Renovated Boston Row House and Providence Infill House, David Sisson Architecture
Analysts are debating the degree to which the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a mass exodus out of America’s largest cities in search of room to breathe (literally)—more room for physically-distanced social interactions and for the Zoom home offices that so many people have been forced into. Here in Rhode Island though, the median home price increased by 13 % in October 2020 over its level one year earlier, and realtors reported buyers arriving in droves from New York City and Massachusetts.
Regardless of what analysts decide, for decades now, exorbitant costs have slowly priced folks out of the country’s largest cities. Redfin’s data shows that, in 2019, even before the pandemic, people in pricey metropolitan areas searched for homes in more affordable areas more than ever before in recorded history.
Many of those searching—young to middle-aged professional as well as empty nesters—are looking to retain aspects of their urban lifestyles and enjoy big city cultural amenities. For them, the suburbs hold no appeal and they want to live in the city. This presents a dilemma in older, built-up cities like Providence and Boston, where almost every square foot has already been developed and real estate inventory is low. Newcomers have two options—1) wait for an existing building to become available, engage in a bidding war to buy it, then spend time and money renovating it; or 2) identify a difficult-to-find empty lot and build a new house.
Planners and architects call the second approach “infill”. Many people assume that it is impossible to find an empty lot in the city. But, with some research and perseverance, it is possible to find a diamond in the rough. Realtors can be asked to look for empty lots in specific parts of the city. A prospective owner can also look for empty lots by searching on Google Maps (satellite view) or driving through the neighborhood. With the address for the empty lot handy, a search on the city’s online tax assessor database (usually considered free public information) will yield the current owner of the property and information about how the land is zoned. An architect can help prospective buyers interpret this information and evaluate if the desired house can be built on the lot. Even in cases where zoning may not appear suitable—where, for example, a lot is smaller than the size typically required for new residential construction—an architect can approach the Building Department to gauge the likelihood of receiving a variance (an approved exception to zoning or build code rules). Progressive building departments often do want empty lots used, so they are likely to give permission (with certain conditions). Armed with this knowledge, you can make an informed decision about buying the lot, and collaborate with an architect to create an urban home of your liking.
As a firm committed to designing for seniors in care home settings and those aging in place, we’ve learned a lot over the past year. Assisted living facilities have been especially hard hit during the COVID-19 pandemic: tragically, over 40% of COVID deaths (over 100,000 people) in the US have been associated with long term care. People living in these communities have higher levels of impairment and chronic illness, which can increase their risk of infection. And residents live in close proximity to each other and are in close contact with caregivers, further increasing the probability of that infections will spread.
What has the pandemic taught us about assisted living design, and how will it change our approach post-COVID? We have put together a compendium of solutions used during the pandemic:
Contact us to discuss our work with assisted living communities, and how we can help you implement new strategies in care home design.
Just 478 out of approximately 116,000 licensed architects in the US in 2019 identified as black women. And there were only 1,847 licensed African-American male architects. Altogether, black-identifying women and men make up 2% of architects in the US.
If that does not sound distressing to you, here are some numbers to put things into perspective: African-Americans represent about 13% of the US population. At the very least, the profession should look like the world we live in.
As Architect magazine puts it,
“The underrepresentation of many ethnic groups translates not only to inequities within the profession, but also to missed opportunities in business.”
The problem needs to be attacked at every level from creating a high school pipeline to the profession, to rethinking the cost of college (architecture is more expensive than many majors because students have to pay for equipment and materials for their work), transforming firm culture so that hiring and retention are not obstacles, and making sure that firms are intentional in their choice of clients, projects, and communities.
Every architecture firm has a part to play in this process. David Sisson Architecture has worked with high school students from underrepresented backgrounds through the Rhode Island College Upward Bound program, and The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center to provide internships. We were excited to work with two high school students from Central Falls, RI, Eliane and Karen, in summer 2019. They shadowed our architects on site visits, meetings with clients and city officials, research trips to libraries and local archives, and sat next to us as we developed designs on Revit. As part of this program, we have nurtured relationships with black-identifying consultants such as architectural historian, Ito Osayimwese, who have spoken with our interns about their experiences attending architecture school and working in the profession.
National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), https://www.noma.net/
Alice Liao, “Increasing Diversity in Architecture: Barriers to Entry,” Architect, May 13, 2019
National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, “Demographics, 2017”
Driving through East Providence, you are likely to notice our office at 345 Taunton Avenue, East Providence. It’s a two-story cinder block box, painted battleship gray, with massive picture windows.
When we bought it in 2018, it had been a semi-abandoned office building for years. Before that it was home to a jewelry manufacturing outfit, Banana Bob.
We found jewelry notions like this scattered all over the place when we moved in. It turns out that Banana Bob was a popular company and their pieces are collectors' items today!
With its large, open floor plan (previously used for assembly line jewelry production), the building was ripe for renovation into modern office space.
Here’s what we did to transform the building:
It’s been a lot of hard work but we are proud of transforming this eyesore on Taunton Avenue into a hub of activity.
345 Taunton Ave. is now home to David Sisson Architects, Mountaincow, East Providence Martial Arts, Elsie Osei Artistry, as well as two new live-work spaces.
Like all old American cities, Providence has many empty old factory buildings—in every size you can imagine. To keep our city alive, we have to reuse these buildings.
David Sisson Architects has worked with multiple clients to renovate some of these buildings, turning their spacious interiors into cafes, print shops, yoga studios, office space, live-work space, etc. See our loft conversions in our portfolio.
Brown University recently announced a scheme to sell off three historic houses on Brook Street and Charlesfield Street to make way for two new residence halls. The houses will be sold for $10 each if the new owner will move them off-site, at their own cost, to a new location. This is an incredible opportunity in a place like Providence where the market for houses is so tight. Investors and prospective homeowners have reached out to us to ask for advice on getting in on this deal.
And what a deal it is! $10 for over 5000 square feet of living space for each house. That’s $0.02 per square foot. That’s a steal compared to the going rate of $250 per square foot. And, with their early twentieth-century Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styling, modern two-family layouts, classic New England cedar shake siding, beautiful bay windows, symmetrical side entry porches, and leaded transom windows, you would be getting far more an average house.
While saving a historic house seems like a no brainer, moving a building is much more involved than you might imagine.
Here are some things to consider:
Moving a building makes perfect sense in some cases – if you need to move your house a few feet in from an eroding coastline, or if it needs to be moved out of a flood zone. If you are a non-profit organization working to save a building, state and local authorities may waive some of their requirements. Either way, contact David Sisson Architects to help you develop a plan of action.
Planning a renovation is both exciting, and stressful. Having the right contractor for your project is the key in turning your home-building plans into a reality. Here are four questions that you should ask your contractor to ensure that they are the right fit for you.
1. Should you move out during the renovation process?
Construction on your home can be both stressful and noisy. So it is always good to plan ahead. If you are planning to live on the first floor during your renovation, it is always a good idea to move your belongings to areas in the house that won’t be exposed. Relocating personal belonging to off – site facilities is another option to look into. Things are going to be turned upside down. So deciding whether to temporarily relocate or not is something to think about.
2. What is the projected timeline for the project?
How long it takes for a project to be completed depends on the size and configuration of your addition. When asking this question, you want to have a specific amount of time in terms of weeks or months. If a contractor is unable to give specifics, they probably were not the best choice, because they could charge you extra for extra time, materials and labor fees for a project that was completed in twice the amount of time it should have taken. Having a schedule that outlines tasks allows for more concrete deadlines. It will also give you better sense of whether the project is lagging.
3. Are there any zoning restrictions to consider?
When it comes to additions, generally, most districts have very strict rules about where and what you can build. Zoning laws vary from town to town, so knowing these laws in your area is a good idea. While it may be annoying or an inconvenience to double check all of your plans with your town, it is easier than beginning a project then finding out you have to alter something.
4.How will the addition tie into the house?
When adding onto you house, you want to make sure that the new space works well with the existing space. Making sure that it looks the same and appears to be a part of the original structure is important. To achieve this be sure to hire an architect to help you with the finishes and even get advice from them. Renovations can add value to your home, so it is important to make decisions that make you happy, but that also could appeal to potential buyers.
Remember there are many things that you and your contractor need to discuss before starting your project. These are just a few suggestions and common issues to think about. Do research and make sure you understand the answers to the questions and it will be easier to make a decision.
The nice thing about wanting to build a home from scratch is that you can choose where you live solely based on location and property. You don't have to worry about what the house looks like when you buy it because you are going to tear it down anyways.
If you are uncertain whether or not tearing down the house is a good option, here are three things to consider.
Is the house worth salvaging?
Talking to a building professional is always a smart decision when deciding whether to tear down a house. If the house is located in a historic district, there may be limitations to what you can do to the house. Contacting the building department in the city will let you know whether or not you can demolish and rebuild the house or not. Additionally, there may be zoning, wetlands or deed restrictions that could prevent any building plans you may have had for the property.
When in doubt look at the numbers. Figure out how much it is going to cost to buy the house and property, then make the decision based on whether it is worth it to add the cost of building something new. If you can use pieces of the old house and build from there, a complete tear down is not necessarily essential. Be honest with yourself about the estimate. Include big-ticket items such as labor and materials. By subtracting the home's potential market value from the total cost estimate, then deduct another 5-10% for extra luxuries or unforeseen issues, what is left over is probably the best offer you can make.
It is very important that your contract include an inspection clause. This goes for purchasing any home or property. This inspection could confirm whether or not the house is in good shape, or help you back out of the purchase if necessary. For example, what if your home is backed by an environmentally protected area, preventing you from being able to build on the land. It is important that you conduct thorough research when purchasing a home.
An inspector's evaluation of the house could also help make the decision of whether or not to completely start over or work with what you have. Major repairs could cost more than just starting from scratch.
How do I decided between a renovation and a tear down?
Several factors influence the decision of whether or not you want to renovate or tear down a house. Mostly it depends on a person's preference. Are you going to be willing to see the project through from start to finish? Viewing the current condition of the house will also influence the decision. Older homes are more likely to have a lot of problems making a renovation a money pit; mold, infestations, and cracked foundation are just some of the factors that may trigger a decision to just tear down a house instead of renovating.
Deciding what you want out of the house is another influencing component in making the decision to renovate or tear down. Wanting a home to be energy efficient, including new windows, doors and kitchen appliances, can help to save money in the long-run. Also what about the layout of the house, did you maybe have something more specific in mind?
Your budget will also have a large influence on what you decide. If you are able to get everything you want for a reasonable price, a renovation makes sense. If the location is what you like, but the house has too many repairs, it would make more sense to just tear it down and start over.
Financing. Where will your budget go?
If you decide that a tear down is what you want to do, make sure to run the numbers and get an estimate of the total cost of the project. Start with an inspection of the house and the land. Then acquire permits for demolition purposes and future plans. Finally contact utility companies for gas, electricity and water to disconnect the house during demolition.
A unique and cost effective method for demolition is to ask the local fire department if they want to use the house for training. This would be free, and help the firefighters train.
Keep in mind that everything in the house must be brought up to code. Every year new codes are created, and some things may be stricter. It is not unusual that multiple inspections at varying stages of the project may occur.
Whichever you choose to do, a renovation or a tear down, it is important to consider all your options before choosing so that you do what is best for your family.
Home additions can be exciting, they are new and special, something the whole family can enjoy for years to come. Additions can also add value to your home and increase equity; however, if done wrong, they can leave you with an unfinished project and drowning in bills. This is why you should leave the bulk of the work to professionals who know what they are doing. Additions can really open the home up and add some much needed space to your pre-existing floor plan; such as, new bedrooms, bathrooms, or a family room. When looking into a home addition, it's extremely important to do research on the project, it may be a long process that can be very difficult if you dive in unprepared.
Here are seven factors that can either make or break your home addition plans:
1. Get everything permitted.
All major construction projects require building permits. Without getting the right permits, you could face expensive fines through either the town or the state, and you could be forced to remove your addition. To prevent this colossal waste of money, be sure to get the correct permits from your town hall. Building codes were created for a reason and should not be ignored; permits are documentation that your project is being completed the right way. They also ensure that you are using a professional and licensed contractor. Not getting the necessary permits is a huge risk. If you attempt to get around this precaution it will end up costing you a whole lot more than if things were done properly in the first place.
2. Expect delays.
As with any construction project, unforeseeable events are bound to occur. Things like weather, sickness, builder/contractor availability, or material delays are just a few of things that could happen and there is no way around them. Work closely with your builder to create a schedule to prevent the project from lagging behind; but keep in mind that making a schedule does not mean that the project will absolutely run as planned. For example, materials could get delayed weeks after the projected timeline. It's important to expect these delays; otherwise you will be stressed when the project slips off schedule.
3. Find the right builder/architect.
Be sure that you are choosing the right builder or contractor; this can be either the best or worst choice of your life. Take the interviewing process very seriously, ask to see some of their completed or current projects to ensure that their work is something that you like. Certain websites cater specifically to helping homeowners find licensed professionals or home renovation and addition projects. Ask others for referrals, generally, if someone liked their contractor or builder they will want to tell others and get them more work.
4. Don't overbuild for the size of your lot.
Adding on to your home does not always pay off, when adding another bedroom, bathroom or expanding your kitchen don't forget that outdoor living space is an asset to your property. Taking away the yard takes away from the value of your home. Stretching your home to the edges of your property take away valuable outdoor living space that can be used for landscaping, or entertaining areas. Additionally, your neighbors may not appreciate you getting so close to their home. Other times home owner's associations or cities have regulations limiting how far you can extend your building.
5. Expect the unexpected.
It is important that you don't assume that everything in a renovation or addition is going to go right. Unexpected expenses or findings will most likely arise and wreak havoc on you before they can be solved. Asbestos, irregular framing, bad wiring, and bad plumbing are just a few examples of unexpected findings when adding to your home. These unexpected surprises are common and you should anticipate them before starting the project. Prepare your budget and timeline accordingly so you won't be unprepared.
6. Don't overdo home customization.
If you plan on living in your house for decades after your addition, customize it all you want. However, if there is the slightest possibility that you will be selling in the future don't go crazy customizing items and materials. Your personal preference may not be universally like by others. Picking overly bright or unique floor tiling, floors, cabinets, or wall colors could hurt the value of your home. It is a safer option to pick neutral flooring, tiling and appliances, this helps with the resale value of your home.
7. Focus on kitchens and bathrooms.
Additional bathrooms and a large kitchen are features that add value to your home. When creating a new kitchen make sure that it is functional for your needs or the needs of a potential buyer. This doesn't mean that your kitchen can't be unique; choosing neutral cabinets with a colorful back splash adds interest.
Bathrooms are another area that are just as important as the kitchen. If there are too few it can affect how you entertain or worse, it could impact your day to day life. Adding bathrooms increases the value of your home because most buyers want a good number of bathrooms. You really can't go wrong with adding bathrooms to your home, it doesn't matter if it's a half bath on your first floor or another bathroom upstairs to balance out the bedrooms.
Additions and renovations can be a bear sometimes. You have to live through the process. Start to research your project early so you know what you want and what you are getting into.
Adding a room to your home is a daunting but rewarding task. The steps and costs involved in the addition may seem overwhelming, however, in the end the additional space will be worth it.
Some things to keep in mind when creating your room addition plan are:
Money: First you need to decide what type of addition is going to best suit your family’s needs. You start by figuring out how much money is in your budget. As a reference, adding a new bathroom or kitchen to your home can range in cost from $25,000 - $50,000 or $200 - $600 per square foot. When estimating the total cost of the project, adding 10% for contingencies provides a cushion allowing you to be confident if unexpected costs turn up.
The Architect: In planning and creating your addition it is important to find a great architect; one that listens to your needs, and is able to offer helpful ways to maximize your budget. One fail safe way of find the perfect architect is to obtaining references, and interviewing several architects. Having options and reviews of the candidate are great way to make sure that you are choosing the right architect for you and your project. Knowing how an architect organizes and manages a project can be a deciding factor of the architectural firm’s character.
Pro tip: Download our guide “How to Hire an Architect” at www.ds-arch.com/M616
The Value: Another thing to think about when planning your room addition is the potential value the addition adds to your home. The best way to make sure that your addition is adding value to your home is to consider amenities that are highly sought after in homes near you. One example of this may be if a majority of homes have large front porches in your neighborhood. A large front porch, being a popular attribute of a home, would add value to your home.
Zoning: Make sure to check the zoning regulations in your town. Most residents cannot build within 20 feet of the front of the property. Also, if expanding vertically you may need to check how tall you are allowed to build.
Blending: Finally, you want to consider how the addition will look with the rest of your home. A seamless transition from room to room is more aesthetically pleasing, and is more appealing to potential buyers. In addition, the interior and exterior materials should match.
Budgeting is a huge factor in any home improvement, remodeling or construction project. Looking for ways to cut costs without sacrificing quality?
Here are 7 ways to limit room addition costs:
1. Build in the off-season: When you begin the construction on your home can affect the cost. Waiting until January can save you 4-5% on your investment. Because the winter months are slow for builders, they will have cheaper rates.
2. Receive early estimates: researching estimates and costs early on in the project allows you to know an approximate amount for the work you want completed. Additionally, interviewing several architects or builders allows you to compare prices and get the most out of your budget. Always be sure to factor in hidden costs in an addition such as: phone, cable, internet, furniture, window treatments and carpeting.
3. Keep it simple: keeping the design simple is another way to limit costs. Simple rectangular or square floor plans are less costly than more intricately shaped designs. Using easily obtainable materials is less expensive than custom materials.
4. Use recycled materials: less expensive and eco-friendly, recycled materials are a great resource when adding onto a home. Salvaged materials like brick, roof tiles, pressed straw paneling, cement composites and recycled steel are all materials available to use. Visit architectural salvage warehouse for doors, light fixtures, and windows.
5. Order online: shopping online is a great way to get cheaper accessories such as; kitchen faucets, bathroom furnishings, lighting, and window treatments.
6. Do it yourself: painting, landscaping and cleanup are areas of an addition project that do not require a person to be construction- savvy. If you are a little handy, researching prior to construction tasks such as; tiling and bathroom fitting will cut costs even more. Or, contracting these tasks out is a less expensive option than going through your builder.
7. Go green: in the short-run, including energy-efficient extras will increase your expenses. However in the long-run it will save you money. For example, solar panels on your roof decrease your energy bill; installing windows that allow for maximum insulation and light are a great way to save on heating and cooling. Additionally tax incentives are a plus when going green. When considering solar power, looking at the big picture of savings is more important then the initial costs.
Adding an addition to your home does not have to drain your wallet. There are multitudes of ways that you can cut corners without sacrificing quality. Considering the timing of the construction project, researching estimates, using recycled materials and going green are all ways that you can save thousands on your project.
In the New England region we have a lot of water – many homeowners with coastal homes. These sites are tricky – FEMA revised their maps in October 2013, raising the flood line in many communities.
What does this mean for you?
How do you determine how this affects your property?There are several issues you need to contend with if your home is in a coastal region, regardless if you have an existing home or are planning on building a new home. The first issue is the cost of insurance. Homes that are below the flood line (more on that later) will have to pay more for their insurance cost (another great way homeowners can be “underwater” /sarcasm mode off…). New homes, or homes that will be raised above the flood line need to conform to requirements (from FEMA, building code and possibly local zoning code, conservation code, etc…). These requirements include the height the building needs to be above the water (depending on the FEMA zone and other code requirements, it may be required to have the lowest floor just above the flood line, or even have the entire structure raised 1, 2 or 3 feet above the flood line). The foundation system is also critical and it’s design is predicated by FEMA’s requirements – they may allow a crawlspace or basement foundation, with provisions for allowing water to flow through (in zones with minor flooding issues) all the way to requiring homes to be raised on piles (allowing water to easily flow through under the home).
At David Sisson Architecture PC, we design homes in all FEMA flood hazard areas identified on the Flood Insurance Rate Map are identified as a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). SFHA are defined as the area that will be inundated by the flood event having a 1-percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year. The 1-percent annual chance flood is also referred to as the base flood or 100-year flood. SFHAs are labeled as Zone A, Zone AO, Zone AH, Zones A1-A30, Zone AE, Zone A99, Zone AR, Zone AR/AE, Zone AR/AO, Zone AR/A1-A30, Zone AR/A, Zone V, Zone VE, and Zones V1-V30. Moderate flood hazard areas, labeled Zone B or Zone X (shaded) are also shown on the FIRM, and are the areas between the limits of the base flood and the 0.2-percent-annual-chance (or 500-year) flood. The areas of minimal flood hazard, which are the areas outside the SFHA and higher than the elevation of the 0.2-percent-annual-chance flood, are labeled Zone C or Zone X (unshaded).
In addition to having special structural and foundation requirements, homes that are coastal (or even inland properties that are adjacent to a wetland) have additional requirements for review by local or state conservation boards. In Rhode Island, the CRMC (RI Coastal Resources Management Council) and the RI DEM (Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management) review these projects. In Massachusetts the local conservation boards and also the MA DEM (Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management) oversees these projects.
If you have a coastal or wetland property, please contact David Sisson Architecture PC, a Providence, Rhode Island full service Architectural firm. We will assist you with your home or development project. Frequently, you will need an Architect, Surveyor, Wetlands Biologist and possibly a Civil Engineer, Structural Engineer or other consultants depending on the size and complexity of your project.
Solutions may include raising your home, creating a new foundation beneath an existing home, installing flood vents into an existing foundation or building a brand new home above the flood level.