A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

A Little HOPE in Houston while Going Green

This past week the Houston Association Realtors announced its initiative to help Houston’s HOPE program by listing those homes for sale on the MLS. I know many Realtors have been involved with this program, but it is nice to see this renewed commitment by the real estate community in helping to improve our neighborhoods. HOPE focuses on rebuilding neglected neighborhoods while helping families into homes. The program is open to first time and low income home buyers, and there are additional incentives for teachers, fire fighters, and police officers. When you couple the money you could receive through HOPE and the tax credit for home buyers, this turns out to be an extraordinarily fantastic deal. One of my favorite aspects of the program is that it teams up with builders to produce green homes for these families. These are not homes where the builder slaps on the green label to make them attractive to buyers; the homes meet Houston’s Green Building Initiative, which follows the guide lines established for building a green home as laid out in the ANSI 700 and the International Residential code. If you wish to read my thoughts on the program in further detail, you can see what I have written about Houston’s Hope program, which will provide you with more information about taking advantage of it. I have been writing a bit about converting an existing home to include green features. I have seen where my posts on this topic inspired others to take my ideas to discuss on their own. I think that this is great. If you are not buying a home, you should consider how you can add green features; hopefully this past Earth Day may have inspired you. Yesterday, I posted an article that looks at the solar lights that can be used to brighten spots around your home at night. This post has already been read by quite a few people, so you may want to check it out. If you are interested in finding some of those lights, CSN Lighting has a good selection, with great customer service from my experience. Soon I will be buying the solar light that can be turned on and off for my garage. (I was working on taking some solar light panels apart to see if I could make my own, then I found one there, which will serve my needs in the garage and shed). Have a little HOPE in Houston, and go green in your home.


Announcing My New Blog

Just a quick little post to announce my new blog site : Inspected Thoughts. I wanted a way to make the information on my website more accessible, and the blog format seemed ideal. I decided to include my best posts from various sites in one spot, so I am working on putting all of that together this week.

Houston Architects: O Russell Worley, AIA

Looking at homes comes naturally for an inspector. My walks through Houston neighborhoods leads me to analyze these structures out of professional curiosity. However, I love the design of the buildings as well. I began to realize that I really do not know the names of some of the architects working around our community though, so I decided to take a journey to discover some of the people working in this medium around town.

An internet search brought up several names. The first person on the list was O. Russell Worley. When looking through his portfolio, I recognized some of the homes. In fact, I had observed some of the work on them. Since I had this connection, I delved further into the portfolio. There were elegant touches in his homes that brought out some features in a striking way. I would love to look more at his interiors, because they seem the most intriguing.

I wanted you to see this lay out. There is a thoughtful element in this building which greatly appeals to me. If you notice, there is a lawn courtyard surrounded by the edifice before heading to the pool and backyard. I think that looking at this landscaped feature from the windows would be so much nicer than the pool. Pools are nice, but they are not as visually dramatic as this space could be.

Most home designs seem to focus on the interior in recent years. No one really wants to differ from their neighbors by too much. This interior uses an alignment to bring your intention all the way to the end of the room. The ceiling beams help with this effect. From a few other photographs in his portfolio, you can see where Mr. Worley has an expertise in creating these visual elements in his work.

I will have to pay more attention on my journey around town to see if I can spot more of his work. Look through his work, and you may find that there are features that you may be able to incorporate into your home. Well, he does do additions. Sometimes architects are worth it; even for our more simple homes.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

Personalizing your time on the web

Should I give up on newspapers? This past Sunday morning I could not sit back and relax to read the paper. Life happens, and half the paper is sitting on my desk unread. My favorite diversion is my daughter deciding that she needs to reading the paper instead of me. You try telling a one year old that she cannot read.

I do log onto the web through the day for business. I found that I could set up igoogle as a page that would have all of my interests collected in an easy to scan form. Tabs for art, business, music, and so on let me go to see what is going on in different interests in my life. I created my own html page for my home page for the browser, so that I have quick access to some information that I need for my business. I placed a link to igoogle on the landing page, so I could go over to quickly scan the stories that are out there.

The Google search bow is still on the top of this page, so I can look items up, but I found a good way to personalize my search further.  Surf Canyon has developed a great little plug-in to help me focus in on my search. The program reorders the lists provided on Google, MSN, and Yahoo based on what websites that I am visiting. A good way to get rid of the chaff during a search. Surf Canyon is not intrusive, so it makes for an easier search.

It is nice when our lives can be made easier, but I do not think that I can give up my Sunday morning paper. I enjoy the paper in my hand, whether it is from a newspaper or book. Sorry Kindle.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

Passive Designs for the New Home: saving energy by not needing it in the first place

Where do our inspirations come from for the style of our homes?
Palladio studied the features of ancient temples for his homes, and Wright turned towards nature. When I want to spot a trend, I examine commercial buildings. Bank branches will use many of the new fashionable materials first, but strip shopping centers are not far behind.

We turn to the past again to develop residences that will use less fuel to power them. Traditional techniques used the method called passive design. The sun’s heat was used to heat the home in such a way that nothing actively had to be done. Part of passive design did involve some activity though; opening and closing windows to catch the breeze to cool the home is one example, but these places were laid out to take advantage of this element. In some areas, homes are being built closer together, so they can shade each other. Two roof systems are being used to help cool the home. One roof resembles a roof used for a patio, while the home is built underneath it. Tents are being used for this purpose too.

Driving along, I tell my son to pull the camera out of the glove box to take a few pictures of office buildings. I noticed that a means to control the heat of the sun has been employed on these structures that appear as a decorative element. Here are the photographs (courtesy of my son, who wonders about his father at times):

Walls jutting out from exterior wall.

Same building as the first.

Variation on a theme.

These extending walls are strategically placed to prevent direct sun from shining into the window. In other cases, they just help recess the window back into the building to help control the light coming in. I have seen this idea carried out with canvas walls. I have only seen it used on one house, but their may be more around. I will have to look. Awnings for windows are coming back into fashion to provide much of the same effect, but these pop out walls also cool the exterior by shading more than the window.

Maybe this will be a new decorative feature on a home. Walls coming out for no other purpose than to control the heat of the sun. I think that I need the second roof idea for my home. Maybe a tent? Would the neighbors be alright with it? More importantly would my wife allow me such a flight of innovation? She would not. Good fences make for good neighbors, so maybe a really high fence to block that setting sun. We will see.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

Marching Along: Columns on a Home

The graceful columns of Greek Temples found their way into our residences in the Renaissance. We no longer adhere to the Greek orders, but I noticed that there are so many variations of this simple design feature of a home. When inspecting a small apartment complex, I saw that the porch was held up with a metal pole, visually unappealing. It occurred to me that a more dramatic column feature could be built around these poles to create a nicer exterior. With that thought, I realized that a homeowner could change out their columns to change the look of a home, or they could add a feature to make the column arrangement stand out more.

Driving through my neighborhood, I saw these variations on columns. The basic version seen on most homes is a circular type. In the first photo, you will see that this is not a simple tube. The Greeks discovered that a slight widening was needed to make the column more appealing.A straight forward round column

You could easily build a square column over this type. Here we can see that some lines were routed out of the face of the column for an interesting effect.The next house down uses a square column for a more formal appearance

A simple project that could be done with plywood, but I would use poplar is creating these slight curves from column to column at the top. I think that provides an elegant effect for the eye.These arches were added by the homeowner

In this case, the owner used arches to replace the columns. I think that
I would have added more of a design element with the brick work.
Columns replaced by arches

You could add elements to your columns for visual appeal. Trim work at the base and top could be simple to add while giving visual appeal. This trim may not be seen from the street, but visitors will be drawn to these elements. Your trim is probably plain, but looking at different trim pieces in the hardware store that are meant for interiors, I see some good options for these columns.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

Playing in the Rain: Creating Garden Spaces

As my wife and I are speaking to my son, my daughter comes running past in a determined way that toddler’s have. My wife calls out to her, so she stops to look at us with a mischievous grin. She is heading for the water heater again. There is something about the knobs that fascinate her. I tell her to come back toward us, so off she goes running to the back door.

Outside papa, outside? The rain is pouring, but she loves playing out in the garden. No flower is safe from her grasp or demand. Since I have been spending so much time in the back yard, I have been putting more effort into creating spaces for family. My daughter is constantly in the sand, but she has created a cathedral for herself in some hibiscus bushes. I have different seating areas for reading and relaxing, but lying in the grass suits me.

To make the scene more pleasing to the eye, especially because of the flowers not being safe, I have been looking for plants that have interesting leaves, particularly ones with color. At the nursery, I discovered the aftershocks of the drop in housing sales: plants without a home. Garden centers typically try to sell the flowering shrubs when they are in bloom, since they appeal more to homeowners at that time. I found a large selection of azaleas which had not been sold, so now they were on a 30% discount. There were other plants at lower prices too. You will not have the blooms till next year, but they still will look nice till then.

This picture is not yet complete, but I thought I would share it with you anyway. My daughter\'s play gardenWe have this old tree casting a great deal of shade in this corner of the garden. We decided to set up a playhouse for my daughter. The garden around the house consists mainly of ferns, but we have some hostas, hyacinths, azaleas, impatiens, as well as some indoor plants. We used rocks for a mulch. I am going to create a porch for the shed with white limestone, and I still have to fix up the seating area. We have a fence, but we bought a bamboo screen for this section to help create a nicer effect. I am still working on the sculptures for this area, so we will see what happens. It is not much yet, but I think it will be a nice spot to hang out.

Check your local garden center, and you may find a deal too. I am planning for my project in the backyard to continue, so I will not have the expense all at once. By doing a little each week, you come to be attached to this space, and then you will use your property to its fullest.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck