Archive for the ‘New Construction’ Category

by Paul Rose

While concrete has become the go-to resource for most all structural mass paul-roseprojects, Rammed-earth provides many more attributes that are aesthetic, thermal and structural. We use Rammed-earth methods in several ways:



Pneumatically Impacted Stabilized Earth (PISE), which is similar to a “shot-cretOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAe” application on a swimming pool. Stabilized earth is applied under great force to a one-sided formwork and around the re-enforcing steel. This leaves a smooth finish on the form side, with a course granular texture on the outside.


Conventional Rammed-earth, is installed between two forms and hydraulically impacted with tam01Earthen Prodping machines. This style leaves a finish that is smooth on both sides with a layered pattern similar to sedimentary stone. Both of these styles achieve a compressive strength of over 600 pounds per square inch.


Watershed block is a formed block similar to the common concrete block, but has a very 02Earthen Prodlow carbon footprint, and a dramatic visual appeal. These blocks come in a number of different colors and textures, fitting into the conventional structural mindset of many engineers. Watershed block requires less labor and specific knowledge for correct installation than PISE or conventional rammed-earth.


Much research has been made into where these materials originated and their future use.  Concrete has one of the largest carbon footprints in the construction industry, and is not a justifiable solution as a long-term product.

This article about the Egyptians’ method for building the pyramids is recommended for a new perspective on this old material.

As the art and form of building has changed over the years, we at Semmes and Company Builders, Inc. would like to help you build a lasting project for today and tomorrow.

by Turko Semmes

Many of us that are looking back at age 50 are either planning to move into a new home or remodel ours for the chaturko with hatnges taking place in our families and lifestyle. Many folks who move to San Luis Obispo County are not planning to move away. Even if you may relocate in the future, many of us have parents who move in with us to live out their later years. With good planning, a comfortable Aging in Place experience is manageable. It’s appropriate to make these plans when you remodel or build your home.

As of 2000, the US Census reported there were 35 million Americans over the age of 65. According to estimates, there will be approximately 71.5 million Americans over the age of 65 in thirty years. That number is more than twice what it was in 2000 and will represent nearly 20% of the entire projected U.S. population in 2030. Everyone goes through different changes as they get older but there are some basic considerations that are essential to making these changes positive.

First, consider how a person with restricted mobility will livaging-in-place-home-modifications-ideas-bathroom-268x300e in the home. Plan to place the bedroom and bathroom on the same floor as the kitchen and living area. The ground floor is best, but there is equipment that will take people up and down stairs with ease. Next, think about traveling from the bed to the bath to the kitchen to the exterior. Are the hallways large enough? Three feet six inches (3’6”) is the minimum but four feet (4’) is better. Are there any 90-degree turns along the pathway that will be used? If the hall is less than four feet it’s best to clip the inside corner, even if only by six inches. To insure a smooth path, all flooring should be flush with each other. Use a smooth surface such as tile, hard wood, or concrete (although this is hard and gets slippery if wet). Carpet can be used if it has very short pile. Cork is an option, but canes, walkers or chairs can damage it. Are all the doors three feet (3’) wide? No less than two feet six inches (2’6”) is allowed. If you’re using a wheel chair, having the extra width makes mobility easy and safe. And replace your doorknobs with lever handles.

Next, consider how to get from the house to the outside. Having at least one conveniently located exterior flush-sill door, can give access to a popular outdoor location. Now think about your vehicles. Do you have access (without stairs or narrow paths) to get from inside the house to the garage? What about the eventuality of having someone live in your home to care for you? A separate guesthouse isn’t required, as most homes have an extra bedroom. If that bedroom has an attached bath, with possibility to add a small kitchenette in the future, that works as a place for someone to live with you. It’s good to have a private outside access area as well. Also consider your home’s temperature control. If there is one area you’ll be spending most of your time, make sure it’s equipped with one temperature control zone. There are new mini-split heating and cooling units that can be a perfect solution for this. Of course you want to make that living space tightly insulated, but with good ventilation. Many older people like to close up their house, so an air to air-heat exchanger that provides fresh air (without sacrificing temperature control or energy efficiency), is a must. And it’s not too hard to add into an existing house.

Finally, two aging-in-place-kitchen-bath-design-rev-a-shelfof the most important rooms: the bathroom and the kitchen. Roll-in showers, with handle sets that can be adjusted before getting wet, are extremely helpful. The ability to roll a wheelchair up to a vanity or the kitchen sink is recommended. With advance planning, cabinets and plumbing can be laid out so they can be modified as needed with little, if any, extra work. These are just a few items to consider for Aging in Place with your kitchen and bath. Here are some links delving into many other details.

We at Semmes & Co. Builders, Inc. are always here to help you with your Aging in Place plans and concerns. Please contact us any time and we will gladly discuss your plans and ideas.




Garage & Parking

Laundry Room

Common Areas

In-Home Mobility

Exterior Home

This is an occasional blog-post where we ask a Semmes’ client to tell us about a great feature on their house.

Installing the Tapmaster hands-free faucet controller at our kitchen sink was one of Tapmasterthe best decisions we ever made for our custom home.  It simply is a fabulous feature for our family.  Our kids were able to use the faucet at our big kitchen sink long before they were big enough to reach the actual faucet because the controller is conveniently located in the toe kick of the cabinet.  The hands-free feature is also very hygienic.

Besides the convenience, we also appreciate the water it conserves. The savings really added up over the years.  The controls are extremely reliable. No dancing in front of a sensor, or waiting for it to turn on.

We know how much we enjoy it, because we miss it when we vacation in other homes.

Tapmaster really changes the way you use your faucet.site_logo

by Margerie Manning

Semmes & Co. Builders, Inc. Client

by Margie Schuler

On a recent Fall evening, Semmes & Co Builders, Inc. hosted local interior designers to view wallcoverings by Koroseal, including the Arte and Reid Witlin LTD lines. Now, I used to immediately associate “wallcoverings” with period décor of the 1980’s, but not anymore!

Today’s wallcoverings may include corrugated metal, wood veneer (that can even bend and make a 90-degree corner), glass beading, leather looks (that don’t resemble pleather), acoustical treatments, dimensional, dry erase or projection surfaces. This is in addition to the more traditional fabrics, textiles, and grass cloths. With these options available, you can select a designer name wallcovering instead of an art-piece for a focal wall.

Or design your own with by utilizing custom digital printing. The possibilities are vast and I predict more types of wallcoverings to be specked in the future. With looks like these, why not?

Digital Pictures1

Digital Surfaces

Leather Looks

Leather Looks

Intrigue Caisson Acoutiscal

Intrigue Caisson Acoutiscal

Glass Beading

Glass Beading

Digital Surfaces

Digital Surfaces

Corrugate Metal

Corrugate Metal

by Tom Moore

An often-overlooked partner in the home building process is that of the Engineer. Clients understand the need for a reputable Architect and Builder, and usually have a clear understanding of the architects’ process.Their task is to create a form that suits the clients’ every need. Their design is to be aesthetically pleasing, functional and customized to the client. Architects are the rock stars, loved and admired.

As with rock stars, if Architects don’t have roadies and a reliable support crew, their work becomes very difficult. The ability to stay in the public eye becomes close to impossible. You might say Engineers are the roadies to the Architects. A variety of engineers may be associated with a project: civil, structural, mechanical and soils engineers are several that come immediately to mind. These are the ones we work with the most.

The Engineer makes sure the Architect’s beautiful creation doesn’t fall on your head. Or roll down the side of the mountain. Or sink into a quagmire. Engineers spend many dedicated years in college and with continuing education to keep you safe and sound. Things that cannot be explained in numerical equations simply don’t exist in the world of the Engineer. They can put a numerical value to a type of soil, a bolt or a piece of wood.

A Builder’s relationship with an Engineer can sometimes be touch and go. We at Semmes & Co Builders, Inc. have been very fortunate to maintain good relationships with just about every Engineer with whom we’ve worked. We may run into unforeseen problem, then work out a solution with the Engineer. They’ll put a numerical value to it and we are off and running again.

Little known fact: an Engineer invented the bolt. Without bolts, skyscrapers could not be possible since engineers could not place a numerical value upon a hammered rivet.

It takes all kinds of professionals to complete a successful building project. And, I take my hat off to the Engineers.

Architects View

By Turko Semmes

Everyone loves the look and feel of wood, but when used outside there are many challenges with its long-term care and durability. After 35 years in the Central Coast construction business, I have observed and utilized many different kinds of wood.

There are several attributes that should be taken into consideration when choosing a wood species for outside use. These are finish, cost, durability, maintenance, appearance, and harvesting. The placement of wood on your building project will determine what species you should choose.

If the wood will be used in overhangs or under protected patios – places that aren’t exposed to weather – then lumber that isn’t naturally durable could be used. But, it’s not preferred. I’d like to discuss wood that is exposed to the elements, specifically siding and decks.

For siding, the most successful material I’ve seen has been All-Heart Redwood or Western Red Cedar. Cypress and Yellow Cedar (a wood that smells like pencils), is used less and only somewhat successfully. In general, wood with a tight grain, from larger trees holds up better. Wood procured from younger, wide-grain trees is not as durable.

By using wood that’s harvested in a sustainable manner, then handled and applied properly, your deck or siding can be enjoyed for many years.

To keep the wood from cupping (when the wood swells and pushes the board edges up), make sure it has been milled with little or no heart center. (Request FOHC – Free of Heart Center.) A clear wood material will hold up better than wood with knots, but I have seen siding with small tight knots age well for over 30 years. (Request STK – Select Tight Knot.)

After you choose the type and quality of lumber, a protective coating is very important. To insure that your siding will last and hold its appearance, a protective finish should be applied to all four sides with two coats before installation. Apply a sealer to the end cuts, finishing up with a third coat after installation. If you are using paint, prime it first with oil and then you can use latex paint after that. Wood siding will require periodic re-coating. On the south and west sides this could be as often as every other year.

Decking requires the most attention as it will be walked upon and touched directly. It also gets the most intense direct weather and sun. For years, Redwood has been the standard for decks, but the quality of most lumberyard redwood has diminished. However, through local sources such as Pacific Coast Lumber we are able to access higher quality redwood trees grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains that are being harvested sustainably.

With decking, like siding, wood-type and milling makes a big difference. It is important to get All-Heart material for deck applications. The same milling and specifications as siding also apply. However, I do not recommend applying finish coatings to wood decking. Let the material weather to its natural color and annual maintenance will be all you need. If you do coat, follow the same installation methods outlined above for siding.

There are many fossil-fueled produced alternatives for exterior applications. However, it should be remembered that wood is the most renewable of them all. If harvested in a sustainable manner, then handled and applied properly, even in the harshest conditions, your deck or siding can be enjoyed for many years.

Contact Semmes and Co. Builders, Inc. for your building or remodeling project.

This modern farmhouse in Arroyo Grande, recently completed by Semmes & Co. Builders, made a splash when Houzz online magazine published a featured article on it and Gast Architects. Read the article here and visit our newly updated profile on Houzz.

Iron work has been underway for some time at the Modern Farmhouse project in Arroyo Grande. Insulation will begin soon, as will siding. This place is really looking great!

EF= Energy Factor.The method a water heaters energy efficiency is compared; measuring the amount of hot water produced per unit of fuel consumed. The higher the EF, the more efficient the water heater. Gas water heaters have EF that ranges from .5-.7; Electric models range from .75 to .95.

For this new modern home, Semmes & Co has specified an Accelera 300 ELECTRIC HEAT PUMP WATER HEATER with an EF of 2.5! Heat pumps extract the heat out of the surrounding ambient air.  Check out the Stiebel Eltron Accelera 300 as #1 in efficiency on TopTenUSA website, ranking the nations most efficient equipment.

Of course we are excited to discuss the implementation of this technology, so give us a call with questions!

Accelera 300 cutaway drawing

Heat Pump Technology




Though this custom home is stick-built (as opposed to straw bale or rammed earth) it is still considered a green home because it has been engineered with advanced framing in mind. Simple things like increasing stud spacing, three stud corners, properly sized headers and more are combined to reduce the overall amount of resources used to construct this contemporary craftsman style home.