Recently, I covered a few houses for Fine Homebuilding that I feel have a place here, too. Finding architects who give thought to the kinds of issues GBA readers find interesting can be a challenge, so when I connect with them, I like to share their insights, methods, materials selections, and design thinking. It’s also good to remember the value of looking at houses as whole systems. So often we focus on one aspect at a time. I like to be reminded of the reasons we come together at GBA; we want to build smart, safe homes that work well for the people who live in them. Below are three projects that I think fit the bill.
Fire-Ready and Nontoxic
This all-electric, solar-powered ranch house (pictured above) sits on a rural four-acre parcel within the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) of Sonoma County, California, which means it had to meet the required WUI fire-resistance standards. Roofs must be noncombustible and siding must have reduced flammability. “Oddly, wood can still be used but exposed structural members must be a minimum 4 in. nominal thickness, and wood siding must be at least 1 in. nominal thickness,” architect Bill Wolpert explains, adding that construction methods must include enclosed soffits. Here, the design called for a metal roof with continuous Rockwool insulation and extra-thick board-and-batten siding.
Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems were put in the crawlspace, where a 10-mil. reinforced vapor retarder was added to keep moisture in check. Vents around the perimeter were kept to a minimum; fewer vents means fewer opportunities for burning embers to get into the assembly. “Many house fires start when burning embers are sucked into the attic space through vents and ignite,” says Wolpert. “We now design tight attic spaces that do not require ventilation. Continuous insulation over the roof…