Saving Water

The municipal potable water system we have now is appallingly inefficient, and can be improved significantly using simple, straightforward, low-tech solutions right in the home. These can save you a great deal of water–and money. Read More...

Moving Walls

People wanting to remodel or reconfigure their homes are often deterred by the prospect of removing or “moving” walls. (In reality, “moving” a wall means demolishing an existing wall, and building another one in a new location). Clients often express worry about the cost of these alterations, fearing an uncontrolled onset of big expenses. “Can we use the existing foundations?” is a frequent question, new foundations seen as emblematic of nightmarish construction costs. Read More...

When to demolish; when to keep.

An owner needing more space can be tempted to demolish an existing house and build a new, larger one in its place–instead of expanding the existing house. This can happen where the property’s value is high and the existing house small. You might consider this a logical approach, but potential pitfalls here can yield unexpected surprises. Read More...

How high can your fence be?

Good fences may make good neighbors, but how high can your fence be? In Los Angeles the answer is not so simple, and depends on the location of the property.
Read More...

What to do Next: consulting an architect.

When you’re thinking of remodeling a house but aren’t ready to hire an architect, you can still benefit from an architect’s ideas, thinking and experience at a reasonable cost. Many architects provide consultation services that help you with concepts, options and a roadmap to a potential project without the expense of a full-blown professional engagement. Read More...

Moving the Garage

If you have a detached, one-story garage behind the house, check to see if there’s space behind the garage–between the garage and the rear property line. If there is, you could gain valuable room in the back yard by demolishing the existing garage and building a new one further back. The new garage could be placed in one of the rear corners of the lot. This would add usable yard space, and allow you to expand the house toward the rear, if desired.
Read More...

A Healthy Home, Part 1

The act of designing a healthy home, or making an existing home healthy, usually requires several (or even many) actions and tasks, not all of them immediately obvious. Because of this, the process of making a home healthy actually requires that you first develop a strategy for getting the specific results you want. Focus on the higher-order issues first (the need to breathe more easily, or the desire for a clutter-free environment), and the list of those issues then becomes a strategy pointing the rest of the way.
Read More...

Leaky skylights (or not)

On a recent home remodeling television show, a contractor was shown installing a skylight into an existing roof with no curb, and apparently little roofing or flashing work other than sealant. It was a late-night TV show, but it made this architect sit up and pay attention. Sure enough, after the commercial break the skylight leaked, confirming the owners’ worst fears about skylights. Read More...

Closets

It is one of the most contentious issues when designing single-family additions and houses for private clients: storage space. Everyone always wants more. Bigger closets, more storage nooks and crannies, platform beds with storage beneath, a Costco closet for those enormous packs of paper towels; all these options and more. It’s no wonder that the National Association of Realtors says that 55% of recent home buyers want more storage, 52% want more closets and are willing to pay more for those features.

screen-shot-2013-09-14-at-6.33.04-pm

Read More...

Taken Aback by Setbacks

The word setback is a technical term widely used in architectural and construction circles, but it is often deeply opaque to people outside those professions. It simply refers to the required distance between property lines and buildings (or certain other structures) on a property.

In most City of Los Angeles zones, a building cannot be located right on the property line. It must be set back a certain distance from the property lines. You’d think this is a simple concept to master and use, but remember, this is the Los Angeles zoning code we’re talking about, friends. The physical, printed zoning code is the size of a bible, and for a reason.

code2

Read More...

How To Get a Building Permit for a Single-Family Project

What exactly happens when an architect applies for a building permit?
Answer: a series of events marked by stages of agony, boredom, terror, begging, negotiation, and finally, acceptance.

For most clients, the process is mysterious and invisible, and the project feels as if it’s dragging on forever. But for architects, this is a critical, and often nerve-wracking step in getting a project into real, tangible form.
Read More...

The Oft-Maligned Flat Roof

Flat roofs: we’ve seen them everywhere; on commercial buildings and private homes, on factories, hotels and airport terminals. People think that flat roofs always leak, but that reputation is undeserved when the roof is built properly. Flat roofs can have many advantages, including increased interior ceiling height and reduced cost. They can easily accommodate walking decks and solar equipment, and can be useful components of building additions and new homes–as long as they’re placed in the right spot and built well.
Read More...

Basements in Los Angeles? Yes.

You don’t often see basements in Los Angeles, but they can be an efficient way of adding square footage when there are tight zoning-code limits on the size of a house. Under current L.A. zoning, a basement’s area is completely excluded from a property’s maximum square footage restrictions. A basement can be a reasonable way of adding square feet, if conditions are right. Read More...

No, you can’t use the existing foundations (but there are exceptions).

In Los Angeles, when you add a second story to a one-story house you’ll need new foundations (to help support the new second story)–no ifs, ands or buts (except for exceptions; and there are always those).

Our building codes are stringently protective against seismic collapse, and most one-story houses have foundations that are just not capable of supporting a second story’s weight and sideways movement in a quake. Read More...

HOAs and Design Review Boards

One of my clients refused to obtain their homeowners association’s approval before starting construction. The HOA was worried that the new second story would block neighbors’ ocean views (always a sensitive issue in coastal areas of L.A.)

The city issued a building permit, and construction began. When the steel columns and beams were in place, the project was brought to an abrupt halt by several neighbors–all of them injunction-serving attorneys. The remodel eventually needed to be completely redesigned, with all new foundations and steelwork.
Read More...

Getting a Variance

Clients often ask me to apply for variances to increase the height of the roof, or to build closer to the property line than allowed. These are almost never approved, but there are exceptions.
Read More...

Adding a Second Story

Does adding a second story make sense? It really depends on a wide variety of intersecting factors–not all of them immediately obvious–and all of which need to be considered. Read More...