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Baltimore Construction

TOPSOIL REMOVAL AND TREASURES

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Today we had the topsoil removed from the footprint of our town homes, this is a necessary first step in putting down a foundation on any site, as the topsoil does not have enough compaction strength to hold up the buildings without shifting. Topsoil also contains organic material that has not broken down yet, which if sealed underneath a foundation can break down into “dirt” and compact.

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With any earth moving, treasures are revealed. This is my favorite part, and I just love poking around while the excavator moves dirt to see what I can find.

This day I found quite a nice bottle from J. F. Wiessner & Sons, and after a bit of googling I have found this bottle to be made in the range of 1897-1919.

This brewery built the “American Brewery” building on Gay street in Baltimore, which has been restored and is now used as the headquarters for a construction workforce training and architectural salvage business called Humanim and Brick & Board.

Soon we’ll be pouring footers for the foundations and houses will start to rise out of the ground.

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Categories
Construction

ELECTRICITY! – AKA TEMPORARY POWER

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Who likes noisy gas guzzling generators? Not us!

One of the first things we do when working on a rehab or new construction is to get power on the site. This means setting up temporary service to the location, and if you have a house on that location then that typically means you can just have a line run to the house after you put in a new electrical panel. In the case of our latest development “1600 Barclay” which is new construction, there is nothing to attach the power lines to, much less the breaker panel.

Let me introduce you to the temporary service pole!
It’s comprised of a 6×6 timber buried 4′ into the ground with two braces that are 10′ long with steaks supporting them 36″ into the ground. The panel is a simple 100amp panel supplying two exterior GFCI outlets. The whole thing is also grounded by two separate ground rods, one at the base of the post and another 8′ away.

Not terribly exciting stuff, but it’s just another step in the process of building homes! Enjoy.

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Categories
Construction

1600 BARCLAY SOIL ENGINEERING

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Now that a few days have passed and we have successfully prepared the work site by removing all debris, fencing, shrubs, trees and trash, were on to the technical stuff – soil engineering!

Before a new foundation is laid, you want to make sure it’s going to stay in it’s place, and it’s the job of the soil engineer to tell you if that is going to happen or not. Each house or addition is different, they are all built of materials that have particular weights, and depending on those combined weights you might have too much or not enough hard soil to support the structure.

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In the case of our homes, we need a soil compaction of 1500psf. Our soil engineer anecdotally told us that we would definetly achieve at least that amount, so we are off to a good start!

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Categories
Construction

1600 BARCLAY KICK-OFF

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The first dirt has been pushed around at our latest project dubbed “1600 Barclay”. This project consists of four new construction rowhomes – for you non-baltimorians, thats a townhouse – built in the style of the existing homes on the street.

Before any dirt is touched on projects like this one, there is a build up of paperwork and preparation. We spent the past four months getting everything in place to make this project happen, everything from permits to financing have to be wrapped up in a nice little bow before any hammer is swung.

Our first day on site consists of cleaning and securing the site, so we cleaned up the old mangled chain link fencing, removed old fence post concrete, cleaned up around the edges and installed a nice new bright orange fence around the site.

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What will tomorrow bring?

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Categories
Baltimore Construction

REHABBING A VACANT (PART 1 OF 2)

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Four Twelve Roofing is a product of the current climate in Baltimore City.

As many post-industrial cities across America have fallen into decay, they have also experienced a resurgence. The economy has improved and cultural awakenings have blossomed in urban areas. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Baltimore.

The birth of Four Twelve fell out of a public policy program called the Vacants to Value (or V2V) program. The V2V program is an effort by local government to catalogue vacant homes and make them available to homebuyers and investors. Following the financial crisis of 2008, Baltimore City – like many US cities – was burdened with an oversupply of housing. Whenever we have out-of-town visitors come to Baltimore, they are always shocked when driving around the city – there are blocks upon blocks of homes that lay unoccupied, overgrown and neglected.

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Baltimore has a rich history of building homes – specifically brick rowhomes. These homes date back to as early as 1799, with around 270,000 homes constructed before 1949. If you’ve lived in Baltimore, you’ll note the different types of rowhomes. Often, whole blocks will be built in the same style, but as you travel around the city, styles will vary tremendously. The article below does a fantastic job of highlighting the differences.

http://thebaltimorechop.com/2014/05/02/a-reference-guide-to-baltimore-rowhouse-types/

Developers would buy anywhere from a few homes to 20 blocks of land. They would then build neighborhoods for working class, wealthy elite or mixed income housing so that servants could live close by to the families they worked for. Depending on the developer building these homes, styles varied. Small details in the way these homes were designed, would become calling cards of certain homebuilders, their style influencing the aesthetics of the neighborhoods they constructed.

All of us being residents of Baltimore City, the team at 412 can attest to the sense of community one feels when living on a rowhome block. Living in close proximity to your neighbors allows for deeper relationships with people you may not traditionally choose to be a part of your life. To us, these connections are important. Over time we have come to regard the way these blocks were originally planned and we want to build on this vision through our work.

The Vacants to Value program is a special opportunity. It allows citizens to play a part in repairing their communities. The program allows homebuyers to buy homes for cheap. Vacant homes purchased through the City currently sell for $5,000. This also shows a commitment by City government to rebuild Baltimore, rather than scrapping all that this city has accomplished over the past couple hundred years.

Given our interest in homebuilding and our love of Baltimore, we fell in naturally with this program, and the journey to date has been extraordinary.

Some of our readers may live outside of Baltimore, and be hearing these things for the first time. Others may have knowledge of the V2V program, but have never been on a documented voyage of what it takes to bring a vacant home to life. We wanted to share with you our experience with the program, so you can re-live the efforts we put into our first house – 412 E. Lanvale – the vacant for which our company is named after.

412 E. LANVALE – A HISTORY OF THE PROPERTY

After purchasing 412 Lanvale and beginning work on the property, word got out amongst our friends. People were really excited about what we were doing. One friend reached out to us about doing a profile on the house. He was studying at a local university and wanted to dedicate his Thesis to a historical profile on 412 Lanvale. It’s always awesome when you have brilliant friends who want to collaborate and we were thrilled to hear about his interest.

Through the course of his research, we found out some interesting things about the property.

Through deed records, we know the home was built in 1917. The original owner of the house, purchased two homes side by side, 412 Lanvale and 414 Lanvale. Upon exploration of the purchase agreement, it looks like the homes were paid for, not with money, but with wood. The purchaser of the home worked at a lumber company and traded lumber with the developer in exchange for these homes.

Between the years of 1917 and 2013 (the year we came into possession of this home), the house changed hands many times – serving as a primary residence as well as a rental property. First, there was a prominent investor, who was written up by the police after an intern at his company wrote a series of bad checks and he took the blame in the media. In the 1950s, we found our house listed in a local newspaper, “Bedroom for rent. $15 per month.” This one made us particularly sad, because we have never experienced the good old days of $15 rent. Eventually the house found its way into the hands of Baltimore City, and subsequently it was rented out as a low income residence. During this period, apparently the home caught a reputation as a party house. Anyone who wanted to “tune in and drop out”, knew that this was a welcome place – hence the paraphernalia we found strewn across the floors when we moved in.

Then the property fell to us, and we had one more special encounter with history. During the writing of this piece, our friend identified a relative of the man who originally purchased this property. We got to spend an afternoon with his great-grandson, taking him inside the finished home and showing him what we had done with the place.

This was the beginning of Four Twelve’s remodeling in Baltimore.

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ONCE UPON A TIME…WHEN WE PURCHASED OUR FIRST VACANT

Here is a photo of 412 E. Lanvale from the day we bought it.

Pretty cool, right.. What a way to transform mental associations connected with seeing a home all boarded up. These artworks came to life through a program put on by the Greenmount West neighborhood association. The neighborhood association commissioned artists to come paint boarded-up houses with colorful designs to beautify the block. We still have one of these painted boards sitting in our offices today – a reminder of the continued efforts our neighbors make to improve the place we live.

But the photo to the left shows you what it looked like, once you uncovered the painted plywood boards.

Like a haunted house, right?

Well, the inside could have easily fit this description.

Below is a series of photos showcasing the decay the home has experienced over years of sitting vacant.

Exposed to the elements, all the kitchen cabinetry had begun to shed its veneers, and as the drywall got logged with water it began to fall off the walls. As the drywall began to crumble, old fiberglass insulation littered the rooms. Breathing in this air is how people fall ill in the construction trades. If you’ve ever had insulation on your skin, you can surely sympathize. And also, we found a big, little stash lying on the bathroom floor. Anyone who has watched HBO’s show The Wire, knows that glass vials with red tops usually contain crack-cocaine or heroine.

Oftentimes the fate of these homes takes on the following story arc: a homeowner cannot afford the maintenance or the mortgage payments, they will be foreclosed upon, the city will claim the home, and the home will fall into the hands of trespassers.

In the case of 412 Lanvale, the home was claimed by the City in 2011, so it had gone fully 2 years without any residents. And who knows how long it sat, unoccupied, before the City claimed it in 2011.

So…what is one to do when they just purchased a place that looks like this?

Demo Party!

This being our first project, we decided to usher in the building process with a ceremony (of sorts). We invited all of our friends together on a Sunday, everyone put on a respirator and a pair of gloves, and we got to work on dismantling the inside of the house.

To the right is an image of one of our buddies lending a helping hand at the demo party.

SO…WHAT NEXT?

When you see a house in this poor of shape, you may wonder – can you save anything? In this particular project, the home was in very poor shape. The only thing of significance that we left behind were the four brick walls that made up the structure. In terms of the other materials – we literally replaced every piece of wood in the house, and ended up hauling away 10 dumpster-loads of debris.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article, “Rehabbing a Vacant: The Story of Our First Home.”

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Categories
Construction

REHABBING A VACANT (PART 2 OF 2)

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]ONTO THE BUILD…

With the demolition process out of the way, we had arrived at square one for the build.

We had a lot of fun putting this project together. Here it is in photos. We’ve tried to lay out the elements of the process that were most meaningful to us. Hope you enjoy![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

BRICKWORK

When performing a gut rehab on a Baltimore City rowhome, you are pulling out all of the innards and leaving the brick structure intact. Rarely do you need to rebuild the brickwork from the ground up. There may be spots where it needs to be touched up, but if you adopt a home before the roof caves in, the decay related to the brickwork should not be too severe.

FRAMING

During the framing process, we had to be cognizant of the details involved with rowhome construction. Space, eternally a constraint of rowhomes, specifically the width of these homes, was something we constantly juggled. How do you make a home feel spacious when you have inherited a space of 13-15 feet in width.

One of the beauties of these narrow homes, is that you can use 2x10s or 2x12s as joists, simplifying the construction process tremendously. These joists are often pocketed into the existing masonry.

WINDOWS

In this photo you can see the original window openings framed out on the top story of the home. When rebuilding a home in Baltimore City, it offers builders an opportunity to restore the home to how it originally looked, when it was built in the late 1800s or early 1900s. For this home, we purchased original double hung, wooden windows, emulating the original style from 1917.

ENVIRONMENTAL EFFICIENCY:
INSULATION

When deciding how to insulate this home, we went with a technique called spray foam insulation for all exterior-facing walls. It is more tightly packed than standard insulation and possesses higher insulative properties. Better insulation helps reduce the carbon footprint of a home through minimizing gas and electricity usage to heat and cool the space.

ENVIRONMENTAL EFFICIENCY:
SOLAR PANELS

Solar is one of our favorite elements within this home. We appreciate it as an innovative new technology, and one that helps reduce the carbon footprint of our home. Innovation can create ripples that impact your surrounding community. Within our community, the spread of environmentalist practices will help to prolong the lifespan of these trees that grow beside our solar panels.

HIRING LOCAL ARTISTS

Our buddy Steve Baker is a resident-artist, who specializes in making stained glass and wrought iron art pieces. We are lucky to have Steve as a resource in our beloved Baltimore. His work has played a role in defining the aesthetic of the Hampden neighborhood and we routinely look to him when building new homes.

B.Y.O.S. – BUILD YOUR OWN STAIRCASE

It frustrates us when people use corny old adages (even though we may stoop to using them ourselves from time to time). But when lemons end up on your doorstep, sometimes its best to make the proverbial lemonade.

A few months into our project at 412 Lanvale, we got a call from a friend who had inherited two old Bethlehem Steel I-Beams. The beams were laying around a studio space he had just purchased and he asked if we wanted to claim them for ourselves. We gladly took them aboard and paired them with some beautiful old joists we reclaimed from Ocean City, MD. The stairs you see below are a marriage of these old materials, created by our very own team.

To bring a project like this to life, it took a lot of sacrifice – weekends away from girlfriends, banged up bodies from days of construction and really a lot of dedication to making this something beautiful and inspiring.

Breathing new life into these old buildings has given us a lot of joy and we appreciate all the support and interest we have gotten from the community related to these projects.

One house at a time, we are hoping to push forward all the values we feel passionate about and we’re excited to share this journey with you all.

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What will tomorrow bring?

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