Q&A w/ Rucker Hill, 10720 Meadowcliff Lane

The Dallas Modern Home Tour on March 2nd will be here before you know it. One of the homes on the tour, 10720 Meadowcliff Lane, is especially environmentally-conscious. From the building process to the materials used, this home was designed with future generations in mind. Similarly, the home engages with the natural features around it in a variety of fascinating ways. We talked to the designer, Rucker Hill, to learn a few more things about the home before we check it out in person.

How would you describe the relationship between this home and the surrounding environment?

Well….just shy of bringing in the landscaping into the house (….which we actually did once during a hard freeze to protect some plants that we were transplanting to another part of the yard) I think we did everything that we could afford to assist in connecting you to the outdoors. In the bathroom upstairs we added a skylight on the sloped roof that (…when standing on your toes) lets you look over the treetops, and in the master we added several high windows that allow you to catch the blue from above while in the closet. But more importantly is the back of the home. There is a forest of bamboo across the creek from the home. I mean, we’re talking “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” here…and it is awesome. So peaceful to watch it dance when the wind comes through the creek. So, we made sure that you can view this from just about anywhere in the home. From interior balconies that allow views through the 18 foot tall wall of windows along the back of the house, soaring ceilings in the upstairs office with its massive windows, to the multi-panel doors in the living room and dining room that open a wall and allow for flow out onto the spacious decks, one of which cantilevers out over the creek and offers a rush as you peer over to the 25 foot drop off. It has been such an amazing opportunity to work on this home because of its unique location and its connection to the environment.

What materials were you drawn toward using?

Our intention in design is for our home to be passed on for generations to come, due in part to its timeless lines and its solid construction. For this project, we chose to work with stucco, brick, cement board, and cedar. I love to use wood accents where I can in order to assist in the ease of connection with the environment just outside the window, so on the interior we wrapped most of the cabinetry with walnut and laid white oak throughout the first floor.

The stucco was a first for us, and definitely not the last, because I appreciate the layers it has to encapsulate the building envelope. My wife and I are looking to relocate to southern Colorado in search of new canvases to build on and the functionality of stucco would be great – make it white for a stronger cooling effect, or go dark gray to catch more of the warming. Either way, you can fine tune it for the needs/location of the home, AND you just wrapped the home in a concrete shield……Awesome!

The strength and durability of concrete is what also keeps us using fiber cement siding and other similar products.

Cedar: Mind you, we bought it sight unseen, but we were thinking that it was a LOT clearer than what we received, and when it goes up in its natural state the colors are fairly similar, but once you apply a stain, you get different results. So in order to not replicate what we did on the home next door, we went with a slightly tinted sealer. Albeit we were a bit frustrated at how rough looking it initially was as the stain brought out the knots in the wood.I still love it because the raw characters bring the home back to a strong connection to nature.

What posed the biggest challenge in renovating the house?

The house! I have an even stronger distaste for vinyl siding since undertaking this home, which was wrapped from head to toe with vinyl. True, it always appears to look nice, but it is SO deceiving! Once we peeled off all of the vinyl we were shocked at the amount of wood rot because moisture had leaked into the walls and had gone unseen for years causing excessive rot throughout. Once through all of the damage, then we had to address the flow and lack thereof.

Could you talk about some of the green features of the home?

I am constantly exploring the perfect measurement of how much of an existing home do you save in order to have the deepest impact with a home’s green footprint. It is a gut wrenching feeling when you fill a 40 yard dumpster, only then realizing that you will need about 5 more! Traditional construction methods are just not efficient and I have some thoughts running through my head for my next rebuild that will incorporate pre-fab with the existing, so we are excited to see how it turns out….now to find the right home!

All of that being said, and keeping our cost of construction budget in mind with the cost to generations to come close at hand, we did our best at marrying old with new to get a home that we were pleased with. From the original occupants, we gathered that the home was going to be a challenge to heat and cool, but then when you couple that with the changes we made to open the floor plan, we knew that we needed to add many layers to achieve any level of success.

ROOF, INSULATION, WINDOWS: So, we went from the simple to techie. Once we closed the envelope, we started by changing that flat roof from black to white. In order to add additional load to build it out for other forms of insulation, we would have had to structurally rebuild our trusses, etc. and thus killed the budget. Following in suit, we lined the home with blown-in cellulose. When looking at this option vs. spray foam, foam works great in other zones where they require thermal barriers that will keep in the off gas odors. Blown was the best fit for this project. The home had plenty of time to breath before sheetrock and thus the moisture content was not an issue. From here we addressed additional heating and cooling needs with windows and their placement. As the leaves drop in the fall, the home takes advantage of massive southern facing windows along the back and relatively few and mostly smaller northern facing windows on the front, and for those perfect Texas days that we get for roughly 6 months a year, we have multi-panel sliders that allow you to open a wall and extend your living spaces outdoors.

HVAC: We replaced it all with significantly larger units that are controlled by the NEST thermostats coupled with a strategically placed industrial ceiling fan that will move 10,000 cubic feet of air when on high. We will not know the true improvement in performance until summer arrives, but we believe we have a powerhouse combination that will effectively work at heating and cooling this huge amount of open space. We have even touched on the heating and cooling needs with the lighting of the home as you will find below.

LIGHTING: We have the LED lights that we have run throughout the home, and they are awesome, so check them out or ask one of us to point all of them out. We have run enough of these throughout the downstairs of this home and placed them on both dimmers and motion sensors. If you relied on these alone, you should see a significant impact on your energy consumption and cooling costs on those hottest of days in Texas. We also have a healthy dose of cans with incandescent bulbs where if you run them on high. These too will have an impact on the heating,and then if you keep’em low you will help out on the cooling side as well. But, that is why we are HUGE fans of the dimmer switch! Daily you will have a direct effect on your “green” footprint simply be deciding on where you set your dimmers. It is just one way of keeping you ever aware of how you are directly touching the planet on a daily basis.

FINALLY, we have the standards. Tankless water heater, low flow/dual flush toilets, and gas appliances wherever applicable.

What features of the house – both original and renovated – should tour-goers be sure to keep an eye out for?

The creek. Check out the outside of the home, both from the inside and out. It is awesome, so much so that we designed the home for it! Pay attention to how we have made all of our changes to the new from the original so that you are constantly allowed views that take you to unique opportunities to connect with nature. Every room has a specific feature that draws you outside. We have had some amazing experiences while building this home. There are hawks that have nested in the surrounding trees and we are constantly seeing them. One swooped just feet from our heads one day and more recently one pounced its prey right on the back deck! It is amazing to have such opportunities in such a large city.

The LED lights used throughout the home. LED strips are used throughout the master closet. The cans under the eave across the garage door and under the fur down in the master bath are LED lights that are only ¾ of an inch thick and yet they look like a 4 inch can. And we had a channel cut in the counters to receive the LED strips and ran them under the toe kick placing all of these on motion sensors that trip right as you walk into the kitchen.

The NEST thermostats. Ask one of us to show you some of its unique functions.

Also, the the dog bath in the laundry is greatness!

Get your tickets now to see 10720 Meadowcliff Lane and other great homes on the Dallas Modern Home Tour!

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