New Avenue Architect Spotlight: Brad Gunkel


New Avenue design professional Brad Gunkel is based in Emeryville, CA, and is recognized as an authority in sustainable, community-focused architecture. His interests in co-housing, urban community development, and sustainability have earned him respect from owners, developers, and planners.

One of the New Avenue projects Brad is involved with is a major remodel and a backyard accessory dwelling unit (ADU) in Oakland, CA.

This 899 square foot ADU has a great room, bedroom and bath on the first floor and a bedroom, bath, and deck on the second floor.  A bridge connects the main house and the ADU. The deck on the second floor steps up over the living room to create a higher volume below and to create seating/lounging tiers above.


The owners of the main home have a small child, and their vision is that another small family could rent out this rear unit. The children would have a safe, easily-supervised space to play together in the backyard and the families could share occasional meals. If, at some point, the ADU is occupied by a single person or couple without children who do not want or need the upstairs bedroom, the bedroom can then become an office or a guest bedroom. The second floor of the ADU is designed so that the bedroom/office can be opened up to or closed off from the first floor. In addition to the ADU, the owners are also remodeling their basement.

Are you a homeowner interested in working with Brad for your remodel or custom build? Start your project and gather your ideas today at

Are you a designer or builder interested in joining New Avenue? We would love to get in touch!


Cost of a Kitchen, Master Bedroom, Master Bath, Extra Bedroom and Bathroom Remodel in San Rafael, CA

Two of our clients completed a major transformation to their home in San Rafael, CA. They bought a home that was originally a single family home that was converted to a duplex.  They added two bedrooms, a master bath and converted it back into a single family home.

Additionally, behind their home is a 500-square foot detached structure that served as an office. They are thinking of converting this extra space into an accessory dwelling afterwards. The young couple had their first child during the project, and this remodel gives the growing family plenty of room for activities.

The design, project planning and permitting process lasted 9 months.  Construction lasted eight months from start to finish.

This is the existing floor plan:

Existing Floor Plan San Rafael Addition Remodel

Proposed/New Plan:

Proposed Floor Plan San Rafael Addition Remodel

This link has the full cost of the completed project in San Rafael. All costs are broken down by line item.  This budget includes architecture, engineering, permits and construction costs.

Budget for a 2 bed 2 bath addition plus kitchen remodel:addition

For copies of the plans or additional details please contact us at New Avenue.  You can sign up and use the New Avenue system for free here: Get Started





Last week I had a fun day introducing a writer from Sierra Magazine to three of our clients. This is the magazine of the Sierra Club, America’s oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organization. They are writing a story about New Avenue covering the sustainability attributes of our smaller homes and the new lifestyle they provide. They wanted to really get to know a few clients as part of the story.

Over the course of a few hours we visited our clients Lorrie Beth and Larry and their good friend Kitty in Berkeley. Lorrie Beth and Larry are building a home for Kitty who is a dear friend and needed a wheelchair accessible home. We also dropped into Susan’s cottage as the framing was going up and our project in Orinda where the client has moved in and only has a bit of decorating and landscaping work left to do.

The writer had a great question for each of our clients – “What did you learn that was totally unexpected?” Kitty answered that she had no idea there were so many people involved in creating a new home.

And the beauty of Kitty’s answer was in her delivery. She added an entertaining extra bit of gravity and pause in her voice as she answered:

“So (pause #1)…. Many (pause #2)… People…(pause #3)”

This lead to a tangent where we listed out the number of people involved BEFORE the construction even began:

  1. Lorrie Beth and Larry – the homeowners
  2. Kitty the main client
  3. Kitty’s assistant/nurse
  4. An ADA/Universal Design specialist to discuss accessibility needs
  5. An architect to create a custom design
  6. A draft person to help the architect create several design options
  7. A good friend who is an architect to discuss ideas and ease some nerves about the occasionally overwhelming process of building a home
  8. A surveyor to confirm the real location of the property line and just how far the fences are off
  9. A planner from the city to confirm what’s allowed and suggest improvements and review the planning permit
  10. The head of the planning department to review the approved planning permit and provide a stamp of approval.
  11. An engineer to perform the structural and seismic calculations
  12. A builder to provide an estimate
  13. A second builder to provide another estimate
  14. A third builder to provide another estimate
  15. An energy efficiency analyst (Title 24) required for the building permit
  16. A building department official or “plan checker” to review the construction documents and approve the building permit
  17. A bank loan officer to write up a loan
  18. A bank inspector to approve the plans and budget so the loan officer and finalize the loan

And then the construction began. That will be another post.

Fortunately, our clients are building second units and that means they are defining their life by having more people around and this leads to a lot of great relationships between architects, designers, carpenters etc… I can’t say we like the bankers too much, though. That’s another post too.

The article is being written now and should be published in a month or two. We will be share the links as soon as it is out.

The New Backyard Cottage @ Sunset Celebration Weekend 2015 – Picture and Video Tour

New Avenue and Sunset Magazine teamed up this June 6-7 for Sunset Celebration Weekend 2015 to present The New Backyard Cottage. Here’s a picture and video tour from the event!

Take a video tour!
Take a video tour!

If you haven’t already heard you can enter for a chance to win a 7-day getaway at the New Backyard Cottage at Truckee, CA. There is no cost to enter. Click here for more information.


Exterior, deck, pergola
Exterior, deck, pergola
Visitors to the New Backyard Cottage
Visitors to the New Backyard Cottage
Visitors to the New Backyard Cottage
Visitors to the New Backyard Cottage
Kitchen shelving, spiral staircase
Kitchen shelving, spiral staircase

Living area

The New Avenue team sitting on the steps
The New Avenue team sitting on the steps
Visitors around the New Backyard Cottage and landscaping
Visitors around the New Backyard Cottage and landscaping
Landscaping around the New Backyard Cottage
Landscaping around the New Backyard Cottage
Landscaping - pebble arrangement
Landscaping – pebble arrangement
Landscaping around the New Backyard Cottage
Landscaping around the New Backyard Cottage
The New Avenue team at Sunset Celebration Weekend
The New Avenue team at Sunset Celebration Weekend

Win a 7-Day Getaway at Truckee, CA, with Sunset Magazine’s New Backyard Cottage ($3000-Value)!


Get a free 7-day stay in Sunset Magazine’s New Backyard Cottage by Donner Lake in Truckee, CA! This is a 1-bedroom house with a loft and environmentally sustainable finishes throughout, and it is the featured exhibit of Sunset Magazine’s Celebration Weekend 2015.

Take a video tour!
Take a video tour!
Explore nearby Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley, and Alpine Meadows for hiking, swimming, and exploring, and have an adventure with your friends and family. Be sure to refer others to increase your chance of winning!

Prize is transferable to anyone. There are no blackout dates – use it on Labor Day, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or whenever you like.



Berkeley Officials Vote to Streamline Adding Accessory Dwellings

On March 24, 2015, Berkeley, CA, officials unanimously voted to streamline to process for adding secondary units. This gives the go-ahead to proceed with a proposal that will change city zoning codes:

  • Lot size requirement: None
  • Maximum size: 750 square feet or 75% of the primary structure, whichever is less
  • Height: 14-foot maximum height at peak of roof, 10-foot maximum at eave of roof; not to exceed 10 feet at property line
  • Setback: 4-foot minimum side and rear setback from property line; no side or rear setback required if ADU will replace preexisting buildings on the property line
  • Parking: Tandem parking in driveway is allowed (including non-conforming driveways that don’t comply with the minimum 2-foot landscaping strip). Proposed ADUs that are within a quarter-mile of a BART station and located in an RPP zone will have no additional parking requirement. No Residential Parking Permit will be issued to an ADU under all circumstances.
  • Other: Legal property owner shall live in main dwelling unit or ADU. If ADU is built on property line, doors and windows cannot face neighbors’ property. Should be excluded from use as short term rentals. ADUs are prohibited in the Environmental Safety Residential (ESR) zone. ADUs may be allowed with an AUP [administrative use permit] on lots on streets that do not meet minimum fire access requirements. ADU may be allowed only if the fire flow and water pressure meet minimum fire safety requirements.

– From: Officials to relax rules for Berkeley ‘granny flats’, Berkeleyside.

This item will need to come back before council before it is incorporated into the zoning code.

A Country Getaway in Wyoming: A New Home, Barn and Office in Alta, Wyoming

A hedge fund manager is going big in Alta, Wyoming, with two new homes and an office. This is going to be a home and a barn with the barn serving as an office for 12 and a guest house as well. It is on a large piece of property that will have plenty of storage, value-engineered features, and efficient use of space throughout. The homeowner also works with an assistant and interior designer, giving this New Avenue project quite an emphasis on precision and quality design.

Here’s a preview of some notes and thinking in design work in progress.

Property Layout
PDF, 624 KB
Home 1st Floor Plan
PDF, 680 KB
Home 2nd Floor Plan
PDF, 254 KB
Barn Plan
PDF, 855 KB

Metal Roofs vs. Traditional Shingles

We all know asphalt shingles as they are the most common roofing material. You probably see them everyday and almost everywhere.

Composite shingle roofs are a fine product as they are affordable and easy to install. They are made out of a fiberglass base that is covered with asphalt and a mineral or aggregate adds the texture and color. Due to their 15-20 year life expectancy the roof has to be replaced and discarded to a landfill regularly. You’ve probably seen something like this before:

A metal roof will cost about twice as much as a comp shingle roof would, but it will last generations.  At year 15, when you avoid the first replacement of comp shingle roof, you break even.  At year 30 and every 15-20 years thereafter you are saving the entire cost of a new roof.  Just as importantly, the steel consists of recycled material and is recyclable if it is ever removed.  Most metal roofs have a special reflective coating that makes them more energy efficient and qualifies them energy star certification.

We have worked with metal roof network ( on several of our projects.  Their metal roofs come in different styles such as tiles or standing seam and they come in different materials such as copper and steel.  This gray steel standing seam metal roof is our first project with Metal Roof Network.

A few other metal roof options are listed here:

Diamond Shaped Shingles

Steel Shake Tiles

Radiant Floor Heating

Radiant floor heating turns your floor into a large-area radiator. The floor becomes a heated surface that directly warms the floor – whether a wood floor or a thick concrete floor. This floor can be “charged” during off-peak hours, when electricity is cheaper, and, if the thermal mass is large enough, it can keep a home comfortable all day without further electrical input. Other options to heat a home include forced-air heating, baseboard heating, gas burners, electric heating elements, space heaters, and passive solar design. There are three types of radiant floor heating:

  • Air-heated radiant floors – Air cannot hold a large amount of heat, so this type of system is rarely installed. They are not cost-effective for residential use.
  • Electric radiant floors – This type of heating uses electric cables or electrically conductive plastic mats installed beneath the floor covering. It is cost-effective when used with flooring of significant thermal mass. Electric systems are cheaper to install than hydronic systems, but In the long run it would likely be less expensive to use a different fuel source and go with a hydronic system, which is powered by gas. This option is frequently used to retrofit a single room or to add a little luxury.  This is common in bathrooms but can be ideal for a smaller home or for occasional use.
  • Hydronic radiant floors – The most popular and cost-effective type of radiant heating, hydronic radiant floor systems pump water heated from a boiler through tubing laid in a pattern under the floor. Manifold setup allows varied heating of different zones. This is ideal for homes that already use a water heater.

Underfloor heating pipes, before they are covered by the screed. - From: Wikipedia
Underfloor heating pipes, before they are covered by the screed. – From: Wikipedia
Illustration of hydronic radiant floor heating system. - From: This Old House
Illustration of hydronic radiant floor heating system. – From: This Old House
Forced-air Heat vs. Radiant Heat temperature distribution. Note the even and gradient in the radiant heating system vs. the roundabout circulation of the forced-air system. - From: Uponor
Forced-air Heat vs. Radiant Heat temperature distribution. Note the even and gradient in the radiant heating system vs. the roundabout circulation of the forced-air system. – From: Uponor
Here’s a short list of advantages and disadvantages of radiant floor heating:


  • One of the largest selling points is comfort. A warm floor allows you to more comfortably walk around barefoot.
  • Radiant floor heating is very quiet. There is no airflow through ducts as one would hear from forced-air heating systems, and there is no gurgling and little to no expansion and contraction creaking as one would hear from baseboard radiators.
  • For hydronic heating, lower boiler temperature requirements than one would need for baseboard heating increases boiler life and gives the option to use hot water heated by solar energy.  This is difficult to permit though, and often times it is a DIY project.
  • Not having to configure a room for a baseboard radiator or air register gives occupants more flexibility in arranging furniture. The heating system is essentially invisible.
  • Less dust circulating around the house compared with forced-air systems and no surfaces that become too hot and burn dust like electric baseboard systems.
  • Good for when building occupants have acute chemical sensitivity or allergies. A forced-air system could distribute dust and an electric heating element or gas burner can burn dust particles.
  • Forced-air heated air rises up to the ceiling, where it cools, then down. A radiant floor system gives a more desirable temperature gradient throughout a room.


  • Costs more to install, particularly for retrofits, and, depending on your local climate, you may still need a separate air-conditioning system. You can expect to pay 50% more for installing a hydronic radiant floor heating system than for a conventional forced-air system.  Costs have averaged $12-15 per square foot in projects we have managed.
  • High-performance green homes that need little heating energy would not benefit or benefit very little from the added costs of putting in an expensive heating system. Other, less expensive heating options can provide the same level of comfort particularly when the building envelope already does a fine job.
  • There is a time-lag of heat movement through the flooring. This can lead to an overheating problem if there are other sources, such as passive solar, already delivering heat to a space. It is probably best to disable or avoid installing radiant floor slabs where solar heat will already more directly heat the air.
  • To be effective, floor coverings must be thin and conductive.  The covering should not insulate the heating system from the room. Ceramic tile is the most common and effective floor covering for radiant floor heating, but thin carpeting and wood can also be used.
  • Consistent heat may not be desirable for homeowners that like to turn heat on and off at different times of the day.
  • While great for small smaller rooms with lower roofs, in some cases it can be less energy efficient than forced-air heating. Check with a heating contractor to see if it would be sensible.

While it does cost more, radiant floor heating is a popular option. It provides so much more comfort than what many of us have experience with in older, drafty, or ineffectively-heated homes. A well-operated radiant heating system with a programmable thermostat can save you hundreds of dollars on home heating bills. Also, many states have financial incentives for upgrading homes to boost energy efficiency. If you’re building a small home, this could be something you could consider. We at New Avenue have had experience incorporating radiant floor heating in our projects.


  1. This Old House – Radiant Floor Heating
  2. on Radiant Heating
  3. – Radiant-Floor Heating
  4. Scientific American – Is Under-Floor Radiant Heating More Efficient Than Conventional Systems?

Your Home and Water


Leaks, spills, puddles, and high humidity can be your home’s worst nightmare. Water damage can become expensive and laborious to fix and mold can take root. This is a quick checklist for preventing the intrusion and accumulation of moisture in and around your home.

Inside your home

  • Keep indoor relative humidity below 60% – ideally between 30% to 50%. Humidity meters can be as inexpensive as $10.
  • Stoves, clothes dryers, and ventilators are sources of moisture. Keep them clean and unobstructed.
  • When cooking, open a window or turn on the exhaust fan. Clean or replace dirty and dusty filters. Also, when showering, crack open the bathroom window or turn on the bathroom fan.
  • If you have an in-sink garbage disposal, use it regularly to keep your kitchen sink drainage optimal and prevent pooling.
  • Look under your kitchen sink and behind your refrigerator for stains or moist surfaces. There may be a leak or an obstruction.
  • Weatherstripping and flashing around fenestration should be examined and repaired to prevent water and air leakage.
  • If you have a basement or utility room, look at pipes, duct work, or openings in the wall. If there is moisture, something isn’t sealed well or isn’t being vented sufficiently.

Outside your home

  • Clean your gutters and downspouts. Good roof drainage protects your siding and foundation. Rainwater should be drained and redirected at least 5 feet away from your foundation to ground that does not pool.
  • After a heavy rain, walk around the perimeter of your house to see if your gutters and downspouts drainage systems are performing fine. Water can be dammed up by obstructions.
  • Don’t let your water sprinklers hit your home’s siding.
  • Tree limbs and leaves hold moisture. If they are close to the roof, they can hold moisture in your shingles or direct it to your siding and windows.
  • If your shingles are curling or roof tile is cracked or missing, it’s time to do something about it. Water can penetrate your roof and accumulate in your ceiling and walls.

More Resources