Weatherize Your Home for Winter: Essential Tips

While winters in Silicon Valley and the mid-Peninsula don’t typically bring snow, excessive rain, or ice, this year, the scenario is expected to take an intriguing turn. The specter of unpredictable winter weather looms large, as a significant 95% likelihood of El Niño conditions through March adds a new layer of uncertainty to the season. In preparation for potential weather fluctuations, there are still some essential home maintenance items that will keep your home performing efficiently during the cooler months ahead.

Enter HarrellCARE Program Manager Marshall Parker, our resident expert in ensuring your home is winter-ready. First and foremost, Marshall advises focusing on the exterior.

“With lots of predicted rain coming this year, keeping moisture out of your home is essential,” Marshall emphasizes. “Also, since the days are shorter, and it gets dark earlier in the evening, making sure the outside of your home is well-lit is an important safety factor.” 

Here are ten key areas to “button down” before winter.

1. Gutters

Clearing gutters of leaves and debris is essential, especially with the frequent occurrence of wildfires. Airborne embers from a fire can travel for miles, and dry residue in gutters can quickly ignite.

And, if we get significant rain, blocked gutters can result in composted leaves and debris clogging your gutters and downspouts. With nowhere to go, water could overflow and potentially back up under your roofing material, and worst case, into your home. Continual moisture leads to rust, which, over time, causes gutters to fail.

2. Roof

Debris can accumulate on your roof and, if left alone, can degrade the shingles. Removing leaves, sticks, and other unwanted materials and clearing out roof valleys extends the life of your roof, keeps water out of your home, and prevents airborne embers from igniting dry materials.

3. Windows, doors, trim, and casings

Inspect all windows and doors along with trim (the material that surrounds exterior doors and windows) and casings (the material that surrounds interior doors and windows). Look for dried-out caulking, cracks, or other damage that could be an entry point for moisture. Clean, prime, and paint affected areas while the weather is still warm.

Weatherstripping degrades over time, causing gaps that allow warm air to escape. If, while inside, you notice light around the edges of your doors and windows, that indicates applying new weatherstripping and/or door sweeps should be high on your list.

Marshall cautions homeowners with pet doors to close them when heading out on holiday. Otherwise, you may come home to a family of raccoons or skunks cuddled up on your couch.

4. Trees & Plants

Visually inspect large trees. Look for large branches that could break off in a windstorm and have them removed. Mushrooms growing at the base of trees could be an indicator of poor tree health. If you have any concerns, it’s wise to bring in a licensed arborist.

Have frost blankets on hand if you have plants that are sensitive to cold. Cover them if nighttime temperatures drop into the 30s. Adding a layer of mulch to planting beds protects roots and bulbs.

5. Fencing, Pergolas, Trellises

Walk the perimeter of your yard and push up against each fence post. If any of them feel loose, now’s the time to secure them properly. Check for unattached, rotting, or damaged fence boards. This same process applies to arbors, pergolas, and trellises. Ensure the structures are intact and solid.

6. Lighting

As the days become shorter, odds are you’ll be leaving and returning home more often in the dark. Check to be sure all outdoor lights on the exterior of your home and in your yard are functional. Replace bulbs as needed and, for lights on a timer, ensure they will switch on earlier if they aren’t photosensitive. Be sure to check the address lights on your home as well. Lighted street numbers help first responders (and delivery drivers!) locate your home.

7. Outdoor Furnishings

To prolong their life, cover outdoor furniture or store cushions indoors. It’s also a good idea to protect your BBQ if you don’t use it during the winter months.

8. French Drains & Ejectors Pumps

For homes located on sloped or hilly terrain, test your underground French drains to ensure they are clear of any obstacles, and that water flows freely away from your home. If you have an ejector pump, now is the time to make sure it’s operational or have it serviced.

9. Crawlspace Screens

For those homes with crawlspaces, check that all screens are intact. It’s also a good idea to clear away leaves, dirt, or mulch that may be blocking these vents.

Marshall points out that screens keep unwanted critters from invading the crawlspace while also allowing necessary airflow. He also suggests removing dirt or debris build-up against the house as it increases the chances for termites and water intrusion.

10. Hose Bibs

Although it doesn’t get East Coast cold in the Bay Area, it’s still not a bad idea to wrap exposed hose bibs and other pipes. Marshall also recommends installing anti-siphon valves on hose bibs that don’t have them.

Now, let’s talk about the eight items to address inside your home.

1. Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Replace batteries and make sure that the units are up-to-date and haven’t expired. Most newer detectors have ten-year batteries or are hardwired into the home’s electrical system.

Marshall advises taking a few minutes to confirm they function correctly.

“Detectors are an essential safety precaution. Making sure the units all work properly can save lives.”

2. Furnace

Now’s the time to change out the air filter in your furnace. The dust and dirt that’s accumulated keeps your unit from operating at peak efficiency.

With the poor air quality we’ve encountered lately, many homeowners are interested in adding high-particulate filters to their HVAC systems. These high-efficiency filters have the potential to become a chokepoint for your entire system, depending upon the age and model. If these filters are something you’re considering, it’s best to have a licensed professional check your HVAC system, including ducting, to see if this option is suitable for your home.

Marshall also recommends turning on your furnace to ensure it works. If it fails during a cold snap, you may have a tough time getting it repaired quickly. If you feel comfortable doing so, open the furnace cover and vacuum out any dust, or have it professionally serviced.

3. Water Heater

For homes with standard water tanks, it’s suggested they be flushed out at least once a year. Over time, silt and calcium can build up inside the unit, reducing the unit’s efficiency and volume of water available to heat.

Check on the status of your unit’s anode rod. If it’s looking worn, it may be time for a new one.

If it’s not already, wrap your tank with a thermal insulating blanket to maximize efficiency. And, if you leave home on vacation, Marshall recommends turning down your water heater but not turning it off.

Every so often, tankless water heaters need servicing, especially if you have hard water. This should be done by a plumbing professional.

4. Fireplace

For the few homes that still use a wood-burning fireplace as a primary heat source, now’s the time to clean out the chimney or stove pipe to remove any built-up creosote.

For those with gas fireplaces, make sure it functions correctly and if not, call in a service professional. Ensure the pilot light is lit and remove dust and debris from the interior. This service is often best performed by a professional.

5. Pilot lights

Some homes have older wall furnaces or gas fireplaces that have pilot lights. Many homeowners will extinguish these during summer, and now is the time to enlist the help of someone who understands how to reignite them.

PG&E offers this service; you can schedule an appointment here.

6. Ceiling Fans

In the winter, if you use them, reverse the direction and your ceiling fan will blow warm air downward to help heat your home.

7. Thermostats

Programmable and smart thermostats “dial-in” your home’s energy efficiency. For winter, recommends setting your thermostat to 68 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re at home and awake. Lowering your thermostat 10-15 degrees during the eight hours your household is asleep can reduce your heating bill by 5-15%.

If you leave home for an extended period, don’t turn off your thermostat. Marshall suggests setting it to a low temperature to ensure water pipes or fire sprinklers don’t get too cold, freeze, and break.

“I know it sounds silly in our mild, temperate climate, but it has happened,” says Marshall. “You don’t want to come home from vacation to find your home flooded.”

8. Insulation

If you live in an older home, insulation is one of the best investments you can make to your home’s efficiency and comfort. It significantly decreases heat loss in winter and keeps your home cool in summer.

“Dual-pane windows are another great energy-saver,” Marshall confirms. “As an added bonus, they also reduce sound transfer when the windows are closed.”

Power Outage Advice

If you have a backup generator for use during power outages, be sure it is placed away from your house or garage, runs on gas, and is connected to an extension cord rated for outdoor use. A licensed electrician should install larger generators, which are hooked up directly to the main electrical panel with a transfer switch.

Be sure to have batteries, flashlights, candles, extra blankets, an emergency kit, and shelf-stable food on hand in the event of a prolonged power outage.

As a single source from design conception through construction, Harrell Design + Build provides clients with unmatched service, convenience, and quality. Our Design + Build process can help you embrace your aesthetic, make the most of your resources, and create quality spaces that fit the unique way that you live.

Connect with one of our award-winning designers or attend one of our workshops to learn more about the Harrell Design + Build Design + Build experience.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Design + Build has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine (and maintain) your home inside and out.

Remodel or Move

Remodel or Move

Five Considerations To Help You Determine If You Should Remodel Or Move

Over the years we have met many potential clients who ask: Should I move or remodel? It’s a valid question and a common remodeling conundrum we urge homeowners to ponder and investigate before deciding the best path to achieving a home that suits them and best serves their desired functions.

So, how do you know the best option for your family? Here are five things to consider before making this important financial decision.

1. Location

The city, town, and neighborhood in which you live are important. There is a saying in the world of real estate: “Location, location, location.” This concept is critical in deciding whether to stay where you are and remodel your home or find another property.

Location is permanent; a structure can be altered and improved. If you love your neighborhood, community, and the local school district, that checks the box for remodeling.

On the other hand, if you aren’t enamored with where you live — for whatever reason – that indicates moving might be a better option. Even if you remodel your home, the location stays the same. Ultimately, you should love your location because that is one thing a remodel can’t solve.

2. Longevity

How long do you plan to live in your current home? If you’re in a “starter home” and planning to “move up,” or if your existing home is too big for your lifestyle and downsizing makes sense, moving may be the way to go.

But, if you intend to stay put for a while and want your home to better align with your lifestyle and needs, remodeling is worth exploring.

3. Space/Property

Another consideration is whether it’s feasible to remodel or add onto your current home. Each city and county has unique restrictions for maximum lot coverage and floor area ratio (FAR), which impact additions and remodels.

Lot coverage is the percentage of your property covered by buildings, structures, and, in some jurisdictions, impermeable surfaces. For example, houses (only the enclosed ground floor area), garages, accessory buildings, gazebos, swimming pools, driveways, and covered patios count as part of lot coverage.

On the other hand, floor area ratio (FAR) is the combined area of all floors of your home and accessory dwelling units as a percentage of your total lot. Some cities and counties also include covered front porches, basements, and portions of attics as part of FAR. Garages and sheds are not included as part of floor area ratio.

These two factors limit adding square footage for some homes, but, says Harrell Design + Build Senior Designer Sheila Ward Hesting, you can remodel within your home’s existing footprint.

“One of our clients thought they wanted to add onto their home, but that wasn’t feasible, so instead, we created new flow and function by relocating rooms, knocking down walls, and designing a fresh new floor plan. Their home became a space that finally worked for their lifestyle without adding square footage,” elaborates Sheila.

She also stresses that conducting thorough research in advance is essential. “Not only does an in-depth feasibility study fully outline the city or county building requirements, but it also informs the design and helps determine the project budget.”

4. Price

Depending on the size and scope of the project, an addition or remodel can be a significant financial investment. But, buying a new home often involves a sizable increase in property taxes, especially if you’ve been living in your current home for many years. Also, the Bay Area housing market is competitive, with homes going well over asking price. Increased property taxes and mortgage payments, not to mention an aggressive buyer’s market, can make moving financially unappealing.

Adding onto or remodeling your home does involve a monetary outlay, and your property tax basis will be readjusted (if certain rooms are added). But, the total cost incurred is frequently equal to or less than relocating.

5. Functionality

Sheila concedes that all the factors mentioned above are essential considerations. Still, she reminds clients that finding another home that meets their specific wants and needs, both now and in the future, is slim to none.

Remodeling creates a space designed exclusively for your distinctive lifestyle: a skilled designer crafts and curates your home’s flow and functionality around how you live.

For example:

Do you enjoy entertaining indoors and out?

Is cooking or baking a passion for one or more family members?

What storage and organization solutions can be incorporated?

Is there a need or desire to include elements of Universal Design?

Do you have pets and want to design a unique space just for them?

Sheila shares the story of a remodeling project where the owners were cat lovers. With six felines in the house, they had trouble finding discrete locations for the numerous litter boxes. What they did have was a large laundry room. Sheila took advantage of the space, designing unique built-in cabinetry with separate cubbies for each litter box. She installed a remote, motion sensor-activated exhaust fan that wouldn’t frighten the cats and keeps odors at bay. New exterior shed doors behind the cabinetry allow the owners to access the litter boxes from the outside, allowing easy, no-mess cleanup.

“These homeowners would never have found another home that met this particular requirement,” Sheila points out. “Finding ‘the’ perfect home isn’t a reality. That is one of the biggest benefits of remodeling — your home is designed just for you.”

Answering these five questions can narrow down whether it makes more sense for you to move or remodel.

And, if you’re still unsure, seeking professional advice about the potential of your existing home can be illuminating. Sheila emphasizes, “Homeowners frequently can’t see their home’s possibilities. An accomplished designer can show you what your home can become.”

Harrell Design + Build provides clients with unmatched service, convenience, and quality from conception through construction. The Harrell Design + Build team can help you embrace your aesthetic, make the most of your resources, and create quality spaces that fit the unique way that you live.

Are you dreaming of ways to reimagine your home? We invite you to schedule a complimentary discussion with one of our experienced Designers.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Design + Build has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

Wildfires: 5 Areas of Defense

California now appears to have five seasons: winter, spring, summer, fall, and wildfire season. As a result of ongoing drought and other climate-related forces, wildfire season has expanded, starting earlier, and ending later. No community is immune and taking precautions to prepare your home to withstand the threat of wildfire is critical.

A home with Wildland Urban Interface (WUI)-approved redwood decking

As we enter the 2022 wildfire season, our goal is to provide information on how fire spreads and offer critical insights on increasing the “fire preparedness” of your residence.

We also encourage you to read (or re-read) last year’s article It’s Time to Prepare for Wildfire Season, filled with expert guidelines, checklists, and resources.

How Fire Spreads

Wildfires spread when the flames find new fuel and move outward from the origination point and when embers, small pieces of ignited debris, are blown by the wind to other locations. 

An intense wildfire–or numerous wildfires in the same vicinity–can generate its own “microclimate” called a firestorm. A firestorm occurs when heat from one or more wildfires forms a wind system. Even without a firestorm, air currents can carry embers miles away from the ignition source, igniting new fires in surrounding areas.

How Flames Ignite

There are three primary ways homes and other buildings ignite during a wildfire.

  1. Direct contact with flames
  2. Embers
  3. Radiant heat 

Embers cause the most residential destruction in wildfire situations. They can land on a building’s exterior and ignite flammable materials or enter through vents, causing a house to burn from within. Embers can also ignite flammable vegetation or materials on or near your home.

Creating Defensible Space

There are steps you can take to protect your home and increase its resilience in the face of wildfire threats.

  1. Selection, placements, and maintenance of landscaping
  2. Controlling and/or eliminating combustible materials on your property 
  3. Installing fire and ember-resistant construction materials

According to the University of California Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, a home’s roof, vents, and vegetation are generally the top priority when it comes to hardening your home. But each situation is unique. Lower priority items, such as siding, eaves, and windows, increase in importance when houses are close together.

Many home hardening improvements don’t have to entail a considerable cost. Removing bark and mulch, leaf litter, low-hanging tree branches, and other combustible vegetation can significantly reduce your home’s vulnerability. 

If you are updating or adding new trees, shrubs, and other foliage to your landscaping, choose broadleaf or deciduous trees, which are less flammable than conifers. 

Defensible space (graphic from Wildfire Prepared)

The three primary vegetation zones:

Zone 1: 0 to 5 feet This area closest to your home is the highest priority. Create a five-foot non-combustible area surrounding your home, roof, and under decks by removing or reducing flammable organic debris and materials. Clean out gutters, trim shrubbery, cut back tree branches overhanging your home and keep decks free of debris. Plant low-growing (maximum height of 18”) herbaceous (non-woody) ground covers or succulents in this zone. Within this “close to home zone,” ensure all landscaping is well irrigated and combustible wooden bark and mulch are replaced with a 1.5-inch rock mix or non-flammable mulch.

Zone 2: 5 to 30 feet This area should be groomed to minimize the intensity of a fire and the potential for embers to generate or take hold. Remove vegetation and organic debris beneath trees, trim mature tree branches six to ten feet above the ground, and separate trees from one another and the house. Plants in this zone should be short, high-moisture, and have an open (not dense) structure.

Zone 3: 30 to 100 feet (if applicable) Designed to interrupt the fire’s progress and keep flames on the ground, this zone should be cleared of dead trees, brush, and debris. Thin all living vegetation to create individual “islands” rather than swaths of plants and shrubbery. Keep grass mowed and mature trees pruned 6-10 feet above the ground, with adjacent trees canopies separated. 

When preparing each zone, the goal is to work from the inside (the exterior nearest your home) outward. Homes with acreage and those in wildland-urban interface (WUI) zones are more likely to have all three zones, while residences in city or suburban limits may have only one or two. Urban and suburban homes often have overlapping defensible zones, making fire preparedness a neighborhood endeavor.

If a fire is burning within a few miles of your neighborhood, bring outdoor furniture cushions, outdoor rugs, and umbrellas inside. These flammable materials have the potential to ignite if air airborne embers land on them.

For more guidelines about creating fire-resistant landscaping and managing vegetation, click here.

Advice from Our “Fire Wise” Founder

Harrell Design + Build Founder, Iris Harrell, served as Chair of the Firewise USA® Committee for Santa Rosa’s Oakmont Village from 2018 to 2022. Oakmont is a community of 3,200 homes that is no stranger to the devastation of wildfires. Since 2017, its 4,700 residents have endured three separate week-long evacuations. Iris now serves as the Oakmont Board of Directors Liaison to the community’s active Firewise Committee.

Firewise USA is a “program that provides a collaborative framework to help neighbors in a geographic area get organized, find direction, and take action to increase the ignition resistance of their homes and community and reduce wildfire risks at the local level.”

Before moving to Oakmont Village, Iris lived in Portola Valley, located in a wildland-urban interface zone, and has been a Firewise USA® member for more than a decade.

Left: An assortment of foundation vents with appropriately sized screen openings
Right: A fence connected to a house with a metal gate

She suggests these five areas of defense against embers:

  1. Change foundation, bird’s eye, and attic vents from 1/4″ course screen openings to 1/8″ wire mesh. (1/8” to 1/16” openings are recommended to ensure adequate air circulation in attic and crawl spaces while also keeping them protected against encroaching embers.)
  2. Replace older roof eyebrow vents with a fire-safe vent such as O’Hagan Fire and Ice vents, or Vulcan vents.
  3. Closing eave soffits with 1/4″ Hardie concrete soffit plywood with predrilled vent holes. 
  4. Replace the first 5 feet of any wooden fence and gate connecting to the house with non-flammable material, such as metal.
  5. Add metal guards, commonly referred to as leaf guards, mechanically fastened to the gutters to reduce/minimize debris build-up. Avoid plastic slip-in gutters guards, which can melt and/or blow away.

Iris also notes that ensuring the roof and outdoor deck materials are non-flammable or non-combustible are two additional, albeit more expensive, improvements that reduce a home’s susceptibility to embers.

For over 35 years, the health, safety, and wellbeing of Harrell Design + Build clients, employee-owners, and trade specialists has been a top priority.

If you have questions about how to harden your home, we’re here to help.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Design + Build has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

Removing Remodeling Roadblocks – Common Design Dilemmas

A Portola Valley home features picturesque windows and ceilings that create visual interest.

Home is Where Your Health Is: Creating Healthy Homes

“Our homes, both the location and the building itself, influence almost every aspect of our lives-from how well we sleep, how often we see friends, to how safe and secure we feel. If we want to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities, there can hardly be a more important place to start than the home: it is where most people spend most of their lives.”

2016 report from the U.K. Green Building Council

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, most of which is spent in our homes.

Considerable research has shown that sustainable, well-designed homes are paramount to the health of their inhabitants and, as an added benefit, also keep the planet and our communities healthier.

Creating a holistically healthy living environment involves taking the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of inhabitants into account. When undertaking an addition or remodel, elements of a healthy home are achieved through design, materials, air, light, and color, to name just a few.


A healthy home begins with a thoughtful design. Creating an interior environment adapted to the occupants rather than the occupants adapting to the environment is the cornerstone of good design.

Instrumental to the physical and emotional security of the residents, a well-thought-out design mitigates stress and maximizes comfort and relaxation.

“A floor plan that is safe and suited to the lifestyle and abilities of its residents is vital,” says Harrell Design + Build’s resident “medical-doctor-turned-designer,” Yolanda Ng. “A healthy home has open paths of travel, workflows, and rooms that make sense for how the residents live.”

With sleep quality and duration correlated to other aspects of health, Yolanda stresses the importance of bedrooms that promote restorative sleep. Studies have demonstrated people sleep more soundly when light and noise levels, temperature, and comfort are optimized.

Yolanda recommends that those who like to sleep later avoid having their bedroom with east-facing windows – these windows of course let the morning sun stream in, at perhaps a too-early time of day.


Materials play a vital role in the health of our homes. From trapping dust to emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs), material choices impact the health of the planet, fabricators, builders, and residents.

The EPA states that “A growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.”

Building materials like insulation, sealants, adhesives, and paint emit chemicals that pollute the air in our homes and have adverse health effects on fabricators and builders. Other textiles, like carpet, trap dust and pet dander and contribute to ongoing indoor air pollution.

“Material choice is important for the health of the planet as much as the health of homeowners,” acknowledges Yolanda. In addition to picking low or no-VOC products, she recommends choosing materials that are recycled, sustainably grown or produced, or manufactured locally.

Materials that are non-toxic, ethical, and sustainable are just part of a healthy home environment. The American Lung Association (ALA) stresses that “Homes need to breathe.” Dirty, polluted air needs to be removed and replaced with clean air. Proper ventilation eliminates indoor impurities like dust, dander, chemicals, moisture, and gases.

What occurs during construction has long-term outcomes on the health of a home. Keeping a job site clean, removing debris, properly managing removal of asbestos and mold abatement, and vacuuming dust from inside walls before insulating promotes a better living environment.

Air Temperature, Quality & Ventilation

Ventilation is an essential element of thermal comfort, restorative sleep, and productive work and play. It also plays a vital role in the durability and longevity of a building.

As homes become more airtight, energy efficiency increases, making the ambient temperature more consistent and our living spaces more comfortable. The downside is the potential for increased indoor air pollution if a home isn’t properly ventilated.

Proper ventilation brings fresh air in from outside to replace ‘dirty’ indoor air. This process also dilutes and removes occupant-generated pollutants (carbon dioxide, humidity from cooking and bathing) and material-generated pollutants (e.g., volatile organic compounds).

Yolanda stresses having a sound, a well-maintained HVAC system that keeps indoor temperatures consistent, that filters and removes airborne particles, and maintains humidity levels between 30% and 50% go a long way to achieving a healthy home.

Natural Light & Views to the Outdoors

Windows let in natural light and fresh air and provide views of nature. These aspects positively contribute to our health and wellbeing, boosting our sense of security, and our ability to relax and unwind.

Research has shown a direct correlation between sunlight and emotions. Having a dwelling filled with natural light improves our emotional wellbeing, and keeps our home from feeling dark, closed off, and stifling.

Humans also have a deep connection to nature. Windows allow the outdoors in, providing vistas of greenery and blue skies that positively enhance mood and induce feelings of safety.


Color plays a significant role in physical and emotional wellbeing. It impacts behavior, energy levels, creativity, appetite, memory, and relationships.

“When I worked in healthcare, I witnessed how the color of a room would enhance a patient’s recovery. Choosing colors for our home environment can have a powerful effect on our mental and emotional health,” shares Yolanda.

Though color preferences are very individual, some garner more positive effects, including green, white, blue, and gray. According to WebMD, studies show blue has the most significant impact on our 24-hour cycle of physical, mental, and behavioral patterns.

Evidence-Based Design

Working in healthcare and hospitals, Yolanda saw firsthand the application of evidence-based design and its influence on patients’ health.

Evidence-based design is constructing a building or physical environment based on scientific research to achieve the best possible outcomes for the people who occupy the space, whether a hospital, office building, school, or residence. This crossover of science and design was the catalyst for Yolanda to pursue a career in design.

“It’s empowering to be able to use science and research to improve people’s homes and health,” notes Yolanda.

LEED Certified Construction

According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) provides a framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings.

The goal of LEED is to maximize the benefits to human health and wellness while minimizing the impact on the environment and precious resources.

There are numerous green building requirements in California that minimize waste production, encourage recycling, and minimize water usage. Through the permitting process, a significant level of green requirements in homes is already factored in.

Whether actual certification is achieved, aspects of LEED can be integrated into any addition or remodel, elevating the dwelling’s health for its inhabitants. To learn more about LEED, read LEED Certification: Its Role in Residential Remodeling.

Whether constructing an entirely new home, adding square footage, or remodeling existing spaces, it is worthwhile to incorporate green design aspects to create a healthy home. After all, it’s where you’ll spend most of your time.

Harrell Design + Build is here to help. We invite you to schedule a complimentary discussion with one of our experienced Designers.

As a single source from conception through construction, Harrell Design + Build provides clients with unmatched service, convenience, and quality. Working as a team, our Design + Build process can help you embrace your aesthetic, make the most of your resources, and create quality spaces that fit the unique way that you live.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Design + Build has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

The 4-1-1 on Flooring Options

It’s Time to Prepare for Wildfire Season

For over 35 years, Harrell Design + Build has been diligent about safety at the job site. We go above and beyond to ensure the health and wellbeing of our employees, trade specialists, and clients. This doesn’t end when we pack up our tools once the project is complete…. our concern for our clients’ wellbeing continues long after our work is done.

As fire season is fast approaching, it becomes vital for every family to be informed and prepared. To give the best guidance available, we’ve leveraged many expert resources to provide guidelines, checklists, and plans to help you put a plan in place for your home and your loved ones.

Prepare Your Home

A combination of defensible space and home hardening is the best defense against wildfire.

Defensible Space

Defensible space is the 100-foot buffer you create surrounding your home by removing dead plants, grass, and weeds. This cushion is designed to keep flames from getting close to your residence.

A home’s defensible space has two zones that entail vertical and horizontal spacing. One is the first 30 feet around a home, including well-tended fire-resistant landscaping, roof and gutters clear of debris, and removing all dead or highly flammable organic materials.

The second zone is the second 70 feet, which entails removing all leaves and organic debris on the ground, creating space between trees and shrubs, and tree limbs trimmed to at least six feet above the ground.

Learn more about creating a defensible space around your home by watching this CAL Fire video.

Hardening Your Home

Embers from a nearby fire can travel over a mile, starting new fires that destroy homes and property. Fire-resistant construction materials can minimize your home from catching fire by lessening weak spots in the construction that allow flying embers to ignite.

There are many ways to prepare your home against wildfires. The main focus areas are:

  • Roof: The most vulnerable part of a home. Use composition, metal, clay, or tile shingles. Clear your roof of all leaves and debris.
  • Vents: Cover these access points with metal mesh.
  • Eaves and soffits: Ensure eaves are boxed and protected with non-combustible material.
  • Windows: Install dual-pane windows, preferably with one pane tempered glass, to reduce the possibility of breakage during a fire event.
  • Walls: Use fire-resistant materials such as stucco and fiber cement wall siding on your home’s exterior.
  • Decks: Decks within ten feet of a home should be built with non-combustible materials.
  • Gutters: Keep gutters clear of plant debris.
  • Chimney: Cover chimney and stovepipe outlets with a non-flammable metal screen.
  • Garage: Have an extinguisher, shovel, rake, bucket, and hose available for a fire emergency.
  • Fences: Upgrade any fencing within five feet of your home with fire-resistant material.
  • Driveway and access roads: If applicable, keep ten feet of clearance on either side to allow two-way traffic. Trim trees and shrubs, ensure gates open properly, and allow for large vehicles.
  • House number: Make sure your house number is visible from the road.
  • Water supply: Have multiple, lengthy garden hoses that reach all areas of your property, including outbuildings. If you have a pool, invest in a pump.

The CAL FIRE website has a detailed description of how to harden each area.

This home retrofit guide is also helpful.

Be Informed

High-fire threat areas were mapped out in 2018 by PG&E, CAL FIRE, and other public safety experts. The threat map identifies areas with a high probability of a wildfire affecting people and property. Additional action may be required in these locations to decrease wildfire risk.

  • Tier 3 areas are at extreme risk for wildfire
  • Tier 2 areas are at elevated risk for wildfire
  • Zone 1 Tier 1 High Hazard Zones are areas with high numbers of dead and dying trees

One-third of homes in the United States are in Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) areas. Defined as zones of transition between wilderness and land developed by human activity, these areas are at a greater risk of catastrophic wildfire. Santa Clara County has created an interactive map to help homeowners discern if they reside in a designated Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).

Stay Informed

There are numerous ways to stay informed during emergencies, including during wildfire season. Consider signing up for these essential alert services.

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) allow public safety officials to quickly and effectively inform the public of serious emergencies.

PG&E implements Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) in response to severe weather, including high wind events which may spark and/or spread a wildfire. Sign up to receive PSPS alerts here.

Sign up for CALFire’s Ready for Wildfire App to be notified of fires near you.

PG&E also offers free Wildfire safety webinars that are free virtual gatherings that allow community members to learn more about wildfire safety and emergency preparedness.

Homeowners Insurance

Contact your insurance agent at least once per year to review your homeowner’s coverage. If you live in a high fire danger area, discuss what additional coverage you may need.

Many insurance agencies use new wildfire underwriting guidelines that rate a property’s risk of being damaged or destroyed by fire. These guidelines assess property risk based on three factors:

  1. Fuel: Presence of significant trees, grass, and dense brush
  2. Slope: The steeper the slope of a property, the higher the risk of increased wildfire speed and intensity
  3. Access: Remote or hard-to-reach properties

Take photos and videos of each room of your home, including the contents of closets, cabinets, and drawers. Upload these visual documents to cloud storage, where you can access them if you need to file an insurance claim.

Click here for CAL FIRE’s information and resources on insurance and home inventories.

Create a Wildfire Action Plan

Having an emergency preparedness plan in place before you need it is crucial. Every family’s plan will vary depending upon unique situations, needs, and issues. Take this short survey to find out recommended actions for your personal wildfire action plan.

Every action plan should address the following:

  • A designated meeting location outside the hazard zone.
  • An outline and practice escape routes to the meeting location.
  • An evacuation plan for pets and large animals.
  • A family communication plan that designates an out-of-area individual as the single point of contact for all family members.

Other necessary action plan preparation includes:

For more emergency planning preparation guidelines and checklists, visit

Pre-Evacuation Checklist

If you receive notification to be on evacuation standby, there are things you can do in and outside of your home to give it the best possible chance of withstanding a wildfire.

Follow this pre-evacuation checklist only if time allows and you and your family are not in imminent danger.

In advance of any evacuation warning, review your wildfire action plan, including escape routes, meeting points, and your family communication plan. Monitor wildfires in your area and stay up-to-date on your community’s emergency response plan, evacuation orders, and emergency shelter locations.

Have your emergency kits stocked and ready to go, along with a list of essential and irreplaceable items. Locate pets in advance and gather their necessary food, medication, crates, etc.

During an Evacuation

Wondering when you should evacuate? It is always better to leave sooner rather than later. Watch this CAL FIRE video to learn more.

If you evacuate, be sure to dress appropriately in long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, and sturdy footwear. Bring a hat or cap and sunglasses. The proper attire will protect you against heat, smoke, and flying embers.

During an evacuation, remember the six Ps:

  • People and pets
  • Papers, phone numbers, important documents
  • Prescriptions, vitamins, eyeglasses
  • Pictures and irreplaceable memorabilia
  • Personal computer hard drive, USB sticks
  • “Plastic” (credit cards, ATM cards) and cash

Wildfire Resources

Take time to fully explore these online wildfire and emergency preparation resources. There are also numerous smartphone apps that can help you remain informed and provide on-the-go advice.



American Red Cross

National Fire Protection Association


National Weather Service


Wildfire Community Resources

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Design + Build has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

Top Tech and Trends From KBIS 2021

Harrell Design + Build Designers Barb Wingo and Brooke Nicholson virtually attended KBIS (The Kitchen and Bath Industry Show®), the preeminent and highly anticipated kitchen and bath design event. In association with the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), KBIS offers an inspirational, interactive platform showcasing the latest industry products, trends, and technologies.

The topics and products presented at KBIS confirmed that homeowners seek to repurpose and reimagine the spaces in their homes. It came as no surprise that outdoor living, smart home technology, cleanliness and hygiene, and Universal Design continue to gain traction.

“Harrell has seen firsthand how spending so much time in their homes has clients exploring new ways to improve it inside and out,” affirms Barb.

“The environment and eco-friendly renovation was another hot topic,” Brooke contributes. “Luxury kitchen upcycling is a trend that is also gaining a foothold.”

Here’s a quick peek into our Designers’ top KBIS take-aways for 2021.

Taking Life Outside

The pandemic and ensuing stay-at-home orders have upped the ante for indoor-outdoor living. Travel restrictions have homeowners seeking to design memorable experiences in their own homes. Barb points outs, “Rather than traveling to resort destinations, the trend is to transform yards to create a multi-functional retreat atmosphere at home.”

Through expanding usable outdoor square footage, homeowners also extend the value of their homes. Families are looking for covered outdoor areas that offer protection from the elements with all the comforts of inside spaces. They want amenities that allow them to cook, dine, relax, entertain, work, study and learn al fresco.

Pergolas and cabanas expand outdoor space by creating exterior “rooms” that can be fully equipped with a myriad of conveniences, including outdoor kitchens, pizza ovens, surround sound, WiFi, lighting, and outdoor furnishings that rival their interior cousins in comfort.

Watching TV outside, participating in Zoom meetings and social hours, and family movie nights under the stars have all given rise to the popularity of projection. The anti-glare technology enables a vibrant, clear image even in full sun, and it rolls up and hides away when not in use.

“Outdoor living has been a hot trend for years, but the trend now is to design exterior spaces that serve as a destination, offering many of the luxury amenities of travel locations. Homeowners want a multi-functional area they can use as an office, movie theatre, learning environment, and staycation escape all in one,” Barb points out.

Smart Kitchen/Smart Appliances

Smart appliances that are part of the connected environment in a home bring additional value to the owner. With the ability to update wirelessly and customized with enhanced capabilities, this technology is a future-proofed investment, continuing to provide value over time instead of becoming obsolete.

In addition to dedicated displays on the appliance, many appliances can be voice or touch controlled by smartphone apps. “Your connected washing machine can notify you when the cycle is complete; your oven can ping you when it’s preheated; the dishwasher will alert you when the drying cycle is finished,” Barb elaborates.

Smart food storage technology helps reduce food waste and expense. These devices track what’s in your refrigerator and pantry and informs you when items expire. They can even suggest recipes with the ingredients you have on hand. Brooke explains, “Your smart phone can show you what is inside as well, so if you can’t remember how much milk you have while you are at the store, you can just turn on the camera inside your fridge and have a peek!”

Another top tech appliance touted at KBIS is the LG Washtower. This full-size, full-capacity washer/dryer takes up half the space, stacking neatly in a kitchen, closet, or other location, eliminating the need for a dedicated laundry room. The centrally located control panel for both the washer and dryer makes it easily accessible. Built-in artificial intelligence detects fabric texture and load size, automatically selecting the proper wash motions and drying temperatures. The turbo wash setting with five variable sprays thoroughly cleans a load in under 30 minutes. LG also has a Styler steam closet that fits perfectly tucked up against the Washtower. The WiFi-enabled steam closet is ideal for sanitizing and reducing odors in sporting and fitness gear, reducing wrinkles, and gently refreshing delicate fabrics.

The GE Kitchen Hub provides access to all Android-based devices from your kitchen microwave, including other smart appliances, lighting, etc. The Hub can access the internet, streaming services, email, and offers video chat capability. Oh, and it can help you cook, too! The Hub’s scan-to-cook capability reads package bar codes and programs the proper cook time and temperature. The touch screen allows users to search guided recipes, and a built-in camera tells you if you’ve missed a step or if what you’re cooking is cooked appropriately.

Bold Fixtures and Finishes

New offerings in kitchen and bath fixtures allow for even greater personalization of the home as a reflection of the homeowner’s unique lifestyle.

Kohler offers new hues from calming to vibrant for kitchens and baths. Kohler’s Iron/Tone sink comes in a dozen shades, including Lavender Gray, Black Plus, and Indigo Blue.

Stunning, statement faucets and plumbing fixtures are available in Matte Black, and Vibrant Brushed Moderne Brass as well as Vibrant Ombré effects in Rose Gold/Polished Nickel or Titanium/Rose Gold.

Hygiene and Hands-Free

COVID accelerated the popularity of personal hygiene toilet seats, both for cleanliness in the face of the virus and self-reliance from those infamous toilet paper shortages. The once separate functions of toilets and bidets have been combined into one fixture, sometimes referred to as bidet seat or washlet.

A bidet seat can be part of a new toilet or added to an existing toilet. Equipped with auto on/off and auto-select single or dual flush capabilities, these intelligent toilets offer a completely hands-free experience. Many people find this appealing from a cleanliness standpoint.

While most toilet/bidet fixtures require a nearby electrical outlet, some, like Kohler’s Purewash™ manual bidet toilet seat, require no electricity or batteries. The Purewash installs in minutes, connecting to the toilet’s water supply line.


Also in high demand are touchless or hands-free faucets. Motion-sensing and voice-activated fixtures, like Delta’s TRINSIC VoiceIQ™ kitchen faucet connects to voice-enabled platforms like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Homeowners can turn the water on and off, pour specific amounts, and warm-up with spoken commands. The TRINSIC also has a hand wash feature, providing the proper length of time pre-set for lathering, scrubbing, and rinsing, a great feature for households with kids.

Luxury Kitchen Upcycling

Sustainable and eco-friendly products and services continue to be on-trend. For homeowners who plan to remodel their kitchens, upcycling is a way to give kitchen cabinets, countertops, fixtures, and appliances a new lease on life. Organizations like Renovation Angel receives donated high-end kitchens and, in turn, upcycles luxury cabinetry and appliances in other homes. They have partnered with Miele, Sub-Zero, and Wolfe, along with numerous other high-end brands.

The Renovation Angel Upcycling process:

  1. Renovation Angel conducts an inspection
  2. They provide a net value estimate
  3. They carefully remove/demo the kitchen
  4. A third-party appraisal (Approximately $450) is conducted
  5. Tax deduction paperwork provided upon appraisal completion
  6. For those purchasing a upcycled kitchen, you’ll need to hire an outside party for installation

Brooke explains more about this unique take on upcycling, “Renovation Angel takes donations of kitchens and offers significant tax credits. People buying the used kitchens receive a deep discount on elegant kitchens and appliances while also reducing recycling and landfill tonnage.”

Universal Design

Universal Design is an evergreen trend that gained more attention as families sheltered in place. The process of creating products and environments accessible to people with a wide range of abilities, Universal Design applies to people of all ages and in all stages of life. Independent design principles and products benefit those who live in the home and to those who come to visit.

In addition to sleek and stylish Universally Designed products, voice-activated smart technology makes life easier for those with varying abilities. Voice commands turn on and off lights and appliances, including activation of a pre-set morning or evening routine. Verbal instructions or motion sensors activate faucets and fixtures. Water sensing systems monitor and send alerts regarding water leaks. Smart thermostats can adjust the ambient temperature with an app or via voice command. Smart keypads allow doors to be locked upon command and unlocked with an app. Personal hygiene bidet seats allow for independent self-care.

To discover more about the latest technology and trends for your home, we invite you to attend any of our complimentary virtual workshops.

To explore the remodeling possibilities your home has to offer, connect with one of our talented Designers.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Design + Build has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

A textured fireplace offers an organic feel in this Palo Alto living room.

Turning Up the Heat with Indoor & Outdoor Fireplaces