CRA’s B Austin featured in Green Builder Magazine Nov/Dec 2019 Issue & Recognized in the 2019 Hive 50

Two big announcements for our Award Winning B Austin Communities Project.

First, B Austin Communities is being recognized in the 2019 Hive 50.  See more in the article in Builder Magazine here with excerpts below:

Our 2019 Hive 50 list—spanning design, building technology, capital commitment, customer intelligence, and business and consumer strategy—highlights applied brilliance that reflects how the future now defines this community more so than the effect of all the past millennia put together. The honorees will be celebrated at the fourth-annual Hive conference, Dec. 4-5, in Austin, Texas.

Second, excited to see our B Austin Communities project grace the pages of Green Builder Magazine this month.  Link here to the complete issue.

 

CRA’s B-Austin Project released as an Austin Energy Green Building Case Study!

 

We are honored that our B-Austin multi-use project has been released as a case study for the Austin Energy Green Building program! The AEGB has been a highly successful sustainable building program for Central Texas since 1990, cultivating innovation in building and transportation for the enrichment of the community’s environmental, economic, and human well-being. B-Austin achieved a 4-Star rating featuring on-site solar, grey water harvesting, urban farming, integrated wellness, and much more. See our website for further information!

 

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.

Enphase-1

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.

Enphase-2

 

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.

Project Portfolio: Eilers Residence

Central Austin ResidenceWe’re excited to share some video from our recently completed Eilers Residence, a master suite addition and renovation to an existing Central Austin Home built in the 1940’s with AR Lucas Construction.  Here, the simple axial layout of the master bedroom is tied directly on axis to the master bath suite with the bed on axis with a free standing soaker tub.  Walnut cabinets are deployed throughout including dual built-in master closets in the bedroom and the master vanity cabinets.  A lueder’s limestone floor and feature wall frame the master bath with views to the existing heritage tree to the east of the house.

Eilers Residence Project Portfolio

Architectural Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MKQxRAUceg

2018: Awarded 2018 Master of Design Gold Award from Qualified Remodeler Magazine 2017: Awarded Regional NARI Coty Award in the Addition Category 2016: Awarded Austin NARI Coty Award in the Addition Category

 

 

 

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

“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.

To Build or To Buy?

We get asked this question all the time in practice.   Does it make more sense to build a custom home on a lot or to buy a home?  There seems to be a general prevailing perception that it costs more to build than to buy.  The answer is simply that it depends.  So what does it cost to build a custom home?  We have worked with clients to build custom homes in the Austin area ranging from $100 per sq/ft and all the way up to $300+ a foot.  These are homes built with integrity with varying degrees of finish outs. These homes are designed for the needs of the occupant, for the occupants lifestyle.  They are not built as a happy medium that will mostly satisfy everyone.  They are designed with resale value in mind but are generally planned to be flexible to allow for change and to accommodate the owners changing needs.  They are designed sustainably – the actual site is taken into account. We don’t just call it green, we design individually to work with the land where it sits.

Custom Residential Rendering by Clark Richardson Architects

When you purchase a house you can stand in it to understand the space and know exactly what you are getting, some people feel more comfortable with this route. It is absolutely important that we communicate the spatial implications of our designs and as architects we produce numerous visualization renderings to help people make informed decisions about their new home.  We build 3-D models and make animations that show you what it will feel like. Here is a sample animation from a renovation we designed recently.

A good architect will work hard to make the process simple for you, this is what we strive for.  Once the design is complete we can provide the permitting services and help you select the perfect builder.   With tighter budgets we recommend that a contractor be brought on early to make sure the numbers stay in check.  When a higher level of finish-out is desired clients often enjoy meeting with numerous contractors and getting full bid proposals for the actual cost of construction.  We work with clients throughout this process and serve as their representative to ensure that the standards of the project are met.

Custom Design Renovation and Addition in Hyde Park Austin

Our services continue on through the construction phases where we often have weekly job site meetings to ensure there are no questions.  We find that designing and building your own home can be a very intimate process and very enjoyable – your home will truly be yours.  We love working with clients in this capacity, send us a note if you have any questions.