young children and unborn babies. Most commonly, they can ingest the lead by touching the dust from lead paint.

The home was already relatively energy efficient, as it had a new high efficiency furnace, power-vented water heater, and insulation package. The window, however were another story. The original single pane windows had lead paint which turned into dust every time they were opened or closed - hence the owners had been living there for a year without even opening the windows during moderate temperatures! They focused on cleaning the home daily to prevent lead dust from harming their son Myles. The windows were replaced with new triple-pane units for maximum energy efficiency. The lead paint was removed or encapsulated so that it will no longer be a risk to the family.

Furthermore, the bathtub glazing contained lead. They were unable to bathe their toddler and instead were forced to use a downstairs shower. Because the wall and floor tile were in great condition and the bathroom did not need a full remodel, the solution was for a Renew-it tub liner to be installed over the old bathtub. The tile remains in place, while the lead glazing is no longer exposed.

Wisconsin Environmental did the lead safe work in the home, and Advanced Health & Safety removed the asbestos window glazing. Ganser Exteriors installed aluminum soffit & fascia to encapsulate the lead paint on the soffits & fascias and installed new gutters to direct water away from the home. Degnan Design Builders installed LP SmartSide siding on the garage to encapsulate the lead paint under housewrap. By installing the housewrap and the siding, the lead paint will never be able to flake off or have dust reach the outside of the house. SmartSide will provide decades of low-maintenance service.

See news coverage, Courtesy of WKOW-27 news:

2008 Sponsors include:

Presenting Sponsor: MG&E

Gold Supporters:

Degnan Design Builders, Inc.

Silver Supporters
Wisconsin Environmental, Inc.

Bronze Supporters

Braatz Heating and A/C
Brighter Concepts Ltd. - Solatube
Building Services & Consultant, LLC
Charles Home Furnishings
City Glass Company
Chase Lumber Co.
Dane County "Green Realtors(r)" Group
Dirty Ducts Cleaning Environmental & Insulation, Inc.
Elite Electric, Inc.
Energy Federation Inc.
Focus on Energy
HLW Builders, LLC
Healthy Homes
Natura Clean, LLC
Nonn's FlooringPar Concrete, Inc.Pulvermacher Construction, LLC
Qual Line Fence Corp.
Renew-It, LLC
Royal Container Service, Inc.
Sergenian's Floor Coverings, Inc.
Statz Painting & Decorating, Inc.
Twohig Construction, LLC
Window Design Center

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pewaukee Lake House - Part 1: Overview

Many people ask about our current projects and it is time for me to talk about what we've been up to. We are building a custom home at Pewaukee Lake which is the largest and most detailed project we've ever completed.

The photos and subjects of discussion are neverending - I have a collection of 2000+ photos from the construction of the home so far.

The subjects are endless because every corner of this home is unique. It will be a Green Built Home and a Wisconsin ENERGY STAR Home. It is designed and built with details to look like it is already 100 years old. It has the most modern and efficient heating & cooling systems in it (geothermal, ground-source heat pumps, radiant floor heat). It has an indoor fitness center with a basketball court under the garage. There are PV solar (electric) and domestic hot water solar panels on the roof.

The point is: The home at once represents the image of a home that was created over time, but rather this one is being built with aging already built-in! It is at once a new home and also a "remodeled" home.

There are 5 separate elements to the design: the "storybook cottage", the "chapel", the "barn" garage, the "English Manor", and the "new timberframe." The challenge was to make these parts of the house into a cohesive whole, but to have the house represent a creation that was added to over time. It is as if these separate, smaller buildings were moved onto the site and connected together over time, in a slightly hodgepodge way as was often the pragmatic way of our forefathers.

In reality, this was all intentional, planned, and debated time and time again. Every square foot of space in the home was reviewed to make it functional, if not multi-functional. There are several examples. The "guest cottage" can be an in-law suite, or even an owners suite on the main level of the home should anyone ever suffer disability. The downstairs craft room doubles as a guest bedroom, and the adjacent childrens' bunk room is sound-proofed for their benefit while it can also serve as a mini recording studio. A formal sunroom was eliminated, but instead a sunny, private ingelnook will be created in the cooridor linking the "guest cottage" -- it yields an extra piece of privacy for guests and can again double as a sleeping area for additional guests. There is no dedicated home theatre room.

The clients were inspired by their trips to Europe - specifically the Cotswolds in England, but also trips to Italy. While the Italian Villa was considered, in the end the old English cotswold style won out, with a bit of storybook imagination added in.

All in all, the floor plan is about 1/3 smaller than the original schematics. This, in and of itself, will save the owners money and energy, and in turn makes this house greener than it might otherwise have been. Additionally, the house has R-80 attic insulation, R-25 or better in the walls, and has received two intermediate Wisconsin ENERGY STAR Homes inspections so far. The final results will come in after completion late this summer.

Future blogging will discuss:
  • Material choices
  • Geothermal heating & cooling
  • Solar panels - PV & domestic hot water
  • Radiant heat
  • Creating a gymnasium under the garage
  • Framing a curved roof
  • Timber framed great room
  • Wainscot details - using barnboards and creating perfect corners that Tom Silva would be proud of
  • And more...

Please subscribe and stay tuned!

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Degnan at Extreme Makeover Home Edition - Part 1

I spent about 3 days working at the Extreme Makeover Home Edition project in Richland Center in July 2008. Lisa and I also spent the first day there, known as the Braveheart March or the Blue Shirt March. The construction process was thrilling but challenging. We at Degnan Design Builders were there to help Twohig Construction, doing the trim carpentry for Veridian Homes.

Saturday, July 26, 2008
Lisa and I arrived early Saturday morning in Richland Center. There were hundreds of people waiting to be shuttled to the site about 7 miles outside town, tucked high on a beautiful farm hill. Our job that day was to be part of the cast, as the army of Blue Shirts arriving to help build the new home. It was demolition day!

The story of the demolition was a "Storybook Demo" because the owner, Shelly Anders, is an elementary school teacher. It was a little like "The Little Engine that Could" since there was a small excavator "learning" how to tear the house down with the help of a bigger excavator. As we were back from the center of the circle formed around the Design Team, we could hear little of the story until we actually saw the TV show several months later.

The Design Team members were all present, including Ty Pennington, Paige Hemmis, John Littlefield, Paul DiMeo and Eduardo Xol. There were lots of "takes", they shot and re-shot the march and the demo from lots of different angles, and of course Ty had to climb up on the pile of debris with his camera for some shots for the family.

Monday, July 28, 2008
On Monday morning, I got a call from Mike Twohig asking me to get out to the site sooner than we had planned. Our trim shift was supposed to be from 3am to 3 pm Tuesday July 29. Instead, Anthony Caracci and I packed up immediately and headed for Richland Center. The funny thing is, just before we arrived Gary Zaicek from Veridian also called with a similar request, but he had better news for me: He wanted Anthony and I to work in the production tents, helping build the special projects for the design team. Well, twist my arm! Work on the special projects and maybe meet a designer? We were thrilled. Little did we know, we'd do more than just meet them in passing.

By the time we arrived on site around noon, the house looked as you see it in the third photo. The framing was complete. In fact the exterior was half done! Anthony and I quickly got started in the production tent.

My assignment at that point was pretty simple: I had to cut a few dozen pieces and then grind the ends to prep them for welding. Paul DiMeo was working on the assembly of various things right in the same tent, so I got to chat with him on and off as we were working. I found out a few things about him. For one, he's a smoker! But, I asked him whether he was an actor or a craftsman first. Paul told me that he became a tradesman - a welder, I think he said - in order to pay for acting school. And, that is how it all started for him. (I found out Paige Hemmis's answer too but I'll talk about that later.)

Around 6 PM, we were thinking about dinner and winding down so we could rest for a few hours. To be back at the site and be set up by 3 am, we figured we'd have to be up and at it by 1 am again. Those plans quickly changed, as David Simon from Veridian approached me with a special assignment: to re-build the stairway!

Upcoming parts of the blog: Stay tuned for more!
  1. Good quality control - the stairway example
  2. The night of trimming.
  3. Home - for a while.
  4. Punch list - the most thrilling part, got to see it all!
  5. An hour in the bedroom with Paige Hemmis. Installing furniture.
  6. Homecoming
  7. Who else was there to help... Bob Degnan, Andy Schneider, Nick Hoehl, AnneMarie Dresen, her brother-in-law(?), Jon Benninger... more...
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sun Porch Conversion using Mon-Ray Glasswalls

Degnan Design Builders, Inc. complete a project converting a screened porch into a 3-season sun porch. Ten years and several cats had abused the old screens to the end of their life.

The owners desired a solution that would extend the usability of their room, particularly viewing their extensive flower gardens in the spring and fall. Additionally, they wanted something that will protect the screens from their cats claws.

After we evaluated the benefits of a screened porch or a 4-
season room, we re-concluded that the 3-season porch was ap

Anthony Caracci of Degnan Design Builders, Inc. installed the
windows, exterior cladding, and interior cedar trim. The exterior is clad in low-maintenance aluminum, while the cedar trim continues across the top of the windows. On the interior, cedar trims all sides and mullions of the windows.

The windows can be stacked open at the bottom, middle or top.
This is the perfect solution for these clients, who will stack the windows in to the bottom to open them while protecting the screens from the cats.

The clients are thrilled with the results, and should thoroughtly enjoy the April and May weather, protected from the cool spring breezes and collecting the warm sun into this new comortable sun porch.

Below: "Before" photo of the deteriorated screened porch.