Waste not, want not

Posted on January 6th, 2009 – 1:25 PM
By Jason Hammond

About ten years ago I was working as a designer/art director for a small company that published interior design trade magazines. Among our various publications We had a small industry magazine dedicated to wall finishes, namely wallpaper. It was, at the time, a dying industry where only the highest-end products in both commercial and residential applications were making any headway or profit for that matter, and it looked as though paint and faux finishes had finally done in the art of applying materials to walls . Fast-forward roughly ten years and both the supply and demand for wall decor has seemingly skyrocketed. However, unlike their existence a decade ago they are now being used more to create accent walls and interest rather than to cover entire rooms.The growing popularity of these wall applications seem to range from the extremely dynamic composite wall panels like those by modulararts, to the paper squares like those made by inhabit and finally the more traditional, but equally as cool strong graphical patterned wallpapers like the work of Nama Rococo.

The Clif™ wall panels from Modulararts.com

The SHAN Sangri La wall panels from Inhabit.
The Sixty-Eight, one of the beautiful patterns from Nama Rococo.

After spending more than a year looking and considering a variety of materials and applications available to us, Stacy suggest that we might be able to create our own wall application with the idea of using some scrap material we had left over from other projects. After talking about what pattern we liked the best and what would be most easy to execute with both the tools and materials we had. We settled on a linear sliding plane pattern that mimicked the design of our house and was relatively easy to execute. Using scrap pieces of MDF in both 1/2″ and 3/4″ thickness we cut them down in to a series of long linear strips and then cut them down to varying lengths. To give it an added layer of dimension we spaced the pieces in a staggered manner and used the wall to create a third plane. Once the wall was covered we filled the cracks and nail holes with paintable caulk and then painted the entire wall bright white.

The results of our little scrap project is a very inexpensive but fairly cool feature wall, that gives our first floor bathroom a sophisticated, mid-century modern meets modern contemporary feel. Because we used scrap material and the paint that we already had for the house our only out of pocket expense was roughly $6 for some decent 1″ paint brushes to get into the little spaces between pieces—a well worth it investment.

The MDF as we applied it to the wall in various sizes.
The finished wall.
A close-up of the wall dimension.

fuel for thought

Posted on December 28th, 2008 – 9:29 PM
By Jason Hammond

The furnace system uses a large hopper which can hold several bushels of corn of pellets lasting for sevaral days of heating.

A close up of the furnace.

The A-MAIZ-ING-Heat furnace system can be tied directly into your current duct work.

With the rising costs of fuel and the extremely prolonged stretches of cold weather many of us have been experiencing here in the north people all over are looking for alternative energy sources to help supplement or replace there current heating needs. One of the most popular means of doing this is corn fed or pellet fed stoves and furnaces.

Recently some family-friends of my, Frank and Lois Cernohous, installed a new corn burning furnace in their 100 year old farm house in Western Wisconsin. For a farm family who has a ready abundance of fuel (corn) at their disposal this type of residential system is a perfect solution. But it got me wondering if corn burning furnaces are a viable, logical solution for those of us without the advantage of having a fuel resource right in our backyard.

The furnace system that the Cernohous’ used is from a Minnesota Company, KC-Cornburners, and the furnace system is called The A-MAIZ-ING-Heat® Furnace. Doing my research I discovered that there are several sellers of the The A-MAIZ-ING-Heat® Furnace, all of whom have purchased the rights to manufacture and sell the bottom-fed biomass system under this name. This localized manufacturing and sales model means that the cost of shipping these systems and the environmental impact associated with it are greatly reduced making a much green option. Additionally, because it is designed to burn both corn and wood pellets, this system has some distinct advantages over stoves that burn only corn. Many of us who live in areas in the Upper-Midwest where access to corn is easy and affordable could probably easily find a resource for meeting our fuel needs. However, crops can be a somewhat unpredictable resources (just ask any farmer) with various fasctors playing into the season yield. While at the same time, the growing popularity of E-85 and other ethanol based auto fuels have driven up demand, and thus the cost of corn to new highs in the past few years. However, the use of biomass wood pellet which can also be burnt in the A-Maiz-ing Heat furnace come from various manufacturing sectors as a waste product. The demand for these biomass pellets have resulted in pellet plants being opened up around the country making this additional fuel resource viable alternative for many more people.

So just how does a biomass furnace work?  A corn or biomass furnace like the The A-MAIZ-ING-Heat furnace can be tied into a your conventional duct work. The systems are thermostatically controlled and have a hopper that holds and feeds the fuel into the furnace to regulate the temperature and fuel consumption. These hoppers generally hold about 5-7 days worth of fuel so the system does require some regular maintenance, but certainly less than say a wood burning fireplace. The waste material from burning also will require some regular maintenance but again this will depend of the amount of fuel that is used and the actual fuel selected (corn burns a little cleaner than wood or other biomass materials).

After reading up on it I can’t say that these systems are for everyone or that you’ll see them replacing more traditional Natural Gas systems anytime soon, but if you don’t mind doing a little maintenance work and feel you can find a dependable resource for your fuel than it’s certainly worth taking a look at. Or if your feeling a bit more entrepreneurial, maybe it’s time to open a up a pellet supply company and start in an home delivery maintenace service—just a thought.

Modern in a lost city

Posted on December 15th, 2008 – 9:14 PM
By Jason Hammond

I have had the pleasure while doing this blog of sharing ideas and solutions with many people who have either done their own similar project or are interested in doing something like it in the future. Of the many people I have met during these various exchanges, one of the most interesting to me was Matt and Laura Tills. The Tills, like us, had recently added to their young family and outgrown their home at the time. Since Matt is an architect they began making plans to design and build their very own modern, green friendly home. Like us the tills were in search of resources to help aid them in the design and selection of the many materials they would ultimately use, and in the process we connected. Over the next, almost two years, we have corresponded back and forth, sometimes with questions for one another and occasionally just to commiserate with someone else who could truly understand the impact of taking on such a project and the impact that it can have on your life. Our connections have become much more random over the last 6 months or so as our projects have come to relative completion and both our families have adjusted to getting settled in. I sent an email to Matt and Laura recently asking to see some current images of their project in it’s completed form and if I could share their project with the readers of my blog, they graciously agreed to do so.

Matt and Laura didn’t do anything of the ordinary kind when it came to building their new home, not even the selection of their land. Although they are located within the city limits of Wisconsin’s Capital of Madison, their property is in what is referred to as the “lost city”, a part of the University of Wisconsin’s Arboretum. The section of land was not fitted with city sewer and they had to work to get the property rezoned to reduce the rear lot line in order to position the house in a place where they could avoid losing some large evergreens in the front yard.  Additionally, their property had the remnants of an old tennis court on it which would eventually serve as the site of their new home.

Matt designed the house with great care to consider the surroundings while introducing forward thinking modern and green friendly design and building practices. The exterior of the house which was constructed of SIPs and clad in steel, Prodema siding and stone seems to sit perfectly among the surrounding trees almost as if it had been their forever. The interior of the home with its carefully placed clearstory and large sections of windows invite sunlight into the space, creating a beautiful glow and blur the lines between interior and exterior spaces. The rich colors of the stained concrete floors are complimented by the beauty of the blonde woodwork and exposed beams of the roof and ceiling. The simple, elegant, modern fixtures that appear in the bathrooms and almost every lighting opportunity, seem to perfectly compliment the lines and form of the homes design. This home is truly an inviting and modern jewel to be discovered, in what was once known as Madison’s lost city.







True to Form

Posted on November 30th, 2008 – 9:15 PM
By Jason Hammond

In December of 2006 I wrote a blog entry about my mailbox design. This entry was later posted on From the ground Up in March of 2007. either way it was quite early for me to have a mailbox design for a house that was only in conceptual form.  Now as we near the start of December, 2008 I am pleased to say that the concept is now a reality, but not without out a little help and a few modifications.

Although there are some decent design for mailbox out on the market these days most of them a really fairly pricey, and to be quite honest, most of the coolest looking modern ones are design for urban settings where the mail carrier goes door-to-door rather than in a suburban area where the carriers drive by boxes lined up along the street. For me this meant that I would need to spend a little time and energy to design and build my own mailbox in order to get exactly what I wanted. The trouble sometimes with being a designer is that you often times can envision it but you aren’t necessarily versed in the ways of making it, this was the case with my mailbox design. I had designed a tall rectangular shaped form to be divided into three sections. The first section would be a concrete finished base. The second section a light transmitting layer of some kind that would hold the house numbers. The third layer, and the one that posed the problem for me was the actual functioning mailbox, which I designed to be constructed out of steel. The problem, I don’t weld. As a matter of fact I didn’t even know where to get the steel I was looking for, let alone how to fabricate it— lucky for me I know people that do.

This past summer we spent a long weekend with friends at a cabin enjoy some of central Wisconsin’s beauty. Over a breakfast one morning I was telling my good friend Steve Severance about my mailbox and he said it would be something he could easily build for me. I sketched the design and the dimensions down on a scrap piece of paper for him to take home. Because Steve lives in Southern Wisconsin I knew that the next time I would see him probably wouldn’t be until one of our other annual get togethers later in the year. In August I saw some photos of the box in fabrication and learned that it was constructed out of scrap steel that came in a shipment from overseas. Then in mid-November Stacy and I made the trip to Southern Wisconsin for one of our annual get togethers, and to pick-up our prized mailbox. Not that this should be a surprise (knowing the kind of person Steve is) but I have to say I was super pleased with the way it looked and all the extra details that he had put into it —Thanks Steve, you’re an awesome friend.

If you’ve ever thought about constructing your own mailbox, there is one thing you need to remember, once you put the mailbox up it’s no longer yours, its the property of the U.S. Postal service. This means that before you go and throw any old box up, you need to make sure that it meets the standards of the U.S. Post office. As a rule the mailboxes that you purchase at your local hardware store or home improvement center have been constructed to these standards. In my case I needed to arrange for an inspection of the box via the postmaster at my local branch. I was a little nervous about this, but as it turns out there was nothing to worry about. The maibox needed to meet some general standards for size and access along with making sure that it was safe for operation, all of which my mailbox more than complied with. in addition to the mailbox construction we talked quickly about the location of the box (being on the curve of a cul-de-sac the placement was little tricky) so that was accessible and yet woldn’t have issues with the snowplow clipping it, and then we were good to go.

Over a the long holiday weekend I decided it was perfect time to put the mailbox up. We have had a rather nice run of warm weather for this time of year and the ground still hadn’t taken a deep freeze so I was able to get my posts set in place for the base. I decided that instead of pouring a concrete base I would use concrete backerboard and attach it to a base that I prebuilt, this was one of a several modification from my original idea that would be needed. For he second section I used left over pieces polycarbonate instead of plexi or glass. When I went to get the house numbers that matched the one on the building I found out there were discontinued and they were out of ones, of which I needed two. I had to run by Menards to pick up some pieces of wood and while I was there I found some great looking pin mounted modern styled house numbers, that worked perfectly. I was also able to find a solar panel and floor light at Menards that happend to be on sale. I mounted the floor light on the inside of the frame so the polycarb would be illuminated from the inside and the house numbers would be easily seen from the outside.

By noon on Saturday the mailbox was completed and the mail carrier had deposited the first parcel in our new mailbox. By Saturday evening I was able to see the final piece of the mailbox come to life as the solar floor light lit up the front of the mailbox. I have to say I was feeling pretty proud that my design had stayed s true to it’s orginal form almost 2 years from its orginal design.

The original design done in December of 2006. I wasn’t even sure of the house numbers at the time, but got fairly close with my guess.

The finished mailbox in place.
I think the box nicely mimics both the structure of the home but also the use of materials.


This little solar panel gathers light that eventually illuminates the inside of the mailbox, making the house numbers visual at night.

The LED solar flood light puts out a fair mount of light for a good 4 to 5 hours from what I could tell. Long enough to make sure the pizza man can find our house at night.


Posted on November 23rd, 2008 – 10:07 PM
By Jason Hammond


This past year our house was an award winner for energy conservation and design from SIPA (the national organization for the Structurally Insulated Panel Industry). As a result of this honor an author of several home books by the name of Sheri Koones contacted us in consideration for our house to be featured in her newest book about pre-fab homes. Our house isn’t traditionally what most people invision when they say pre-fabricated homes, but because the walls of our house were constructed of SIPs in a factory our house is consider a pre-fab.

Late last week I received my second call from Sheri Koones letting me know that our house had indeed been selected to be featured in her latest book. I will be provideing her a couple of different images of the house for publication. One of the images that was requested was that of the house being constructed of the SIPs panels while the second is a finshed exterior shot. Since the current leafless surroundings of the house are less attractive than some of the shots taken this past summer when we had full foliage, I’ve decided to include one of those images instead.

So what does this type of recognition mean. My hope is that 20 or 30 years from now some of the awards and recognition mean that our house is valued at more than if we would have built something a little more traditional, and a lot less energy efficient. I would imagine the energy efficiency part will prove to be true, but as far as the recognition paying dividends, we’ll just have to wait and see.


Posted on November 10th, 2008 – 10:21 PM
By Jason Hammond

The boxes go into place.
The walnut top goes on.

The boxes get a coat of paint and the top gets a layer of poly.

The shelves are installed.

The doors go on and the cabinet is complete.
And now…

…the door to our bedroom…
..finally closes!
In our bedroom there is a small closet space that was designed to feature a nice built-in cabinet. This was something we had originally decided would not be a part of our initial design, build project, so in the interim period we would place our old dresser in the space. Unfortunately the dresser proved to be about 1/2″ to deep to fit into the space and allow the bedroom door (which is on a track) to slide shut. So for the past 10 months or so we have not been able to really use the space, and maybe more importantly, we have not been able to seal ourselves off for even a few minutes from the madness of two small children. This alone was enough to prompt me to finally take some action and build these cabinets.

I knew we had a few pieces of walnut plywood that we had saved from the design of our upstairs fire place, so with that in mind, along a quick dicussion on how me might best use the space, I came up with a design. We would divide the space up into three even cabinets. The two outside boxed would be open shelves while the inside box would be slightly recessed to account for doors that would be flush with the surface of the other cabinets. Although I am pretty comfortable working on most projects, the idea of building my own cabinets was a bit daunting. After some close study as to the method applied by our cabinetmaker (Eastvold Custom) I set to work building the frames.

I decided to use MDF to construct the boxes which turned out to be fairly easy to do. I then laid out a template and drilled holes in the boxes along the sides that would be used to hold pins for shelves. We slid the three boxes into place and they fit fairly well. I cut the walnut plywood down and we used it to create a nice countertop for the cabinets. Stacy painted the cabinets white and put a coat of poly on the plywood which really made the entire thing look good.

The one thing that remained to be done was to figure out the doors for the center cabinet. We had a couple extra pieces of walnut plywood around, and had decided that it was a nice connection to the rest of the piece to use those to create the doors. The challenge was that the pieces we had either were not big enough to cover the entire space, or the grains didn’t align so that we could do two doors from one sheet. Stacy came up with the idea that we do two doors. One with a horizontal grain on the top and one with a vertical grain on the bottom that was slightly larger. This solution for the doors turned out to be a nice one.

To finish off the pieces I decided to drill holes in each of the doors to serve as handles. The circles were dual purpose as they tied to the sub-theme of our homes design, while at the same time created an out-of-the-way handle that didn’t interfere with the sliding door like traditional hardware may have done.

After a couple of coats of poly on the doors I was feeling really good about the way the entire cabinet was looking. I was also  pretty proud that we were able to do the entire thing for under a $100′s worth of new material and some leftover pieces of wood.