Friday, July 20, 2012

Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance Project

The Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance audit was completed, the proposal accepted and work will be done this month. We decided to add four inches of insulation to the roof from SmartFoam, install a mini-split system for the bedroom addition from Housh Energy, and install new windows in the celerstory from Gilkey Windows.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Progress on the Boulter House

Much has happened over the last several years since my last post. We started Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy at to keep up with all the sustainable activities but internet search engine optimization has brought us back to Google Blogger and to learn more about it's integration into our WordPress site. Thanks for your interest and keep in touch. 513-260-9025,

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Much progress.

I haven’t been keeping up with entries because Janet and I have been busy. Winter wasn’t too bad but now I know what to do for next year thanks to Barb Yankie with Homes+, Inc. She took infrared photos of the house to discover where our home "leaks" energy. Through her images we learned our major loss comes from the mitered corner glass. We plan to reset them this year to "tighten" the glass-to-glass connection, meanwhile I’ll use a piece of optically clear tape over the seam. I didn’t realize that corners present the most problems.

We've been making progress with interior painting. The color “Pine Needle” from Valspar has made an enormous difference. If I can describe it -- it's more the color of weathered concrete block -- a medium greened gray. Because we want to continue it on the outside block, we first need an okay from the Cincinnati Preservation Association. We're fairly confident in our choice and the finished effect will blend the home into the hillside just as Wright had originally envisioned. I hope the house paint sprayer I got last fall to paint the roof will make speedy work of the vertical surfaces.

Of course, first impressions begin at the door and we've made progress there are well. We've found a new doorknob! Actually it's 50 years old and relocated from the meter room door. In addition to daily and routine maintenance, we've added architectural salvage to our list of activities. Thanks to Janet's brother, who works for a locksmith, he located a vintage Sargent lock set that matches. The former lock set -- not original to the home -- was literally falling apart. Of course, just inside the door the new paint color has made quite a difference and we've "retired" the original Wright-designed drapery and replaced with a four-panel screen of grass-like material. The effect is shoji-like and we like it too. What Janet likes best is a little art project we did together that hangs at the entrance. We used three 12-in. square canvases to represent the different colors that Mr. Wright called Taliesin Red. One is terra cotta red, the second canvas is a deep mahogany-toned wood, and the third is a mixture of the two. Actually our inspiration came from the last Wright Building Conservancy meeting where we saw something similar.

The little paintings and overall paint job are impressive, but our latest big project is now installed. Yes, more than a year after deciding we wanted more built in cabinetry, we've got nearly 22-ft. of 'em in the carport. Made from a wood that closely resembles ribbon mahogany (found in the great room), we are enjoying the look of the cabinetry as well as the extra storage. One neighbor who stopped by to have a look asked if they'd "always been there." Just the response we hoped for -- they look as if Wright personally designed them. It was a test of all his talents says our cabinetmaker Dan Kreimer, who veneered and edge-banded every door panel. He also had to deal with a 3/4-in. slope in the floor. On a sustainable note, we reclaimed wood from the room's former closet and reused in the new cabinetry. While the rest of the room is not finished, we have upgraded and simplified the electric. Next is to build the lightboxes and finish repairing and re-coating the concrete floor.

Plans for the addition bath are coming along with sketches for the addition as well. We'll do the bath first. Probably sometime this fall. Dan will again handle cabinetry and tells us that he learned much about how to construct cabinetry for the rest of the house thanks to the carport project.

The yard is going natural this year. I’m recycling all yard clippings and also starting a vegetable garden with tomatoes, bottle gourds, pumpkins, corn and sunflowers. More for color than anything else.

Oh, one last thing. Cincinnati State’s horticultural school senior class is doing some landscape plans for the home. I hope to get some ideas for the service area and tree placements out of them. My most recent revelation is to use the rocks as a couple of paths down the corner hill and as crescents below the flowerbeds so I can walk up and down the hill as well as service the gardens. I’m also adding a mulch path. As always, every year, trying to control and sculpt the grass hillside id the big problem. I keep trying to reclaim some more of it each year. I enjoy painting with rocks, mulch, flowers, plants and grass.

It Is Finally Sinking In

What is the meaning of life? If you Goggle it you will find a wonderful site that explains it beautifully. The meaning of life is to live it in the present. Some say it is a Budda concept but you will find it in Thomas Jefferson’s “Rules of Conduct.” If this house was meant to teach me something, that is it. I like the house a lot but the American culture of constant consumption, storage, warehousing, forgetting, and throwing away is not living in the present. Really the reason I love the house is the 48’ x 10’ glass wall to the south. There is something about nature that is so calming and relaxing and thoughtful and meaningful. Just seeing it everyday is enough. I had a terrible day last week, lost a new account, a client fired me and a gardener stood me up. Eating my lunch at the southeast corner in the sunny noontime, I was made happy by the house. Only my racing glider can lay claim to that emotion. You can fly your house.

Janet and I experienced La Corbusier’s Villa Savoye last month. I learned a lot. What other homes are like that? Monticello? Paladin’s signature work? Each climate has it’s own house. Tropical shelter. Southern NA plantations. Spanish South American Villas. Temperate stone work. Northern fireplaces. Far north insulation earth/log homes. Igoos. But those aren’t really the reason. Corbusier rejected the tree, which Mies’ Farnsworth clutched, but couldn’t ignore the sun, wind and car, which he embraced beautifully.

Window Repair Decisions

Well, I started exploring what the problem is on the front window stills. The small piece of wood (7/8" x 3/8") that was used as a windowsill was very soft and not sealing the lower wood window support or footer. I'm replacing it with a tapered section to help the water run off (7/8" x 3/8" x 1/2"). Water comes in under the window when the rain blows from the south. Most of the time the windows don't even get wet because of the roof overhang.

View to the east on the terrace. The bottoms of the windows and two sets of doors have a 1/2" x 1" piece of redwood glued with a black or gray caulk. It was very hard to remove and sealed well where the caulk was still good. In the corners and around the window joint the caulk has failed. The two sets of doors, one shown doesn't open because of this strip. Here is a view of one of the window footers with the small sill removed. This view shows the moisture meter indicating over 28% moisture.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The owner calls

The owner calls

The continuing saga of life in a Frank Lloyd Wright home.

After I got home this evening the phone rang and I went to pick it up. The caller ID said it was the original owner and I knew it was his wife. I had sent her a note recently with a clipping from the Cincinnati Enquirer's Sunday Sept. 10 edition about endangered modern homes in the Cincinnati area along with a blurb about the 50th Anniversary of the Boulter House construction. She was very gracious on the phone and thanked us for sharing the home with many events. She said that the master of the home also liked to share the home. "It must be a guy thing," she remembered. We'll get together soon, Janet and I hope.

We just got back from the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy annual conference, which was held, in Detroit this year. Compared with two years ago when Janet and I could get away, it was a better event for us. Being seasoned owners by now with three years under our belt, I was more confident about adding my two cents worth. That was quickly put in its place after listening to the presentation "Maintenance Planning for Wright Homeowners." Although I do a fair amount of documentation about the projects I do, I need to do a better job and she passed out some excellent forms to fill out along with a schedule of maintenance. My biggest concern is the roof. Although the easiest solution would be to put on a new roof, we don’t have the money to do that or don’t want to spend what we do have on it until it starts to fail. This is not unlike the experience John Payne, the owner of the Richardson House experienced when he patched the radiant floor heating only to have it last 8 years and then fail in river of water flowing under them while the supply valve was desperately trying to make up for the loss in pressure. It seems silly that I'm trying to wick away the ponding of water on the roof but it hasn't been successful yet. A Ben Dombar home owner and the owner of the Penfield Home are also interested in my experiments. The best thing I've found is a large mop head. It wicks off about a gallon an hour. Smaller 5/8 to 1-inch diameter wicks, barely a pint an hour. Well that about ends the experimentation this year. I put a couple of gallons of latex paint on the Styrofoam roof insulation over the last three weeks, covering the spots that were eroded by the sun over the summer or picked out by birds. Don’t ask me why. Nest material? I hope I can confirm again this winter that the insulation has reduced our energy use by 25% although cost went up last November by 38%. The only thing I changed was to insert corrugated plastic roofing material under the areas of the roof that have standing water in a effort to cut down on the water absorption. The panels weight 5 pounds new and when completely waterlogged weight 60 lbs. Keeping them up out of the water doesn’t seem to help much, rain water saturates the top panel anyway. The roof has two layers of 4" x 4' x 8' panels. I got an estimate to put an aluminum roof over the whole thing, $29,500.

My number one fall project is to replace the windowsills on the south facing windows. Our cabinetmaker, milled some of the reclaimed redwood from the carport studio tearout (don't worry it wasn't original). It now has a bevel to direct the water away from the windows. After consulting with two architects I chose the Abatron system because it comes with a pigment which will match the brown redwood color if in the future I plan to sand the surface. Once removing the old sill I'll use Abatron's consolidant, fill with the pigmented epoxy to restore the wood to its original dimensions. After cutting to fit I glue it in with paintable silicon elastomeric latex caulk and nail it in. I may also use pure silicon since the fine edge won’t need paint. Any help with this would be wonderful. The idea is that the sills can be removed and replaced in the future with the door itself intact.

Later in the fall after I can’t use silicone anymore, I plan to dig out the north west corner paver walk which has dropped 1 1/4 inch since they installed the walk. I really don’t know why it sank. Maybe I'll find out when I excavate.

The repair on the west side floor slab looks great. The presentation on the radiant floor heating revealed what I was looking at when I was preparing the edge of the slabs for edging. I say edge of slabs because I could tell that there was a base pour, maybe two, and then a topcoat of pigmented concrete. The water is pooling there now on the surface so that at least won't corrode the radiant heating pipes for now. One other thing I learned from the presentation was that the cracks in the floor are where the pipes are and sure enough I can see the curves and other details now that I notice. I hope Janet and I are lucky in that the steep slope caused the water to drain away. Before the back wall was excavated and the north walkway created the north living room wall was damp and that is where the big crack is which I measured as .045" 2/2/05. I think that the exterior of the pipe is rusted there. The fourth pipe from the wall has the large crack. The third pipe has hair line cracks. Now the center of the floor as dropped 3/4". Maybe that is why there is a large crack. The concrete had to open up somewhere. An architect and his wife were walking along Rawson Woods Lane yesterday and I invited them to a quick tour. I love to get architects to stop bye and I immediately start grilling them on the structural details. "After coming back from the conference I found there are more questions than answers about radiant floor systems" I said. "Yes, it is that way," the architect replied. My final thought on the situation is that you need to look at nature and see what has lasted the longest. I'm looking for an example of radiant floor heating in nature if anyone knows of one. The Roman baths may be a good example. Please hand me the lead pipe.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Heat Goes On

The summer drought has settled in. It has been two weeks since we had a good inch of rain. I was just using the drip hose to water the trees and scrubs but that doesn't get the job done fast enough so I'll resort to the fan sprinkler. My goal of having a drought resistant yard is coming along and I learn a bit each year. My lesson lately has been to avoid planting in the late spring. It is best to plant in the fall. We planted a small Bottle Brush Buckeye in the west yard but it hasn't done well and will need extra watering. We had a few landscape architects give us their opinion on the best trees to reforest the canopy and it looks like the Black Locust has won the competition. The tree does well on the lot as evidenced by the many stumps. It won’t last forever but will be a good interim tree until the oaks, resistant elms, walnuts and hickories take over. The ashes are questionable with the impending ash borer spreading south. It should be here in five years. The entrance garden's Shasta Daisies are exceptionally tall for the bed and will be moved to our new "cutting garden" to be located on the south side between the main house and the addition. This was another good idea by our selected landscape architect. Other thoughts were to plant Boston Ivy on the terrace wall. The wall will have to be painted before we do that and that won't happen until the existing paint needs more attention. We also selected understory trees, scrub and groundcover species but the first job will be to plant about a dozen Black Locust in front of the terrace this fall. I'll work to make the most organic arrangement I can with clumps of two and three trees with the occasional loner. The other fall project will be to move the tall daisies, poppies and milkweed to the cutting garden and move the smaller flowers to the entrance garden such as our Bloody Cranesbill, Threadleaf Coreopsis, smoke plant and English Daisy. Separating and expanding the ConeFlowers, Stiff Goldenrod, daisies and hyssops will finish the fall work on the south lawn. Oh yeah, I want to move the path stones from the southwest side to fill out the paths on the southeast side. I never really use the paths on the west side and with a bit of newspaper and mulch in between I think I can simplify the paths and make them easier to use all year long. One last thing, we did finally succeed in finding some plants that grow on the southeast corner of the lot that has the two utility manholes on it. Lamb's ear and Yucca are doing well. I'm also letting the groundcover succulent weed go ahead and live there.

It's great to have an indoor project for the heat of the summer and the carport restoration has filled that nicely. Its been several months of work but we have removed the small studio that was constructed in the carport by the second owner and just last night put the first coat of paint on the south side where the new cabinets are going. It would have been nice to remove all of the old enamel paint and acid stain the raw concrete red but removing the paint was impossible with sandpaper and the exposed concrete was too soft. I think the chemicals in a paint remover would have removed the cementious material needed for acid staining. In the end, Janet made the executive decision to paint the floor since it will be covered mostly in carpets. The design of the cabinets will allow replacement of the windows either sooner or later. Sooner the more I think about how nice it would be to have thermopane in there and later when I research just exactly how the windows should be constructed and who should make them. Cedric's room has the best operating set of gate opening or French door style windows in the main home. Similar double pain windows were used in the addition window replacement but they don't seal very well and have to be puttied every winter. Double gate opening windows aren't a common style and seem a custom build. My research will pay off later when we restore the 10' tall living room doors. The next indoor project will be to construct the light boxes designed for the living room but being installed first in the workspace and then in the carport. They are a shallow box construction with the sides angled at a 96-degree angle to mimic the outward slant of the gallery parapet. Approximately 3 foot on a side and 4 inches deep, each contains four 20" indirect dimmable florescent around the perimeter and five down lighting halogens in the center.

I go to Beck's Hardware several times a week and Stan, Chris, Don, Rick and Dave have been great with the tips and tricks. Recently they saved me a lot of grief by suggesting an orange oil based carpet adhesive remover. I didn’t think it was going to work but sure enough it dissolved the old adhesive saving many hours of sanding. Which didn’t work any way because it just ate away at the delicate concrete finish. Thanks a bunch guys.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Progress On Many Fronts

All the flowers are out in full force. It really does take three years. I've learned a technique for reclaiming the yard. Cut down the grass or other ground cover, spread some fertilizer, cover with several layers of newspaper and then cover with grass clippings or mulch. So far I've reclaimed the north bed, enlarged the flowerbeds on the south side and created a nice bed around one of the Ash trees on the east side. I get excited as the grass gets longer and longer planning my next reclamation.

My dozen tubes of silicone expired at the end of May and just in time I ground out all the nasty black caulk from the south side of the home and laid down a beautiful bevel of silicone. I'll be able to finish repairing the east and west sides of the slab before the silicone hardens up too much to get it out of the tube in the next week or so. It's my number one project at the moment.

The carport restoration is coming along well. Having an open room and uncovering the window to the workspace has entirely transformed the space. The next stage is to build a shallow cabinet along the south wall. It will be similar to Cedric's window treatment, the workspace woodwork and the living room seating kickplate. The next thing for me to accomplish is finish tearing out the carpet, patching, sanding and staining the concrete pad.

The roof is another matter. I repaired the damaged insulation, painted the bare spots and raised the portions that were sitting in standing water. The EPDM paint that I applied to the portions with standing water has debonded in several areas. I'll try to figure out why that happened, do a better job of preparing the surface and repaint it along with sealing an edge that leaks later this summer in the dry season.

On July 1 we are having a 50th Birthday Party for the home. It will be a members only event for the newly formed CF3 (Cincinnati Form Follows Function) modern homeowners and lovers of mid century modern design non-profit organization. Check out their site at

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Be Gone Garlic Mustard

Janet and I pulled the last bit out last night. Now we are on to the Yellow Thistle, I think. It is taking over the top of the east side hill. Yellow Thistle is also a plant that lives two years. The seeds stay in the ground for many years but as long as you don't let the plants go to seed they will finally stop.

I've been using the mower clippings as a mulch around my traditional hardwood mulch flower beds. The strategy is to kill the grass below and then mulch it with hardwood later in the fall. That way my beds will slowly get larger and larger. Four cubic yards, eight cubic yards and finally I'll just have the park board make my corner a mulch depot.

The Bottle Brush Buckeye is doing great in the west yard under the trees. We liked the look of the ones at the Cincinnati Civic Garden Club when we went to the plant sale on Sunday last. Purchased some giant hostas and another Bottle Brush Buckeye. Got a four foot cedar tree from my brother. Time to start my seedlings. Frost threat will be over next week.