Semmes Holiday pic 2015

May you and your loved ones have a peaceful, loving holiday season.
We look forward to seeing you happy and healthy in 2016 !

We here at Semmes are a pretty happy group. And we have some new guys to add to our hard working gang.

Steve Bishop pic 2015First we want to welcome Steven Bishop. After a hiatus, he’s back with Semmes and working hard as a job manager these days. You’ll see Steven taking care of all the details on his jobs. We’re happy to have him back with us.


Chris WalterNext, in our line-up is Chris Walter. Chris or “Walter” as the guys call him, joined the Semmes team in September. He’s already been here three months. Whoa – time flies when you’re a hard-working job manager!


Al Martini

Just recently we added our newest:  Albert (Al) Martini. Al comes to us with a background in fine finish woodwork (See some of his artistic side here.)


To all our newest members – we welcome you. We’re so happy you chose to be part of the Semmes Team.

by Tom MooreTom

During a recent remodel in San Luis Obispo, we made many trips to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

What a cool place. You can’t just go there and drop off items without going in and seeing what’s new. Their inventory is in a continual motion, just like the wonderful people that work there. On one trip I spotted some brand new windows that would work perfectly for a small project we were working on. But by the time I had the owner’s approval and made it back to the store they were almost all gone. Fortunately for us,  they still had two windows we needed for the project.

If you’re looking for the obscure, obsolete or overboard this is the best place to start!


ReStore – San Luis Obispo

You need some gently used tools? They got ‘em. Want plumbing fixtures, a kitchen sink, and the tile? They those, too.  After many trips I needed some subway tile to match some existing tile. I fumbled through about 300 tiles to find 5 that matched what I had. You would be amazed how many variances of white subway tile there are. At the ReStore, people just go in, buy an armload, take them home and stick them on the wall. They don’t match? Honey Badger don’t care, sheik nouveau. I love that place!
Did I mention this is Habitat for Humanity? The money spent at the ReStore goes to support funneling money and products into the worthy cause of supplying housing for under-privileged people all over the country and the world.

I suggest a trip to ReStore next time you’re going on a run to the hardware store.

You may save some money while doing someone some good. Who knows, you may even find something that you didn’t even know you need and discover that you can’t live without.

ReStore South:

ReStore North:

Four at the Hole

This past November 7th, Semmes & Co. showed its support for Atascadero Loaves and Fishes by sponsoring a hole and a “whole” team at the annual “Joe D” DiDomenico Golf Tournament held at Chalk Mountain Golf Course. This tourny was put on by the local chapter of Kiwanis International. The team consisted of Pete Moore, Jeff DeCou, Steven Bishop and Tom Moore. The guys placed in the middle of the field of over 100 golfers with a score of 13 under par. The wonderful event raised over $11,000 for Loaves & Fishes, which provides food for the elderly and poor.

Well done, gentlemen!

Margie (sm)   by Margie Schuler

In my previous career and now with Semmes, I have been fortunate enough to work with many delightful clients on some impressive projects. I believe design is subjective. What is “right” is what the client likes and wants. I have gotten the opportunity to work on innumerable designs. I get to live vicariously through my clients because being an effective part of any project requires immersing yourself into the client’s project, its design elements and overall style. Therefore my work allows me to explore other styles that I might not typically gravitate towards myself. (It also makes my personal projects harder, but that’s another story.)

After all these years projects can blur together, but certain ones stand out. The reasons projects stand out is as unique as the project itself. Semmes just wrapped up a unique job, which I knew would be outstanding from the beginning. This was a smaller job as far as Semmes work typically goes. There was a high level of attention to detail because these clients were asking us to remodel a newly purchased home (with original construction by Semmes), which did not fit their style at all.

In this article I’m focusing on the Master Bath. The bones of the Master Bath were good, it was of sufficient size and included all the necessary elements but nothing about these existing elements fit the new homeowner’s style. After a lot of hard work by everyone involved, our client now has a showcase Master Bath that suits their design style. I think you’ll agree their new Master Bath is stunning!

Stunning Master Bath2

The Master Bath now has ample storage in the traditional style vanity, double mirrors with medicine cabinets and side storage tower. The Oil Rubbed Bronze plumbing and light fixtures compliment the dark smoky quartz found in the Persa granite.

Stunning Master Bath2

Slab granite walls showcase the stunning natural variation and flow of the Persa granite. The shower floor is also Persa granite that has been cut into tiles and given a leather finish for additional texture when showering. Notice the detail given at seams and wall panels, the granite fabricator did an excellent job of matching the pattern and veining.



Nichter Cellar 2The beautiful Nichter Wine Cellar, built by Semmes & Co Builders, Inc. was featured in an article published by the Tribune. Taking a look inside four different SLO County Wine Cellars, this article shows all the ways one can enjoy a wine collection.

Nichter WineCheck it out here.


turko with hat

by Turko Semmes

In the past, I have written before about Passive Solar Solutions for buildings. And still they are an important way to reduce energy costs and increase comfort levels. There are four components that must be considered when applying passive solar solutions to a project. They are Orientation, Ventilation, Insulation, and Mass (OVIM). Each part of the solution is used in different ways depending on the climate where the building is being built as well as certain site, budget and human factors. But by applying these applications appropriately, the building’s energy use can be greatly reduced. The comfort levels can be raised even in severe climate zones, sometimes at little extra cost.

Today, I want to talk about Mass, sometimes known as Thermal Mass. In particular, let’s discuss Phase Change Materials (PCM’s). The Thermal Mass role is to act as a battery to moderate the temperature of the home through the daily and seasonal cycle changes.

There are two applications of mass. One is direct gain where the sun strikes the material directly – think Trombe Wall systems.

The other and more common application is indirect gain. This is where the temperature of the mass is affected by the room temperature – think all surfaces in the building. We try to incorporate standard high mass materials into buildings to achieve this, but it is not always practical. Some of these materials are concrete in the floor, walls and counters. Also used are extra layers of drywall, fireplace facings, etc.

But for years, we in the industry have thought it would be super to have a material that can store more heat than its actual weight or volume. Now that material is here and it’s called Phase Change Materials (PCM). PCM’s can store 5 to 14 times more heat per unit volume than conventional storage materials such as water, masonry or rock. They do this by changing from a liquid to a solid (much like Freon does in heat pump/air conditioning systems). The trick has been to find a way to incorporate them into buildings in a format that can be standard for all buildings.

Now, the National Gypsum Company in partnership with BASF has ThermalCORE PCMmanufactured a drywall that has small capsules – beads of phase change material within the board. The drywall is installed and finished in the same ordinary way. The only extra cost is the material itself. But, don’t jump up and run down to Home Depot or Lowes. This material is in the economic and marketing development stages. However, I do have some samples, and they are performing quite well, as specified.

Soon, this material will give your energy analyst another tool to help design your building to be more energy efficient and comfortable. All without adding additional systems, complications or maintenance. Since drywall is used on most buildings, one can place it strategically to achieve the comfort and energy savings desired. This is just one more reason Passive Solar Solutions should be applied to their maximum potential before any active or complicated systems are considered.

Phase Change Materials for
Building Applications



Jessica by Jessica Steely

Imagine a power outage in your neighborhood, but your lights are on and your refrigerator’s running. Or perhaps you don’t have to buy expensive peak-day electricity? Elon Musk’s new Tesla Powerwall, released in April, promised these luxuries. The sleek and futuristic look of the wall-mounted batteries was designed to be affordable for the average homeowner. It’s available if you have a solar array or not, whether you want to use the battery on a daily basis, or have it available for a backup situation.

So, is the Tesla Powerwall a fiscally responsible choice or an expensive novelty?

Let’s take the case of the daily use model. Say, you’re on a net-metering program with your local electric tesla-powerall - tah-dahutility company. This summer’s peak rate is .32 cents per kWh (May 1 through October 31: Weekdays, 1-7 PM) and the off-peak rate is .13 cents per kWh. The winter partial-peak rate is .15 cents per kWh (November 1- April 30; Weekdays, 5-8 PM.) There’s no peak rate in winter, and the off partial-peak rate is .14 cents per kWh. The Powerwall designed for daily use, holds 7 kWh and costs $3,000. If you use the Powerwall battery during peak-times when electric costs are higher, you will save $1.33 per day during the summer and .07 cents per day through the winter. At this rate, it could take you over 16 years to break even. The unit has a 10-year warranty, so even within the projected product lifespan you can’t expect to break even.[1] But with upcoming new regulations on power production, energy costs are likely to increase and the price recovery period could change significantly.

Now, let’s look at the units designed specifically for backup usage. These models carry 10 kWh of backup Tesla Powerwall -Housepower with an available average draw of 2 kW. Their cost: $3,500. These batteries are compared to a small generator that runs on gas or propane. A generator that produces equivalent output can be bought from your hardware store for $500 to $1,500. With propane at roughly $2.24 per gallon and gas at $4.25 per gallon, the cost to run these backup generators is variable. Again, it is likely to take longer than the 10-year warranty period to break even on the unit.

A couple of additional caveats to consider: If your demand surpasses the needs of a single battery, each of the models of the Powerwall can be installed in a bank of up to nine batteries. They can also be installed in conjunction with a solar electric array. But if the unit is installed outside of a solar electric system, you will have the additional cost of purchasing an inverter to convert the electricity from AC to DC for usage and storage. It is worth acknowledging that the battery, designed to cycle on a daily basis, could provide the added utility of serving as an emergency backup.

From a financial perspective when compared to the alternatives, the Tesla PoTesla Powerwallwerwall is not the most economical response…yet. However, the sense of being part of a progressive movement, having a renewable energy backup and helping to reduce the strain on our utility grid, has attracted more than 38,000[2] reservations for the Tesla Powerwall in the first week of its announced release. It’s projected to be sold-out by mid-2016. I doubt we have seen the last from Tesla’s technology center, but I do look forward to what’s next.


[1] Rates are based on PG&E Tier 1 Residential Time-Of-Use Service Electric Schedule E-6 effective March 1 2015

[2] Bloomberg Business Tesla’s Battery Grabbed $800 Million in Its First Week, 5-8-2015

MargieAn editorial by Margie Schuler

I recently came across a Houzz article entitled How to Fix a Stinky Garbage Disposal and was interested enough to read on.

I know everyone says just grind lemon or citrus peels in the disposal but I’m not a fan of that method. When I’ve done this in the past, a few days later my disposal smells like rotting peels which is not an improvement. I clean the rubber gasket regularly which helps quite a bit but have often wondered if the inside of the disposal needs cleaning too.

There were three disposal cleaning methods discussed in the Houzz article. Furthering my intrigue was the second method which uses vinegar and baking soda. My fascination with vinegar started when a co-worker said adding a cup of white vinegar to the clothes wash removes soap residue and whiten whites. I was quite pleased after I used it on my partner’s work clothes and the vinegar removed the chemical smell thus saving the clothes from being thrown away. There seem to be many uses for cleaning with vinegar* and I love that it’s natural, not a chemical. Additionally baking soda is also natural and while it doesn’t dissolve, it will react with some liquids by foaming/bubbling which made me think it would reach all the nooks and the top inside of the disposal.

 Tropical Landscape by Azusa Garden & Landscape Supplies Monrovia

Method #1: Clean Mama’s

  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • Mix together to form a paste.
  • Pour down disposal and let sit for a few minutes.
  • Run cold water and turn on disposal for up to a minute.

I tried this method first. While it did eliminate odors and left the disposal with no smell, I felt this method was a bit lacking. The baking soda and lemon juice bubbled and foamed while being mixed in a bowl (which incidentally did not make an actual paste) and I expected more bubbling and foaming once in the disposal but heard and saw nothing. I associate the bubbling and foaming with cleaning so while the mixture was sitting silent in the disposal, I questioned its effectiveness. But the disposal was left with no smell, so I can only assume this method must work.

Method #2: Doctor Rooter’s

  • ½ cup baking soda
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • Sprinkle baking soda down drain into disposal.
  • Pour in vinegar.
  • Let sit for five minutes.
  • Run hot water down drain for 30 seconds with disposal on.
  • Repeat if smell persists.

I tried this method the second time. Since the baking soda and vinegar were mixing directly in the disposal I had high hopes for more of the bubbling and foaming. I envisioned the bubbles and foam would be cleaning the entire inside of the disposal, reaching all the way to the top. The reaction between the baking soda and vinegar was less spectacular than I hoped it would be. I was hoping for a reaction more similar to Mentos in Diet Coke:

Or a science project volcano but without the explosive mess. But, there was only a small amount of foaming in the bottom of the disposal and once it subsided I noticed a pile of dry baking soda to the side so I added more vinegar but I never got the reaction I was looking for. On the positive side the disposal no longer had odor.

The second time I tried this method I doubled the amounts hoping for a big reaction. The reaction was larger but never touched the top of the disposal. Again this was the only downside as my disposal was left with no odor.

Method #3: One Good Thing by Jillee

  • Vinegar
  • Lemon
  • Ice cube tray
  • Cut up lemon and place one slice in each ice cube mold.
  • Fill each ice cube mold with vinegar.
  • Freeze fully and store in zip-top bag in freezer.
  • Feed a handful of cubes into the disposal every few days, running disposal with cold water until cubes are crushed up.

To be thorough I listed this method but have no plans to try it due to my aforementioned aversion to lemon peels in the disposal. Plus I don’t have an ice cube tray and there’s no instant gratification since you’re waiting for the cubes to freeze. However, I would be interested to hear feedback regarding this method, if someone was so inclined.

I think either of these three methods would work well and best when done regularly. For now I’m going to stick with the second method and scrubbing the gasket with a toothbrush and dish soap only when absolutely necessary because I’d much rather be outdoors riding my bike or hiking than inside cleaning.

Have a wonderful summer and enjoy lots of outdoors time!

*As a former member of the natural stone and tile industry I feel compelled to share that you DO NOT use vinegar (straight or diluted) on any sealed natural stone slab, tile or sealed grout. Vinegar is so acidic it ends up eating off the sealer, instead always use a ph. neutral natural stone cleaner. Continue Reading →

TomAn editorial by Tom Moore

“It cost exactly what you guys said it would.”

How many times have I heard that? Well let’s see, in the last 15 years I’ve heard it about once a year. I’m not the kind of person to cross the street when I see someone that decided not to have Semmes and Co. build their home. In fact, I will go out of my way to say, “Hi.” And ask them about their construction experience of their home or remodel.

Recently I asked a couple about this and their response was, “It’s over budget and over schedule.” They went on to explain that several parts of the home were more difficult to build than anyone had anticipated. Well, almost anyone. We spent many hours discussing the challenges of their building with subcontractors and among ourselves in the office; exactly about the same issues that they spoke of.

At Semmes & Co. Builders, Inc., we spend a lot of time pouring over plans. AMatt & Franknd we’ve been taught to locate the tricky parts and figure out the most effective way to do them properly. I like to think that we deal in dreams, not in fantasy. Many people believe that quality custom homes should still be built as inexpensively as they were 10 or 15 years ago. But there is inflation within the building industry, just like everywhere else.

Building codes have changed over the years as well, and add more expense to many upgrades thaSkill sawt we’ve been doing for years. Many subcontractors that we use, we have known and worked with for as long as I have been here. And we use them for good reasons: We know exactly what we will get. While many say they have to charge us more than other general contractors (since we are so picky about the finished product), so be it. You do get what you pay for.

Using an untried, unknown subcontractor simply because his price is lower can lead to disappointment and discontent. We use subcontractors that pay their workers a living wage and offer employees benefits. Much of the time the person with their name on the business is on the job site working alongside their crew. We also like to use local vendors. We know the business owners, we like to keep the money in the community and we know we’ll get service when we need it.

Semmes & Co Builders, Inc. has been synonymous with energy efficiency and Jesshigh quality since 1978. We strive to give our clients the best value for their money and a home that will serve them and their children well for generations. Quality comes at a price. And quality should be paid for. Building a quality custom home should be an enlightening experience. The relationship throughout construction should be enjoyable and the final result, a pleasure for a long, long time.

And that earlier conversation? Often it ends something like this,

“Well, we’ll see you around. Wish we’d used Semmes to build our home.”