I suppose some people haven't heard about Evernote, space travelers, perhaps. Evernote is a database, but without the aggravation. You store notes, pictures, files, audio clips and just about anything else that is digital in Evernote. Years ago these things would have been physical items and you would have put them in manila folders and binders. Why? Just in case you might need them sometime. Of course, you could never find them later.
Evernote is the digital equivalent of folders and binders of your stuff - except that you can find that gem again, usually in less than a minute. AND it is on your phone. You don't have to find the folders and binders first. If lots of your gems are physical, take pictures of them, scan them, and drop them into Evernote.
Besides being great at abetting pack rats, Evernote can be used to help you with more day-to-day real tasks. But before I describe other ways you might use Evernote, let's review the features.
First is cost. It is free. I used Evernote for about three years before I got a Premium account which costs $5/mo or $45/yr. The reason I went Premium was to share stuff that others could edit or add to. The free account allows sharing without editing. The free account has a 60 MB limit on how much stuff you can add per month. I haven't come close to hitting the limit, but I can see how you might. You can see all the limits here. There isn't a total limit! Check out the Premium features, too, while you are there.
After four years I have 3244 Notes, 21 Notebooks, 83 Tags to give you a benchmark. This screenshot of my tags will give you an idea of how I use Evernote.
Another really nice thing about Evernote is that they have continually improved their product. One improvement theme is adding Integrations: Penultimate, Skitch and several others - Post-It Notes, Business Cards/LinkedIn, Moleskine notebooks, clipping webpages with extensions. Each of these make Evernote more powerful and more useful. (Skitch is a markup tool that also lets you crop and re-size.)
Back to uses. I like to use Notebooks for subjects like IFTTT Feed, personal, a journal, Office Receipts, Project Records, Office Records. Some of these choices are driven by integrations and automation. You can upload just about anything by email and using # before the Notebook name and @before the tag name places it right where you want it.
Tags are like categories or folders. Some I use almost like notebooks, because when you select a tag just notes tagged with it are shown. Other tags help find things. Examples: project designations, CEU records, iPhone notes/records, house, PAID, topics and published. You can exclude tags as well as add them. I search my store of 'topics' all the time and it helps to exclude the topics that I have 'published'. Reminders work for me for long range one off tasks. Shortcuts I use for a short list of frequently used notebooks and tags.
One little feature that I really use a lot is the checkbox on the formatting menu. Whenever something is likely to become a task, add a checkbox. This would just be window dressing if it wasn't possible to search your entire database for all the notes containing unchecked checkboxes. Love it.
Searches are very powerful on the desktop app and the iPad, less so on the iPhone. The difference is how you can add multiple search terms. My workaround for the phone is to tag things I expect to need as favorites or to save the search so it can be used. Having all this information available on your mobile devices is really handy.
One of the techniques I picked up is that starting a tag with a special character will cause it to be listed first. It also has the effect of grouping all those with the same initial character. I use a ’/’ to begin a project tag, e.g. /SL-TR, which stands for Stevens Library Toilet Rooms. Searching for ’contract’ and ’/SL-TR’ finds the contract for that job.
I think that as everyone gathers more and more information it becomes increasingly tedious to wade through your file folders to find a document like a contract. Evernote solves that problem. The only shortcoming of a database approach is that a drawing file, for instance, can be shared but managing updates requires a new version to be saved. This isn't automatic like it can be with Dropbox where files in use on your computer are kept in synch with everyone else's computer.
Nevertheless Evernote is a strong collaboration tool for sharing research (screenshots), reference (PDFs), pictures and notes. Unlike files like a dwg, spreadsheet or Word doc which can't be edited in Evernote; a note can be edited and remains up-to-date for everyone sharing the note.
I've been working on a series of articles about designing stairs. There isn’t any special order to them. The first one was Commercial Stair Layouts Rule Of Thumb about a month ago.
The technical considerations I’m talking about are selection of materials, and structural detailing. Here is how I usually proceed. The vast majority of buildings we have designed are Type 2B, which back in the day was known as “unprotected non-combustible”. That ’non-combustible’ part all-but-eliminates wood stairs. But other issues that work against wood are the width of stair required in non-residential buildings and the difficulty of joining the members structurally. It may sound odd but it is much simpler to build a steel stair. The standard joining methods scale up very nicely in steel; not so much with wood. This leads to not only more difficulty designing the stair but also building it. The perceived savings by using wood quickly disappears.
We can dispatch concrete stairs by simply saying they work great, easy to design and, unfortunately, require lots of skilled carpentry labor to construct. This prices them out of reach for most budgets.
Steel is the workhorse when it comes to commercial stairs. You see them everywhere - confirmation of their fitness. You may have also noticed that they can be ugly.
The typical exit stair is made from channel stringers, a concrete-filled sheet metal pan resting on angles fastened to the stringers. The railings are steel pipes with steel bar pickets at 4" o.c. It can get rough. But there are several things you can do to improve the looks. These are simple and well worth the effort and cost if the stair isn’t completely utilitarian.
A couple of other tricks that improve the appearance of stairs are:
a) adding a little width to make a more gracious appearance;
b) holding the descending riser back one tread on a switchback stair so the handrail can make a smooth transition;
c) splay the stringer(s) at the bottom for a spartan version of a Renaissance flowing stair;
d) use the strength and workability of the steel stringers to ’suspend’ and display the stair.
Once you are conversant with the detailing and code limitations, push the limits.
If you are ever in Las Vegas, check out the stairs in the high-end shopping venues to see how you can make the stair into an art object! Sounds like tax-deductible research to me.
Stair Finishes are considered here.
Hard Walls - The Traditional Office
The traditional office supports the top-down way of working. The private office is recognized as a status symbol and it is the best at providing personal territory. Hard-walled offices have some advantages that, if needed, are difficult to duplicate with cubicles, let alone open plan offices. A hard-walled office is more secure and it can provide the best visual and acoustic privacy. It is the ideal space when concentration is required or when sensitive conversations take place.
The traditional office is usually more expensive to create even if the building space already exists because of the individual wiring, lighting and HVAC. A private office can provide superior day-lighting for the occupant, but sharing access to windows presents a challenge.
Cubicle - The New Office
Thanks to Dilbert and the uninspired use by large corporations, cubicles have a bad reputation. Even so cubicles have several advantages; and, when implemented with care, they can even be a superior workspace. In general cubicles support team, project and collaborative ways of working. This is their strength.
Cubicles can be customized to the person and the job in ways that aren't usually feasible in a traditional office. For instance it is very easy to have twice as much work surface at your fingertips. Drawers and shelves can also be located for convenience in the type and quantity needed. The amount of and height of enclosure can vary to support the degree of interaction or isolation that is desired.
For the organization there are several benefits as well. Cubicles can be reconfigured quickly without mess and without changing lighting and air conditioning. Cubicles can be depreciated more quickly and can be re-used over and over. They can house an employee in a better work environment in 2/3 the area of an office. Cubicles have a lower life- cycle cost.
Our first Herman Miller Action Office cubicle components were purchased 30 years ago and are still providing service. They have been reconfigured at least every five years and enhanced with new and refurbished pieces where needed. A 100 SF cubicle provides a much nicer work environment than the same size traditional hard walled office.
Usually the best solution is not an either/or proposition, but a mix of hard walls and cubicles. The ideal solution is to select the best type of work space for each individual and the job they perform. An oversized hard wall office used to house a group, in traditional furniture, cubicles, or a mix encourages a team approach and provides some of the benefits of hard walls along with those of the cubicle.
My personal preference: a large cubicle. But I am also quite fond of an informal home office.
I have a number of experiences working with a client’s Building Committee. This seems to be the preferred project management method for non-profits, church-based organizations and higher education. My personal preference is to work with a single person representing a for-profit, the goals are crystal clear, the path you take is straight and logical. But there are these other times when you have a Building Committee.
I’ve never had the chance to really shape a Building Committee. If I could, I would start by explaining their mission to them, because they don't know. Being a building committee member is a once in a lifetime occurrence for which there is no training. The typical Building Committee member thinks they are going to ’oversee’ design. So they are taken aback to learn that before design starts, they need to plan the project, to set the goals so they know HOW to judge a design.
The Building Committee’s Planning Mission
The Building Committee's planning mission normally includes eight issues - organization, space needs, character, context, constraints, schedule, budget, and methodology. So I would elaborate on these eight. My Cliff’s Notes version is:
The first task of the Building Committee is to organize itself. Who will be members, who will be chairperson? When will it meet? Will it operate formally or informally? What staff can assist? What does the Building Committee need to do its job?
SPACE NEEDS & CHARACTER
The Building Committee's next task is to determine the Space Needs of the organization. The tools for gathering this information are interviews, surveys, projections and reports. Most of the data will come from staff. In this process the desired Character of the facility should be addressed as well. This means determining what features and systems are needed. Durability, operability, aesthetics and environmental issues would also be part of Character considerations.
CONTEXT & CONSTRAINTS
The next two tasks are to look at the physical (Context) and non-physical (Constraints) environment in which the facility will be developed. The Context issues are location, needed exterior features, assets to exploit and disadvantages to minimize. The Constraint issues are zoning, building code, ADA, storm water and special issues dictated by the organization itself or its parent - for instance the approval process.
Now we get to the big one. The Building Committee's main charge is setting and managing the budget. This will include determining the source and amount of funding and how to allocate those funds. It is crucial that all the project costs are considered (not just construction) and that an adequate contingency is included. I like to make costs part of all the issues. There is no point in ignoring the elephant in the room until it steps on your foot.
SCHEDULE & METHODOLOGY
The final tasks of the Building Committee are to set and monitor the schedule for the project and to determine the methods and type of contracts that will be used to design and construct the facility. To a great extent the Building Committee's work is nearly done once construction starts, but first there is a year or two of planning and design before that milestone arrives.
Building Committee Membership
So who should be on a Building Committee? The ideal focus for the Building Committee is the planning and process. Some of the key skills that the Building Committee needs are Facilitating, Researching, Coordinating, Organizing, and Communicating.
Desirable Building Committee Members are people who know how to lead, plan and manage. Involvement in the construction industry isn't necessary, and many times it is a handicap. Examples of the individuals you want to see are executives, entrepreneurs, educators, administrators, and managers. Specialists who diagnose and implement aren't accustomed to the analysis of multiple alternatives that need to be explored.
I’ve noticed that active participation in meetings decreases as the size of the group increases - so smaller is better, say 6 - 12. There needs to be a chairperson who speaks for the committee and communicates with the parent organization. "Symbolic" members of the Building Committee require special handling. I have watched helplessly as a key donor, who is used to giving orders, grabs the reins and has everyone chasing his whims - because no one was prepared to risk annoying him.
The ideal characteristics (virtues?) of a committee member are open- mindedness, diligence and perseverance.
Only the simplest of projects can be planned in one "pass" through the eight issues. Often three or more passes are needed for a coherent plan, so that every issue makes sense in terms of the others.
So that’s what I’ve gathered from my Building Committee experiences. Hopefully this gives you some ideas for how you can handle your own Building Committee adventure.
Recently I have posted several articles on the basic design topic of number of stories and how to consider the options. They are related to this post but stand on their own too.
Rule Of Thumb for Planning A Basement
The Inherent Premium For A Two -Story Building
Considerations For The Number Of Stories
Here, I am going to consider the options for expansion of a building that already exists. Technically there are three ways to expand - UP, OUT and DOWN. I have encountered a desire for this last option only once; and I won't surprise you by saying it is not economically feasible and barely construct-able at all. To expand down you are talking mine construction without the benefit of anything substantial above you. While you are excavating the earth below the building you will somehow have to shore up the slab-on-grade, which is not at all structural. Add to that the underground utilities - sewer and storm water - that rest in that earth and have to be relocated (the new depth may be a big problem); and you should be getting the picture. Supporting the walls and structure is almost straightforward by comparison. I am not aware of this having ever been done. If it has, money was no object.
As often happens, what you see others doing tells you everything about feasibility and relative costs.
EXPANDING UP - This option is more feasible, but there are serious obstacles unless the building was originally designed for an upward expansion. The biggest obstacle is the structural capacity of the roof, and its flatness. A roof is roughly 1/3 as strong as a floor, and many times the roof structure slopes to drain rainwater. The easiest way to solve this situation is to add a new structure spanning over/above the existing roof structure. How will you support this structure? Independently? Extending the existing structure up? All questions that a structural analysis must address.
Adding a new structure makes another problem easier to tackle, too. By leaving the existing roof structure in place, you can remain watertight until a new roof and enclosure can be built. The new design will have to accommodate lots of stuff that penetrates the old roof. Relocating it is part of the solution, but extending duct work up to the relocated rooftop equipment is the type of impact existing roof "furniture" can have on your new floor plan.
Then there are the stairs. These may have to go on the exterior if the original building is one-story. But it is complicated rather than unfeasible. Costs are likely to be twice normal construction because of all the remedial work that has to be done. If an upward expansion was designed-in to the original building, the premium can be no more than an addition. Even so, while I have never done it, I have seriously studied it for several clients. In nearly every case, the client decided to relocate rather than pay a premium for a compromised layout.
EXPANDING OUT - a straightforward addition is how you see most expansions designed. There are still issues, but they are pretty simple by comparison to UP or DOWN. The first issue is the availability of land for the expansion. Check out zoning setbacks! Work with the authority having jurisdiction before doing much more work that a site plan. My experience is that the bureaucrats get pissy when they think you have ignored them until you are in a jam.
The main issues to address early in the design are:
Another related consideration when designing any building is its expand-ability. You see some options here that can be considered, and there is one more. Consider adding the extra floor now as a bare shell. Usually there isn't the budget for this approach; but, if you take the long view, this is the least expensive solution. A sub-option is to consider renting the space until needed.
Back in the mid-1990s we held a charrette to help a client comply with the parent company’s desire to be sustainable. We brainstormed all the ways that could contribute to that goal. Out of a list of 20+, we found that a few were surprisingly easy - recycling steel and drywall. We found a few were not legal or could not get approval in a reasonable timeframe, if at all - composting toilets, gray water re-use. We found that a geothermal system using an on-site pond was more energy-efficient than any other alternative. Through energy modeling we found out how valuable day-lighting was, and how the occupants’ connected load could undermine a lot of other goals. We set about implementing all the initiatives that were feasible; and especially concentrated on the three best tactics for saving energy - geothermal heating and cooling, day-lighting and reduced connected load.
HVAC is usually the main energy use in a building. Although a geothermal system has higher first costs, the energy consumed is reduced by mechanical advantage to the smallest amount for the same results. Often the first costs are paid back through reduced energy costs in three to ten years or less. Government subsidies (through 2016) figure into the calculation nowadays. We maxed out the pond capacity, and used a geothermal heat pump system for the 27,000 SF of offices. The extra pond capacity not needed for the offices was used in the plant for process heating.
Artificial lighting is the second highest energy cost in commercial buildings. Day-lighting can reduce the use significantly, and has an additional bonus. Artificial lighting creates heat, which requires more air conditioning. So you save even more from day-lighting than just by not using lights. Energy use in commercial buildings over 10,000 SF is driven by what goes on inside rather than the envelope. House are the opposite. This has the curious result that commercial buildings are cooled nearly all year around. So the cooling savings from day-lighting is significant and not offset by a need for winter heating. This recent post on day-lighting is a roof monitor system used to light all new common spaces. Existing corridors were skylighted with frosted borrowed lights bringing the daylight into adjoining spaces. The pictures below show two day-lighting tactics that were used. Note the 'Sunbenders' to capture the maximum sunlight most of the year while providing some shading in summer months. Also visible are the PV panels used as window overhangs. The PVs powered the phone computer systems.
REDUCED CONNECTED LOAD
This is just a way of saying to use less power hungry devices. Some things to avoid:
All three of these initiatives have a payback, and make a building more valuable in an enduring way that bicycle racks and public transport access do not (but, that's a rant for another day). Your client will love you for minimizing his/her carbon footprint and cost of operation, whether you try for LEED certification or not.
The building we designed passed to a new owner when our client’s business was purchased. Alas, the new owner wasn't interested in the building’s ’Green Pedigree’.
You may have noticed that I have a poll running. Take a sec and vote. Polldaddy is embedded in Weeby and is pretty easy to use. I think the actual free Polldaddy account is even easier, and it has the benefit of offering a few more features - like quizzes! Take my Masonry Expert Quiz below to learn a bit about masonry and see how Polldaddy works/looks. BTW there are several themes/color schemes for your polls, surveys and quizzes.
How did you do?
SIZING A Conference Room
I think conference rooms might be on the endangered species list because of all the alternatives. But let’s say you are past that discussion, and you need to size a conference room.
The first thing to remember is that conference rooms are always too small. If you get the size correct, your conference room will be a more valuable asset. The two main factors in sizing a conference room are number of attendees and the function of the room. Since not every group needs their own conference room, part of the sizing process is to determine what everyone's needs are.
While you are surveying everyone's needs, determine the function of the room, too. The three main functions are discussions, presentations and teleconferencing. If discussions are the main function, then the size depends on the table and appropriate clearances for chairs. These clearances should be 42" in most cases. 36" is adequate for six people or less, and 48" is desirable for 10 or more people. For more than 24 people, it may be desirable to place a bank of chairs behind those seated at the table. In this case 84" is the ideal distance from table to wall.
Next consider the table size and shape. Round tables are good for discussion-type meetings of six or less. Rectangular tables are best for presentations and any group over six. Allow two feet of table edge per person along the sides and add one person at each end. The table width should be at least 36"; and 42" or 48" is better for groups of eight or more. For groups of 12 or more consider a boat-shaped table (wider in the middle) or increase the table width to 48 or 54 inches.
If the function of your conference room includes presentations, then you should increase the chair clearance at the presenter's end to a total distance of 84 inches or more up to 120". For presentation-type conference rooms the door location becomes important. Place the door in one of the corners away from the presentation area and reserve the walls at the ends of the table for displays. Presentations will work better without windows to outdoors, which is true of almost any conference room.
Teleconferencing is beyond the scope of this article because the system selected becomes a major factor in the size of the room. The market for these systems is shrinking because of the prevalence of inexpensive or free alternatives: GoToMeeting, join.me, Google Hangout, Apple’s FaceTime, Skype.
For the other types of conference room, you should be well on your way to determining the size that is right for your needs. Start with the table, add clearances for chairs and presenting. Add a door. Consider accessibility, which would add, at least, part of a five foot diameter circle near the room entrance.
Remember, when in doubt, make it larger. In operation, a too small conference room can be a problem; too large never is.
A lot has changed for both Basecamp and Nozbe since this article was first published in 2012. Nevertheless the comparison is still useful, and both services are worth serious consideration.
Two of my favorite To-Do List / Project Management tools are Basecamp and Nozbe. Both are browser-based. I think both are excellent, but they have their own characteristics and are each better at some things. If you want a tool that helps you manage all your personal, social and work projects, Nozbe has an edge. If you mostly want to manage work projects with a team, consultants and even your client, then Basecamp offers more.
Below is a comparison of Basecamp and Nozbe followed by the Comments on the features. If one of these helps your productivity, it will almost certainly pay for itself. I suggest testing both.
Basecamp is a service of 37signals. Visit Basecamp here.
Nozbe is a service of apivision and is developed primarily by Michael Silwinski. Visit Nozbe here.
1. Pricing is generally comparable, but your needs will likely make one or the other more attractive. However, cost is not a key issue. If one of these helps your productivity, it will almost certainly pay for itself.
2. Basecamp shines in this regard. Nozbe would take some fussing with to make sharing with clients work well. In many cases sharing your project management tools might not be needed.
3. Multiple task lists are simple with Basecamp. Nozbe uses just one task list per project, but it would be simple to set up multiple lists using similar but distinct names to monitor the lists, e.g. New School - DESIGN and New School - ADMIN.
4. Both tools work well on mobile platforms. Basecamp uses a mobile view of the website that only allows viewing. However, you can change to normal website view and with some enlarging of the view make edits and additions. There are several third party paid apps that overcome this situation. Nozbe has a paid app that works very well on a phone.
N1. Nozbe doesn't use templates. However you can enter multiple tasks at once so it is a simple matter to assemble the standard tasks in a text document for re-use and insert them when and where needed.
N2. Nozbe does have a calendar, but it contains all tasks across all projects. Upcoming tasks cannot send reminders or alerts.
N3. Nozbe uses the 'Getting Things Done' concept of Context. This allows you to tag tasks with one or more category of your creation. You can then view all the tasks of one category. For example, you could tag tasks that need to be done at the project site, or by phone, or that involve a certain person or company. It is a nice feature.
N4. There are a number of things that you can add by email, but comments on a task is not possible.
N5. Nozbe does send out notices by email when a task is completed, but there is no way of indicating what you are working on. If this is important a separate Google Chat could provide a similar functionality.
B1. Discussions are a place to set out a goal or status for everyone's benefit. All team members can contribute to the discussion. Preparing for a presentation might be done this way. Team members can give feedback and ask for help / ideas. Discussions can be real time but remain available until deleted.
B2. Basecamp has a page that shows everything that has been going on in all projects.
B3. 'Looping in' is a way of soliciting input from someone who is not part of the project team. Their response becomes part of the project record automatically.
B4. Text documents can be anything - strategy planning, a new spec section, etc. - multiple people can contribute in real time over the Internet.
B5. Archiving a project saves it but takes it offline. It does not count against you project limit. The archived project can be activated anytime.
When you are starting the design of a new stand-alone building, a number of considerations come up that don't enter the picture for a remodeling or renovation. A major one: How many stories? More stories may allow more overall area or allow space for future expansion. A basement may also be a consideration.
Additional floors for your building can offer several advantages:
There is one final way in which costs increase because of additional floors - incidental features. The incidental features are stairs and, most likely, elevator and toilet rooms. Besides the cost of these features, they will either displace useable square footage or cause you to increase the overall size of your building.
Another consideration is the area of each story. Stories that are less than 10,000 SF are not as efficient because of the higher percentage of floor area given over to ’core’ functions. So multiple floors can work against you in this way too.
Most of the time the advantages of additional floors are well worth the additional cost, but additional floors are inherently more expensive. This article has a more detailed analysis.
What About A Basement?
Basements are a special case when it comes to stories. Even though the same issues apply as discussed above, basements cost less than upper floors of a building. This is due to the lower cost of the exterior walls, lack of windows, and (usually) more Spartan finishes.
Basements may make sense because of sloping land or the need for significant space for storage and building equipment. If this is the case, a basement will save money overall because the cost per square foot of basement space will be 20% to 40% less than upper stories.
However, basements are not free. If the basement space is not really needed, it will increase overall costs. Perhaps the idea is to use the basement when you need more space. But a basement will not be as flexible or as suitable for many needs when that time comes. For a more in-depth analysis, see this article.
An alternative strategy to consider for expansion is unfinished upper floor space. Unfinished upper floor space will cost more than a basement but it will be much more flexible in how you can use it. And significantly cheaper than an addition.
Green Hot Water Heaters
Hot water heaters, as we know them, are quickly becoming a thing of the past. The main change is the elimination of the tank and locating the heater near the need for hot water. The benefits are less hot water piping, less energy used because you don't keep a tank of water hot at all times, an endless supply of hot water when needed, and half the maintenance cost for the system. It is not uncommon for the annual cost of hot water to be 50% or less using this system. This style of tankless hot water heater is suitable for residential and commercial uses and for new or replacement / retrofit.
Here is how the system works. Instead of a tank of water kept hot in case you need it, you have what amounts to a mini-boiler ready to spring into action when needed. A tankless hot water heater can provide 5 to 10 gallons of 120 degree water per minute - and can keep it up for as long as needed.
These systems are green in several ways. First is the energy savings from only heating the water you use. Second is the savings in materials - the piping, the elimination of the tank, and the replacement of the heater every 20 years instead of 7 (unless you are luckier than I am).
Economically, it is an easy sell. Although the initial cost is roughly twice the cost of a natural gas hot water heater. The savings will make this a break-even in 4 to 5 years. Over its 20 year life expectancy, this system will cost less than half of the cost of the tank system.
The limitations are: 1) you need natural gas*; 2) the units must be vented; 3) the units are most effective if they are close to the hot water usage; 4) if you need a really large quantity of hot water in a short time, say showering the football team in fifteen minutes, then this isn't the way to go.
Rinnai, one of the popular brands has a helpful website at http://www.rinnai.us/tankless-water-heater
Another resource comparing several brands is Household Water Systems. You can find links to pricing here.
* My understanding is that natural gas is more economical to operate, but electric tankless water heaters are available.