Exterior Siding and Cladding

Building or remodeling a home is usually based on space needs and aesthetics. One of the most public decisions regarding appearance is surely your choice of siding material. But I encourage you to also consider other factors when choosing this all-important material, especially factors like protection, durability and, realistically, how willing you are to maintain it. Also, if you have a homeowners association, your selection may require its approval. Following are more specific considerations, alphabetized by type of material:

BRICK Nothing says “built-to-last” like brick. In our area, many of the middle-century ranch homes, as well as Colonial- and Tudor-style homes, are clad in brick or brick veneer. The latter requires a moisture barrier between the veneer and the home’s wooden frame. Bricks, which are made from fired clay, come in a wide range of rich and subtle colors, but they are labor-intensive to install – and they can be more difficult to match if you ever add on – so be sure to include that installation cost in your tally.yu3a0462

Example of Fiber-Cement Siding

FIBER-CEMENT SIDING Fiber-cement siding may be the best option for many homeowners. Not only does its natural look mimic masonry, stucco or wood with less expense, but it is low maintenance while resisting flames and termites. Expert installation helps ensure you will encounter no moisture-related issues from this product, which is available in a spectrum of colors, styles and textures. Expect it to last from 25 to 50 years.

STONE Stone and natural or synthetic stone veneer (lighter weight and less expensive), if chosen with restraint – otherwise it can look gaudy – provides long-lasting natural beauty and durability. Texture and visual interest are its hallmarks, as is its cost. So stone may be a good choice to combine with another material, adding visual interest to selected architectural features, like around a front entrance.

STUCCO Stucco, familiar to most of us from Spanish Mission- and Mediterranean-style homes, is typically made of sand, Portland cement, lime and water. It requires a moisture barrier and galvanized metal screening underneath for protection. Installation is of paramount importance to prevent cracks from developing in this rigid material. Dryvit is a synthetic stucco-look material that was very popular in our area years back, but got a bad rap due to costly moisture problems resulting from improper installation. Exterior Insulation and Finish System, or EIFS (polystyrene panels with an acrylic coating), is the broader term for synthetic stucco, which is still a viable option, provided it is installed by professionals and maintained properly. The latter includes regular inspection of the surface for punctures, especially after a storm, and the caulked joints – which real stucco does not have – for damage. Other limitations include that EIFS siding should not touch the ground where it could potentially soak up ground water, nor should it have anything attached to it, like a mailbox or flag pole, that could puncture the surface.

VINYL SIDING Vinyl siding is the most popular choice, offering low cost of material and installation, versatility of colors and styles, low maintenance, durability and, should you be a DIYer, installation that you could potentially take on yourself. If you can get past its “plastic” appearance, it may be your best option.

Example of Vinyl Siding

WOOD For a rich, organic, authentic look, wood – available as clapboard or lap siding, shakes and shingles – is hard to beat. Especially appropriate for bungalow-, Cape Cod- and cottage-style homes, as we know from examples of historic architectures, wood is durable if it is maintained properly. And in our coastal climate, staying on top of that requires real commitment to painting and staining. Wood is also attractive to critters, but it can be treated for fire-retardance. Western red cedar and redwood are thought to offer the most visual appeal and durability. When figuring the cost, be sure to figure in more labor-intensive installation as well as finishing.

Send questions to chris@vbhomesliving.com. Virginia Beach native and JMU graduate Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. Ettel serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors and is past chairman of the TBA Remodeler’s Council.


Insulate: over, under and around

Proper insulation for our homes is an important cost, comfort and ecological consideration, regardless of the outdoor temperatures. But we tend to think more about insulation as the mercury starts to drop and frigid winds pick up. If you are building, remodeling or simply thinking of swapping out existing insulation in those areas of your home that are accessible, you will want to keep reading.


Essentially, you can choose between four types of insulation: two types of batts and two types of spray-in foam, each with benefits and drawbacks. Batts, both fiberglass and cotton, are perfectly sized to fit in the spaces between the standard spacing of wood supports in walls and ceilings. Paper-backed to provide a moisture barrier, batts are an effective and very economical choice, and they’re easy to install, except in odd-shaped spaces. Cotton batts, made from recycled denim jeans, offer the added benefit of being a bit more eco-minded, though at a slightly higher price, while fibers released by fiberglass batts are not healthy to breathe, at least not for the installer. Once they are sealed inside walls, they are thought to pose little hazard.

Open cell polyurethane foam is soft and lightweight and can be blown into the oddest-shaped and hardest-to-reach spaces. Homeowners can expect a better insulation value along with better protection from drafts. They also can expect to pay significantly more. Its cousin, closed cell foam, is denser because of sealed air pockets filled with an insulating gas, which provides greater insulation value and greater moisture protection while actually strengthening the structure. But you can expect to pay even more for these perks. You also can expect to have to cut it away if wires or pipes are added in the future.

There is also rigid foam sheathing or foam board, which is applied to the exterior of the home. Though it is a bit more expensive and not as strong as plywood sheathing (which doesn’t matter if you apply it over the plywood), rigid foam board provides better insulation than plywood alone while doing some heavy lifting against moisture (by preventing both leaks and accumulation) and against air leakage. Rigid foam controls both air infiltration and exfiltration, unlike some house wraps which only guard against the former.

Since it is so important, what exactly is the aforementioned insulation value? R-value refers to the transfer of heat between the interior and exterior of your home, what professionals refer to as thermal resistance. The higher the number, the less transfer because there is greater resistance. With less heat conduction, you can expect energy savings, which are good for your wallet and good for the environment. Today’s homes can achieve an R-value of R-15 up to a R-19 in walls and R-38 in the attic.

Once you understand the science behind this heat conductivity, you will undoubtedly discover that air-sealing your home – creating a tight envelope, as we say – goes hand-in-hand with insulating. That is, R-values alone do not tell the whole story. Addressing both radiation (air moving from a hotter to a cooler material) and convection (the movement of heat and moisture) ensures that your home is the most energy-efficient and comfortable that it can be.

And don’t forget your crawl space. Insulation materials and vapor barriers are also right at home here, whether your crawl space is ventilated or not. If ventilated, you will want to insulate under the subfloor and between the floor joists, while if unventilated, you will instead want to insulate the walls, perhaps with a vapor barrier over the dirt floor.

Though all this talk of R-values, roofs and crawl spaces isn’t terribly sexy, you can further insulate your home with eye-appealing window- and glass-door treatments, such as insulated drapes and cellular blinds. It’s never too late to better insulate.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, served as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, contact Chris@vbhomesliving.com or go to www.vbhomesliving.com.

Home for Sale at the North End of Virginia Beach, VA

Our North End spec home is NOW up for sale!! Here are some sneak peak photos of this gorgeous new home! Call Chas Ferguson or Larry Blum at 757-416-8280 to schedule a showing.

Air Conditioning: Creating a healthy and comfortable environment for your home

When we think of air conditioning, we think of cooling our home during our hot, humid summers here in Hampton Roads.  It’s interesting to note that cooling has been around in one form or another for thousands of years. Early civilizations such as the Romans and others circulated water from their water sources within the walls of their buildings in addition to several other methods to help cool their buildings.  Needless to say, modern air conditioning has been one of the major advances in science and technology that has allowed us to enjoy the comforts of living in our modern world.

In light of the above, when we think of air conditioning we think of cooling.  But the more accurate meaning of air conditioning is an integrated system which includes the implementation, maintenance, and control of heat, cooling, humidification, de-humidification, ventilation, and the removal of dust, micro-organisms, and other unhealthy bodies from your home.   Ultimately, air conditioning should address affordable comfort and health.

Proper air conditioning for your home starts with system design, which includes an accurate calculation of the heat and cooling requirements, air distribution (ductwork) and ventilation requirements and the cost of the various types of systems available. One note is that ventilation is becoming a very important requirement in today’s homebuilding world as houses are becoming tighter and tighter due to modern construction techniques and energy codes. Also the use of germicidal devices such as UV (ultraviolet) lights are lethal to mold spores, bacterial, and other micro-organisms and help provide for a healthy indoor environment.

Fortunately whether you are building a new residence for your family or remodeling your existing one, you have a variety of options from which to choose depending on your home’s design. Naturally, the higher the energy efficiency rated system you select, the higher the cost.  Though the air distribution system usually remains the same, the higher efficient equipment costs more.  A state licensed, experienced builder or state licensed, experienced HVAC contractor can help you choose the proper system for your needs and pocketbook to help you create a healthy, comfortable home that you will enjoy for years to come.

Without fully describing each type of available system, here is a brief explanation of some that are available in today’s marketplace:

  • Split System Cooling – These systems consist of an indoor cooling coil which is connected to an outside mounted condensing unit and require a separate source for heating your home, such as a gas or oil furnace.
  • Standard Air to Air Heat Pump System – This is one of the most prevalent types of air conditioning used in our moderate climate. This is also a split system which uses a reverse cycle for heating and cooling your home. Air to air heat pumps require some source of backup heat such as an electric heat strip because the system efficiency drops as the outside air temperature drops.
  • Hybrid Gas/Heat Pump – This option uses a split heat pump system in conjunction with a gas furnace. When the heat pump becomes less efficient, the heat pump shuts down and the gas furnace heats the home. This is an extremely efficient combination and gives the best comfort and lower energy bills.
  • Mini-Split Ductless Systems – This option gives you the benefit of not requiring ductwork. Mini-Splits can be floor, ceiling or wall mounted. One outdoor condensing unit can serve several indoor units thus giving you the opportunity to have zoning for separate rooms or areas. These come as either cooling or heat pump systems.
  • Ground Source Heat Pump (My Favorite) – The ground source heat pump uses the ground you walk on to heat and cool your home. It is the most efficient type of air conditioning system available. In our area, the earth’s ground temperature below approximately six feet is about 60 degrees year around. In the winter, through a series of horizontally or vertically installed pipes, heat is transferred from the earth and, in conjunction with a heat pump, heats your home. In the summer, the heat pump reverses its cycle and removes the heat from your home and transfers it to the much cooler 60 degree earth. Also available is an option that can provide an abundant supply of domestic hot water, virtually free in the summer months. A major plus to this type of system is that there is no outside piece of equipment that is subject to our harsh sea coast environment.  And guess what?  There is no outside equipment noise.

As one can see, there are many options from which to choose.  Plus, there are numerous products manufactured today that can help you create a healthy home while increasing your leisure time, such as remotely operated programmable thermostats that allow you to control the temperature in your home from anywhere. And there are numerous manufacturers of electronically controlled zoning systems that allow you to control the temperatures in individual areas using only one central air conditioning system. In addition to the UV light mentioned earlier, very efficient filtering systems are available for your health and comfort. Many of today’s homes are built so tight (energy efficient) that outside air is required. The installation of a central, energy efficient ventilation unit can provide you and your family with clean, fresh outside air while exhausting the stale inside air to the outdoors creating a healthy indoor environment.

Last but not least is the proper maintenance for this healthy, energy efficient system you have just purchased. Proper care not only helps maintain the efficiency of the system but will increase the lifetime of the equipment, giving you a long lifecycle for your investment. Proper maintenance should include tasks such as cleaning the indoor and outdoor coils and cleaning condensate drain pans and installing algae tablets in the pans to prevent algae and slime buildup in the drain pans. Filters should be changed on a regular basis, normally every 90 days depending on your indoor environment. Electrical components should be inspected and temperature readings should be taken and recorded for future maintenance tune-ups and proper cleaning.  Fans and other mechanisms should be checked for proper amperage draws and all major components should be inspected and cleaned. Professional tune-ups and cleaning is a must for maintaining an efficient operating system.

Remember, an efficient air conditioning system is one of the best investments one can make. Some highly efficient air conditioning systems have paybacks within anywhere from three to five years. Where else can you make a basically risk-free investment and get a 20% to 33% return while at the same time provide your family with a comfortable and healthy home?


Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, serves as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, contact Chris@vbhomesliving.com or go to www.vbhomesliving.com.



Putting the ‘room’ in ‘mudrooms’

The term mudroom is a bit of a misnomer nowadays because, while these hardworking entry spaces see a lot of action, mud is seldom part of the picture.


Originally used to stash muddy boots to prevent tracking into the main part of the house, mudrooms now most often function like a secondary foyer. Here are some thoughts to help make your mudroom look more like an appealing room in your home and less like a utilitarian passageway.

Typically located just off a home’s back or side entrance and used by family and close friends, mudrooms come in many shapes and sizes. Some are true rooms and are often combined with laundry facilities, while others are more of a pass-through space in which family members grab and go. The pass-throughs generally fall into one of four categories: hallway, nook (e.g. under the stairs), corner or closet. If a closet, many homeowners like to remove the door and attractively style the interior.

Layouts largely depend on how homeowners intend to use the space, of course, but also whether the mudroom was part of the original architectural design. Regardless, mudrooms tend to need the following: hooks and clips, cubbies, containers, seating and lighting.
Hooks are versatile in terms of both function and placement, as they can hold coats, scarves, handbags, backpacks, umbrellas, keys and much more. And they can be arranged in straight rows, both low and high, or placed on a wall in an artistic manner.


Cubbies generally refer to a custom or purchased contemporary “hall tree”-type divided unit with an open front – often vertical in a mudroom application and often in the popular locker style. However, unless carefully designed with restraint, built-in cabinetry can easily look bulky, heavy and a bit claustrophobic. Whether your compartments are closed or open – and perhaps labeled, if possible – a variety of baskets and bins will keep items neatly separated for easy retrieval. But, even though baskets may look nice on top of your unit, how likely is anyone to climb up there?

Benches, with either floor storage or contained storage underneath a lift-up top, are very popular and practical seating choices for mudrooms. They tend to be long and shallow, so they work particularly well for small, narrow spaces and multiple users. But, there is no rule that says a chair or stool is not perfectly acceptable for a mudroom. It might be just what you need.

Lighting – though perhaps not the brightest lighting if dog fur, dirt and dings to the baseboards are an issue – is an important consideration not only for practical purposes, but for creating the ambiance your desire.

Other features that are not essential, but nice to have include a mirror for a last check and to bounce light while enlarging the space; a charging station for cellphones and such; and a wall clock, so you needn’t check your phone as you dash in and out.

Styles run the gamut, but whatever the style of your mudroom, it should certainly complement the rest of your home, even if it is a bit more rustic or informal.

If your mudroom is going to take a beating, consider hard-wearing surfaces like tile on the floor and perhaps board-and-batten wainscoting instead of drywall. An indoor-outdoor rug that you treat as an annual purchase will reduce the chance of someone slipping, while adding color and texture.

You can also incorporate art and family photos, pillows, glass canisters with snacks and dog treats, message boards and general decorative items like floral arrangements and ever-popular painted signs.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, serves as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. Contact Chris@vbhomesliving.com or go to www.vbhomesliving.com.

Summer Newsletter

Derby Brackett has enjoyed a long love affair with Virginia Beach. Originally from Richmond, she spent many summers, weekends and holidays at her family’s oceanfront cottage on 62nd Street. As an adult with a family of her own, she continued making trips to Virginia Beach. When Derby’s mother passed away in 2010, the 62nd Street cottage was left to her and her brother. They decided to sell the property but Derby knew she couldn’t stay away for long.

She and her husband, Doug, spent a year looking for the perfect lot to build on. They discovered a gem on Atlantic Avenue between 59th and 60th streets, a mere block from the ocean and less than 3 blocks from the original family getaway home. VB Homes owned the lot and once she and Doug met with Chris Ettel and his team, it was easy to choose both the lot and VB Homes.

Must-haves for the new home included a central kitchen and open plan on the second floor, as well as a porch and deck on this level. Derby and Doug also wanted flexible living and sleeping space on the first floor to accommodate their large family of 6 children and 6 grandchildren.

Outside of the layout, Derby had another heartfelt request. The original 1960’s vacation home on 62nd Street was designed with 2-inch thick heart pine floors and pine doors with door latches instead of knobs. VB Homes salvaged some of the pieces and used them on the new home’s second floor. “The house now has the soul of the old home and the heart of our new home,” said Derby.

Completed in August, 2014, the final result was a 2,900 square foot home designed with an ocean blue Hardie plank exterior framed in white trim, and three levels of space that fit the Bracketts’ lifestyle perfectly. An open second floor lets Derby cook and entertain simultaneously and features a deep copper sink as the focal point for the kitchen design. The third floor master bedroom is a cozy escape with calming blue walls and a deck offering ocean views. The incorporation of the 62nd Street home’s floors and doors is a wow factor for guests.

Derby and Doug now live in Virginia Beach year-round. The Bracketts quickly embraced the North End preference for bikes as the primary mode of transportation. Thanksgiving has become a traditional hosting holiday for Derby and Doug, with all 18 family members joining them in 2016. Derby said, “I never thought we would be settled so quickly here. It is definitely the right spot for us.”


Entryway tips for putting your best facade forward

An attractive front entrance to your home creates a first impression not unlike a smile: It is welcoming and revealing of what’s inside.

Sometimes, small, DIY-type solutions are all that are needed to spiff up this focal point of your home’s facade, but sometimes a more involved, contractor-driven solution is desired. Here we offer a few tips on both, as well as considerations for the front door itself.


Entryways: providing the big picture

1. One of the quickest and simplest ways to punch up your front entry is with a color that contrasts with siding and trim. You can go bold with, say, orange or simply go with something unexpected like a springy green. But if you aren’t one for color, a glossy black can create a similar pop.

2. Walkways – concrete, pavers, stepping stones and so on – lead visitors to your front door and should ideally be about 3 to 4 feet wide and kept clear of overgrown plantings so that they can accommodate two people side-by-side. Most important, though, is their aesthetic compatibility with the colors, materials, style and visual weight of your front entrance. A substantial or grand front entryway, for instance, would overwhelm petite stepping stones.

3. Potted plants add personality and softness or structure, depending on the type of pots and plants selected, while just the right welcome mat – or rug on a covered entry – is like wearing the perfect piece of jewelry with an outfit.

4. While potted plants are fun and easy to layer, change and move, avoid overlooking the surrounding hardscaping. Given the cost of higher-end pots and plants nowadays, sometimes addressing steps and other architectural features is not substantially more expensive. Interesting tiles on the step risers or the addition of style-compatible brackets, railings, moldings, columns, awnings, and trim can pack a lot of design punch. If they can repeat an element from elsewhere on your home’s facade, all the better to establish a harmonious look.

5. Speaking of jewelry, house numbers, doorknobs/knockers, light fixtures, and mailboxes (if you aren’t required to mount yours at the curb) easily provide the polish that many entryways need. A wide range of styles and materials is available, so choose one that is perfect for your home’s vibe.

Entryways: focusing on the front door

When it comes to style, it probably goes without saying that the front door and the overall style of your home’s architecture should be compatible. Yet one of the mistakes homeowners make, in an understandable attempt to dress up the appearance of their house, is to choose a door that is too formal for the style of their architecture – for example, dark, rich wood tones and etched glass on a simple brick ranch. The unfortunate result is akin to being overdressed for a function: It looks out of place and inappropriate. And there’s no need to go wrong given the dizzying array of styles available today.

But there is much more to choosing a front door than issues of style. Also consider function, durability and safety, as doors take a beating from the elements of sun, wind and rain, not to mention from would-be intruders.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you opt for a new door, which can be a substantial, worthwhile investment:

1. Doors nowadays generally come pre-hung (with hinges and framing) in one of three materials: wood, metal, fiberglass-composite or a combination, each with its own set of pros and cons.

2. Wood looks rich and historic, yet it can warp, crack and, if laminated, delaminate. And wood doors are fairly pricey. On the plus side, they can be planed or cut if needed to fit an existing opening, unlike metal or fiberglass.

3. Wood doors, often a hardwood veneer over an engineered wood core, are sold in a range of types of hardwoods or paint-grade softwoods. If you choose a veneer, avoid one thinner than 1/16 inch. Glossy polyurethane-coated wood doors are thought to offer the most protection against moisture absorption, but be sure top and bottom edges are also coated.

4. Steel doors are both durable and secure. Cracking and warping are not issues, and an auto body repair kit will solve dent and ding issues.

5. With inner frames made of wood or steel, steel doors are filled with high-density foam insulation.

6. A range of finishes offers varying degrees of durability, but keep in mind that heat buildup between an aluminum storm door and a steel entry door can cause some finishes to peel.

7. Insulated aluminum doors have a baked-on enamel finish – smooth or woodgrain – that won’t rust, doesn’t require repainting, and allows manufacturers to offer 20-year warranties.

8. Fiberglass-composite doors and frames are a smart choice for our humid and other harsh climates. With wooden stiles and rails and polyurethane-foam insulation, they typically come with long warranties. And their embossed woodgrain pattern is quite convincing, provided, as with steel doors, you make sure that the patterns run vertically on the stiles (vertical members) and horizontally on the rails (horizontal members).

Carefully selecting your front door for decades of lowered maintenance and improved safety, security, energy efficiency, and appearance pays off big over time, while an all-round enhanced entryway offers a boost in curb appeal for your neighborhood and a more gracious welcome for you, your family and friends.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, serves as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, go to www.vbhomesliving.com and reach Chris at chris@vbhomesliving.com.

There’s an outdoor shower for every “body” and budget

If you loved running through the sprinkler as a kid, the kid in you is likely to find the same pleasure in an outdoor shower. Or if you longingly associate showering outdoors with watching the sun set over the sound and savoring a book during an afternoon storm from the cocoon of a screened porch—in other words, vacation—we can help extend that off-duty relaxed feeling long after the sunburn fades.74th St Outdoor Shower


Don’t have a pool or live at the beach?  No worries?  The chlorine-saturated and sand-coated no longer have exclusive rights.  If you exercise outdoors, do lawn work, have dogs to bathe, or simply want to feel a little freer and more in touch with the natural world, alfresco showering may be perfect for you.  And there is an outdoor shower for every budget and every style. An outdoor shower can be as simple as a garden hose run between a spigot and a showerhead fixture.  And there are plenty of DIY models on the market.  But if your sights are set a bit higher, here are a few tips to keep in mind: