the agritect

@VELD architect, southwestern Ontario

Archive for Technical

All Decked out!

My brother-in-law is a carpenter with his own company Hulshof Carpentry and he told me the other day that his favorite thing to build is decks. Because everyone loves getting their new deck to have a party or enjoy the lovely weather! And since spring is finally here in Ontario many of you might be thinking about your deck.

C:UsersKristaGoogle Drive1303-McComb PorchB-Design�5-Const

I’ve designed my fair share of decks and everyone us unique. Each of my clients had different reasons for building and different uses planned for their decks, such as hot tubs, dinner parties, shoulder season use, neighbour relationship building, etc. I bring some additional considerations for my clients to consider like, sun angles, materials, style, structure, etc. The most common dilemma for my clients and my brother-in-laws is what type of decking to use. So I’m going to give you a run down of costs (costs are for decking only) along with advantages and disadvantages of various options.

CEDAR

Probably the most common decking and the most complained about!
Approximate Cost: $2 per square foot
Longevity:15-20 years, but it never looks good for that long.
Maintenance: my mother-in-law spends each spring pressure washing her deck! It will also require restaining every other year as a minimum.
Build-ability: easy for the do-it-yourselfer.
Other Considerations: cedar decks will crack and can give you splinters. So perhaps not ideal for kids or bare foot areas.

PRESSURE TREATED LUMBER

Should always be used for post and supporting structure of your deck regardless of decking type chosen.
Who loves that green colour?! No one really, so they have created a brown pressure treated lumber, but it is only sold by Home Depot.

Approximate cost: $2 per square foot and the brown and green cost the same.
Longevity:30-40 years with maintenance
Maintenance: pressure washing, sealing against moisture is recommended yearly
Build-ability: for the amateur builder
Other Considerations: not the most environmentally friendly product with the use of chemicals, but it is a renewable resource.

Bradford Deck

CONCRETE

There are two types of concrete porch installs. 1. a raised deck to match main floor level, requires a foundation wall to below frost level;and 2. A slab on grade deck does not require a wall, but a small slab thickening around the perimeter.

Approximate Cost: it depends. $5-$20 [er square foot. Stamped or stained is more expensive than simple brushed finish. A raised deck will be more expensive than a slab on grade.
Longevity: indefinitely, although slab on grades can crack over time.
Maintenance: sealed concrete has to be redone each year, stains can fade over time.
Build-ability: it’s very hard work but a skilled handyman could handle it mixing and pouring some concrete. I would recommend hireling a concrete trade for better, longer lasting results.
Other Considerations: can be uncomfortable on your bare feet. Concrete acts as a heat sink, so it collects heat during the day and releases it at night making it a great space heater for cool evenings and the shoulder seasons.

Have your trade make slab cuts every 4′(1200mm) if you are doing a slab on grade. This will reduce the random cracking over time. I would also recommend a slab thickening, granular base, (and rebar if your extra cautious) for better settling results.

UNIT PAVERS

Approximate Cost: $2-$8 per square foot
Longevity: installation warranties for 2 years, but if not installed by qualified contractors unit pavers can go wrong very quickly.
Maintenance: sweeping and occasional filling of the sand joints.
Build-ability: for lasting results ensure you hire a qualified contractor with experience.
Other Considerations: unit pavers are very prone to settling and freeze thaw cycles.  One rough winter can create massive problems for this surface, creating uneven surfaces, cracking blocks, etc. This can be a high risk choice.

Pavers require a sand base and good under drainage in order to last in our winter climate.

Permeable paving systems might be an option you’re looking for and is an option with unit pavers.

IMG_0047

COMPOSITE

The one you’ve all been waiting for…be careful, there are some down sides.

I want to make a plug here for my favourite composite, Baleboard. It’s made from recycled agricultural (hay) bale wrap and it’s local to Ontario, in New Hamburg. It can be cut, screwed like normal wood, solid colour through the board, and it’s a recycled product.

Approximate Cost: $6-$8 per square foot
Longevity:20 year warranties to limited lifetime warranties
Maintenance: sweeping, and perhaps a good wash when the in-laws are coming over!
Build-ability: moderate to difficult, but most come with an instruction manual. Be aware of the required joist spacing and screw spacing. Some systems only use clips. Some composites cannot be cut with typical construction tools.
Other Considerations: some composites are a wood/plastic/glue combination, others are all plastic, while others have a colour wrap and cannot be cut as the inside is a different tone.
Composite can get extremely hot for bare feet in the summer months and cold in the shoulder seasons, so consider shading or not using this product for around pools.
Composite requires more supporting joints. Every 16″ on centre, where other materials can span further.
Some composites use new wood rather than recycled wood. This may be important to you if you’re looking for sustainable products.

Some composites with actual wood contents can mold.

All composites will discolour over time.

OTHER WOODS

The architect is coming out in me, but I wanted to compare a few exotic (extremely) hardwoods for those looking for longevity, warm natural materials, low maintenance, and comparably priced to composite.

Ipe, Abaco, or tiger wood are the three hardwoods that I have researched. They can be supplied by Century Mill in Markham, Ontario.

Approximate Cost: $6.50-$8 per square foot
Longevity: 25-40 years, some say longer
Maintenance: little to none. Sweeping the dirt and leaves away!
Build-ability: requires clips as the wood is very hard and cannot be fastened with screws.
Finish: a messer finish can be used, and the end grains sealed for even longer lasting results.
Other Considerations: renewable material. Authentic wood look. Weathers to a silver patina.
It will not split or crack and thus no risk of splinters.

3D framing view_Page_14

I hope this gets you excited about starting a deck project for yourself and makes some of the decision-making easier. Feel free to contact me to get some more ideas.

Advertisements

to LEED® or not to LEED®…

…that is the question I get all the time.

But first, what is LEED®. LEED® stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is a process of third part certification that determines the energy performance of your building. Based on a scoring system you can achieve a number of different levels;

  • just certified (40-49 credits), 
  • Silver (50-59 credits), 
  • Gold (60-79 credits), 
  • Platinum (80+ credits).

These credits can be achieved by meeting the various requirements from each of the following categories (note that each category has prerequisite credits that must be followed in order to achieve any certification);

  • Sustainable Sites (14 available credits) – deals with choosing brownfield’s for your developments, encouraging alternative transportation (hybrid, cycling, etc), protect and restore habitat, manage stormwater, reduce light pollution, reduce heat islands from roof and paving surfaces.
  • Water Efficiency (5 possible credits) – deals with minimizing water use in building, processes, landscaping, maintenance, etc. Also credits for innovative water technologies.
  • Energy & Atmosphere (17 possible credits) – This category deals with reducing your energy use by using innovative technologies, renewable energy, measuring and monitoring energy use.
  • Materials and Resources (14 credits) – the credits associated with this category is about supporting local business and regional materials, using certified wood, using renewable materials, using materials with recycled content, or recycled materials, and maximizing waste diversion to recycling centers.
  • Indoor Environmental Quality (15 credits available) – this category encourages you to use low off-gassing materials, increasing the comfort of occupants with daylight and access to views, providing good ventilation and operable windows.
  • Innovation & Design Process (5 possible credits) – this category suggests you hire and architect (just kidding)! But it would definitely help in coordinating and managing all these credits. This category is for interesting and unique ideas that do not fit into other categories.

After you total up your points then submit the necessary paperwork, you can have LEED® certification! See here for a more detailed checklist.

So what good is that most people ask?

LEED® has a number of benefits. It does good things for the long term operating costs of your building For example less turnover of employees because of the great environment, reduced energy costs, a sense of responsibility to the future quality of the environment. LEED® can also be a major marketing tool, for example the Fifth Town Cheese was the only LEED® certified facility in Canada of its kind, that pretty unique marketing.

So how much will this cost me? 

This is another common question.  The costs are becoming less and less as more and more people implement green strategies. The legal standards set out by the Building Code, Conservation Authorities, and Municipalities become more in line with LEED® criteria and thus the credits are now required by law anyways. It depends what point you are pursuing and what your project baseline is, but generally there seems to be a range of 0-3% of your construction costs additional. However this upfront cost, will pay itself back many times over through the life of the building. It requires some long term thinking, which most business owners would appreciate.

Material, Energy, and Water savings

Should I pursue LEED®?

This is the most important question! Is LEED® right for you and your project? I recommend that LEED® certification be used where your clients will recognize the certification or you can use it for marketing purposes. But I also always recommend good sustainable design and construction practices and LEED® is a great guide to the options.  But there are other options as well such as Passive Haus, ecological footprint, Green Globes, etc. All which have good ideas for building sustainably.

…in the end its up to you to define what sustainable means to you and how you want to pursue it in your next building project.

Find out more about LEED® here. Or send me a comment if you have more questions about sustainable energy-efficient design

Farmer meet Building Code, Building Code, this is Farmer…

Ontario Building Code

I can just image how the conversation would go after that introduction…Farmer; “why do I need to put a sprinkler system, fire alarm, washrooms, in my building? its just a barn! With all this red tape and regulation your going to put me out of business!!”
Building Code; “The requirements are a health and safety concern for the general public who might be coming to visit your farm. I know it’s just a barn, but when the public arrive, its more than that. I am just trying to look out for the well-being of the general public.”

If your having a rough day with the building code, check out this for a laugh.

I am continuing to encounter the grey area that is in between the Agricultural Building Code that governs farm and low occupancy buildings and the Ontario Building Code, that governs all other buildings types as I look at various rural projects. As farmers bring the general public out to the farm with agritourism and on-farm markets, this grey area is going to become more and more contentious.

To give you an example, there was a farm in my area that was holding weddings in the old bank barn (a beautiful setting and probably quite lucrative business). But when the township discovered this, they sent the building inspector over. As you can probably imagine there were a lot of deficiencies. So much so, that they were unable to meet these needs and they closed their doors. In another instance a friend of mine visited a winery to see if they could hold their wedding at the location. They viewed the facilities and it was quite clear that the barn was not originally designed to be a wedding hall, and did not have the necessary requirements (ie, washrooms) to meet their needs (including a lack of aesthetics), let alone building code requirements (ie. number of exits from the building).

As an architect I am very familiar with the Ontario Building Code, it dictates almost everything I can do with a building and it is designed to protect the health and safety of the general public. The Agricultural code, however is more concerned with the general good practices building practices, nutrient management, and building structural integrity. As a farmer if you are considering bringing the public to your facility you may encounter some of the following issues;

1. Washroom count – based on your occupancy use(store, or wedding hall, or office space) and your occupancy count (number of people), the building code dictates how many washrooms you require. Of those washrooms it is likely that a number of them will be required to be barrier free (or handicapped accessible), see number 7 below. Using the occupancy load recommendations, posting a maximum occupancy, or designing a specific load the architect can keep the washroom count reasonable and suited to your business and budget requirements.

2.  Your project should fit into on of these major classifications Group A-assembly, Group B-Care, Group C—–, Group D-mercantile, Group E-business and personal services, Group F-Industrial, and further into the subdivisions. So if you want to host weddings at your farm, then you need to be in the Group A-assembly use. But if you just want to have a store or spa service, then you classify as Group D or E.  The occupancy of your building will determine requirements such as number of washrooms, sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems, etc.

3.  Once the occupancy type is determined using the defined groups above in the building code, then your building is sub-classified and must meet the requirements of a certain sub-category that is mostly based 3 factors;

  • area of the building
  • sprinklered or not
  • what it built out of (combustible or non-combustible materials)

Each category often has other requirements that can help or hinder your project. An architect can creatively fit you into a category by managing the above factors, that does not blow the budget, schedule, or aesthetics, etc.

4. So barns are made of wood right, well thats true, but the building code is going to have something to say about what you building your building out of. The code will define if your building is made of combustible or non-combustible construction. Wood is the cheapest structure but it is definitely a combustible material. Depending on which classification your building falls (see item 3) into you may need to do one of two things with your structure;

  • cover and fire rate your wood structure, this often involves 2 layer of type ‘X’ drywall (thicker and more expensive than regular drywall), or
  • Change your building structure into a non-combutible material. This is either steel, concrete, masonry, and heavy timber. Note that steel is generally non-combustible but it does melt, so it does not have a fire rating if fire ratings are required.

5. Barrier free and accessible design are a contentious issue.  Most people think that accessible design is for wheelchair only, but it also include visually and hearing impaired persons. Accessible design in the building code is very specific and quite stringent. The code will affect things like ramps at 5% slopes, universal washrooms containing special fixtures, grab bars, and space to turn a wheelchair around, elevators if necessary, colour and texture contrasting materials, corridor widths, automatic doors, etc. The most costly item that may be affected by accessible design requirements is an elevator.  It is good to work with a designer and the building department to ensure that a elevator is not required if you cannot afford it. Creative solutions might need to be found as a ramp to replace an elevator to go up one full storey will be about 60meters (200ft) long!

Are there any building code issues you recently encountered with your agritourism project?  Let me know. Or if your having issue now, feel free to contact me. Remember the code is a huge document of approximately 2500 pages. An architect is well versed in the code and can help you navigate it smoothly without costly requirements or renovations before your done construction.

(note: requriements from the 2006 Ontario Building Code)

“Healthy agritourism is like having a factory in your economic community”

This quote by Vance Blackmore was the introduction to a conference dedicated to agritousim in hosted by Tourism Middlesex last month. The event was aptly called ‘Beyond the City Lights’ originally initiated by OMAFRA. He was referring to the equine industry in Middlesex County and its ability to generate income and economic growth in the community through tourism. What an inspiring statement for anyone considering agritourism!

But agritouism on your farm can come with a lot of concerns and worries, branding, liability, financing, planning, zoning, etc.  Plan carefully! Planning involves all the aspects of your business, from building, to loans, to permissions, to getting the word out there. Here are some tips to help you get started on your agritourism business.1. Get connected with your local tourism association and see where their goals lie for the area where you live. They can assist you with marketing, funding, planning and direct to other resources. They can also connect you to tour operators who can plan your stop as destinations.

2. Check with your local township office for the zoning of your property and ensure that you can have the type of agritourism business you want.  If you can’t but think that you should, it might be time to hire a professional architect or planner to discuss with the township the possibilities of rezoning and costs and work associated with it.  Just because the township says that you can’t does not mean that you shouldn’t try for a worthwhile cause.

3. Brand your agritourism destination. Why should people come to see you? What unique experience do you offer? Why do you want people to come to visit you? This might be a time to start thinking about your website, blog, twitter or facebook page. These days if your not online, you don’t exist.

4. Safety is an important thing to consider.  Make sure you think of prevention first and design your public areas to be safe and secure from tractors, heavy machinery, chemicals, or unattended animals. With the general public coming to your farm, you should also be covered by insurance just in case an accident should happen.

5. Begin designing, planning, budgeting. This is where a professional architect can help. They are trained to think of all the things that can go wrong, all the possible situations your farm might be in, and how to make your farm a great experience for public.  Remember the urban public have a different level of expectation when they come to visit the farm, you want to make sure they are comfortable as well as exposed to the ‘real thing’.  A professional can also help you navigate regulations and building codes that you would not normally need to meet if you were just building a barn.

6. Take out a permit, and build anything that needs improvement.

6. Make sure people know how to get to your farm. Back roads can be difficult for many who are not familiar with the territory. Signage from the township, tourism board, or region local food movement can help with this.

7. Open your doors and greet your guests!

Feel Free to check out #agchat on twitter, for more ideas. I am a big supporter of agritourism and think I have a lot to offer making our rural communities economically diverse, and connecting them back to the consumers. Feel free to contact me to chat about your ideas!

"Healthy agritourism is like having a factory in your economic community"

This quote by Vance Blackmore was the introduction to a conference dedicated to agritousim in hosted by Tourism Middlesex last month. The event was aptly called ‘Beyond the City Lights’ originally initiated by OMAFRA. He was referring to the equine industry in Middlesex County and its ability to generate income and economic growth in the community through tourism. What an inspiring statement for anyone considering agritourism!

But agritouism on your farm can come with a lot of concerns and worries, branding, liability, financing, planning, zoning, etc.  Plan carefully! Planning involves all the aspects of your business, from building, to loans, to permissions, to getting the word out there. Here are some tips to help you get started on your agritourism business.1. Get connected with your local tourism association and see where their goals lie for the area where you live. They can assist you with marketing, funding, planning and direct to other resources. They can also connect you to tour operators who can plan your stop as destinations.

2. Check with your local township office for the zoning of your property and ensure that you can have the type of agritourism business you want.  If you can’t but think that you should, it might be time to hire a professional architect or planner to discuss with the township the possibilities of rezoning and costs and work associated with it.  Just because the township says that you can’t does not mean that you shouldn’t try for a worthwhile cause.

3. Brand your agritourism destination. Why should people come to see you? What unique experience do you offer? Why do you want people to come to visit you? This might be a time to start thinking about your website, blog, twitter or facebook page. These days if your not online, you don’t exist.

4. Safety is an important thing to consider.  Make sure you think of prevention first and design your public areas to be safe and secure from tractors, heavy machinery, chemicals, or unattended animals. With the general public coming to your farm, you should also be covered by insurance just in case an accident should happen.

5. Begin designing, planning, budgeting. This is where a professional architect can help. They are trained to think of all the things that can go wrong, all the possible situations your farm might be in, and how to make your farm a great experience for public.  Remember the urban public have a different level of expectation when they come to visit the farm, you want to make sure they are comfortable as well as exposed to the ‘real thing’.  A professional can also help you navigate regulations and building codes that you would not normally need to meet if you were just building a barn.

6. Take out a permit, and build anything that needs improvement.

6. Make sure people know how to get to your farm. Back roads can be difficult for many who are not familiar with the territory. Signage from the township, tourism board, or region local food movement can help with this.

7. Open your doors and greet your guests!

Feel Free to check out #agchat on twitter, for more ideas. I am a big supporter of agritourism and think I have a lot to offer making our rural communities economically diverse, and connecting them back to the consumers. Feel free to contact me to chat about your ideas!

Farm Yard Design

When the helicopter photographers come knocking at your door each year asking if you would like a photo taken of your farmstead from the air. Do you shudder at the mess and disorganization of the yard, or are you proud to see the life you have built. If your like most farmers, its a combination of both. You have a beautiful piece of land and farmstead, but the mess of tractors and projects in the yard leaves much to be desired. The last time my parents had the photo taken, (and google as well) the yard was immaculate because a wedding was going to occur in the following few days (mine) and we had to clear room for the many guests. But I digress…The layout of your farmstead is an important part of farm design and there are many factors to consider.

1. View from the road

There is a tendency to arrange buildings perpendicular or parallel to the road. But we have to remember that these roads, drawn by a surveyor in an office randomly cut concessions through the landscape when they divided the lots in the townships. It is human’s nature to rationalize and organize the landscape to our will, (but that’s my artsy side coming out and post all on its own). The roads have no relationship to anything other than the ruler. They don’t compensate for creeks, drainage, sun paths, wind, mountains, etc. That being said we still want the barn, house, or farmyard to look appealing from the road. It should be understood where the house and barns are, where the laneway is, etc.

2. Wind Patterns

East wind is all it takes to make my mother-in-law shudder! The pig barn is about 300 ft east of the house, so when the uncommon occurrence of an east wind sweeps through the area it brings all the wonderful smells of pig farming with it! When you choose your site for a barn that might have smells associated with it, think about the prevailing winds of your area. In Southwestern Ontario the summer winds are generally from the south-west and the winter winds are from the north-west. locating a bad small to the west of the house is probably not a good idea, put the garden to the west.
You can also take advantage of natural ventilation in your barn or house if you understand you local wind patterns. Natural ventilation can remove hot air from a barn and keep air moving in the heat of summer. The cold winter winds can also encourage air movement int he winter, reducing the need for mechanical ventilation and energy consumption.

3. Sun Paths

The sun makes predictable paths through the seasons and can provide a building or yard with twofold advantages if we pay attention to the sun paths; light and heat.

The sun can provide the interiors of our buildings with free light! i.e. no electricity bill! There are technologies that can help regulate the light switch automatically so that energy savings are maximized when sufficient natural daylighting is available. The light also affects what the farm yard might be like, or where to plant your garden. Buildings cast shadows onto your yard, so you need to consider locations for new buildings relative to existing uses.

The second benefit from the sun is heat. Capturing the heat from the sun is a bit more difficult, but can result is huge savings in heating bills. By allowing the sun to shine into our buildings and capturing it using heat sinks like concrete floors we can achieve these savings. The sun even made it easy for us, in the summer the sun shines down on us from a very steep angle, and in the winter it is a very shallow angle. So in the summer using overhangs we can keep the heat from the sun out of the building when we don’t want it, but allow it under the overhangs in the winter when we do want the free heat.

4. Relationship to Other Buildings

Your farmyard is an important part of the farm, its where all the activity happens. Walking distances between buildings is important. Driving and turning space for tractors with wagons is also important. Make sure the milk truck or feed truck can get access to a building is key to an effective site design.

There are other relationships between buildings that can be designed into a site plan. Perhaps your building is a tall shed, it can protect a sensitive chicken coup from cold winter winds, or a pig barn from hot sun rays. There also may be energy connections between buildings

5. Regulations

Minimum distance regulations are a big part of siting buildings on farms. The regulation takes into account type of animal, smells, manure, and proximity to other buildings and your property line. More information on MDS can be found

Be sure to check local zoning by-law at your municipality for permitted uses and conditions on your property.

6. Topography

The bank barn is the prime example of how topography can play into building siting. The natural hills (or man-made if none can be found), allow easy access to multiple levels of a barn or house. Hills can also provide microclimate areas. Every hill has a warm side and a cold side, use this to your advantage.

7. Existing Services

Electricity, Septic, water are likely all existing on your property. Running these services long distances across your property can be time consuming and expensive. You want to ensure that distances are reasonable and efficient.

Site Design is a complex equation without clear answers, or one solution. Many of the factors above are simple, no-brainer decisions that don’t cost anything and can improve the building’s operation and efficiency. It’s all about what is a priority for you and your operation. What are the factors you use in designing your farmyard? Feel free to contact me if you want assistance in balancing all these aspects of site design. Good luck with your aerial photo shoot!

Hay and Straw Storage as Insulation?

I'm sure you've heard of straw bale houses, but did you ever think that you could use your straw and hay storage as insulation for your farm buildings? Straw and Hay makes a great insulator because it is full of air pockets, air being a great thermal break that does not allow heat to be transferred to sensitive areas like inside barns where animals are living. By strategically locating hay and straw storage on your farm you can save cooling and heating costs for barns and houses depending on your farm needs.

Winter above, summer below, Image from Barns and Outbuildings and How to Building them

This technique dates back to the pioneers who settled and started farming.  A simple wooden structure would be placed in the pastures and covered with straw of hay. This would then provide shelter from the sun in the summer, and be a supplementary feeding for animals out to pasture.

Winter-hay and/or straw storage, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2009

summer-no hay or straw storage, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2009

We can also take this principle and apply it to a winter situation.  As hay and straw are collected in through the summer and stored for use during the winter, strategic storage can provide wind breaks for barns in the winter. Keeping the prevailing cold winter winds away from the barn walls can significantly reduce heating requirements for the sensitive chickens or piglets. By also adding an extra layer of insulation the heating that is put into the barn stays inside longer.  Not only that, but the convenience of having straw or hay located close to the feeding and bedding area is a bonus.  As the hay and straw get used through the winter you are left with an open barn again that can take advantage of natural ventilation and prevailing summer winds.

With a little bit of planning this simple strategy could save you money on heating and ventilation costs over the long term. And this strategy costs less to install than bigger fans and bigger heaters up front. Please feel free to add comments and critiques on how this might be adapted to work for you on your farm.