Finished Landscape

The design of outdoor space was addressed early on in the conception of Tandem House and helped guide site design decisions to ensure that exterior space was an extension of the home.  Contrary to most new builds we really wanted the backyard and entry sequence to be beautiful and functional for our young family.  Instead of tolerating the underwhelming builder-grade landscape that every million-dollar home in the neighborhood has, we obviously pushed the standard just like everything else with Tandem House. 

We’re confident that the market will appreciate the result but for now, we are happy the landscape is complete and we’re ready to enjoy!  

If you’re interested in checking out the landscape build process look back at past posts and enjoy photos of our young landscape below.



Rainscreen System

We are now 99% done with house facade.   The install of the cedar rainscreen system complements the previously installed standing seam metal siding.   The two-month effort involved myself staining wood during the week and Scott, with the help of a friend and our brother-in-law, who spent the weekends installing it.  We selected cedar wood because it lasts well against the elements in Colorado and the stain we used was the PPG (formerly Sikkens) SRD Wood Finish Transparent Matte in the Natural Wood color.  We stained all sides before install that should hold up for 5-7 years, at which point we would re-stain the front exposed face.

The rainscreen system is a different cladding approach to the standing seam metal siding that is on the south and north facades of the house.  The metal standing seam material works well for what is called a wall-barrier system approach which basically eliminates the possibility of water, vapor or air from ever coming in contact with our SIP panels.   Assuming that install is meticulous and ensures tight seams between panels; the metal siding is essentially impermeable (for this approach you most likely wouldn’t use wood which is permeable).   We especially liked using metal material on the South facade because it will hold up to direct sun exposure throughout the year.

Contrary to the wall-barrier approach, the rainscreen system that we used on the East and West faces of the house is designed to allow water, vapor and air to come in contact with the exterior wall (SIP Panel).  When designed and installed correctly, the rainscreen controls and directs moisture.  Together with proper ventilation, this method will prevent water from accumulating; allowing it to either dry out or evacuate the system.

Below are images that exhibit the system.  The 1/8th inch spacing between cedar boards and the air gap between the house and the cedar screen controls the flow of water, vapor, and air.  With the spacing between cedar planks and the air gap behind the screen, water is able to evacuate while air and vapor help to dry it out.

Xeric Landscape

Tandem House was conceived to be a sustainable home that is achieved in every respect from using SIP panels, solar panels, and an efficient HVAC system (among numerous other things).  The house will be LEED-certified (we should have the certificate any day now) and the landscape is a major component to receiving the necessary points required for the certificate.

We see the landscape as an extension of the home and the sustainable concept flows through every exterior detail.  By opting to eliminate the need for irrigation the plant selection includes all Colorado native and adaptive species.  Once established the plants will sustain off the ebbs and flows of the environment that it’s meant to thrive in.  The artificial turf lawn requires zero maintenance and no water.

TH Illustrative[click image to enlarge]

Plant ListThe grading and flow of water on-site is a big factor in plant selection, ensuring that plants that require less water are at a higher grade and those that thrive off more water are at low points. The water diagram below shows the flow of water on-site and from the roof downspouts.  The water that is handled on-site, flows to the native grass rain garden that can handle large water events with droughts in between.  The landscape acts as a sponge, soaking and cleaning water as it flows through the site and into the groundwater system.

Water[click image to enlarge]

Once we plant the few remaining plants and complete construction site cleanup we will have the landscape professionally photographed.  Stay tuned!

Hardscape – Brick

Now that Tandem House and the landscape are almost done it is hard to remember what existed before this all started.  This post requires a look back at the original one-car garage that we demoed two years ago (pt. 2).  If you remember, we saved the brick and stacked it for future use.  We used the red brick (the inside layer of the old garage) to pave the ribbon driveway.  In a few weeks, we will fence in this area to give the front house a side-yard (stay tuned).

Hardscape – Concrete

Back in May, we conquered the concrete pathways and back patio.  Once the subgrade material was compacted and set to 3 inches below final grade per the site Grading Plan and concrete details, we were ready for concrete formwork!  Because the landscape design is fairly complicated (from a grading and pavement perspective) it was important that we had a detailed Layout and Materials Plan (per the landscape drawings) and use this as a tool when getting bids for subcontractors.  Because concrete itself is a simple material, its crucial that the contractor is detail-oriented and doesn’t deviate from the drawings unless otherwise instructed on-site.

The most important time to be on-site was to oversee the building of concrete formwork to ensure that layout and grades are set correctly. Once the concrete is poured and set it’s difficult to correct which is why it’s crucial to get right beforehand.

After two days we were ready to pour!

Once the concrete forms were stripped, it’s easy to see the 4″ gap that is left between each concrete pad.  This 4″ border was further accentuated and held in place with steel edger and lined with filter fabric.  The border was filled with decomposed granite to complete the look.  The final product breaks up the mass of hardscape for a soft and contemporary feel that matches the house aesthetic.

Landscape Grading and Drainage

This summer has been focused on the landscape and exterior of Tandem House.  We have two open permits that have yet to be closed pending Zoning and SUDP (Sewer Use and Drainage Permits) final inspection and approval.  Once these permits are closed then we will finally have our Certificate of Occupancy.

Zoning has already confirmed that the building fits within the bulk plane and setback requirements (among other things), but a few items have yet to be done.  In order to get our Zoning permit closed the City wants to see that all landscaping be complete, that no lingering construction material be on-site and that they approve all exterior lighting.

The Sewer Use and Drainage Inspection ensure that the flow of water is away from the house and handled either on-site or directed properly towards the alley.  It also dictates that sump pump discharge is handled on-site and inspected per the City’s detail.

A good landscape design understands that both subjects go hand-in-hand.  A successful landscape design acknowledges grading and drainage from the very start because it dictates cut and fill, site retaining, steps, access points, circulation and the flow of water.  A major factor in our landscape design was dictated by the final Finish Floor Elevation of the house which is 3.5′ lower than what was existing.  Hense excavation and the hauling of dirt off-site was a huge endeavor and a major cost.  This was a big learning experience for myself as a landscape designer.  From this personal experience as the homeowner, I now understand the importance of limiting the amount of cut on-site by finding creative and resourceful grading solutions that limit the need to haul dirt away.  In the middle of a construction boom in Denver, hauling dirt away is more expensive than ever because everyone is building basements and underground parking.  Most construction sites are getting rid of dirt (cutting) not filling.  Hence the problem.  Dirt has to be loaded one truck at a time and hauled away 40 miles north.

This Spring we prepped the site for landscape.  All major excavation was complete so we began by installing a wood retaining wall at the south property line.  The wall now holds back the 3.5′ of dirt from our neighbor’s yard; preventing it from eroding or collapsing onto our site.  With the wall up, it allowed us to prepare for what would become a large rain garden.

Step 1:  The Rain Garden

The rain garden is the foundation for site drainage and a major landscape component.  To build the 200 SF rain garden we had to excavate another 2.5′; that’s on top of the 3.5′ that was originally excavated.  Once the garden was dug, we directed roof run-off via downspouts.  As the water exits the downspout it enters a catch basin and that leads under the now sidewalk and into a dry rock well at the bottom of the rain garden.  We also directed the sump-pump water to the rain garden.  If there is ever excessive groundwater from a rain event, the sump will pump the water up and away from the house foundation into a second dry rock well at the bottom of the rain garden.

Once the water was directed to the rain garden we filled it with a soil mix that promotes drainage.   The mix is made up of 30% sand, 25% compost, 25% topsoil, and 20% clay.  To complete the rain garden we planted two Rocky Mountain Glow Maples and a mix of Colorado native grasses (little bluestem, blue grama, and switchgrasses among the ten different species).  This rain garden is not irrigated and once established it will be fully supported by natural rainwater events.

Step 2:  Fine Grading & Artificial Turf Prep

Below is our SUDP plan.  This is subsequent to the more detailed grading plan and shows where water is flowing.  The ‘infiltration swale’ is the rain garden.  Downspouts and flowlines (FL) show where water is being directed away from the house foundation.


Below are images that show the aggregate base for the artificial turf detail and the sloping landscape away from the house with french drains that lead runoff towards the rain garden.

We chose not to irrigate our landscape and to make that come to fruition we installed an artificial turf lawn.  The manufacturer is synlawn which is a great product.  The proper foundation for artificial turf is crucial for efficient drainage.  To prep for the lawn, we removed 4″ of earth where the turf is installed, filled the area with 3″ of 3/4″ aggregate, compacted that and added 1″ of pea gravel.  We lined the area with a steel edger which completed the prep work.  To install the lawn we rolled it out in place, made a few cuts and seams and pinned the lawn down with 6″ non-galvanized steel nails.

The lawn is now a fantastic place for our one-year-old daughter to play.  We completed it just in time for her first birthday!


Home Tour Part 1 – The First Floor

Although the Tandem House is not completely done we decided to move in; just in time to host Thanksgiving with our family.  Its been a whirlwind of a month as we not only needed to furnish the entire back tandem house (new), but we also prepared the front (old) house to rent as a short-term rental on Airbnb.  We figured there was no reason to delay getting monthly rental income if we are ok living in the tandem house while finishing the final touches.  While we live here we will continue to install remaining interior doors, baseboards, door trim, backsplash tile and a number of other smaller tasks.

For now we are relishing in what we have done and not so much in what hasn’t.  Its been a huge accomplishment to get to where we are and we want to enjoy it.  We’ll keep it low key through the holidays and get back at it in the new year.

But lets get to the good stuff; a photo tour of the house.  As a reminder, the home is 2400sf in all, with 4 bedrooms and 3-1/2 baths.  The adjacent plan of the first floor shows the open concept living, kitchen and dining area, the 1/2 bath off the mudroom and the 1.5 car garage.  The stairs lead down to the basement and up to the second floor bedrooms.  The contemporary architecture of the home is complemented by a mid-century modern interior decor.



Untraditional Stairs and Bold Flooring

When Scott and I were dreaming about building our tandem house, we used to spend the weekends going to open houses in the neighborhood.  We were curious to see the standard of material finishes that we would be held to in order to compete in the highland residential market.  There was one house in particular that had these chunky wood stair treads and metal fabricated railing.  We loved the untraditional look and knew that we wanted a similar aesthetic in our house.

Little did we know how complicated planning, designing, fabricating and installing these stairs would be.  Although it was a long process, we couldn’t be more happy with how they turned out.  We went with solid hickory treads that Scott finished with a natural polymer-based finish.  After three coats and sanding in between, the treads were ready for install; just in time for Thanksgiving.  Our family could rest assured that we had railings.  Not only did the stairs look fabulous but they were safe for all the little ones to run up and down when they played hide and seek!

We made a bold chose by going with concrete floors in our main living space.  Although concrete floors are not uncommon these days, it took some extra planning because the floor sits above our basement.  Meaning, the joists below the floors had to be doubled up in order to support the structural load of the concrete above.  See our previous post on the pouring of these floors.

After ten passes with a diamond grinder and a matte protective finish, the floors are beautiful and have a complex natural look.  Even better, they are seamless, collecting little to no dust.  They are smooth and easy to clean!

On the second floor, we went with solid character maple hardwoods.  We love the natural and bold look of these floors that are a far cry from the more traditional oak flooring that you see in many Denver homes.

We went with porcelain hex tiles in the bathrooms and laundry room which ties in the concrete look from the main floor.  And last, we chose carpet in the basement because it gives a comfortable and homey feeling for our guests when they come to stay with us for the holidays!


This past Thanksgiving week our solar pv system passed a final inspection by the City. Going forward our Xcel Energy bill will start metering the solar power generated and used.   We couldn’t be more excited to start using power off the grid and to start tracking our savings.

We ended up selecting flexible solar panels by Miasole call the FLEX series, specifically model FLEX-02N .  These panels are an ideal solution for our standing seam metal roof since these lightweight modules directly bond to the roof between the metal ridges.  Not only do they offer a clean, sleek aesthetic but the modules will provide more than enough energy with the 16, 125-watts panels.  These lightweight panels reduce the structural load of a typical panel array and they minimize wind resistance with its flat profile.  Our generated energy will be stored in the SMA 3.0 KW inverter which has extra capacity in case we want to add more panels at a later time.






Need Help with Zoning and Site Analysis?

We have had several blog readers inquire our expertise regarding their residential lots in Denver.  When homeowners reach out to us they know that they want to build on their lot but are unsure what form their investment will take.  Many times the first step is identifying what the owner’s lot is zoned for and what is allowed under Denver’s code.  Keep in mind that Denver’s planning and development resources can be hard to find and once found they can be difficult to navigate.

Once lot zoning is determined it is helpful to identify what the homeowners specific investment and lifestyle needs are.  For example, a homeowner came to us knowing that they wanted to build an ADU above their garage to eventually operate as a short-term rental and generate income.  However, once we looked up their zone lot, it was determined that their zoning does not allow them to have an ADU.

Others have already determined that their lot allows for an ADU but after we identified their zoning (U-TU-B) and completed a site analysis the homeowner changed their mind. They decided that building a tandem house, instead of an ADU, would best meet their investment needs.  The tandem house would give them the option to rent or to sell in the future.  To better understand the difference between an ADU and a Tandem House click here.

As a professional planner, architect, general contractor and engineer we also have the know-how of navigating the zoning, design, permitting and building process in Denver.  Above is a snapshot site and zoning analysis that was completed for our site prior to designing and permitting our tandem house (zoned U-TU-B) in Denver’s LoHi neighborhood.  This Sketchup analysis helped us to determine what was possible on our lot and what best met our needs.  Such an analysis can help owners realize the possibilities of the site before diving too deep into architectural drawings and the City permitting process.

If you are interested in a consultation and/or a site analysis study we are happy to talk.  Click here to see a full zoning and site analysis case study.