Mistakes to Avoid When Building a House

March
5
2014

 

As you know, we are going to be building our dream home.  It’s also our retirement home.  We are not, however,  following the usual “guidelines” for a retirement home, mostly because it’s going to be bigger than any home we’ve ever lived in.  Most people downsize.  We’re going the other way.  But as you look at the property, you can understand why.  It’s a big piece of land, it’s actually more of a “compound” at this point since the buildings are so spread out.  Most of our family and friends won’t be living nearby, and when people visit they’ll be staying over.  And we wanted to prepare for that.  We also like to have a yearly Bocce Party.  And that includes many, many family members and friends.  So, believe it or not, we also wanted to prepare for that. Plus on holidays we’ll have company that will stay over.  There’s been a lot of planning, and designing, and changing of plans so far, and we haven’t even started on the house yet!

Here's our split level house

Here’s our split level house

I saw an interesting article a while ago on freshome.com.  Have you checked out their site yet?  It’s an amazing site for anyone interested in building, designing or renovating.  It talked about mistakes people make when building a house.  We all spend a lot of time figuring out what we want and need, but do we look at it from the other angle?  What we really don’t need?  Of course budget usually leads the way, the money dictates not only the size of the house, but how upgraded it can be.  So planning for what you need AND what you don’t need is very important.  Here are some examples:

1.  Don’t over build or under build your HVAC system.

You could wind up with moisture and mold growth! Also, if your system is too small it won’t perform properly and your house will be too cold in the winter, and too warm in the summer.  On the other hand, if your system is too large, you will utilize too much energy and waste money when you don’t need to.

This was our house in PA

This was our house in PA

2.  Poor Space Planning and Overall Planning

The design and space planning of a house is very, very important.  You need to look at how you really live. We all need storage space, so you want to have enough, but you don’t want to build in so much that you take away floor space that could be better utilized as living space. Will you primarily come in the back door?  Maybe that’s where the coat closets should be, instead of at the front door. Also, you need to take your lifestyle and habits into consideration.  Will you need safety features as you’re getting older.  Will you have grandchildren often in the house?  Do you need safety features in place for that?  How about stairs, bathrooms?  Will you have guests often?  Placement of bathrooms becomes very important when you think about it this way.

This is the house I grew up in, and the people changed it so much it looks NOTHING like it used to!

This is the house I grew up in, and the people changed it so much it looks NOTHING like it used to! And where did that fire hydrant come from?

3.  Poor lighting

There should be plenty of light fixtures and outlets.  And also plenty of windows!  Natural light should be the main source of light, but having a well-lit home, especially as we age, is also extremely important.

4.  Under utilized rooms

Having a game room or a home-theater room sounds like a fun idea.  But how often will you use it?  If you are buying a home that has a game room or a theater room already -  and we see these often on House Hunters on HGTV – that’s one thing.  But when you are building a home, especially a retirement home, every square foot counts.  And paying $150 to $200 a square foot brings you to the reality that these rooms would be used a few times a year and might not be worth what they cost.  Now maybe for some of you, it will be worth it.  But that’s what you have to decide ahead a time.  I was thinking I’d want an exercise room in our new home.  But the reality is with all the other spaces that I really wanted – a large pantry, a mudroom, a laundry room, an office for John and a separate one for me, and a craft room – the exercise room just became one room too many.

The house John grew up in.  Also looks completely different now.  Better than mine looks though!

The house John grew up in. Also looks completely different now. Better than mine looks though!

5. Placement of your Laundry Room, the Master Bedroom, the Kitchen and the Garage.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but in every house I’ve lived in these rooms were not strategically placed.  I’ve never had a “real” laundry room, and I usually have had to carry laundry up and down several sets of stairs to the basement.  I’m in a split-level right now, so it’s three sets of stairs!

Our bedroom – in the many homes we’ve lived in – has usually been upstairs like ours is right now.  It is also just above the garage, so it is not only frequently noisy if the garage is opened, but it is somewhat  very cold.  In our new home, of course, the master will be on the main floor, but we want to place it as far away from the noise and traffic as possible.

The kitchen/garage placement is extremely important.  These days I’ve mostly seen it placed correctly, the kitchen is off the mudroom and/or off the garage.  That’s how our new one will be.  But yet, there have been places we’ve lived where the kitchen was not near the garage, and carrying groceries in was not all that convenient   a real pain.

This house, by architect Dan Sater, is what we'd like our new house to resemble.

This house, by architect Dan Sater, is what we’d like our new house to resemble.

These are just a few ideas to think about when you are planning to build your dream home.  And while it’s very important to discuss all these issues with the professionals you hire as your “team” – it is more important for you to decide what YOU need and don’t need.

Modular Construction

January
30
2014

 

We are in the middle of construction here at our house in New Jersey.  We’re still shooting for an early May target date to put the house on the market and move to the Crab Shack while it is being shown.  We hope to have most of our belongings packed up and moved to the garage in Maryland, not to leave house empty, but to de-clutter and save ourselves all the packing and moving in a rush when the house is sold.

Then, in the middle of all this mess in the house, and having only one working bathroom, my daughter came home from VA for two days. She took off from work so we could go to “Media Day” on Tuesday and Super Bowl Boulevard on Wednesday!  Did I mention I’m not really a football fan?  But she and John are, and my son is somewhat of a fan, at least more than I am, but three of us are Peyton Manning fans.  (Jackson’s rooting for Seattle. Puh!)

So anyway, I want to start talking about modular construction.  This will probably take up a few posts, and I hope I will hear from you about it — if you have a modular home, or know someone who does,  know nothing about it, or even if you would never consider building this way. I’m very interested to hear all sides of this debate.

Icon Legacy Custom Modular Homes 222.iconlegacy.com

Icon Legacy Custom Modular Homes
www.iconlegacy.com

Here’s an article introducing you to the modular design, originally written on Fresh Home (freshome.com)

10 Basic Facts You Should Know About Modular Homes

What is a Modular Home?

A modular home is one that is built indoors in a factory-like setting. The finished products are covered and transported to their new locations where they will be assembled by a builder. A modular home is not a mobile home; it is simply a home that is built off-site as opposed to on-site. These homes are often called factory-built homes, system-built  or pre-fab homes.  Modular and Manufactured homes are NOT the same. Manufactured homes are not placed on permanent foundations. Manufactured homes, sometimes referred to as mobile homes, but are not always mobile homes, can be moved from one location to another. There are specific laws and regulations regarding these relocations.  Thanks to publications such as Dwell, the popularity of the modular home is growing.

Pinecrest Modular Homes www.pinecrestmodularhomes.com (Long Island Modular Homes)

Pinecrest Modular Homes
www.pinecrestmodularhomes.com
(Long Island Modular Homes)

How do Modular Homes Differ from Houses Built On-Site?

Because modular homes are built indoors they can be completed in a matter of a few weeks as opposed to months. These home constructions do not see the typical on-site delays that are predominantly caused by the weather. Modular homes must conform to specific rules, guidelines and building codes that often surpass those of traditional on-site homes. However, it is important to shop around. Not all companies that make factory-built homes are alike. There can be significant differences in quality, price and service.  As with purchasing or building any home, it is crucial to do your research.

Modular Home Facts

  • Modular homes appraise the same as their on-site built counterparts do. They do not depreciate in value.
  • Modular homes can be customized.
  • Most modular home companies have their own in-house engineering departments that utilize CAD (Computer Aided Design).
  • Modular home designs vary in style and size.
  • Modular construction can also be used for commercial applications including office buildings.
  • Modular homes are permanent structures – “real property.”
  • Modular homes can be built on the following on crawl spaces and basements.
  • Modular homes are considered a form of “Green Building.”
  • Modular homes are faster to build than a 100% site-built home.
  • Home loans for modular are the same as if buying a 100% site-built home.
  • Insuring your modular home is the same as a 100% site-built home.
  • Taxes on a modular home are the same as 100% site-built home.
  • Modular homes can be built to withstand 175 mph winds.
  • Modular homes can be built for accessible living and designed for future conveniences.

 

Do All Modular Homes Look Alike?

Contrary to popular misconception, modular homes do not all look alike. Modular homes have no design limitations. You can create any modular style home you wish from a traditional center hall colonial to one that is Mediterranean in style.  You can add any style window or architectural detail that you desire. Nearly all host plans can be turned into modular homes, and you can therefore create your “dream home.”

How is a Modular Home Assembled?

A factory-built home starts out as sections that have already been built in a climate controlled area. The finished sections are transported to the building site and then assembled with giant cranes. This process quite resembles a child building with Lego blocks. Modular homes cannot be moved after they have been placed and set on to their foundations. It is important to talk to your manufacturer as each manufacturer operates with a different set of guidelines. If you are designing your own home, it is important that you ask very specific questions. Modular homes offer hundreds of personalized features that include but are not limited to: ceramic floors, solid surface countertops, various cabinet styles and wood species, exterior finishes, plumbing fixtures, etc. You can, essentially, customize your own home.

Westchester Modular Homes of Greater Boston, Inc. info.greaterbostonmodulars.com

Westchester Modular Homes of Greater Boston, Inc.
info.greaterbostonmodulars.com

Are Modular Homes More or Less Expensive than Those Built On Site?

Pre-fab homes can typically save you quite a bit of money.  Because they are constructed in a factory they can be built fairly quickly, a matter of weeks as opposed to months, which can be quite significant. The reason for this is that there are no extreme weather delays. Furthermore all inspections are performed at the factories during each phase of construction by a third-party inspector, and are completed before the homes are transported to their new locations.

It is important to note, however, the more complex the design and specs, the more money your home will cost you. Other factors to consider such as electricity, plumbing, duct-work are often not factored into the initial pricing, so your final cost may be 20% more than what the builder is quoting you. You may need to install a septic system, install natural gas or a basement, these too will add to your bottom line.

Quality Crafted Homes (a division of Custom Modular Homes of Long Island) www.qualitycraftedhomesonline.com

Quality Crafted Homes
(a division of Custom Modular Homes of Long Island)
www.qualitycraftedhomesonline.com

What are the Benefits of Owning a Modular Home?

Modular homes can be more affordable. Their shorter build time will save you money on the overall construction. Home inspections are not needed as these are all done in factory. They are much more energy-efficient, therefore your monthly expenses will be substantially less. Modular homes are environmentally friendly due to their efficiency. There are a great variety of homes from which to choose, there are many top architects that specialize in designing modular homes. As with any home, modular homes can be built on to and expanded.

A homeowner must own the land onto which the home will reside. In many cases one may end up spending upwards of $100,000 just for the land. Unlike regular homes, the lots cannot be built on subdivisions. The initial fees can be cost prohibitive for some. When building a modular home the builder must be paid first, and in full, before the process has begun or has been completed. You will need to use your savings or get a special construction loan.

This loan is valid for one year and when the work is completed the dealer will pay the loan, then a traditional mortgage will be issued. It is therefore important that you know your budget and shop around. It is important that the rules I have mentioned here apply to US residents. If you live in Canada or in Europe you will need to check your country’s guidelines.

It’s all very interesting, I think, and definitely something to consider.  I’ll be back to this discussion again, and I hope I’ll hear from you whether you’d consider building this way or not.

 

Baby Boomer Housing Trends

January
21
2014

Here’s a good article by the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders).  They say that baby boomers dominate new housing trends.  And if we are any indication – being both baby boomers, and on our way to building our retirement home, then what they are saying is very true!  See if you agree.

The largest American generation is either retired or quickly nearing retirement age. Baby boomers, the generation born between 1946 and 1964 and who count more than 76 million, may be getting older, but they are definitely not ready to head to an elder care facility! 

I love this design!

I love this design!

The boomer generation is more active than generations past, has a more sophisticated style and wants options and choices in their homes. Whether they are selling the homes where they raised their children and heading to sunnier pastures, or staying put and redesigning to accommodate their retired lifestyle, boomers are making an impact on new housing trends. Some features that home builders and re-modelers are seeing as they begin to cater to the boomers include:

Home Offices – Many, many boomers are continuing to work past the age of 65 either because they love their work, or because their retirement savings lost value in the recession. As they transition from a traditional 9-to-5 job, however, many want home offices for flexibility. A second career or part-time employment often eliminates the hassle of commuting while keeping them active and bringing in supplementary income.   

Technology – The tech-savvy boomer generation wants a home that will support all their personal technology. That can mean structured wiring that can drive a network of services that include lighting controls, a security system or a home media center. And they may want a wireless home network with broadband internet access for laptops, tablets and streaming movies.  

Wider Doors and Hallways – Designing a home that is livable now but can transition and be functional as the occupant ages is important in ensuring that the home will be a good long-term investment. Wider doors and hallways are useful for moving larger furniture today, and will allow the home owners to use mobility devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, should they become necessary.

Better Lighting/Bigger Windows – The need for more lighting increases as we grow older. To accommodate this, builders are adding more windows, making them larger to let in more natural light, and making them more energy-efficient as well. They are also adding more light fixtures in areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, and stairways, where dim light can lead to accidental injury. Switches at the top and bottom of a stairwell, and the use of dimmer controls to eliminate glare are other helpful options.

This one from Great Falls Construction is also beautiful!

This one from Great Falls Construction is also beautiful!

First-Floor Bedrooms and Bathrooms – NAHB data shows that 73 percent of buyers aged 55 and up don’t want a second-floor master suite. Boomers wishing to save their joints and avoid stairs have helped fuel this trend. Today’s bedrooms are also bigger, with larger walk-in closets and bathrooms that often have a separate tub and shower and dual sinks.

Easy to Maintain Exteriors/Landscaping Yard work, painting, and other landscaping chores may no longer be enjoyable to aging home owners. People who move to a new home when they retire may opt for a maintenance-free community. Those that choose to stay in their homes might make improvements to exterior surfaces such as installing stucco, brick or low-maintenance siding. Lawns are being replaced with outdoor rooms, decorative landscaping, or flower beds for gardening enthusiasts — either at ground level or raised for seated access.

Our new house will be similar to this design by Dan Sater.

Our new house will be similar to this design by Dan Sater.

Flex Space – Flexible space has become more prevalent in both new homes and remodeling. Flex spaces are rooms that serve the present home owner’s needs but can adjust to changes as they occur. What may have once started out as a child’s bedroom can be redecorated to serve as a hobby room, library or home office, and can be repurposed later for a bedroom for visiting grandchildren or for an in-home caregiver. This flexibility allows home owners to stay in their homes longer, meeting their needs throughout life’s stages.

We will actually be following all of these examples.  We plan on having two home offices, we’ll keep our master on the first floor,  our home will be more technologically advanced, the doorways will be wider, the lighting and amount of windows will be greater, and we plan on keeping the grounds as low maintenance as we possibly can.  I was also planning on adding closets to the room that will be dedicated to storage, qualifying as flex space because it could then be turned into a bedroom if needed one day.  We’ll be going against the tide in a way, since we will not be downsizing, but we will still be following what will be the norm for the baby boomer generation.  Will you be following these guidelines also?

December sky in the backyard.

December sky in the backyard.

Beautiful vs. Practical

November
6
2013

When I did my post on kitchen sinks, I actually was going to start writing about a post I read regarding a square sink.  The inside was totally squared off, and people were weighing in on whether it was worth it because it was such a pain to clean.  One person commented she would take beauty over easy any day.  And that got me thinking that I was probably the opposite.

Maybe it’s because after 30 some years of marriage and motherhood I’d rather take an easier route.  But if I want to be honest here, I think I was always that way.  I just think things should be practical.  Don’t get me wrong, I love beautiful also.  Both would be nice, but if I had to choose?  I think practical would win.  For instance, let’s go back to sinks for a minute.  There is a style of sink that is totally squared off inside.  It’s an interesting look, but I’ve read it is very difficult to clean in the corners.

square sink

square sink3

square sink2

This last picture actually shows (to me anyway) how it can get gunked up at the bottom.  Beautiful design? Yes.  Practical? No!

There are other applications that I also would choose the practical, like for instance the rope handrails.  As you know, we will be building a house on the water.  And yes, we love the beachy theme.  Rope handrails would fit right in as a design element.  But could you even use them as an actual handrail?  Can you lean on them to any extent?  Or, when you’ve just been through knee surgery and need to hold on for dear life going up and down the stairs, will a rope actually do the job?   Okay, that was me recently, but I digress.  Here are some examples:

rope stair rail

rope stair rail2

rope stair rail3

Again, beautiful, but I’ll stay with the normal a/k/a practical.

The next item, and this is something I have to admit I have never understood, is the “for show” towels in the bathroom.  I mean, really, what’s the point and how am I supposed to dry my hands?  Yes, sometimes people put out the little paper towel holders, we can each take our own little paper napkin so we don’t spread germs.  But here are gorgeous matching towels hanging on a beautiful towel rack, just asking to be used, and I can’t touch them for fear of messing them up.

towels2

Towelstowels3

I get it, I really do, and I’m only half serious.  I’m somewhat of a germaphobe myself, so I understand how useful it is that we all get our own little paper napkin.  But people don’t actually live like this with towels hanging just for show, do they?  Do you?  We don’t.  We have one big towel hanging for people to dry their hands on after they wash them.  The hands are clean at that point, right?  Do people live like that when company isn’t around?  I’ve always wondered that.

I also have issues with a product that, I have to admit, I have chosen the “beautiful” in the Crab Shack.  Glass shower doors.  In my present older home, we haven’t completely redone either bathroom, one has glass doors but it’s that old-fashioned patterned type of glass that doesn’t have to be wiped down every time, so not the same.  In the Crab Shack we wanted the clear glass that is shown all over now, and is truly beautiful.  But…. come on, you’ve got to agree with me here, it’s a total pain to squeegee it down all the time!  I try to get into the shower before John does sometimes just so I won’t have to do it!  (Don’t tell him.)

glass shower doors2

glass shower doors

We’re trying to come up with ideas for when we build the house.  We’ve tossed around the idea of glass blocks (John just loves these, me… not as much) or a curved type of tile wall with no actual door.  Do you have any ideas for us on this issue?   There are some frosted or patterned glass doors, maybe they wouldn’t show the water as much:

glass shower door frosted2

glass shower door frosted

But, yeah, they’re not the same.  I really haven’t come up with a solution to this yet, but I really, really, really don’t want to be cleaning those glass doors every morning!  I have better things to do, like go fishing, or kayaking, or reading, or cooking, or writing, or thinking or watching tv or having my teeth pulled.  Okay, not that.  But you get what I’m saying.

I’d go for the practical.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Am I the only one?

Thank you to “Houzz” for all the pictures.

 

Let’s Talk Kitchen Sinks

October
23
2013

 

 

I was browsing around the Houzz site the other day, when I saw a discussion about sinks.  I haven’t decided yet on what type of sink I want to install in the kitchen of our new house, (although I know I want just the one bowl, very large and deep) and I’d love to hear your opinions on what you have, and why you love it or hate it.

In the Crab Shack I have a stainless steel sink, and here at my present home I have a Corian sink, since we have Corian counters and I wanted a totally seamless design. (This kitchen was put in over 20 years ago, and Corian was a big upgrade.  I didn’t realize how much I would have loved granite!)  In other places we’ve lived I’ve also had stainless and clay, now updated to be called “fireclay.”  I suspect all of them have their good points and bad points.  There are some new materials I didn’t know about though, or didn’t realize were being used as sinks.   Here’s a rundown:

Stainless Steel: this is the most popular material for a sink by far.  Many people have it and love it. I have it in the Crab Shack because Lowe’s gave it to me free with the Granite counter top.  (Yes, we bought the counter top at Lowe’s.  It was the same one as in the kitchen store we were looking in, for about half the price.)  I’m going to admit something here because we’re buds and I know you won’t judge me too harshly….   I hate stainless steel.  There I said it.  And the ceiling didn’t fall in.  I just cannot stand the fingerprints.  It never looks clean, even after it’s just been cleaned. The sink has marks that look like scratches and constantly shows water spots. I want to love it, it looks so professional. But I just don’t want to spend that much time trying, without too much luck, to keep it shiny and finger-print free.  And no, my mind hasn’t really changed.  This will be an issue in my new kitchen.  I’ve already planned on getting the refrigerator with the panels that look like the cabinets (I have that now and love it!!) but I’ll probably be getting a stainless dishwasher, double oven and microwave.  But not a stainless sink, that’s for sure.

Stainless Steel

Stainless Apron

Composite Granite: These sinks are 80% granite and 20% acrylic resin.   They are supposed to be very durable and come in a variety of hues. They have been known to crack during shipment, so it must be inspected carefully when it arrives.  It’s only available in matte and the finish can dull over time, but people have noted that this adds to the personality of it, and it’s not a “bad” thing.  The dark colors seem to be the overwhelming favorite because they don’t show the spots. It’s been recommended to clean and dry it with a dishcloth every night, which seems like too much work, (the drying, not the cleaning)  but again, people have noted that it’s not that big a deal, and with the darker colors, this isn’t even necessary.  These sinks are very pretty, I’m adding it to my list of possibilities.

Composite Granite

 Fireclay:  These clay sinks are highly resistant to scratches but can stain and chip!  Cleanup, however, is easy.  If you want a white sink, this material comes highly recommended.  It is mostly seen in the “Farmhouse” or apron style sinks.  It doesn’t come in a large variety of sizes, although I wouldn’t think this would be an issue.  It is very heavy, and would need adequate support and it’s not “friendly” to dropped dishes.  I’m probably not going with this one.

Fireclay apron sink

Enameled Cast Iron:  This sink is smooth, glossy and shiny, which gives it some appeal.  It won’t crack or dent, but I don’t think most sinks would dent.  (Maybe stainless)  It would be a consideration if you know you want a white sparkly sink.  (Although other colors are available.) It is also very durable, but can chip, and show stains and nicks.  Some people have said it shows pot “scrapes” and it is very, very heavy!  This (like the clay sink) will not be one of my choices.

cast iron

Natural Stone:  There are a couple of different “stone” sinks on the market, I hadn’t heard about them before but they are beautiful.  Like all the other options however, they have pros and cons.

Soapstone -  This sink is non-porous and unaffected by heat, bacteria and stains. It’s a little “softer” than other materials so some care has to be taken with it because it could get scratched or nicked.   I’ve read it’s not easy to install, but compared to the heavy cast iron or clay sinks, how hard could it be?  Also, I’ve read it’s not cheap.  But who wants a cheap sink?  If you buy cheap, you get cheap, that’s my motto.  (Well, it is now.)  The one thing in its favor is it’s absolutely beautiful!  I’m going to have white cabinets and this sink would be just gorgeous!  I wasn’t thinking about getting soapstone counters though, I was thinking granite.  And with the veining in the granite, do I need a sink with veining also?  I’ll put it on my list as a possibility for now.

soapstone sink

Slate -  I did not even realize this was a sink material.  However, it is resistant to fading, burning and scratching.  And custom designs can be sand blasted into it to make a truly custom look.  This feature would only be helpful if you have having the apron type sink, which I am not leaning towards, but am still undecided about.  It is a material that will last forever, and people have written it keeps its beauty, and even if it got a nick or two, it’s hardly visible.  The etching on this one is adorable, especially since our house is on the water, and we love the “water” theme.

Slate Sink

slate

Quartz -  This sink is made from 70% quartz and 30% resin filler.  It is a step below the granite composite in terms of wear and durability, but still a good choice.  It is resistant to dings, dents and stains, but the darker ones tend to show scratches more than the lighter colors, on ones with more of a pattern.  It would be a good choice if you’re using quartz countertops and want a seemless look.

Quartz

 

 

quartz.2

 

Copper:  Copper comes in various thicknesses like stainless, and that will be reflected in the price.It’s easy to shape so can come in a wide variety of sizes.  It is anti microbial, which is good, but people have written they would be worried about the copper leaching into food, such as vegetables soaking in the sink.  The finish will almost certainly change over time, this could be either a pro or a con, depending on how you feel about that.  For me it’s a con, the copper is pretty when it’s brand new, but I don’t like the change.  The thinner variety can dent and scratch.  The hammered sink is very pretty, in my opinion, but I don’t think this is one product that I will consider.

CopperCopper.2

The last two sinks I looked into and have pictures of are tile and hand painted.  But these, along with glass sinks, are better left as a “show” sink in the powder room.  Yes, they are beautiful and different, but keeping them clean and free of dings would be difficult in the hard-working kitchen area.

Tile -

Tiletiled sink

Hand painted -

Hand Paintedpainted

 

Well, suffice it to say today we have many, many choices when it comes to kitchen sinks.  It’s overwhelming at times.  But by narrowing it down, and doing a little research, and by being honest about how much you are willing to clean, or live with in terms of water spots or nicks, you and I  will finally figure out which one is the best choice.  I hope.

 

“What Your Contractor Can’t Tell You”

August
14
2013

Book Review

 

I was surprised to learn that you can expect to make 1500 decisions when you are building a new home.  Scary!  Especially when you don’t really like making decisions anyway! The author tells us, “Your choices are infinite when you start, so design is more a process of de-selecting than selecting.” The author, Amy Johnston, guides us through this process.  She says owners will be entering a culture that is much less straight forward than it appears, and everyone in that culture knows more than we do. And added to that are all the new relationships, deadlines, quality standards and more money than we’ve spent on probably anything else, and it becomes a huge undertaking that most people don’t know how to prepare for, and few have wanted to tell us. Until now.

If you are planning on building a house, (and by building I mean hiring contractors and builders to do the actual work) or even if you are just thinking about building your dream home, this book is a must to have on hand.  Ms Johnston says, “This book is not about how to swing a hammer, or even how to be your own general contractor.  It is about how to be a savvy consumer of design and construction services and a competent participant in your own project.” And she does not disappoint.

Her advice covers how to start a project, including picking the people on your team, from bankers to surveyors. It also talks about the project plan, how to keep good notes and information, and how to distinguish between needs and wants.  She also suggests (and this really is great advice) be true to yourself and the way you really live, accept your own lifestyle.  For instance, if you spend the evenings watching TV (like we do), don’t make the fireplace the focal point in the room the TV is in.  And I don’t know about you, but I can’t really understand the TV over the fireplace design element.  I would think your neck would hurt by the end of the evening, plus it seems to “take away” from both items!

My well used book

My well used book

Ms. Johnston suggests not to ignore the tried and true.  Yes, newer and sometimes even more efficient designs, materials, supplies and equipment come on the market every day, some are great, but some will be off the market in a few years.  You don’t want to try to replace a broken part or find someone to fix it then, which is especially true in heating and air conditioning.

She discusses and helps with how to work together as a couple and make more balanced choices, how to provide more details so the project runs smoother and how to work well with a contractor and/or architect.  Also, what gets you the most bang for your buck, and cost estimating and budgets.  She talks about contract structures (I spoke about that in a previous post), putting the contract out to bid, insurance, rules for change orders (there are 4 kinds), permits and the way to monitor your project.  Her advice is invaluable and will save you both time and money.  And hopefully, you (and I) will be a more educated homeowner, and wind up with a project that runs much more smoothly than it would have.

Enjoy the sunset.

 

Sunset on the Little Choptank River

Sunset on the Little Choptank River

One or Two Stories?

July
27
2013

I’ve just had knee surgery.  And this has started me thinking about how many stories our new house should be. But here’s the problem…. I already have house plans!  It has taken me years to come up with house plans I am happy with.  Literally, years. (And don’t think I didn’t drive everyone around here crazy talking about it, and pondering, and questioning and even arguing.) It’s been a long process.   I searched online, and you know how many plans there are to look at?  Hundreds of thousands.  I searched in books,  which I bought new or second-hand.  I searched in the library. And I’ve been to many open houses.  Finally, I took all the different plans I saved, and I came up with my own.  (This was no small feat.) Then we had a residential draftsman draw them up. Finally, after years of research and drawings and conversations, we’re all done, right?  And now I’ve had knee surgery.  And I’m wondering, do I want a two-story house?

This is the kind of house I'd be looking at

This is the kind of house I’d be looking at

 

And this one!

And this one!

 

We’re building on the water, so we already need the house to be raised up in case of flooding. So we already have one set of stairs just to get in the house. In our present floor plans I have the spare bedrooms on the second floor, plus my office and a craft room.  I can change the craft room I think, and put it in the garage, although then I am left with an extra room.  I originally wanted that room to be a storage room, so I guess I could go back to that.  That wouldn’t make me unhappy, but when you’re paying for every square foot that’s being built, having an extra storage room might not be the best use of our money. So if we say yeah, that can go back to storage,  now we have the two guest bedrooms and a storage room up stairs, not places I’d have to go on a daily basis.

But now we’re onto what the main issue would be…. my office.   This is a place I WOULD go to, not just every day, but many times during the day.   Originally my thoughts were -  we are more active down there, the water and openness just lends itself to being outside more, so there’s more walking, more gardening, more kayaking, more bocce playing.  (Ah, we can’t wait!)   And I figured stairs wouldn’t be an issue. But what if?  That’s the big question.  What if?

Dan Sater design, a beautiful house for a waterfront home

Dan Sater design, a beautiful house for a waterfront home

Do I change years of work and start over drawing up a one story house?  We both definitely want a “widow’s walk” on top of the house, would that look silly on a one story?  And truthfully, I’ve never been that crazy about ranch houses, although I do think architects and draftspeople are making them look better now.  They don’t look as much like a train, all flat and low.  Do we just keep the house the way it is, and hope we won’t run into any kind of health issues that would hinder our doing stairs?  Should I just redo the floor plans somewhat, leave the upstairs with two bedrooms (thereby considerably altering the design of the house) but move my office downstairs somewhere?

So many designs and floor plans for “retirement” homes are one story, and many also have a “universal” design, with wider doorways to accommodate wheelchairs, or railings in the bathrooms.  It makes sense. And we’ll probably incorporate some of these designs into the house. But it’s difficult to realize we’ll be in the position one day where stairs may just prove to be too difficult.

For now, since we’re still a year away from building, we decided we’ll get a price to build the plans we presently have, and then we’ll go from there.  But stay tuned, things could change any minute.

 

Ten Things to Discuss with your Contractor

July
24
2013

I saw an article on Houzz today, written by Anne Higuera CGR, CAPS, that I thought was very germane to my blog. She lists things to discuss with your contractor before you start any job, big or small.  People wrote in to add their own suggestions, like discuss his or her clean up policy, and ask who will be responsible for minor fixes if any damage occurs during the job. Some people suggested discussing on-site ”behavior”, one crew brought their dog to the site, and others arrived at 6 a.m., and of course we’ve all had the workers who blast the radio the minute they arrive.  All touchy subjects, but if they are of concern to you, discuss them up front.  The main suggestion was the most important, I think: KNOW your contractor.  Get his license number and insurance number.  Get referrals and call them up! Check if your state posts licenses and complaints, see if you can learn anything there. You will have these people around for a while, and if you’re building a house, like we will be, they will be around for a long, long time.  Discussing issues up front, or as soon as they come up will go a long way to having a smooth, successful reno or build.  Here is Anne’s article:

Remodeling or building a new home is a big financial and emotional investment. It can also be a big investment of your time if you want to be closely involved in the decision-making. Knowing what to expect before the project gets started will help you better prepare for the process. Here are 10 questions you should always ask your contractor before starting a home remodeling project.

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1. What is our schedule? A schedule is more than   just a start and end date. Having a schedule that outlines tasks and timing   will give you a big-picture view of sequencing and deadlines for things such   as tile and countertops. It will also give you a benchmark so that you know   if things are slipping by a day or two.With small projects such as kitchens and baths, schedule is everything. The   cabinet lead time determines the start date and sub-trades need to be scheduled in quick succession, for instance. Don’t start without a schedule that tells you what days and times workers will be on site.

2. Who will be here every day? Depending on the size and structure of the company you hire, the answer could vary widely. Many remodelers use a  lead carpenter system, where a staff member (sometimes called a superintendent) is responsible for day-to-day work on site, and often swings a hammer as well. Ask your contractor direct questions about who will be responsible for opening and locking up, who will supervise subcontractors on site and who to call on a daily basis with any questions.

3. How will you protect my property?This is a conversation best had before demolition, not after you come home and find dust all over the house.There are a number of dust-containment measures that can be taken, and talking about it ahead of time will provide you will a clear idea of how the construction area will be cordoned off from the rest of your home and how you’ll be able to move through your house.

There’s also the issue of stuff — all the books, furniture, drapes, delicate vases and paintings on the wall.It’s helpful to remove them all from the construction zone. This includes anything hung on walls or sitting on shelves in adjacent rooms, since they can shake loose from persistent hammering.If you leave them as-is, it will cost to have them moved and moved again to keep them out of the way, and you risk damage in the process.It’s better to move it all at once and know it’s safe and sound.

4. How will you communicate with me? With every   mode of electronic communication at your fingertips, you may have some ideas   about how you would like to receive information about your project. Your   contractor likely has specific ways he or she likes to communicate, too — daily emails, cloud-based schedules or maybe just phone calls.Make sure you   understand how you will be contacted and receive information. If the contractor’s format doesn’t give you what you think you’ll need, agree on a   method and format so that you’re not in remodeling limbo on a daily basis.   Weekly meetings at a specific time are an effective way to make sure you see   your contractor in person to get your questions answered.

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5. What part of my project concerns you? There’s always something unknown about a project, or an area that is most likely to trigger an immediate change order. Odds are, your contractor already knows what that is. Talking about it upfront and running some worst-case-scenario numbers or doing some early, selective demolition to get more information could be the best way to get a handle on what may be ahead.

6. What will happen if there is a change order? Change orders can be easily handled in your construction contract. A common way to document change orders is in writing, where the change in scope of work and the price are noted and signed by the client and contractor. Some contracts also note the change in schedule, if applicable. Make sure you have a plan in place to document the unexpected and expected changes that happen along the way.

7. How will you let me know I need to make a decision? There are many ways to organize a list of decisions — from spreadsheets, to lists, to notes on a calendar. But all of these methods focus on the same outcome: giving you clear direction about what and when you need to make a decision on something. Asking for a list and deadlines will help you keep organized and ensure you are able to shop for materials and make decisions in time to meet your contractor’s schedule.

8. How do I reach you after hours? Knowing how to reach your contractor on an emergency basis is just as important as your contractor being able to reach you. Exchange all your numbers — work, cell and landline — so that contacting each other won’t be a crisis in itself.

Little Choptank Feb 18, 09 007

9. When do I need to be available to meet? Even if you set up a regular weekly meeting, there may still be necessary additional meetings.We usually schedule an electrical walk-through on the day the electrician sets boxes and can lights so that everyone can review their placement and function before wires are run. Another key day is when the tile-setter works on layout .There are a number of ways to set tile, and having an on-site meeting is the best way to make these decisions. It’s also possible to have your architect or designer attend those meetings in your place.

10. What kind of documentation will I receive when the project is done? Contracts frequently call out end-of-project paperwork — lien releases, marked-up plans with as-builts on plumbing and other utilities, copies of inspection reports, etc. But there may be additional items you will find valuable: a full set of mechanical photos before insulation is installed, the operating manuals for installed equipment (and a personal lesson in their operation if you don’t know the basics), a list of subcontractors and contact info, care for things such as countertops and tile and a well-marked electrical panel. Confirming that you will receive these things before you get started will help ensure   that you finish the project with all the information you need.

 

We were very happy with our builder for the garage and crab shack, but since then he and his family decided to move to Vermont!  So, when we start the house, we will be back to interviewing and vetting new contractors, and this information will be extremely handy.

Do you have any other advice, or any good (or bad) stories about your contractor to share?  We’d love to hear them.

 

Builder’s Contracts

July
15
2013

When we first decided to build our retirement house, we were sort of naive.  Sure, like most people, we’ve had some construction done on the different houses we’ve lived in, some renovating here and there.  But a whole house?

In our case, we started with the garage, then went onto the “crab shack”- which of course is a house, although a small one.  It was a good thing actually  that we did do our plan that way, because when we start on the house – probably next year -  we will be so much wiser!

Little Choptank copy 020

We didn’t realize, for instance, that there are different kinds of contracts you can negotiate with a builder.  According to Amy Johnston in her book, “What Your Contractor Can’t Tell You,” (a book I will be reviewing soon), there are about 5 or 6 different types, but to me, many are the same as each other, and some aren’t really “contracts”- but ways of building your house, such as Design/Build – which is you go to one company and they do it all, from designing the house to building it.  Or Modular Construction, where you buy from a manufacturer that builds the house in a factory, again, an option for building, but to me, not a contract with a builder to stick-build your house.  Another option Ms. Johnston mentions is Build-to-Suit.  This is where you buy a developer’s lot, usually in a community, and have a choice from houses that the developer builds.  You can customize it a bit, but basically the plan is already set.  Two that come to mind that are this type are Toll Brothers, and K Hovnanian Homes.  But again, this doesn’t seem like a “builder’s contract” to us.

Little Choptank Aug. 7-14, 09 001wtmk

For the way we want to build, there are two kinds of contracts; Time and Materials, and Fixed Bid. (Meaning we come up with the plans for the house, either from online or have a draftsperson or architect do them, then interview a few different builders, then have each one come up with a price for building the house.)

The Time and Materials type of bid, in our opinion, mostly favors the builder.  It basically is based on the number of hours it will take the builder to finish the project, plus the cost of the materials you specify. The small advantage for the owner is that he will pay for only the actual time worked.  Some of these contracts come with a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) which is a little help for the homeowner.  It specifies the contractor agrees not to go beyond a certain price. The builder may then have allowances for any unknown issues.  Also, a time limit may be written in to the contract, and the builder actually has to pay you if the job takes much, much longer than written into the contract.  Not one builder of the many we spoke with agreed with that portion of the contract.  There are too many variables to predict a building timeline, but I guess if you had to be out of your present place and into your new place, this might be an option you would want to think about adding in.

We actually used the Time and Materials contract when we had the garage built.  And believe it or not, the project came in under budget.  However, it is only a garage… and there aren’t appliances in there that I would want to upgrade, a situation that is all too common when building a house.

We also used it with the Crab Shack, since it had gone so well with the garage.  Well, this was a completely different story, and also the reason why we would not use a Time and Materials contract again.  Yes, we upgraded things as we went along, something we realized always happens.  Really, always.  Then, parts of the metal roofing were missing, and the first go-round they sent the wrong thing.  But our builder had his guys working on it, installing it before realizing it wasn’t the right pieces, and of course, we paid for that time.  Other situations like that happened.  Time adds up very quickly and adds a lot to the total cost.

The Fixed Price Bid includes the cost of performing the work, purchase of materials, plus the mark-up for overhead and profit. With this contract, we feel the advantage is more with the homeowner, since you know the cost up front, and no matter how long it takes the builder to fix issues, the price stays the same.  The disadvantage for the builder is if the job runs long, or if he has underestimated the cost.  If you have a good relationship with your builder and trust him or her, this won’t be an issue, but some contractor’s have been known to use lesser grade materials than stipulated to save costs and increase profits.  No matter what, it helps to be on site regularly to check on the work.

Stipulations can also be built-in to this type of contract, for instance, the specific schedule, or a reporting schedule, where the builder sends regular updates on work completed and even pictures.  We did this with the Crab Shack, but we plan to be living IN the Crab Shack while the house is being built, so we’ll have the advantage of seeing what’s going on every day!

With this Fixed Price Bid, the builder gives you “allowances” for your appliances and other items that must be decided upon.  I have to admit, I didn’t get what this meant at all.  I figured, it’s our money, why does the builder give me an allowance?  But I found out that you let him know up front the range you are willing to spend for your appliances, etc. and after he quotes a total price,  then he lets you know later how much you have allotted for those appliances.  I know, still kind of sketchy.  Say for instance, you specify, “medium grade granite” for the countertops, then later, when the kitchen is ready to be built, he tells you how much money you can spend on the countertops.  I guess it’s helpful, but when you go to actually chose the granite (or whatever), that’s when you (meaning I) usually decide to upgrade.

Here is the first draft of our house plans.  We’ve changed it twice already, and we already have some more changes to make.  We’ll probably do that another time or two before we’re ready to build.  You always think of things later that you should have added, or taken away, and we have the luxury of having the time to come up with the best plans we can.  And get the best contract we can.  The more decisions you have made, the better.  For you, and for the builder.

floor_plans_1st_lookI’d love to hear some of your stories, good and bad, about builders, and contracts, or your house plans and designs. Send me a comment and we’ll chat.

 

Architect or Residential Designer?

June
28
2013

When we moved our search for our retirement property to Maryland, there were a few terms we weren’t familiar with, for instance rip-rap.  These turned out to be big rocks placed along the shoreline to preserve the land from wearing away.

Rip Rap

Then, when we started to design the garage and crab shack, we came across another term, residential designer.

We’ve all heard of an architect.  We weren’t as familiar with a draftsperson or residential designer.  These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but usually a true draftsperson’s specialty is technical drawings, while a residential designer specializes in homes.  Although many times they can each do both.

An article in Coastal Home magazine a few years ago contends the similarities between the residential designer and the architect ends once the plans are drawn. There are, of course, pros and cons to both of them.

our_house_plans

An architect will see you through the entire building process, from blueprints to site management.  They can also interact with an interior designer – if you’ve hired one – to make the most out of the interior flow and beauty of the house.  However, the price for this service is somewhat expensive.  A general rule of thumb is that an architect’s fee is roughly 10% of the total project.  There are some that will charge an hourly fee to do just the blueprints.  But many do not.

An architect must be licensed and registered, and must meet three of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards’ requirements; education, experience and examination.  Many also register with the AIA, which has a strict code of ethics and professional conduct.  However, there are some – as the stories go – that wind up producing drawing after drawing of what they have in mind, not what you have in mind.  Here, a little research, or a recommendation goes a long way.

The residential designer does not have to be licensed, and some may never have had any formal training. However, many do register with the American Institute of Building Design, which mandates five years of educational and design experience, and while it specifies standards and ethics, it doesn’t require standardized exams.  Again, if you do your research, or have a recommendation, you will find he or she is very qualified to draw up plans for about half the cost of an architect.  If you have some idea of the design you are interested in, or if you have put together an entire binder – like I have – with floor plans you love, you will be able to give the residential designer this input and make the job go even smoother.   I would also say, if you have a good contractor or builder, this would alleviate any issues you might have with site management, or flow of the rooms, etc.

It all comes down to a couple of things, and sometimes the first is cost.  The second is your own preference. If you have at least some ideas of what you’d like, are not “afraid” of the building  process, and have a little sense of design and some common sense, you can do your due diligence and find either a residential designer or architect you will be happy and comfortable with.  You may need to interview three or four, but finding someone you have a good rapport with is key.

With either person, if you come equipped with pictures – floorplans, rooms, designs, exteriors, and interiors, and even pictures of things you absolutely do not like, you will save yourself some money because you are prepared, you will get a better finished product, and will have a house you truly love.

If you have any advice or stories regarding your experiences with an architect or residential designer, I’d love to hear them!

Little Choptank 2013  G June 20 to 24th 056wtmk