low maintenance

EHH week 34: shower enclosure

For this house, we architects were asked for minimal maintenance finishes and in particular no tile grout joints.  This reasonable request posed a difficulty at the three showers, where tile is the material of choice.


To finish the shower enclosures, we selected a cement plaster called Milestone.  Since it is troweled in place it has no joints, just smooth surfaces.  The color is integral, consisting of mineral pigments just like colored concrete.  And it goes on walls and floors so we could use the same mix and color for all surfaces.


To form the shower pans, we recessed the floor structure a couple inches.  This recess was waterproofed with Red Guard, the same liquid applied membrane we used under the concrete floor topping.  Before proceeding, the membrane is flooded and allowed to stand for 24 hours to assure there are no leaks.  The recess was reinforced with metal lath and then filled with a mortar bed mix that is fairly dry.  The mortar bed is formed to slope towards a central drain.  After it cures, the cement plaster is troweled over it.


As an aging-in-place feature, we designed the shower stalls with a flush threshold instead of a raised curb.  At one shower that will be used now by 80-year olds we installed grab bars.  In the other that will be used by 50-year olds we omitted the grab bars for the moment, but installed wood blocking inside the walls ready for grab bar screws in the future.

EHH week 26: steel railings

The steel decks and bridge have been installed, all but completing the exterior.  We chose steel because it looks better than wood when viewed from below and because it is strong and durable.  For the decking boards that are the walking surface we used tigerwood, a naturally rot resistant tropical wood that has a color and figure suiting its name.


All the steel for this project is 86% recycled steel from the rolling mill.  After cutting, drilling, and welding in the shop to fabricate the specific pieces needed for this house, it is sent for finishing.  We used a polyester powdercoat that is baked on.  The advantages over paint are several:  it is almost impossible to scratch, it never needs to be recoated, and it requires no solvent chemical to apply.


Before any steel is fabricated, each piece is drawn by hand by a detailer, in this case Ty Torjussen.  He is careful and thorough and I really enjoyed working through the nitty gritty issues with him.  Despite our care, it is always a nervous moment when the steel gets delivered and installed.  Will it all fit?  Sure enough, we overlooked one place where it was impossible to install screws into the decking boards.  So Model Remodel had to remove and alter a few pieces of steel to make it work.


The decks allow the homeowners to step outside and the stairs lead down to the garden.  For the first time, it feels like the home is connected to its garden.

EHH week 24: metal siding

With the weather enclosure of the house complete, the siding can be installed.  It is very exciting to see the final exterior go on!


Most of the siding is prefinished steel, to meet the homeowner’s request for durable, affordable, and zero maintenance.  We chose a corrugated panel with fairly narrow ribs for a more elegant and less industrial look, Custom Bilt Contour.  The ribs are oriented vertically both for looks and to let rain run down easily.  The color is baked on, like an automobile, and should never need repainting. 


Various trim shapes (L, Z, J) are employed where the corrugated siding meets windows, corners, or another material.  Each shape has to be lapped over the one below so that rain is shed down and away.  While the metal siding will repel most rain on its own, any rain that does get behind it will then be stopped by the building wrap.  This double barrier approach is essential in the rainy Pacific Northwest.


At the corners of the house and garage, we used a back-to-back J trim to keep it visually narrow.  It is common to see corners with a single L that covers both walls with a wide--and to my eyes unsightly--trim.


The key to metal siding is to have a craftsperson install it.  Done right, it will look beautiful, especially up close, and will be the most durable.  The crew from Consolidated Roofing, the same folks who installed the metal roofing, is doing a beautiful job.