Tuesday, December 18, 2007

All Quiet on the Design Front

Greetings in the name of istockhouseplans.com. It's been a quiet two weeks. So quiet in fact that we almost forgot we had a design upstart company. Actually, for as quiet as things have been here at istockhouseplans, they have been anything but on other fronts. Our dayjobs have been picking up a bit, the holiday season is here, and other generalities of life have made putting any time into plans almost impossible. We'd like to be able to offer you all of our plans with slab and basement by now, or have the original Creston ready, or any of other several projects that are on the drawing board. If you have been eyeing one of our plans but holding back because it didn't have the proper foundation, please shoot us an email and tell us what you're looking for. We're more than happy to oblige.

In other news, Buena Vista Homes of Lake Oswego, OR held their liquidation auction this last weekend. According to the news feed it was more like a circus than an auction. Many, though certainly not all, of the homes sold and some for a reasonable price. Kudos to Buena Vista for thinking outside of the box to keep themselves alive.

The question came to us recently: "Why don't you design more simple and basic homes? You might sell more of your designs." Apparently this came from a contractor's frame of mind. Just because our houses don't look like tract houses, doesn't mean they aren't economical to build. If you are asking why we don't design 1600 square foot dinger boxes with a garage, then maybe you should check out the Montavilla series. If the question needs to be further refined to why we are stuck designing classical re-creation homes, then we would like to talk about principles. Quite frankly, we will not prostitute our skills on something that we do not find to be beautiful. We will not crap out a plan just for the sake of turning a buck. We have some standards that we will not turn from, which is a good reason why we are debating about releasing the Creston series from the courtyard design contest. They don't look good to our eyes. What if we had won and they were built? We may have realized our mistake and been sorry we designed them as we did. In retrospect we would have made some changes but that's what happens when you find out about a contest halfway through. The point is that we will not spit out cheap homes in order to turn a profit. We would rather sell 2 plans a month of our unique and beautiful homes than a dozen crapshacks. And if you don't like what we design, we respect that and we don't expect you to buy from us. But if you realize that our plans are every bit if not more economical to build than many of the crapshacks, we think you might have a change of heart. Thank you for the question.

We will be all but shut down through this week and next for the Christmas holiday. Any orders you place will be attended to immediately but designing and emailing will be sporadic at best. We at istockhouseplans wish a you a Merry Christmas and hope that you will not be taken in by the hustle and bustle of the season. Slow down, realize what's important, and enjoy the people around you. We'll see you next year!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Hello everybody! (Hello, Dr. Nick!) We missed our normal Tuesday blog due to sickness, but we're feeling well enough to make a go of it today. Whatever happened to the long expected Creston series based on our Courtyard Design? Well here's the deal. We just aren't thrilled with the look of the plans. They look fully like new homes doing an architectural nod. We could doll them up a bit, I suppose, but they just aren't striking us right now. Our goal before that is to finish the working plans for their predecessor, the original Creston. However, our first priority is to offer slab and basement foundations for as much of our existing stock as we can right now. We've begun in numerical order and the Lombard 1558 now has complete sets of plans for four foundation types. Lombard-2 shouldn't be far behind.

That's all the news from the past two weeks. To get the most recent updates you should mark istockhouseplans as your homepage and check it everyday. Or twice a day!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Turkey

Happy Thanksgiving folks! We are thankful that we are in business despite the housing market. In celebration of the holiday we will be closed Wednesday through Sunday. Any orders placed in that time will be processed and shipped on Monday the 26th.

Finally, the long anticipated Richmond series is making its way online. The Richmond and Richmond A are available on our site. Still to come are three more versions including a rowhouse. Both Richmonds are similar at 1606sf, 3 beds, 2-1/2 baths. They also feature bay windows in the parlor and dining, a large kitchen, and flex space downstairs. The main difference between the two is that the Richmond A has been slightly reconfigured to have stairs going down to a garage. It is 3 stories tall and could be built as 3 above grade or with the garage buried. The facade of both plans is a little funky, but we also include a simpler alternate elevation with the plans. You could go for broke, be conservative, or mix and match. The soon to come Richmond C will feature an even different facade for your choosing pleasure.

As previously mentioned, we didn't place in Portland, Oregon's Courtyard Housing Design Competition. However you can vote for us in the People's Choice Award by visiting the competition website, clicking the 'vote for your favorite' link, and entering '125' in the Inner Portland Site box. Our design can be seen on the site as well at the top of page 3 of the inner Portland entries. Once you visit the page, click on entry 125 to bring up the pdfs. Though we didn't win, we commend the first place winner for their very similar design to ours. It makes us feel good to know that we had the 'right idea' (to be read as 'ability to figure out what the judges wanted'), even if our presentation was a little lacking. We're pretty proud of our LEGO construction, though!

Istockhouseplans wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving and a restful and pleasant holiday.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Portland Courtyard Competition

Wow, Tuesday came quickly this week! Okay, it didn't really, but we had to insert a quick note about Portland Oregon's Courtyard Housing Design Competition. We didn't win. Yeah, big frowny face. However we take consolation in the fact that the first place winner's design was a spitting image of ours. Six units, two stories, same relation of space, same use of space, but smaller units. They also used the same green concepts as we did such as onsite water rentention/use and solar panels. Not to be bitter by any means, but we certainly wouldn't want to live near the winner's units. Why? One reason only; they don't fit into the fabric of the old neighborhoods. The designer hails from Santa Barbara and his design reflects that. Quite frankly, flat roofs and carports are not the way to go in the rainy Rose City. That and the units are neo-modern boxes. (Second and third place winners went further and further down the box road. NIMBY anyone?) We tried to be sensitive to the older neighborhoods in matching design styles and scale.

But we still have a chance at national recognition. You can vote for us in the people's choice award by visiting the website, clicking the vote button, and entering 125 into the first box. If we do win, we will offer an ultra low price on purchasing the design to encourage its building.

See you on Tuesday!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Free Beer

Sorry, did we say beer? We meant free shipping. Just a reminder that we don't charge for shipping on orders and we haven't even jacked up the price of the plans to make up for it.

The good news is that the Edgewood now lives on istockhouseplans. There are three versions of said plan, one at 25' wide, the other two at 28' wide. The 25' is 1693 square feet, the 28' are 1850sf. Both 28 footers are essentially the same plan, but the 'B' has been enhanced with more period style windows and other slight modifications. All three plans are similar with four bedrooms, two and a half baths and a 1-car garage. Garage? You put a garage on a plan? Well, yes we did and it's all part of a story.

Not so long ago in our galaxy there was a poor young college student and a homebuilder in need of drafting skills. What fate brought them together we know not, but the poor young college student started drafting for the homebuilder. This turned out to be a winner of a relationship and lasted for years. As all good things must come to an end, the formerly poor young college student went on to start istockhouseplans. The student-cum-draftsman and homebuilder still have a good relationship and from time to time take on projects together. One such project brings us up to our current state of affairs, that of the Edgewood. Builder approached draftsman and said, "I've got this great design that I need drafted." Draftsman commenced his skills, made some minor modifications and the Edgewood was born.

In summary, the Edgewood didn't result from our brainwave, but we were happy to work with our builder friend to make it reality. Hence, there are some differences from our usual plans. There is an attached front-load garage (a rarity for us) and you may also notice a standard water heater and furnace residing therein. Overall we are pleased with the plan, otherwise we would not have suggested mass-marketing it from our site. As soon as it is built we will be posting some pictures.

We also wish to announce our Courtyard Housing Project Entry. As we have told you, The City of Portland, OR launched a courtyard housing design competition and we were pleased to enter. You can now find our entry on our site as well as several 'photos' of the project done in LEGO CAD. The houses used in our entry will be available for sale in a month or so. Contest winners will be announced November 14th.

In the meantime we are finalizing up other plans. The Creston was our inspiration for the courtyard houses, the Richmond is a brownstone with three guises, and the Ash B garage is a hybrid design. Look for these plans and others coming soon to an istockhouseplans near you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Architectural Nods

You may notice that this post is a day late. All apologies. We were at a supplier convention on our normal Tuesday blogging day. Don't ever tell us that there's no such thing as a free lunch because we sure found it!

In the meantime the website was fixed. Now you can enjoy trouble-free browsing of istockhouseplans.com. We know we promised also to have the Edgewood available, but the Portland courtyard housing project has kept us busy. We will get our masterpiece of an entry turned in today, and then all efforts will be back to the stock plans. (Okay, masterpiece may be an overstatement. Actually, it looks like a first year college student stayed up until 3am putting the presentation together. Our saving grace is that while presentation is important, the judges are reviewing every single entry. If this was for a client who based their decision to look at a project based on neatness, we would have stayed up until 4am). We will be putting pieces of our entry on the website in the next week or so including the LEGO renderings.

"Would you get to the architectural nods already", you ask? Fine, fine. Rather than our usual diatribe on how much we despise something, we will try to stay more composed this time. Architectural nods are about a 10% (usually less) effort to copy a traditional design style. For instance in an architectural nodding craftsman home you would find gridded windows, dormers, some stone veneer and some nice door and window trim. Sound good? Sure, but what's missing? Brick fireplace, 24" overhangs, gable end brackets, 2x12 barge boards, exposed rafter tails, different siding in the gable ends, deep covered porch, built up columns, 7-piece 1x4 window trim, non-vinyl windows, crown moulding, chair rail, wainscoting, 1x8 stained wood floor trim, and four steps from grade to floor. And don't forget paneled doors, exposed beam ceilings (real or not) and traditional colors.

"That sounds like a lot of extra money! Besides, my setbacks don't allow for 24" overhangs."

Then use thinbrick veneer on the fireplace, standard 1x pine for the moulding (found at rebuilding centers everywhere), and for goodness sake, stop maxing out your building footprint and use some of your side yard for beauty instead of dropping barkdust all over it. And since labor is so expensive do some of it (heck, all of it) yourself. It may take extra time, but you will have a superior product to Joe Builder down the street. Do you want folks to look at your house and say, "Yeah it fits into the neighborhood alright." or do you want them to say, "Wow, nice extensive remodel on that beautiful old established home!" Our experience tells us that the latter would fetch an extra 10-20% or more in price.

Architecturally, I can see you nodding right now.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Brick by Brick

Happy October.  This is your general istockhouseplans update.  Portland's Courtyard Housing competition ends in 2 weeks.  We have finished design for our entry and are now compiling the data in to required submittal formats.  We are attempting a medium that has never been attempted before above the 6th grade.  Our perspective drawings and layouts were created with MLCAD, also known as Mike's LEGO CAD.  Since 3-D elements are not allowed in the competition, we created our courtyard out of LEGO bricks in CAD and then saved out the pictures.  Images will be available after the competition is over.
As we mentioned before, this competition generated three new house plans for us (really just three variations of the same plan).  It was all inspired by the original design which was stuck on some drawing board underneath other concepts.  We will be releasing the Creston series of plans soon.  The Edgewood series is almost complete and will be up about the same time.  We are also finishing up another yet unnamed plan.
However, we first need to finish clearing up the bugs in the website before we get any further on adding to it.  We are hoping to have that done by the next update.  As if we didn't have too many irons in the fire already, we are also going back through our established plans and adding slab and basement foundations where appropriate.  Being stuck in the great Northwest, those foundations don't often get built here but we understand they are the majority in other places.  If there are other variations that you would like to have plans done in (stick frame roofs, 2x4 walls, etc.), let us know and we will try to accomodate.  We do mostly 2x6 walls for the Energy Path 1 requirements and trussed roofs for cost and efficiency.
Talk to you in two weeks.  Or visit us sooner.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

General Update

As the King of England wrote in his diary on July 4th, 1776, "No news today".  This seems to be the case right now.  No news.  You may have noticed that there was no blog last week.  We forgot to inform you that we are going to an every other week schedule.
A couple of tidbits:
The courtyard housing project is going splendidly.  We have gained a new houseplan with 3 variations from it.  This should be showing up in our portfolio soon, right after the promised Edgewood.  The Creston is a 3 bed, 2 bath, 1 car garage 1320sf +/- townhouse.  Variations are made with different facades and bumpouts.  They are free standing units, but could certainly be attached without losing their personal charm.  We hope to eventually offer a 2 and 3 unit variation.
We are undertaking some small building projects in order to better understand how framing works in a real world setting.  These are by no means houses, but we are planning on an 8x12 shed and an outdoor kitchen.
Craftsman features are sucking us in further and further.  We hope to have a photo gallery soon of some great fixtures and craftsmanship that display this style.
We realize that there is a small problem with the website.  If you hadn't noticed, individual plan pages seem to scroll to the bottom of the page as soon as you click on their link.  The problem has been isolated, but fixing it may take a little time.  Please bear with us in the meantime.
We built a good neighbor style fence with our neighbors this past weekend.  The project went great, but we started brainstorming about other fence styles that would meet both the good neighbor and craftsman ideals.  A good neighbor fence is one that looks pleasant from both sides.  It may not make your grass look greener however.  We are contemplating fence and handrail designs that are beautiful but simple (a must in the craftsman genre).  We will post these on the website in the near future and have an idea page that you can glean from.
Until next time, istockhouseplans.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mind the Gap

Not the clothing outfitter. We are just musing about the current state of economic affairs, especially here in the Northwest. Some might call it a slump, others might say it's an economic depression. It's really just a balancing act as the normal trend is catching up to the abnormal growth from the past couple of years. No matter what you call it, it's still causing a problem. On our side of the country, home sales are experiencing record lengths of time on the market and builders are finding it darn near impossible to secure construction loans. Whose fault? Is it the banks that lent subprime loans? Is it the builders who created a glut of inventory? Maybe. Some of the banks have gotten their comeuppance by going out of business - too many foreclosures. Some of the builders are making do by scaling their profits down to a razor-thin margin, picking up remodels, or renting their unsold homes.
Obviously this affects us at istockhouseplans too. If you don't build, you don't need our plans. We can't guarantee that folks will buy a house designed by us, but we can guarantee several things:
  • Our plans are different and will at least make folks stop to look.
  • Our waste reduction policy means you should end up with less than a pickup truck load of scrap.
  • Our advanced framing details will save you thousands in material costs.
  • Our plans are cheaper.
We can prove our plans are cheaper. When you make your first order, type in the coupon code 'intro'. This will give you 20% off your first order of $300 or more. If you would like to apply the code to several plans, send us your wish list and we'll create a Buy Now button* just for you. You'll save 20% off the entire order, even if you order 100 plans at once. Remember, shipping is always free!
In the meantime, keep your cool and we'll ride out this undertow together.
*Please note that Buy Now buttons only allow one plan purchase at a time and will use up your intro coupon on a small $300 purchase when you really intended to purchase several plans at once.

*With our new Checkout interface this has become unnecessary.  Fill up your cart and use your coupon!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Some Random Thoughts

Happy back to school kiddos! Remember to keep it to 20mph in school zones.

The city of Portland, OR is running a design contest for courtyard homes. Check out this link and wish us luck on our entry.

We almost moved operations to a nice 2-acre parcel in the country, but the deal fell through. In the meantime, we were inspired by the the thought of the existing house burning down so we could rebuild based on the existing foundation. If it turns out any good, we'll present you with our design. It makes perfect sense to us, since excavation and concrete are two huge expenses in building a house.

Until next week, this is istockhouseplans signing off.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

New Houseplan alert - Durham

To complement our Maywood ADU, we have added the Durham ADU. The Durham is 576sf with one bedroom and bath upstairs and a killer spiral staircase to get there. With a footprint of 12x24' you could work this little beastie into almost any tight squeeze. Of course it is designed to look like most of our other plans with its craftsman features.

See the Durham and all of our other plans at www.istockhouseplans.com.

Street of Boredom

We hit the local Street of Dreams this year. Quite frankly, if it weren't for two houses in particular, the show would have been a waste of time. With a range of $2.2 to $3.2 million and 3600 to 6300 square feet, we expected more creativity.

Our top honors and kudos go to Accent Homes for their Salish Moon entry. This home broke all the rules. We were astonished that their entry wasn't framed by the customary den-to-the-left and displaced-dining-room-to-the-right. Most folks don't use the biggest spiral staircase available as their main stair. We've never seen a house in which the front door commands a view of at least five other sliding doors. And we've NEVER seen standing seam metal shed roofs on a Street of Dreams home. The attention to detail was refreshing. The banded exposed beams were just neat. Inside the house you felt like you were outside, and on the main deck you felt like you were inside. All the lines of normalcy were blurred. The only drawbacks: All the angles were reminiscent of a 60's acid trip, the decor was a bit alternative, and the office and cloak room felt cramped.

Also of note was KDC Construction's Providence House. The rooms were warm and cozy and the whole home felt more like a Swiss lodge than a luxury home. Nice work on scaling the rooms down and your use of rich wood colors. We couldn't figure out why you would paint the timber framed entry green though.

Taurus Homes, your Pinnacle house was charming. With the turret and round-top doors we felt like we were in a castle. The pool table with your huge logo was annoying though. Blazer, West One, and Lakeside Homes, your entries were so run of the mill that not even the pictures jogged our memories. Whoever came up with the 4' Mercedes hood ornament 'bling' decor should be shot. To the owners of Timber's Edge, thanks for opening up your home for the show. Having that lived in feel made it feel less pretentious.

Our houses may never make it to the Street of Dreams and that's fine with us. We would prefer to build on the Street of Everyday Living. Visit our website to see homes with unique features and fine detail that you can actually afford to live in.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Economics 101 - Home Automation

Good morning fair class, and welcome back to our fourth and final installment of the Dr. Istockhouseplans economical building and planning series. Today we are going to be talking about home automation.

You might ask, "What does home automation have to do with building a house economically?" It has everything to do with it. Home automation ranges from simple wall plug-in timers all the way to smart sensors that customize your lighting and music preferences every time you enter a room. These devices will turn equipment on and off for you, especially good for lazy folks who forget to turn off lights and appliances. We are focusing more on the low end of the scale, looking at devices and techniques that will help you keep lights off more, saving money for the homeowner.

The first category to consider is that of lighting. You can buy a device in which you set a timer, plug it into the wall outlet, and then plug a lamp into it. This simple cheap device turns your light (or any other device) on and off when you choose. You can also buy switches that are mounted in a door frame. These switches are mostly used for closets and small storage areas. For larger rooms, motion detector switches are handy. If you want to sit in the room and read a book, the switch can be overridden for a time. Finally there are photo-sensitive devices that will turn your porch lights on at dusk, off at dawn.

Just because the aforementioned switches are made for lighting, you are not limited to that. If you want low-tech security, you could connect a door-frame switch to an alarm. The photo-sensitive switch could activate your sprinklers to avoid condensation loss. Or the motion detector might turn on a radio so that your music could follow you through the house.

Thermostats for your heating and cooling are already utilized.

Automatic sprinklers for your lawn are good for keeping it green, but do they need to operate if it just rained? Many manufacturers make a rain gauge that will keep your sprinklers from operating if a certain amount of moisture is already detected. You save both money and water. Animal-activated waterers will always make sure Fido has a drink when he wants.

If you want to go high-tech you might consider a computer-operated 'brain' for your house. The possibilities are almost endless, but imagine every house system being monitored for maximum performance. Maximum performance is not maximum power, it is performing at a peak level for the situation. An airflow sensor could tell you if your furnace ducts or filters are clogged; a water sensor would detect a slow leak long before you could and alert you; you could know when a light bulb was burnt out without seeing it; the phone would know when your in-laws are calling and immediately transfer them to voicemail or your spouse's cell; the microchip in your car would open the garage door the moment you come around the corner, close it when your car turns off, turn on all the lights in the house, set the thermostat to 67 and start playing your favorite tunes from the Village People.

And since all your friends and family come in the back door, the doorbell would be rung by a door-to-door salesman and immediately draw the shades, turn out the lights, and turn on the sprinklers. Home automation can be fun!

Thanks for your participation in this series of topics on planning, building, and maintaining an economically sound home. Please be sure to visit the archives section if you missed any classes, and check out the istockhouseplans website for examples and more info.

Class dismissed!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New plan alert

The good Professor has the week off. Instead we'd like to introduce you to a couple of our newest members.

The Concord is a 3 bedroom, 2-1/2 bath story and a half with large open spaces for entertaining. The concept of a great room has been utilized, combining the parlor, kitchen, and dining room into one open space. This entry has the potential for five bedrooms by converting the designated office downstairs and the bonus room upstairs. The bonus room is big enough for a pool table. As if this beast weren't big enough at 2279sf, the potential for a basement exists. We are working on a version that allows for a staircase under the existing one to access an extra 1400sf as an apartment or bomb shelter. Honestly, we really do feel that 3700sf is a bit large for a house. I suppose if your land sloped, you could access part of it as a garage from the side or back with a killer workshop.

The Brentwood is a 4 bedroom, 2 bath, 2094sf story and a half residence with formal spaces and built ins. The front bedroom is versatile as an office or media room. The foyer has a built in bench and the parlor has a built in inglenook. False dropped beam ceilings give age and warmth to the parlor. A butler's pantry leads to the dining room and a built in eating nook sits at one end of the kitchen. Upstairs are two more bedrooms including the master suite and the laundry facilities. The master bedroom has a unique feature; certainly the built in bookcases, but one of them is hinged to give you secret access to the attic space. The wall height is close to 7' tall allowing for adequate storage or even a panic room if you decide to build on the other side of the tracks. A basement option is possible on this one as well.

We have also updated the FAQ for your reading pleasure. Join us next week when Professor Istockhouseplans gives his lecture on home automation.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Economics 101 - More Bang for your Buck

Welcome back to our third session on how to save money and be a smart designer. I'm your professor, Dr. Istockhouseplans. If you missed our previous sessions on design increments and advanced techniques, please review.

Today we'll be talking about how to gain more use from less floor space in a house. What is the purpose of a 4000sf house? To bring glory to the designer or owner? Maybe the owner has accumulated a lifetime of worthless possessions that he needs to 'showcase' somewhere. In my opinion, these houses are a waste of space and materials. The newer 'dreamhomes' still only have 3 bedrooms, they're just larger. You show me a 4000sf house, and I'll show you it's 2000sf solution.

"But don't you need space for the media room, game room, and bonus room?"

Good question. In a word, no. In four words, no more stupid questions. See, this is an example of what I'm talking about. Is there a problem with duplexing or triplexing rooms? Let's design an example house. On the main floor, we obviously want a foyer, or some sort of entry. Then we need a dining room and a kitchen and a common area (sometimes called the great room). The living room is a pointless little waste of space. Most people will put their nice furniture in there and never use it. It could account for 200sf or more of space. Instead, why don't we consider a larger room that can be closed off, such as a den. The television could go in your 'den' or your great room. If you like, the den could be about 12x16' or 16x20' with a large TV at one end, a desk and/or bookcases to one side, and a foldout couch at the other end. This way, the room can be used for your media, office and/or library, and guest room. Rarely will these conflict, but if they do regularly you will need to move one or other use.

Powder rooms are also one of those anomolies. It seems as if some people get excited by having more places to crap than other people do. Do they also get excited about having more toilets to clean or more wax rings that could leak? Such a quandry. I recommend the following rule: One bathroom each level. Period. If you have a bedroom downstairs, there's no reason that a full bath to serve that bedroom can't also be the guest bath. Upstairs, some folks might complain that the master needs its own bath, separate from the kids bedrooms. I wonder if some people aren't fond of their children. So create your master bath, but then either make the kids go downstairs, or put a second door to the hallway with a lock so that you can choose to let them use it or not. And why every child would need their own bathroom is beyond me. There is probably no quicker way to create a socially dysfunctional child than by giving them every convenience. It's true that a few houses on istockhouseplans.com have 2-1/2 baths. We'll just call this variety for the masses.

If you do indeed care to include bonus space in your house, it needn't be excessive. A 6x6' loft can adequately be used for a computer nook. If it starts reaching 10x10', you should consider designing it so that it could be walled off as a bedroom if the owner desired. Sometimes this will help with permit costs as well.

Kitchen and dining space design can take two basic routes. The first is to create one huge room that accommodates all those needs, as well as an informal gathering space. The second is to give each function its own room. I'm not talking about walling them off and shutting them with doors. Rather, separate them with short half walls and an archway. They could be linear or grouped. This way you don't need to have both a formal dining (which will rarely be used and waste space) and an informal eating nook. Your dining should be designed to suit both functions, or just make it formal and use it all the time anyway.

If you are worried that a 12x12' kids room isn't big enough for their bed, desk, dresser, toys, etc., then you need to rethink furniture. A Captain's bed is a half-height bunk that sits over a desk. Or the bed could sit over a low chest of drawers. Or if you've got vaulted ceilings you could bunk the bed over a slightly lowered closet. Or build a dresser in to the closet. Any web search for convertible furniture should yield excellent results.

If you need somewhere to display your artwork, hang it in a hallway, or devote a guest room as a gallery, or spread it throughout the house. If your art is three dimensional you can intersperse it on bookshelves and such. Another great idea is to create niches in your walls. An any interior wall where there is no conflict with plumbing, electrical, or mechanical, frame a window (only a flat 2x header is needs, mind you). Sheetrock it over on one side, and on the other side finish out the studs. If you've framed your studs at 24" o.c., you will end up with a 21" wide display niche. Either use them sparingly or regularly.

Windows are a highly important feature of homes, and the more the better. If you want light and privacy, use several 22x22" windows between studs. Skylights are fine, but they have a tendency to leak if not installed correctly. Install as many windows as your budget and bracing can afford. You can even place them in a walk-in closet for natural light.

Finally consider the laundry room. Having it immediately accessible to the bedrooms is very handy. If your bedrooms are up and the laundry down, look for a closet or even wall space to install a laundry chute. The laundry chute will keep you from having to lug all the dirty clothes downstairs. If you have a little more space, a dumbwaiter would be handy for hoisting the clean clothes back upstairs.

Thanks for being willing to learn this week, next week we'll talk a little bit about streamlining your electrical systems and some home automation features. For your homework, take your previous house design and try to alter it to combine functions. Check istockhouseplans.com if you need inspiration. Come next week prepared to defend your reasoning.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Economics 101 - Advanced Framing Techniques

Welcome back class to my lecture series on designing an economical to build house. I am your professor, Dr. Istockhouseplans. Last week we talked about designing a house that made good use of the 4' building material size and it's subsets, 24", 16", and 12". This week we'll talk a little more about advanced framing techniques to save even more money and time.

What are advanced framing techniques? They are a set of rules recognized by the International Residential Code as equivalent to standard construction. These rules lessen the amount of studs and headers that go in walls. They allow for more insulation. They make for homes that are easier to keep cool in summer and warm in winter.

The first AFT to consider is using studs not at 16" on center, but 24". 2x6 framing studs at 24" o.c. will support a 2-story house. So why do so many builders use studs at 16" o.c.? Because tradition runs deep. In fact, this tradition has been so ingrained into builders that many of them believe a house framed at 24" o.c. will be too flimsy. They couldn't be more wrong. The 'flimsiness' of a house has nothing to do with the spacing of the studs and everything to do with bracing. Framing at 24" o.c. allows for less studs, less nails, and a higher insulation to stud area, or less cold bridges. Cold bridges occur wherever insulation is not.

The second AFT is to not use 2x studs as wallboard backers where wall intersections occur. In a standard 3-stud corner, there is always an air pocket that insulation will either not fill, or fill under compression. Insulation can't do it's job when it is compressed. A better alternative is to use 1x backers, or even better, drywall stops. Drywall stops are easy to install and allow drywall floating along edges to reduce later cracking that comes with the house settling.

The third AFT has to do with headers. Why framers and designers feel compelled to put 4x12's over every single exterior wall opening, I do not know. Many openings could be supported with a 2x12 or even no header at all. Consider if your joists are running parallel to a window opening. You already are effecting a header with no tributary load. Why put another one in? That is a waste of time, lumber, and nails. If designers would take the time to call out 2x12 headers or no header required, millions of board feet of lumber a year could be saved, and thousands of manhours could be saved.

Headers create unnecessary cold bridges. When placing a 4x12 header in a 2x6 wall, there is a 2" void that can be filled with insulation. Using a 2x12 header will allow for more insulation. If no header is needed and it is less than 24" from the top plate, the whole space can be insulated without needing cripple studs.

Last week we discussed shifting doors and windows to use existing studs a king stud. If the opening is 3' wide (for most doors and some windows), no jack stud is needed and a framing clip can be used to support the header if one is even needed. Even with 6' openings, a little pre-thought can avoid a situation where 3 or 4 studs are next to each other creating a 6" cold bridge. Some framing clips require the use of 3x studs, but even this is better than 2 or 3 2x studs. The one problem would be availability of 3x material and being careful to use them at openings and only openings.

Despite how carefully you stick-frame a house, there will still be cold-bridges. You can reduce the effects of these even further by double sheathing your house. Sheath once with 7/16" OSB or plywood, then again with 1/2" poly foam boards. The foam will break the cold bridges. Most siding can be installed even over 1/2" of foam insulation, though you should check your local building code and manufacturer's requirements beforehand.

When insulating the house, be sure that batts in walls are face stapled to the studs. This reduces cold pockets and keeps the batts from slumping in their cavities. Rather than insulating attic floors to R-38, consider insulating the rafters or truss top plate with R-30. Though you will use a little more insulation, R-30 is cheaper and will offset the cost. Not only that, but you gain insulated space for storage or running ductwork.

Thanks for your attentiveness and willingness to learn. Next week we'll start breaking in to the interior design world and talk about placement and usage of rooms. For next week, please review the advanced framing techniques and try to run a cost estimate on a houseplan using both standard and advanced framing.

Class dismissed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

New houseplan alert

The Foster 2 has been added to the istockhouseplans lineup. The Foster 2 is a duplex form of the Foster. The Foster 2 is designed for a corner lot, each entrance facing a different street. The entire building is designed to look like one house that could fit into any older neighborhood. At 40' wide, it should fit on most any 50' lot. Each side is 1564 square feet with three beds, two baths, and a bit of flair.

Come see all the houseplans, order away, and be happy. Remember, shipping is free, and we didn't even jack up the price of the plans to make up for it.

Economics 101 - Planning the House

Welcome class to Economics 101. I'm your professor, Dr. Istockhouseplans. Today we'll be talking about poor house design and how you can avoid it.

The first thing to consider is the footprint of your house. While concrete can be molded into any shape or dimension, you need to consider that your framing and sheathing will be based off of this dimension. The easiest house to create would be a box. But you can't just choose any dimension for the size of your box. If you're truly trying to be economical, remember that most building material works off of a repetition of four feet. Would a dimension of 25' by 32'-6" make sense? Of course not! Anybody who thought this would be economical gets an 'F'. If you are going to save money, a 24' by 32' box is an excellent choice. However, mind your square footage, as this would be a rather smallish house, even at 2 stories.

You might believe (and rightly so) that a box would make a rather boring house. Suppose you would like to add some offsets. There are two ways to do this: one is to jog the foundation, keeping in mind your material parameters. The other way involves cantilevering the house over the foundation. Both methods are acceptable. Question?

"I want to add a fireplace bumpout, but four feet seems like an awful lot!"

Excellent question, please come sit at my feet and learn. There are three subsets of the 4' increment. One is the obvious 2' division. Two feet would make an adequate bumpout for a fireplace, but let us suppose that you have a tight setback to consider. In this case, you can use the second subset of 16", or one third of 4'. While 16" may seem a little odd, this is the standard spacing of studs that most builders use. A third subset is the 1' increment. While this last subset won't cause construction waste, use it sparingly. It can cause you to use more materials.

You may wonder if it is more economical to cantilever your bumpouts or pour a foundation under them. If the bumpout is not large it is ALWAYS better to cantilever unless there are extenuating circumstances. Extenuating circumstances are rare.

I mentioned the offset earlier as a way to bring volume to your box. This would also be known as a jog in the foundation. Jogs can follow the same increments as previously mentioned. However, keep in mind that each jog in a foundation costs more money to build, so use them sparingly.

Any questions so far? No? Good.

Floors are built upon the foundations. There are several floor systems, and a good foundation will accomodate all types. To do so, the 4' increment is ideal. The post and beam (AKA post and pier) style of floor utilizes floor beams running every 4' on center. The joist (AKA crawl space) style of floor depends on joists running every 16" or 12" on center. If your floor is 39 feet deep, you will use 31 joists at 16" on center. You can also build a 40' deep building using the same number of joists. You gain more square footage for the same amount of money. Also consider your joist support spacing. Beams 9' apart are less helpful than beams 8' apart. A 12' span is easy to cross and requires no cutting of joists.

Every house needs openings in the walls. These openings contain windows and doors. Most designers only place doors and windows so as to look aesthetically pleasing from the inside. If you can line up your opening so that one or both edges land on the 16" increment, this will save money, both in materials and time. Most openings are framed with 2 extra studs on each side. If one of these studs can be the same as a standard framing stud, you have saved money. Most openings need to be topped with a header of some sort. This header is 3 or 4" longer than the opening is wide. Therefore a 4' window will use a 4'-4" header. If all of your windows are 4' wide, you will end up wasting lumber with a bunch of 4'-4" cuts. Taking these from a 16' beam will leave you with 3'. This cannot be used for your front door. Taking these from a 20' beam will leave you with 2'-8". This makes good firewood.

"Can't I throw the 2'-8" remainder over a bathroom door?"

Excellent question. Yes, as long as you actually need bearing over your bathroom door. If your bathroom door is not in a bearing wall, this is just hiding your waste and uses extra nails and studs.

At the roof, the final test of your design skills plays out. If your roof is to be trussed, those trusses will set at 24" on center, not including gable end overhangs. If your house is 32' deep, you've done well. If your house is 32'-6", you have used an extra truss for very little extra square footage. Bad form. If you are stick-framing the roof, 16" is a better increment to keep in mind, but this will depend on the distances being spanned and the lumber being used. If you are stick framing the roof, keep in mind the length of the rafters. If your pitch is such that your rafters need to be 20'-8", this is poor planning. Either narrow your building or drop your pitch. The same concept applies to the roof sheathing. If you need 20'-8" of roof sheating from eave to peak, this is wasteful.

Not all concepts presented can be effectively used on every house designed. You will be able to use most of the techniques most of the time. There's the bell, for next week, design a houseplan using as many techniques presented as possible. Aesthetic is not important this time, but function is. If you need to, check out some examples.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Something old, something new.

I'll try to stay calm, but no guarantees. As I was browsing through the Sunday paper's real estate section, I couldn't help but cringe. All the new houses for sale were astonishing. And not just the number of them, but the price tag. And not just the price tag, but the amount of house and lack of lot. And not just that, but the LOOK! What happened to craftsmanship? What happened to a love for the job? Why is it all about building as little as possible and selling for as much as possible? I don't think I can take it anymore.

These 3000sf homes on 6000sf lots are selling for $400,000. Do you know what they're composed of? Inefficient building techniques that are overcompensated with by an oversized HVAC system that will fail in three years. On top of that, the houses are built so tight that they can't breathe which means condensation issues in the walls and ceilings which leads to mold, mildew, and dry-rot. Besides that, the houses are so close to the neighbors that you really don't care for all the windows on the side of the house, nor do you feel like you have any privacy in your backyard. On top of that, the entire subdivision is composed of three houseplans, each mirrored or with a different facade to show some variety.

What makes the facade different? Some stone or trim. But it's not just any stone. It's cultured stone. Know what that means? Fake. The stone is manufactured out of concrete or plaster at about 2 inches thick and then glued to the side of the house. And the trim is just an afterthought. Some of these houses attempt to look like throwbacks to an earlier era, but I just want to throw them back. It's like taking a Geo Metro and trying to put BMW badges and tinted windows on it.

Alright, maybe every subdivision isn't that bad. Some actually show variety in houseplans. A few attempt to blend into the landscape rather than tearing down all the trees. Kudos to the builders who work around 50' tall fir, oak, and pine trees. Kudos to the builders who build every home as they would their own. Kudos to the builders who build 7 different plans on 20 lots.

And kudos to the builder who buys from istockhouseplans. We don't want to say our plans are better but they are different. We strive for economy both in building and living. We don't like to max out a building lot. If you don't like our plans because they aren't big enough, luxurious enough, or trendy enough, then we don't mind. There are hundreds of other designers out there who would be happy to have your business. For us, satisfaction comes not on a bottom line, but in seeing our homes built knowing that we haven't compromised our principles.

Please check out our line of models. We have just posted a 2-car garage series to add to our one car plans. We have 16 house plans available with ten more in the works. And in case you aren't yet convinced, our plans are cheaper than the competition. Just so you know.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

House envy, or, Does size really matter?

Your contractor tells you that size matters. After all, he drives around the biggest pickup truck available. Your wife tells you that she actually likes it smaller. Your friends are somewhere in between. Can you really live your life knowing that yours is in the bottom 25th percentile?

Why big is good:

  • Show off

  • Store a bunch of crap

  • Less grass to mow

Why small is good:

  • Cheaper to own

  • Less maintanence

  • Less crowding

OK, so we're biased. We may not have the biggest one on the block, but we know how to use it. It's comfortable, it fits well, and we're used to it. Oh yeah, sometimes we'd like to be a few sizes bigger, and maybe someday we will, but for now we like what we have.

The average size has increased double from 1950 to 2000, while the number of folks using it has dropped 25%. More to go around? Maybe more greed? And all the while, they know how to use it less and less and so much is wasted. Sometimes parts or even the whole thing goes unused for quite a while. Then one day you'll hear, "What is THIS down here!?", or, "How did THAT get there?". Come on, get a grip. Do you really need to live life like this?

But there is help. First, own up to what you have. Second, learn how to use it properly. Third, maintain it in tip-top condition. Hopefully you will get to a place where you are happy with your lot in life and not try to strive after what others have. At the end of day, it's not about who gets to go home to what, but about how big a mess you have to clean up.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

What's inside?

You may not have had a chance to view the website yet, so we'll give you a quick overview. There are currently 24 plans available. Twelve are single family homes, 4 are multi-family, 2 are mini accessory dwellings (ADU), 6 are garages. Of the single family homes, only 3 have attached garages. Two of the multi-family are garaged. Two of the garage plans have bonus space, one of which is a 500sf apartment.

Plans are varied between 2 full stories and 1-1/2 stories. One and a half stories tend to have a lower street profile. Most plans are in the 1800-2000 square foot range, though there are some that duck down to 1368. The ADU units are in the 500-600 square foot range.

Most of the plans have classic external features. These include large barge boards on gable ends, generous overhangs (18-24" is typical), interesting use of materials, exposed rafter tails, full chimneys (even if they are false) and wrapped porch columns.

Inside we have made use of several classic examples. Represented are exposed beam ceilings, tapered columns, built-ins (benches, shelves and a vanity), arched openings, and even a secret passageway or two.

For all their throwback appearance, most plans are modern in their flow. We have used a general formula, that is: front entry porch; bedroom and bath on the first floor; formal dining next to the kitchen; bedroom and bath upstairs (formal master); laundry upstairs.

Why the statistics? Hopefully they'll interest you enough to check out the site. Or they'll bore you to death and you'll just go straight to our site in order to avoid another second of excruciating numbers and facts.

Either way, we all win.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Unavoidable - Death, taxes, and blogs

It seems inevitable that some things should happen. I never thought I'd get a blog. Too trendy and popular, which is the way I choose NOT to go. Buck the trend!

But all good things must come to an end, including my shunning of the blog world. If you need to market a product or a world-class idea, go where the folks are. Folks seem to be on blogs.

Right, so what product or idea do I have to sell to you? House plans. Yes, houseplans, formerly known as blueprints. This post marks the opening of istockhouseplans.com, a private little company doing business in a big public way. There are hundreds of house plan companies out there, why get in the fray? One reason: diversity. No, not acceptance of everybody else's cookie cutters, but to show folks that you don't have to buy a carbon copy house in an endless sprawling subdivision. If you like this sort of stuff then more power to you, go after it. Some folks don't know they have a choice. Some folks know they have a choice, but don't know how to find it. We are dedicated to you.

Our houses are designed with several goals in mind:

  • Less construction waste to keep costs and landfills down.
  • Energy efficiency for cheaper bills and less strain on the utilities
  • Style, flair, attitude. We believe in six colors of paint, large overhangs, etc.
  • Have fun! Sometimes tiny little nooks can be huge selling features.

Most of the plans we release could fit right into a 1920's era neighborhood. We love Bungalows, Victorians, Tudors, and the Craftsman styling. Gustav Stickley and the Greene Brothers are our heroes.

Thanks for reading our first post. Stop by and see us. We love to hear your comments, especially as it relates to making us a better company.