Learn from the Experts: Petro Design Blog


Kathleen Litchfield President of Petro Design/Build, Inc. Kathleen Litchfield
President of Petro Design/Build Group, is one of the Washington area's leading landscape and garden design experts. Her insightful advice on landscape design, construction, and practice has been published and quoted innumerous regional and national magazines. She has developed and taught accredited courses in horticulture and has lectured for garden clubs, the National Association of Remodeling Industry, the Landscape Contractors Association, the Smithsonian Educational Series, the George Washington University landscape design program, and the Washington Design Center.

Kent Richard Abraham, Principle Architect with Abraham/Petro Kent Richard Abraham,
Principal Architect with Abraham/Petro a division of Petro Design/Build He is a member of the US Green Building Council 2006. His education includes Bachelor of Architecture, 1970, University of Nebraska, With Honors (Cum Laude),Awarded the Faculty Award, Outstanding Senior Student; Master of Architecture, 1971, University of Pennsylvania, Studio of Louis Kahn. He has served as Chair, Thesis committee school of Architecture and Planning, The Catholic University of America Washington, DC since 1978.


Posts Tagged ‘home analysis’

D.I.Y. or NOT

When it comes to doing something myself; either for the adventure of it, as means to create a healthier product or just save some money, I’m interested. Sometimes my efforts and time prove to be worth it in the short and long term. Other times, things have not gone as smoothly as planned or promised and end up costing me much more in time and money.

Because of these experiences, and what I have seen the average homeowner implement over the years, I’m more than happy to direct my clients on practices and/or projects that would make sense for them to do themselves. In landscaping and landscape construction, this means leaving the initial ground work and design to someone who has either the right conditioned muscles or design or horticultural experience. I believe that I have ‘fixed’ as many D.I.Y. projects for homeowners and property managers as I have implemented anew. Sometimes just having a new perspective by someone, not intimately involved with your site, can help you with the details and the whole picture.

I’m always very careful about asking who was responsible for the existing work, as I know that I am sometimes dealing with embarrassment, pride and even marital conflict. Once I had a very motivated client decide that he would build the 6’ retaining wall that we designed to level his rear yard and provide more space. He was semi-retired and had the time. The wall construction seemed to progress well and then, just needed to be backfilled. He rented a machine to backfill and compact the wall – himself. The long and the short of it is that the wall blew out with the weight of the machine sending the machine over the wall and into the woods below. I met his wife a few weeks later and inquired about his progress. She just started sobbing.
This is certainly an extreme example but sometimes even a small patio set incorrectly can cause extensive problems later.

So; what is a good DIY project when it comes to your landscape?

Obviously, everyone is capable of planting trees, shrubs, groundcover, perennials or annuals. Just remember that the big stuff always takes longer than you think and, if this is not something you physically do on a regular basis, be ready with the Advil.
Good bed preparation is necessary grunt work. Access to a rototiller may not be available or manageable for the average homeowner.

Assisted DIY Gutter Cleaning

A few Do’s and Don’ts on basic maintenance:
Do:
• Clean your gutters
• Resecure downspouts that may have become detached
• Watch drainage patterns within your yard for possible amendments
• Remove or cultivate excess mulching
• Cut suckering from trees (*make sure your pruners or saw is sharp and sterilized)
• Prune old growth from flowering shrubs (*) Timing is important for both above items.
• Acquire a soil analysis for your beds and turf areas

DON’T:
• Clean second floor gutters without assistance
• Assume that it is necessary to mulch your beds just because everyone else is.
• Use a chainsaw if you are not experienced
• Add chemicals to your yard or plants – in untrained hands, these can lead to deadly personal and environmental hazards

Nothing can help you budget your time and money better than a well thought out design. Even a 1 hour on-site consultation can save you hundreds in possible misplaced plants, structures or drain lines.
Once you have a game plan, or some experience advice, the areas should be tackled according to priority – which is different for everyone.

To get you started and working towards a landscape plan:

DO:
• Create a base sheet of your site or area(s) that you would like to renovate or enhance. Scale this on a piece of paper using a minimum of 1/8” = 1’0” scale. (1/4” = 1’0” is better).
Include:
      o Existing features (patios, walkways, spigots, etc)
      o Existing trees and vegetations (and whether you want them or not)
      o Window heights along our foundation (if this in an area of interest)
      o Storm water patterns/paths
      o Utilities (a call to a utility marking service will identify the main lines)      o Where the sun is at different times of the year (sun set/rise)
      o Views you would like to hide (look from the inside of your home as well)
• Make a list of how you would like to use the space(s) – Entertainment, small parties, play, sports, gardening, etc.

DON’T
• Assume that your plot plan is accurate. For new construction and/or fencing, a site survey is necessary.
• Neglect elevations in relation to your desired and existing structures and or your neighbor’s site

Site mapping is a time and cost saving DIY.
Site analysis and design should be implemented or, at least, consulted on with a professional.
The step-by-step or phased approach will follow in a DIY and assisted schedule.

More to come….

The 'Game Plan' for a successful DIY or staged project

The ‘Game Plan’ for a successful DIY or staged project

Hide and Seek

So; here I am again at another newly purchased home where the previous homeowner has implemented additions that have compromised the safety and structure of the home and left the new owners with unexpected cost.

As the Washington, D.C. population continues to grow, I’m dismayed to see so many young new homeowners having to deal with these issues.  Typically, children are already living in the home - which makes the amendments even more immediately dire.

Exposed brick and block under 'original' porch

At this particular home the front entrance was moved from the middle of the house to the right front. Fine – Nice – Makes sense.

The original front entrance porch was correctly tied into the home with a concrete ledge extending from the foundation of the home itself.  The foundation of the original porch boxed in an open space between the outside of the porch and the foundation of the house so that, when the porch base was removed, it exposed brick and block that, at the time, were not exposed to the ground and did not need to be waterproofed.  The previous contractors ignored this detail and filled the open cavity with soil hence, exposing open celled concrete block and brick to soil moisture.  To make matters worse – the new stoop was not tied to anything!  It doesn’t even have a footing.  Hidden underground mistakes often don’t show up until the ground water seeks it’s way into the foundation.  It’s an easy place to initially cut cost on a project, especially if you are planning to move.

So; although I’m sure that this saved the previous homeowner a bit of cash,  the stoop is now settling which will allow even more water infiltration and eventually need to be removed and replaced correctly.

I’m not suggesting these construction errors are always intentionally done.  Rather,  just another ’heads-up’  for the new homeowner as the inspector and agent will not pick up on this.

If this looks familiar and/or you would like to see more examples that may relate to your particular site and home go to www.storm-water-professionals.com.

Settling Stoop

Settling Stoop

 

Melting Snow and Molds

OK, it’s going to melt….we hope.  This is when the saturation starts along the exterior walls of the foundation. If the gutters have pulled away from the house it’s only going to get worse.  I don’t know about you, but my mold allergies keep me vigilant year-round for water seapage.  It’s easier to prevent than fix.  I’ve been in many homes where the residents are living with and breathing black mold everyday!!  They just got used to it and yet they only buy organic foods!!!  It’s like my painter telling me his health concerns about lead-based paints and how he takes a meter with him to check the levels before sanding; (which is a important and necessary), but meanwhile, he is puffing on a cigarette!!!

Fortunately, my body tells me when mold is around.  I can feel it immediately.

My mother-in-law died 5 years ago from pulmonary fibrosis.  When she was sick the doctors could not figure out what was wrong with her.  She remembered that in the house she used to play in across the street as a child, every member of that family died from pulmonary fibrosis.  She mentioned this to her doctor who tested her and confirmed that she did, indeed, have the disease.  She and her brother remembered that the house smelled moldy.

Mold spores, when breathed in, remain in your lungs.  Good health and a good dose of anioxidants will prevent illness.  As we age,  our defenses may decrease for a variety of reasons (stress, pesticides in foods, hormone depletion…to name a very few)  This is when the spores can attack.

So, check your gutters, crawl spaces and foundations.  If you suspect mold, don’t disturb it yourself. Call a professional immediately.

What difference does 1 Lousy Rain Barrel make?!

Through a series of coincidental meetings (the third being a clear indication for action) I enrolled and was accepted into the Watershed Stewards Academy (WSA).

For the next several months I have/will attend evening classes at the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center in Severn, Md. along with weekend intensive trainings in various locations throughout the County.

“The quintessential role of Master Watershed Stewards (which I intend to be one of) is to organize community action toward the restoration and preservation of our watersheds” and, in particular, to learn, in depth, pollution source reduction strategies – Capturing water at its source is still the best way to reduce the pollutant load it carries to a stream.

During one of the first evening lectures Stephen Barry, the coordinator of the Outdoor/Environmental Education, told us future Stewards that we would be getting our very own rain barrel.  I thought, great, 1 barrel – how much good will that do; I don’t even have gutters.  Don’t get me wrong, I know the value of water and never take it for granted; turning the shower off while I soap up and the like.  I’m incensed when the media refers to rain as a ‘threat’ as if it is some terrorist when, if fact, it’s our life source.

For those of you who have read my previous blogs and articles, you know how involved Petro has been,  in addressing homeowner’s drainage concerns.  Typically, when someone is experiencing a wet or moldy basement they want the water as far away from the house as possible.   Pollution source reduction includes keeping the water on-site. Sometimes, depending on the soils, topography of the site and the homeowner’s maintenance involvement, this can be accomplished through rain gardens.   Alternative,  adequately designed buried dispersion systems are lower in maintenance but not quite as organic or attractive.

Rain barrels, on the other hand, can be used by everyone immediately and with relatively little cost.   But what good is just one? A couple of years ago we distributed our own eco-friendly tote bag that can be folded in for easy carrying.   I always have one in my purse or clipped to my belt for use wherever needed.   A lot of people bring there re-usable bags to the grocery.  I noticed that nearly no one used them in drug stores or other non-grocery shops.  In using my bag everywhere I’m hoping to encourage others to do the same.

One of our residential analysis projects this past weekend included an opportunity to assess and present ways that a particular homeowner might keep his water on his site. With little or no yard and the access areas at a minimum, one of the stewards suggested a rain barrel at the front driveway downspout.  The homeowner immediately said ‘not an option’ as it would not be aesthetically pleasing. This particular home was located on a prominent corner in a waterside community that was in much need of pollution source reduction for the good of everyone.  I thought, what a great example this one rain barrel would make prominently placed in the front yard; sort of like using my own bag everywhere!

So this one rain barrel, that I will get, will make a huge difference as an example to others of what little it takes to help maintain our planet.

This Holiday Season:

One of our assignments was to read The Chesapeake Watershed: A Sense of Place and a Call to Action by Ned Tillman. It’s a great geological and historic account of how our watersheds developed and declined with specific action plans available to individuals, corporations and government; inspiring, depressing and a critical assessment of our immediate watersheds.  We were fortunate to have the author at one of our evening seminars.  His first question to the group was, “Do you remember a specific outdoor location/space that you felt connected to as a child?” There were warm memories from Maine, Indiana to Florida mostly inspired by family outings as a child.  “This is why you’re here” Mr. Tillman said, “…these fond memories of your life in the outdoors having inspired you to take action to preserve it.”  Today our children are inside on electronic equipment, what memories will inspire future preservation?  This is where I’m heading.  This Holiday Season we will send out a 2011 guide to 3 local outdoor destinations per month where you and your family can experience the best of what is available in outdoor activities and locations. One trip per month can have a lasting effect.

Proper Insulation Can Save your Plants!

This past snow was exciting, beautiful, and for some, provided much needed time indoors.  For others, the snow and subsequent colder temperatures cost much more than they anticipated.

Attic spaces that are not properly insulated can allow heat to escape.  Melting of the snow/ice will ensue (in our case from this storm, up to 3 feet of snow in some areas!!!) thus creating an avalanche of destruction on the foundation and plants below.  In some cases, it will bring the gutters with it!!  Additionally, trying to shovel the snow off your plants will only make it worse.

Properly insulating your home not only saves you on your direct energy cost but will avoid potential subsequent repair cost and is the MOST COST EFFECTIVE amendment you can make to your home at this time!

Lessons from Hurricane Lee

A ‘1000-year’ storm event is certainly the true test of the capability of a home drainage system.    Yeah, yeah “it was a freak event” yet we have had 4 ‘freak’ events in the last 6 years and it only takes 1 to add thousands of dollars in repairs or, at least, raise your insurance premiums.

Even a trickle of water in a finished basement space can ruin flooring, drywall and furnishings and feed deadly molds.

Not surprisingly, most of the damage I’ve seen, in regards to drainage, was caused by the neglect of common sense principals.

Drainage is one of the most important elements of a sound foundation and so, truly, the most cost effective preventative you can implement.

Preferably, the builder was diligent when your home was constructed.  If your home was built in the 80’s you can cross that diligence off the list.  Faulty foundation drainage may not be evident until after the home warranty has expired or until a storm ‘event’…more on this in a future blog.

It is curious to me how homeowner’s will trust their maintenance crew for resolving drainage issues.  Asking a mowing and mulching crew landscape design questions can be detrimental but relying on them for drainage correction has cost thousands in repairs.  The most cost effective job a maintenance crew should implement is gutter cleaning.  That said; I was on a project earlier this year where the client had had her maintenance company clean her gutters regularly.  Unfortunately, they cleaned only the gutters and so the bases of the downspouts were filled 4’ deep with decomposing compacted debris.  All this water had been overflowing the corrugated underground piping connections and directly into the foundation walls of the house.  Since the homeowner traveled often, she was unaware of the increasing mold growth until the basement flooded completely forcing her to remove furnishings and storage boxes from the basement thereby exposing the years of infiltration and deadly effects.  The cost was in the thousands in remediation, repairs and hotel expenses, as the odor and mold spores prevented her remaining in her home.

Piping any downspouts underground for more than 10’ should exclude the use of any interior corrugated pipe.  Corrugated piping is the black ridged piping you can easily pick up at any hardware store for about 45 cents a foot.  The ridges trap debris leading to water back-up which can freeze and settle the pipe causing even more back-ups.  There is a smooth interior walled black corrugated pipe (N12) or a number of PVC and SDR smooth walled pipes available depending on whether they will be directed under sidewalks, driveways or just soils.

Before looking down, though, it’s best to start at the top when addressing drainage issues.   Things to look ‘up’ for are:

  • Undersized gutters and downspouts for the size and slope of the roof space
  • Not enough downspouts for the distance of the gutter
  • Gutter slope not enough to move the water
  • Rivet pops from winter ice-jambs allowing water behind the gutter
  • Damaged/bent gutters from winter ice jambs or falling tree limb

Confirmation of the above would be visible signs of spillage on the ground level and possible infiltration of water into the house.  Chances are if your gutters have been overflowing for some time, your foundation has settled causing even direct rain water to collect and filter into your foundation.

The next time it rains, go outside with an umbrella and look up.

Clogged corrugated interior piping

 

downspout compacted with rotted leaves and soil

To be continued…

Benefits of replacing Asphalt with Pervious Pavement

Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection defines pervious pavement as having more air spaces than regular pavement, allowing water to drain through the surface into the underlying soil. Most paved surfaces are currently impervious, but Environmental Site Design (ESD) efforts including installation of pervious pavement are being required for new development as well as redevelopment of properties in Montgomery County.

Applying ESD techniques such as pervious pavement in place of asphalt will help to reduce runoff and issues with flooding, as well as improve water quality. Replacing asphalt surfaces with pervious pavement can provide other ecological, social, and economic benefits.  Pervious pavement functions to slow water and allow infiltration while filtering stormwater on-site. Adding trees and vegetation in previously paved areas can provide comfortable spaces by reducing urban heat island effects and improving air quality as well as overall human health. Pervious pavements and vegetated areas help to reduce energy costs and add aesthetic appeal to any environment (www.montgomerycountymd.gov).

Petro has worked on several projects utilizing ESD techniques, including pervious pavement. Petro used pervious concrete and vegetation to help alleviate issues with pooling and flooding at a residence in Columbia, Maryland. The photo below shows the pervious concrete next to older standard concrete.

Pervious Concrete

Pervious and Cobblestone

Final