Clark Richardson Architects featured in the April / May Issue Western Art and Architecture Magazine

Excited to have our practice profiled in the April / May Issue of Western Art and Architecture Magazine!  The article, ‘Framing a Life’, overviews how our different backgrounds come together in a shared design philosophy as illustrated in our work.  Featured are images from our Lakeway Residence, Hyde Park – Avenue D Residence and Hyde Park – Avenue F Residence.

Look for it on the newsstands or follow the link to the digital article.



Solar Case Study: Single Family House

In honor of Earth Day today we hope to provide you with an informative post regarding Solar in Residential use.  Happy Earth Day Y’all!

solar panels 1

Solar Case Study: Single Family House

by John Vesel

Austin TX, 6.75kW Photovoltaic Array installed January 2015

Electric Utility: Austin Energy

 In January 2016 we completed our 12th billing cycle as a solar power generating household. The figures are in, but first a rundown of the situation:

1518sf Single Family Home

3 bed / 2 bath; 2 car garage

Constructed 2004

Located in Southeast Austin

Oriented with East-West axis*

Subsidized & Financed

*Crucially, our house is constructed with a long hipped roof with the main ridgeline running almost exactly East-West. This means our largest roof surface is facing South. There are no trees that interfere and the two-story house to our South does not shade any portion of the roof. This existing situation allowed for the easiest possible setup. This was confirmed by the installer when they measured the roof surface and calculated the sun angles. The most helpful terms to know are that kW = Kilowatt which is a measure of energy (1000 watts); kWh = Kilowatt hour which is a measure of power, or, energy over time.

Our solar installer recommended a few different options for solar panel modules. We chose a 270W base panel. During our research, we found that solar panels typically lose about .5% of their production capability a year, but there are still productive panels that were made during the early years of photovoltaic power. We also chose to install a micro-inverter with each module. This is a more expensive option than connecting a single inverter to the entire system, but we felt it was more advantageous. A single inverter system is like an old strand of Christmas lights – if one light goes out, they all go out. With micro-inverters, we could insure that if one panel was shaded or malfunctioning for some reason, then only that panel would be affected instead of the entire system. Inverters are required to convert the DC power generated by the photovoltaic process into the AC power used by the power grid. We had to connect to the grid to receive the Austin Energy solar subsidy.

solar panel 1


We chose a 25 panel 6.75kW system capable of producing about 9,000kWh annually. They cover about 443sf of roof area and are built to withstand the elements. Since there are no moving parts, there isn’t a whole lot that can go wrong, outside of a cloudy day, and both the panels and inverters are warrantied for 25 years.

Our system is barely noticeable from the street, only just peaking above the roof. We did inform our HOA, and they were all for our addition. According to our installer, once one house installs, the rest of the neighborhood tends to popcorn as the benefits become known.

The installation process only took a few days. Stanchions were lapped beneath the existing asphalt tile shingles and locked to the existing trusses. These connect to tracks which hold the panels. A single encased electrical line runs down the other side of the roof to the electric meter. We now have two meters from Austin Energy: one tabulates our production; one tabulates consumption. Readings occur as usual with the consumption figure less the production figure.


The system is linked to an app that I love to check each night. The above graph displays each day’s production for the past year, the brighter the blue, the greater the production. Our highest production value for a single day was 43.7kWh and our worst was under 1kWh. July was a great solar production month this year, hardly any clouds! Below is an 18 day period broken down by hour. Production is updated every 15 minutes. You can definitely see how sun angle increases production at midday before tapering off, or when a bank of clouds moves through.



The app does a variety of things, but my favorite is a comparison of your production to more relatable terms. For instance, on our best day, our system produced enough energy to power and light the Eiffel Tower for 13 minutes. In our first year, we offset the same amount of CO2 as 172 newly planted trees!

We had only been in our house for a couple of months when we began the install process, so the system was sized based on average consumption for similar houses in our neighborhood. Austin Energy deducts our generation from our consumption at each reading with any excess generation becoming a credit. This means that the system can build up a buffer account credit during high-generation summer months which then evens out during less productive winter months. We have yet to pay beyond our account credit.

Our system cost, including installation, was a little over $1,000 per panel. Both the City of Austin and the Federal Government currently provide subsidies to help private owners become solar generators. Both subsidies were for 30% of our retail cost and then the remainder was financed. It is important to note that the Federal subsidy takes into account local aid before calculating the rebate. Our installer coordinated everything although our actual loan is via third party that specializes in such financing with typical rates at about 3% for solar loans. The Austin Energy subsidy was paid directly to the installer and the Federal subsidy was included in our tax return as a Renewable Energy credit. There is a per-year cap to that amount so we will have some carryover to this year’s return.

Since the Federal subsidy came well after our system became operation, we ended up with two parallel loans. One loan was more of an IOU intended to be paid by the Federal return amount. We had 1 year, interest free, to pay that loan in full which we did. The second loan was for the remainder of the system retail price. Typical solar loans are for 12 years, but 7 year and 30 year options were also available. We chose the 7 year loan option at just under 3% interest. Our house does not have gas, and the impact of this payment is like having a large electric bill every month. Aside from being able to look forward to the end date, now only 6 years out, we also have a set payment that we can always plan on rather than a variable use-based payment.

7 Year Financing Cash Flow-1

As you can see, we project to break even on the system at about 10 years. Going solar also fixes the rate at which Austin Energy compares our production to our use, so if rates go up, so does our rate of savings. Lastly, while the hard value added to the home has already boosted our investment value, the solar addition is exempt from property tax calculations.

Custom Home Receives 5-star Rating from Austin Energy Green Building

Clark Richardson Architects Austin Energy 5 Star Rated Residence

We’re proud to announce that our Avenue D Residence has received a 5-star Rating from Austin Energy Green Building, the oldest green rating program in the country!
Only 5% of all AEGB-rated residential projects (and an even smaller percentage of renovation / additions) achieve this honor.  Project features include:

7,000 Gallon Rainwater Collection
Passive Cross Ventilation and Stack Effect
Diverse Outdoor Living Spaces
High Efficiency HVAC Design
High Efficiency Thermal Envelope                                                                                                    Re-purposing of Existing Materials
Construction Waste Management

Hyde Park Residence Photos

Check out these updated photos on our website of our Hyde Park Residence, a green renovation and addition here in Central Austin. We’re currently still wrapping up landscaping but our client was excited to move in last week!

Avenue D Residence Portfolio

We always like to look at where we started when we finish a project here is our post from the beginning of demo about a year ago:

Hyde Park Master Bath

“No that tree is my sister!” – The Life of a House

The story goes something like this:  At one of our construction sites for a historic renovation and addition two siblings came to the site.  They told one of the construction workers on the site that they came to see their trees that were themselves.  “So this tree is you?” asked the construction worker. “No that tree is my sister. I’m that tree.”  The woman pointed to another 28″ herritage pecan tree on the site. Their parents had planted a tree for each of them at the time of their births some sixty plus years earlier. Their house was still there though years of rental tenants had left the cottage in ill repair, so much so that our historic renovation became close to new construction.  Their trees remained towering over the home, bringing back memories of childhood and love.

Heritage Trees on Site of a Historic Renovation and Addition in the Austin Hyde Park Neighborhood.

Our renovation adds another chapter to the story of the trees.  Our client, a photographer and avid bird watcher wanted to inhabit the trees.  We designed a roof top balcony for her tucked away from the street view, nestled up in the trees of the previous owners childhood.  Homes have many lives. Lives that evolve through time, memories become imbedded in the walls and the spaces the walls frame.

“Oh, there were empty houses and houses half-constructed where, as children, we stamped about on the bare winter-pale wood sending up clouds of sawdust into the half-formed rooms, where the wall-frames rose up like thin unfleshed arms and the roof was partly sky, summer-blue, endless as our visions of childhood and life without death. ”  

This quote by Jane Frame, Living in the Manioto was taken from the book House as a Mirror of Self by Clare Cooper Marcus.   This is one of those few books I read in college almost 20 years ago that has stayed in my thoughts.  It describes how the spaces we are raised in affect our perception of the world for the rest of our lives.  Our homes are where we feel the safest and the most love. These spaces imprint on our psyche, and inform our kinesthetic sense guiding the types of spaces we seek out for the rest of our lives.  This makes our job as architects so important, it is a privelage to work with people to imagine the spaces of their future memories.

Demo Starts on Hyde Park Residence

Construction on CRA’s extensive remodel and addition to a historic 1930’s Hyde Park residence began last week in Austin, Texas.  The interior primarily consisted of ship lap pine with some of the original wall paper maintained below the thin gyp board cladding that was added later.  In keeping with the goals of the historic district, the existing interior flooring will be refurbished and reused in the new house along with the historic windows and exterior siding.  The project is seeking a five star rating in the Austin Energy Green Building Program as such waste materials will be stockpiled by type for recycling per the programs requirements. We’re excited to see this project start down the road to completion.  Click here to see some images of the house in our “On the Boards” section.  Or to see an animation fly around of the project Click Here. 

Things to Consider when Looking for Land to Build On: Part II – McMansion , FAR and Impervious Coverages

This is the second installment in our blog posts about things to consider when purchasing a residential lot for construction. The first installment discussed City of Austin Setback Requirements. This installment will look at the City’s Sub-Chapter F ordinance known as the “McMansion Ordinance” as well as looking closer at how the city defines FAR and Impervious Coverages and how they are calculated. Note that all these calculations and building setback planes must be submitted to the city at the time of permitting, a licensed architect will take all of this into consideration when designing and should set up code review sheets to lay out the information for the city.

1. The McMansion ordinance came about in 2006 as a reaction to small central Austin bungalows being remodeled into huge property filling houses.  There is still much debate around it which constitutes its own series of blog posts but in an effort to avoid divergence from our topic at hand we will just accept it as a fact and explain it some. The ordinance effects the following building areas on a site:

The heavy blue line indicates the “tent” formed by the side and rear setback planes. The buildable area is the smallest area included within the front, side, and rear yard setbacks; maximum height limit; and the combined side and rear setback planes (shown here as the green area).
  • Building Height limiting it to 32′
  • Building Setbacks The COA defines “setback planes”, for the side yard and back yard setbacks.  These are found by taking the 5′ side yard setback, extending it up into space 15′ and then angle it 45deg towards the center of your lot.  The 15′ is measured from the ground at 40′ intervals to take into account sloping site terrains.   There are of course different exceptions allowing for dormers and gables.  This is best explained with an image – most architects I know have to look it up for every new project because the ordinance just does not make sense.  Keep in mind these setbacks are in addition to the setbacks discussed in our previous post.
  • Side Wall Articulation (Existing Side Wall Exceeds 36 Feet) Articulation is required for side walls on additions or new construction that are 15 feet or taller and located within 15 feet of the side lot line. No wall may extend for more than 32 feet without a projection or recession of at least 4 feet in depth and 10 feet in length.

    Sidewall Articulations:  The code requires that your building jog if a sidewall is too long.  “A side wall of a building that is more than 15 feet high and is an average distance of 15‘ or less from an interior lot line may not extend in an unbroken plane for more than 36’ along a side lot line.”

2. FAR – Floor to Area Ratio: This is the amount of building the city will let you have on a lot after all other setback and impervious restrictions are met.   “FAR measures the square footage of a building relative to the amount of land on which it sits . The City of Austin defines FAR as the ratio of the gross floor area (total square footage of building on all floors with some exceptions naturally) to the gross site area (total square footage of lot). For example, if a home is 4,000 square feet in size and the size of the lot is 10,000 square feet, the FAR is 4,000 divided by 10,000, which is equal to 0.40.”  Most residential zoning in Austin has an FAR of .4, this is determined by your lots zoning and any affecting overlays in the area. The city has an online calculator you can use here.

3. Impervious Coverage– Increased impervious coverage in the city results in increased runoff which has negative affects on our creeks, lakes and water reservoirs.  For most residential lots in the City of Austin the Impervious Coverage allowance is 45%.  This means that 45% of your property overall area can be covered by surfaces that do not allow water to penetrate the ground.  Now with all things city related there are exceptions.  The city will calculate uncovered decks at 50% for instance and water features (including water harvesting equipment) are not counted.

Natural and Impervious Cover Diagram from the EPA

Much of the above discussion centers around things that will dictate what you build on a lot but it is good to know up front prior to purchasing a lot in the City of Austin.  While there are numerous benefits to living in the City there are likewise numerous restrictions to building here!

Green Renovations

While it might seam like the climate crisis is so big that there is nothing we can do to change things according to Architecture there is hope!:

“As of 2010, the total U.S. building stock is approximately 275 billion square feet. During normal economic times, we tear down approximately 1.75 billion square feet of buildings each year. Every year, we renovate approximately 5 billion square feet. Every year, we build new approximately 5 billion square feet.  Herein lies the hope. By the year 2035, approximately three-quarters (75%) of the built environment will be either new or renovated.  This transformation over the next 25 years represents a historic opportunity for the architecture and building community to avoid dangerous climate change.”

This is an optimistic and true point.  If we can renovate our buildings to be more energy efficient and design all or our new buildings to be more energy efficient our total energy usage as a country will significantly fall.

Sustainable renovations should encompass the following:

1. Insulate – This is truly one of the most inexpensive things you can do.  If possible use spray foam insulation but BATT will suffice. Make sure to insulate attics and raised levels, a majority of your heat loss will be in these locations.

2. Update the fenestration – Single Pane Glazing is a huge source of heat loss and heat gain.

3. Shade windows receiving direct gain.  Especially in climates such as Austin where our year round sun can be brutal.  In small renovations it is not usually feasible to change the orientation of the windows so if they are facing South, East or West make sure to provide sufficient shade.

4. Seal up the holes!  Make sure to caulk around windows and make sure any AC ducts that you have don’t have leaks, letting energy flow into your attic or other unconditioned space.

We are happy to provide consultation on more sustainable renovation ideas.  Visit our website and drop us a note!  Clark Richardson Architects