1805 Brook Road
Abington, PA 19001


1636 Brisbane Road
Silver Spring, MD 20902
215-886-6916 (universal)



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Current Projects and Advice

Silver Spring Addition

Black Dog is now registered in Maryland and is working out of Silver Spring! Events have led us to get an apartment in DC, and my sister and her family live in Silver Spring, so it was a natural! And to celebrate (actually, to make my decision for me!) that self same sister and husband (http://www.onthemarkpr.com) decided to build the addition we have been designing for 7 years! (Insert reminder for clients to plan ahead...).

Their house is a modest post-war house typical to the older Silver Spring neighborhoods. Small, but great neighbors, close to the Metro and parks, good schools, et al. They were lucky in that their corner lot is bigger than most and they already had a one-story family room added on previously.


With her office overflowing the bedroom, a terrific southern exposure but very poor access to the back yard and a small and isolated kitchen, we decided to remove the back wall and bump out the back, treating it like a sunroom, but with windows locates to it still feels like a living room. A new office "bookends" the sunroom, a wider door opens the old dining to the new family room, and the kitchen wall was removed and the kitchen expanded and updated. A new deck connects it all. Since we are providing a new roof, we took the opportunity to super-insulate the roof, as well as the basement and new walls. Expanding the HVAC system has let us rectify old inefficiencies and properly service that area.


In the family room we removed old run down closets and are putting in a pair of large closets for storage and hiding the TV, with a counter between and the HUGE fish tank as the room's visual axis.  Plans also called for relocating the house's front door to recognize the primacy of the new space, but the budget wasn't there. Likewise, we looked long and hard at a new 2nd floor which would have offered a nice master suite and an additional bedroom, but for a small family we couldn't justify the costs. It remains an excellent idea for future owners,though.


Construction starts in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned


Project Progress

A couple of projects are moving along or have just finished.

The Kitchen renovation/blowout I wrote about in my May 4 article (below) is done. These are outside pictures while they finish painting the inside. The beige pic is "before", the green is "after". It is close, but subtle moving of the back door, exchanging the slider for a French door and adding efficient and larger windows really opened it up. The real proof is in the inside, which I will post when it is completely done.

Dormer Addition


May, 2011: The project is complete and is a great success. It really opens up the 2nd floor and enhances the entry and curb appeal. We opted to change the siding and extend the eaves as well, to add character and protect the sides of the house.
(In November) The Dormer (also below) is now framed out and sheathed. A huge LVL beam let us open the whole room up, and the 1" exterior insulation stops the thermal bridging of the studs and gives us an R-20 wall. The area below the high awning windows is to be opened up to the hall below, though it is tempting to keep it for the attic room! One thing to watch out for with an adjacent gable pitch is to put in a significant "cricket" to guide the water flow away (far right).

Marc (MPF Construction in Abington) is a good builder. This is probably the 4th project I have done with him in this area.

Ambler Sunroom:
And the Rear sunroom/front porch addition in Ambler is tearing it up. fully closed in, looking great. The contractor, Jon Domers, is a young guy new to me but has turned out to be a very conscientious, smart and forward looking builder. I am really lucky to have guys like these on my projects.

Here we used U-.29 windows from Integrity, a combination of spray foam and fiberglass insulation in the walls and ceilings, and even R-30 in the floor. The windows on the left are tall but the sill is high enough to allow furniture, while the ones on the right are lower for a sunroom effect at the south-west table area. The room is light filled with a great view to the to-be-landscaped back yard.

The center gable is a bit shallower than the existing roof, but has to coordinate with the 2nd floor windows. The interior view and feeling is just great when you stand in the room, however. The center is set up for a specialty tile backboard and hearth, and a woodstove. Also, we used standing seam metal for the pitches we could see (front porch and rear gable), and EPDM for the out-of-site flat roof.

Now is the Time to Build


What I mean is, there are several good reasons to do your project now.

· Despite the recent gloom, many of us still have seen long term appreciation in the values of our homes, so additions may well give you the value you are looking for while not out-pricing your neighborhood (if carefully planned).
· Life goes on regardless, the kids grow, need room, living spaces just don’t work for your lifestyle anymore. In many cases, the neighborhood you are in is terrific, and a careful addition will allow you to stay. If you need it, you will get the value out it.
· If you could benefit from the addition, renovation or expansion, so will others, so the resale value and saleability of your home will be improved. That said, do not do an addition for speculation; do it because it will enhance your home and life.
· If well planned and executed, you will get better use and pleasure from it than the stagnant or dropping stock market!

At Black Dog, our approach is to be practical, beautiful and as cost-effective as we can. This does not mean cheap, since building is always a significant investment. It means the design is well thought out, not excessive and suits your requirements.

That’s value.

Row Houses

Row houses are cool. Our first one was in Roxborough. I learned plastering, electrical (cross yourself, close your eyes and connect the wires...) and resisting the Devil when my neighbor bought new vinyl windows while I rebuilt the original wood ones.

They are also a real PitA. With everything in America growing bigger, they have 30" front doors, 30" halls, 7'6" ceilings, postage stamp back yards, plumbing from before time began and electrical systems that defy comprehension.

That said, they are usually affordable, have great neighborhoods, lower fuel bills, proximity to active urban life, and fewer rooms to furnish.
That said, they could use a couple more rooms to furnish and to stick the kids in or to have friends over.

In the rowhouses I have designed new or renovated, the common issues are: new rooms off the back, a new kitchen and maybe a PR on the main floor, laundry upstairs and a person-sized bath on the upper floors. Oh, and throw in a roof deck for the fireworks. I have also deepened the basement (not for the faint of heart!), replaced the front brick facade and cleaned up the Living room-to-kitchen visual axis.

Read more...

Dormer Progress Report


UPDATE: The project is built and is a huge success! The upstairs family/playroom is almost 6' deeper and had great light and a view to the park. It will make a good master suite later. The smaller windows light the 2-story stairwell and the entry is updated. The owners also took the opportunity to upgrade to Hardie plank siding, extended eaves and new windows, and promise that the pergola will come!


An earlier previous posting referenced a dormer project. It has evolved a bit, with the simple goal of expanding the upper floor leading to an awareness of how important the entry is. The new roof meant we had to redo the entrance, so we are enlarging the roof, keeping the simple shed look, and adding a pergola across the front.

This references a classic front porch, and enhances the impact of the entrance. It also keeps it open for landscaping while shading the south facing windows.

The window pattern above reflects the spaces behind: the awnings are over an open shaft for the stairs, while the double-hungs are in the playroom, giving tons of light and a great view to the park across the street.

Since we are replacing the roof anyway (which started this whole thing!) we are also adding overhangs to the gables, part of a little style change from the basic ranch that we began with a neighbor (the green craftsman buglaow on the Residential Design page).

There are some structural challenges to this type of addition, notably the floor must be adequate or beefed up,and adding this dormer to the existing rear dormer meant either a massive ridge beam or a smaller one with posts. The solution depends on the layout of the house.

So, a simple idea has plenty of challenges, but plenty of benefts as well. Keep in mind that things are rarely as simple as the basic idea seems to be, but then, with some thought, the rewards can be just that much greater!

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