Off the Boards & into Construction!

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1608-mabry-3d-shotWe’re pleased to report that we have a number of projects that will soon be moving into construction.  The one pictured above is a spec. house that will be located at 2799 Mabry Rd. in Brookhaven.  At the time we were brought on for the project, there was an existing house and connected garage wing on site.  Existing water damage and a disastrous layout fueled the decision to demolish the main mass and start fresh.  We’re preserving the existing garage wing, but giving it a serious face-lift.  Among other things, we’re cleaning up the roof line, adding a third car bay, and have designed a 2nd story inlaw suite complete with its own kitchenette and bath.  The main house is two stories with 5 bedrooms and 5 1/2 bathrooms.  The living and kitchen area feature generous 12′ ceilings and open up to a spacious porch on the back of the house.  Perhaps what we’re most excited about is the fact that it will be constructed using the sustainable technique of advanced framing.  This method reduces material waste and provides a more efficient thermal envelope for the home.  We’re very excited to get construction underway!


1614-chase-3d-shotAnother project that’s about to go up is this spec. house located at 860 East Avenue in Scottdale.  It will be a 4 bedroom, 3 1/2 bath home.  At Ross Design Architects, we view architecture as the art of solving problems beautifully.  This project definitely presented us with some initial problems. The property is a corner lot, and due to the way the setbacks come together, the buildable area for the house turned out to be L-shaped.  We worked within these constraints to ultimately transform this condition into one of the nicer features of the house.  We’ve designed it so that the niche of the “L” has been transformed into a backyard courtyard, complete with a deck that will be perfect for entertaining.  The kitchen is adjacent to the deck and features two wide sliding glass doors that, when opened, dissolve the boundary between inside and out, creating a great condition for working or entertaining in the kitchen.  We’re very excited to get construction underway!

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Christmas Planning

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tree-blogRoss Design would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!  It’s that time of year again where a little bit of planning can go a long way for the holiday season.  We’d like to share a few thoughts on some useful things to keep in mind as you gear up for the festivities.

For all you gung-ho Christmas decorators out there, as you try to overload the exterior of your house with lights, make sure not to overload your electrical circuits in the process!  Here are a few things you can do to prevent this:  Something easy is to simply choose efficient lights.  Go with LEDs over standard incandescents.  LEDs use about 20% of the energy of alternatives.  When your house is covered in lights, this will go a long way to reduce the electrical load on your outlets (not to mention the load on your wallet when it comes time to pay the power bill).  If you’re fortunate enough to be in the position of designing a house, make sure to put all the exterior outlets on separate circuits.  This, too, will dramatically reduce the chances of an overload.

Once the lights are up, the tree needs to be erected.  Here we’re confronted with the classic question:  real or fake?  Although fake trees appeal to our lazy side (i.e. no preparation, trimming, transport, sap, etc.), real trees should appeal to our environmentally conscious side.  When considered through the filter of sustainability there is a clear winner:  real trees.  Although it can be an ordeal to go from buying the tree to its finished, trimmed, decorated state, it’s worth it.  Fake trees emit harmful toxins as a byproduct of their manufacture.  Additionally, when they’re trashed they end up in the same place as your wrapping paper:  landfills.  So be good to the environment and get real (trees).  Besides, doesn’t it always end up being fun decorating the tree with the family anyways?

After the (real) tree is up, it will soon be time to populate its base with presents.  I have little doubt we can all recall scenes from Christmases past where the living room floor disappeared under the ridiculous amount of tattered wrapping paper strewn about.  While we think happy thoughts as we ravenously tear into our unrevealed gifts, much later when all the excitement wears off, our thoughts turn remorseful as we ponder the final resting place for all that paper:  landfills.  While you’ll understandably be sharing most of your love with family and friends during the holiday season, give the environment some love too, and consider these creative alternatives to traditional wrapping paper:  1.  Use fabric.  The extensive range of fabric colors and patterns makes it a perfect sustainable solution.  The same pieces of fabric can be used year after year, without adding one ounce of waste to the already heaping landfills.  2.  Repurpose resources.  Newspaper (especially the colorful comic section) makes the perfect gift wrap. You can also find containers (currently fulfilling any use) laying around the house that can be temporarily converted into a home for a present. Hopefully these resourceful suggestions begin to turn your creative wheels, and you can come up with even more sustainable possibilities.  In the meantime, have a safe and Merry Christmas!

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Hot Water

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water-blogHot water. We all want it instantly when we want it and get frustrated when it runs out! One of the most common conversations we have with clients revolves around water heating options. Should they go for the currently heavily on demand tankless system with its appealing promise of ceaseless hot water, or go the traditional tank route? It is not a simple question.

Tankless systems are touted as the space saving energy efficient way to go because you are not heating water in a tank, but as it is needed. But is this true? It all depends on how you look at it. Gas fueled heaters have an electrical requirement that is not intermittent. Traditional tank systems use 40,000 btu of gas, tankless systems use up to 160,000 btu which may require an increased gas supply pipe.

Water usage is another component of the equation. A certain volume of water flowing through the unit is required to turn it on. I experimented with an electric unit once and found myself waiting longer for water which resulted in wasted water. Another unconsidered side effect of unlimited hot water is that it actually promotes longer showers, more water down the drain. Other factors include higher initial cost for purchase and installation, especially in retrofit situations.

Other cons for tankless systems are the annual maintenance costs, the systems should be serviced annually. Water source is also critical, hard water is rough on various components of the system and it is best to provide softening for it before it enters the chamber. Another key point of potential dissatisfaction is that the final temperature of water at the tap is dependent on the temperature of the water entering the system which presents a real issue in colder clients. The temperature of tankless systems is not a constant, but dependent on the differential between incoming and outgoing water being limited to about 50 degrees. When using them at vacation homes, you want to make sure that exterior installations are totally drained to prevent freezing.

The traditional tanked systems have several positives going for them. Their initial costs are less. Adding a recirculating pump to the system creates instant hot water at the tap reducing water waste. This is not an option for tankless systems. Their temperature can be set and remains constant. They are also more reliable without maintenance, although it is recommended! Recent advances in insulation have greatly reduced the efficiency differences between the two types of systems.

The major drawback to the traditional tank is the limit to hot water capacity (although this could be seen as a positive for households with teens!). Another negative is the amount of space required for the tank and flue. Filling a garden tub will also deplete the supply and needs to be planned for. Finally the expected life of these units is 10-15 years, although 20 is not uncommon.

The bottom line is there is no one right answer. There are situations that lend themselves to both types of water heaters. We help our clients make an educated decision by looking at all the factors and selecting the right solution to meet their needs. Sometimes it is a combination of both systems!

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Ross Design endorses Earthcraft

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earthcraft_house_logoEarthcraft is a sustainable building certification program.  Founded in 1999 as a joint collaboration between the Greater Atlanta Homebuilders Association and Southface, Earthcraft’s mission is to provide the guidance necessary to produce homes (and other building types) that are comfortable, durable, low maintenance, energy efficient, and have excellent indoor air quality.  Earthcraft is distinguished from other notable national green building certification programs by its particular focus on the providing solutions for the Southeast.  Their sustainable strategies are tailored to the mixed-humid climate of the region.  This is a far more intelligent and effective approach than providing a “one size fits all” set of guidelines.  Achieving energy efficiency in the Southeast necessarily demands different strategies than those that would be needed to achievie energy efficiency elsewhere.

Earthcraft’s central concern is the environment.  The building industry accounts for 47.6% of all the energy consumed in the United States.  Energy sources used by homes contribute to global warming and other serious environmental problems such as rapid depletion of natural resources.  Earthcraft is trying to step in and implement change to mitigate these and other problems.  Based on diagnostic third party testing, Earthcraft certified houses are, on average, 30% more efficient.  This equates to a reduction of over 1100 pounds of greenhouse gas emission each year.  This figure is based on the 40,000 plus homes that are currently certified.

So how does it work?  How do you get a home Earthcraft certified?  The first step is to identify an Earthcraft certified builder for the project.  On, they make it easy to locate these professionals in your area.  The project team will then be assigned a technical advisor – an Earthcraft team member who provides information, support, and direction from the initial design phase through the completion of construction.  With the guidance of the advisor, the builder, and the architect involved, the home is designed and constructed in accordance with Earthcraft’s above-code specifications.  This ensures the final product is comfortable, energy efficient, durable, and cost effective.  Quality assurance is guaranteed by adhering to an Earthcraft points-based worksheet, multiple site visits during construction, and ultimately third party diagnostic testing to verify that the project complies with the program standards.  The full manual for Earthcraft houses (detailing project standards and certification requirements) is available on their website.

Ultimately, the upfront cost of an Earthcraft certified home is .5 – 3% greater than the norm.  However, savings on maintenance, repairs, and energy allows the upfront cost to be recovered relatively quickly.  In the long run, building an Earthcraft certified house is good for the wallet, the environment, and the comfort of the occupants.