August 14th, 2014

Since 2006, the North American Deck & Railing Association (NADRA) has annually promoted “Deck Safety Month” each Spring. The program raises awareness among consumers about the need to inspect their deck and can help them prepare for the outdoor entertaining season. Homeowners who are assessing the safety of their decks may ask an Architect to provide a more thorough inspection.

NADRA has produced a comprehensive, four-page checklist that homeowners can use to delineate any concerns found during a preliminary deck inspection. This checklist can ensure the homeowner that a thorough investigation of every aspect has been completed and all issues will be addressed.

The checklist notes these eight key areas to be inspected:

1. Ledger Connections: Older decks in particular are susceptible to pulling away from the home if this connection was installed incorrectly or has corroded. The type of connection (lag screw, machine bolt, etc.), its diameter and length, and the material supporting the deck should be noted. The deck should connect to a wood rim joist, concrete or block and not to a brick or masonry veneer. Flashing should also be installed above the ledge and behind the exterior cladding.

2. Posts and Footings: Note the post size and type of concrete to post connection. Footings should be at least 1 foot to 3 feet into undisturbed ground depending upon the local frost line. Check for signs of decay, corrosion or other weakening.

3. Post to Beam Connection: Determine if the connection has been bent or modified which can cause fractures and should be replaced. Also ensure that girders are not positioned alongside the posts and connected with a metal fastener (bolt or lag screw) providing the bearing. This is prohibited due to the chances of failure.

4. Joists and Connections: Look for a minimum of 1-½ inch of bearing as required by code. Nails in ledger strips are subject to withdrawal and are prohibited by the code. If used, ledger strips should be nailed directly underneath the joist with three or four nails (depending upon the standard). Also look for any modifications to the connections and any signs of corrosion.

5. Stairs: Check that the triangular opening formed by the riser, tread, and guard bottom is less than 6 inches. Also look for corrosion on connections and ensure all are in place and secure.

6. Deck Boards: Be certain that fasteners are tight and recessed. If composite or PVC deck boards are used, check that the spacing meets the manufacturers’ guidelines.

7. Railings: Measure the railings to be sure they are at least 36 inches high and ideally 42 inches high. Note what type of shear connection exists between the post and frame. Check that the opening is less than 4 inches between the balusters on the deck and on the stairs.

8. Other Areas: Check that all fasteners still have their finish, that all connector holes are properly filled and that all bolts have washers on both sides of the connection.

For copies of the evaluation checklist that can be filled out by the homeowner, visit the NADRA web site at:

For assistance in conducting a deck inspection at any time of the year, contact: Charles J. Collins, Jr./Architect at 609-654-2329 or at

Insulation and Home Renovations

April 14th, 2014

When it comes to enhancing the value and comfort of a home, most homeowners will chose to address the cosmetic features of a home when completing a renovation project. Yet, it’s often the things that homeowners don’t consider that can have the biggest impact on the value of a home.

Across the country, the cost of heating and cooling a home has sharply increased. The price of gas, oil and electricity has driven up the cost of living for many homeowners. With this in mind, more homeowners are seeking budget-friendly solutions that provide not only consistent performance over the long-term, but also help keep costs down. 

Before beginning a home improvement project, homeowners should consider the whole building envelope rather than just the cosmetic features such as chrome fixtures or granite countertops. High-efficiency windows are an excellent investment for any home to help drive down excessive energy waste and high utility costs. The U.S. Department of Energy suggests that traditional windows contribute as much as 10 percent of the total air escaping from a typical home, while improperly sealed doors can contribute 11 percent. 

Investing in an effective insulation solution also can make a significant impact on reducing utility costs. Building experts suggest that homeowners completing a home improvement project should be as involved as possible in determining the best insulation type for their home. This means that homeowners should actively research the types of materials available and how well they perform over the long term. While building code requirements and standards were much less beefy in the past, recent amendments to the building code mandates that homes must meet certain criteria for insulation levels, heating management and carbon emissions. 

One insulation solution that can meet and exceed the newest building code requirements is spray foam insulation. As a modern insulation solution, the benefits of spray foam insulation can have a significant and positive impact on a home. Available in a variety of densities, spray foam insulation combats against air leakage, moisture absorption, weather seal, and works well in all types of homes across the country, regardless of climate. More information on the effectiveness of spray foam insulation is available online at

Traditional insulation materials are overly permeable allowing moisture and fluctuations in temperature to pass through the home’s envelope easily. Yet, spray foam insulation both air seals and insulates to keep allergens and irritants at bay and eliminates air leakage to keep the conditioned air inside without the HVAC system working overtime to compensate.

Spray foam insulation performs for the life of the property, ensuring that homeowners can enjoy comfortable indoor temperatures year-round without overrunning their heating and cooling equipment. Insulation experts from Icynene note that quality spray foam insulation can noticeably reduce heating and cooling costs, in some cases by as much as to 50 percent.

For help reviewing your insulation systems alternatives or any questions please call us at 609-654-2329 or email at

Heat & Cool Efficiently

January 21st, 2014

As much as half of the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling. So making smart decisions about your home’s heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can have a big effect on your utility bills — and your comfort. Take these steps to increase the efficiency of your heating and cooling system. For more information, see the Guide to Energy Efficient Heating & Cooling PDF (708KB).

Change your air filter regularly

Check your filter every month, especially during heavy use months (winter and summer). If the filter looks dirty after a month, change it. At a minimum, change the filter every 3 months. A dirty filter will slow down air flow and make the system work harder to keep you warm or cool — wasting energy. A clean filter will also prevent dust and dirt from building up in the system — leading to expensive maintenance and/or early system failure.

Tune up your HVAC equipment yearly

Just as a tune-up for your car can improve your gas mileage, a yearly tune-up of your heating and cooling system can improve efficiency and comfort. Learn more:

Install a programmable thermostat

A programmable thermostat is ideal for people who are away from home during set periods of time throughout the week. Through proper use of pre-programmed settings, a programmable thermostat can save you about $180 every year in energy costs.

Seal your heating and cooling ducts

Ducts that move air to-and-from a forced air furnace, central air conditioner, or heat pump are often big energy wasters. Sealing and insulating ducts can improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by as much as 20 percent — and sometimes much more.

Focus first on sealing ducts that run through the attic, crawlspace, unheated basement, or garage. Use duct sealant (mastic) or metal-backed (foil) tape to seal the seams and connections of ducts. After sealing the ducts in those spaces, wrap them in insulation to keep them from getting hot in the summer or cold in the winter. Next, look to seal any other ducts that you can access in the heated or cooled part of the house.  See the Duct Sealing brochure PDF (1.13MB) for more information. 

Consider installing ENERGY STAR qualified heating and cooling equipment

If your HVAC equipment is more than 10 years old or not keeping your house comfortable, have it evaluated by a professional HVAC contractor. If it is not performing efficiently or needs upgrading, consider replacing it with a unit that has earned the ENERGY STAR. Depending on where you live, replacing your old heating and cooling equipment with ENERGY STAR qualified equipment can cut your annual energy bill by nearly $200. But before you invest in a new HVAC system, make sure that you have addressed the big air leaks in your house and the duct system. Sometimes, these are the real sources of problems rather than your HVAC equipment.

Ask about Proper Installation of your new equipment

Replacing your old heating and cooling equipment with new, energy-efficient models is a great start. But to make sure that you get the best performance, the new equipment must be properly installed. In fact, improper installation can reduce system efficiency by up to 30 percent  costing you more on your utility bills and possibly shortening the equipment’s life. Learn more.

For help doing your heating/cooling system assessment or any questions please call us at (609) 654-2329 or email at

Wood Deck Safety

January 17th, 2014

Tips for Safe Outdoor Living

Summer, the season of outdoor living, is the time we often gather with friends and family outside to enjoy activities on our decks, patios and yards. We tend to entertain more often and with more people when the weather is warm. Moving our lives outside usually means frequent trips inside and out with food, beverages and other needed items. How safe is your path? With an estimated 40 million wooden decks and porches on our homes exposed to the deleterious effects of the elements 365 days a year, older structures should be checked for possible safety hazards that may cause slips, trips and falls.

● Have the stair treads become loose, cracked or split?
● Are the handrails sturdy and located on both sides of the stairs?
● Are safety rails and balustrades secure and spaced properly?
● Do you have “landing areas” near your doors to set down the items you’re carrying while you open the door?

According to the National Association of Home Builders, outdoor wooden structures such as decks and porches have a usual life span of 10-15 years. If your deck or porch is that old, have it checked by a qualified inspector or contractor to make sure the entire structure is safe for you and your guests.

Visiting friends may not be familiar with the “lay of the land” at your house. Take a walk around your yard and check for other possible problem areas. Driveways, walkways and patio surfaces should be level and even. Cracked or lifted concrete can cause someone to trip or fall. Although we enjoy longer daylight hours, walkways and steps should be well illuminated for evening use. Are there any level changes in your yard where you may have one or two steps down? These should be easy to notice by using contrasting materials or gates. Adding a short handrail can help visitors notice a level change.

Summer is a favorite time on our decks. Let’s make it as safe as we can for our family and visiting friends. For help doing your home safety assessment or any questions please call us at (609) 654-2329 or email at

Hot Weather Masonry Construction

July 2nd, 2013

Ten Tips for Placing Masonry in Hot Weather

Hot weather poses a few challenges for masonry construction.  As ambient temperatures rise, and materials and equipment heat up, moisture evaporates more rapidly, leaving less water available for cement hydration. This article outlines ten recognized techniques to overcome the negative effects of hot weather on masonry construction. For masonry construction, hot weather is defined as “ambient temperature exceeding 100 deg. F (37.8 deg. C), or 90 deg. F (32.2 deg. C) when the wind velocity is greater than 8 mph (12.9 km/h).” Compounding factors include low relative humidity and direct sunshine. As the temperature of mortar increases:

● Work ability is reduced

● More water is required to maintain a given work ability

● A given amount of air-entraining agent yields less entrained air

● Initial and final set occur earlier, and evaporation rates are generally faster

● Units absorb more moisture from the mortar As a result, the mason will find it more difficult to place mortar and units.

In addition to effects on work ability, rapid drying can result in a lack of sufficient normal strength development of mortar, leading to a reduction in strength. Exposed mortar surfaces are particularly vulnerable. Evaporation removes moisture more rapidly from the outer surface of a mortar joint.

Selecting a Mortar Mix for Hot Weather

In hot-weather construction, mortar properties such as water retentivity and work ability should be given careful consideration when selecting ingredients and mortar type. For example, provided Type N and Type S mortars are both structurally adequate for a given masonry application, the increased water retentivity and work ability generally associated with a Type N mortar make it a better choice for construction during hot weather.

Ten techniques that can be used for construction for masonry in hot weather include:

1. Select workable, water-retentive mortar mixes.

2. Schedule construction to avoid hot, midday periods.

3. Minimize exposure of materials and equipment to direct sunlight.

4. Use cool water to mix mortar.

5. Maintain sand piles in damp, loose condition.

6. Flush metal equipment and wooden mortar boards with cool water before contact with fresh mortar.

7. Pre-wet clay masonry units if they have high absorption (high IRA).

8. Don’t spread mortar too far ahead or work.

9. Place upper units on mortar bed as quickly as possible.

10. Under extreme drying conditions, use windbreaks, fog sprays, or wall coverings to assure adequate moisture for curing of mortar.

Collins Web Site

July 2nd, 2013

Charles J. Collins Jr./Architect 

In addtition to this Architecture Blog prepared by and supported by     Charles J. Collins, Jr./Architect, we also have a company web site located at  and cordially invite any one interested in architecture or architectural services to visit the site.

Cold Weather Masonry Construction

February 10th, 2011

Like the human body, masonry must be warmed and/or covered in the winter.

Cold weather means working with both cold mortar and cold masonry units–brick or block. Cold weather is a retarder of the chemical reaction time between cement and water. When air temperatures fall to near freezing, the setting time of mortar is perhaps eight to 10 hours. Compare this to 1.5 to three hours at 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit!

During the long setting times associated with cold conditions, some of the water in the mortar will be absorbed by the masonry units and some will evaporate. Both the absorbed water and the water remaining in the mortar are in a cold and sluggish state. Thus the absorbed water has a better opportunity to promote undesirable efflorescence because of longer contact time with soluble salts.  Also, the water remaining in the mortar does not readily react with the cement. This results in a long setting time and a very slow rate of strength development.

Low temperatures and the water content of mortar during hardening are the governing factors for frost damage. Experience has shown that winter masonry work can proceed if, at the time of freezing, the mortar’s water content has been sufficiently lowered by absorption into the masonry units or the mortar has hardened prior to freezing.

Cold-weather masonry construction can proceed, even at temperatures below freezing, provided that the mortar ingredients are heated and, as the air temperature falls, the masonry units and the structure are kept above freezing during the initial hours after construction.

In-place mortar with moisture content in excess of about 6% will expand when frozen. Expansion will increase as the water content increases. Special efforts should be taken to reduce the initial water content from the usual 10-18% range to less than 6%. This can be achieved with proper weather protection and by selecting the correct masonry units for the job.

Cold-weather damage can occur when low-temperature, low-humidity air dries the mortar before a good bond can be achieved. On a damp winter day, masonry mortar may remain relatively soft for many hours; but if the air temperature rises while the mortar is still damp, the chance for a strong bond between the brick and the mortar is relatively good. However, in the presence of extremely cold, dry winds, the surface area between the mortar and the masonry units may lose water so rapidly that there is little opportunity for the development of a good bond. A warm rain may follow a cold period and the mortar will harden, but this does not assure that a good bond was obtained. Mortar that dries out before hardening cannot be expected to develop an adequate bond. “Dry-outs” are particularly objectionable because they are one of the possible contributing factors to leaky masonry walls.

Project planning for cold-weather masonry work should include the following measures:

  • Think ahead. Have the proper equipment, manpower and protective measures in place well ahead of time.
  • All masonry materials should be completely covered to prevent wetting by rain or snow.
  • The tops of all walls not enclosed or sheltered should be covered with a strong weather-resistive material at the end of each workday. Partially completed walls should be covered at all times when construction is not in progress. The cover should be draped over the wall and extend a minimum of two feet out from both sides and securely held in place.
  • Never use wet or frozen materials. Only use dry, frost-free masonry units and sand.
  • The optimum mortar temperature has been found to be 70 degrees F +/- 10 degrees. The selected mixing temperature should be maintained within 10 degrees F.
  • At air temperatures of 40 degrees F to 32 degrees F: Sand and mixing water should be heated to produce mortar temperatures between 40 degrees F and 120 degrees F. Completed masonry walls and raw materials should be protected from rain or snow for 24 hours after construction by covering with weather-resistive membrane materials.
  • At air temperatures of 32 degrees F to 20 degrees F: Sand and mixing water should be heated to produce mortar temperatures between 40 degrees F and 120 degrees F. Maintain mortar temperatures on boards above freezing. Completed masonry walls should be kept above freezing for at least 24 hours after construction by providing weather-proof enclosures and auxiliary heat (when necessary).
  • At air temperature of 25 degrees F to 20 degrees F: Sand and mixing water should be heated to produce mortar temperatures between 40 degrees F and 120 degrees F. Maintain mortar temperatures on boards above freezing. Salamanders or other sources of heat should be used on both sides of walls under construction. Windbreakers should be employed when wind speeds exceed 15 mph. Completed masonry walls should be kept above freezing for at least 24 hours after construction by providing weather-proof enclosures and auxiliary heat (when necessary).
  • At air temperature of 20 degrees F and below: Sand and mixing water should be heated to provide mortar temperatures between 40 degrees F and 120 degrees F. Enclosure and auxiliary heat should be provided to maintain air temperatures above 32 degrees F around all walls and materials. Temperature of units when laid should be not less than 20 degrees F. Completed masonry walls should be kept above freezing for at least 24 hours after construction.
  • When using artificial heat, make sure all exhaust gases are vented to the outside. Carbon dioxide from open salamanders, gasoline engines, generators or mixer engines may cause a chemical reaction known as carbonation which significantly reduces the strength and hardness of masonry surfaces.
  • Admixtures such as antifreezes and accelerators are often encountered in cold-weather masonry construction. Most commercially-available masonry “antifreeze” admixtures are actually accelerators rather than freezing-point depressants. These may negatively impact masonry bond and compressive strengths if used in significant amounts. Calcium chloride is the most commonly used mortar accelerator. If used, it is recommended that it be limited to no more than 2% of the Portland cement in the mortar by weight.

For futher information regarding cold-weather masonry construction, contact us through our web site, .

So, you want a career in Architecture?

January 18th, 2011

As an Architect, we are involved in all phases of design and construction process, from meeting with clients to discuss plans for the building to instructing the users of the completed building on how to use its systems. While aesthetics (the look of a building) are important in design, architects also incorporate function, safety and efficiency into their designs, as well as the specific needs and wants of their clients.

Once clients accept the architect’s building proposal, architects get to work on the final construction documents. These include a building’s appearance, as well as construction details like drawings of its structural system; air-conditioning, heating and ventilating systems; electrical systems; communications systems; plumbing; and site plans. Architects must follow building codes, zoning laws, fire regulations and any applicable ordinances.

As Architects work on projects, they coordinate details with engineers, interior designers, landscape architects and other professionals, which requires a great deal of communication and organization. The ability to clearly and effectively communicate is vital for successful architects. Architects are constantly explaining their projects and their components to clients, construction contractors and others involved in the building process.

Some architects and architecture firms specialize in one type of building, like hospitals, schools or residential housing. Other Architects do minimal design work and instead focus on land planning or construction management. Their projects may include an individual building or an entire community, like a residential housing development or a university campus.

The median annual wages of wage-and-salary architects was $70,320 in May 2008, according to the 2010-11 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor. And although opportunities are geographically sensitive, employment of architects is expected to increase by 16 percent between 2010 and 2018. A high percentage of architects are self-employed as we are in my firm. According to the BLS, about 21 percent of architects worked for themselves in 2008, which is three times more than most other occupations. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), of which we are a certified member, estimates that there are approximately 105,000 licensed architects in the United States.

Becoming a licensed architect is no easy task. It takes many years to fulfill the three-step process that includes: education, experience and examination.

Education:  In most states, architects must first earn a professional degree in architecture from one of the 117 schools of architecture that offer programs accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Students can pursue three main professional degrees: a five year bachelor of architecture; a two-year master of architecture after earning an undergraduate degree in architecture or a related field; or a three- or four-year master of architecture after earning an undergraduate degree in an unrelated discipline. (To search through a listing of accredited programs, go to the NAAB website,

Training:  After earning a qualified professional degree, graduates work under the supervision of licensed architects during a period of practical training or internship. This period must last for at least three years, but in many cases, time spent interning while still in college can be applied toward this requirement. After graduating from a professional architecture program, some architects also continue their studies by earning a graduate degree in a specialized subset of architecture, such as design theory, healthcare facilities, sustainable building or interior design.

Licensing:  To be called an “architect,” individuals must pass all divisions of the Architect Registration Examination, which is required in all states. Because building codes, materials, technology and public tastes change, most states require architects to keep current and maintain their licensure by earning continuing education credits. In addition, some architects seek the NCARB certification, which is useful for those who want to become licensed in another or multiple states.

Any students interested in a career in architecture may contact me by email at: for further information. Please visit our web site at to see how our education, experience and licensing meets the above criteria.

Energy Saving Tips for Winter

January 17th, 2011

Rising fuel costs mean higher energy bills. As everyone knows, the cost of fuel has gone up significantly over the past few years and dramatically over the past few months.

Now is a good time to consider energy-efficient improvements to reduce your overall energy use and save you money this winter.

ADD WEATHER-STRIPPING:  You can save money by keeping the warm air inside with weather stripping. To check seals, light an incense stick and move it around the edge of your doors and windows. If the smoke moves horizontally, there is an air leak.

INSULATE ATTICS, WALLS AND FLOORS:  According to the Department of Energy, you can reduce your heating needs by as much as 30 percent by adding just a few hundred dollars worth of new insulation. The extra cushion between your interior space and the outdoors pays for itself over time. Although the tendency may be to just focus on the attic, don’t forget other key places such as crawl spaces, ceilings, basement walls, and around recessed lighting fixtures (just make sure those fixtures are designed for direct insulation contact).

THINK LANDSCAPING:  In the winter, cold, blustery winds can reduce the temperature inside your home by as much as 20 percent. Plant deciduous trees (ones that lose their leaves in the winter) on the south side of the house to allow the sun to heat the south side. Plant evergreen trees or large shrubs (ones that don’t lose their leaves in the winter) on the north side of the house to block the winter winds.

INVEST IN A CEILING FAN:  Ceiling fans are a cost saving way to reduce energy use since they use 98% less energy than most central air conditioners. Since the fans will provide extra air circulation, the air handling unit will come on less frequently saving you money. Hot air rises so running the ceiling fan with the air blowing down is an effective way to reduce heat stratification in the winter.

For assistance in implementing these energy saving ideas, contact us at: or 609-654-2329.

What is a Professional?

January 17th, 2011

On a daily basis, we are constantly told in advertising and by individuals that they are professionals and that their occupation is a profession. So, what is a Professional?

A professional is a member of a vocation founded upon specialized education and training and, therefore, that individual is an expert who is a master in a specific field.

The word professional traditionally means a person who has obtained an advanced degree and a license in a field that is state regulated. The term commonly describes highly educated, licensed, mostly salaried workers, who enjoy considerable work autonomy, a comfortable income, and are commonly engaged in creative and intellectually challenging work.

Because of the personal and confidential nature of many professional services and thus the necessity to place a great deal of trust in them, most professionals are held up to strict ethical and moral regulations.

The main criteria for a professional includes the following:

Specialized Knowledge:  A professional is in a vocation that requires the possession of theoretical and specialized knowledge in the field in which one is practicing by obtaining a college degree after a long period of education and enduring a long and arduous training period.

Codified Body of Knowledge:  A professional is in a vocation with a codified body of knowledge that is unique to that vocation and is examined by statute regarding that theoretical body of knowledge.

History of Profession:  A professional is in a vocation that has a history of that vocation that is critical to understand in order to be a member of that profession.

Licensed:  A professional possesses a state-issued license that is obtained through a rigorous examination process. The professional is typically regulated by statute, with the responsibilities of enforcement delegated to the respective regulatory bodies, whose function is to define, promote, oversee, support and regulate the affairs of its licensees.

Ethical Standards:  A professional has a higher standard of professional ethics, behavior and work activities while carrying out one’s profession (as an employee, self-employed person, business, company, or partnership/associate/colleague, etc.). The professional owes a higher duty to a client, often a privilege of confidentiality, as well as a duty not to abandon the client just because he or she may not be able to pay or remunerate the professional. Often the professional is required to put the interest of their clients ahead of their own interests.

High Quality Work:  A professional produces high quality work in, for example: design, services, presentations, consultancy, research, administrative, marketing or other work endeavors.

Independence:  A professional tends to be independent and autonomous meaning that they have a higher degree of control of their own vocation and business.

Professional Associations:  A professional has a professional associations organized by their members that are intended to enhance the status of their members and have carefully controlled entrance requirements.

Thus, by the above definition, a professional is limited to accountants, architects, attorneys, dentists, engineers, nurses, pharmacists, physicians and professors.

As Professional Architects, we strive to fulfill the above definitions of a Professional.   Please contact us at: .