Author Archives: Jeff Erkelens

About Jeff Erkelens

Open House this Monday: 4 to 6pm!

Come see Latitude 38’s newest completed home at 310 Palatine Avenue! We are turning it over to the new homeowners on May 1, so please help us welcome them into their new home.

Open House
Monday, April 29, 4-6pm
310 Palatine Avenue (next to Quarry Park, off of Rt 20 South on the way out of town to PVCC)

Low key, light refreshments (beer and juice), and information on our next project.

Parking: Try to park in the gravel lot between the house and the baseball field. There is a fair amount of parking, but no marked spaces, so please just try to not block anyone in.

For building aficionados, you can check out a few things we have never done before (open tread stairs, European large tilt and turn windows, passive air inlets as part of our thoughtfully and efficiently designed hvac system, reclaimed basketball flooring from a Philadelphia high school, reclaimed barn siding from an Ivy barn.)

Project: Palatine Ave · Tags: · Comments Off on Open House this Monday: 4 to 6pm!

Reclaimed Floors and Accent Walls

We recently went with the reclaimed look in a major way at the house we are building on Palatine Avenue. Through Devin’s father-in-law, we were able to get a bunch of old barn siding from out in Free Union that we installed as accent walls in each of the bedrooms.

Playing off that are the hardwood floors for the entire upstairs: maple strip basketball flooring that came out of a demolished high school in North Philly. It was a beast to install and created an extremely uneven surface, so we decided to sand off most of the finish and get back to a smooth floor. This created a really nice light colored floor with some pretty variation that wasn’t visible with the previous orange stain. As a gesture to its prior history, we left a “rug” of it in the upstairs hallway. Now if we could only reclaim a non aching back after all that…


Project: Palatine Ave · Tags: · Comments Off on Reclaimed Floors and Accent Walls

Breaking ground in Belmont

Excited to be be getting a second house going in Belmont to carry us through another winter.  This one, on Druid Ave, is only 3 blocks away from the spec house we are building on Palatine. More importantly, also just 3 blocks away from where our older daughter is going to preschool, forming the perfect equilateral triangle.

Our excavator DIGS dug out the foundation a few weeks back with them hauling away mountains of dirt for the mostly below grade basement. Superior Walls came in this past week to set the foundation.  A few more odds and ends to take care of, and we will be framing away.

Project: Druid Ave · Comments Off on Breaking ground in Belmont

final touches

Eleanor helps with final touches the other day as another excited family gets ready to move in.  Officially in the punch list stage, so I thought we would put up a few photos.

Project: Sun Ridge Rd · Comments Off on final touches

Under roof and open treads

We’ve been under roof at our latest spec house in Belmont for a good two weeks or so, but really haven’t had a chance to really appreciate it. We’ve been busy racing to finish our house on Sun Ridge Road and get a second house going in Belmont for winter.

In the last day or so, Bryce and Jeff were able to sneak back over there and build steps to the second floor. Typically, we’ve gotten pre-built stairs made that we just pop into place, but we wanted to break up the monotony and try and build something from scratch.

In particular, I’ve always wanted to build a proper open tread stair that feels like it is floating out of the wall. This is the perfect house for it as we have switch back stairs with a landing that has 5′ wide by 10′ tall window. The large window not only gives nice moment of pause to take in a little league game from the landing, but also has great morning light. With the open tread stairs, we are able to bring a lot of that light into the kitchen and dining area.

There was probably a way to build this with less wood, but we built a platform for each step. Then, not to make it a nightmare later for our drywall guys, we went ahead and put up drywall. We then notched out the drywall and slipped in the treads. We used 9 1/2″ wide by 1 3/4″ microlams. We will eventually wrap them all the way around with 3/4″ material that I will think will give a nice mass to each tread.

Project: Palatine Ave, Uncategorized · Comments Off on Under roof and open treads

A change in latitudes

Honestly, the greatest thing about Latitude 38 is the the collection of dudes that build the houses.  We feel fortunate to have built a business around great people and have it set up where people can work part time to pursue other endeavors that excite them (Bryce and Devin currently have different business schemes going).  Or, to just take a few months off to do something completely different (Tom and his various motorcycle adventures and Tommy spending good chunks in Haiti).

The latest to follow suit, was Jeff De Bellis, who climbed off of the scaffolding and headed out to New Mexico for the summer.  He’s been back framing with us the last few weeks, but here’s a taste of what he was up to in his own words:

Summer vacations end for most of us when we stop going to school. This, I think, is a serious flaw in American culture. I’ve been out of school for four years now and I’ve still been able to pull off a pretty substantial summer vacation every year.

I don’t mean vacation in the stereotypical usage of the word – lying on the beach drinking margaritas while the skin on your body that hasn’t been exposed to daylight for nine months ages at warp speed under the Floridian sun. I mean it in the literal sense – to vacate the physical and mental space you’ve been occupying and recalibrate yourself. After a brutally mild winter of fixing leaky air hoses and cursing at compound angles, this is exactly what was in order.

I followed the advice of a couple of friends and took a two month gig at The Cottonwood Gulch Foundation, an expedition outfit based in northwestNew Mexico. After a week- long drive across the southern states during which I lived almost exclusively off of pulled pork, Community Coffee, and delta blues music and two weeks of puttering around base camp in New Mexico, I took a passenger van into the Albuquerque airport, picked up 23 high-schoolers from around the world, and embarked on a rhapsodic expedition around the Four Corners area. Six weeks later I would return these kids to the same airport – dirtier, tanner, in better shape, and if I succeeded, a little bit more aware of what they’re capable of.

Instead of the cacophony of generators and air compressors that I had been subjecting myself to first thing in the mornings, I now woke up daily to the sound of hormone-fueled wrestling matches, adolescent humor, kids calling each other “chicken-fuckers,” and the inevitable volley of asinine questions: “Is it going to be hot today?” “Is it going to rain today?” “How far are we going to hike?” “Have you seen my water bottle?” “What are we eating for dinner next Tuesday?”

Our first “road loop” took us up into the Navajo Reservation to help out on the farm of a friend, then south through a recently scorched section of theApacheNational Forestin east centralArizona. Then we laid out gear, loaded our packs, and set off into the Blue Range Wilderness Area for a four night backpack. We hiked up and down parched hills, uncertain where our next water source would be. We cooked rice and beans on small stoves and siesta-ed in abandoned homestead cabins. After two days we hit theBlueRiverand followed the narrow corridor of cottonwood trees through a steep and magnificent canyon. After what would be three of the most grueling days of the entire summer, we left our gear at camp and took a short walk up a side canyon to reach a pristine spring of piping hot water spilling from the rocks and feeding into a series of sitting pools.

Out of the canyon now, we got back into the vans and returned to base camp viaSilverCityandPieTownto rendezvous with the other groups. During our second road loop, we sojourned to the God-forgotten moonscape ofLakePowelland into the Pariah Plateau – one of the most starkly beautiful landscapes on Earth. We had planned to do a three-day backpack through Hackberry Canyon but a woman in the BLM office told us definitively that there would be no water in that or any other canyon in the area. We shortened it to a two-day backpack in which our massive group split up and I led a dozen kids intoPariahCanyon. After hiking up and over enormous sandstone cliffs, we were down in the canyon by late afternoon and had plenty of time to spread out, relax, watch the sun dip behind the red rock, and go for a swim (yup – not only was there water enough to drink after all, there was enough to swim in).

Back on the road, we wound our way through the sparse vegetation and squeaky clean Mormon towns that characterize southernUtah. Along the way we’d stop to stretch our legs with short hikes in tight slot canyons or down to seldom seen remnants of long-abandoned Native American dwellings. Eventually we reached the neon lights ofDurango, the jumping off point for our adventure on the Colorado Trail.

In the morning, while the cooks churned out skillets heaping with fixings for huevos rancheros and the kids packed their packs, the leader of our trip and I went into town. We loitered in a gear shop with cups of coffee and studied maps to lock down our route for the next six days. I mentally compared the shelves stocked with clean, brightly-colored, and horrendously overpriced outdoor gear to my own belongings, acquired mostly from army surpluses, thrift stores, and lost and founds, and at this point barely held together with duct tape and dental floss (which holds up better than any thread).

Our days on the Colorado Trail were cold and wet – rain, hail, and morning frost were not uncommon above11,000 feet. Switching from the incredible meals that we concocted on the road to soggy pitas and chocolate pudding that expired when I was in middle school did not improve morale. But the moments when the sun came out and we could see for miles across the alpine meadows of theSan Juan Mountainswere more than enough to keep us all enthused.

The troop of kids spent the last week of their summer at base camp-journaling, exploring, working on various arts and crafts projects, and as ever, screaming obscenities at each other immediately upon waking up in the morning. Nonetheless, I had become pretty fond of our quirky group and would be sad to see them go. But just as I was ready to leave last spring, come mid-August I was equally ready to get back to the gentle hills and foggy river valleys of the 38th parallel inVirginia.

Project: Uncategorized · Comments Off on A change in latitudes

Getting Going

Well, we just got crackin’ this past week on our next spec house in Belmont.  This past year and a half or so, we’ve either been busy on client projects or have been fortunate enough to have presold our spec houses.  The upshot is that the external motivation to write blog posts hasn’t been there. But, since we have this new house in Belmont that we need to market and sell, we’re gonna try and roll out weekly blog posts at the end of the week.

First off, the most important part of the construction process is carving out a good lunch spot.  The house is right near the edge of Quarry Park, where there is a pedestrian bridge that leads you from our lot over a small creek to some picnic tables under what I think is the most amazing Sycamore tree I have ever seen.

As far as construction stuff: we’re excited to have done another Insulated Concrete Foundation, which we get to put together and pour ourselves.  We only went two blocks high (32″ tall foundation) as we are trying to have an extremely minimal crawl space and want to keep the house really low to the ground.

We’ve also pretty much made the switch to open web floor trusses. On this house we have the bulk of the house truss projecting down into the foundation space rather than the typical procedure of having a floor joist sit completely above the foundation.  One benefit is that the 1st floor stays low to the ground and we avoid extra steps up from the exterior. I also love that the trusses are designed and built at Better Living Components, a manufacturing plant right here in Albemarle County.

Some insulation details we are proud of: As per our energy modeling of the house, we put down 2″ of rigid foam on the crawl space floor, which is defintely not the norm for a crawl space.  We also wrapped the inside face of the sill plate with foam, which often doesn’t get covered and we also will eventually wrap and tape the inside of the footer as well.

– Jeff

Project: Palatine Ave · Comments Off on Getting Going

Updated Interior Shots

Now that the outside is pretty much wrapped up on our latest project, we’re spread over all three floors of the interior of the Sun Ridge House, attempting to put all the various trim to bed by the end of August.

We’re back to plywood accent walls among other things, but have felt our pattern of uniform size widths on past houses has grown stale.  So, we’re trying varying widths and a more patchwork pattern. In the living room shot, you can see the plywood carry all the way across the sunken living room to an elevated reading nook.

In the master bedroom, there is also an elevated reading area that Jack is busy installing the plywood in.  Jack shows off the transom window from that room that casts southern light into the stairwell. Order up!

Meanwhile, Tom has been busy designing and installing a mosaic tile pattern for the masterbathroom. It’s a small detail, but I like how Tom carried the mosaic feel into the shampoo niche rather than just putting one large tile.

Project: Sun Ridge Rd · Comments Off on Updated Interior Shots

Due for a construction update…

Figured it was time to post a few photos of what we’ve been up to this summer.  Closing in on finishing up a house for a young and growing family right off of Rio Rd.

We’ve pretty much wrapped up the exterior. I like the simple contrast of opposing roof lines between the house and porch roof. This is the primary view and entrance as you come up the driveway.  Plus, the small cedar bump outs add a lot of warmth too.

It’s a pretty basic off the shelf pressure treated wood railing detail, but to add some interest and texture, we varied the picket spacing into an undulating pattern.  The whole railing and columns still need to be stained a cedar color to play off the cedar bump outs, which I think will help unify the exterior.  We also carried that varied picket pattern to interior railings as well.


Project: Sun Ridge Rd · Comments Off on Due for a construction update…

and then there was fire

We don’t really get the opportunity to do that many furniture pieces, but at the recently completed Riverbluff House, the homeowner came up with a simple design for a freestanding fireplace, which consists of a metal and stainless steel box sitting on top of a tile platform.

The burner unit puts out a pretty awesome flame which is powered by bio ethanol, a clean burning fuel that doesn’t need venting as the combustion only creates a little steam and water vapor.

Tom, as always, has hard time containing his own vanity…


Project: Riverbluff Circle, 123 · Comments Off on and then there was fire