Posts Tagged ‘ building custom home ’

Exploring Geothermal Heating and Cooling

With people becoming more conscious of the environment, and wanting their dollars to go further, companies around the world are coming up with new technology to satisfy consumers. Enter Geothermal Heating and Cooling Systems. These systems are both environmentally friendly and have lower operating costs.

Geothermal Systems use the Earth to heat and cool air in the home using a series of pipes, called a loop, which is installed below the surface of the ground. During the winter, Earth’s natural heat is collected as fluid circulates through the loop. It is then carried into the house where an electrical compressor and heat exchanger concentrate the Earth’s energy and releases it inside the home at higher temperatures. In summer, the home is not cooled by blowing in cold air, but rather drawing the heat from inside the home and cycles through the loop where it is absorbed by the Earth.

These systems also produce much less greenhouse gases than air conditioners, oil furnaces, and electric heating. The US Environmental Protection Agency has called ground source heat pumps the most energy-efficient, environmentally clean, and cost-effective space conditioning systems available. Further, geothermal heat pumps are durable and require little maintenance. The underground piping for the system is often guaranteed to last 25 to 50 years. And with no outside condensing units like air conditioners, they are quieter to operate.

All in all, geothermal heating and cooling is a good way to go. While the upfront cost may be a little more, the long term benefits make up for it. By using a renewable resource (the Earth’s heat) and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, there is a much smaller environmental footprint left behind.

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Simple Steps to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality is critical in maintaining your health.  The source of pollutants can be broad and difficult to identify.  Signs that your home has poor air quality is if you notice a change in your health after moving into your new home or harsh odors can also be an identifier of poor indoor air quality.    When compared to outdoor air quality, indoor air quality can be 2-5 times more polluted which is alarming as people spend a majority of their time indoors.  

There are three categories for improving indoor air quality:

  • Source Control
  • Improved Ventilation, and
  • Air cleaners

Here are some simple steps that can be taken to improve the overall air quality in your home:

1.  Air out all furniture and carpet for 48 hours prior to bringing them indoors.

This is the time where the new items off gas the chemicals that they obtained while being manufactured.  The smell that comes from new furniture or carpet is the slow release of VOCs (Volatile organic compounds), it is best to prevent those chemicals from ever entering your home by letting the toxins escape from the fabric.

2. Install a carbon monoxide detector

Carbon monoxide levels can rise quickly in unventilated areas without anyone noticing as there are no signs of the colorless, odorless, toxic gas.  The carbon monoxide detectors need to be installed close to the bedrooms and there needs to be at least one on every level.  Gasses in a home such a carbon monoxide need to be carefully managed by making sure proper ventilation over stoves and fireplaces is in place to control the potentially hazardous gasses.

3. Prevent any Water From Entering Your Home

Check your roof, foundation and basement or crawlspace once a year to catch leaks or moisture problems and route water away from your home’s foundation.  Leaks need to be fixed in a timely fashion to avoid moisture from spreading and gaining momentum which could potentially lead to mold and other issues compromising the air quality in your home.   Ventilating the bathroom can also help draw out moisture in an otherwise damp environment.  Moisture can be a leading culprit for harboring bacteria, when higher humidity levels are reached your walls are liable to start producing condensation.  Damp environments are harmful as bacterial thrives in a wet environment and ultimately those toxins can be released into the air.

4. Proper selection and maintenance of your air filter

Filters are measured by (MERV) minimum-efficiency reporting value based on their efficiency to remove particles from the air.  It is recommended to start with a MERV 9 rated filter or better.  A general rule of thumb is to change your air filter every 30-60 days depending on the level of occupancy and if you have pets in your home.

We hope this information has been helpful in the quest for breathing clean healthy air in your home!

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Products For Health and Safety in Your Home

Throughout the years of building houses we have come across a few items that help improve health and safety in your home.

1. Kiddie Smoke  Detector

A lithium battery operated smoke detector allows you to never have to worry about replacing batteries as it self charges off the home’s current.  This smoke detector is particularly helpful with houses with high ceilings, making it very difficult to change the batteries.   Kidde 0910 10-Yr Sealed Lithium Battery-Operated Smoke Alarm is made up of a sealed-in lithium energy offer that lasts the lifetime of the unit.  Trusted and straightforward to install, this no-maintenance alarm saves on labor and battery charges in excess of its lifetime.  This smoke detector is standard in all homes built by Masters Touch Custom Homes.

2. Great Ways to Collect Dust In Your Home: 

New Construction Homes commonly have a lot of dust in the air in the initial few weeks.  Taking an air filter and attaching it to a box fan is a great solution to trap some of the dust.  This is also a great device to put in place for people who suffer from dust allergies.  A simple contraption to enhance the air quality in a house with items that are easily accessible.

3. Enviro Coat-Premium Interior Zero VOC Paints:


Some paint companies have started manufacturing paint formulas that do not emit VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds).  This product will maintain healthy indoor air quality versus using  some of the traditional paints.  This paint also eliminates compounds that affect exterior air quality.  Using zero VOC paints is critical is highly sensitive area where some people are  have low tolerance for irritants that are present in standard paint products.



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Passive Cooling–An Efficient Way to Cool your Home


Passive Cooling:


With the number of 100 degree plus days in Texas, passive cooling can be considered to more easily get the indoor temperature inside the comfort range.  Passive cooling can be described as the use of the sun’s energy for the heating and cooling of living spaces.   The building takes advantage of natural energy characteristics in materials and air created by exposure to the sun. Passive systems are simple, have few moving parts, and need minimal maintenance and free of mechanical systems.  A few critical decisions during the design process could allow a building to be naturally cooled with less burden and to the cooling systems in a building.

Passive Cooling Guidelines:

  • The building should be elongated on an east-west axis.
  • The building’s south face should receive sunlight between the hours of 9:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M. (sun time) during the heating season.
  • Interior spaces requiring the most light and heating and cooling should be along the south face of the building. Less used spaces should be located on the north.
  • An open floor plan optimizes passive system operation.
  • Use shading to prevent summer sun entering the interior.

Cross Ventilation:

Making a building permeable is the easiest way to encourage cross ventilation.   The building has to have several places where air can enter and exit a building.   For the most effective ventilation, there should be openings on the prevailing wind (windward) side of the building and, likewise, the opposite (leeward) side of the building.  This arrangement will allow the air to be pulled through the building.

Chimney or Stack Ventilation:

Another form of ventilation is through stack ventilation. In this method, the same principles of cross-ventilation apply, except a height factor is included. Since hot air rises, creating a high exit on an upper floor of a multi-story space will be more efficient at exhausting the rising heat. The hot air at the top and cool air at the bottom create a natural convection of air flow, which will also aide in the movement of air through the building. An exhaust fan can also be used if more air flow is desired.


The photo (above) is a remodel by Masters Touch Custom Homes, this photo illustrates how both exterior decking and vegetation help to prevent direct sunlight from entering the windows.

Shading devices over windows and doors prevent direct sunlight from entering the home.  Awnings, shutters and blinds will help to minimize a building from over heating.  Quality windows and doors will also prevent the compromise of the exterior envelope of a building.  Trees and other greenery strategically placed can be beneficial in preventing direct sunlight from entering the building.

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Masters Touch Custom Homes – Recycling Building Materials

Brought to you by Masters Touch Custom Homes. Masters Touch Custom Homes has a new approach to waste recycling on the job-site. Here Matt Bailey of Masters Touch Custom Homes tell you how they recycle.

A New Approach to Recycling Building Materials

There is almost nothing that can’t be recycled these days including building materials.  Matthew Bailey VP of Masters Touch Custom Homes has found a new approach to

waste recycling on a job site.

The green building movement is changing the way custom home builders think about what they should do with leftover materials.  And thanks to the green building movement, home renovation, building, and restoring gets greener everyday.

In this short video Matt describes how to recycle leftover building materials.  Recently they hired a construction waste recycle r here in Central Texas.  All of the scraps or construction remnants are ground into a bark.  The nails are then separated out of the pile, and the bark is ready for use. The bark can be used for erosion control; it can also be used for soil amendment for composting.  With other debris like rock and stone, it is chipped and used for road base.

Trash is also a big part of the recycling.  It is first put all together, and then separated into what can be recycled.  This saves approximately 4 tons of trash from the landfill from each job-site.

Recovery of building materials for reuse, as well as incorporation of reused materials in a new design, both help to close the loop of materials use. Millions of tons of building materials from demolition and remodels are currently dumped in landfills every year, not serving any further purpose. Salvage of materials preserves much of their embodied energy, the energy invested in extracting the materials and producing an item.

A Story of a Retirement-Ready House

When Ronald Knecht began house hunting two years ago, he had a promise to keep. Before his wife passed away from a battle with cancer, she had asked him to move to Nokesville, Va., to be close to their daughter so that the two could look after each other. But at 73 years old and having just watched his wife go from healthy to a walker to a wheelchair, he wasn’t looking for just anything.

What he found was a whole lot of old mansions, “99% of which were junk,” he says. With too many stairs and maintenance issues that would have been unthinkable. Beyond that, he was looking for efficiency. “The Realtors wanted to show you the granite in the kitchen. I wanted to go to the basement, and when you’re looking at daylight through the band boards, there’s no way you can possibly heat that house.”

After months of searching, Knecht decided to have one built. Working with  a local green builder that had experience with universal design, Knecht spent the next few months extensively researching accessible design. Together, what he and the builders came up with is the equivalent of a super-house. Ultra efficient, universally designed to a T, and virtually maintenance free, evidence of careful research and planning is everywhere.

Driving in, the garage is extra wide, with a 9-foot door to accommodate lift-equipped vehicles. The bumped-out walls provide enough space on either side for someone in a wheelchair to get out comfortably. “That was something my wife always hated,” Knecht says, “when I would have to make her get out in the rain and wheel her inside because the garage was too small.”

Paths leading up to the home are 6-feet across, allowing enough room for a wheelchair and another person to approach the home side-by-side. At the front entry, the plan includes a small shelf for packages, so that it isn’t necessary to bend over to pick parcels up from the ground—one of the many features Knecht insists would be useful to anyone, whether or not they have full mobility. “Who wouldn’t want a shelf by the door when you’re coming home with groceries and kids and you got a purse and keys to deal with?”

And then there is the door itself. “A lot of builders will throw in a 32-inch door and call themselves universal design, but that’s useless if you can’t operate the door handle,” says  the building designer . Beyond using levered handles or specialized knobs, he says, a home’s design needs to include at least 18 inches of clear space on the pull side of the door to ensure that a wheelchair or a person on crutches can get up to the side of the door and make it through comfortably. “I was working with [a universal design specialist], and you wouldn’t believe how many mothers call her saying that their kids with sports injuries can’t get through the front door,” Knecht says.

Inside, the entire kitchen is tailored with accessibility features that encourage mobility without looking institutional. Counters sit at 34 inches, with space underneath so they can be accessed from a seated position. Space is also cutout underneath the cooktop, which features knobs at the front of the unit covered by a panel that prevents children from accessing them. Kickspaces are 9 inches high and 6 inches deep, to accommodate wheelchairs. And all light switches, outlets, and thermostats sit at a 44-inch height.

Bathrooms are fitted with out-turning doors and low-in showers. Counters, set at 34 inches, have free space underneath to make them wheelchair accessible. To make up for the lack of undercounter cabinetry, each bathroom is fitted with a closet accessed through bi-fold doors.

In the bedrooms, closet bars can be set at multiple heights, not only to adjust for someone in a wheelchair, but also so that they can be made available to a child and then adjusted for height as the child grows.

And everywhere in the home, lighting was a top priority. “Shadows cause falls,” Knecht says. So his plan meticulously eliminates them by flooding the home with natural light through windows and sun tunnels, including a sun tunnel in every shower. Path lights illuminate the hallway, and the kitchen is outfitted with undercounter lighting.

Often overlooked as an aspect of universal design, home maintenance was a big priority for Knecht, who not only wants to avoid having to deal with home upkeep as he ages, but also doesn’t want the home to be a bother for his daughter, who will take it over after he’s gone.

“Someone tried to talk me into a black shingled roof,” he says. “They look good, but I said no because of all the heat they absorb. I wanted to use white shingles, but those only had a 30-year warranty. So what, in 30 years I’m dead and my daughter is 70 years old and has to worry about putting in a new roof? I don’t think so.” Instead, the home is outfitted with a white metal roof with a 55-year guarantee.

The windows and doors are all done in maintenance-free fiberglass, and the home itself is clad in cement board, “so it will never rot,” Knecht says.

While the home is 4,000 square feet, Knecht estimates that less than 200 of that was added because of universal design features. And while the home hits a higher price range, Palladino says that is due to the extra energy-efficiency features that are included, such as the geothermal system and top-of-the-line insulation. The universal design features, he says, are accessible at just about any price point. “When you compare the cost difference between a standard door and a 36-inch door, you’re talking a difference of $24.”

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State of the Art Movie Theater Coming to Four Points

A new luxury theater will be coming soon to The Trails at 620 in the Four Points area.  The development will also provide retail space, a 2 mile running trail, and a play scape.  They don’t plan to have the cookie cutter look to their storefronts they want them to resemble an “Austin” flavor.

The Trails at 620, located across RR 620 from Concordia University and east of the Grandview Hills neighborhood, broke ground Feb. 12 and will be developed in two phases.

The development was originally planned to break ground in summer 2010, but getting a special permit from the City of Austin to have more than one entrance facing RR 620 took 14 months.

Under construction

Phase 1 is 90 percent leased, with a movie theater, national restaurant chains Whataburger, Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Schlotzsky’s and locally owned Flores Mexican Restaurant, which serves Tex-Mex food. Flores Mexican Restaurant’s Four Points location is currently north of the shopping center at 7900 N. RR 620.

Paving of the first phase of The Trails at 620 begins in August and vertical building will begin Sept. 1, weather permitting. Businesses in Phase 1 are expected to begin opening in early 2012 and continue throughout the year.

Dinner and a show

On June 20, the developers announced Galaxy Theatre, an upscale traditional cinema and luxury dinner theater, would be the anchor business for Phase 1, with a 1,500-seat theater within 11 auditoriums on the southwest side of the development. Four of the auditoriums are dubbed Director’s Choice, featuring premium dine-in theaters, which include reserved seating, plush recliners and in-theater food and beverage services. The other seven screens will be general admission. Patrons can also order off an extensive wine, beer and cocktail list in Director’s Choice auditoriums.

“We plan to make Galaxy Theatre at the Trails the first choice in movie entertainment in the Austin area,” Speaks said.

Moviegoers can anticipate watching films at Galaxy as soon as June 2012.

Traffic and competition

While the RR 2222/RR 620 intersection is already bogged down with traffic, the developers do not believe they will be adding to it.

“The traffic in this area is congested to say the least,” Sloan said. “Going north on [RR] 620 is time-consuming and not the most convenient for area residents to go out to eat, to shop or to go to movies. We feel like this will be a good location for a large population.”

Instead of increasing traffic, Speaks believes the development will absorb traffic.

“We think we’re going to pull traffic off the road,” Speaks said. “Because instead of everyone having to drive to Lakeline [Mall] to shop or eat, we’ll pull them off five miles sooner.”

Speaks said a Randalls under construction in Steiner Ranch on RR 620, south of RR 2222, has not affected their building plans. There is also a nearby H-E-B at the RR 620 and RR 2222 intersection.

“The Randalls is strictly a Steiner development,” Speaks said. “And we’re actually a development on [RR] 620 that’s going to pull from a different area.”

Because the Galaxy Theatre in The Trails at 620 will be one of the only theaters serving the West Austin area, Sloan believes people will drive farther to visit the shopping center.

The nearest theater is about four miles away at Regal Lakeline Mall with 1890 Ranch Cinemark in Cedar Park about 10 miles away. However, there are no theaters in Austin to the south or west of the planned Trails at 620, and the closest to the east is about a 10-mile drive to the Arboretum area.

“A theater, just by the nature of it, we feel will be more of a regional draw, because there’s not a theater like it offering the large screen, the dinner theater combinations and reserved seating,” Sloan said.

Phase 2

Edge Realty Partners is preleasing for Phase 2, which will begin construction in late fall at the earliest. Sloan said the development will be more traditional retail with a combination of local and chain stores.

Some of the timing, she said, depends on signing an anchor tenant for the project, most likely a grocery store.

“We would love to have a specialty grocer, pet services, office services and some clothing stores,” Sloan said.

Phase 2 is anticipated to open about a year to a year-and-a-half after Phase 1.

Preserving the land

Of the original 169 acres, about 100 of those were given to Travis County for preservation and about nine more acres were sold to the county for additional preserve, leaving about 60 acres for development.

Because the area is in a sensitive environment, with endangered species in the nearby Canyonlands Preserve, construction must be planned carefully.

“We can’t start Phase 2 until after September because of environmental issues with nesting birds,” Sloan said. “We’ve tried to design [The Trails at 620] to save a maximum number of oak trees and take advantage of the natural terrain.”

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