Measure Would Limit HOA Attorneys Fees

by Jim Forsyth-
Members of the Texas Legislature are taking aim at a familiar target–Home Owners Associations.

News Radio 1200 WOAI reports State Rep Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) has filed a bill to prevent Home Owners Associations from engaging in a familiar practice…hiring a resident or one of the HOA board’s buddies as their ‘attorney,’ and then tacking huge ‘lawyers fees’ onto the bills of those whom, for whatever reason, have fallen behind on paying their dues.

Gutierrez’ bill is in response to Petty Officer Richard Miller’s lawsuit against the Monte Viejo Homeowners Association.  Miller claims that when he returned from deployment to Japan, where he was helping that nation deal with the devastating earthquake and tsunami, he found among his stack of mail, a notice that the HOA had given him 11 days to vacate his property.

Miller was informed that he had fallen behind on his HOA dues, and in addition to the $900 in back dues he owed, he was also being billed for $15,000 in ‘attorney’s fees.’

“The fact that Mr. Miller lost his home while serving our country overseas is a perfect example of how homeowners associations can take your home, not because you didn’t pay your mortgage or HOA dues, but because they tack on exorbitant and unreasonable attorney fees when they go after you,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez says while the plight of military members grabs the attention of the public and lawmakers, all Texas homeowners who are members of mandatory HOA’s ‘routinely face outrageous attorney fees charged by HOAs.

Gutierrez’ bill would place a ceiling on the collection of attorney feeds in property owners association foreclosures.

HOA’s argue that they serve the worthy goal of maintaining property values, and when some homeowners don’t pay their dues, it places that burden on the backs of responsible homeowners to maintain the neighborhood.

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Check it Out: Sustainable Mountain Home in Emerald Bluffs


Designing a sustainable mountain home within a nature preservation zone requires a deft touch. That’s the challenge architectural firm RTA Studio faced recently when it was asked to create a house that took advantage of a hillside location overlooking Lake Wanaka in New Zealand‘s Central Otago region.

The main entrance to the Emerald Bluffs house is a subterranean doorway leading to a staircase that borders an inglenook fireplace on one side and digs into the mountain rock on the other. Its design immediately conveys a sense of shelter and refuge while, at the top of the staircase, a single rectangular living space offers stunning views in all directions. The owners wanted a home that offered maximum privacy while highlighting its natural setting and respecting the environment through low energy usage. RTA Studio responded with a highly efficient heat pump and home solar PV heating coupled with on-site storm water and sewage management.

Native timber walls and ceilings add warmth to the interior and eliminate the need for sheetrock. The exterior is covered in rock quarried from the schist excavated from the mountain for the foundation, making it blend perfectly with its surroundings.

Founded by Richard Naish in 1999, RTA Studio has won over 60 local and international design awards for buildings that harmonize with their surroundings and promote sustainable living.


Architecture For The Rest Of Us

AiD 1

Too often, architects spend more time trying to impress each other than they do thinking about sustainable solutions for the future. That’s the position of Rob Breed and Changfang Luo, two young architects who have joined forces to create Architecture in Development(AiD).

In an interview with Core77, they said they noticed that “in the world of architecture, little attention is spent on the people and their relationship with architecture… the culture and the tradition that give shape to architecture. There is hardly a voice from the people who participated in the process of making architecture; there is hardly any critique or evaluation on architecture after it’s inhabited.”

To correct those failings, they want to encourage community design that emphasizes people rather than icons by providing a place where a new generation of architects can meet to collaborate on designs that address future needs. “We asked ourselves: How can we help our colleagues think and act differently in our daily practice? When we look beyond the glamorized architecture that impacts only the top 1%, we see many new dimensions of architecture—it’s fascinating to find out what architecture can do and what impact it can have on the needs and urgencies of various societies and communities,” they said.

Breed and Luo want to use the internet to “build up a network of resources, including financial, knowledge and human capital. The next step is to make these resources available and accessible for people who believe in a more socially relevant architecture.” The concept is similar to what Uber and Lyft are doing for commuters – using technology to link those who need to get somewhere with drivers willing to provide transportation.

The founders of AiD believe their mission is “to create a network of ‘curious’ people who dare to question the status quo of architecture and to craft an environment that is not only beautiful but also sustainable for generations to come.”

Isn’t that what architecture should really be about?

Officials Urge Americans To Sort Plastics, Glass Into Separate Oceans

WASHINGTON—Calling it an important but often overlooked step of the process, Environmental Protection Agency officials issued a statement Friday once again advising Americans to sort their plastics and glass materials into separate oceans. “We would like to remind Americans that clear, brown, and green glass should be placed in the Atlantic Ocean, and plastics classified as 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7 belong in the Pacific,” said EPA spokesman Daniel Gray, adding that individuals should properly rinse out all containers before depositing them off the appropriate coastline. “Also, lakes and rivers are reserved strictly for paper products. We simply ask that cardboard be flattened before it is left in any one of the thousands of designated freshwater bodies across the country.” Gray also stressed that Americans should only place old computers, televisions, mobile phones, and other unwanted electronics in forests on their assigned day of the week.

3 Green Construction Tactics to Help Build a Sustainable Future

wpid-home-improvement-ideas-and-tipsby James White –

You don’t have to be an environmental enthusiast to believe that it’s important to do whatever we can to protect our planet for future generations.

One easy way to reduce your negative impact on the earth – or at least the impact of those who are buying the homes you’re building – is to apply cutting-edge green construction techniques to all of your future projects.

No longer a nascent building strategy, green construction philosophies are being embraced on a much more frequent level. In fact, as much as 48 percent of nonresidential construction projects in the United States this year will be green projects, representing a market opportunity hovering near $145 billion. In addition to helping homeowners reduce their families’ carbon footprints, green homes save the average household upwards of $2,150 each year.

To take your environmentally conscious approach to construction a step further, builders can also choose to embrace a fleet of energy-efficient construction equipment. In doing so, you significantly reduce the amount of stress they put on the environment during construction.

OK—Now Let’s Get Specific

So what exactly can construction companies and contractors do to build with an eye toward lessening our negative impact on the planet? Let’s take a look at three common strategies.

Modular Homes

Modular homes are built in climate-controlled factories, so they provide builders with the peace of mind that comes with not having to worry about encountering lengthy delays due to inclement weather or defective materials. You also don’t have to deal with any unforeseen cost overruns.

Applying green building techniques to modular home construction provides a win-win scenario. Homeowners enjoy energy-efficient homes that were built in energy-efficient environments.

Passive Homes

Passive homes do not rely on typical heating and cooling systems, but they remain 70 to 74 degrees year-round due to clever green construction techniques. They’re considerably more popular in Europe due to more abrasive fuel costs, but they are starting to take root in the United States.

Current construction costs related to passive homes in America might be holding us back from widespread adoption. But we can reasonably expect all construction materials to come down in price as the technologies become refined.

After all, passive homes reduce heating and cooling consumption rates by as much as 90 percent without compromising on comfort. This fact is something that should be extremely attractive to anyone, regardless of politics or wealth.

Energy-efficient Construction Equipment

States like California require builders to use construction equipment that meets certain energy standards. But in other states, many environmentally conscious builders decide to take matters into their own hands and use such equipment anyway, even though it’s not required.

In addition to helping reduce the carbon footprints associated with their new projects, builders also benefit from burning less fuel. Energy-conscious machines are much more efficient than their traditional counterparts.

As the nation collectively shifts toward embracing a more sensible approach to the environment, you can imagine that we’ll see even more green construction tactics pervading the building community.

Bamboo flooring VS Engineered Hardwood

When homeowners want the look of hardwood floors but are on a pretty strict budget, they generally turn to two flooring substitutes: bamboo and engineered hardwood floors. This article will explore bamboo and engineered hardwood floors, what they are made of exactly, how they are manufactured and the various pros and cons of each.

Engineered Hardwood

Many people are confused about engineered hardwood floors and assume they are the same as laminate floors, but they are not. Laminate floors are not real wood, but engineered hardwood flooring is made entirely of wood. So what makes engineered hardwood flooring planks different from solid hardwood flooring planks? Solid wood floors are made of sections of a single hardwood such as maple or oak, and the planks are actually a continuous piece of wood.

Engineered hardwood floors, on the other hand, are made up of several layers of different types of wood. The top layer may be cut from just about any species of wood but is very thin and glued down to the section underneath it. Below this top section are many layers (the number of layers can vary) of various woods. For instance you may have a layer of plywood on top of a layer of solid wood on top of a layer of high-density fiberboard. When all of these layers are glued together they create a very strong wooden plank. Since the top layer of engineered hardwood is actually wood, these floors appear identical to solid wood floors.

Engineered wood floors may be installed in a few different ways; either nailed down, glued down, or using the floating floor method where planks can simply be snapped together like a puzzle without any need for glue or nails.

Maintaining these floors is very similar to the maintenance used with solid hardwood floors. They should be swept regularly to keep them free from dirt and other debris as over time the debris may scratch the surface. Spills should be wiped up immediately, and harsh chemicals should never be used to clean. It’s also a good idea to avoid using wax-based cleaning products.

Engineered Hardwood Flooring Pros
One of the benefits of engineered hardwood over solid hardwood floors is they hold up to moisture much better. The layers actually block moisture at the same time as adding stability to your floor. These floors are not susceptible to swelling or warping.

Engineered floors are also much easier for a homeowner to install themselves, cutting down on installation costs.

And speaking of costs, the price of these floors is also a big selling point here. Engineered floors not only cost less than traditional hardwood floors, the upkeep costs are also significantly less.

Engineered Hardwood Flooring Cons

You’ll need to do a fair amount of homework to make sure you find a manufacturer who produces a solid product. Some producers manufacture planks with veneers that are much too thin which won’t allow the homeowner to ever sand and refinish. This cuts down on the life of your floors significantly.

Some manufacturers will also try and cut corners by using inferior core layers made of regular fiberboard, not high-density. This can greatly compromise the stability of your floors.
Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo is another attractive alternative to traditional hardwood floors. These floors are known for their strength and durability and also their resistance to bugs and water. The hardness of bamboo planks can range from 1180 (carbonized horizontal) to near 1380 (natural), and newer manufacturing methods like strand woven flooring can range from 3000 to over 5000 based on the Janka hardness test. These impressive numbers indicate that certain types of bamboo planks are as strong if not stronger than oak, maple and Brazilian cherry.

Bamboo planks are generally made by slicing mature bamboo poles into thin strips. The strips are then boiled to remove any starch or sugars, then dried and planed. Natural bamboo is a very light color. Should a darker color be desired, the bamboo may go through a carbonizing process where the bamboo strips are steamed under controlled pressure and heat. This carbonizing process, however, greatly reduces the hardness of the bamboo.

Like engineered hardwood floors, bamboo can also be installed using either a glue-down method, nails or a floating floor method.

Bamboo Pros

Bamboo is very versatile and comes in a wide variety of stains and styles.

Again, depending on the manufacturing process, these floors are highly durable and resilient and harder than many hardwoods.

They are the most environmentally friendly floors on the market today because bamboo has a quick regenerative rate. Bamboo can typical renew itself in as little as 3 – 5 years. Compare that to hardwoods which can take as long as 30+ years to grow.

Bamboo floors are very easy to clean and maintain.

Bamboo floors can last for 30 to 50 years, and will easily biodegrade when removed.

As we mentioned earlier, bamboo is very moisture and insect resistant and because of this makes an excellent choice for kitchens, bathrooms, and entryways, as well as for people who suffer from allergies.

Installation of bamboo floors is a fairly quick and easy process, and generally it does not require sanding and multiple coats of toxic varnish.

Bamboo costs a fraction of what traditional hardwood floors cost making it a great choice for home owners on a budget.
Bamboo Cons

Like engineered hardwood, bamboo manufacturers should be researched before making a buying decision as there are many inferior bamboo products on the market. Also, although bamboo is a very green choice for your home, some manufacturers, especially from China, where there are no government standards or regulations concerning environmentally-friendly practices, will use toxic chemicals that can pose health risks. Always check out the manufacturer’s website and read all of the fine print.

So is there a clear winner in this flooring challenge? Both are more affordable than traditional hardwood floors, both are durable and stand up against moisture, and both can be installed in a variety of ways and by the homeowner. Where we feel bamboo is the stronger contender is by its superior Janka hardness ranking, exotic beauty, and its unparalleled sustainability as a flooring source.

A New Way to Build: Green, Gorgeous and Prefabricated

Courtesy of Alexander KolbeThis Connecticut house will combine extremely energy-efficient design with prefabrication and custom architecture.

Eco-friendly houses can look as chic and gorgeous as any site-built homes, while still being quite kind to the planet. With the reality of abundant waste going into landfills and the effects of global warming, it seems clear houses should be built with more consideration for the earth. A new house under construction in Connecticut that is designed and built by evoDOMUS, a firm influenced by German design, is a perfect example.

Germany and other European countries have worked to build more efficient and eco-friendly houses for many years because of their commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and because of the high cost of fuel in Europe.

Alexander Kolbe, who cofounded evoDOMUS with his wife Michelle Kolbe, worked for several years in Germany designing very energy-efficient homes for a variety of companies. He and Michelle, also an architect, met in Berlin and have been married and designing homes together since 2000.

Through their company, the two architects aim to design and build homes that are of the highest quality, modern and sustainable and have net-zero energy capabilities. “Our ultra energy efficient, custom designed, contemporary homes take modular home building to new levels, using a flexible, panelized construction method,” the firm says on its website.

Alexander Kolbe learned his craft from some of the best construction minds around the world. (One of the homes he designed for the British division of the German firm Baufritz, House Jackson, appeared in the book “Prefabulous World: Energy-Efficient and Sustainable Homes Around the Globe” by Sheri Koones, the author of this article.)

In 2011, the Kolbes decided to go out on their own to form evoDOMUS to start designing and building highly sustainable houses in the United States.

“Given the choice of spending a sizable sum of money for a home that consumes energy at an alarming rate, or spending slightly more initially to benefit from substantially lower utility costs, and thereby helping to conserving our planet’s limited supply of fossil fuels, we at evoDOMUS believe that the latter can prevail,” the company website says. “The key is to make it an easily understandable and obtainable choice. Also, this ‘healthy for the planet’ choice need not look healthy, nor must it look like it is good for the planet! It can look bodacious, chic, generous and new, without being bad for anyone.”

The First House

Two years after starting evoDOMUS, the couple contracted to design and build their first house in New Canaan, Connecticut. The house not only will have beautiful modern design but also the best technology that is used around the world — extremely efficient insulation, high quality triple-pane windows by Loewen, continuous ventilation and energy-efficient appliances and lighting.

One key to the energy efficiency is the highly efficient prefabricated panelized system manufactured and erected by the New Hampshire company Bensonwood.

EvoDOMUS project manager Rob Shearer said it is the panelization process that helps make the homes so airtight.

“When the exterior envelope is constructed in a controlled environment, with precision machinery to assure that everything is flush and square, it makes all of the tiny gaps and cracks inherent to any type of construction much smaller, and easier to seal,” Shearer said. “In addition, the panel joints are gasketed, and the overall effect is an extremely tight enclosure. Controlling air infiltration is crucial to an efficient, healthy home. Not only for controlling temperature, but also humidity. It is a common misconception among builders that ‘houses need to breathe.’ Houses do not need to breathe. People need to breathe.”

Tight houses require mechanical ventilation, and the New Canaan home will use the Zehnder system ERV ventilation system to control the distribution of fresh air throughout the home. This system keeps the house very airtight with a 95% efficiency.

Building the Home

The foundation took a week to build and the envelope another week. When the few non-factory installed windows were installed and the roof completed at the end of October, the house was completely dried in. The project is scheduled to be ready for the homeowners to move in February. Click on the video below for a time-lapse view of the project’s rapid progress.