Tin House Panic Grips West U

In an email to the West University city council, public works director Chris Peifer sounds the alarm about the steel-frame home with metal siding currently under construction at 2723 Centenary St., a couple blocks west of Kirby: “As the street view of this structure will deviate greatly from the typical street view/appearance of the neighborhood I wanted to give you notification,” Peifer writes, after noting that the city doesn’t prohibit the use of the materials on the home or regulate “personal taste or esthetics.” And then he adds this: “FYI…Heads up. There are high value properties directly adjacent to this property that may take exception.”


The nearby high-value stucco homes themselves are unlikely to raise much of a fuss about the deviant structure rising in their midst, but others already have: A few commenters who’ve responded to an Instant News West U story detailing the email have labeled the home a “monstrosity.” The finished size of 3,957 sq. ft. means it’ll likely rank as the 6th largest house on the short street, barely edging out 2 nearby residences for the title.

“Most of the people that I have spoken with like the house design,” owner Jeff Daniel tells Swamplot. Daniel’s architect is local metal-panel champion Cameron Armstrong, spark plug of the tin-house movement that hit the then-sleepy Rice Military and West End neighborhoods in the nineties — before taller and more aggressive stucco townhouses colonized those areas. Armstrong isn’t just a metal fan: He thinks the material is a much smarter alternative to conventional homebuilding methods.

“There is no more wasteful, dirty, or temporary system of construction than the sealed wooden frames typical of most American houses,” he writes on his website, calling the system “equivalent to sealing wood shavings, toothpicks, glue and water inside a large plastic bag, and leaving it out in the sun for a period of decades.” He tells Swamplot:

Most recent houses in Houston are basically cardboard boxes wrapped in plastic, and covered in smeared plaster or baked mud. They are unlikely to survive more than a few decades. The Centenary house could easily be in use 300+ years from now, mostly due to the materials and how they’re put together. The steel for this building (95%+ recycled) was purchased through Horizon Engineering, a local metal building company, and came largely from local suppliers. The entire exterior will be sheathed with galvalume panels, selected primarily for the material’s inherent beauty, but also because they’ll provide a comprehensive radiant barrier. . . . The insulation value of the walls is R-54+ (probably performs at about R-38) — that compares to R-19 for typical buildings ([which] probably performs at about R-12).

Photos: Instant News West U. Renderings: Cameron Armstrong

53 Comment

  • There is a reason we build out of toothpicks and plastic… Unlike in Europe Americans do not live in their parents houses and do not generally inherit them, tastes and needs also change. Hence a home that will last a few decades is perfect because it will be torn down in that time anyway and will provide new construction jobs and loan interest income. It’s the cycle of life of a home. This metal house will be torn down around the same time the stucco ones around it lose their appeal.

  • hmmmmmmm, commonsense, my house was built in 1920, and thank God, has not been torn down yet.

  • Those houses sure are built close together, not to mention how different they will look. This is what happens when there are haphazard zoning restrictions.

  • *nod* My Montrose place was built over 100 years ago. wtf are you talking about.

  • Even the Heights and Montrose are going through the transformation… new townhomes/homes have been replacing old crap for last decade, eventually everything will be replaced with new generation of dwellings. Then in another 40 or so years, these homes will be replaced with something that’s fashionable at the that time. There will always be few holdouts here and there but there are people that love Ford Model “T”‘s and you don’t see everyone running out to buy one.

    P.S. Lumber from which the homes are built is the only resource US produces 1.5 times more than it consumes, making it truly sustainable for you greeny weanies out tehre.

  • Is a greeny weanie like a green thumb?

  • Greeny Weanies are those douchy environmentalists that are way over the top with their nonsense. Nobody listens to them because if they had their way, we’d be living in mud huts wiping our *sses with a pine cone.

    P.S. They also ride Vespas for pollution reasons without knowing that they pollute more than a 4 cylinder Accord or Camry.

  • I haven’t been in Houston for a while – but do know that there WAS a house on the street north of Centenary that was welded together during WW2. Solid steel siding and structure.

    Has it been torn down? How does that factor into this kerfluffle?

  • With you, EMME.

  • Maybe the neighbors aren’t complaining now, but when their AC bills go up from all the heat this new home is “radiating”, what then? It will be like a bake oven in those narrow passages between the houses, won’t it?

  • Good name, Flake.

  • This is what results when a city has no zoning. Personally, I think it’s a good thing. It generates diversity, rather than endless fake-historic houses.

    Houston has opted out of many of the stylistic and massing regulations that zoning might provide. We therefore have little right to complain when something we don’t like is built. (Or rather, we all complain, but there’s not much we can do about it in the end.)

    My only criticism about the house is that it’s not a very good design. It looked like it was designed by an engineer, or a first year architecture student. I tend to like modernism and flat roofs, when they’re well executed. But this seems to be a particularly bad example of what can be a really nice and generous form. Poor massing, haphazardly placed windows, an odd garage. Shoddily designed projects like this give modernism a bad name.

    Once this is built, West U will be able to say “well, there was that bad modernist design over on Centenary. So we shouldn’t allow anything modern ever again.”

  • I own a 1935 home in Montrose, and whoever buys it can burn it down for all I care. But it would also work great as a house of ill-repute.

  • I don’t understand why anyone would spend the money to build a piece of sh*t like this that doesn’t fit in with the neighborhood whatsoever. Furthermore, metal buildings in Houston are a bad idea altogether because they rust from the high humidity. The dork who owns this house will be hated by all of his neighbors and be known as the guy who ruined the block.

  • I’m too lazy to look it up, but doesn’t the City of West U have zoning? Additionally, I would assume most West U neighborhoods were deed restricted.

    But I guess if this thing is getting built I may be wrong.

  • Had to check out “galvalume” because it sounded so exotic, but it’s just metal roofing like the kind they put on sheds. It comes in lots of colors, though, but going from the rendering, it may just be left naked.

  • West U is zoned. They just don’t have “historic districts” to tell people what they can and cannot build on a residential lot. No doubt those suffering from Southampton Syndrome in West U will start a petition soon. Of course some of what’s been built in Southampton doesn’t really “fit in” either to be honest. Crap is crap whether it’s a $100,000 home or a $1,000,000 home. Houston is not exactly an example of architecural aesthetics.

  • Naked galvalume?

  • Better to remain silent…

    First, West U has zoning. Virtually the entire city is zoned residential. This structure is intended to be a residence. Surprise! Zoning does not prevent ugly residences.

    Second, while all the talk of old houses in the Heights and Montrose is nice and all, this is West U. They’ve been knocking down old homes for decades. They practically invented the term ‘tear down’. Shed no tears for the neighbors suffering from new construction. They did it to their neighbors, too.

    Third, galvalume is not bothered by humidity. Salt spray can cause corrosion over time, but tests show galvalume to be corrosion resistant for periods in excess of 30 years. This isn’t your grandpa’s galvanized metal.

    Fourth, be careful what you wish for. If you really want to have architectural veto power over your neighbor’s house, they will also be given veto power over yours. While, admittedly, 99% of Americans wouldn’t know good architecture if it hit them in the face, if you ever figure out what actually passes for quality architecture, you can be assured that your neighbors will vote it down.

    Want proof? Drive over to none other than West U itself, where they’ve destroyed the former bungalow village and built more Georgian monstrosities than exist in the entire state of Georgia. This house will be no worse than already exists there.

  • Good post, Dave. It is interesting to note that a higher home price does not necessarily mean that the the home is better designed. West U is full of high-priced traditionally-styled homes, but quite a few of them are pretty bad from a design standpoint. My favorite example is a + $1 million spec house with a porch design that actually prevented anyone from being able to move furniture into it. There are also countless houses that were built with poor construction practices, inevitably causing future leaks and water damage. Oh well, some of those ’80s Georgians are approaching the 30-year mark, so we’ll probably start seeing them come down before such issues become apparent…

  • Not to be pedantic, but Georgian architecture has nothing to do with the US State of Georgia.

    Many of my favorite streets in London have real Georgian structures on them, dating back 200+ years.

  • Nice catch, Ross. Clearly, you are not one of the posters I was speaking to. ;)

  • Ha! Welcome to Houston.

  • I’ll take the metal barn over the faux stucco plywood construction next door. Thankfully I can’t afford a stucco Tract mansion in west u, so I don’t have to make that choice.

  • I just rented a circa 1928 duplex in Montrose that is vintage, beautiful and solidly constructed. I grew up in this neighborhood from the 1970’s. The comments about “tearing down the old crap” don’t apply to this property. A lot of old properties are worth preserving, whether rentals or not. I’m glad they didn’t tear it down and build new crap in its place. This is a beautiful street with big oaks and it would have been a nightmare for the people who own the house next door if they tore this lovely place down and constructed a monstrosity. How much space do people reasonably need? Good Grief! If you want a mansion go build one on a huge lot in the Woodlands or Katy. Quit destroying Montrose!

  • It sounds pretty bad, but can’t be any worse than that cinderblock eyesore on Swarthmore just west of Wesleyan.

  • @Dave

    Thanks for the lesson on land use regs, but “zoning” can mean more than just designating a piece of property residential, commercial, etc…

    I could go on, but your attempt at calling six different people out was already compromised by that little Georgia/Georgian slip up ;-)

  • The reason we build primarily in wood is because we have so bloody much of it. Oh, and Europeans do not generally live in their parents houses. They also have electric light, television and the internal combustion engine.

  • No Jimbo, the reason we build out of plywood is because it is cheap (which I guess supply and demand principles apply, making you still righ, but i think that oversimplified things.) Most (not all) believe quality construction means a wet bar in the family room, shabby chic finish on the cabinets and remote control blinds in the media room. People build the cheapest biggest shell they can and then adorn it with faux treatments and mansion furniture. It is truly bizarre.

  • Building out of wood is undeniably more cost effective. To build out of steel or concrete entails a much more expensive material and more expensive labor (a lot fewer people know how to work with it). I’ve previously done comparisons and it will cost you 20-30% more to build out of steel or concrete. The kicker is when it comes time to sell, you are still selling at the same average price per square foot as the rest of the homes in a given neighborhood. People in Houston simply won’t pay more, the $ per square foot is still the dominating figure in this market, hence you will never recover the cost difference.

  • There are quite a few “modern” style houses in West U. Why the panic now? This house is no better or worse looking than other houses in West U. Differences in opinion is why there is a horse race at Churchill Downs every year.

    Also, we use so much wood (read: pine) in our construction because we are right next to it. Why on earth would we use anything else? Proximity, ease of application and trade familiarity with wood frame installation has a lot to do with it.

    To all those that live in “old” houses, as I do, how is the knob & tube electrical holding up? 10 times painted over wood windows that need re-glazing? Old plumbing? Poor ventilation? Ship lap roof decking with 80 years worth of nails beaten in to it?

    Old might be cute but not always better.

    Give me a break, snobs.

  • Additionally, you’re very limited when building out of steel or concrete, engineering requirements limit the shape and interest in the house. The walls of the second floor HAVE to sit on another wall underneath and forget about turrets and towers (can be done but very difficult). Like it or not, in today’s market turrets and towers add interest to the elevation of the house and they sell!

  • I just found out my house is 56 years past its useful life. That makes me super green right? Too bad my vespa is distroying the ozone.

  • lol, stupid g-tab. Destroying*

  • I don’t know what I like better; the idea of a vegan restaurant called Greenie Weenie next to BRC or a builder called Logan’s Run Construction who puts a 30-year delay implosion device in the foundation for the day when the house is “no good anymore”.

  • From Mel:

    ” Most (not all) believe quality construction means a wet bar in the family room…”

    Geez, is that still happening? That sounds like my parents 1965 Kickerillo house.

  • I read this blog to remind myself how much people suck.

  • This might be the most useless rant section I’ve ever seen. No, wait…it is…

    Pot. Meet Kettle.

  • Which is more useless. A useless post, or a post pointing out the uselessness of the useless post. Hmmm.

  • Round and round we go. Which is the point.

  • Actually, while I am here correcting my bad spelling in a previous post…

    if only the owners had contacted swamplot advertiser Steel Master… apparently they could have built their house at a 70% price reduction.

  • I built the stucco home next door, it is not faux stucco. FYI the house I tore down was rotten and beyond saving or renovating, it was also only 900 sq ft. I also lived in another 1936 home on Centenary that was 1200 sq ft. The newer stucco home is over 3300 sq ft and was much more energy efficient, the utility bills we less than than they were on the 1200 sq ft house.

  • In the West Indies homes are built solid. The exterior walls are cinder block reinforced with rebar and filled with concrete.

    Stucco is applied to the exterior of the cinder block and a vibrant paint is applied to decorate the home.

    Now that oil money is seeping in to the islands more islanders are embleshing the trim of homes with better materials. Copper can be seen on flashings, wraught iron belly fences line patios, purposeful shutters are attached to the windows, etc.

    In my opinion, homes in the southern region of the US will change to suit an influx of foreign wealthy professionals. They bring their building practices which are sometimes more robust than the traditional wood frame structures we call homes.

  • Some of these comments are truly hilarious. It’s amazing how many people have NO IDEA what they are talking about, but man do they spout out nonsense as if they are experts. Very entertaining.

  • “The internet makes you stupid.”

  • Faux stucco is cheap. Lots of houses are built with faux stucco. Lots of people are cheap.

  • What do you consider Faux stucco? Stucco is a general term for a type of concrete mix smeared over metal lath nailed to plywood sheathing. It can have color mixed into it or pained afterward(lasts less but looks much better). The “Fake” stucco everyone has been complaining about over the years is EIFS which is very thin layer of concrete mix smeared over styrofoam. The problem with that application is that it traps moisture and rots the wood underneath.

  • I consider “faux stucco” the stuff you have to disclose when you sell your house. When I told, I had to have someone come out to certify the stucco on my 1927 house was the real deal. And guess what, no cracks 80 years later!

  • Not when I “told,” when I “sold.”

  • The people who throw up these boxy, thoughtless monstrosities on otherwise beautiful tree-lined streets full of decent looking homes should be publicly beaten for architectural laziness and lack of taste. This house and all the other giant cubes surrounded by 10-foot fences disgust me.

  • Am I the only one who thinks the renderings look like that old Dire Straits video, “I want my MTV?”

    I have nothing against metal clad houses, but this design doesn’t look very interesting. The lots in West U are so small that the new construction tends to end up very boxy.

  • This boxy “tin” house, a faux Tuscan and a 1920’s bungalow can ALL co-exist on a street if respect for the neighborhood is maintained.
    At the least this means meeting set-backs and quality of construction standards. But moreover, it means providing for songbirds in mature trees, space for young forest to secede, ability of the land to absorb rainwater, and space for people to see the sun, experience the weather and be connected to their natural world.

  • Joy,, those houses built so close together… well ,,, the recent rains shrunk the lots smaller but not the houses… just thought you might want to know.

    movocelot… a greenie weenie needs to be thrown out cause its past its expiration date..

    Emme… see greenie weenie comment… or you can come hunting for 1o million year old dinosaur artifacts on my property in west texas. We found a dinosaur boner said to be about a million years old.. or maybe it was 4 million.. who cares.. your house is still here dadgummit.