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Journals
Name Visits Posts Pics Videos

Barrel-Race7,113791630
YesterdayHouston, TX

Cobbler-Mountain-Hom...20100
MondayAlexandria, VA

Vilano-Beach--Water-...21,220391170
4/5/2014Saint Augustine, FL

HudsonHouse7,028300
4/2/2014Omaha, NE

Tanglewood86,8597862,22242
3/24/2014Colorado Springs, CO

697MarlinAustinArea1,20418910
3/15/2014Austin/McDade, TX

1860s-Texas-rehabnew...43,173441910
3/14/2014Boerne, TX

Bladenkirk543640
3/13/2014White Oak, NC

P-Wade-Crocker432100
3/12/2014Spring, TX

Shana509200
3/11/2014Chaffee, MO

OwensNewHome60,0581033810
2/2/2014Chandler, AZ

Du-Lock-Lane1,316200
2/1/2014Houston, TX

Family-Affair10,624440
1/31/2014Saint Petersburg, FL

TheCastle10,006270
1/23/2014Cheshire, CT

The-Last-Rodeo9,69027100
1/14/2014Angel Fire, NM

TheHoskensProject58,5761504333
12/31/2013Dome-ville, central, FL

NorthPoleHome30,264341330
12/29/2013North Pole, AK

navarre-village-buil...1,197100
12/26/2013Gulf Breeze, FL

Seven-Peaks-Faswall-...34,873483181
11/18/2013Graeagle, CA

The-Dailey-Project1,784100
10/27/2013Pompano Beach, FL

Beaver-Creek-Ranch30,328213210
10/15/2013Hayfork, CA

The-Cortes-Adventure17,703520
10/14/2013Snowflake, AZ

jeff3,885300
8/29/2013Jackson, MO

Miami-FL-country-hom...5,391320
7/30/2013Miami, FL

Brevard-County--Pt-S...2,571100
7/17/2013Rockledge, FL

Dream-Build-Austin-T...4,176300
4/17/2013Austin, TX

Eschete-Dome22,42330530
12/24/2012Lafayette, LA

ChapelHillNCBob5,581110
10/23/2012Chapel Hill, NC

The-Skimino-Bluff6,9963130
10/13/2012Williamsburg, VA

Octagon-in-Glencoe-C...48,842144110
10/8/2012Glencoe , CA

nateshomemtpeakview4,688100
9/29/2012

sherman20,073221560
9/27/2012Downers Grove, IL

Omaha9,204380
9/13/2012Omaha, NE

Holy-Hill-House16,52235530
8/27/2012Richfield, WI

Omega-CEO5,648110
8/13/2012Manassas, VA

JayHouse10,3537190
6/22/2012Sebastopol, CA

30233,42323770
5/20/2012Belfair, WA

SunburnStateHome6,329110
3/6/2012Charlotte County, FL

VICTOR-MONTANA8,126110
2/22/2012Victor, MT

Houston-720125966,813100
1/21/2012Houston, TX

Workshop15,620630
1/8/2012Florissant, CO

Our-simple-home11,843223080
12/5/2011LaPorte, IN

ICF-Construction19,412500
11/11/2011Elkridge, MD

Little-Help-from-my-...12,30111150
11/4/2011Rockwall, TX

YaNYca14,028810
10/29/2011Boston, MA

The-Man-Refuge10,872310
10/19/2011San Antonio, TX

mckernanmc11,174320
10/6/2011Amite, LA

Large-Family-Compoun...7,458200
9/23/2011Covington, GA

Woodchuck-Ridge10,330480
9/12/2011Akron, OH

Forever-Home-Sweet-H...20,99534310
8/24/2011Issaquah, WA

Clarksville-MD9,104200
8/22/2011Eldersburg, MD

steve-n-carolyn16,3514140
8/21/2011Sun City, CA

Old-York8,196200
7/27/2011Bridgewater, NJ

Carriage-House17,11120282
7/24/2011Ft. Collins, CO

DomeSweetDome22,35818291
6/4/2011Suffolk, VA

Goodpasture24,234562880
5/28/2011Westminster, CO

Marks-Log-Cabin13,949392210
5/12/2011Altoona, PA

Bill21,187100
5/4/2011Tucson, AZ

Mueller-Dream-Home8,829100
4/15/2011

Oklahoma-Steel10,775650
4/13/2011Minco, OK

DutchG8,442200
4/5/2011

HiddenInOhio10,3409130
4/1/2011Elyria, OH

MagnoliaHouse8,893100
3/29/2011Houston, TX

Buffaloader13,762200
1/11/2011Valley Center, KS

SouthernEcoHome27,87520210
1/9/2011Blacksburg, VA

Austrian-Chalet14,181780
1/2/2011Twin Lakes, CO

Vista-Ridge13,20821660
12/21/2010Swanton, OH

OurFarmstead28,495601890
12/10/2010Pennsylvania

AirparkHome-Remodel29,67722460
11/8/2010Hillsboro, OR

Holloway10,898200
11/7/2010Petersburg, VA

Building-Our-Lakefro...9,778110
11/5/2010Piscataway, NJ

SunburyGalena-Build9,044100
11/3/2010Galena, OH

BUILDING-OUR-GREEN-D...9,899800
11/2/2010Pattison, TX

RR-Homestead24,02631740
10/26/2010Janesville, CA

Casa-Paradiso-Vieque...9,854200
10/19/2010Chelsea, MA

Millerbuild11,1245110
10/1/2010Carstairs, AB

Delisledigs11,537300
9/16/2010Jacksonville, FL

h20dave11,367430
9/10/2010Waterloo, AL

Mountain-Idyl11,108900
9/9/2010Asheville, NC

High-over-Lake-Granb...14,59712230
9/8/2010Granbury, TX

Homestead35,98864850
9/8/2010Smithville, MO

philandjan12,969100
9/2/2010

Commons10,195200
8/21/2010Atascocita, TX

Our-First-OB-home10,582300
7/27/2010Gardner, KS

Louisiana-Mediterran...20,138311870
7/21/2010Sunset, LA

Crows-Nest9,869100
7/20/2010

Patterson-Project10,432400
7/16/2010John's Island, SC

Hidden-Meadow-Home12,4722100
7/13/2010Murrieta, CA

New-house-in-Selah-W...10,224140
7/4/2010Belfair, WA

Arnold-CA-Alpine-cha...20,95222100
7/2/2010Arnold, CA

Working-Wilton39,932343010
6/16/2010Wilton, NH

JJ-Residence9,648100
6/7/2010San Antonio, TX

Thompson-Valley-Home10,842330
6/6/2010Monticello, FL

Naperville-Webster-S...26,4062360
5/21/2010Naperville, IL

Gary--Suzi11,087100
5/7/2010

crystal-falls-home28,87420270
5/5/2010Cedar Park, TX

Kapoho-Retirement-Ho...10,917130
5/4/2010Santa Ana, CA

NC--New-Construction10,516100
5/3/2010

Collins-on-Cobblesto...11,51821910
4/30/2010Waynesville, NC

Dwight--Colleen-Hart...11,923130
4/30/2010Vaughn, WA

Riley32,86032950
4/29/2010Cave Creek, AZ

The-New-Ries-Homeste...14,91919980
4/21/2010Polk/Richfield/Erin/Hartford, WI

The-Season9,562130
4/10/2010Mount Airy, NC

The-Naas-Place10,071200
3/30/2010Pittsburg, CA

Phil-and-Lauras-home13,121400
3/20/2010Tulsa, OK

Southport-NC-Home17,574201281
3/18/2010Southport, NC

Loris25,044110
3/11/2010

Seaton-Station10,268140
3/10/2010Siloam Springs, AR

Backwoods-Project14,323390
3/4/2010Jeffersonville, GA

ICF-in-Ann-Arbor26,257293710
1/25/2010Dexter, MI

DancingPines11,012200
1/25/2010Clinton, LA

Log-Cabin10,613150
1/23/2010indianapolis, IN

The-Kinzel-House10,009100
1/21/2010New Orleans, LA

PahrumpProject17,0905390
1/17/2010Spokane, WA

TheBeachHouse14,66313200
1/16/2010Shoreline, WA

Artist-Haven-Home14,975970
1/13/2010Kansas City, MO

SOPHIA--SAMUELDELAWA...17,43911310
12/2/2009Smyrna, DE

Plant-City-Craftsman16,8554100
11/22/2009Plant City, FL

WestermanFarm11,473130
11/10/2009Dickson, TN

Shane22,546600
10/31/2009San Antonio, TX

ADCountryHome12,8961130
10/31/2009Fort Worth, TX

ICF-Keller-Tx51,250321220
10/6/2009Roanoke, TX

digs24,272100
9/30/2009Tracy City, TN

threegables21,431201340
9/29/2009Hartland, WI

LittleLakeCorner72,9561016040
9/29/2009Groveland, FL

Utah-Casa11,618200
9/28/2009Saratoga Springs, UT

Tornado-Reconstructi...11,063800
9/24/2009Port Neches, TX

toolehouse50,347891450
9/20/2009Reno, NV

Bobs-Blog53,036614140
9/16/2009New Florence, PA

Blessings10,229100
9/11/2009farmville, NC

Schrammelot16,0207900
9/11/2009Pierson, FL

PennsmithLostValleyT...35,902552150
9/9/2009Dripping Springs, TX

River-House10,667220
9/7/2009Clinton, NJ

SantaFe-in-AJ10,418100
8/28/2009Apache Junction, AZ

Dennis-Dream-Home30,100385050
8/27/2009Readington Twp, NJ

Massive-Undertaking11,5671100
8/26/2009Wimauma, FL

Lafayette10,322200
8/11/2009Cramerton, NC

Dream-site-on-the-La...11,109200
8/5/2009La Porte, TX

Williams-New-Home-Si...10,365110
8/2/2009Windsor, NC

Cobblestone-Lane10,451100
7/30/2009Great Falls, MT

PensacolaBeachHouse10,258110
6/22/2009Gulf Breeze, FL

12YEARSINTHEPLANNING10,906120
6/16/2009LADSON, SC

Steinys-Hideaway10,876200
6/9/2009Venice, CA

DreamHome29,525261900
6/7/2009Orlando, FL

CastleHeims20,79521590
6/5/2009Cedar Rapids, IA

Utah-Warehouse10,128220
5/20/2009Fairview, UT

Where-to-start12,469610
5/16/2009Lemoore, CA

Castle-Rock-Lakehous...16,38310840
4/27/2009Necedah, WI

Oleg26,023360
4/22/2009San Diego, CA

MoeCompound10,296340
4/9/2009Camano Island, WA

Huckleberry-Home10,361200
4/8/2009Williamstown, NJ

Vonk24,290100
4/7/2009Zeeland, MI

Small-Timber-Frame14,708110
4/2/2009Central Mass, MA

EatonLoch-Haven11,155110
4/1/2009Roanoke, VA

windowsnsiding10,225110
3/28/2009Long Island, NY

Arkansas-First-Timer25,92139880
3/27/2009Trumann, AR

Back-Home-In-Crisp12,453111510
3/22/2009Ennis, TX

Victor--Susan-0820,372211210
3/17/2009Ruckersville, VA

Rick-and-Tinas-dream...11,686120
3/14/2009Auburndale, FL

Keener-Road13,0764100
3/11/2009Elizabethtown, PA

NC-Newbie10,977100
3/10/2009Boone, NC

MadisonGA11,1971130
2/26/2009Madison, GA

Techbuilt-Scammed12,643100
2/25/2009Rebew, LA

choanne83110,243100
2/9/2009charlotte, NC

WilliamsinVegas34,041301190
1/29/2009Henderson, NV

PhilesBryant12,090260
1/20/2009graham, WA

MortgageSmart10,460100
1/19/2009Cocoa, FL

QuarterlyHouse57,979136990
1/12/2009Orlando, FL

RabbitRun19,804311690
1/11/2009Afton, VA

Sonave-Sunsets10,567120
1/9/2009Yucca, AZ

Heart-of-PA16,1709160
1/6/2009Lewistown, PA

Krusehome11,640200
12/27/2008Lake City, FL

BrunkHouseAlmaKansas15,655260
12/26/2008Garden Grove, CA

Raider-Bills-Tenn-Ho...14,6586320
12/22/2008Largo, FL

Andel-Ranch28,338334020
12/17/2008Rogers, TX

Elijahs-Home11,823460
12/6/2008Vero Beach, FL

ranch-house10,459100
11/25/2008springfield, IL

Howard-Georgia-Retir...16,102670
11/9/2008Harlem, GA

The-Woods-Journal11,332110
11/6/2008Doraville, GA

StansTLH16,0691090
11/1/2008Tehachapi, CA

Kevin--Kerrys-Dream11,601350
10/17/2008Northvale, NJ

Katabatic-Wind12,206470
10/16/2008Huntsville, AL

Elmhurst-Modern13,658120
10/14/2008elmhurst, IL

Accessible-House11,6283100
10/14/2008Munford, TN

Cherry-Valley-Vista10,686120
10/5/2008Duvall, WA

Jon-and-Mollys-House18,309150
9/25/2008Ellicott City, MD

Proctor-ICF11,763110
9/25/2008Fredericksburg, VA

Hawaiian-Bungalo18,097111020
9/23/2008Holualoa, HI

Pete--Rhiannon12,765430
9/19/2008Springfield, MO

2008-Cedar-Ln17,60614350
9/19/2008Seaville, NJ

dmaceld20,80214880
9/16/2008Nampa, ID

Help-with-Goulds-and...12,927100
9/16/2008tampa, FL

Consulting10,326100
9/2/2008Orlando, FL

AlaskaICFREMOTEHouse16,75619380
8/17/2008Wasilla, AK

NC-Pond-House11,803320
8/4/2008Wilmington, NC

MargaritaVilla11,412240
8/4/2008Raleigh, NC

Latest-update12,7018100
8/4/2008Sierra Vista, AZ

ANDREA11,299400
8/2/2008Dallas, TX

The-Ridges14,07511130
7/31/2008Logan, UT

Avenida-Del-Sol15,19913520
7/31/2008Peoria, AZ

dream-home-ohio11,358600
7/30/2008Zanesville, OH

Penetang-Craftsman10,988360
7/27/2008Penetanguishene, ON

Tristan--11,443600
7/25/2008Lebanon, NJ

Dreamy-Design-in-Glo...16,739100
7/9/2008Clifton, VA

need-help-Jim11,924110
7/8/2008Bandon, OR

deltona-fl-custom-ho...12,5204140
7/6/2008Deltona Beach, FL

Ingraham-House-Chape...11,771200
6/29/2008Cary, NC

famborgie10,677100
6/26/2008Lockhart, TX

95821-Addition21,9427140
6/24/2008Sacramento, CA

Cajun-Homestead19,08312930
6/22/2008Lafayette, LA

West-Texas-Ranch-Hou...12,874110
6/18/2008Andrews, TX

Quail-Bluff-Pasco12,6869290
6/10/2008Pasco, WA

Spyders-Web10,596100
6/10/2008Norman, OK

mike-and-tori-darnle...13,119510
6/2/2008Rainbow, CA

Lin-Washington10,621100
5/29/2008Fresno, CA

Capernall-House11,467420
5/15/2008Belleville, MI

Hidden-Valley-Texas10,762100
5/7/2008Southlake, TX

cosdreamhome41,431731470
5/5/2008Colorado Springs, CO

Sowle-Family-House13,263590
4/29/2008South Burlington, VT

Cyberdoc-Residence10,972200
4/25/2008San Diego, CA

Fortune-House10,990100
4/17/2008Mooresville, NC

Joeb28,843400
4/15/2008Oakland, FL

Alvin-House11,237200
4/14/2008LaPorte, TX

Thomas-Home--Raintre...21,295271800
4/9/2008Lee's Summit, MO

Greg--Kathys-New-Hou...12,235200
4/3/2008Barryton, MI

Where-is-Waldo28,35044830
4/2/2008Marion, OH

Nimmerrichters-Fores...10,086100
4/2/2008Waldorf, MD

Mayfield-House10,699100
3/31/2008Mayfield, UT

beamanhouse10,760100
3/27/2008Manistique, MI

Kanak-ICF--Virginia15,524900
3/26/2008Fredericksburg, VA

Sheldon-St15,354300
3/21/2008Orlando, FL

Bert-25,969310
3/20/2008Southern, CA

Our-Ohio-ICF-home22,03520270
3/20/2008Mansfield, OH

ericdc11,233310
3/8/2008Uniontown, PA

EurekaHouse-ICF15,1165150
3/6/2008Berkeley, CA

Superstition-Views15,432281600
3/6/2008Mesa, AZ

Blue-Springs-Project12,9198230
2/24/2008Broken Arrow, OK

Our-House10,596100
2/24/2008Miami, FL

httpownerbuilderbook...13,341830
2/19/2008Clayton, NY

JourneyBackHome10,426100
2/3/2008Oviedo, FL

Collier-Home12,887110
2/1/2008Little Rock, AR

DDs-ICF12,430330
1/27/2008New Smyrna Bch, FL

EurekaMT-Timberframe12,0501430
1/24/2008Augusta, MI

The-Larnerd-House13,5345210
1/21/2008Newport News, VA

Casa-Bella11,374100
1/14/2008Pueblo West, CO

Gordon-Lake-House15,40017510
1/3/2008Oakland, IA

STEPHANIES-DREAM12,57317570
12/30/2007Lower Burrell, PA

Florida-Waterfront-C...14,974310
12/29/2007PB, FL

6158-in-Montgomery-T...11,322410
12/23/2007Conroe, TX

ClearwaterHills13,742260
12/14/2007Paradise Valley, AZ

BobDonna10,011100
12/12/2007Sacramento, CA

AboveTheAppleTree9,988100
12/8/2007La Farge, WI

Casa-Nostra12,253230
12/2/2007Bangor, PA

Building-the-Dream-i...13,795700
11/29/2007Gladstone, OR

Ingram-Fleming-ICF-H...16,398480
11/29/2007Plant City, FL

inniagara9,479100
11/24/2007Niagara Falls, ON

SchnabelEstate10,604240
11/16/2007Avon, IN

WeAreBuildingAgain21,44327560
11/15/2007Orlando, FL

Lake-Pleasant10,572210
11/14/2007Erie, PA

Green-for-Dean10,581100
11/10/2007San Jose, CA

The-Ponderosa12,3558220
11/4/2007Perry, OK

FlagholeRoad10,648260
10/25/2007Franklin, NH

Beckynray11,810300
10/24/2007Powhatan, VA

Spicewood-TX12,294330
10/20/2007Austin, TX

Powderhorn24,204481760
10/4/2007Florida

Luray-VA-1stTimeBuil...14,872730
10/4/2007Luray, VA

kittyfhughesnet10,360250
9/27/2007Noblesville, IN

Scott-Family10,936100
9/25/2007Trinity, AL

Taking-the-Plunge13,4346180
9/18/2007Springfield, OH

RozBuildingAdventure10,814100
9/14/2007San Pablo, CA

Helpful-Tips11,909200
9/13/2007Encinitas, CA

Poplar-Creek-Farm13,8525250
9/10/2007Oakland Park, FL

TheWillemsHome21,5801750
9/10/2007Galloway Township, NJ

ComfortHome11,386200
8/30/2007Dublin, OH

10000-sq-feet36,37222260
8/26/2007La Habra Heights, CA

Bird-house12,5123400
8/22/2007Ithaca, NY

Circle-S_ICF_House35,833462640
8/21/2007Sparta, IL

New-England-Saltbox10,789100
8/16/2007Columbia, SC

RamblewoodatJeterFar...11,6056330
8/10/2007Kansas City, MO

Kraemer-Collinwood-H...11,199200
7/21/2007Delano, MN

BigOakBuilderTX14,825270
7/20/2007Wharton, TX

Johnson-Family-Dream11,047100
7/20/2007Normal, IL

19225-ROBERTSON-ST17,74214250
7/12/2007Orlando, FL

Thattle-Dew-Farm10,999220
7/12/2007Halls Harbour, NS

WindyJ14,98111260
7/2/2007Knoxville, TN

Vistoso-Green-Home12,298310
6/28/2007Tucson, AZ

Lewis-Chapel-House16,509200
6/25/2007Dunlap, TN

father-daughter10,551200
6/25/2007Loveland, CO

davewhite11,532100
6/24/2007Nanaimo, BC

NutmegWedgefieldOrla...12,514600
6/22/2007Orlando, FL

4600SF-Dream-Home-in...14,612410
6/19/2007Mooresville, NC

Coeur-dAlene-Idaho-H...12,383240
6/13/2007Coeur d Alene, ID

Tampa-Bay13,961490
6/10/2007Ruskin, FL

Dream-In-Progress14,411540
6/7/2007Shawnee, KS

todd-in-tullahoma10,919100
6/4/2007tullahoma, TN

TheOwens11,701300
6/1/2007Dickson, TN

Country-Cleaver11,832140
5/29/2007Springfield, IL

South-Dakota-Lake-Ho...12,0906110
5/23/2007Sioux Falls, SD

Gods-Home11,237200
5/18/2007Eustis, FL

hammock11,092110
5/14/2007Martinez, GA

Grove-St-Rocklin11,176300
5/13/2007Orangevale, CA

Gardeners-Delight12,005330
5/13/2007Norristown, PA

Newman-Family12,023100
4/26/2007oralndo, FL

do-over-house12,682200
4/25/2007Roseville, CA

Mountain-Building11,403370
4/21/2007Hiawassee, GA

Alaskan-Log-Home12,728120
4/15/2007Tok, AK

Warner-Dream12,925600
4/11/2007Astatula, FL

RehmannSchreiner13,92118150
4/2/2007Maple Grove, MN

outspokenbikeguy13,5614140
3/29/2007Sanford, FL

SmelltheForest35,853471480
3/23/2007Colorado Springs, CO

PolkCityProject15,2177110
3/21/2007Norcross, GA

DwaynePam12,060200
3/21/2007Normal, IL

cypressknoll11,128100
3/20/2007Palm Coast, FL

candlepower19,150241550
3/20/2007Lansing, IA

Team-Rosa11,995200
3/19/2007Springfield, VA

GLOUCESTER11,677120
3/17/2007Newport News, VA

Ohiodreamhome12,0574140
3/16/2007Reynoldsburg, OH

Gypsy-Love12,543110
3/12/2007Highland, NY

Forrest-Towne11,739220
3/10/2007Brinnon, WA

Dreams-Come-True11,004100
3/8/2007Glen St Mary, FL

Almost-A-Country-Gir...11,016100
3/7/2007Addison Township, MI

BrandonBuildingBlog11,793100
3/4/2007Layton, UT

SafecreteHouse13,053300
3/4/2007Raleigh, NC

newbie-12,170100
2/21/2007North Plains, OR

BuzzardsNest14,404310
2/14/2007Saint Lucie, FL

woodfamilyhome12,515200
2/10/2007Keno, OR

vegascastle11,836100
2/3/2007Henderson, NV

newsteel17,809100
1/28/2007Florence, SC

Dream-Home-200712,351100
1/27/2007Gwynn Oak, MD

DelgadosAdobeAbode12,742200
1/18/2007San Diego, CA

bobindeltona14,971250
1/14/2007Deltona, FL

Highland6412,450300
1/8/2007New Orleans, LA

SmallProjectSilverSp...17,8051020
1/7/2007Silver Springs, NV

BeehlerHome22,72711640
1/3/2007Kalamazoo, MI

eveningshade12,050110
12/25/2006Evening Shade, AR

Bruce in Petrolia, O...11,179120
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Wow! That's great about the Forum Winner prize! Thank you! Undeserved, but sincerely appreciated! People LOVE to talk about their new homes, especially if they O-B. Love your book and website. Convinced us to O-B.
Joseph

Forums Home  >>  Jeff


Building Phase  >  Economy Concerns-Appraisals
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/6/2008

Hi Faye:

We're just about to start building. Banks have been very reasonable so far -- we close on the loan with a local bank on Friday (at least we're hoping to close then). We paid close attention to market values in our area, and made sure our budget was well within 80% of the expected appraisal. We're financing about 75% of the project costs, so that means our loan to value ratio is at about 60%, which is excellent in this area. Three local banks were willing to finance it. I met with the appraiser last week, and he said he'll appraise it even higher than I had hoped.

I've seen the price of both materials and labor go down by about 20% in the last six months--at least for most items. I had one foundation contractor--who happens to be recommended by almost everybody -- give me a bid in December that was $10k greater than any other. Since he came so well recommended, I asked him for another bid. I expect he'll come in pretty close to the others. He has 10 trucks sitting idle every day, and had to lay off a large number of people. The money that we're saving is going into better materials, making the house even more competitive with others.

Jeff


Planning Phase  >  REMOTE Building Envelope System
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 10/13/2009

Hi Mary, 


Interesting site. And you'd think that if they're trying to make things efficient and sustainable in Alaska, those principles should apply in slightly warmer climates also.  I like the idea of what they're proposing. It makes sense to me to keep the framing on the warm side of the insulation.

I did a fair amount of research on building science before building. The best resources I found were at the Building Science website. If you haven't found it already, its at buildingscience.com. They even recently released a white paper on building enclosures: buildingscience.com/documents/the-building-enclosure

I looked at the cost of different options during the planning phase. For me, the initial cost of doing either ICF or SIP was too high. I thought about advanced framing, but even decided against that when I couldn't find any local framers who really wanted to do it.  You might run into the same problem with the REMOTE system.  If none of the contractors in your area have experience with the system, they might be reluctant to experiment with your house. 

We chose to do normal 2x6 stick framing, with blown fiberglass insulation in ceilings and walls--mainly because of cost.  Although I liked the extra R-value to be realized with foam insulation, it cost almost three times as much as blown fiberglass.But even with the less efficient blown fiberglass insulation, our gas bills were less than $150 per month during construction last winter.  A great savings when you consider that we spent as much at $850 per month in our drafty old Victorian. 

Jeff


House Features  >  Granite
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 7/28/2008

I took a look at the site, and it appears that this is just granite tiles with fancy edge pieces. We used 12" soapstone tiles on our existing kitchen, and won't do it again. We found the grout lines to be a hassle to keep clean. This time we'll go with either real granite or (after reading the article I posted in a separate thread) quartz countertops.

Jeff


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 7/30/2008

If you're okay with tile on the countertops, you might want to consider using granite floor tiles. Take a look at:

builddirect.com

You don't necessarily get the matching edges and corners, but with prices running from $2 to $6 /sq ft, it would certainly be a lot cheaper.

As I said in a previous post, we did the same thing with soapstone tiles in our current kitchen. I laid 12x12 soapstone tiles with a 1/16" grout line, and edged the counters with Brazilian cherry. The cost was less than $1,500 as opposed to $7,000 for soapstone slabs. It looks good, and is very durable -- certainly much more durable than a laminate at a price just a little higher than laminate.

Jeff


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/16/2008

Hi Patty,

We won't do soapstone again. It can look good, and it's very dense, but it's also pretty soft. On the positive side, that means if you drop a glass from an upper cabinet on the countertop, the glass may not break.  But it may put a 1/4" gouge in the countertop--it happened to us, twice.  It scratches very easily. Some people accept the scratches and gouges as "character".  We considered them to be scratches and gouges. We lived with it, but we won't do it again.

Naturally, soapstone is kind of a light to medium gray color, with lighter streaks of white running through it (at least, that's how the variety we installed looks). To get the black color that you see all the time, you have to oil the countertops with mineral oil. And you have to do it pretty frequently. Daily for a week, weekly for a month, then about monthly after that. It looks great about a day after you oil it. But as time goes on, the black fades to gray again.

So for what it's worth, that's our experience with soapstone.  Since we also don't want a glossy finish on our countertops. So we'll go with a honed finish on the granite.  Better for us than scratches, gouges, and mineral oil.  

Jeff

 


Financing  >  Newbie Financing Question
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 10/18/2009

Hi Erin,

That was a great post from David. His numbers looked totally accurate. We owned our land free and clear when we started construction late last year. The loan was about 3.5 times the value of the land, and the appraisal was about 5 times the cost of the land. So we had no problems getting loan approval. We also had about 20% of our budget in cash on hand. It wasn't enough. We really needed at least 25% in cash, and 30% would have been even better. Times have changed. Suppliers and contractors don't extend credit like they used to.

Jeff


Financing  >  The end of owner-builder financing
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/13/2008

Hi,

We closed on our owner-builder loan yesterday. House appraised for about 25% more than cost (including the lot). We have good credit, and we're borrowing about 70% of the total cost. I actually found three out of four local banks that were willing to do owner-builder loans. I stayed away from the big national banks and stuck with smaller local banks. And I even got them to compete with each other for terms & rates. One bank wanted us to deposit 10% of the building cost into escrow to cover overruns. The bank we chose was happy, as long as we had sufficient cash to cover the overruns. We picked that one.

Although everybody tries to position owner-builder loans as higher risk, one of the banks said that they had no intention of selling the loan: they would carry it internally. So really, it seems to me that owner-builder loans are just a niche that not everyone wants to cover.

Jeff


Wisconsin  >  Anyone O-B'ing?
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 4/20/2008

Another late response. My wife and I will be doing the owner-builder thing on a lot we bought last year in Hartland. We're a good way  through the planning process. We hired a designer, completed the plans, got bids from three different contractors, and have gotten bids from about 60% of the subs.

Our current house is on the market (for about 30 days now), and with any luck it will sell soon (we are supposed to see our first offer -- a cash offer -- tomorrow).

Once we make it through the financing process, I'll start posting more regularly.


Construction Scheduling  >  Framing schedule
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 4/15/2010

Hi Roger, 


Sounds like you're on your way. In this area, the framing crews were surprised to see specs. They normally just bid and build directly from plans. In the end, I believe the spec was overkill. The building is framed, and the inspector ensures that it meets code. Most of my specs were code or common practice anyway. Ask around a bit to find out common practice in your area in terms of what the framers do. I had them do rough framing, stairs, windows, siding, and exterior trim. But that was mainly because they didn't have much other work to occupy them at the time. 

Anyway, here are the specs I used for framing and windows: 

7. Framing

1.      Bid to include estimates for all labor, nails, and screws involved in framing the building. Framing materials will be supplied by owner.

2.      Contractor shall perform all preparation, framing, and cleanup work to frame the building as specified in attached drawings.

3.      Framing activities shall not begin until foundation has been surveyed, inspected, and approved.

4.      All framing lumber to be crowned. All wall studs shall have crown pointing in the same direction.

5.      All walls and joists to be framed as specified in the blueprints.

6.      All lumber in contact with concrete must be pressure treated.

7.1.      Subfloors

1.      A sill-sealing gasket shall be installed above the foundation and below the sill plate.

2.      A pressure-treated 2”x6” pine sill plate shall be installed, using 5/8” anchor bolts embedded in the foundation, at a maximum of 5’ on center, with at least two anchor bolts per wall segment. Sill plates shall be installed tight and level within ¼”, all bolts shall be tightened with nuts and washers.

3.      11 7/8” engineered wood shall be installed as the rim joist over the sill plate. Rim joist shall be wrapped in housewrap. Ends of that housewrap shall be left exposed for attachment with wall vapor barriers (TBD).

4.      11 7/8” engineered wood I-joists shall be installed as subfloor framing as directed by the attached floor framing plan.

5.      ¾” OSB shall be installed as the subfloor. Subfloor shall be glued with a continuous bead of construction adhesive to each joist, and screwed to joists every 8” on center. 

6.      Squash blocks and subfloor framing details shall be installed per the attached engineered floor plan.

7.      Floor joists shall not interfere with tub, sink, and shower drains placed as indicated on attached drawings.

7.2.      Exterior Walls

1.      Garage walls shall be framed with 2x4 studs 16” on center.

2.      Other exterior walls shall be framed with 2x6 studs 16” on center.

3.      Exterior wall framing shall include a single sole plate and double header plates.

4.      Exterior walls shall be sheathed with ½” OSB nailed with 8d galvanized nails every 12” on center.

5.      Corners shall be framed with two studs. Drywall will be supported by drywall clips or a sistered 2x6.

6.      Headers for openings shall be installed as span and load dictate.

7.      Install Tyvek housewrap. Vertical joints shall be lapped by 12”. Horizontal joints shall be lapped by at least 6”. All joints shall be taped. Wrap rough window and door openings with housewrap prior to installing doors and windows.

8.      Install exterior doors and windows as specified in attached plan and schedule. Rough door and window openings shall be flashed.

7.3.      Interior Walls

1.      4” interior walls shall be framed with 2x4 studs 16” on center.

2.      6” interior walls shall be framed with 2x6 studs 16” on center.

3.      Headers for openings shall be installed as span and load dictate.

7.4.      Roof

1.      Roof shall be framed with trusses as indicated on attached drawings. Trusses shall be installed 24” on center.

2.   Roof shall be sheathed with ½” OSB sheathing. 

....

13.       Siding, Doors, Windows, Trim and Cornice

1.      Bid is to provide labor and materials for exterior siding, trim, and cornice as specified on attached drawings.

2.      Windows and doors shall be installed as specified on attached drawings. Drawings use Pella Window units. Contractor may specify equivalent flashed wood windows from another manufacturer.

3.      Siding shall be James Hardie HardiePlank and HardiShingle straight-edge notched panel, pre-stained in a Maple color as specified on attached drawings.

4.      All soffit, fascia, frieze, and trim materials shall be installed as specified in attached drawings.

5.      Exterior galvanized finish nails shall be used exclusively.

6.      Nails shall be driven flush on siding, countersunk on trim.

7.      Shingle panel laps shall be parallel, joints shall be staggered between courses.

8.      Siding edges shall be terminated within 1/8” and caulked.

9.      All window, door, and other openings shall be flashed.

10.  All openings and trim shall be caulked.

11.  All soffit and fascia joints shall be trimmed smooth and fit tight.

12.  All fascia shall be straight and true.

13. Soffit vents shall be installed.


Building Phase  >  Faux Brick Panels
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/27/2009

We used two Nichiha products and are very happy with them.  We used pre-stained Mahogany Nichiha Sierra Premium Shakes to cover our gables.  We have neighbors who still believe they are real cedar--and if I'm lucky 15 years from now, when our neighbors will have stained their real cedar shakes 5 or 6 times, I'll be thinking about restaining mine for the first time. We love them. They were actually cheaper pre-stained than Hardishakes were primed.  Here's a picture of them in action:



We also used their Fieldstone Peppersand Stone Panels to cover our foundation exposure.  For these, we're happy with the quality, but less happy about the look. A little too regular for my taste. Cost was about half the cost of natural stone materials, and for labor, about a quarter of the cost of hiring a mason. Here's a picture:



When these start showing wear (assuming we're still here), we'll probably replace them with natural stone that we're using elsewhere on the house.




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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/27/2009

Belinda,

I agree 100% with David. Nichiha is relatively new in this area--they really just started selling here in the last year or so. Most of the suppliers in the area picked them up pretty quickly, but there weren't a lot of examples to look at when we made our purchase.

I asked for samples of CertainTeed, Hardie, and Nichiha planks and shingles.  CertainTeed and Hardie were similar. Both the plank and shake siding from both suppliers was about the same thickness (about 5/16 of an inch). We talked with our framer, who we chose to install the siding, and he recommended Hardie due to complaints he's received with CertainTeed planks shrinking and expanding too much. So we chose pre-finished HardiPlank for the majority of our siding. 

Nichiha was a different animal. The Nichiha shakes are about twice as thick as either the Hardie or Certainteed shakes, so they provide more distinctive shadow lines. They also have vertical grooves cast into the panels so the the shakes look from a distance more like real cedar shakes, which are typically quartersawn and show a vertical grain.  We thought that the pre-finished Nichiha shakes looked much more like real cedar shakes than either the Hardie or CertainTeed products. We chose the Nichiha shakes for our gables.

Note that the Nichiha and Hardie shakes are comparable in price, although Nichiha--at least at the time we bought--were slightly cheaper. However, shakes from any of these vendors are about twice as expensive as planks. Also, if you choose Nichiha, it's important to remember that the Nichiha shakes are significantly thicker than Hardie shakes.  That means you'll probably have to increase the thickness of your trim to 5/4, or you'll have trouble effectively caulking joints where the shakes butt up against your trim. The Nichiha stone panels are even thicker, making it necessary to increase the trim thickness to 6/4.

Bottom line: only you can decide what you like the best. I recommend that you ask for samples from local suppliers and compare for yourself.

Jeff


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 12/13/2009

Hi Becky,

Sorry for the delayed response. Yes, we used Nichiha Mahogany color shakes in the gables. We looked at the other colors, and just thought that color went the best with our siding. Neighbors are still surprised when they learn that the shakes are not cedar.  We originally thought that we would side entirely with shakes. But when we learned that shakes--whether from Nichiha or Hardie--were significantly more expensive than siding, we decided to just put shakes on the gables, and prefinished HardiePlank siding (in their Timber Bark color) on the rest of the house.


Jeff


Building Phase  >  2x6 wall insulation
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 3/11/2011

I also agonized over insulation. There are a lot of trade-offs, and a lot of conflicting data. My first choice was foam, but I simply didn't want to pay two or three times what I would pay for other methods, or use a less expensive form of foam that hasn't been around very long. Then I started looking into dense-pack cellulose. I was convinced this is what I wanted to do--and the cost was only about 20% more than fiberglass batts. Of course, I still wanted the benefits of foam in terms of sealing all gaps. So I caulked the gaps once the house was framed. All of them: around each stud bay, along the rims, etc.  

Shortly before it was time to insulate, I had a problem--it turned out my low bidder chose to bid fiberglass batts rather than the cellulose I specified. So I had to find an alternative. I started doing more research and realized that dense-pack cellulose is blown in wet. The manufacturers and contractors say it won't be a problem, because the cellulose is treated. That ensures you won't get moldy cellulose. But the studs and sheathing aren't, so I was still worried about mold. I also found a study performed in Canada that showed it took as much as 11 months for the cellulose to dry out.  

In the end, I decided to go with blown-in fiberglass. The cost was about the same as cellulose. Same benefits in terms of how it is installed. I saw the studies that showed it loses R-value as temperature decreases, but I believe that was mostly due to convection, and I figured a well-sealed shell would mitigate that problem at least somewhat. I did decide to foam the rims, just to make sure they were well sealed as well as insulated. 

I'm happy with the results. A neighbor built his house about a year before I built mine--and he decided to pay for the foam insulation throughout. We compared power bills last month. My gas bill was about the same as his, despite my house being about 10% bigger--and we had at least a week or 10 days of below-zero temperatures. I have no problem recommending blown-in fiberglass. 


Building Phase  >  Under the Slab: What Kind of Insulation?
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 5/25/2010

Hi Steven:


I built a conventional poured foundation, with 1" foam panels (Owens-Corning FOAMULAR 150) covering the walls, and 1" foam panels (FOAMULAR 250) beneath the slab. I also used Spancrete panels on my garage floor, and put 2" Foamular 250 on top of the Spancrete panels and beneath a 4" slab.  I park three cars on that slab every day with no problems. 

The foam panels sit on top of the footings and gravel base. I didn't line the interior walls with foam panels prior to having the slab poured, but I probably should have. The only area where it's a problem is beneath two large egress windows. The floor gets pretty cold beneath those windows. Everyplace else, the floor stays at the normal 55-degree temperature all winter.

I used 1" foam beneath the slab, rather than 2" for two reasons:

1. Cost

2. The average soil temperature here is around the 55-degree mark. I figured I didn't need a whole lot of insulation to protect against 55-degree temperatures. 

Jeff


Planning Phase  >  Don't skimp on design!
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 8/2/2009

Hi Rachal:

I agree with you. Two of the most important aspects of our design were affordability and livability. We could certainly get livability from an architect. We might have even been able to get affordability. But the architect's price was just too high. We decided to pay a designer instead. And it turns out that the design was fabulous (at least we think so). The house was built almost exactly as designed, with virtually no changes during the construction process, other than finish and material details.

Jeff


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Using Replacement Windows in New Construction
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 2/25/2010

Hi Mary,

Although the only difference between the new and replacement windows is the nailing flange, it's a pretty important difference. The windows need to be installed pretty precisely: 1/2 inch proud of the interior framing so that drywall will be flush to the jambs. Framers can install a houseful of windows in a day. And they can get reasonably precise with the nailing flanges. Since that's what they are used to doing, I'd worry that they'd be much less precise with replacement windows. And that lack of precision could cost you time when the finish carpenters come in.

In terms of doing it yourself, it's certainly not rocket science. Make sure everything is level and plumb, in the right location, and securely attached. But remember that the windows can get pretty heavy, especially if you have several mulled together into a single unit. Also, remember that window installation is on the critical path: your interior mechanical work (HVAC, plumbing, electrical) generally require rough framing to be done, the roof to be on, and the windows to be in place before they can start. As long as you're talking about the shop, you're probably okay.  Just some things to keep in mind.

Jeff


Construction Budgeting  >  Advanced Framing?
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 8/20/2009

Hi Steve,

We initially put advanced framing in our specs. The lumber savings is one benefit--although a fairly small one. For us, we wanted the energy-saving benefit: slightly more room for insulation, less thermal bridging through fewer studs.

But after talking to multiple builders and framers, we didn't find anyone who wanted to do it. It isn't common in our area yet, and we didn't want to be pioneers on this particular technique. We made do with standard framing.

Jeff


House Features  >  Tilt and Turn windows
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 5/8/2011

Hi Jeff:


With the goal of building a castle, they might fit right in. As I understand it, a tilt and turn window can either open in from the bottom, like a reverse awning window, or from one side, like a reverse casement window. Some things to keep in mind:
- An awning window is convenient because it can be kept open even during a light rain. I don't think the same would be true of a tilt-n-turn because it doesn't act as an awning. 

- A casement or awning window is slightly more energy efficient than some other types of windows because in a wind, the wind blowing against the window actually closes it tighter.  The same wouldn't be true for a tilt-n-turn window (or a double-hung).  

- Rooms need to be big enough so that the space around the window can be kept clear so you have room to open it. I know this would have been an issue for my house.

When we had our house designed, the designer put plenty of windows in. So we're definitely happy with the number of windows in the house. However, if we were to do it over, we'd probably ask for some of the windows to be a bit further off the floor to give us better options for furniture placement. That, however, would have led to short, stubby windows, unless we also put transoms above the windows... which would have dramatically increased the window expense because we wanted consistency in the window height all the way around the house.  

And of course, cost is also a consideration. I believe there are fewer manufacturers that offer tilt-n-turn windows--so they probably carry a higher price. When you get your quote for windows, compare the cost of awnings or casements with tilt-n-turns. That might help you decide whether it's a "must have" or a "nice to have". 

Oh, and good luck with your build! The pictures you posted look great. 

Jeff


Wisconsin  >  Long Driveways
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 10/27/2009

Hi Chad:

Free topsoil is a great deal! I've found it usually runs about $250 a truckload around here. It will certainly come in handy when you're doing your final grading. Good luck!

Jeff


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 10/25/2009

Hi Chad,

I'm by no means an expert, and I don't even have a long driveway; but I did a little bit of digging in online. It looks like it's certainly worth a try. I guess the theory is that the geotextile separates the gravel from the subgrade, preventing it from "sinking in" unevenly. It will certainly cost more up front, but if it works, you'll save money in the long run -- on grading, repairs, and front-end alignments... I think the key is probably to buy the right grade of geotextile -- otherwise, you'll be spending a lot of money for nothing.

We had a concrete slab poured over insulation panels on the Spancrete floor of our garage. The insulation has a compressive strength of 25 lbs per square inch, and so far we haven't seen a single crack in the slab (other than at control joints). If it is possible to manufacture foam strong enough to carry the combined weight of several tons of concrete and a car without crushing, I would think that it's certainly possible to manufacture textiles with enough strength to serve as a barrier between gravel and subgrade.

You might want to compare the cost of purchasing the geotextile and getting it installed to the cost of future grading for the time you expect to own the property. That should help in making your decision. Also, when you're talking with the excavator (or whoever else would do the grading on your driveway), make sure they list the cost of the geotextile as a separate line item.

Jeff


Finding Subcontractors  >  Angie's List
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 6/12/2008

Hi Terry,

I've used Angie's List for several years, and find it to be a great resource. It might be useful in finding subs, but most of the companies entered on Angie's List specialize in home repair, remodeling, etc. I've contacted a couple of companies referred on Angie's List who told me they don't do new construction. However, I just had a roofer come out to my existing house to give me a bid on a repair, and handed him the plan to get a bid on the new house. It might be worth a try.

Jeff

 


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 1/30/2011

I thought I'd post an update on this thread. The last time I posted, I hadn't started building my house yet...


I did use Angie's List for a few things on my list. That roofer I mentioned in my previous post? Did a great job putting the roof on the new house. And I saved about 30% over the other bidders. I also found somebody to clean out the ducts, do landscaping, etc. I use Angie's List just about every time I look for a new service provider. And I have yet to be disappointed by a recommendation from Angie's List--I only consider companies with high ratings and recent reports.

That being said, most of the consumers who submit reports on Angie's List are worried more about day-to-day repairs than about building a new house. That probably doesn't matter for something like laying tile or exterior painting, but does matter for an electrician, plumber, or HVAC contractor. So I'd say that Angie's List is a great resource. And you'll probably save money and/or get better-quality subs using recommendations from that site. But be sure the subcontractor you select has experience with large-scoped jobs. 

Jeff


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Cheap vs. Quality, sometimes cheap wins
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 12/13/2009

Great thread!

I agree that landscaping is something you can put off. But some will build in pre-established neighborhoods where the neighbors have gone overboard on landscaping. We happened to fall into that category. We put the lawn in late in the year (Labor Day), and it came in great. Our landscaping plan shows a number of beds, but we only prepared those in the front of the house. We figured we would leave them empty until next year. But then we saw the season-end sales at local nurseries. By the end of October around here, nurseries are clearing out anything they have left in stock at 75% off. So we put in about 50 perennials, shrubs, and even a couple of small trees for $500. Stock was fairly limited, but everything still has the normal warranty. 

Closets are another area to save some serious cash. You can outfit a house full of closets with a shelf and a pole pretty cheaply. But we wanted better storage space, so we chose to build our own units out of melamine shelving. Not as polished as California Closets, but who cares? They're closets.

If you're really a glutton for punishment, mill your own trim. I bought 2,800 board feet of rough cherry at a local sawmill, and milled all of our trim myself in the basement beneath the garage. Savings? Probably at least 75%.

Jeff


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 12/21/2009

Hi Joe,

Ken is right. It is a suspended slab, similar to what you would see in a parking garage. I bought "pre-cast, pre-stressed, hollow-core planks" from a local company named Spancrete. Here's a brochure that describes the system pretty well. The cost for the planks was about $10 per sq foot of the garage. Engineering, including the stamped plans, is included in the cost. The foundation walls were poured 10' tall, 12" thick, with a ledge for the concrete planks. Once the foundation cured, Spancrete delivered the panels, set them in place with a crane, and "grouted" between the planks with concrete. I had the roofers lay some rubber roofing material over the planks, covered that with 2" foam insulation panels, and then had the concrete guys pour a 4" slab on top of the insulation.

It's the cheapest square footage I have in the house. The planks cost about $10 per square foot. When I add the cost of the waterproofing, insulation panels, extra slab for the workshop floor, and additional concrete for the foundation walls, the total cost for the workshop goes to about $20 per square foot. For me, it meant an extra 930 square feet for less than $20,000.

I added a couple of pictures to this post: one of the panels being placed, and the other of the (almost) completed workshop. I've had three cars parked in the garage for several months now: no cracks or any other noticeable sign of stress have appeared.

Jeff


Building Phase  >  Temporary Heat
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 10/20/2009

Hi Chad,

We tried to heat during winter construction. But without insulation, it takes A LOT of heat to make things bearable. I bought a 180,000 BTU propane sausage heater. It kept things nice and toasty -- as long as you were standing directly in front of it. It did a good job of melting chocolate chips on cookies when we tried to thaw them. But it didn't raise the temperature inside by a single degree when the temperature was hovering in the single digits.

The subs are used to working in the cold. Framers don't have a chance. If it gets too cold or too windy, they understandably stop working. Period. The plumber, HVAC guys, and electricians have it a little easier -- they don't start until the house is closed in, so they don't have to worry about the wind. Those that don't like the cold will bring their own heaters. My plumber brought in an industrial strength diesel sausage heater. I'd guess it was at least 300,000 BTU, and would burn a tank or two of diesel each day. But when the temperature dropped below zero, everybody with any sense stopped working. I don't include myself in that category.  I kept at it until 11 below zero, when insulation on the structured wiring I was running started to crack. Come to think of it, that might be why one of my speakers isn't working.

And by the way, be sure to get the windows installed as soon as you can after the roof is on. Don't bother putting plastic on the rough openings unless you use battens to hold the plastic down.  I spent hours stapling plastic over rough openings just prior to an early snowstorm last year. I thought I had everything tightly covered and went home. I returned in the morning with all the plastic either torn or blown off, and a house full of snow.

Jeff





House Features  >  Whole-House Vacuum
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 8/6/2010

Hi Mary,

I'm familiar with the Hide-a-Hose system. It works by retracting the hose back into the central-vac pipes. We were tempted, because it would definitely be more convenient than lugging a hose around. But in the end we decided not to use it.

The main purpose of a vacuum is suction, which requires air flow. The amount of suction you'll get in a central vacuum system is a function of the power of the vacuum unit, the length and diameter of pipes in the system, the number of turns in the system, and the number of outlets. For a 35-foot hose to retract into the wall, you have to have a minimum of 35 feet of available pipe per outlet. With four outlets, that would translate into about 150 feet of pipe just to make the hide-a-hose system work, with an additional two or three 90-degree turns for each outlet. I also would have needed additional pipe to run to the central unit and the vacuum pan we have in the kitchen. That translated into more than double the pipe we needed without the hide-a-hose. With the extra pipe and additional corners, air flow would suffer, and I would have needed a more powerful vacuum unit.

So when I considered the extra expense of a hose per outlet--at about $100 per hose, the more powerful vacuum unit, and the hassle of installing all that extra pipe, I decided the convenience of a hide-a-hose just wasn't worth it.

Jeff


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 8/5/2010

We've had the combination of Schedule 40 with vacuum-pipe adapters at the central unit and each outlet for about six or eight months now. As expected, it works just fine. No issues at all. Lugging the hose around is a bit of a hassle, but we use it all the time.


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 3/30/2010

I'll disagree on using the Schedule 40. For me, it made sense because I can't find ANY local suppliers for vacuum pipe. Central Vacuum Store sells an adapter that converts from Schedule 40 to vacuum pipe. Since I have six outlets, I only needed seven adapters (one for each outlet, and one for the vacuum unit itself). I did the rest of the system with Schedule 40 PVC. I needed thirty or forty pieces of pipe, wyes, 90's, 45's, etc. And of course, I never had what I needed on hand. It was much more convenient to go with material I could buy locally. 


Jeff


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 4/1/2010

I think the main reason that the vacuum suppliers push the vacuum pipe is because they sell it. If customers buy pipe elsewhere, the money is going elsewhere. Granted, Schedule 40 is overkill, but at least it's available locally. According to Central Vacuum Stores, the reasons to use Schedule 40 rather than vacuum pipe are:

  • Using plumbing PVC pipe will result in a slight increase your CFM or your airflow. It is the increase in area inside the pipe that offers increased air-volume discharge.
  • 2-inch plumbing pipe is available almost anywhere. Vacuum pipe is limited mainly to central vacuum dealers.
  • Plumbing pipe is much more substantial (thicker and stronger) than vacuum pipe.
  • Plumbing pipe comes in lengths up to 20 ft. which offers greater system performance requiring less cutting and gluing.
  • Plumbing pipe works well underground
  • Plumbing pipe offers less chance for clogs because of the larger diameter. 

Personally, I disagree with their argument about an increase in CFM. The outlet from the vacuum to the pipe uses vacuum pipe, and each outlet uses an adapter that decreases the size of the pipe, so any increase in CFM from bigger pipes in between would be minimal. I think the other reasons are valid. But for me, local availability was the deciding factor. 

I installed two vacuum outlets on each floor to be sure I could reach every corner of the house with a 35-foot hose. I actually used a string to test it against the building plans--that's how I decided I need a 35-foot hose rather than a 30-foot hose. The second-floor outlets are both almost directly on top of the first-floor outlets to minimize pipe length, and even more importantly, the number of 90-degree bends. We get great suction through all of the outlets. 

We only installed a single toekick pan in the kitchen. My wife uses it all the time--once I finally got it hooked up. I wish I had installed another in our mud room. Since the basement ceiling is open below it, I guess I could always add it. We use the hose less frequently. Lugging a 35-foot hose around is definitely a problem. I stayed away from the hide-a-hose system because it would mean excessive pipe length, extra turns, etc. But I'm not sure I would decide any differently today. 

Jeff


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Granite Countertops
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 8/6/2010

We used a Pegasus granite vanity countertop in our last house. It comes with a back/side splash that you can also mount if you want to. It was easy to mount (with silicone adhesive caulk), and required no maintenance.


Planning Phase  >  Architects as Costly Stumbling Blocks?
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 8/2/2009

Mary:


I started out also wanting an architect. But at the time, I had trouble finding one who was interested in doing a "small" residential project. When I did find one, he was booked for at least six months. The fees he quoted would have been several times what I paid the designer I did hire, who charged a flat fee based on square footage. I was extremely happy with the designer. Today, it may be that architects are hungrier because the housing crisis hit them as hard as it hit anyone. Or it could be that architects in your area are more accessible than in my area. 

When we started the project, we did a little bit of research on housing costs in the area. The average cost per square foot from builders in this area was about $150. I figured we would save about thirty percent by building ourselves. So we looked at the amount we thought we could afford, divided it by the target building cost, and we came up with about 3,000 sq ft. We worked for several months with the designer. The house went from 3,000 sq ft to 3,450 sq ft by the time we finished. So the house had gotten bigger, but the budget stayed the same.  Regardless, I put the plans out for bid by multiple builders. The lowest bid was 20% above our target. 

To make a long story short, we did do the contracting ourselves. My goal was to build the house for $120 a sq ft. The final cost was more like $130 a sq ft. But we still brought it in cheaper than our lowest builder bid. 

So why the long explanation? One approach you could take is to figure out your target cost, decide on square footage and make sure the house can generally be built in your area for that price. Then decide for yourself what percentage you think the design is worth. Is it 1/10th of one percent? Is it one percent? Ten percent? Remember that every penny you spend on the design is a penny you aren't spending on building. But if you don't spend enough pennies on the design, you'll be spending more later due to changes, mistakes, etc. It's really all up to you.

Jeff


House Features  >  Kitchen Countertops and Cabinets - Opinions Please
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 4/26/2009

Hi Patty: 


In a previous post (ownerbuilderbook.com/forum/messages.aspx?ID=3641) I talked about our experience with soapstone in our last house. I wouldn't recommend it -- it's too soft, and scratches very easily; it requires frequent maintenance (rubbing down with mineral oil). In the house we're building now, we decided to go with granite. 

Jeff


Financing  >  Financing?
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 12/4/2009

Hi Roger,

I think the decision whether to finance construction may be regional, at least for M&I.  I financed through M&I a little over a year ago, and I know of at least one other owner-builder who closed on a construction loan with M&I in the last 90 days. But those were both here in Wisconsin.

Jeff


Shopping Techniques  >  Windows and Doors at Lowe's
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/13/2008

FYI. Lowes is running a special through 9/21/2008 for 20% off of special order windows and entry doors.  If you're building now, but haven't bought the windows yet, it might be worth a look.


Legal Issues  >  Are Tax Credits Available for O-B's?
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 12/19/2009

I'm not an expert, but this publication says that the "eligible contractor" is the person who built the energy-efficient house.  So I'm certainly hoping to claim the $2,000 tax credit.


Building Phase  >  Hardwood Floors
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/2/2009

Hi Ric,

Have you taken any readings on the flooring? If it's kiln dried (as it should be), it's probably at about 6% -- unless it's been sitting in some unconditioned warehouse somewhere. Be sure that the guy understands how to read the meter, and adjust the reading for extremely dense hardwoods. The important thing is that you shouldn't see a major difference in moisture content of the subfloor versus the flooring.

If the flooring is bone dry, at 13%, you're taking a chance -- the moisture content of the subfloor will be about double that of the flooring.  The flooring will probably absorb most of that moisture, and swell within a few days/weeks. Once it dries, you'll get gaps. If you trust the moisture meter (and its operator) I'd bring the dehumidifiers back in and wait a few more days. 

Here's a couple other things you could try:

1. Go and get your own meter if you have a local woodworking shop in your area.

2. Have your flooring guy take a reading on a few of the studs, stair carriages, etc.  If they also have a 10-13% rating, I'd guess that you're okay now, and I'd suspect that the meter is a bit whacky.  For us, the main reason we had extreme moisture content in the subfloor was because of some rain that fell late in the fall season before the roof was on -- and the subfloor had no time to dry out before it froze.  The studs were dry (~8%). Once we turned the furnace on and the subfloor reached the same moisture level, I figured it was fine to bring the wood in.

Jeff


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/3/2009

Ric,

I wouldn't worry about the floorboards drying any more than they already are.  If they're kiln-dried, they've been baked in a great big oven for a month or more.  They take them down to 6% moisture content in the kiln, so the boards aren't going to get any drier than that in any climate wetter than Death Valley. If anything, their moisture content will increase. The important thing is to get things into equilibrium, and get the moisture content of the subfloor as close as you can to that of the flooring.  If you're waiting another couple weeks, that should be plenty of time. You shouldn't even have to worry about bringing the dehumidifiers in. 

Waiting on the finish is fine, but it's pretty flexible, so it will move with the wood. But don't be surprised if you hear a bunch of popping after the first coat or two of finish. It sounded like a popcorn popper in here for a day or two.  The wood picked up moisture from the finish, expanded, and then contracted as it dried. When the wood contracted, the finish cracked between the boards. I couldn't see the cracks, but I could sure hear the cracking.

Jeff


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/4/2009

Hi Kenneth,

I agree that this would be a problem with a prefinished floor, but since Ric's floor will be finished on site, it won't be a problem.  The sanding process will level everything so this shouldn't be a problem.

Jeff


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Realities of O-B Savings
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 4/23/2010

Great thread.  I agree that it seems that the main reason for most folks to owner-build is to save money. That might be the most common initial motivation. But I think that there are really as many reasons to build your own home as there are owner-builders. In my case, I wanted to build on my own, because I wanted more house than I could get for the same price with a builder. I wanted more control over the process, and I wanted to do it because I'd never done it before. Generally, I like to create things. My hobby is woodworking, and I love creating furniture, built-ins, etc. This just seemed like a natural extension.


But don't get me wrong, I have absolutely no doubt that an owner can almost always build an identical house cheaper than a builder can. But the house the owner builds isn't the house a builder would build. Did we really save money by building our own house? No. But we definitely got more house for the same money. Our budget was our budget. We would have spent the same amount on an existing home, on a home built by a builder, or on a house that we built ourselves. Because we built the house ourselves, we got exactly the house we wanted, the features we wanted, the layout we wanted, the materials we wanted, and the construction techniques we wanted, in the location we wanted, for the price we wanted (almost). We wouldn't have gotten all of that any other way. 

I believe an owner can save money in three ways by building their own house: 
  1. Removing the project management and builder profit from the cost of the house.
  2. Saving on material costs by smart shopping. 
  3. Saving on labor costs by doing work themselves. 
I managed the project--which saved me about 10 to 15 percent of the cost of the project. I also did the majority of "finish" work myself, which saved me another 10 to 15 percent. I installed the hardwood floors, installed structured wiring, installed about half of the tile, milled my own trim work and did the majority of finish carpentry, caulked and painted both the interior and exterior, and with the help of family, did the staining and varnishing. Would I have gotten better results by hiring professionals for each of those trades? Almost definitely--at least for most of the trades. I also would have saved a lot of time and sanity. But then I couldn't have afforded the house I wanted. I would have had to sacrifice on the size of the house, the materials, the location, or some other aspect to pay for all that labor. 

I'm continuing to take a similar approach with upgrades after the fact. I'm finishing my workshop now, and doing even more trades on my own. I just finished wiring and installing drywall, and now I'm mudding the drywall. Once it's done, I'll mill and install the trim, and build built-in tool cabinets. I expect that 900-square-foot workshop will cost me less than $2,000 to $3,000 to finish. I'll do the same range of work in the rest of the basement, and I'll bring our finished workshop/basement in at less than half the cost for twice the square footage as many of our neighbors. On these projects, I'm saving money. 

Jeff


Building Phase  >  Panelized Construction
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 12/12/2009

Hi Litisha,

We stick-built our house. Framing began around the end of October, and it took about six weeks.  A house down the street started pouring their foundation about the end of October (a month after we started ours), and the framing was panelized. The panelized house was framed at about the same time that ours was framed.  And since the windows were pre-installed, the panelized house had windows in place about a week before our house did.  So I'd say that panelizing can save you four to six weeks: the time spent framing and installing windows.  But only if you plan it right.  To get it right, you'll have to know how much lead time the panel company will need to engineer and build your panels. Ideally, you'd schedule it so that the foundation is ready (poured and cured) just a day or two prior to the time that the panels are ready.

The time savings in panelized construction comes from parallel execution of tasks that would otherwise be executed sequentially.  With stick building, you can't start framing until the foundation is poured, inspected, and cured. With panelization, the panels can be built while the foundation is being built, or possibly even before that.  Panelization is ideal for a builder who builds stock plans.  The builder can have the panels designed once, and then just order the panels when they sell a particular model. 

Panel suppliers argue that the quality of a panelized home is greater than that of a stick-built home. And I agree--the second, third, and fourth times a house is built, the quality will probably be higher. But for a custom home that is only being built once, I'm not so sure.  The panel supplier will make mistakes--possibly more mistakes than an on-site framing crew since they can't physically verify foundation measurements.Suppliers also argue that panelizing reduces weather related delays. Maybe, maybe not.

A couple other points. 1. You don't get the privilege of seeing the house go up as it is constructed  2. Any mistakes on the part of the foundation crew will almost certainly lead to additional cost: either to create new panels, or to pay the framer to fix the mistakes.

It's important to recognize that the amount of time you'll save by panelizing is directly related to your success at developing and executing a plan precisely.  That panelized house I mentioned at the beginning of my post was completed, and the owners moved in, less than a week before we moved into our stick-built home. Considering that the finish phase of my project was two or three times as long as that of a typical production builder (because I did most of the finish work myself), it seems that panelizing really didn't save the builder much time.  He barely kept up with a complete amateur.

Jeff


House Features  >  Hardwood Flooring Choices
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 8/7/2009

Hi Ric,

Wood moves. Ipe moves a lot. So does Cumaru (the wood we used on our floors).  The key to getting the minimal possible movement is to ensure that the moisture content of the house and especially the subfloors is as close as possible to the moisture content of the flooring when it is laid.

We started building in Wisconsin last September. The house was closed in by mid-December, mechanicals were done around the end of January. I measured moisture content with a moisture meter several times during the process. When the house was first closed in, moisture content of the subfloor was in the 22% range. By the time insulation was installed, it was better (about 14%), but still not good enough.  We turned the furnace on even before we had our ceilings insulated and kept it on during insulating, drywall, mudding, and painting.  You'd be surprised how much moisture is released by drying drywall mud and paint.

But after a couple weeks, moisture content of the subfloor was down to about 8%.  When the flooring was delivered, its moisture content was 6%.  After a few days, neither had moved, so I decided it was time to install the flooring.  So far, so good: we've had no cracks open up between the boards.

But I know that when the air dries out this winter, so will the wood.  We had 100-year-old maple floors in our last house. Beautiful floors. With gaps between every board. In the new house, we installed an Aprilaire humidifier to minimize the humidity swings, but when the wood dries, it will shrink and we'll have gaps. 

Quartersawn white oak will move much less than flat-sawn Ipe. So you'll see fewer cracks.  But the cracks will appear, and there isn't a lot you can do about it--other than pay close attention to moisture content at installation time and install a humidifier to keep moisture levels at a more constant level.  BTW, you have to be careful about how much moisture you add to the air in the wintertime--too much will lead to condensation on windows and ultimately rotting window frames. Too little will lead to bigger cracks between your floor boards.

So my advice is to use whatever wood you like the most, pay attention to moisture levels, get a humidifier, and don't worry about the cracks. We decided not to use stain on our wood floors or on our trim. I think you're right. Stained wood looks just like... stained wood. I'd rather have natural variation in the wood than the artificial consistency of stain.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Basement
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 3/30/2010

A lot of great info in this thread. I'll add some comments on my own experience. Generally the foundation is one of the first things done--first comes the survey, then the topsoil is scraped, and the hole is dug by the excavator, and then the foundation goes in. It's really important to get it right: it's the foundation of the house. But if this is your first owner-builder project, how can you be sure that you're getting it right? My approach was to pick the best subs I could afford, and trust them. But before any sub started working, I did as much research as I could on that particular trade. I read multiple books on concrete, and read everything I could find online. I talked with local builders. I got bids from multiple foundation subs. But in the end, my foundation guy was the expert. So I relied on his expertise. And I'm glad I did.


So how did I find the foundation subs? I looked at the list of contractors used by local residential builders--usually, they list their subs in their marketing material, so it was pretty easy. In this area, there are three tiers of foundation contractors: the best (and there is only one), the good (the list expanded to two), and the rest. The best was about 10% more expensive than the good, and the good were about 5% more expensive than the rest. If I chose on low bid only, I probably would have regretted it. But I also didn't want to blow the budget. So I chose one of the good guys. How did I make the final selection? Easy, I asked the guys who followed him in the project: the framers. I figured if the framers were happy with a foundation, the contractor did a pretty good job. It turned out to be a good choice. 

Foundations are handled in this area by subs who specialize in foundations. They set and pour the footings, they provide and erect the forms, they pour the walls, they insulate and waterproof the walls. I even had them pour the basement, garage, workshop, and porch slabs. They also offered to put in our sewer laterals (the sewer and water supply), but the excavator did it cheaper. Foundation overall turned out to be about 10% of my budget. 

If you're convinced that a vapor barrier under the footing makes sense, by all means, insist on it. But talk to your subs, and preferably ask for it in the specs you put out for bidding. Same for under-slab insulation. In this area, code requires 1" of foam insulation on the walls, but nothing underneath the slab.  I thought about using 2" on the walls, but the framer told me that if I did, I'd have to have the plans redrawn, lumber bids and framing plans modified, etc. So I stuck with 1" because I didn't want to wait for the plan modifications. Had I told my designer up front, it wouldn't have been an issue. I asked my foundation guy to install 1" foam beneath the slab. He was too expensive. So I bought the panels at Home Depot and laid them down myself. 

The cost of going with 9-foot walls was basically the cost of the extra concrete. I had them install 10-foot walls in my workshop, so they had to increase the thickness of those 10-foot walls from 10 inches to 12 inches. So it was that much more expensive than the rest of the basement. But it was a good decision for me. Your mileage may vary. 

One thing to keep in mind is that you'll need to get any underground plumbing done between the time the walls are poured and the time the slab is poured. A good foundation sub will guide you through the process. 

Good luck with your build!

Jeff


Planning Phase  >  Is this a high electrical bid?
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 8/2/2009

Hi Darlene: 


For a similar-sized home in Wisconsin, we selected a bid late last year that was just about that price, without fixtures. The bids we received ranged from $16,500 to $19,000. In this case, we actually picked the highest bid because we've worked with that electrician in the past. 

I have done a fair amount of wiring myself in the past. I'm sure I could have done it cheaper myself--electrical work is one of those labor-intensive tasks. But electrical was one trade I didn't want to do myself. I'd much rather have a licensed and insured electrician on the hook for correct wiring, outlets, switches, and smoke detectors than take the chance that I'd do something wrong. For what it's worth, I had the same attitude on plumbing and HVAC.

We were very happy with the work they did, and I believe we got our money's worth.

Jeff


Wisconsin  >  Kicking off the O-B process in Washington County
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 10/18/2009

Hi Chad,

So how are the bids coming? Getting closer to the start date? Although you and I have already communicated through emails about local contractors, I thought I'd post a pointer for other folks who want to start looking for subcontractors. The Metropolitan Builders Association (MBA) in southeastern Wisconsin maintains a great directory of subcontractors. The directory contains a lot more than just builders. Virtually every possible trade is represented with multiple entries. The subcontractors who have chosen to join MBA usually specialize in new construction, and most of them have dealt with owner-builders. Another great source of contractor leads is Angie's List.

Jeff


Construction Scheduling  >  Hurry, hurry, hurry
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/27/2009

Hi Rachal,

Thankfully, we're past that stage. We broke ground just about exactly a year ago.  We got the foundation dug, and everything closed in just a little too late to completely miss the winter.  My son and I were doing the structured wiring inside the house in below zero temperatures--even a 180,000 BTU heater wasn't enough to raise the temperature by more than a degree or two. We gave up when the inside temperature dropped to 11 below zero.  Ah the good old days :)

Jeff


Planning Phase  >  New Home Help?
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 5/8/2011

Wow. A great couple of posts!


Here's my two cents' worth. 

1. On heating, we went with a conventional gas furnace and electric air conditioner because the cost of going with geothermal on my site at that time (a couple years ago) was significantly higher. Since then, tax incentives have changed the picture, and I might consider geothermal if I were to start over. We did go with a more-efficient modulating furnace from York, and required the HVAC contractor to do Manual J calculations to make sure things weren't oversized from the usual "rule of thumb" calculations. I also did my own Manual J calculations to verify the contractor's numbers. One thing to keep in mind about geothermal--you won't be paying for burning gas to heat your house, but you will be paying for electricity to run the geothermal unit. I have the same trade-off with a modulating furnace--my gas bill is lower, but my electric bill is higher because the fan runs continuously. 

2. A lot will depend on where you get your loan. We did a detailed breakdown of everything before we applied for the loan--so we knew how much to ask for, down to the cost of every doorknob. And then, of course, we had to rework the estimates to fit into the categories that the bank wanted to track. The bank required written estimates from vendors for EVERYTHING. Overall, I'd say the process of solidifying the budget and getting to the closing of our construction loan took us at least three months.

3. Not sure about the perc test (we're on city sewer, so we didn't need it); but I'd guess it would be in the same category as the survey. The bank has to be sure that you'll be able to build the house you plan to build. If the perc test doesn't allow it, you'll be stuck. So I'm sure you'll need to have the perc test done before the loan is approved. You'd have to ask the bank about reimbursement for pre-construction expenses, which may include the cost of the architect or designer, permits, survey, perc tests, etc. You can probably roll it in to the mortgage, but you'll have to pay it up front first.  

Our biggest surprise was the amount of working capital we needed. We started out by buying the lot, which represented about 20% of the cost of the project and most of our owner's equity. We also had about 15% of the cost of construction in cash. But we needed at least 25%. Remember, the bank will not reimburse you for expenses until the work is complete. So if you find a deal on appliances next week, and buy $10,000 worth of appliances for $5,000, you just saved a ton of money. And the bank will reimburse you for the amount you spent only after those appliances are hooked up and working. Until then, you're sitting on a $5,000 reduction in your working capital.

Finally, the bank was very insistent on meeting the budget. On everything. I was allowed to change the budget for the first draw. After that, it was set in stone and I wasn't allowed to change it again. 

Jeff


Construction Scheduling  >  When to pour pads for A/C and porch and generator?
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 2/25/2010

We poured the front porch at the same time we poured our garage slab--after the first floor was framed. We don't have a back porch, but we do have concrete stairs down to the patio, so we poured those at the same time as the patio, driveway, and sidewalks.

Our air conditioner isn't sitting on a slab. The contractor used a metal bracket that is bolted to the foundation, with a fiberglass pad attached to the bracket. The air conditioner sits on that. We built during the winter, so the HVAC contractor waited until the ground was thawed to install the bracket because they had to dig about a foot below ground level to bolt the bracket to the foundation.

So I guess it depends on a lot of things. You'll need to decide who is going to do your flatwork: the foundation contractor or somebody else. You'll need to decide who will do your HVAC work and ask them how they prefer to install the equipment. You'll probably also need to talk to your framers. The porches probably can't be poured until your first-floor exterior framing is up.  And you need to be sure that the porches are poured at the right level below the finished first floor (code requirement).


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 2/25/2010

Hi Rich,

Talk to your foundation contractor. He can build supports for the pads into the foundation. So then, yes, you could do that. Otherwise, I think you need to tie the pads into the foundation with rebar--or risk the pad moving when the ground freezes or thaws. I wouldn't depend on there being enough "leftover" concrete for the pads. Just make sure the pads are identified on your plans so the contractor accounts for them when he orders concrete.

Jeff


Construction Budgeting  >  Square Foot Cost vs. House Size
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/28/2009

Hi Joe,

Costs will vary considerably in different areas of the country. Even in one region (like the upper Midwest), you'll find quite a bit of variation. I can say that you could build a 2,800 sq ft house in the Milwaukee area for your budget. But that doesn't necessarily mean you could build it in Minneapolis for that price.

One option that might work is to visit a couple of local builders. Pick a plan that's close to what you want to build--similar square footage, similar construction; with as many of the features you want in the house as possible. Get them to give you a ballpark estimate. Some may cooperate. Some may not. You can even visit a few builder open houses and do your own average square footage cost calculations from their models. Generally, a builder-built house will cost quite a bit more than one where you act as your own contractor. So if you could afford a builder-built house that has the size and features you want, you can definitely afford to build your own.

Jeff


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/28/2009

Hi Joe, 


It might be possible, but maybe not using high-end materials. I got bids on a similar-sized house from three builders. The cheapest was $135/sq ft, most expensive was $182/sq ft. I brought it in for about $121/sq ft. which was a little bit higher than my goal (and my budget). But the end result was definitely closer to the finish level I would have expected from the builder with the highest bid. So one way to look at it is that we completed the project about 33% cheaper than the builder would have. 

We just got the house re-appraised. It came in about 3% higher than the original plan appraisal, with a final value of $167/sq ft. So we built it for about 25% less than the appraised value. I'm sure glad I didn't go with the high bid. 

We were able to keep the budget down by doing a lot of the work ourselves. We installed the structured wiring and audio system, installed and finished the wood floors, milled the trim work, did most of the finish carpentry, laid about half of the tile, and painted and stained--both interior and exterior. We picked those trades because they were some of the more labor-intensive tasks on the project. I'd guess that about 20% of our savings was from managing the project ourselves--the remaining 80% from the work we did ourselves. 

We didn't use any "builder-grade" materials. So our price came in about 10% or 15% higher than it could have. The moral of the story is that you can either build a bigger builder-grade house, or a smaller house with higher-quality features. But either way, you can do it a lot cheaper yourself than you could with a builder. 

Again, your mileage may vary. You might be much better at shopping than we were. Materials may be cheaper or more expensive since it's now a year later and you're in a different area. You may choose to do more or less of the work yourself. But getting a square foot estimate from local builders will at least get you in the ballpark, and let you start selecting or designing a plan. 

Jeff


How Owner-Building Saves Money  >  savings
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 10/30/2009

Hi Bob:

Around here, the few spec houses that are being built are much smaller than those built in the past four or five years. Prices are down, but so is square footage, and so is the quality of finish materials.  The Parade of Homes here listed only a handful of houses this year, with all of them smaller than 2,500 sq ft in size. In 2007, the average size was probably 3,000 to 3,200 sq ft.

Economics are economics. If you're building a house of exactly the same quality and size as one being built by a builder, you can do it cheaper. A builder puts up houses for a profit, or at least for a living. The amount you'll save is more or less the amount the builder would have paid himself. If you do some of the work yourself, you'll also save labor costs for other trades. If you take the time to shop around for bargains, you'll save even further on materials. If builders are selling new houses for less than it would cost you to build them, they won't be in business for long.

That being said, I have seen existing houses sold for less than replacement value--Detroit is probably the best example, but there are others all over the country. That's an anomaly that will eventually correct itself. Unfortunately, until it does, I fear it may be difficult to get a decent appraisal on new house plans in many areas of the country.

Some may argue that builders can get better prices because of volume discounts. Maybe, but generally volume is way down, so the discounts are way down too. Also, most of the builders who are big enough to take advantage of significant volume discounts are not passing the savings on to customers: they're paying their own overhead and increasing their own margins.

Jeff


Construction Budgeting  >  How much to build this home (see link)
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 3/12/2011

It's doubtful that you'll get a reasonable estimate from the sketchy information available from an online plan site. One way to get ballpark estimates would be to look at new homes in your area that are approximately the same size. If you look at new homes from multiple builders, you can calculate an average square foot price for a builder-built home. As an owner-builder, you can probably spend 10% to 20% less (or possibly even less than that), depending on your choice of features and materials, your ability to do work yourself, and your willingness to shop for bargains, etc.


House Features  >  Do away with the cooktop?
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 7/28/2008

An interesting article in the NY Times last week:

nytimes.com/2008/07/24/garden/24granite

 


Financing  >  Draws
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/30/2008

Hi Matt:

Did you try to negotiate with the local bank? Let them know that you can get both a better interest rate and no secondary closing costs from a competitor.  They might ask who the competitor is, and balk if you tell them it is Chase (one of my bankers told me that they won't even try to compete with a broker). I was able to negotiate elimination of secondary closing costs with one bank, and a lower rate with another. Just let them know you really want to do business with them, but the extra closing cost just isn't palatable.

Be sure to do some research on the health of both banks before you sign (and sign and sign and sign).  At the moment, almost everybody is shaky. The health of the local bank might be easier to understand than Chase, but Chase's financials are easily available.

Is the local bank using a title company to manage draws, or doing it themselves? With each draw being that cheap, I'd guess they'll manage the draws themselves. If they've been more helpful, that might be a point in their favor.

Personally, I didn't even want to consider a national bank because of the mortgage security debacle. But it turns out that the much smaller bank I chose also did business in Florida and Arizona, so they aren't actually as healthy as I thought they'd be (I didn't do enough research before I signed). I guess I'll find out soon since I'll request my first draw around the end of next week.

Good luck!

Jeff


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/22/2008

Hi Matt:

The lenders in our area included four draws (in addition to an initial and final draw).  But it wasn't enough. The problem with only taking four draws is that subs may have to wait a while for their payment.  I plan to do much of the finish work myself and expect it to take about 9 months to complete the job. I did a tentative schedule, and saw that with just four draws, some subs would have to wait 45 to 60 days for payment -- too long. By adding two draws, I should be able to pay everybody within 30 days of work completion. If I need more than two extra draws, I just have to pay for processing each draw. Why do more draws cost more money? Paperwork and inspection.

Hope that helps.

Jeff


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/22/2008

Hi Charles:

The line item draw is probably the closest to what I'm using. I provided detailed estimates with bids to the bank for standard line items on a checklist they provided--everything had to be accounted for and we had bids for about 98% of the cost of construction. We also added a 5% buffer so if we decide to splurge somewhere, we can. The detailed budget--backed up by bids -- was a prerequisite for financing.

The bank works with a title company to manage the draws. Subs will submit invoices and lien waivers to me after items are completed, I'll submit the request to the title company, along with original copies of those documents.  A day later, the title company will issue checks directly to subs, or to me if I've already paid the bill. It's flexible enough for me. Percent complete disbursement sounds to me like a way to guarantee disagreement.  Who says whether you're 28% or 32% complete?  That can make a lot of difference, and it's your relationship with subs that is at stake.  I'd stick with the line item draws: you have concrete evidence that things have been done. And the bank only pays for the work that is complete. No disagreement.

I also put a clause in the contract that makes payment contingent on draws from the bank, so the subs are very aware of what is expected.

Jeff


Planning Phase  >  Costs and Cost comparisons
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 8/13/2009

Hi David:

Generally, square footage is square footage. And it seems like the builder agreed. Although he said the more complicated plan would be more expensive, it sounds like they're similar enough that there wouldn't be a big difference in cost. Some subs may charge extra for corners, most won't.  Generally a simple box is cheaper to build than something more complicated. But the only way you'll really know the difference in cost is to get bids on both plans from the same subs. I'd start with a foundation contractor or two.  Some may be reluctant to bid two different plans, but it's worth a try.

You can probably get a general idea of what the plan would cost to build in your area if you find some builder models with similar square footage.  If you do it yourself, you'll be able to save money, but it's a good starting point.




House Features  >  Front Entry Door
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 3/30/2010

Hi Mike: 


I installed the Pella fiberglass door. And generally, I'm happy with it. But if I had to do it over, I'd pick a natural mahogany door. The main weakness of fiberglass, in my opinion, is that despite manufacturer attempts to make it look like wood, it still looks like a plastic door. I chose to save money by "staining" it myself. Don't let the manufacturer fool you, you "stain" a fiberglass door by painting gel stain on the door. My first attempt looked pretty bad. My second attempt, much better. But still when it comes right down to it, it looks like plastic door impersonating a wood door. It's especially apparent if any of your finish gets scratched. On a wood door, you get a gouge but it's still wood underneath. With a fiberglass door, you get a gouge with the very light-colored fiberglass showing. 

From a performance perspective, the door is excellent. It definitely provides the insulation that a wooden door wouldn't. From an ordering perspective, I had problems with Pella. I decided that I wanted to upgrade the glass in the door prior to the manufacturing date, where the change should have been allowed. They called me a day later and told me that the door had actually already entered the manufacturing process so they would need to charge me a 50% restocking fee. I politely declined and decided then and there that I wouldn't work with Pella again. 

Jeff


House Features  >  Masonry/Stone Fireplace
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 3/30/2010

Carolyn, 


When we were going through the planning process, my wife was absolutely convinced she had to have a wood-burning fireplace. We had a couple of choices: a prefab wood burner, or a masonry wood burner. Generally, labor is expensive, and masonry is no exception. Building a masonry fireplace would run double or triple the cost of a prefab. It requires a "foundation" for the fireplace, a full masonry chimney, etc. She still wanted wood burning, and she really wanted a masonry fireplace, not a prefab. 

So being the cheap one, I brought her to a fireplace showroom just to look at what was available. She immediately fell in love with a gas fireplace from Mendota, and wouldn't even consider a masonry fireplace after that. We spent about double what we would have spent on a "builder-grade" fireplace, but we are very happy with it. And we don't have to worry about the mess, the draft, the hassle, and the inefficiency of a natural fireplace. We had a huge limestone-covered natural fireplace in our old Victorian house, as well as a natural fireplace in the master bedroom. We averaged maybe six or eight fires a year. In the new house, we flip the switch and have a fire: we used it two or three times a week all winter long... Seeing as how we live in Wisconsin, winter should be over real soon now. 

Jeff


How Owner-Building Saves Money  >  Custom Closets
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 8/10/2009

I received bids for closets that ranged from $6,000 to $9,000.  Although it would have been nice to have someone else do the closets... not for that price. I went to a local hardware store and purchased 8-foot long, 15-inch wide maple melamine shelving for $10 a board. I turned the shelving into custom closet units by drilling my own shelf pin holes (with a $25 jig from another local hardware store) and cutting them to size, making my own custom shelving units that look pretty good.  All of our closets now have a combination of long hanging space, double hanging space, and shelves. For a total price of $1,500, I even added adjustable shelves to our linen closets, pantry, and laundry room.


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 8/11/2009

Hi Rachal,

Thanks, but I'm afraid I might have given you the wrong impression :) 

The closet units I created are similar to those you'd see in the closet section of your local big box store. They're aren't real fancy.  I constructed them of melamine-covered particle board, and held them together with Confirmat screws (available from Woodcraft, woodcraft.com). I bought brackets to hang the units from the wall that are made by Easy Track (easytrack.com). They're good enough for closets, but definitely not for a kitchen. Someday soon, I'll make time to take some pictures.

Making pantry cabinets is an entirely different exercise.  I made my own cabinets for my last house, so we were without a working kitchen for more than six months, and it only took me about six years to finish them.  This time, I hired a local cabinetmaker. I figured it would take me six years to finish all the other things I was doing on this house, and I'm sure my wife didn't want to wait for 12 years for a completed kitchen.

There are a bunch of DIY books on cabinetmaking out there. And you may or may not save money doing it yourself. The one I like this best is Building Traditional Kitchen Cabinets by Jim Tolpin. The book assumes you have a pretty extensive workshop (table saw, router table, miter saw, etc.).

Jeff


Legal Issues  >  Construction Contracts
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/13/2008

FYI.  I found a couple of resources for construction contracts online.  The first is the UDA construction contract templates. They are available for purchase for $79.95.  You can get to the product here: uniteddesign.com/shopper.

The second resource is the book "The Contractor's Legal Kit".  You can purchase the latest edition online at jlconline.com.

I combined the two to draft the contracts that I'll use with subcontractors.

Jeff


Miscellaneous  >  Fresh paint and dehumidifiers
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 8/10/2009

Hi Ric,


I wouldn't worry about the paint. It's pretty dry after an hour, so I'd think that running a dehumidifier shouldn't have any negative impact on the paint. 

Jeff


How Owner-Building Saves Money  >  Building a home in phases with a constr. loan?
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 8/10/2009

Hi John, 


This is an interesting question. When you add the costs of electrical, plumbing, drywall, painting, and carpets for your second floor, I'm pretty sure you'll find it's a pretty big number. 

When I first read your post, I was skeptical. But then I thought about it for a while. From an inspection standpoint, you're probably fine. What's the difference between an unfinished basement and an unfinished second floor? For that matter, you could just call the second story a big attic. As long as you meet the minimum safety requirements and have a working kitchen and bath on the first floor, it's probably fine for the inspector. 

Getting financing, however, might be a bit more challenging. The bank wants to be sure that they will be able to take over your project if you default, and they want to be sure that they could finish the project at a similar budget in case you get hit by a bus. It's unlikely that they'd be able to sell a half-finished house, so I think it will be unlikely that they'd give you a construction loan for one. 

But if you make the big attic argument, they might go for it. You'd probably have to be sure that your costs and appraisal are in line with other, similar-sized ranch houses in the area. And when I say similar-sized, I mean the same size as your first floor. If you can do that, I think it's certainly worth a try. 

Jeff


Planning Phase  >  Reasonable Architect Bid?
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 9/28/2008

Hi Steven,

The proposal sounds good in terms of the services the architect would provide. And the cost isn't too far out--if you want an architect. You can probably get plans drawn cheaper, but then you won't get the HVAC design, electric design, etc. Then again, your HVAC guy can probably do an HVAC design, your electrical guy can do an electric design, etc.

I had a local designer (not an architect) design our house for far less than what your architect quoted. We got elevations, floor plans, renderings, construction sections, and some minor detail elevations. This amounts to six drawings total.  My HVAC guy will design the HVAC system, but I did rescheck & heat calcs myself. I'll let him do the duct design. I'm probably using an electrician who's done some work for me in the past. They specialize in new construction, so I have no doubt they'll do a good job. The design is included in the subs' pricing, and you won't get a break if they have to build to someone else's design, so you're paying for these "minor" designs twice.

In my opinion, architects are a "full-service" option. They do a lot of work, and they charge you for that work. As they should. If you want the services they provide, go for it. But be sure to talk with more than one architect. Be sure that you're very comfortable working with the architect, because you'll spend a bunch of time with them over the next few months. And be sure that you won't resent paying them their fees.

One more thought: I'd try haggling a bit with the architect. The industry is in a rut, architects are feeling it just as much as builders and subs. See if there's any room to lower the price and/or get even more services.

Jeff


Planning Phase  >  Book Reviews
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 8/6/2009

Hi Angela,

My wife and I (okay, mostly I) probably went overboard in buying books about home design, the construction process, and various trades while preparing to build our house.

One of the best books I found on home building was The Well-Built House by Jim Locke. It was written about 20 years ago, and is a bit biased toward builders (the author is the builder of Tracy Kidder's house), but it does a great job of describing the construction process. I found it to be an enjoyable read and I learned quite a bit from the book. Keep in mind that the techniques and materials are 20 years old, but if you want to learn about the process, common problems and how to solve them, etc. It's one my favorites. By the way, the book House by Tracy Kidder was also very good. It's a novel that tells the story of a house being built for a rather irritating couple by a carpenter who hasn't yet figured out how to run a business. It's a good read.


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 8/11/2009

Hi Angela,

Here's a few more, this time on home design. I think we read most of the most popular "pop" architecture books out there before we finalized our design.  Even though we didn't try to design our own home, these books helped us to understand what we wanted from a house, how we wanted it laid out, and what kinds of features we wanted.  Here's what I think were the best design books:

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander is possibly the most influential architectural book ever written.  Alexander presents more than 200 patterns of architecture that cover everything from civil engineering to residential construction. These patterns explain why some houses feel more like home than others--and make some of the "magic" of architecture more accessible. The book was written more than 40 years ago, and the author was a bit of a kook, but this is a great book. The other "pop" architecture books I recommend were all influenced in some way by Alexander. But a word of warning is in order: this book is mostly theoretical--no pretty pictures.

The Not So Big House series by Sarah Susanka. Most people interested in building are probably already familiar with these books, but if you aren't, you should be. There are four or five books in the series, and like A Pattern Language, they present different patterns used in residential design. Some of the patterns were taken directly from Alexander, others are original. These books are much easier to read than Alexander's, and the photography is fantastic. If you don't have time to read the whole series, you could start with the original Not So Big House and follow it with Home by Design.

Patterns of Home, by Max Jacobson et al. Written by colleagues of Alexander's, this book is a little more true to the patterns presented in A Pattern Language than Susanka's books. I'd actually say that this book is what A Pattern Language would have been if it were written 40 years later. While Alexander's book is entirely theoretical, Patterns of Home shows examples of the patterns at work. Highly recommended.

Good House Parts, by Dennis Wedlick. The other design books I mentioned talk about design patterns that are more abstract. This one focuses on the details of design: it must have a thousand photographs. Definitely worthwhile if you're looking for ideas on the details of your house.

I'll try to post one more on the trade books I found useful in the next few days.


Miscellaneous  >  Sizing furnace w/zones
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 10/18/2009

Hi Jere,

The system needs to be sized to handle the whole house.  Zones will enable more consistent heating and cooling throughout the house, but they don't reduce the overall demand on the system. And it doesn't matter which type of heating or cooling you are doing (forced air or radiant, conventional or geothermal). The heating and cooling requirements will be the same.

I decided to go with one zone for each floor of the house: basement, first, and second floor. Since we don't spend much time in the basement, I have the basement thermostats set very warm for cooling (80 degrees) and very cool for heating (55 degrees). At those levels, the basement zone will almost never be used.  When I finish the basement and we start spending more time there, I'll adjust them to less extreme levels.  The first- and second-floor zones sometimes call for heating or cooling at the same time--especially when it gets really cold or really hot.  So the system definitely needs to be sized to handle both at once. Otherwise, when temperatures are at extreme levels outside, the system will be on continuously, but it won't be able to bring the temperature in any of your zones to the desired level.

The key is to size the system appropriately, and make sure it isn't oversized. An oversized system leads to short-cycling--the system is oversized and doesn't operate at peak efficiency levels. To correctly size the system, either you or your HVAC contractor will need to do complete ACCA Manual J calculations to size the system correctly. In the area I live in, it is relatively rare for a contractor to do Manual J calculations, because they are time consuming and they aren't mandated by building codes. Instead, contractors size a system with "rule of thumb" calculations. Those "rule of thumb" calculations always lead to an oversized system, which will cost more to purchase and cost more to run.  In fact, when I first submitted my calculations to the building inspector when applying for a permit, he told me that the numbers looked too low--he is that used to seeing "rule of thumb" calculations.

When I received my HVAC bids, two companies insisted that I need two 3-ton units. My calculations showed I only needed one 4-ton unit.  The contractor I selected agreed with me. And they did full Manual J calculations. When I submitted their numbers to the building inspector, he accepted them.

You can do your own calculations using some relatively cheap software: rhvac.  But even if you don't do your own calculations, insist on seeing the calculations included in any bids your receive from subcontractors. And be sure you pay attention to the parameters being used (don't allow more than a 10% fudge factor on design temperatures). Home Energy Magazine has a good article on sizing an HVAC system.

Jeff


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 10/19/2009

Hi Jere,

With traditional equipment, it may be more effective to use two units. Until recently, you could only choose between a dual-stage unit with variable fan speed or separate units. But we purchased a York Affinity modulating furnace, where both the gas and the fan speed are variable. The fan stays on most of the time, although at a very low speed, to provide circulation for our heat-recovery ventilator.  When one zone calls for heat, for example, the furnace fires up with a small amount of gas, and the fan speed increases a bit. If the second zone calls for heat before the first zone reaches the desired temperature, the fan speed increases a bit more, and the furnace increases the amount of gas it burns.

One of the main reasons for using zones is to eliminate the need for redundant equipment. Including the basement, we're heating almost 5,000 square feet of living space, and we only need a single furnace and air conditioner.  And because we paid close attention to building a tight envelope, using energy-efficient windows/doors, and insulating walls and ceilings well, we only needed moderate capacity in those units. By the way, the ACCA Manual J calculations take most of that into account when calculating the capacity you need.

The York was the only modulating furnace on the market at the time we purchased (almost a year ago), and it had the highest efficiency rating on the market (98%).  It uses technology similar to that used for some of the higher-end commercial boilers. I'm sure other vendors will also introduce modulating furnaces, if they haven't already. The modulating furnace added about 30% to the price of the furnace. Buying two smaller furnaces with same efficiency would certainly be more expensive. An added benefit is that when something goes wrong, we only have to worry about maintenance on one unit, not two. On the downside, the furnace is more complicated, so I'm sure it has more parts to go bad, and it will probably be more expensive to fix when it does need repair.

Jeff


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 12/19/2009

Hi Matt,

Your concern makes sense to me.  For my area, air conditioning is a secondary concern. Usually, we only need AC in July and August. So my decision was weighted heavily on the heating side of things--especially when my last house gave us heating bills that exceeded $800 a month. I'm even more convinced now--after living through a cold month in the new house--that we made the right choice. The zoning makes a lot of difference. The system is well balanced, and I can set the second-floor thermostat a few degrees warmer than the first-floor thermostat, and it works as expected!  My wife hasn't mentioned any concerns about the difference in temperature between rooms--a very frequent complaint in the other houses we lived in.

We did have a relatively warm summer, and I didn't notice any problems.  The house is pretty well insulated, so when the second floor called for AC, the first floor generally followed soon after (often while the unit was still working on the second floor).  But the Carolinas have a very different climate. So I did a little bit of research. According to Conditioning Air in the Humid South—Creating Comfort and Controlling Cost, by Building Science Corporation, a high-performance home in general reduces the need for AC. Since the air conditioner doesn't run as frequently for as long, the amount of humidity that an air conditioner can remove from the air is limited. Especially in the "shoulder" seasons of spring and fall. So if you are sealing the shell, insulating well, and generally creating an energy-efficient house, you might want to consider installing a dehumidifier, regardless of the AC system you install.

I think it's just a matter of balancing your priorities. If you want maximum efficiency: you'll need to seal the shell, insulate well, size the system right, and make sure you use a multi-stage compressor.   If you want consistent temperatures, you'll want multiple zones. But zoning may reduce the efficiency of your air conditioner, causing it to run below capacity. I suppose you could implement a single zone to make sure the system runs more efficiently. But then it would probably run longer and more often. That kind of defeats the purpose of going for maximum efficiency.  Kind of a catch-22. But I'm sure there are other options.

I would probably go for high efficiency with a single multi-stage compressor, multiple zones, and the Ultra-Aire dehumidifying system recommended in the Building Science paper.

Jeff


Construction Budgeting  >  Means Pricing Guide Book
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 10/18/2009

Hi Joe,

I picked one up about 12 months before starting construction. My goal was to use it to generate ballpark estimates. In reality, I never used it, so I can't tell you how accurate it would be. I originally thought that it would be a great way to estimate the cost of building, and that it was probably a great tool for general contractors. I got estimates from three different builders. None of them used it.

Jeff


How Owner-Building Saves Money  >  Value impact of a finished basement
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 3/8/2010

I'll tack on my two cents' worth as well. I agree that in general, finished basements are not valued the same as other square footage in the house--at least not in this market. I've seen builders try to sell three-bedroom ranch homes here that have a single bedroom on the first floor and two bedrooms in the basement. They priced them comparably to other three-bedroom ranch homes. They marketed them with square footage calculations that include the basement. And they haven't sold. Despite being on the market for more than three years. This may or may not be the case in your market. 


That being said, you can get a lot of bang for your buck in a basement. Here, the key is to make sure the basement is finished to the same level of quality as the rest of the house. That means if you have stone tile in your bathrooms upstairs, and granite countertops in the kitchen, you'll need to use stone tile and granite in any bathroom or countertop in the basement. To get top dollar, you have to use the same quality trim, carpets, windows, doors, etc. as in the rest of the house.

I asked one of our many appraisers how he would value a finished basement. He told me that a basement finished at the same quality level as the rest of the house would add about a 10 to 12 percent premium to the value of the house based on comparable sales in my neighborhood. If I do most of the work myself, I can finish the basement for less than half that amount. So I'm planning to add a rec room with a small wet bar, and room for an air hockey table and a pool table; a full bath; a bedroom that we'll use as an exercise room; and a small theater/media room with stage, projector, and built-in screen. But I'm leaving plenty of room for storage too. We spent a bit extra on hardscaping when we first built the house to make sure we had a "daylight" basement, as most of the higher priced houses in our neighborhood do. 

I think it might be difficult to assign a "square foot" value to a finished basement. The finished value of our house on today's market is about $200 per square foot, including land. If I add the basement square footage and the premium to the price, the value of the house drops to $183 per square foot. If I look at them separately, the value per square foot of the basement is about half that of rest of the house. But that only applies if I finish the basement with same quality materials that I used in the rest of the house. If I finish it with cheaper materials, the cost will be lower, but so will the return on my investment. 

Jeff


Planning Phase  >  To Spec or Not to Spec
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 4/15/2010

Hi Mary, 


I struggled with this a bit. I used a number of sources (mostly the "build your own house" books) as sources for the specs.  But generally, I wrote my own. It's surprisingly difficult to write construction specs. To make them good enough, you have to specify everything. There is a software package out there with predefined specs and contracts: (constructioncontracts.com/construction_specifications). I used some of the material supplied with that package, but did some pretty extensive modification. In the end, I wrote about 20 pages of specifications. 

In my opinion, you'd probably be okay with just using plans--as long as the plans specify everything you care about. The good subs will build exactly what is on the plans, or at least as close as they can get to exactly what is on the plans. The specs give you some amount of extra insurance, but nobody ever looked at the specs after the contract was signed. Everybody looked at the plans. So if it wasn't in the plans, it didn't get built.

In terms of forcing a particular method on a contractor, it's pretty hard to do. If they're good, they've been practicing their trade for quite a while. You can make suggestions, but they'll probably have a preferred method, and if it's different from your spec, they'll sell you on their method instead. For example, I originally specified advanced framing techniques. But the framers I talked to persuaded me to use traditional techniques instead.  Even though I've read a number of articles on the topic, I'm not an expert, and I didn't want to experiment with my first house. 

Jeff


House Features  >  Light Fixture Help
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 4/5/2011

I agree with Connie. One of the best ways to get ideas is to look at local model homes, or decorated models from builders. We hired a local interior decorator who helped us make our selections--of plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, tile, paint colors, etc. Actually, she narrowed our choices from thousands to a few--and we think the result definitely competes with any of the local "Parade of Homes" homes. Of course, we're biased. 


Our light fixtures came from a mix of manufacturers, but all are well matched. We used a similar finish on fixtures in common areas (oil-rubbed bronze), and chose light fixtures that matched the door hardware. In bathrooms, we matched the light fixtures to the plumbing fixtures (brushed chrome). When you start looking at fixtures, you might be surprised at the amount of variety and at how much they can cost. We chose Kichler for most of ours. They look decent, but aren't ridiculously expensive. We did splurge on kitchen pendant lights from Hubbardton Forge. We sourced our fixtures from a local supplier, but you can get an idea of pricing and selection online from a site like Lamps Plus

Jeff



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