Friday, January 28, 2011

New Designs

I know that I have not added any new stock plan designs to the web site in quite a while. Not because I have not wanted to, I just have been busy with some custom projects and all the other stuff that gets in the way of designing buildings.

I currently have 5 new designs in various stages of completion. A couple of these are based on previous custom designs, but modifying these seems to take as much time as starting from scratch. Why do I have 5 designs going at the same time? Not sure, I just have not been happy with how each was evolving, so I started working on another. I like to let a design linger while I take my time to think about how to improve it.

So, I am searching for that balance of interesting design, livability, practicality, build-ability and affordability. You may be able to achieve all these goals in a small home, but as you increase the size, affordability typically suffers. I am also working to improve the design quality.

Below are a couple images from the JC-91 design. It is interesting because of the butterfly roof and clerestory windows. I hope to have it finished in a few weeks.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Castleman residence completed

A few months ago, The Castleman residence in Indiana was completed. This is a classic mid-century modern design combining a large shed roof over the majority of the home with a flat roof over the bedroom wing. This home has a large, open and bright living dining and kitchen area along with an office and three bedrooms on the main floor plus a partial basement under the bedroom wing. It has a sunken living room with a wall of windows that brings the outdoors in.

This design offers good energy efficiency utilizing insulated concrete forms (ICFs) for the foundation crawlspace and basement with 2x6 framed walls for the main floor. You can see the floorplan as wells several photos of this home on our projects page,

Wright Chat

Virtually anyone who has an interest in architecture is familiar if not a fan of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Widely hailed as America’s most famous architect, Wright may have also been the most prodigious designing almost 400 buildings during his long career. If you want to learn more about Wright, a great resource is the Wright Chat forum provided by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy at Here you can find lots of information regarding Wright, his buildings and his associates. You can also create a login and join in on the discussions. I just cannot say enough about what a great resource this site is.

You can also find links to other interesting web sites with information regarding Wright’s buildings on my Links page,

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Building more energy efficient homes

It’s a sad fact that most homes built today could easily be more energy efficient. And by more energy efficient, I mean at least 20% more efficient (or more) with very little effort or additional cost. And sadly, the main reason we do not build more efficient homes lies with builders and developers. The majority of builders simply do not want to spend the effort, time or money to offer more efficient homes. There are some builders who have embraced energy efficiency upgrades and provide them as their standard offering or as an upgrade package. But why do most builders not offer more energy efficient designs? It mainly boils down to the bottom line, their profit margin or money in their pocket. They have no or very little concern for what it will cost their customers to live in the home or the amount of energy that will be wasted during the life cycle of the building.

I know the above paragraph will greatly anger some builders and I expect to get some hate mail for it, but sorry, it is simply the truth! The common argument from builders, developers and even the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) is that energy efficiency upgrades will add too much cost to a home. Their claim is that the extra cost will be $800 to $2500 per home. These numbers are inflated or simply not true. The truth is, with smart design, improving the energy efficiency of a home can range from $0 to maybe $1000 to attain significant improvement. Sure you could spend more than $1000 to attain a much higher efficiency level, but that is another subject. I want to be clear and state that builders are typically good people but they are just very reluctant to change the way they do things, especially if change has the potential to impact their profit by increasing the cost of a building and/or reducing the salability of a home.

So why should we care about energy efficiency? There are a number of very good reasons including reducing our overall energy consumption as well as improving our national security by reducing our usage of foreign energy, but the best one starts at home and is how much your home costs you to live in every month. Here are some numbers to give you an idea of the potential savings. Lets say you spend $200 per month on energy for your home. This would include all energy used in the home for heating and cooling (HVAC), water heating, cooking, washing, lights and appliances. Now, only a portion of this can be impacted by energy upgrades to the home, but it is a significant portion. The typical home uses about 73% of its total energy usage for HVAC, water heating and lighting. So if we take that $200 per month times 73%, times 12 months, we get $1752. With simple, off the shelf upgrades and small changes to the way the home is built as well as changes to the HVAC system, water heater and lighting, we can easily reduce the energy usage by 20% (the savings could be more depending on the changes made to the home).

This works out to $351 saved per year at today’s energy costs. The savings per year will increase as energy costs increase over time. While $351 per year is not a huge number, the savings would pay for typical energy upgrades within three years. After that, it is simply money you don’t have to spend to live every year while making no changes to your lifestyle. Over the life cycle of the home, this adds up to a significant total savings as well as a significant reduction in energy used. These savings are simple to accomplish. Below is a laundry list of simple upgrades that can easily designed into any new home:

Thicker walls, more insulation (min 2x6 framing). Don’t use fiberglass batt insulation ever (it’s difficult to install correctly and not dense enough to reduce air circulation). Use foam sheathing on the exterior walls. Utilize roof trusses with an energy heal. Use roofing materials that reflect more of the suns energy. Insulate the rim joist. Insulate the basement walls. Insulate under the slab floor. Insulate between the main floor and an unheated basement. Use more insulation in the attic. Use slightly better windows and doors. Minimize or eliminate sliding windows and doors. Eliminate un-needed windows. Reduce the number or size of windows on the north, east and especially the west sides of the house. On the east and west sides, use window glass that blocks more solar gain. Use triple pane windows on the north side. Use a more efficient HVAC system and water heater. Use more efficient appliances. Use more efficient lighting. Orient the home to take advantage of natural solar gain.

These are just simple suggestions that can make a home more energy efficient without adding much (or maybe nothing) to the cost. You will notice that I mentioned nothing regarding solar panels, solar water heating, LED lighting, hot water conservation or heat re-capture etc. All of these would be additional options.

The bottom line is, You do not have to accept a home with poor energy efficiency! Talk to your potential builder about the energy upgrades he uses or has available and what your cost will be. If the extra cost seems unreasonable, it is! Find another builder. Good builders are out there, you just have to look.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Introducing the ClemDesign blog

Welcome to my blog for ClemDesign. My name is John Clem and I am the chief cook and bottle washer here at ClemDesign. I am re-introducing my blog because I had let it languish for almost 2 years. During this time, I have been busy with a number of interesting projects. So, my plan this time is to be more vigilant in posting updates as well as other interesting architecture related information here for anyone who is interested.

ClemDesign offers custom and stock home designs. Our focus is mainly modern or modernist design, as that is my personal preference. I like classic mid-century modern homes as well as newer modern designs (not so much post-modern designs though). So, typically, everything I design is of the modern style or incorporates modern elements. I do offer a few contemporary designs because I have customers who are not interested in modern.

In case you are interested, I am not an Architect, I have not attended a school of architecture, nor do I expect to do so in the future. I am a residential designer with many years of hands-on experience in residential construction and design. I have always been involved with construction in some way during my life and learned to build from my father. He had an interest in architecture which I share. I am also a LEED AP.

I personally like modern style homes for a number of reasons. I believe modernist designs are a breath of fresh air compared to the boring and monotonous designs built by the millions in every subdivision in the US. I think I most like the lines of a modern home, such as low-pitched roofs (or flat roofs) that do not dominate the structure. I also like the window styles that are associated with a modern style home. There are typically more windows in a modernist home, but it is also the heights, types and groupings that make the difference. I also like car ports on a home as opposed to a garage. It bothers me when driving through a subdivision and all I see are two or three large garage doors and a small entry door on the side. The size of the garage doors on these buildings dominates or overwhelms the front of the house. A car port on the other hand does not really have a front or a back; they shelter vehicles, but in a less obvious way.

Its not that I like modern homes because they are different, I think they offer a better environment for the occupants. There is a different kind of feeling you have when you enter a modern style home. I describe it as a "lighter" feel. They typically have very open floor plans with lots of windows. The windows help to expand the feel of the rooms and to bring the outdoors in. Modern style homes also typically utilize simpler materials and contain very little if any ornamentation. This also adds to the lightness of the atmosphere. I believe that a modern style home can have a positive affect on the occupants by creating a more relaxing atmosphere.

The majority of my home plans are designed to use traditional platform framing techniques. This helps to keep construction costs down. However, some of my designs are a bit more elaborate utilizing large beams and cantilevered spaces and will have slightly higher construction costs. I do specify all the exterior walls of my designs to use 2x6 studs with foam sheathing. This helps to provide the owners with a well insulated home on a realistic budget. I can alter my designs to utilize more energy efficient materials such as ICFs or SIPs upon request.

In this blog, I will post information about designs I am currently working on as well as some past projects and other things related to modern architecture. I will do my best to keep it current. I do hope you find some interesting topics here.

Thanks for visiting,
John Clem