Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hi, my name is Adus and I'm a blogger

Hi Adus.  If you've been following our blog for any length of time you may have noticed that the posts just aren't the quality they used to be.  Or that the posts just aren't there at all.  Due to the amount of contract work that has been happening, we've decided to take a blogging hiatus until the new year.  It's been six weeks since out last post and it may be 6 weeks until any more happen.  So we're just checking in to let you know we're not dead (yet).  We've been exploring some other design ideas, outlets, and creativities.  Hopefully we'll have some substance to post soon but in the meantime consider this a buildup and renewal.

Enjoy your holiday season.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Past Premonitional Post

If you've been around this blog for a while or read through our archives, you may remember this little plug:

What we didn't know is that less then three years later one of our very own would be running in a real Marathon.  Brian finished the Portland Marathon on October 7th with a steady time of 5 hours, 25 minutes, and 37 seconds.  In doing so he also raised several hundred dollars for charity.  We applaud Brian for his dedication to training and hard work to see the task through to the finish.  These are the kind of people that Istockhouseplans would like to have working for them.

Now back to work.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Energy Star

Another month of silence.  Hmm... too much work?

There are a few new stock plans in the hopper that need to be finished, many ideas that need to be started but the amount of custom work we've been receiving has been incredible.  We've designed plans across the board for clients who come to us because of word of mouth.  It's all been about who we know.

And recently we were approached by Energy Star to draw energy efficient home design details for their upcoming release.  Once those are done and released to the public we'll direct you to the new details.  For those home designers that follow this blog, we hope those details will be useful in your designs.

Maybe once people stop bugging us for custom work we'll get on those stock plans, eh?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Space Saving Ideas

Apologies for the month of silence.  We've been on vacation a little a getting more business than we've ever been used to.  Totally.  Awesome.

But this caught our eye.  There are some ideas that are a little vain but for the most part here are some practical and ingenious ways to use space in your home.  We especially love, love, love the stair landing with the trapdoor.  The fact that under the staircase is open is even better as it would make a small space feel larger.  Plus it's available for any use you can dream of.

The sawhorse dining table is rather cool too.

Open + storage + wainscoting = win!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tiny House, Big Problem

A bit late on posting this, but we backdated it so it looks good.

A homeless Veteran in California used his wits, resources and possibly past training to create basic survival needs for himself.  He built a tiny home in a California wildlife sanctuary and lived there comfortably for a year before the Sheriff's department finally discovered it.  Now receiving three hots and a cot, we applaud Mr. Downs for his ability to live lightly and live off the grid.

Not so much applause for what else was found there though.

Istockhouseplans does not condone illegal activities of any kind, including but not limited to building without a permit on public land.  If you'd like some help in designing or building a tiny house, see our catalog or contact us for more details.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Getting Sketchy

A while back we mentioned some of the tools in our technological toolbelt.  One of these is SketchUp by Google.  Recently we have been going gung ho with this tidy little program and creating some masterpieces.  We took our Arleta A 2850A and gave it a little treatment of realism.  It's hard to get across the beautiful images in our head in two black and white dimensions or with myriads of text.  Crown molding, craftsman window trim and wainscot look so much better in three colored dimensions.  We'll be giving more of our plans this treatment in the future and doing walk-throughs as well.  But in the meantime as you wait with bated breath, here are some sneak previews:

Bird's eye view

Welcoming entry

Decked out parlor
Stay tuned for more!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lagging Behind

We at Istockhouseplans want to heartily apologize for not posting our usual update last week.  Some employment changes have affected the way we run our business.  The good news is that we are now able to upload more plans to more national vendors.  We are also able to take on revisions to our plans should you have a desire to have those changes made.  Though the website may say otherwise for a few days, we will make those revisions and not force you to find another local designer.  We should also be able to create more stock plans in general.  If you are interested in seeing something in particular, leave a note in the comments below, or send us an email.  We'll be happy to make your idea become a reality!

And the coup de grace is that we're working on our first plan book of sorts.  This will be an exclusive electronic offering of an original collection not otherwise available.  Look for updates in the coming months.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Use it UP!

Where do you suppose the most wasted space in your home is?  Probably from about 4' up the wall and higher.  No, really.  Look around your room right now.  I'll bet that furniture goes about 4' up the wall and then maybe there's some pictures above that.  But if you look around that same room, you've probably got bits and bobs and some mess on the floor.  Consider a child's bedroom.  Taking up floor space is a bed, dresser, closet, and numerous toys on the floor including LEGO that you will step on at 2am during a bed check.

Perhaps the most obvious way to go up is with cabinets or shelving.  Your kitchen should be a natural example of this.  Why do we not do this in other rooms of the house?  The dining room is a perfect place to install a small bank of floor cabinets with some wall cabinets above.  Add some tile, trim and glass doors.  Congratulations, you just installed a buffet.  The family room or great room or media room or whatever you want to call it is another place where a tall wardrobe, or open cabinets or shelves might free up some floor space.  Toys go low, media goes in the middle, decor and display goes high, extra pillows or blankets can be stashed behind solid doors.

Or what about a kids room?  Captain's beds have a bed over desk combo that can save floor space by elevating.  Bunk beds are another great option for rooms with more than one kid.  You may run into some arguing over who gets to be on top.  But what if you have 9' or greater or sloped ceilings?  This is a great opportunity to try out a technique that we've drawn but not yet implemented.  First, the closet (including walls) needs to be have a footprint of at least 40"x78".  Build it with a ceiling about 78" tall.  You're not going to use much space above the clothes rod anyway.  Next, build a rail around the top and install a ladder to climb up.  There should be enough room for a twin size mattress to fit up there.  * May not be suitable for younger children or anyone subject to random tripping.  If you're quite crafty you could work a dresser into one side of the closet without encroaching too much into the rod space.

Or consider a reverse captain's bed layout.  Enclose a space about 78"x60" or more and about 4' tall.  In this space goes a bed and basic nighttime necessities.  Call it the cave.  Above this remains a platform large enough for a desk, dressing area, LEGO layout, or mini Pro Wrestling ring.

Could this be affected in a master bedroom as well?  Sure, why not!  Most master bedrooms are laid out with an idea to be conservative, elegant, and grown-up.  But who says grown-ups can't have fun?  Elevate that bed with a walk-in closet below!  Or enclose the bed and include a home office above.  Oh sure it won't be for everyone.  There'll be complaints of, "how do I change the sheets without falling or knocking my head?"  You just do.  Or you choose a more normal layout.  But for those with stars in their eyes, go for it!

This post was inspired by a house we worked on with 13' ceilings.  It's not our plan, we were just pitching in with a friend's overload of drafting.  If you consider 6'-4" of head height with perhaps a 2x8 floor in the middle you reach 13'-4".  While it's not possible to get two legal stories in that space, it is possible to create a small loft in one side or corner and double up the floor space.

Istockhouseplans will be exploring this concept for some future small house plans.  If you currently are using vertical space in your house or apartment, we'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

New houseplans added - 64 total

Quite by accident we uploaded enough new plans to put our total at 64, including our free plans. This is rather exciting to our nerdy side. Sixty-four has been a fairly culturally relevant number in many circles. What do you first think of? Maybe the Beatles, a question or perhaps Nintendo? For Istockhouseplans, 64 also marks a new house plan. More on that below.

The first of our new plans for review is the Durham B 1224B.  This plan started as a small 12x24 backyard studio.  The second iteration included an extra room.  Finally, we blew out the side and added a full garage to give you the 'B'.  The base model remains unchanged but a 20X24' garage with bonus room above was attached.  The garage is not accessible from the unit.  This allows for the garage to be accessed by the main house while the living area could be rented out.  Though if you preferred you could build this structure as the only domicile on your property.  The plan retains the single bed and bath but the bonus room offers enough space for a second bedroom and hobby space, or maybe a party pad.

Second on the block is the Houston B 2448B.  At exactly 4 times the footprint of the Durham, this is a full floor plan.  The Houston started as an answer to a contest to design affordable and efficient replacement housing for hurricane stricken Gulf communities.  This version maintains the original almost perfectly but adds a one-car garage off the utility room.  It's still narrow enough to fit on substandard lots.  The driveway is long enough for two cars to allow you to use the garage to store all your consumerism.  Behind the garage is enough space for a grilling porch.  Perhaps our next version of this plan will be two Houstons attached at the garage.

Our third offering is the only oddball in the lot.  Can you tell why?  Post in the comments if you can figure it out.  The Arleta A 2850A is merely a re-clad of our base Arleta.  The floor plan has not changed except that now the porch spans the whole front of the house.  The roof is completely hipped over the expanded porch and we've changed the windows to diamond grids.  The porch is also surrounded by a half wall instead of a railing.  It has a very 1910's feel from the outside.

Our 64th plan (and final one of this installment) is a brand new design.  The Prescott 2248 is a design with a purpose.  The most glaring difference from our other plans is the attached garage.  Barring our garage plans themselves, only about one quarter of our plans take into account automobile shelter.  A second purpose in this plan is the reversible design.  We don't mean bedrooms on the main and living up.  Rather, you could build this house with either end facing the street.  The "front" includes a garage and deep porch.  The "back" includes a full length porch and a typical swinging door.  If you are building on a lot with an alleyway you could easily flip this around and you essentially have a brand new facade!  The inside of the 1472sf contains 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, a pocket office and a typical great room setup.  We've also purposed to include loads of closet space.

If you have any questions about our plans, please feel free to ask in the comments or email us directly.  If you're a builder looking for a more specific plan (that still evokes our aesthetic), let us know and we'll be happy to discuss a custom design for you.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Design Contest Entry

Here at Istockhouseplans we like to use the medium of computers for designing and drawing.  Every once in a while though there comes an opportunity to do something a little different.  Dwell magazine recently ran a contest to create a home based on mid-century modern California design.  Out of LEGO.  Of course we jumped on this chance as LEGO is possibly our second most favorite design medium.  Our plan was a modest little ranch with a carport, vaulted ceiling, triangular transoms, a glass block window and an old school antenna.  You can see our design and vote for it here

As we mentioned a while back, if you buy one of our houseplans, we would be happy to create a LEGO model of it for your marketing purposes.  Additional cost will vary depending on the size, color and level of detail you want to express.  Please make sure to give us at least 4 weeks lead time to LEGO-ize the plan, purchase the parts, and assemble.

Design well!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Petition the White House in support of small houses

Like small houses? Want to see more? Sign this petition and ask the White House to reform zoning laws.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Build it on the Cheap

If you are looking to build a new home you know that sometimes the land can cost as much as the house itself. Everybody has one idea on their mind and that is, "How can I get cheap land?" Land-grabs are over despite some fraudulent claims on the internet. What we have found, however, is that some very cheap land CAN be had. This is not $20,000 for 5 acres in the middle of nowhere and no water supply in sight. What if I told you that you could have a building lot near mountain recreation that would allow you to build a 900sf home. "Big deal", you say, "there's lots of that." What if it could cost you only $736. That's not a typo, let me spell it out: Seven hundred and thirty-six dollars. Every year (more or less) Clackamas County in Oregon auctions off their surplus land. Some of this land has been county owned for some time, some may have been repossessed and have some back taxes to pay. Taxes on small vacant parcels in the middle of nowhere tends to be in the range of $20 to $50 per year or less.

The particular parcel that we found is item number 15 at This is a 30x80 parcel outside of Zigzag, Oregon. The zoning code at describes how this parcel can support a house with 480sf of ground area (20x24). Two stories makes for 960sf less about 60sf for stairs. The opening bid is $736. We've been watching this website for years and we're pretty sure this parcel will stay low, perhaps a couple of thousand. This would make an absolutely ideal cabin if you are into winter recreation or summer mountain air.

We made some preliminary sketches for this small parcel. Downstairs is completely open with a kitchen and laundry under the stairs. Upstairs is a bed and bath with the rest of the area being an open sleeping loft. You could include more space with a second loft over the bedroom and a fairly steep roof. You'll want a steeper roof anyway to shed snow. A 12:12 pitch would not be out of place on a small cabin. Think chalet.

There are other lots in the mountains as well. Items 9, 10, and 16 are all smaller parcels with low opening bids. If you are interested in one of these lots, have Istockhouseplans design a cabin for you. Our recent love of small homes has expanded our thinking outside the box and we're excited for a challenge.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What NOT to do

Due to mounting pressures in other arenas, last week's blog post missed the mark.  But we are prepared this week to offer a small round of funnies.  Please always background check your contractor and make yourself aware of energy efficiency practices.

We are particularly fond of the fixed R-21 door:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Brace Yourself

Confused by the new bracing code?  The 2011 IRC included some fabulous new updates to the bracing code.  Some of it is more restrictive and more work but other things such as 45° walls are now allowed.  If you have need of a calculator, thank Simpson Strongtie.  They recently added a tool on their website which calculates the percentage of braced wall needed.  Check it out at

This is our new favorite tool!  Istockhouseplans attempts to design homes that do not need engineering for bracing.  While the new code makes that trickier to design homes for the entire country, it does give us an idea of what might be more common.  If all that needs to be done is reduce two 3/0 windows down to 2/6, perfect!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Salvaged Materials

We at Istockhouseplans dig reusing materials.  Production builders may not find it to be as advantageous given their needs for larger quantities of stock.  But for the one-off builder and the devoted salvaged materials can lend a certain flavor to a home.  One need not be all or nothing either.  You reuse of materials can be as simple as finding a beautiful old stressed beam to use for a mantelpiece or some columns from a torn-down church to be used as decorative detailing in a dining room.  Old-style farmer's sinks can fetch a high price at salvage yards

Pure Salvage Living is decidedly devoted to salvaged materials as well as small housing.  We find this to be a perfect mix of styles.  Your options for reuse are much greater when you don't need 100 of something.  Check out the gallery especially for some beautiful ways to reuse what would otherwise be discarded materials.

And then check out our catalog to find a home to use your ideas in!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Our Technological Toolbelt

Contractors carry a toolbelt (or drive a truck) full of useful tools for building a house.  We at Istockhouseplans wear a little different utility apparel. Ours is less physical and a little more electronic.  In fact it weighs hardly anything at all (which makes us quite portable without an F-350).

The most important tool we use is AutoCAD LT.  Without a digital drafting tool, we would be relegated to the physical tools of our forebears, that of a pencil and triangle.  Though be not deceived.  We have a great respect for those that still practice this dying art.  AutoCAD can be a little spendy for the weekend warrior.  The LT version is slowly approaching $1000 in price while the full version can be $4000 or more.

If you're just looking for a cheap tool that can still get the job done, we recommend A9CAD.  This free tool has all of the functionality we need except for colortables.  If we didn't have to print pretty pictures, we'd probably be using it.

DoubleCAD is another free product that has much more functionality, about as much as AutoCAD itself.  The look and feel is a little different.  DraftSight is another program we've found that almost perfectly replicates AutoCAD.  It does tend to have a bit of a lag though.

Sometimes we'll play with 3-D imaging.  Rather than pay the several thousand dollars to get the full version of AutoCAD, we've found the ever popular SketchUp from Google.  Sketchup is clean, intuitive, and (like AutoCAD) has several different ways to do the same thing.  We've found the basic version to be enough for our needs though we sometimes crunch the numbers to see if we could afford the $500 upgrade to Pro.  Pro allows more functions including creating your own Dynamic Components.  This means you don't have to create a 2x4, 2x6, 2x8, etc.  You just create a joist and then before you insert, drop down menus allow you to choose width, height and length.

When you order a paper plan from us, we send the file to the printshop as pre-printed PDF sheets.  They print the PDF sheets, bind them, and your plans are born.  There are several ways to create a PDF.  We've tried a few and the best one we've found is CutePDF.  This application installs like a printer in your computer system.  When you're ready to create a PDF from any program, go to print, and then select CutePDF as your printer.  A myriad of paper sizes are available.

The images of our plans that are posted on the website are created through a two-step process.  Unfortunately the quality of jpg and png that AutoCAD spits out are unacceptable.  We've found that we get much better quality from a pdf.  So we'll print the pdf (as mentioned above) and then open it up and export a jpg or png from the image.

Sometimes we'll further manipulate these images to get the size and contrast we want.  For this we use Irfanview.  Irfanview is another free program that does a bang-up job of manipulating image files.  We have used it to crop images, manipulate size and resolution, glue images together and much more.

Our images are then uploaded to Picasa Web Albums by Google.  The images on our website are referenced from Picasa as static images.  You can link to your images so that they are clickable or not, have a border or not, and control the size that the viewer sees.

Our blog is hosted by Blogger, another Google company.  The decision to use Blogger was merely one of convenience.  Rather than have several different log-ins for several different web portals, we decided to keep everything with Google that we could.

To continue the Google theme (maybe we oughta buy stock?) we use Checkout for our shopping cart, Analytics to get a look at our pageview trends, Docs to create release letters, and Maps for our mapplet.  Google has severely limited their Checkout feature so it's back to Paypal.

Our website was created with Google Page Creator.  We were very pleased with the look we had built.  A couple of years ago Google decided to close out Page Creator in favor of a program called Sites.  Our website was converted to the new look and looked just awful.  So we downloaded our coding from Page Creator and had it hosted privately.  This has worked well but it means that when a change needs to be made that we have to manually log in and make the coding change ourselves.  A small price to pay for having that much control.

Our website is now hosted on Google again. We switched to GoDaddy several years ago after reviewing their pricing structure.  But personal decisions have led us away from there as well as their difficult to use page editor.  Namecheap now has our URLs.

*edit: date of this post has been updated.  Sorry for the repeat in your feeder!

*edit: some of our services have changed.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Water Heater Update

Back in December of '09 we reviewed a couple of water heaters that we thought were pretty stylish.  The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has created a chart which looks at operating efficiencies and lifetime costs for nine different types of water heaters.  We promoted two types of water heaters, one being the high-eff. electric storage, the other being a heat-pump water heater (HPWH).  We were impressed by both.  The ACEEE study shows the HPWH to be the most efficient unit as well as having the lowest lifetime operating cost.  (N.B. that ACEEE lists $190 as annual operating cost while Ruud lists their unit as costing $234 per year.  Comparisons made with the average of $212/yr).  In fact, compared to a standard electric water heater, the HPWH has a payback period of a little over three and a half years.  Even the high-eff. electric has a 3 year payback period over the standard electric tank.  After that, though, the HPWH will be ten times cheaper to operate than the high-eff. over the standard electric tank.  (Payback period calculated by taking difference of installed costs and dividing by the difference in yearly energy costs.)

Note that if you currently use an oil-fired boiler, you almost can't afford to NOT switch to a new water heater.  Even a minimum efficiency electric heater will have a 4 year payback period.  If gas is available in your area and you prefer it in case of an electric outage, payback period is about 3 years for a conventional gas heater.  Even a HPWH will pay back in 4 years.  (Payback period calculated by taking installed cost and dividing by the difference in yearly energy costs.)

Of note is that some state and federal tax credits will offset the cost of a high-efficiency water heater even further making your payback almost immediate.  The federal 30% tax credit for energy efficient improvements brings the payback period of a HPWH to less than two years (20 months) compared to a standard electric tank heater.

Istockhouseplans doesn't always designate a space for a water heater within the house (and attached garages in our designs are rare).  Therefore we are pleased to see that the HPWH is a high contender for cost and efficiency.  These types of units can be put in crawlspaces, basements, and even outside in a milder climate.  For colder climates a little attached shed on the side or back of the house would suffice fine.  As always, check with your local codes, etc, etc.