Archive for the ‘Remodels’ Category

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.

by Paul Rose

Recently, a Semmes project had a lot of concrete needing removal. Consulting with some of our sub-contractors helped us decide to recycle it into gravel for the drain rock behind the site’s retaining walls, and as base material for some of the slab work. This was a great decision that meant we did not need to haul multiple truckloads of waste material to another location, process the material there and haul it back. It was just done on-site:

1. Stack the slab and block wall pieces

1. Stack the slab and block wall pieces

2. Break down into sizes fitting into the crusher

2. Break down into sizes fitting into the crusher

3. Crush them

3. Crush them

4. Screen and clean to become free draining material

4. Screen and clean to become free draining material

While this process meant moving the material a couple of times, it was done all within a hundred yards, not a hundred miles. Re-using materials is fairly common these days, but it usually occurs at a larger centralized location. This is another way Semmes and Co. Builders works to save resources, providing the best solutions.

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

Esalen Institute

Semmes & Co. Builders is pleased to announce our position on the project development team for upcoming improvements at the famous Big Sur Esalen Institute. Arkin-Tilt Press Release.

Esalen, established in 1962, has been a world-wide retreat center and educational institute for those looking to pioneer changes in oneself and society. “Perched on 27 acres of Big Sur coastline where the mountains meet the sea, its magical beauty makes it feel a little like the Garden of Eden. Esalen hosts 20,000 visitors a year who come for a weekend or a week or a month or longer to learn, to grow, to explore, to heal, or to carve the near edge of the future, the cutting edge of humanity.”

Arkin Tilt

Semmes & Co. Builders  will be contracting through Arkin-Tilt Architects out of Berkeley California  to consult on costs, schedule, sustainability and build-ability throughout the design process, from early programming to construction documents. Congratulations Esalen! We look forward to your upcoming revitalization.

We recently added this beautiful project to our Remodel Portfolio.  Visit the Portfolio Page to learn more about this project and to see additional photos.

Architects, designers and clients often ask for details that test our imagination and problem solving skills; many times it’s as if there’s a hidden riddle. For this set of freeform, organic stairs, the owner asked for mahogany treads to match the finish carpentry through the existing home. Our first thought was to run the wood straight and trim the front edges to fit the curves. After some discussion and sketching, we decided that running the mahogany length wise and carving them to follow the curve would offer a finer, more custom look.

Our first step was to design a pattern; we cut rosin paper to fit the steps and gauged off the face, which Nick is doing in the first picture. To achieve the desired width in three equal depth sections we had to freehand the areas where the steps widened, and used semi-random spacing. Next, we matched each puzzle piece up to hardwood in the shop, cut to pattern and labeled diligently. While them working this out, we also had to develop other details like how to face each tread and how to finish to the slate risers. After all of the milling has been done and the drywall complete, we will bring the parts back to the job install. If I wanted to, I could probably bring my five year old grandson with me and have him help with the installation of the numbered puzzle pieces. We’ll have to laminate strips of hardwood to the face to get a nice flowing curve and then sand and finish it.  Check back soon for the results!

This passive solar home in Atascadero, originally built by Semmes in the late 1980’s, is being reinvented as a hub of family entertainment with the addition of a large great room. Stay tuned for more photos as this remodel and addition nears completion.


This creative master piece is nearly all dried-in and ready for mechanical and electrical. It is really taking shape with two new bedrooms, a bathroom, a sitting room and a large family room. There are also three lovely decks that boast fresh ocean views. Wait until you see the finishes!!

Semmes & Co constructed this home back in 1987.  The principles of passive solar orientation, high levels of insulation, day-lighting,  proper ventilation and efficient equipment kept the original owners comfortable for nearly 25 years! However, they decided to downsize and relocate. When the new owners purchased this home in January of this year, they called Semmes & Co to update the finishes and expand the home a little to fit their needs…

Here are a few of the before shots to give context.  Keep posted to watch the transformation (and updating) of this original Semmes & Co creation!

We recently had our community workshop to perform the straw bale construction portion of this green custom home addition. Many of the owners’ friends and neighbors as well as other interested individuals came together for a day of education and progress.

Posted by on May 2nd, 2012 in Remodels Comments Disabled