Monday, May 26, 2014

Water Gardens to Swim In

A stunning lily pond landscape feature would be a dreamy addition to any backyard. How much more magical would it be to have a water garden that we could swim in?

A natural swim pond is a chemical free pool with a natural aquatic plant filtration system to remove contaminants. The water garden of plants like cala lilies and cannas, horsetails, lotuses and grasses deprives would-be algae of nutrients and attracts friendly insects to manage pesky mosquitoes. Rocks attract beneficial bacteria. The plant garden is separated from the swimming area by a retention wall.

My sketch of the system. A pump, swim area, and plant regeneration zone, which incorporates plants and rocks behind a wall separating the swim area from the regeneration zone.
A simple water pump for circulation is the most technical of equipment required. A waterfall feature can be both beautiful and help with oxygenation of the water, which helps the plant life thrive. Some natural pools do not need to be drained over the winter. You simply allow the plants to follow their natural cycle of dormancy, and if it is cold enough the swimming pond may even be used for ice skating.

While still benefiting from avoiding the chemicals, an alternative gravel filter can be used instead of the plant garden. This allows you to replicate the appearance of a traditional pool, if that is your preference.

According to Houselogic, the costs of construction are comparable to traditional pools, but without the maintenance expenses required for chemical care.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Student Project: $2 Monthly Energy Bills with Craftsman Architecture

This delightful post from Grist features a student design Grand Prize winner in the Department of Energy's Challenge Home Competition. It is a gorgeous Craftsman with a universal access floor plan, boasting $2 per month energy expenses.

Even better, there was actually a tie: the other Grand Prize winner's home is a 3 story town home incorporating passive design features.

Check out the links to see details about these awesome innovative designs and get ideas for your next building project. Congratulations to these students for expanding the horizons of beautiful and innovative design.

Front elevation sketch of Grand Prize Winning Craftsman *near zero energy* home design by students at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse University, and Onodaga Community College.
Grand Prize Winning Craftsman floor plan from the DOE Challenge Home Competition.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Stylish Details: Decorative Switch Plates and Vent Registers

Recently I took my children to visit the Eisenhower Farm. The 18th or 19th century home adjacent to the Gettysburg Battlefield was renovated and added on to 1953. Because it was about the same time my grandparents built their own home, it reminded me a lot of their house in terms of the details. These same details were the things that my daughters fixed on--without me even pointing them out--when we toured. The switch plates and vent registers were not made of plastic or flimsy metal like they usually are in modern homes. I went hunting to find what is still available in a similar vein.

House of Antique Hardware has an array of mainly bronze and brass switch plate covers that are organized by architectural style. There are quite a lot of tiny masterpieces of different materials from different on-line retailers. Finished hardwood, both elegant and whimsical molded resin and traditional porcelain or ceramic tile covers are some of the options.

Register covers are another item we commonly overlook as purely functional, when there are some truly lovely pieces out there to make a functional item into a beautiful detail that enhances the home.

Based upon how truly amazed my girls were to see these things, I cannot help but imagine the impact they bring to a custom building project...or what a difference they would make if I changed them out in our home!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Building with Paper!

Earlier today I stumbled across something that made my jaw hang in awe. Slate-ish it is called, and it is a tile for floor or wall application that looks impressively like slate, but is made from post-industrial paper waste. I was introduced to Paperstone through Harmon Builders, so I already knew that paper based counter surfaces can be durable enough for use in wet bathrooms and kitchens. This got me thinking, "What other building materials are made from recycled paper?"

Another company manufactures a product similar to Paperstone, called Richlite, that was initially designed for use in skate parks. 100% of the paper used is recycled, bonded with PetroFree resin and colored with natural pigments.

Some less hardy indoor uses for recycled paper materials include wall sheeting. Paper cannot be recycled into paper in a continuous cycle, because the fibers don't stay intact. Since odds and ends of scrap drywall often become waste, this is the perfect application for a recycled paper product that can be remade into a larger piece of wall board. A similar interior solution is paper bricks that can be molded and stacked to create interior walls. This is being considered as a potentially helpful material in earthquake prone areas.

Recycled newspaper is useful as wall insulation, and it is also recycled and added into asphalt and concrete.