Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Rosenbaum Usonian home

We recently took a long road vacation to Florida and parts in between. On the way back home, we made a detour to Florence, Alabama to visit the Rosenbaum residence.

This Usonian home was purchase and restored by the city of Florence and is now open to the public for guided tours. Our tour was led by a very knowledgeable docent and lasted approximately 1 hour.

The home is located in Florence  near the hospital. The land and $7500 was given to Stanley Rosenbaum and his wife Mildred by his parents in 1938. Stanley and Mildred wanted a modern home. An architect friend suggested they contact Frank Lloyd Wright to design it. Their friend, Aaron Green, later became an apprentice of Wright and then had a successful practice in San Francisco.

The home is very typical Usonian. Rather modest dimensions, beautiful materials, flat roof and lots of windows. As typical with Wright, the budget of $7500 proved inadequate. The home cost $14,000 to build.

The Rosenbaum home is beautiful. It is beautiful from the outside as well as from the inside. It feels very comfortable even though the the size of the rooms are small by today's standards. As typical with Wright's Usonian designs, the doors and hallways are narrow in part due to his grid system of design. But, they are passable for most people, just not we are accustomed to.

The bathrooms are also small but still functional. The original kitchen on the other hand was far too small even in 1940. All in all, it is a beautiful little home.

I am in the process of designing a Usonian style home. The design is an L shape like many Usonian homes and like the Rosenbaum home. I have liked the L shaped design for many years, ever since I visited my first Usonian in Oberlin, Ohio, the Weltzheimer residence. There is something about the livability of this layout that I like; how each main room in the home has large windows and doors that open onto a common exterior space.

Yes, this layout is not particularly material or energy efficient, too many exterior walls because of the shape leading to higher material costs and reduced energy efficiency. However, the small size can help to offset some of the added expense. I consider quality of life or livability a fair trade for the added energy costs of such a design.

Usonians also benefited from the quality and beauty of the materials used in their construction. I liken them more to a jewel box than a home. It is not practical to build a modern Usonian style home today using the same materials, or not at least on a budget that most people could support. I will write more on alternative material choices in another blog entry.

Anyway, if you happen to be near norther Alabama, you might want to consider taking a short detour and visit the Rosenbaum residence, you won't be disappointed.

Monday, January 26, 2015

ICF owner / builder

In addition to designing homes for people, I am a distributor for Logix ICFs (insulated concrete forms). I think ICFs are a great product. My wife and I build our home with ICFs and we are very, very happy with the results.

As an ICF distributor, I sell the forms to contractors as well as individuals. Selling to contractors is fairly straightforward. They have a customer who wants a new home built and they have chosen to utilize ICFs. These contractors typically have experience at building with ICFs.

Selling ICFs to an owner/builder is a bit different.

Some people know they want to build with ICFs but have no experience with them. Many of these people have prior building experience, just not with ICFs. If they have building experience, utilizing ICFs is typically not a problem. ICFs are a very simple product to use There are just a few basic rules to the construction process. I do often provide advise to these individuals when they have questions and may visit the building site if requested. We also have a manufacturers rep that is available to answer questions or provide advice.

Other customers may have no building experience at all, they just know they want to use ICFs for their home. For these customers, I typically give them the names of some general contractors or ICF subcontractors to contact.

Owner builders are most often attracted to ICFs because of the energy efficiency, security and sound isolation they provide. However, often times the do-it-yourselfer will realize an economical advantage of using ICFs no only for the foundation, but for the entire structure.

A few years ago, I had a rather industrious owner who saw the cost advantage of an ICF structure when you build it yourself. In this particular case, rather than spend $20K for the basement alone, he spent around $9K for the ICF blocks needed for the basement and main floor. He hired a helper and they constructed the entire home, exterior walls with ICF, interior framed walls and a trussed roof. He got a better home and saved money at the same time.

I had another customer who was acting as his own general contractor. He chose to utilize ICFs for the basement and main floor. He and his wife performed all the ICF construction and hired a framing crew to build the rest. Again, he ended up with a better, safer more energy efficient home and saved money!

I realize that this is not an option for everyone, but it is certainly an option for some people. So, if you are planning to build your own home, maybe you should checkout ICFs and see if they offer some advantages that you have not considered.