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Trial by fire - building a house with no formal training

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ryanyoung

I know I have a habit of verbosity, if you don't want to suffer my disquisition but still would like to help please jump to the numbered questions below. If you do want to read all the details I thank you for your time.

To preface, I'm 29 and have been working as an independent insurance adjuster for the past decade with a brief segway as an instructor at a vocational school. I'm a highschool drop-out and everything I've learned has been through apprenticeship, research, and helpful people. I don't like the term "self-taught" because, lets face it, we haven't taught ourselves anything since the colonial era. Hence my being here, I need information I haven't been able to find elsewhere.

I recently purchased property in Sedona, Arizona so I can build my first house. This is intended to be a retirement home for my parents and will later be my retirement home once they no longer need it. I'm building rather than buying for two reasons: I can't find a house that would meet my criteria and architecture is the career I'd like to move into for my later years. I know many of the concepts I detail below will be VERY costly, some may not make it into the final design but I'm aiming for quality over size so please don't lecture too much in that regard.


   1) Where can I find an example of a custom concrete home blueprint?

I've hit a wall in the planning phase: I have a few designs I'm working with but they've all been created in a program called Xactimate, a tool for estimating costs with local price lists built in and a basic CAD program for calculations. I need to start working on actual blueprints but I haven't been able to get my hands on a custom home blueprint I can reverse engineer. Primarily the issue is formatting, I need to know what these plans are supposed to look like in order for my plans to be taken seriously. Additionally I'm sure there are a plethora of specifications needed that I would have overlooked, things like slope of drainage lines etc.


     2) If I want to build the house ready to be converted to handicap accessible, what features/requirements should be included or excluded from initial construction if I want to keep costs and lifestyle impact low for the period before fully accessible becomes necessary?

As stated this is to be a retirement house for my parents. They are both in great condition for their age but barring catastrophic events it's likely they or I will become handicapped in some ways before death. I certainly intend to size the rooms and doors for handicap accessibility, but I'm not so sure about things like cabinetry as that could be a nuisance for the time that they (or I) am not handicapped.


     3) What recommendations do yall have for alleviating thermal transmission through windows and doors if I'm avoiding the use of vinyl casements and frames?

My design was somewhat inspired by the "home run house" by Dave Sellers. The plan is to use rammed earth for exterior walls as the oldest standing building in AZ is rammed earth and I think it will mesh well with the sandstone/limestone layering of the Sedona mountains. I'm aiming for a zero wood / zero paint / zero plastic design as these materials do not typically meet the lifespan requirements for such a design. I do want to have a fairly substantial opening from the kitchen to the exterior, roughly 7' x 20', for a multi-panel sliding glass wall. This is partially for aesthetics but also for ventilation purposes as the Sedona temperature is quite amenable much of the year. That being said, all the insulating benefits of super thick rammed earth walls go out the window if I have high thermal transmission through openings when they're closed. I definitely plan on using triple pane glass but its the frame I'm worried about letting too much heat in if I go with metal.


     4) How do I calculate the thickness of the rammed earth walls to benefit from their thermal transmission in day/night cycles?

I know that stone and concrete have very low R values, poor insulators, so it's only from their thickness that they provide benefits to passive temperature regulation. In theory this means that a rammed earth wall with correct thickness could allow the heat from the day to reach the interior during the night and vice versa. Is that possible, worth it, and are there greater benefits to going thicker and super insulating? I don't know, but I will be attending a rammed earth workshop in Oracle, AZ to expand my knowledge on this material.


     5) How do I calculate the load distribution of a concrete roof and the load bearing capability of a rammed earth wall?

This one I really don't expect to do myself, likely I'll need consultation from an engineer and fortunately I know a few. However I'd like to have a cursory knowledge at least so I can come to said friends with a plan that only needs adjustments rather than overhaul.


     6) What can be done to help prevent cracking in a concrete slab?

The plan is to strip the property down to bedrock, slab on grade with rebar reinforcement and polished concrete floors throughout with rugs for aesthetics. I plan to use a 6" thick slab as well, as a friend once said, "overkill is underrated". My designs are also based around my experience as an adjuster. I've seen how homes go wrong so I'm planning on isolating water features and surrounding them with a french drain system or lowering that section by 2", in either case a small sump pump will be included. I mention this because this could affect the stability of the slab.


     7) What issues my I encounter with electrical and plumbing run through revealed copper conduit?

Accessibility is key in my design and I want as little hidden as possible. The plan is to have thick gauge copper conduit as a sort of pseudo chair rail and crown molding and run all electrical through that. I'm hoping for a industrial-utilitarian look but I know there's a fine line of looking good between steampunk or overly commercial. It's a risk I'm willing to take as it also serves the longevity goals.


     8) What can be done for sound mitigation and insulation using long-lifespan materials for interior walls? Does anyone know of a chart somewhere that shows the lifespans of insulation material?

The plan is to use aluminum studs for the interior walls and I already purchased them cheap before the tariffs thankfully. My family has an unusual relationship with neodymium magnets so I'm planning on using steel panels for the interior wall surfaces, this way pictures and the like can be hung without putting holes in the walls. Unfortunately this means the walls will do very little to dampen sound between rooms so insulating them would be ideal. I also don't buy into the "open floorplan" trend as I find it silly to let the heat from the kitchen permeate the whole house, so I want to insulate the kitchen a bit. I'd like to avoid fiberglass insulation for a number of reasons. I've been going through Xactimate price lists checking depreciation rates for different insulations but I don't think this is the most reliable information.


If you read all that you're my new hero, like I said I have a pension for articulation. If there are any retired architects out there with a bunch of spare time I'd be happy to buy you a drink or a meal and pick your brain a bit. I won't be flying cross country just to meet with someone but I travel for work so I'm all over the US every year anyways.


Thanks for your time, stay golden.

 
Aug 9, 19 9:44 pm
Non Sequitur

Hire an architect and they will answer all your questions.  

We make a living answering these types of questions and do not have the time to cater to cheapskate DIY wankers looking for a free lunch.


Aug 9, 19 9:56 pm
ryanyoung

I'm aware of that and will likely need to hire one as a consultant, but if the architects in the US built houses I considered worth buying I wouldn't be here in the first place. At the risk of sounding antagonistic: is it more in pursuit of "free lunch" to risk everything building my first house from scratch, or to be routinely employed for shelling out the same tired designs with minor adjustments for a false sense of customization?

ryanyoung

Also, thanks for reading it

ryanyoung

I know that's a shitty comment, I thought I'd be cheeky and would delete it if I could find the damn button. But, the idea that only people who already do something are capable of doing it I find absurd. I don't know what you do and maybe you do create some amazing things, but condescension is hard for me to swallow from someone who clearly ignored everything I wrote. Nothing about this idea is cheap and I'm not avoiding hiring an architect because it's expensive. We should both think a bit more before posting I think.

Non Sequitur

So you want design quality and professional opinions but don’t want to pay for it? What a fucking cheap wanker. You don’t have a clue about what you need or how to do it or even what architects do. You’d be a nightmare client.

joseffischer

Hire Rick Joy, an architect who builds buildings you obviously like.

ryanyoung

As I see it I haven't asked for any substantial design assistance in that post, and I certainly haven't asked anyone to spend hours toiling over my project. It's not at that stage yet and if it was I wouldn't come to a forum on the internet. However the people here obviously have enough free time and interest in the topic to discuss ideas, so why would you devote so much time to ridiculing me and then act as if your time is too valuable to be spent on me?

Non Sequitur

Because free-loading DIY wankers are a problem for us. Mostly due to reality tv shows that make construction and design look like a fun pass-time. If you can't recognize that your lenghty post by itself requires a ton of professional work, then you are delusional.

ryanyoung

Also I'd like to reiterate that I regret my first reply to your comment. My issue is more with the culture of construction in the US than any particular architect. We build to sell not to last and as I find that irresponsible at best. Many architect provide extremely valuable services and I hope to one day count myself among that list. I don't want to pursue a client-professional relationship and am instead aiming to build and sell, if I do that successfully for long enough I can eventually qualify as an architect without having a diploma.

Non Sequitur

I agree with the first half of that comment and would happily sit for beer and hash that out... since I do that regularly anyways, but Arizona is a few time-zones away and within a political climate I can very little for.

As for the 2nd part, I don't really know what your goal is.  Now you want to build and sell property?  Pretty sure that in most places you can do that without an architect as a general contractor... however, what you build is extremely limited unless you hire design consultants.  Not doing so is what leads to the observation is point 1 above. 

ryanyoung

Where are you based out of? I work nationally if you're in the US.

Non Sequitur

Not in the US since I'm a Canadian architect. The typical residential construction sector is still the same quality tho.

ryanyoung

Well I do have a lot of friends in Halifax and Toronto I visit often, if you wanted to connect and shoot the shit I'd be happy to exchange contact info. I find it's always better to discuss things with people you have some disagreements with than to only pursue those who encourage what may be bad ideas. I think that's the big thing I omitted in the initial post: these concepts are still very early in development and its it's likely much will change before the final plans are set.

joseffischer

1) Where can I find an example of a custom concrete home blueprint? Find architects you like and look at their websites. You can try to source their permit plans from the authority having jurisdiction by going to that location and pulling the permit (public record) but note that all drawings are copyrighted and what you're suggesting infringes on copyright. Next option would be to go through magazine articles, again though, that was for publishing, and they'll be missing a lot of information. FINALLY, and most important, what you're trying to do is say "Can I learn from drawings without having the experience, sort of like a DIY programmer can copy/paste from code off the internet?" The short answer is... not for the level of craft and custom that you're requesting. This is why you need to hire an architect (for more than "consultation"). 

 2) If I want to build the house ready to be converted to handicap accessible, what features/requirements should be included or excluded from initial construction if I want to keep costs and lifestyle impact low for the period before fully accessible becomes necessary? ADAAG and FHA covers all code required disability clearances and minimum requirements, but the disabilities you are planning for may require extra knowledge. My grandfather-in-law designed his own home (architect) that included in-wall oxygen, among other things. He had enough residential and enough senior living center experience to blend this and get exactly what he wanted. As an architect who doesn't have much resi or healthcare experience, I would not be able to do this project on my own. This is why you need to hire an architect specializing in your design type. 

 3) What recommendations do yall have for alleviating thermal transmission through windows and doors if I'm avoiding the use of vinyl casements and frames? This is very vague... You could forgo an architect for this though, by leaving it entirely up to the contractor, as long as you hired a contractor familiar with the construction type you favor (rammed earth, passive cooling, etc) If you were familiar with construction detailing and materials/fabrication and had a particular question, you'd gain more traction on the site. 

 4) How do I calculate the thickness of the rammed earth walls to benefit from their thermal transmission in day/night cycles? Most architects don't know how to do this. I remember doing work like this in school and there are formulas that take into account your temp and relative humidity ranges, r values of materials, etc to figure this out. If you hired an architect like myself, I'd literally have to do some googling and open up my old school books to refresh myself and get familiar with rammed earth. I would charge you extra for this for having to learn on the job. This is why you need to hire an architect who has already done this work on multiple projects (maybe on your "consulting" level at approx $200-250/hour).

 5) How do I calculate the load distribution of a concrete roof and the load bearing capability of a rammed earth wall? I'm beginning to think you don't know what consultation means... you'll need to hire a structural engineer (probably as a consultant to an architect). Here's some actual consulting:: I'd recommend not doing a concrete roof, really heavy, and most rammed earth projects only do the walls.

 6) What can be done to help prevent cracking in a concrete slab? Your structural engineer (hired from above) will provide all mix designs to the general contractor with the understanding that your concrete will be exposed as the "final finish".

 7) What issues my I encounter with electrical and plumbing run through revealed copper conduit? Just let the GC and his subcontractors handle the exposed electrical and plumbing. Hire an architect if you want it to look nice, as they will draw the details requiring the GC to run it in certain ways. 

 8) What can be done for sound mitigation and insulation using long-lifespan materials for interior walls? Does anyone know of a chart somewhere that shows the lifespans of insulation material? Most charts online are from manufacturers that claim their material lasts longer than competitors. Perhaps an architect would choose specific materials that worked with your design goals and budget.

ryanyoung

Thank you so much for directly addressing each of these and giving such specific answers:

ryanyoung

There are a few questions I have if you have the time:

ryanyoung

This reply system is killing me, one more try:

  • 1) Would I still be risking copyright infringement if I were to pull public records solely to study their formatting and what kinds of information they've included? I'm trying to understand how to write a building plan rather than to directly copy their works, to use your example it'd be like reading someone's code to learn the coding language and then applying that language in a totally different way.
  • 3/8) A big problem I've faced is trying to get accurate information when manufacturers so often exaggerate the benefits of their products. I was more curious if anyone who had worked with passive cooling designs had recommendations for specific manufacturers or materials, especially for windows. For insulation it's very likely I'll be using common and cheap materials as these are not serving the purpose of insulating from the exterior but between interior rooms. Really was hoping for a better option than RFB or fiberglass, possibly SPF.
  • 5) I already have a structural engineer who's agreed  to be a part of this project, I am fully aware I cannot do or exclude that job. One thing I'm having a great deal of issue with is the roof/ceilings design. I liked the idea of concrete because of the durability and the revealed steel bars could actually be a nice aesthetic given the pseudo-industrial look I'm going for. That being said I'm not decided, I know I don't want to use shingle, membrane, or tile roofing and likely not tar/gravel either as each of these have 20 year lifecycles at best with arizona sun. Tile can last a bit longer but suffers too much from wind driven rain and expansion cracks. Metal seems to be the only other option aside from concrete and I'm still playing with that idea as well, but then comes the issue of insulating that metal. Do you know of any other roofing types to consider or am I down to pricey concrete vs thin flimsy metal?
  • 6) I should have been more specific here, as stated I'll leave the mix and design largely to the engineer. I was really wondering if expansion joints ever are used in residential foundations. I'm going to be building straight from bedrock on a relatively even grade so I can likely leave this to the experts.
    joseffischer

    1) You would be copyrighting by copying the work (assumedly with a camera since most permit offices don't have public printers and won't let you make copies). It's in the word "copy"right. It doesn't matter what you do with it later (excepting protected uses like an actual professor using work in teaching/research, though with that example, they get permission first and cite sources).

    Chad Miller

    I'm an architect located in the US and I agree with EVERYTHING Non Sequitur has posted. Hire an architect you cheap bastard. If you do be sure to show them this discussion.

    midlander

    if you're going to do this yourself without any training, at least do something that's just a typical house so you have a model to follow. what you're describing is so far outside the ordinary even an experienced team would find some challenge in it.


    you're severely underestimating how much work is involved. it's not merely a matter of good anecdotal advice - it's going to take someone with experienced judgement real full time work to figure some of it out.


    if architecture fees are outside your budget, this kind of house is outside your budget. just find a homebuilder and talk to them about about building a customized home for senior living. if that's too expensive, then you just can't afford what you want. that happens.

    Aug 9, 19 10:43 pm
    citizen

    ++++ heed these words

    ryanyoung

    I can hire an architect and likely will, but as a consultant. Among many others, one problem with trying to become an architect without formal education is that no one will give you funding to build a house until you have evidence that you can build one, ie a house you've built. I'm well aware of the high costs of what I'm attempting, and the serious risk of failure, but I'm hopeful that with a good contractor and enough research I can accomplish what I've set out to.

    ryanyoung

    Also, thanks for reading it all

    SpontaneousCombustion

    You're going to run plumbing through copper crown molding applied to steel sheet-finished interior walls?  You're an insurance adjuster - you've heard of electrolysis and galvanic corrosion, right?  That's just the very tip of your big fat hairy iceberg. You've crammed about 50 problematic ideas into 7 questions - it's going to take much longer than over a drink for any architect to help.  Also you mean "penchant", not "pension", and articulation's not really your strong suit.

    Aug 9, 19 11:00 pm
    ryanyoung

    My apologies, I should have been more specific there. The electrical lines are to be run through copper conduit as crown molding (to then branch to lighting and fans) and chair rail (to reach outlets and switches) while the plumbing lines will not. The idea I alluded to of the access hallway between bathroom and kitchen will of coarse not have steel panel walls to avoid corrosion. The issue of electrolysis was one I had not considered, thanks for the info. Also please forgive some of the errors in my writing, this was mostly written by dictation while driving as I'm rather busy with work. Thanks for taking the time to read it though.

    SneakyPete

    Why not simply save money and put them in the walls?

    ryanyoung

    It roots back to one of the key reasons I'm building this way: in my experience as an adjuster I'd say a significant portion of damages occur because the concealment of plumbing and electrical prevents routine maintenance in a cost effective way. While the upfront cost is certainly higher I think this is an essential component of building for longevity.

    SneakyPete

    Routine maintenance of...pipes and conduit?

    citizen

    My laptop actually ran out of text, so I couldn't finish reading.



    Aug 10, 19 12:01 am
    ryanyoung

    Easy fix, just press the "any key" and it should populate.

    midlander

    as a tangent, is there such a thing as aluminum studs? i've never heard of them, but i'm mostly involved on core+shell projects so maybe there's something i don't know.


    according to google you can get made-in-china aluminum studs, which are made of galvanized steel :-/




    Aug 10, 19 1:32 am
    5839

    There are some demountable partition systems that use specialized aluminum studs, but they're not generally available or used for ordinary stud walls.

    ryanyoung

    I had a friend who happened to own them from a construction project that never came to fruition, I scooped them up right away when I heard.

    ryanyoung

    And before you ask, yes I'm absolutely positive they're aluminum.

    Non Sequitur

    Are you sure they are not galvanized steel studs? The only time I've seen aluminum studs is with curtain-wall installation... never in an interior application unless it's part of a systems furniture set-up.

    ryanyoung

    These were not intended for the purpose I'd be using them for, I can get the details on the intended project if youd like but essentially I'll be repurposing them as he was able to sell them to me for so cheap it was worth it. They'd been sitting on a lot for a few years and he'd already written them off as he had no other application for them. I would be fine with steel studs, but these were available. I stuck a neodymium magnet to them and got no pull so I'm certain the material isn't ferrous.

    ryanyoung

    Also I may use a different material like steel studs if they prove to be unsuitable for the task, that's something I'll leave for my engineer friend to determine.

    midlander

    how will you fasten wallboards, blocking, framing to the AL studs? usually aluminum is extruded and has a thickness greater than steel because it's less rigid. Will all the screws need to go into machined holes? this would be an unreasonable amount of extra work.

    tintt

    Just start digging, you'll figure it out as you go. 

    Aug 10, 19 8:59 am
    ryanyoung

    Thanks for the encouragement, most people here seem to blow off the possibility of this reaching fruition. I think it's because they assume I'm here as the only source of info for a pipe dream. The reality is I'm trying to knock off some known issues in my spare time while working. This winter in my off season the real work begins.

    Non Sequitur

    So what is your profession anyways? Care to offer all of us free services?

    ryanyoung

    Sure: when you've finished building a new home it can be beneficial to get an ACV policy initially as the lack of depreciation will have less on an impact on your premiums. As long as you change yo

    ryanyoung

    *to RCV before the cost of depreciation exceeds the difference in premiums you've paid you come out on top. Also if someone asked me to take a look in a room and give them an opinion on the damages, as it wouldn't take much time, I'd happily do it.

    Non Sequitur

    "would not take much time"... rather a key point here. What you're asking us here would take several hours, if not days' worth of work of research and we would then need to educate you so that you can go and play in the sandbox. That's not how this works.

    ryanyoung

    Let me narrow this whole thing to one big question then: does anyone know where I can find an affordable concrete or rammed earth house blueprint so I can reverse engineer the format? Something old, something public domain, anything that I can work backwards from to start getting a sense of what I need to know. As a not so bright man once said: there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns. I need to get from the later to the former

    Non Sequitur

    Ryan, no one uses the term blueprint anymore... Lots of books available with pretty pictures but there are not that many "how to replicate our project" type sources. Makes sense when you think about it. People who make a living designing these things don't have much incentive to publish their solutions for others to steal.

    ryanyoung

    Fair point, what about a list of items that absolutely must be detailed in a design? Ie slope (or grade, forgive my lack of terminology) of drain lines

    Non Sequitur

    what needs to be detailed? It all depends on how much you want to spend during the documentation phase ($$) vs spend during construction phases ($$$$^$). If in doubt, detail it, but order of importance will go from the big items (soils conditions, site grading, foundation work) to the smaller items (expansion joints, flashing and membrane laps, etc).

    ryanyoung

    The big areas where I lack even cursory knowledge would be ventilation, electrical, and plumbing. I'm looking for a sort of punch list of information to research for the time being. For the foundations, soil, and grading I'm working with a friend who's a structural engineer this fall to come up with plans and will by trying to develop a rudimentary understanding ahead of time so I don't make too much the ass of myself (better to do that here as I have) asking stupid questions. My intended work flow is basically:

    study online

    • create concept drawings
    • discuss designs with contractors I know in the area
    • create initial designs
    • architect consultation
    • involve structural engineer
    • hire an architect if the plans are still sub par

    In the meantime I plan to take care of the earth movement and well/septic installation on the property, hopefully I can break ground this winter and actually begin construction late 2020

    Non Sequitur

    Move the hire/consult an architect to the top of that list... They will ,once on the payroll, hold your hand as you discuss the project with other consultants and contractors. You still don't understand what we do and how having an arch on your side from day one will smooth the path forward. Stop listening to your contractor or engineer buddies and hire a good local design firm.

    Superfluous Squirrel

    I think it's a cool idea! The world needs more people who try new things instead of building traditional platform framing houses because they're simple and cheap to build.


    Your proposed house is going to be more expensive and more work than a similar wood house. If you're prepared to put the time and money into it there's no reason you can't do it yourself. 


    Also check out earthships - I think that's what you're trying to build.

    Aug 10, 19 10:41 am
    ryanyoung

    Thanks for the supportive words, as I said before I'm appalled by standard construction or I'd buy one. I'm definitely gonna be paying a lot for all this but I'd rather have a small house I'm happy with at $500/sf than another house of sticks with a great room. I've definitely had some direct inspiration from earthships and helped a friend of mine remodel one a few years back.

    ryanyoung

    I forget where I heard it but a quote comes to mind after reading some of these comments, "If everyone thinks your ideas crazy you're either the smartest person in the room or the dumbest." I hope it's the former and am willing to risk the later. Thanks to everyone who read this and got back to me, positive or negative it's all fuel for the fire.

    Aug 13, 19 1:00 am
    Non Sequitur

    It would only be the former if you showed the slightest respect for the profession. You don’t and think you can do it all because you think of yourself as special. Based on your replies, you’re in the dumb category. How about you spend some time researching what architects do and meet some in your area to gauge cost and feasibility?

    ryanyoung

    I plan to, actually I have a a meeting set with one in the area for February. You are right that I don't know enough about architecture and have only scratched the surface of what I need to learn, but if you think the only way to learn architecture is from universities you are sadly misguided. This is the digital age and that old-timey rhetoric is quickly being replaced by the community and free sharing of the internet.

    Non Sequitur

    You cannot be this daft.

    Also, serious question, why would I give you answers for free anyways?  Just because you asked on some web forum?  I am certainly not the one who is misguided.

      

    monosierra

    Its profoundly disturbing that while no one would want to be their own doctors, lawyers, and engineers - a lot figure they can do what a licensed professional architect can do.

    Aug 13, 19 9:48 am
    joseffischer

    To be fair, I try to be my own doctor often, and many people go online for law advice.

    tintt

    You don't need a license to design houses.

    ryanyoung

    I think this is more akin to a nurse wanting to be their own doctor than someone with absolutely no connection to the field. Having a decade of experience working in construction and damage appraisal I have some rudimentary knowledge but of course I will need a great deal of study to come even remotely close to an architect. Even then I have enough respect for the profession that I would by no means consider myself an architect having built one house. But if I don't go this route I see no other avenues for pursuing architecture aside from University. If you know anything about the American educational system you should know that college is it best overpriced. Fortunately MIT and some other institutions offer curriculums for free online so I can pursue some modicum a formal education without the formalities. Additionally I already have an engineer willing to work with me on this project but was hoping I could get some basic information from these forums in the meantime while I lack the time for in-depth research, but I can certainly understand the frustration in what can appear to be the demeaning of a profession.

    joseffischer

    1) Search the forum, you will see that many people don't think university prepares them for what you're describing.

    2) After realizing this, try to get a job at an architecture firm as a draftsman.  After a few years, you'll be ready.  Plus side, you got paid!


    ryanyoung

    I've actually reached out to a number of architecture firms for exactly that, unfortunately independent adjusting is still too lucrative to switch over to that as full time employment but if I can get in 3 months during my off season (winter) it would help tremendously. I'm also looking into some work apprenticing with a concrete company, I have a friend who's a job-site manager and he's talking with the bosses for me, as I think a few months seeing some actual pours would really help my understanding there. I don't like Universities but I don't think "self taught" is a real concept, apprenticeship is a must here in some way or other .

    midlander

    I think this statement is very reasonable. Maybe you should start small on your construction effort, build out a garage or workshop first to test some of the ideas and look at it as an experiment. Most architects share your contempt for common stick-built housing. the thing is it works better than anything else in the price range most people can afford. if you can experiment and find a superior option, go for it.

    monosierra

    interesting analogy and respect to you for attempting such a big project. The nurse comparison is a bit misleading though - that would be like a bricklayer or perhaps even contractor trying their hand at design, permitting, coordination. Plenty of overlaps with the architects work but still quite distinct. 


    At the end of the day the style part of design is subjective. The most crucial and basic task of an architect is translating design intent into working drawings and that does take a lot of training.

    Aug 13, 19 11:54 am
    ryanyoung

    Absolutely true, it is almost certain that I will need an architect's involvement at some point in this process. I would like to try my hand at it and see what I've done wrong in their review at the very least.

    Wood Guy

    Ryan, where I live it's common for semi-skilled people to design and build their own homes. There is a high chance that something, or many things, will go wrong, and mistakes can be the life-threatening kind. Those of us who have spent decades learning how to avoid those mistakes now get paid to advise others so they don't get stuck in dangerous or overly expensive situations. But if you want to do it yourself, go for it.

    I highly recommend getting subscriptions to Fine Homebuilding (full disclosure, I write for them, sharing the hard-earned tips I've learned), The Journal Of Light Construction, and greenbuildingadvisor.com. Together there is little territory they have not covered. 

    You might also like this site, made for DIY-ers:  https://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/SolarHomes/solarhomes.htm. Check out their PAHS pages (passive annual heat storage). One of my current projects is renovating a house that appears on this site, owner-built, with a ton of problems we are correcting after 30 years of failures. I've worked on a lot of owner-built homes (I'm a designer and builder) and they always have problems that could have been avoided, but then again, I've had problems on projects designed by licensed architects as well. 

    Aug 13, 19 12:00 pm
    ryanyoung

    Thanks for all the information, this is the kind of productive feedback I was hoping for in coming here. I'm planning on building a small guest house and detached garage on the property of similar styles so that the main house has at least some experience under my belt before I lose my shirt or worse. I'm also looking to get some practice with revit or autocad in my spare time, do you have any recommendations on tutorials for these?

    Wood Guy

    Both Autocad and Revit have steep learning curves. Not that you couldn't learn them on your own, but you'll find it more challenging than you think. I've been using Autocad for 25 years, steadily for the last 15, and still learn new things regularly. I'd recommend Sketchup, which is more intuitive and has a lot of tutorials on Youtube. It's not good for construction drawings (though others make it work) but it will let you work out massing and details.

    ryanyoung

    I already have experience with estimating CAD programs (Xactimate and Symbility) and have been playing with SketchUp since it came out. Probably get help from good old Lynda and youtube to learn Revit.

    tduds

    You can get a basic competence with Revit in about 2-4 weeks, but you could use it for 10 years and still discover new features. It's an enormous program.

    ryanyoung

    I think that's true of just about any professional software. What's even worse is seeing someone younger than you using said features in their first year or so when you've been working with it over a decade. I certainly did that to my mentor and now it's happened to me a few times when I've had apprentices and during my time teaching. One guy showed me tricks his first week! No such thing as keeping up these days, just trying not to fall too far behind.

    senjohnblutarsky

    So, you don't want any wood or plastic.  But you're concerned about thermal transmission in metal (I'm assuming you're thinking aluminum) window assemblies.  Mind you, you said "zero" in reference to these materials.  This already illustrates you don't know enough about building products and practice to undertake this.  

    The stripping down to bedrock comment is laughable when it occurs in a paragraph asking about crack prevention.  Differential settlement is real my friend.  

    Would you like something free for your project?  The ADA standards are free.  You can peruse those to your heart's content.  Mind you, the standards change.  They're an opinion of what will be most universally accessible, and are not specific to any particular disability.  There's also the idea of universal design, and an expansion of the accessibility line of thinking.  

    Aug 13, 19 12:23 pm
    ryanyoung

    Good point, zero is an exaggeration. As little as is practically feasible. Plastic in particular will certainly be a part of the construction. Wood I can't think of many instances where alternate materials aren't available but there's also plenty I don't know. ADA standards are bookmarked already and I'll certainly be reading through. I was more wondering which of said standards other people might consider for a home intended for retirement and not knowing what disabilities I or my parents may face. Universal design seems like exactly what I was thinking in that regard, thanks for the tip. It's amazing how much terminology determines quality of search results.

    ryanyoung

    Also I'm familiar with the concept of settlement but certainly don't have the understanding needed. Aside from needing to have the soil evaluated, are there design factors which could encourage this? I'd assume weight would be one such factor.

    JonathanLivingston

    I'm confused. Is your goal a home or to become an architect. If your goal is a house then by all means proceed through trial an error.  Draw something. Anything. Start making your words real. Then post them on the internet for feed back and keep a thick skin. No idea can be sacred , you cant worry about people "stealing your idea" redraw, iterate, refine until its ready to bid, build or finally hire that architect. If you post a drawing here you will get feedback. Good or bad. But you have to put forth more effort than talk. and the feedback you solicit has to shallow. the small things people are willing to give for free.  I like it. I don't like it.  I see a problem there. Kind of feedback.   

    If your goal is to become an architect through this method it will not work. You cannot get a license in most states without working under a licensed architect for a significant period of time and most also require an accredited professional degree. You typically cannot do this without going all in. It is a major problem for equality in the profession but that's another topic. You could become a very niche home designer, but what's the market in that. Those clients hire architects. 

    Aug 13, 19 12:56 pm
    ryanyoung

    Where this is headed long term I'm really not sure. I know I want to build houses and I know the house I build will probably look very different from the one I'm thinking about currently, I really like your wording of "no idea can be sacred" and I absolutely believe in that. It's amazing how much this idea has changed in talking with contractors, engineers, architects, and just people in general. I do have quite a few drawings I'd be happy to share, there not with me currently as I live in FL but am working in NC right now. I kinda hopped on this forum because I'm fiending to keep working on this project but don't have time do so seriously right now. Last time I used it was similar and I got some really good advice.

    tduds

    "..architecture is the career I'd like to move into for my later years."

    Same here. That's why I went to a vocational high school, got undergraduate and masters degrees in architecture, and worked for a decade in various offices around the country. After all that I think I'm almost ready to be an architect.

    Hate to be a wet blanket but this isn't a pastime. It takes years of education and apprenticeship (mostly apprenticeship) before you even know what you don't know. There's a reason most architects do their best work after 50.

    Aug 13, 19 2:18 pm
    Non Sequitur

    .

    ryanyoung

    Mind you I was very clear I don't believe in the concept of "self taught". I'm definitely pursuing apprenticeship, I've got a good job currently because an old timer took a liking to me and was willing to share what he knew and I hope to learn more of this field the same way. I'm very much opposed to university however, at least in it's current state in the US, and have no interest in a diploma. Some free online courses are definitely in my near future. I find it rather unlikely I'll ever be able to call myself an architect in truth, if I can make it to home builder I could be content with that.

    ryanyoung

    Also I'd note that my path in life has been generally in this direction for some time now. Construction, damage appraisal, art, CAD, sales, etc. It's far from being a linear path to architecture but I've been working in related fields since high school.

    tduds

    You mention eventually hiring an architect... my advice is do that as soon as possible. The earlier you get an actual architect onboard the better. 

    The longer you wait, the more unworkable ideas and misguided tangents you're going to wander along simply because of your naivete (Don't take it personally, like I said above it takes years just to know what you don't know). Bringing in a professional later in the process is - I predict - going to lead to a lot of frustration on both sides as they'll have to spend a lot of effort explaining to you why your ideas aren't possible.

    Let someone define the problem for you so they can solve it. 

    Aug 13, 19 2:50 pm
    JBeaumont

    An architect could also help you prioritize, and to know what to worry about and what's just not a big deal (examples: you don't need to detail waste lines, and magnet walls are a simple thing that doesn't need special construction techniques or acoustic insulation.) You're mixing together a lot of tiny, tertiary issues with much larger primary assumptions. You need help with the general organization of the project first, and then with advising you in your decision-making throughout.

    The more negative reactions in the thread are mainly because of the way that you presented this as something that could be discussed over coffee, or that professionals would want to take on and provide you with free advice on this forum.  If you go to a site for medical professionals and start asking questions about your ailments, they won't engage except to advise you to make an appointment with an appropriate professional.  Same deal here.

    ryanyoung

    Tduds I think you make a very excellent point and I try very hard not to be too attached to any of these ideas. I think my access hallway idea and revealed plumbing/electrical are the only two I'm really devoted to and haven't heard any major criticisms on these points (except in one case of misunderstanding). Beyond that it's basically just a rammed earth house with a (maybe) concrete roof. No worries about the naivete comment, I generally have a pretty thick skin about things especially on the internet. I'm a highschool dropout who was teaching at a trade school by 26 so I've heard an awful lot of "you can't" in my life.

    ryanyoung

    JB I definitely should have worded a lot of this differently. After the first few comments I went to edit it but apparently that's not an option or I'm missing something here. I'm working 14+ hour days in another state and fiending to get back and start working on this again, the forum was a good way to pass an hour or two brainstorming and asking about some questions I came along. Lots of this would be trivial in terms of planning but I figured including more details could bring up some issues I hadn't considered. Given my level of knowledge about construction, which is decent but far from complete, what I think is a simple topic may not be and vice versa. All in all there's definitely been some really good information in and amongst the "fuck off dumby" comments.

    Non Sequitur

    Ryan, no one here told you to fuck off but the general sentiment is that you’re pretty adamant about many aspects of architecture which are simply not true. The biggest problem right now is not the feasibility of your (many) ideas. It’s is your POV that will drag this down.

    Steeplechase

    I don’t see why an architect would agree to function as a consultant. What does that even mean? It seems like a great way to risk liability without adequate control and compensation. What exactly do expect from an architect functioning in such a capacity? Telling you whether something is enough information for a permit is different than telling you if it is enough information to be well built, or meet your performance goals or are just making lousy design decisions.

    Aug 13, 19 6:38 pm
    ryanyoung

    As a consultant it would be having them review to see if it meets performance goals and remove lousy design decisions. I've already found one who seems at least open to the idea. It's likely he will not want his name attached to this in any way when all is said and done unless I do hire him as the architect, which is still a definite possibility if the design I come up with is riddled with problems.

    I know of an aspiring CPBD that you should talk to. I'm just not sure if he would take you on as a client. 

    How much do you know about the following: theodolites, UL directories, drone photogrammetry, PNW coastal regionalism, historic preservation, diazo prints, the Commodore 64, using and reading tape measures, egress requirements for assembly spaces, kangaroos, and semi-contained combustion in refuse containers?

    I'm thinking you two may have a lot to discuss.

    Aug 13, 19 6:46 pm
    ryanyoung

    While I doubt I'd have enough knowledge to be of much interest I certainly share an interest in a number of topics you've listed here and have devoted at least some time to their research. Drone photogrammetry is used commonly in adjusting, theodolites in some extreme cases where structures may have been compromised however I've never used one personally. I go through tape measures almost monthly and love my laser tape like it's a child. Egress requirements I know a bit about in terms of code but I think structural portals in general could be improved in the more abstract appraisal of how a building is experienced. Forgive my lack of terminology, a good example of what I'm talking about would be the Biltmore hotel in Scottsdale, it's amazing what Wright did with the experience of entering or leaving a space there. I have a friend with an old commodore in his garage but not sure how that could pertain. No idea about kangaroos and combustion systems, but the later sounds intriguing.

    ryanyoung

    Honestly if I found someone I thought shared enough of my intentions and was willing to allow for an above average client involvement I would be very open to the idea of having someone else run the show for me. Having someone else in charge would give the opportunity to scrutinize the process much more thoroughly and I could try taking the reins on my 2nd or 3rd construction. However in my experience most architects I've talked to are like most doctors I've seen: quick to tell you a solution without really appraising the reasons, here's your pills .

    ryanyoung

    Although I must say I also feel like you may just be making me the butt of the joke by association with someone here who's an oddball. If that's the case so be it.

    Non Sequitur

    Ryan, you have a very poor perspective of the profession. Some may be like that, but most would love and cherish the opportunity to work with a client with unique ideas. I feel your opinion of architects will be a big downfall to your projects.

    ryanyoung

    I overlooked a few there: Regionalism I think is essential to proper design, although I'm from AZ and have little interest in the sunless life of the NW. The whole reason I'm inclined towards rammed earth is essentially regionalism. UL Directories are new to me but now that I've found it this looks great, definitely a tool worth using in the process of material selection.

    ryanyoung

    Say what you will Non Seq but I have talked to architects and definitely got that impression. Mind you I don't blame them, it's the culture that's the problem here not the individuals. They see a young guy with lofty ideas, admittedly true, but rather than trying to make use of that or understand where those come from they quickly assume the goal itself is misguided. That could just be the architects I talked to though, regardless it left a bad taste.

    Non Sequitur

    EI, awesome throw back comment. Let’s not forget using concrete masonry unit height to determine if a building is exempt if not.

    Non Sequitur

    Ryan, again, you have a piss poor understanding of the profession. The quicker you allow yourself to be educated the sooner you can turn your ideas into reality. If you approached a good design practice with seriousness they will make this work but you’ve already decided that we’re better relegated to after the fact “consultants”.

    ryanyoung

    I feel like you take my wanting to do this as owner designed is somehow demeaning to your profession. Admittedly I should correct and say I'm not trying to be my own architect because I fundamentally lack the understanding to do so, but I am trying to be my own designer. If that tasks proves insurmountable and I have a choice between letting someone take the reigns or a catastrophic failure of coarse I'd hire someone, but the thought that you dismiss even the attempt kinda speaks to the dismissive reactions I've had from other architects in person. As I've said before, if people were building houses I though were conscious enough of longevity, maintenance, access for inspection, and other core concepts I'm trying to accommodate here I wouldn't be trying in the first place, I'd be paying down the house already. You guys may build amazing houses but I'm the guy who sees what they look like twenty or thirty years down the line when the plumbing leaks and the design hides the issue and moves the water through in a way that damages six rooms instead of one. I write the estimates for the redundant repairs that patch the problem so it can make it another five years and be the next persons problem. There's a fundamental problem with the high turn-over market in North America, everything's only built to last as long as it takes to sell it. Blame the clients, blame the high demand and competitive market, but don't blame me for not wanting to be a part of that problem. If I want to try and learn something through that process then apparently that asks too much.

    Non Sequitur

    I will realest it again since you have not gotten the point. Your interpretation of the benefits an architect can make of architect is not the norm nor is your extrapolation of typical construction failures vs custom, we’ll thought out and coordinated design.

    Steeplechase

    What is demeaning is the idea that you can learn what has taken us years in a matter of months by reading some stuff online. You think you just need a couple of examples and can just figure it all out. Experience is how people learn to not make the mistakes you are worried about and you don't seem to realize that a lot of them are made by people with a mindset very similar to yours, that this is something easy. So yes, you are very much part of the problem. You get a negative reaction not because you have very particular desires but because of your shitty attitude. You claim to want to be an apprentice but refuse to actually be in the role of the one learning and instead want to dictate final solutions at the beginning.

    joseffischer

    I feel like it should be noted, this guy's opinions are heavily influenced by seeing problems in buildings that no one fixed for ever. His comment about plumbing leaks for instance... how long do you have to go in a typical 2-story+basement mcmansion before a plumbing leak ruins 6 rooms. That's a lot of ignoring a problem (owner/occupant error) and not a design/construction issue.

    ryanyoung

    I was getting a little shitty last night, sorry about that. Work stress got vented here and it did nothing for y'alls perception of me. For what it's worth, sorry about that.

    sounds like a nice project. Why not just hire Rick Joy? It is doubtful you will do better by yourself than he could.

    Architects listen to clients because we must.It is a big part of the job description. Shitty architects don't listen perhaps. It is worth pointing out that shitty clients don't listen. It is in fact a defining characteristic.  We usually have meeting with clients before agreeing to work with them to weed out the latter (and vice versa). Because there is no way I want to spend 1- 5 years working with someone who cant hear what they need to.

    For what it is worth, the buildings you describe as shitty examples of the profession are not generally designed by Architects (with a capital A). The kind of building you describe as worthy of your attention is what serious architects do.

    It sounds like you don't think much of architects, however I will offer this comment for perspective. In order to design at the high end of the profession, where you want to be, the process is not about making a checklist and getting all the parts right. The deal only really works when all of the things needed for an exceptional outcome are integrated seamlessly and the challenges and solutions add up to a design that has pretty much zero room for further change or development without leading to a massive waterfall of change, if not a complete re-design (which we do when needed).

    As a simple reality check we usually spend 6 months on design and 6 months on construction for a simple house. We hire an engineer and work closely with builders to get the details right. It is a full-time job for at least 2 people in the office. We can do it in that time frame because the partners in the office all spent decades fucking up and otherwise learning on the job (usually being told when we made a mistake before it became an actual problem), so we know how to avoid the stupid errors and take advantage of the hard ones. I can pretty much guarantee you will make some serious and stupid mistakes as you go about designing anything. Not knowing that you have made a dumb mistake and continuing onward blissfully is going to be your main challenge. An engineer will not be the person to keep you off that track, unless you are close friends with Santiago Calatrava.

    I'm not saying the above because I think you are naive or stupid or whatever, only pointing out that you will need to arrange a way to not get caught in that trap. A big part of our job as architects is avoiding all those mistakes and turning bullshit problems into creative solutions that lead to something no one would normally think of. Its not easy.

    My honest advice is to hire a very good architect and shadow them so you learn the scope of what the actual job is when working at the high end of the profession. If you think you can do that job then go for it.

    If that sounds too stifling, well, at least you will be the one living inside your learning curve...


    Aug 14, 19 5:46 am
    Non Sequitur

    Alléluia sister!

    joseffischer

    question for all those still following, forgetting what this specific "client" has said so far, if you had an interesting project come your way, but the client said they wanted to shadow you in your office, let's say 20 hours/week while you/your staff worked on the project, how much EXTRA would you charge them?

    Non Sequitur

    900%

    Menona

    This is amazing.

    If you just want to design a house, do it. 

    Begin:  Go to Staples, or Office Max/Depot/Junction/Launchpad, pick up a ream of 11x17 paper.  Go grab one of the Architect's Scales from the aisle with all the drafting stuff, and go design the house. 

    When you get home, turn around and go back to the Office Store and exchange the engineer's scale for an architect's scale.  This will all cost about $25.  And the good news is, after a few hours of designing, you'll have some better idea of what you're undertaking.  The great news is that you'll only be out $25.

    If you can get through, say 50 sheets of drawings, then take them to an architect, or builder, or designer, or engineer, and get them to turn those into construction drawings.  There will be a fee for this.  It will be greater than $25.

    At the end of the day, the problem you'll have to solve is finding the way to communicate accurately the design intent to a group of people with hammers, and shovels, and bobcats, and tin snips, and screw guns, and mortgages & weekends of their own.  And then there are the people who issue/require permits....

    Everyone will need something to look at which they can understand.  Start with some basic measured drawings.  Plan, section, elevation.  Go go go.



    Aug 14, 19 9:44 am
    joseffischer

    He has drawings... but they're in Florida and he's in NC. He would like to work for an architect, but we pay too cheaply for him to leave his current job. His budget is $500/sf, so anything should be possible, but he doesn't want to pay you to figure it out. Come on guys, can't we design this thing for him for free? I wonder how long it'll take him to realize that maybe architects could pay their staff more if clients paid us more.

    Menona

    Thanks. I didn't read the whole thing. I'm amazed by the volume of it though. BTW, I'm trademarking "Office Launchpad" - so, no one steal that.

    ryanyoung

    Although I may not have shown it at times I really have taken a lot of this advice to heart. I still want to play a significant role in the design process but I also recognize that if I try to do this without an architect it'll come at the cost of the quality (and possibly success) of the construction which isn't a smart choice. I'm going to give the forum a rest for a bit as what was initially a fun break from work has now become an additional source of stress. 


    When I get back to Florida I'll upload what drawings and massing I've done in Sketch-up and get started with learning Revit and reading into some of the sources Wood Guy suggested. I'm going to be attending a workshop. Hopefully I can find an architect who will allow me to learn from then in the process. I'll check in on the thread a bit for the next few days to see if there's any other valuable insights to be gleaned. Thanks to everyone who provided advice

    Aug 14, 19 11:51 am
    Non Sequitur

    Ah no, what else will I have to distract me in your absence? I guess I'll just get started on this pile of details I need to coordinate (ie. redraw from scratch because junior staff be junior). As for software, sketchup is exactly what you want and it's worth buying the pro version instead of using their shitty web-only free version. Leave BIM (Revit) for later... maybe leave it out completely until you understand construction methods in depth.

    ryanyoung

    I already have used Sketch-up for some time and have intended to graduate to Revit or autocad for some time. I feel like the people who have advice (including to get an architect) have already given it.

    ryanyoung

    I miss the days when the desktop version was free.

    Non Sequitur

    ^you may still be able to find a download link for the older free desktop version in the sketchupU forums. I used to run 3 or 4 different versions at the office due to different plug-ins. Now it's only the most current one at $500 per year.... for ever... and that's on top of my full autodesk suite. But hey, that's the equivalent of only like 3 sqft of your house budget.

    ryanyoung

    Does the desktop version keep files online or on drive? I can't recall but I bought the desktop version a long time ago and if it's cloud storage I could probably pull the massing designs I was playing with and maybe get some feedback on those.

    ryanyoung

    Ya I know I paid for the year sometime in 2018 but I'm not sure if it's still active.

    Non Sequitur

    The old desktop version saved to your local drive. The current Pro version also does this.

    ryanyoung

    It's ok though, less than a days work to pay for a years access is well worth it

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