A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Archive for Houston home inspector

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


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

Pickling the Harvest: Even when it is not your own

She says “thank you, papa” each time she hands me another onion toFry Bread and relish plant, reminding me that I should be saying thank you to her. Then she runs off to the other side of the bed to pick more kale. She likes to play with it, particularly in the sand. Why would a one year old find leaves of the kale plant so tempting a playmate? I have lamb’s ear in the bed just next to this one. Would she not prefer that soft leaf? Maybe it is the curly edges of the kale. I am not one to fathom it.

We pull some carrots for the dinner tonight. The greens will be mixed in with some rice on another day, but I need the tap roots for a stir fry. We had gone to the farmer’s market the other day for fruit, but I bought some pickling cucumbers too. I decided to make simple relish with these cucumbers, using a basic pickling technique called refrigerator pickles. I cleaned the cucumbers, then sliced them. I grated a few carrots. In a mason jar, I put about a tablespoon of sugar and the flowers from my spring onions. My daughter is always picking these flowers, and I have found them to give a dish a nice little kick. I placed the vegetables in the jar, followed by rice vinegar. I screw on the lid, and then I give it a good shake. You can put any vegetable, herb, or spice into the mix that you like. If you wanted the flavors to permeate the vinegars, you could warm them first in the vinegar, but I just set this in the refrigerator for a few days.

These are light, refreshing pickles that can be the base for other dishes. Place some of them in a blender with some of the vinegar and add plain yogurt to blend up a cool soup. If you have some roasted chicken, drizzle this soup over it as a tangy sauce. I made a fry bread this morning by combining flour, oil, and then ice water. I let the dough sit for a while. I fried it in some olive oil. I slit the bread open for a pouch. I mixed some of this relish with roast pork for the pouch. I nice little lunch.

Tonight I am going to roast some beets and turnips for the evening meal. I think the relish would go well with that too. Harvesting from the garden is a wonderful thing. I find that most people do not add herbs or spices to their meals, or should I qualify that to specify to their vegetables. I may not always grow vegetables, but herbs are so resilient, and most insects leave them alone. My grandmother sprinkled parsley over everything. Lately, I think that I have been adding rosemary and marjoram (an oregano cousin) to too many meals.

These refrigerator pickles are a nice way to add to your meal, and you can prepare it when you have time. You may find that your family will enjoy it too.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

Live for Today, So Spend that Rebate Check Today

I was listening to my favorite economist this week, but I had to disagree with him. A favorite economist, you say. Well yes, I may not be able to fathom all of the complexities of the markets, but I have enjoyed the writings of Tim Harford and his commentary on NPR. He has a new book out that I will have to find. I think his work, The Undercover Economist, should be essential reading for the business community or anyone interested in this field.

To save or not to save; oh, that is the question! I have been an advocate for saving on my posts here, but Mr. Harford offers a different view. If you do not have the money, should you save money? No according to this intelligent advisor. He gave this example: saving money when your funds are tight is the setting money aside for your future self. Your future self will be wealthier than your current self anyway, because of improvements in your earnings, so you are setting money aside for when you are going to be wealthier anyway. He likened debt to borrowing money from your future self. This argument speaks to a core belief in many people: I cannot save because I have too many expenses now. Harford’s argument allows you to enjoy this money now.

Why would I disagree with this idea? I imagine in a more in depth format that Harford’s position may be more nuanced, and he may not dismiss my thoughts on the matter. Firstly, there is retirement planning. In the United States, we have been saving far less than needed for our retirement. In the past, with good pension plans, we were going to see a comfortable retirement without having to save on our own. My pension from another job will only offer me $360 per month (if it still is there). Secondly, in this time of uncertainty with your job (will you have one next month, or will you have the income that you need), an emergency fund can be a way to easily handle tough times. Maybe you will not lose your income, but a large expense can put you into financial stress, which frequently leads to a downward spiral in your personal life. I have mentioned having a $5000 savings for home expenses, and financial advisors have suggested having at least three months worth of salary to weather income loss. Studies show that many of us do not have these funds, so I think it is wise to advocate saving toward this goal.

When your money is tight, you need to find ways to cut back on expenses. We generally react to increase prices by cutting back in other areas. Rising food costs lead us to skip going out for a meal. Rising fuel costs cause us to cut down on day trips. We are still spending the same amount of money, but we have changed how we are spending it. I
think that it is in our interest to find ways to reduce our expenses , so we can have those extra funds when needed.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

Dining Out: A Garden Adventure 

Sometimes I feel that I have not done much in the garden, but when I look back on the week, I find that I did accomplish a bit. I have been walking through my gardens each day to see what might need some help, which is a nice way to nip things in the bud before they become major problems. The cool morning air today was such a relief from the humidity that we have been experiencing. My wife bristled at the chill, running back inside for a sweater. It was not that bad, but I love the chill.

Most of my efforts have been directed towards cleaning up the appearance of the beds. The azaleas have stopped their blooms, so it is a perfect time to trim them back. I do not want these bushes to be overgrown. My Aztec Sweet Herb has run amok, spilling over the edging, as have various groundcovers that are substituting for mulch in certain beds. I pruned them back to the edging for a manicured look, which helps with the fact that my small meadow in the backyard can seem unkempt. Deadheading the roses has helped keep these flowers in bloom. My toddler daughter has been picking flowers from plants within her reach. She has become fascinated with the eggplants though. She has come to realize that these fruits have thorns at their base to prevent being pulled off, so she drags me to these plants every day for assistance. Eggplants do not have a bitter taste when freshly picked. She has been after the peppers too. This caused
me to make a dish with these two ingredients for dinner last night.

Like many people, my family has not dined out too often recently. We were having a good family day yesterday, and we thought that it would be nice to spend the day enjoying each other’s company by going out. We considered where we may go to eat. We thought of buying a shwarma from Phoenicia for a picnic in the park. We were not in town for the opening of the Discovery Green park in downtown, and there are scheduled events each weekend, so we thought that might be a nice option. In the end, we decided that I could make some sausages, with some bread and fruit.

Plans go awry. My son had more homework than expected, and my daughter wanted her nap. We found ourselves on the front lawn. I am glad that so many flowers were on display in my beds. The jasmine scented the air, as did my antique roses. We waved to neighbors, and played with a frisbee and ball. Finally we could dine out, and not worry about the mess that a one year old girl will make with her food. My wife laughed as I scurried off to pick nasturtium, onion and shallot greens, or some other herb for my bread. She complained that I was not growing mint for her mojitos. I mentioned that she was sitting on it. The mint had escaped the bed into the lawn where she was. Oh, is that why I smelled mint, she asked. Complain first, eh? You should learn to recognize your favorite herb was my reply.

There are times when you do not need to do much in the garden, except to enjoy it. The news today reported that the rising cost of rice is causing problems for restaurants and consumers. Food costs have increased, but enjoying life does not need to be determined by the purchase. Just by the fun that you have.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck