Archive for the ‘Fall/Winter 2012 Newsletter’ Category

We are proud to announce that the Lockwood Contemporary home built by Semmes & Co Builders, Inc and designed by Aidlin Darling Design of San Francisco has won the 2012 Residential Architect design awards.

                      We are so pleased for another of our homes to have earned international recognition, especially from such a reputable organization and publication. Thank you to all who were involved in this project, and to our amazingly talented crew!

To read the complete article and see the slideshow, visit Residential Architect.

We get to build beautiful homes and additions for some of the best people, and have a lot of fun doing it. But the very best thing about working for Semmes & Co is that we get to us our imaginations.

Our clients and the architects we work with not only allow but encourage us to build soul into their projects. All we need is enough artistic ability to get an idea on paper.

We’ve had good luck with this approach in the past and don’t see any

reason to stop in the future as long as we keep getting the smiles from our clients when they tell us how much they like these little soulful touches.

By Tom Moore

There is little not to love about the wonderful home Semmes & Co. built for us, but our favorite features are the solar systems – photovoltaic and hot water – and all that relate to them.

We have a 2.4 KW photovoltaic system that was expected to provide most but not all of our electrical needs.  Now that we have been in the house for a full year and have had our “true up” with PG&E, we have an accurate picture of what the system can do.  We have to pay a service fee to PG&E of about $13 per month for the privilege of being hooked into the grid, so that was an outlay of $156 for the year.  We received a small refund for actual power use because we generated more electricity than we used.  Thus, our electrical bills averaged out to under $13 per month.

Our primary heat source, when needed in the cool weather months, is a high output gas fireplace.  We also use gas for cooking and grilling.  Our gas bills averaged approximately $20 per month over the year, so our total monthly gas and electrical bills for the year have averaged out to about $33.  In previous homes it was more like $300 per month.

Other features of the house contribute to our low energy use, the solar hot water system being a major one.  We try to use hot water-using appliances when the sun is heating water, especially on weekends when electric rates are the lowest.  We don’t know how this system is impacting our electrical bills but it must be helping a great deal.  We also have passive solar heating and thick walls with blown-in insulation that lower heating costs.

It will be a great day when all new homes are required to install solar systems!

by Sandi and Lou Pitelka

On Saturday Oct. 10, Semmes and Co. sponsored me to participate in Solarthon, an annual fundraiser for Grid Alternatives. Grid Alternatives is a nonprofit organization that works to install solar panels for low income families that would otherwise never be able to afford them. The goal is to provide enough panels to produce nearly all of the electricity needs for each family.

One woman thanked the effort stating that her disabled son needed an electric bed and an electric wheel chair which results in high utility bills. We completed the solar arrays for a total of eight homes in one neighborhood.

While Solarthon is an annual event, Grid Alternatives works throughout the year training volunteers for in exchange for free labor.  What a great way to promote social and environmental welfare with the added benefit of teaching people an employable skill.

Big things are brewing in the North County and many folks don’t know about it.

I was visiting with some friends recently east of Templeton in what we call the “Strawbale Gap,” (you know who you are) when a discussion on wells sprang up.  One recently had to truck in water after being faced with a dry well; another, who has known about the dramatic decline in water levels, monitors her well daily and adjusts the family’s usage accordingly.  During the entirety of this conversation we could hear drilling equipment sinking huge well pipes across a 600 acre vineyard just over the hill.

Because I’m a resident and have so many clients and friends in North County it wasn’t not long before I was digging into what’s going on.  I was lucky enough to be invited to a public talk given by James Caruso from the SLO County Planning Department. He has dedicated himself to understanding and sharing the several sides of this issue.  Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard about this, it has not gotten much media exposure– YET.

It has become clear over the last several years that the Paso Robles Water Basin (PRWB) is in crisis. The PRWB stretches from Garden Farms, just south of Atascadero, north over the Monterey county line and east over the Salinas River. Here is a MAP showing the boundaries and the decline in water levels.

Since 2002 there have been several studies done which confirm that the basin is in overdraft.  Overdraft is conceptually quite simple (sort of like the federal budget).  It means that more water is being taken out than is being put back in – the basin is not recharging.  A common misconception is that if SLO County has one or two really wet years, the PRWB will pull out of overdraft. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way and although there are ways we can help recharge the basin, it is primarily up to Mother Nature.  For more information on recharging and answer to other questions, visit SLO County’s PR Groundwater website. I highly recommend the FAQs page.

So how do we ensure that the distribution of the remaining water is equitable?  Of course there are many different needs at odds here, but it basically comes down to residential versus agricultural uses.  Currently, agriculture is responsible for 67% of the total withdrawals.

As it turns out, there are no regulations controlling how much water you can pump out of the ground.  If you can afford to take your well deeper and install a larger pump — fire up your engines.  Since people tend to think that the County regulates everything, it was a real surprise to learn that the only thing the County can control is development.  The only tool available to guarantee that current residents and landowners have access to water at reasonable depth and costs is to limit the development of new houses.  So, no water = no development.  It is likely that a moratorium on the creation of new parcels through lot splits and other means is imminent in the PRWB areas. This does not stop current owners or residents from building homes or planting vineyards, only from creating new lots. This seems reasonable, but is unfortunate because houses are not the biggest straws in the basin.  And is this really a solution?  No, but it’s a start.

All of the interested parties, SLO County, local water companies, vineyard managers, and private residents alike, will have to come to the table to develop a distribution plan that is fair, transparent, and accountable.   Not to sound gloomy, but this most likely won’t happen and the issue will probably end up in the courts. The adjudication process has historical precedent and might just be better to get to sooner than later.

But wait you can help! The county needs help monitoring more wells in more specific locations.  HERE is a map of the areas where data is needed.  If you live in one of these areas, or know folks who do, please pass along this article and the monitoring link.

It’s important to understand how water distribution works and be aware of the rules and regulations in place helping to ensure that everyone gets their fair share. It’s an age-old problem and unfortunately, we’ll be seeing and reading more about in the years to come.

For more information, contact Turko Semmes at or at 805-466-6737 x 202.