In the Works: Closing Walls and Opening the Window to 2016

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Last week, we received approval from our inspectors to close up the walls in Phase II of our Fairmount whole-home renovation project (see the finished kitchen here and the restored cupola here). In this phase we are renovating all of the 3rd floor with a new walls, a new rear dormer that is adding a high ceiling and a door to a future rear deck. This Phase II work includes not only the 3rd floor renovation but also roofing the main roofs, new gutters & downspouts, a new HVAC system, some finishing trim and hardware work in other areas of the house.

Here, you see the exterior walls and ceiling have been sprayed with closed cell sprayfoam insulation – our go-to insulation. It is more effective than fiberglass batts and we are able to meet and exceed the energy requirements within a shallower thickness of wall and this keeps more floor space for our clients while making their older homes more comfortable. After spray foam, the drywall and mud team follow and really bring the newly reframed space into form. Seeing the walls, the doors, and closets take shape will be really exciting and allow us to set up for the next stages of finish work that include the finish floors, trim, doors, window, and all the fun finishes.

With the holidays just around the corner, we’re starting to book our large 2016 spring projects. Call us today for help with creating a new life for any space in your home.

Beware the “Singular Specialty Expert”

My business partner and I attend a lot of events with other professionals in our industry. Recently, I was at a meeting where a very high-end HVAC contractor was boasting to our group about the $150K geothermal heating and cooling system his company recently installed in a NJ home. The system was top shelf, top price, and his client had no problems paying for it.

Shortly after the new HVAC system was installed, however, his client called to say that one room in his house was still feeling very cold and uncomfortable. The HVAC contractor explained to his client how the system was properly sized and was delivering as designed. The problem, said the HVAC contractor, was that the house was old and not properly weathersealed. So the HVAC contractor then sold his client another $50K in weathersealing to make sure each and every room was finally comfortable.

This story made me wonder why the HVAC contractor didn’t start with an energy audit. This might have cost the client a couple of thousand dollars for a larger home — which I assume it was — but that audit would have suggested weathersealing first, and then HVAC system upgrades, as needed. The new HVAC systems would have then been smaller and less expensive for the newly efficient weathersealed home.

The obvious answer is that this HVAC pro wanted to make the largest sale possible. In fact, he made two large sales: the oversized HVAC system, plus the energy efficiency upgrades to the house.

Make no mistake we are in business to make money, but, at our company, we pride ourselves on helping our clients spend wisely.

A really good residential general contractor is a lot like your family doctor. Just like your family’s GP, it is our job to know the personality of your home, its special flaws and its unique features. We work with you to correct problems in a holistic fashion you can live with. Sure, sometimes, you do have to spend a lot of money on your home. But at other times, the simple, less-expensive solution is the right one. A great GC will pride himself or herself on helping you make the best choice.

Q and A: Checking in With Myers Constructs

As the busy fall home-renovation season kicks off, Myers Constructs co-owner Diane Menke sits down for a chat about breaking traditional design build paradigms, finding paths for growth in a difficult economy, and the surprising places where her team finds design inspiration.

Q: Tell us about your design to build philosophy.

DM: Generally speaking, design build is a model in which the design and construction phases of a renovation project are done in a streamlined fashion — often by having design and construction professionals team up in order to save time and money. Our approach is a different take on this concept. We do both design and construction in house, using a very tight system of steps we have developed over the years. We call it Design to Build™ because we only design projects to build them. We don’t spend a client’s financial resources on exploration of ideas that won’t be built. Our system uses proprietary designing and budgeting tools to ensure the design and construction phases of a project are developed with efficient precision, as well as with great style.

My business partner, Tamara Myers, and I developed this approach after dozens of frustrated homeowners started calling on us with their architect- and designer-driven designs that they couldn’t afford to buid. We both come from backgrounds in fine arts and crafts. While studying for our respective BFA degrees, we were expected to explore and understand departments outside of our major. This philosophy mirrored Germany’s Bauhaus Movement, in which artists were expected to understand all of the arts — craft media, 3D, 2D, color theory, architecture — because they are so interrelated. In addition, we were taught the history of these various media. That exploration helped explain world history, and how various media and styles of architecture, literature, music or crafts arrived in places around the world. If I had to use one phrase to describe this kind of education, it would be “stay curious.” This is how we approach the many disciplines of home renovation at our company. And it’s this curiosity that made it possible to develop a logical system to address the design and construction needs of the homeowners, but keep control of the budgets for them.

Q: What motivated you to break the traditional design build mold?

DM: We really wanted to form a strong, lasting business to take care of customers and employees really well, long term.

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Home Maintenance Tip: Air Leaks

This is the best time of year to locate air leaks in your older home. You will know you have them if you can feel drafts, or if your heater is working too hard.

Many people who live in older homes accept the discomfort of leaky windows and doors as “just the way it is” when, in reality, the fixes are very easy and inexpensive to make.

Start by taking a quick tour of your house and identifying the leaks and cold rooms; make a list of those you find. The typical areas of air leaks are any penetration in the “skin” of your home. That could mean a window or door, or a pipe or wire penetrating your home’s walls.

Then, tackle your list one leak at a time to reduce energy use and heating/cooling bills and increase the comfort of your home.

Often, simple chores like caulking, sealing with spray foam or a gasketing system can fix the problem in just a few minutes. If they can’t be fixed that quickly or easily, if a window or door really needs to be replaced, now is the time to start your springtime fix it list. Other less considered sources of air leaks are attic hatches and plumbing trouble doors. Believe it or not, these should be as well sealed (or better) as the doors and windows in your house. Typically, they are nothing more than a plywood sheet = very leaky! Gasketing should be around each of these to prevent air leaking, but still maintain easy use and access. This requires a bit of skill to do well, so call us when you have your fix it list and we’ll get these things done for you.

Oh Baby, It’s Cold Outside


With temps hovering in the 30s all week — and it’s not even officially winter yet! — you may be noticing drafty windows and inefficiencies in your heating system. If your home needs to be more tightly buttoned up this season to stay cozy, give us a call. We can help you choose the right products and suppliers. Act quickly if you want to take advantage of tax rebates ending on 12/31/10.

Image: Emery Way

How To; Plumb, Level, Square

Here is an example of one way to get an old rolling floor level. This is a kitchen we are doing in Queen Village, an area of South Philadelphia. It’s in a very old 19th Century building, probably once a small factory, which was turned into a home in the 1970’s.

This is the new light cement product subfloor with imbedded electric radiant heat. It was just poured and as you can see its very wet still. Once set, we will install beautiful limestone tile on this surface. It will be nice and warm on the feet when it’s done, and this heating system is very efficient!

The old floor was out of level by 3+ inches on a few places. The boxes you see are just temporary protection for the HVAC outlets in the floor. These will be removed once the liquid floor leveling product sets.

Older Homes – More Energy Efficient Than You Think

Older homes tend to get a bad rap for being energy inefficient. The truth is, many older homes have built-in energy-efficient systems that a homeowner should learn to use and, if possible, enhance. Here are some examples of what I mean:

A stone or brick home with thick walls will retain heat in the winter and cool in the summer by way of its mass. Often, the older home will also have small windows on the third floor or attic. These are meant not only to allow light into the house, but also to allow hot air out in summer. Opening these small windows creates negative pressure inside the house, which then draws cool air from the basement. This is natural cooling at work. That’s because a basement’s mean temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees in summer. Utilizing this cooling air convection, combined with the thermal mass of the brick or stone home, means many of these homes can go several days at a time during a heat wave and not require any artificial air conditioning or cooling.

Since it’s heating season, we should also focus on some “passive” methods for making and keeping an older home warm.

Sash locks — These are the small closures on your double-hung windows you turn to lock them shut. You probably think they are for security, but they are really there to push the two sashes tightly into the sash frame and also to pull the sashes tightly together. This small piece of hardware makes your older wooden windows much more efficient by creating a tighter seal. Many older double-hung windows have not been properly maintained over the decades. The top sash might be stuck with paint, or the sash frame may be “out of square.” Other common problems are weights and chains that have failed. All of these problems can be fixed with some TLC and good carpentry. Happy to help; just give us a call.

Special Reasons to Think Windows and Doors!

Winter is right around the corner … now is the time to think windows! In addition to energy tax credits that are currently in place, you can save up to $550 with a mail-in Live Smart Rebate when you replace your old windows or patio doors with select Weather Shield® products with Zo-e-shield® glazing before 12/31/10. And, when you purchase a window-replacement project worth at least $10,000 from Myers Constructs (choose from select brands available), you’ll receive a complimentary home BPI energy-efficiency audit (value: $500). This test will identify areas within your home that may be causing you to spend more than you need to on your monthly utility bills.

Call us at 215.438.6696 for details on how to qualify for these exciting offers.

The Heat Wave and Your Home

Temperatures of 100-plus degrees hit the Philadelphia area this week — and they’re only predicted to cool slightly in the days ahead. Not surprising for this region during the dog days of July. Nevertheless, conditions like these test not only our bodies’ ability to regulate temperature, but also our homes’ ability to do the same.

So, just how energy-efficient is your house’s cooling system? Here are some symptoms of poor performance to look for:

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