In June of 2009, I left Minneapolis, MN to continue my professional spec-writing journey in New Orleans, LA.

This blog started as my monthly contribution to the CSI New Orleans‘ chapter newsletter.  I’ve taken it to the airwaves in hopes to entertain a few more folk who may (or may not?) appreciate what it’s like to live and work on the flip-side of the Mississippi!

Volume 56, Issue 04

This month, I couldn’t resist simply sending you to this article while you see a pic of (what could be argued as) a “greened,” blighted property in NOLA…

I know how urban blight makes *me* feel. What do you think?


(Photo Credit: Times Picayune Archive)

Volume 56, Issue 03

Long ago, I wrote a piece about the draft New Orleans Zoning Ordinance and the looming introduction of improved storm water management regulations. For what it’s worth, I did check and best I can tell, the ordinance is still being ‘drafted’ as of Sept. 2014.

In what I consider related news, the State of Louisiana will be begin enforcing the 2012 International Plumbing code in lieu of the State code, last overhauled in 1994. Among the provisions that will change come January 2016:

  • Different method of calculating minimum fixtures
  • Graywater/stormwater recycling use permitted for flushing and irrigation.
  • Permitting occure through the Building Official *
  • Alternative methods for roof drainage permitted.
  • Combined storm/sanitary system permitted *

What we’ve discovered so far in our office is that under a hypothetical scenario, the minimum fixture calculation for water closets in women’s bathrooms yields half of what would have otherwise been required by State code. Now, that scenario did not involve an existing building and I’m not sure if the 2012 IPC will take into account the “documented complaints clause” (see scroll below). But, if you want to know the numbers, let me know and I’d be happy to share.


*  Subject to amendment by the Plumbing Transition Commission.

Volume 56, Issue 1

So, this month, radiant barrier installation is still in process and continues to make a marked difference in the indoor air temperature of our home but it’s not enough…

Enter, window insulation kits. My *other* new best friend.

These were a staple in many homes where I come from: an annual ritual, if you will. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?!? That cold draft coming through the perimeter of my window sashes? Gone! Trapped between the plastic and the window. Good riddance.

“Doesn’t it look bad?” No. You can barely see it and no, the tape doesn’t take paint with it when you’re ready to remove the film.

Now, I don’t know who to give photo credit it, but this image pretty much sums it up!


For what it’s worth, I had to order these online since the folks at the local home improvement store hadn’t heard of them. There are variety of manufacturers, all of whom make a product that, in my opinion, is actually kinda fun to install: 3M, Frost King and Duck to name a few.


Volume 55, Issue 11

Meet my new best friend, the radiant barrier.

The barrier and I have an intimate relationship with the crawlspace beneath my house as I recently decided to conduct an experiment…

At one point last winter we got a reading of 48 degrees in our home, a few inches above the un-insulated wood fl oor. As I’m sure you can imagine, that makes for some REALLY cold feet! Now that we have a little one crawling around I felt the situation required remedy…

At one point, we received a recommendation of putting rigid board insulation under the fl oor joists to create a continuous air barrier and to acquire some insulative value (note: there is no subfl oor, there are cracks in wood fl oor, etc). Implication being, this might not only be cheaper than spray foam but would also allow for easier inspection/repair of termite damage… should the need arise. Eh-hem.

This is an experiment I volunteered to undertake on my own (meaning, I would do the installation). When I got to the store to purchase board insulation I quickly realized that installing 4 x 8 sheets of this material, in the crawl space, might get a little cumbersome considering the clearance on the side of my house is approximately 2 feet. Good thing there were rolls of radiant barrier nearby: I had not previously considered the material.

Higher R-value than a 1/2 sheet of board insulation AND easier to install? I’m in! So, home I went, cordoned off one room from below and installed a few rolls of the radiant barrier. With the aid of my husband, we monitored air temps in the house, ran the heat and carefully watched the rate at which our inside air temps decreased in the control room and in the experiment room.

Sure enough, the rate at which heat dissipated in the experimet room was slower than that of the control room! Phew!!!

…then again, I have my work cut out for me on the rest of the house!


UPDATE (from a reader):

I received this lovely email reply…

“Good morning Lynn,

I love the article about radiant barrier in this month’s newsletter and can though roughly appreciate what you were going through.  Just before I started attending CSI-NOLA meetings in 2009,  I studied reflective radiant heat barriers at length and wound up writing what equated to a white paper on the subject so I could explain the theory, process and results to [name withheld] for use in the [name withheld] Building.

We can honestly say that few architects actually practice what we preach when it comes to implementation of thermo conductivity  theory.   By simply installing a radiant barrier, engineered thickness and total composition specific to the project,  we were able to shift the dew point from just behind the interior drywall to the outer portion of the exterior wall.  Effectively transferring the moisture causing radiant heat to a point of neutrality.  At 90-95% radiant heat reflectivity, relatively inexpensive and ease of installation, we should include it in all of our designs.

Please tell all I said hi.”

Volume 54, Issue 10

Alright.  I told you that I’d tell you about a tasty job site discovery so, here it is!  Honey!  That’s right.  A fully functioning bee colony was discovered during interior demolition of an abandoned building in the Treme and, as luck would have it, the job superintendent is a hobbyist bee keeper!  He suited right up and spent an entire day carving out the colony, its honeycomb and the some tens of thousands of bees that went with it!  What did he bring to the next site meeting?  Jars of honey that look like molasses (which, I’m told, is on account of the bee colony being at least 7 or 8 years old).  Pretty amazing!


Of course, I can’t help but wonder about contaminants and the like, seeing as this abandoned building is literally coated in lead and teeming with asbestos but that bee colony was surely nestled inbetween floor joists and covered by a thick layer of plaster.  Methinks it’s okay.

But!  While on the topic of contaminants, did you know that OSHA recently released a proposed rule to protect worker exposure to silica dust, or “the deadly dust?”  Click on this link to see a related video and read more about the topic:

Volume 54, Issue 6

It dawned on me recently that since I moved here, I haven’t seen degradable void forms specified or shown on any concrete foundation details… I wonder why. I thought to myself, “is this because the soils here are different?”

So, first, I reminded myself exactly why we used void forms, at least in Minnesota (particularly under concrete stoops and sidewalks). This statement from “SureVoid” sums it up pretty well: “The void form material, lying under structural concrete construction, gradually absorbs ground moisture and loses its strength after the concrete has set, creating a space into which soil can expand without causing damage.”

Okay. Does soil in the NOLA area expand?

Here’s what I found…


Pink = Over 50 percent of these areas are underlain by soils with abundant clays of high swelling potential.

Blue = Less than 50 percent of these areas are underlain by soils with clays of high swelling potential.

Orange = Over 50 percent of these areas are underlain by soils with abundant clays of slight to moderate swelling potential.

Green = Less than 50 percent of these areas are underlain by soils with abundant clays of slight to moderate swelling potential.

Brown = These areas are underlain by soils with little to no clays with swelling potential.

Yellow = Data insufficient to indicate the clay content or the swelling potential of soils.

The map above is based upon “Swelling Clays Map of the Conterminous United States” by W. Olive, A. Chleborad, D. Frahme, J. Shlocker, R. Schneider and R Schuster.  It was published in 1989 as Map I-1940 in the USGS Miscellaneous Investigations Series.  Land areas were assigned to map soil categories based upon the type of bedrock that exists beneath them as shown on a geologic map.  In most areas, where soils are produced “in situ,” this method of assignment was reasonable.  However, some areas are underlain by soils which have been transported by wind, water or ice.  The map soil categories would not apply for these locations.

Volume 53, Issue 9

For me, Hurricane Isaac will forever be remembered as “My First Hurricane.” Something I had dreaded to some degree and, something I have learned I can deal with again. But, I won’t lie: it wasn’t fun. I’ll take a good old-fashioned blizzard any day!

What I found most nerve wracking about dealing with a (Category 1) hurricane was the anticipation; not knowing to what degree I would have to prepare. When I did a survey of the neighborhood, I found folks boarding up windows, tying down garbage can lids and piling up sandbags but by no means was there a consistent approach to protection. I mean, take a look at the picture below: wouldn’t that business owner also be concerned about breaking glass, possibly even moreso than street flooding? How am I to know, when I haven’t done this before, what needs to be done to protect MY property?

Well, I’ll tell you that I closed all my shutters, tried to fix the weatherstripping on my leaky patio doors and moved valuable things away from walls with windows. Of course, I prepped my pantry and refrigerator for the inevitable power outage and made sure I had candles and flashlights on hand. All of these efforts proved worthwhile.

However… the one thing I never thought I would have to do?

Take the batteries out of my smoke detectors *before* the power goes out in the middle of the night and you can’t see what you’re doing and you’ve only been sleeping a couple hours at a time because you’re not sure if that bang on your roof, and then subsequently on the neighbor’s roof, was a piece of wind-driven debris big enough to cause a hole, or if all the creaking and shaking will amount to a collapse or why there is water coming in through windows you thought you adequately sealed up with every kind of spray foam under the sun?!? All four smoke detectors beeping loudly, and not necessarily in sync, was nothing short of painful.

<insert sigh here>

I hope all of you fared well during the storm! And, if you have any handy tips, products or protection methods you’ve discovered over the years, please pass them along… hurricane season isn’t over (is it?)!


Volume 53, Issue 8

Back in March, I introduced you to this house in my neighborhood and let you know that a young fellow in Minnesota was arrested for not finishing his siding installation. Well, I’m happy to reveal that the siding installation at Annunciation and General Taylor is complete! Is the structure ready for occupancy? That, I don’t know. Without stairs to the front door, I’m guessing the answer is no. But I digress.

The real reason I bring this up again is not on account of siding but, rather, cladding in general. We’ve been talking a bit about stucco in our office and it reminded me that I wanted to elaborate on my previous “Monthly Spectator” article. I wanted to raise an issue that was loosely referenced in a news article about the young man’s arrest that I had not adequately illuminated: It wasn’t so much that siding installation was incomplete. A warrant for the young man’s arrest was issued after he installed stucco on his house (which was cheaper than fi nishing the siding, presumably). An excerpt from another news article on the subject goes like this:

“… he was instructed in no uncertain terms: Finish the siding or go to jail. In order to comply, Faber and his wife spent $12,000 to put a stucco facade over their house’s plywood exterior. It wasn’t enough: Last November, Faber was arrested after city inspectors concluded the work wasn’t up to code.”

Shortly before I moved to New Orleans, there was a suburb of the Twin Cities that had more or less issued a moratorium on building homes with stucco: A study had revealed that roughly 60% of homes with stucco cladding built since the late 1980’s (during a building boom) had evidence of rot, repairs for which were so costly that the municipality decided to enforce a strict policy about building with stucco in order to prevent future homeowners from incurring costs they couldn’t bear. It wasn’t long before we were all detailing fiber-cement board panel siding in lieu of stucco! So, as usual, I’m curious: will the trend of stucco installation in new construction in New Orleans follow suit? Stay tuned to your Monthly Spectator…

Volume 53, Issue 6

I don’t need to tell you that many of the streets in New Orleans wreak havoc on a car’s suspension system, and being from a climate that sees extreme freeze-thaw cycles, I’m no stranger to potholes… LOTS of potholes. So, when I came across this article I was simply awestruck and wanted to share what seems like a brilliant and cheap, albeit temporary, solution to a pesky problem. Maybe someday, we won’t be baking birthday cakes to celebrate a pothole’s first birthday in New Orleans (also brilliant, by the way)!

This is the article, copied from the “autos” section of, written by Douglas Newcomb:

“Local politicians probably get more calls on potholes than anything else. But these days, with budget shortfalls and with tax hikes about as popular as the Jonas Brothers, it seems that there are more potholes — and the ones that are there are even larger.

Maybe it’s time for an additional solution that can fi ll the gap (pun intended) when road crews can’t get to all of the bone-jarring banes of driving existence. Students at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University have come up with an alternative, and in April they took the top prize in a competition sponsored by global materials company Saint-Gobain, in which the objective was to use simple materials to create an unconventional product that solves a common problem.

Because a byproduct of potholes is puddles, the team deduced that best way to solve the problem was to fill them with a non-Newtonian fluid. Non-Newtonian fluids respond differently to shear than Newtonian fluids, acting as a solid upon impact. The students filled a Kevlar bag with a nontoxic goop called “oobleck” to win the prize. (Without the force, oobleck is like a sack of fluid, simply conforming to the contours of the pothole and creating a level surface.)

The students have road-tested the solution, although tougher winter testing will be required. As with many new ideas, the initial upfront cost may be no less than traditional pothole repair techniques. However, the bags are reusable, so there’s a potential for long-term cost savings. And because oobleck is biodegradable, it’s also environmentally friendly.

Several companies have expressed interested in the students’ prize-winning solution. But instead of waiting on this — or for politicians or other offi cials to fi ll potholes on your street — it seems any enterprising citizen could potentially mix a bag of oobleck and fix the problem himself — assuming he has some Kevlar bags lying around.”