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Forums Home  >>  Kenneth
Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Bargaining with subs?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/22/2005

I would analyze subcontractors based on price, service, and quality of work. Once the bids come in, It is too easy to take the lowest bid (of course if you asked them to bid they were qualified, right?) and lose track of the rest.

At the same time, it is certainly fair to negotiate a better price with your selected subcontractor. For example, I found many times I could beat pricing from subs (I shop around, they tend not to), and they would lower bids if I provided materials based on their take-offs.

One thing I would never do is provide one subcontractor a copy of competing subcontractor's proposal. I have heard before the "just fax your lowest bid, I will match it or beat it by XX%." I want all of my subcontractors on a level field when they are preparing proposals. This is the same reason I don't shop at Home Despot on price match issues (although I do shop at Home Despot when they have the best combination of price, service, and quality of materials). I will however ask for ways to reduce submitted pricing or for them to sharpen their pencil.

And at times I have taken the highest bidder and been happy with that too.


Construction Budgeting  >  how much does 15lb roofing felt cost per roll?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/23/2005

Around here it is just over $10 for a 416 s.f. roll.  I wouldn't waste my money on 15-lb. felt, it is simply too thin to offer any protection whatsoever.  You can get a 30-lb. felt for the same price/roll, just 1/2 as much felt on the roll.

The only place I would use 15-lb. felt would be underlayment for a hardwood floor.


Construction Budgeting  >  Excavators
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/22/2006

I used the same excavator throughout my project, he did such a great job at a fair price for the initial excavation that I didn't see a need to change later.  A transit will level it just fine, it really doesn't matter what equipment they use as long as they undertand how to use it and use it properly.  A transit takes two people, a laser level takes only one, the transit is more accurate.

Have you looked at stay-in-place lineal foundation drains such as Certainteed form-a-drain type?  I didn't use it for my footing tile drains, but it seems to be widely used locally.  I installed drain pipe adjacent to my footings and installed them during backfill.  I had the excavator put a bed of crushed stone around the footings, installed the pipe, and had the excavator cover the pipes up to a level of a couple of feet with crushed stone.  I used a perforated sewer pipe, but you can also use a flexible plastic pipe that is probably more common.  I drained my foot tile drains to daylight, but I have a sloping lot with a walkout basement so the slope wasn't a problem. 


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/21/2006

In my locale, excavation is always an hourly charge.  The excavator I used was familiar with the area, and potential obstacles he might run in to.  He also gave me an estimate on how much time it would take him to do the job, which turned out quite accurate although his rate was hourly and not per job.

I wouldn't necessarily select the lowest hourly rate among excavators, and I doubt you find too much difference anyway.  I would select the excavator that has the right equipment for the job, including laser level equipment (your footing subcontractor will appreciate a level excavation).  My footing subcontractor commented that "typical" excavation will yield an elevation difference as much as 15" across the footprint, whereas my excavation was level within 2".  This didn't save me any money (footing subcontractors bid the job per linear foot), but sure made for a happier crew.  For even money, I'll take happy workers.


Miscellaneous  >  Roofer Dilemma
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/21/2009

This sounds like it worked out well for you. Remember that coupon may be advertising for your roofing contractor. I have sometimes found with coupons that the underlying job price is higher, and with the coupon then you really get "normal" price. You may have taken "normal" price and then applied a coupon.

Re-roof jobs tend to be higher profit margin and/or insurance jobs, and insurance pays better than new construction. With re-roof jobs, the contractor gets to educate the consumer on the value of better flashing, better underlayment, etc., all of which equates to more "investment" and higher profit margin. On new roof for a GC, all of this is wasted. I have a friend of mine that is replacing a roof on a six year old house, this should have been a 30-year roof. When they got up there for the tearoff, no underlayment, flashing, etc. A completely substandard job in every aspect.

For me, I found it very difficult to find a roofer for new construction, I was calling out of the yellow pages. Finally I asked why they weren't interested in new construction since it should be easier than re-roofing and tearoffs, they explained because GCs are willing to sacrifice quality for price, and they couldn't compete on price and weren't willing to sacrifice quality. I then identified that I was O-B, I was building this house for myself because I wasn't interested in sacrificing price for quality like so many GCs, and then I got interested roofers. I guess the roofers GCs use don't advertise in the yellow pages?


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Getting HD/Lowe's, etc. to match prices?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/14/2004

The best way to buy lumber is just like anything else. Define what you want, put it down on paper, and give it to suppliers to bid it out. Get the delivered cost, as you will use a lot of lumber and unless you have a semi, you don't want to haul it. I found that Home Depot had excellent prices on lumber. I bid it out to several lumberyards only, and most of them couldn't even match Home Depot prices. Once you have your quantity takeoffs, simply arrange the quantities so they can price them easily and fax them to every lumberyard you can find in the phone book - they will provide bids promptly. From talking to the local carpenters I know, the downside is that they said they don't like to work with Home Depot lumber simply because it comes from them, and they prefer to support the local lumberyards.

I did, however, find one lumberyard that beat Home Depot. In addition, they gave me 3-15, net 30 terms (3% discount if I pay within 15 days of invoice) since I set up a new business charge account with them, (I established myself as a GC with a license; they don't need to know I am only building one house, and actually I may continue). They gave me 15% off my total lumber order if I paid for it all at once (vs. packages as they were delivered, e.g. basement-wall package, first-floor package, first-floor wall package, roof package, etc.).

Home Depot said that if anyone beat their lumber prices, to bring in the bid and they would beat them by 10%. I didn't take them up on this offer, as I would prefer to support the local guy when I can, and they really did "earn" the lumber package when everyone was on a level playing field. In addition to just lumber, I also got a former framer who was willing to help me with some details and expertise - Home Depot couldn't have done this for me. I was also concerned that the lumber that was delivered would be warped, twisted, or bowed material, but I received great lumber with almost no waste - perhaps once again it is because I am a new account (I have another shipment coming, maybe I will change my mind after this one).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/14/2004

In my locale, you are allowed to O-B, but local regulation restricts them from issuing building permits to anyone except licensed builders. You have to be a licensed electrician to pull an electrical permit (typical), unless you are working on your own house, then you can pull your own. With construction though, it is licensed contractors only. It is basically a revenue enhancer for their tax base, but all I had to do was apply for a GC license and I got one. Conveniently I got it the same day I pulled the building permit. In my locale, they issue one building permit for all trades, so I don't need a separate plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc., saving my subcontractors at least some work. So, I paid my $30 and now I am a licensed GC - go figure.

I have used this $30 investment to my advantage. This opens so many doors to so many suppliers. Some worthwhile, others I could easily beat their prices or service. The best thing it opened for me was suppliers trying to establish an ongoing relationship with a new business (winning a new customer is a lot more difficult than maintaining an existing customer), financing (I now qualify for trade financing), insurance (I am now a company), and invoices (I don't have to worry about cash accounts or bank draws for small orders; I get invoiced later). Some suppliers would much rather deal with businesses than individuals. My truss supplier for example, if I am building my own house I have to pay cash or bank draw when I order my trusses. Since I am a company they invoice me 30 days after I order, and then give me 2-15/net 30 terms. I pay less as a company than I do for cash, go figure. And the best part is my floor trusses needed some field repair, and since I hadn't paid for them yet, I felt like I had more leverage.

Your locale very likely has different requirements to obtain a GC license. One call to the local permitting authority will give you all of the answers you need.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/6/2005

I have had the same experience when getting the local Home Depot to match prices. They will only match sources within a 25-mile radius of the store I am in. This is not just Home Depot, but Lowe's too.

My ICF contractor needed lumber for various reasons (bracing, window bucks, etc.) and thought he could go to the Lowe's closest to him, pay for the lumber, and then pick it up at the Lowe's closest to me (or alternatively, have the Lowe's closest to me deliver it). The Lowe's closest to him was consistently lower price than the one close to my construction site. Lowe's would not allow this; he had to pick his lumber up where he paid for it. This is interesting, because he operates a crew that only does subcontract work for Lowe's (you pay Lowe's to install a door, his crew and not Lowe's employees are who actually does the work). I found it especially odd that they treat their own subcontractors that poorly, much less everyone else at the "pro" desk.

I found a smaller local lumber company that had no problems beating the big-box prices, beating their service, and delivered great lumber.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/10/2005

You can ask any of the employees for coupons; they all have them to distribute.

It is easier to just get them from ebay.com. Search for "Home Depot coupon" and you will get more hits than you need. eBay is an unlimited source, too; no sense not always having a couple.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/12/2005

Suppliers keep tabs on registered GCs. By getting my GC license, I have found myself on plenty of mailing lists inviting me to "Contractor Appreciation Days" from a multitude of suppliers, some more worthwhile than others.

I have also noted that some of my suppliers check the permit issuances for localities and even follow-up, as they seem to know where I am in the building process much more than simply driving by might indicate. Anything in the public record is open to anyone in the general public, and I have made use of this in the past, but it is a little unnerving when people start checking up on you.


Miscellaneous  >  Insurance - HELP!!!!!!!!
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/14/2004

It sounds like a good portion of your problem (not being contractors) could be solved by obtaining a contractor license. I got mine from city hall, as long as I am not doing HVAC, plumbing, or electrical, the license was easy to obtain. I found the license worthwhile anyway, because it opens up so many more options for supplies and invoices.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Light fixture bargains
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/14/2005

If you like contemporary or modern fixtures, try affordablelamps.com. If you call their 800 number, there used to be a customer service representative named Michael who was extremely helpful. This is one on-line source that I found could almost always beat the local lighting contractor prices.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/15/2005

I found most internet sites for light fixtures didn't provide as good of a cost as I could get locally. I bought absolutely zero light fixtures from HD or Lowe's.

I found some of the best deals from the lighting supply houses, but ask what quantity of light fixtures you have to buy to qualify for trade pricing. Perhaps being a licensed GC helped me here (I don't exactly have to represent that I am building one house, but I DO represent that I am building my house and looking for new suppliers). Most GCs with accounts send their clients in to these type of showrooms. The showroom will discount the fixtures from retail price, and then provide a kickback check to the GC - this is profit people don't even realize the GC gets.

Light fixtures have tremendous markups, frequently dictated as minimum price by the manufacturer to the final consumer. If you get these from an internet source, they still dictate the minimum price. If you are a contractor, you are not the final consumer.


House Features  >  Concrete Decks
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/16/2004

I was going to use a concrete floor system suck as INSUL-DECK to build the deck on my ICF house. No matter what they claim, it is simply not cost competitive around here to do a concrete deck. Concrete stamping adds about $3.50-$5/s.f. to the cost of finished flatwork, which is about $3/s.f. For $8/s.f. just in the concrete, I can build a pretty exotic deck from Ipe wood or composite, and it should be almost as maintenance free and long lasting.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  HVAC sizing for ICF/SIP... even all homes
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/13/2005

One thing I would caution when you get down into the very small air conditioners (smaller than 3 tons). They tend to be aimed at the rental resources market, so they are more likely built to a price point than a quality point. It seems property managers focus more on capital cost than life cycle cost, especially since they aren't paying the utility bills.

If you are at all upsized, I would look at getting a ventilating dehumidifier (a la Aprilaire 1700 or Therma-Stor Ultra-Aire APD) to supplement the dehumidification during times of low/no A/C use. I will be using this instead of an ERV or HRV. The price is a wash between the dehumidifier and the ERV, although operating costs of the dehumidifier will be higher.

Keep looking, you will find an HVAC tech that knows his/her business and the importance of properly sized units.


Miscellaneous  >  Roof truss suggestion and time frame
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/12/2005

You really need to find a local supplier for roof trusses. I found "local" meant within ~100 miles radius, as free delivery tends to end about this point.

Your truss company should provide a template based on your drawings. With this template they will also provide an estimate. However, make sure you order your trusses based on field measurements and not from the drawings, as changes inevitably get made and the trusses need to be manufactured for actual conditions. This will affect your bid.

As to time, it took my designer less than a week to prepare a template based on my drawings, and slightly longer based on field measurements (he figured all angles to four decimal places of precision, like that matters in the field). My trusses only took about four weeks from order through delivery, although this is highly variable based on time of year.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/13/2005

Your actual field measurements will vary from the blueprints. Your blueprints assume exactly straight walls, perfect corners, perfect squareness, etc. and this will likely not be the case in the field as this level of precision is simply not likely.

For example, my garage is slightly out of square - not a big deal if stick-framing the roof, because each framing member is field cut anyway. However on factory built trusses, the truss designer needs to know that my garage is out of square, how much it is out of square, and in what direction so that he can fabricate the trusses to compensate for this condition. Also I have several 30-degree angles incorporated into my house. These vary from 29-31 degrees, which doesn't sound like much variance, but when you consider my trusses are accurate to 1/16" it becomes significant. Even my 90-degree factory ICF corners vary +/- a couple of tenths.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/13/2005

Yes and no.

In my locale, I have to submit truss plans and engineering to pull a building permit. These are obviously based on the drawings, not the field dimensions. Not to mention that my banker wanted solid estimates on materials, and a truss bid is a big chunk of materials, prior to issuing the construction loan. (They want to make sure I have good estimates and can actually build the house for what I said I can). However just as my banker understands that material prices are volatile and will change, the building code officials recognize that truss templates can change based on field conditions.

For my all rough inspection, I had to have my revised truss template and shop drawings at the site for the inspector. Not a big deal. Both my floor truss template and my roof truss template, along with actual truss shop drawings, changed as a result of field dimensions. Please note that my costs changed as well, partly due to additional engineering, partly due to increased cost of materials, partly due to my truss company being acquired by a larger truss company and the pricing structure changing.

Short answer, provide your drawings to truss companies to obtain templates and bids, but do not order your trusses without setting an accurate field template to ensure the trusses you order will fit the structure you built.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/13/2005

This is apparently a regional issue.

If the truss company won't do field measurements, I would expect the framing carpenter to do field measurements and prepare an "as-built" drawing to fabricate the trusses from. The carpenter isn't going to want to fight trusses not built to the correct dimensions. The carpenter isn't allowed to field modify the trusses without engineering, so if one (or many) don't fit correctly, they simply can't hack them apart and rebuild them.

For me it was a little more critical, as I was using floor trusses hung from concrete walls. The truss hangers were all cast into the concrete based on the truss template (developed from field measurements); adjustment after the fact was not an option. Same for the roof trusses. The tie-downs were cast directly into the concrete (again based on the truss template), although you can always use Hiltis or redheads to get the hold-down strength you need if an anchor is out of place on the roof.

Even in commercial construction, there are design drawings and then there are as-built drawings. On a fairly large commercial project around here, the dimensions ended up being a fraction of an inch long, all requiring extra steel and welding of connections. You would be surprised what a fraction of an inch does for material and fabrication costs on a large project - this is a huge change order.

Or perhaps my civil engineering background is starting to show through, and it all isn't a big deal in structures this small (my personal residence is easily the smallest project I have ever managed, yet probably the most stressful).


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  LOGIX vs. PolySteel
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/12/2005

I have not worked with either one, but have worked with ICF so let me offer my opinion.

1) I would prefer the plastic ties to the steel ties as they are easier to work with. I don't think holding power is a very big deal here, the plastic has more than enough holding power for anything I have screwed to the walls, including walkboards. To install utilities in ICF walls, you need to carve out the foam somehow (I used a router, more common is an electric chainsaw). The plastic ties will cut out easier than the metal ties, and you really don't want to hit a metal tie with a chainsaw as this will either break the chain (best case scenario) or really ruin your day.

2) If you are running utilities in ICF walls, make sure you have enough foam there to completely bury whatever you need. I put some plumbing vents in ICF walls. We had to completely carve out all of the foam to get a 2" vent line in there. However, the sheetrock went over smooth. Less foam and I would have had to make other considerations. Same for electrical boxes (you will have outlets in ICF walls).

3) I wouldn't worry so much about total wall thickness as IIRC, VBUCK comes in any dimension that any of the ICF is manufactured in, making this easy to use. I used ACQ lumber; ripping down a window buck wasn't too difficult with a guide on a table saw. This wouldn't affect my decision criteria either way.

Good luck.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/12/2005

A hot knife works great, but is really ssssllllooowwww.  Pre-installing all your electrical boxes sounds like a lot of work. Your electrician might not appreciate the extra labor. A router cuts the foam like butter and left very clean channels - nice. The chainsaws are fast and ugly, but then you cover this with sheetrock anyway.

If the steel ties only go to within 1" of the block tops and bottoms, you need to be very careful about the siding material you wish to use. I am installing James Hardie lap siding, 8-1/4" with 7" exposure, and occasionally run into the top of a block and don't have enough web to screw into (about one course/8-9' of height). There are solutions (I am using flashing; grapplers are another solution), but the Amvic block has the webs very close to the tops of the block. If there were 1" between the block and the webs, I would be having this problem much more frequently. Just something to think about, and depending on your siding choice perhaps not an issue at all.


Planning Phase  >  Materials List/Blueprints Dilemma (Help!)
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/1/2006

I am going to disagree with Scott on this one. I had tons of copies of blueprints, so handing them out indiscriminately was something I did hoping to save money. I handed blueprints out to several lumber suppliers to get lumber bids, expecting to compare prices and make decisions. The problem is, the data I got back was basically worthless for this purpose. Every lumber supplier had different quantities on their takeoffs, so you can't compare them based on price alone, as everyone was bidding different quantities. How would you like to select your low cost supplier, only to realize they were giving you a pretty short load of the materials needed to actually build your house? Some suppliers also bid the job per 1,000 board feet of lumber, and I had no idea how that equates to a cost per 2x4 stick so I couldn't even compare unit costs.

I found it much easier to compare supplier when I provided the takeoff. Get a good framing book such as Stanton Press "For Pros by Pros" series. A chapter in this book will teach you how to do your own material takeoffs, it didn't take me very long to have my own list of lumber that I needed. Then you can fax this takeoff list to your various suppliers. They will especially appreciate that you have already figured the quantities, making it much easier for them to prepare material costs. Most lumber suppliers will respond quickly to the easy bids, and if you have your materials and quantities already called out, this is an easy bid. At this point, you can compare apples to apples, and you know you are truly getting the best price.

You might shop Home Depot and Lowe's, but in my area they have neither the best prices, the best service, nor the best lumber (in my area, it really is junk lumber compared to the lumberyards). I received much nicer lumber at a better price, than the big boxes. The lumber suppliers will provide free delivery, will pick up the excess, and generally provide much better service. There is a reason the pros don't shop at the big boxes. However if you don't need to sleep at night you can take your low bid to Home Depot and they will beat the price by 10%. You can combine this with a 10% off coupon courtesy of fleabay or freeroms and save an immediate 20% off your lumber bid. Is it worth 20% to get inferior service, inferior lumber, and allow a large supplier to sell below costs with the intent of putting a smaller company out of business? That is your call.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/3/2006

I think the important thing here is your statement about O-B vs. GC. Everyone on my construction site thought I was in the trades somewhere, although they weren't sure exactly what trade I was in. I knew enough terminology from every trade that I could talk their language, and in their mind this only comes from being on construction sites. Every one of them was wrong; I am not in any of the construction trades, nor have I ever been.

As Scott mentioned, he used his framer's takeoffs. I consider this quite acceptable, and probably the best option if you are going to subcontract it. I did my own framing - I didn't exactly have a framer I could ask to do the takeoffs for me. For plumbing materials, I used my plumber's takeoffs. For electrical materials, I used the electrician's takeoffs. I guess the important thing is you give everyone the same numbers so that you can compare who is truly giving you the best prices, and being able to talk to the supplier so that they know the quantity takeoffs were generated by a knowledgeable professional, not necessarily a computer program used by a designer or architect (the $3 home design program I purchased via eBay would do quantity takeoffs, if I wanted to trust it). Once you have these numbers, you can get more bids quickly than you can imagine, and you will save money.

BTW, this is my first O-B house, my first experience with residential construction, and my first experience with framing. Thank you for the compliment, Scott.


Shopping Techniques  >  Countertops
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/7/2004

Amerinite, Inc. manufactures a solid surface countertop (similar to Corian) called Amerinite. They are in Cookeville, TN, but shipping is quite reasonable using freight carriers.

They can sell you materials-only if you wish to DIY. However if you provide a template, they can also fabricate it at their shop and send you completed pieces. If the completed pieces are too large for shipping, they can fabricate them at their shop slightly oversize and then cut them apart so all you have to do is one or two microseams at your site. Even with them doing all the fabrication, I found their prices to be better than any installed price on solid surface material, including shipping. However I am going to try my hand at fabricating it myself (although I am going to start with something small such as a bathroom vanity) before I make the decision to have them fabricate it or to DIY.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/13/2004

I will close the loop on information sharing, but this is still several months off for me so please be patient.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/9/2005

Gayla talked to them just yesterday so we could see what type of lead time we would need on the order. The color we are looking at is $469 for a 144"x30" sheet (they will sell partial sheets at a premium; you can also get 144x36 sheets). They can fit four sheets/pallet (~900 lbs. total pallet weight) for a shipping charge of $250/pallet (I recommend you order full pallets to save on shipping). We need full pallets, so our s.f. price delivered is about $17.71. We will probably have a fair bit of waste here just from cuts, etc. but you can't really beat the price.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/9/2005

I am just now getting ready to order it. I really think it is a doable project for a detail-oriented DIY. My cabinetmaker suggested that solid surface can break near the cutout (e.g. sinks and cooktops) so be very careful. I think in these areas I will build up and glue several layers of solid surface to give them much more substance when I use the router. I have also talked to Amerinite, and they will pre-mount the sinks and ship them that way if you like, for a cost of course.

I found an article in handymagazine.com (January/February, 2004) that talks about DIY solid surface.

Like you, I would feel better not being the first person I know to take this leap, it is mighty expensive stuff to mess up. But then there have been a lot of things I have learned since starting this project, and one of which is if I read the instructions, ask questions, use the right tools, and take my time I can achieve results as good as most professionals (although not nearly as quickly).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/12/2005

My order went in yesterday. They said it will take four weeks for me to get the materials. The color I ordered is not a "stock" color, so they have to order the base for it. The base is from Safas Corp., the color is Galaxy Nury Bedrock 221. I am enclosing a sample picture just so I can figure out how this is done.

I went ahead and will have the sinks mounted in the slabs - they said this is fairly easy if you have the right clamps, but since I don't have any clamps yet, I figure it is just as easy to pay them a nominal fee to do this for me. Sinks is plural as I am using this as bath vanities as well as kitchen. To address the cooktop cutout issue, my cabinetmaker suggested going to a deeper depth at this location. We have an L-shaped island, with the cooktop at the corner. We will transition this at the L-shape using two 45-degree angles. At this point the countertop will go from a standard depth to 28"-30" of depth to provide some more "meat" for the cooktop cutout.

I will report back once the material is delivered.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/26/2006

They closed down and filed for bankruptcy. I don't know if anyone has taken over their operation.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/31/2010

If you plan to rarely need HVAC, is there a particular reason you want to precondition the ventilation air? There is more than one way to achieve ventilation; and ERV (or HRV) is not the only answer.

However to answer your question directly; yes it can be done. Think about houses that use hydronic radiant heat as an example. I have seen HRVs used for ventilation in these situations, and clearly they are not attached to HVAC systems. Obviously, you still need ductwork, but it is very small compared to HVAC ductwork.

And to the suggestion about Energywise; my recommendation does not fit with the other poster here. Suffice it to say I think you get better service by hiring a commercial HVAC service to run the numbers for you. I am certainly glad I did not follow the Energywise recommendations for my house.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/7/2010

Ventilation is easy; use a fan. How do you ventilate a bathroom to remove humidity? Why not let that fan do double duty - just put it on a timer. This solves your ventilation problem with equipment you are already required to install. And read the above problems related to ventilation when the HVAC system is not running; your ventilation fan is not dependent on your HVAC, and you can run it anytime you turn on the switch. Sometimes we overthink problems, when the solution is both simple and obvious.

Now then, you need makeup air or you risk going negative pressure (I am a proponent of positive pressure, or at least neutral). So put a hole in the wall for makeup air, introduce it to your HVAC duct and you get to balance your whole system. If you are over-the-top, put a flap valve in there somewhere. If you want to buy the unit as a whole, look at a skuttle make-up air control for your return duct of your HVAC system, about $20 total.

Unless you detail everything just right, and bring a blower door in to verify that everything is detailed just right, I doubt you are near as "tight" as you think.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/18/2004

Try building-cost.net - this allows you to change all sorts of variables, such as number of corners, quality of finishes, fireplaces, locality by zip code, etc. I found it useful as a planning tool during the early budgeting phase. It provides breakdown for work packages (foundation, framing, plumbing, fixtures, etc.) which I found to be somewhat unreliable. However as a bottom line price, I found it to be accurate. It pulled my house cost of construction within 5% of the detailed bids.


Planning Phase  >  Bamboo Floor
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/20/2006

Savitri,

I have Yanchi natural, horizontal, 25-year finish bamboo flooring from builddirect.com (no affiliation, but a happy customer) throughout my main level.  I also have two fairly large dogs (a lab and a vizsla).  In my previous house, we had #2 red oak flooring, so we have some comparison between the two floors.

I find that the dogs don't actually scratch the finish of the bamboo, but they will dent it.  In these cases, the finish is undamaged.  This is very similar to the appearance of the oak floor.  The primary difference is oak has a lot of character, and these areas don't show as well.  Natural bamboo is very light and very uniform, so any dog scratches will become much more visible.  This will be greatly reduced if you keep your dog's nails short.

Overall I like the bamboo flooring and don't mind a bit of patina.  I would have used the strand woven bamboo had I liked the look, this is a much tougher flooring solution.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/26/2006

Savitri,

Prosource in Lees Summit carries bamboo flooring.  PM me through O-B connections, I have a commercial account set up there (not open to the general public) and can give you a person to talk to on my account (you can't bill to me though ;-).  I did not get my bamboo through there, but they carry several manufacturers and also carry accessorries (bamboo colored wood putty, etc.) that can be difficult to find.

The things I looked at were color, uniformity, finish, and hardness.  Natural bamboo has a bit of color variation, this is part of the beauty of the material (but then I also like natural hickory cabinets, so natural color variation doesn't bother me).  However Yanchi separates the natural into light natural and regular natural to eliminate this color variation - if you want uniformity this is important.  I went with light natural, but I would have liked a bit more variation than I got.

I have seen bamboo from <$2/s.f. to >$14/s.f.  Generally you get what you pay for, but after ordering many samples and doing my own unscientific testing for hardness, I found the $14/s.f. bamboo to be among the softest and easiest to damage.  The <$2 wasn't great either.  If you truly want the hardest bamboo, go with one of the strand woven bamboo products, these are very hard and damage resistant - I simply didn't like the look.  You will aslo find that vertical bamboo is harder than horizontal, but again I didn't like the look quite as much.

I used a pneumatic nailer to put mine down.  There is another thread that had the specific, search on bamboo and you will probably find it.  I haven't tried glue down, but the nailed down worked well for me and definitely a DIY type job with the right tools.

My HVAC tech Tim used bamboo from Lumber Liquidators.  He was happy with it, but if you search the Internet you see a lot of bad experiences with LL.  There is an outlet in Olathe, KS that is probably closer to you than St. Louis.  Tim lives in Kingsville, and picked his material from the Olathe outlet.


Green Building  >  Making a house PV ready?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/12/2007

Thank you for this topic. I hope it will generate some discussion, as this is a topic I am currently interested in as well.  However, for me it automatically looks cost prohibitive as the only tax incentives are federal. Some of the states have tremendous tax incentives (e.g. New Jersey) that really bring the cost back from the stratosphere into somewhere simply north of reality.

My suggestion (and not really earth-shattering here) would be to build the box right, before you bolt the technology on. Build your house to minimize energy usage to start with, as PV arrays are pretty expensive minimizing the size of the PV array you need is critical. Passive solar, tight construction, properly ventilated, energy efficient - it is much easier to incorporate this into your design and construction than it is to add it later.

For reference, I pay ~$0.105/kWh today, and with passive solar, ICF construction (tight, heavily-insulated, thermal mass), low-E; and a nod towards energy efficiency (maximizing use of fluorescent fixtures [don't be afraid of these, modern ones are a fairly nice light, not the flickering bulbs of our youth], a nod toward energy-efficient appliances, etc.). I find I use less energy than any other house I have owned. This is a good place to start in order to make adding PV cost-effective at some later date.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Salvage Materials before Demolition of House
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/2/2004

I would call Habitat for Humanity or other charity organizations. I pasted the next two paragraphs directly from the local chapter (restorekc.org):

Habitat ReStore is also proud to offer Deconstruction Services. Deconstruction is the process of hand dismantling in order to salvage useable portions of rooms or buildings. These items are then diverted to Habitat ReStore and added to our inventory. Whether a simple remodel is planned or a complete demolition is necessary, our crew can do the job. When you use Deconstruction Services as an alternative to traditional "wrecking ball" demolition, the salvaged building materials recovered are a tax-deductible donation to Habitat ReStore.

The best part about it is the cost, it pays back double. Not only are you not paying for demolition of your structure, you get a tax donation for letting them have the materials. I have been to the resale store for materials, they salvage almost everything. Obviously you are still left with minor demolition such as concrete basement and footings, slabs, etc.


Planning Phase  >  Framer or Builder - Contractor Question
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/13/2010

I used a "builder" for the ICF portion of my project. I had another "builder" bid certain portions of the project as well, but he preferred to either be GC or to have a consulting agreement with me - I didn't use this person at all.

The "builder" that I used allowed me great flexibility as to expertise (another contact, how do I do this?), suggested suppliers (I contacted all with a reference, I used some, this "builder" used some of my suppliers on his future jobs), allowed me to borrow tools ('Hey, can you drop off some scaffolding', etc.), and even allowed me to borrow expertise ("I need to go out of town for this Hurricane Katrina gig, can you finish this punch list to get my COO that the inspector left me?"). 

Here was the key, as a builder he had a crew that built houses and he had portions of those houses he subcontracted out; I only asked him to do what his crew would do and not the portion he would normally subcontract. Truthfully I think the relationship worked out for him as he could focus on what he did best (the portion his crew builds) and he didn't have the hassle of dealing with subcontractors, suppliers, variability in supply costs, financing, and the owner (he didn't build spec). He also had an entire crew that just did install work from Lowe's. These crews did not interchange. Now for some irony, he subcontracted placing the roof trusses to another "builder" that only did spec houses (his crew had a scheduling issue that conflicted with my schedule). So I had two real GC "builders" on my house, both as subcontractors.

I still talk to him (he called me just a week or so back); it must have been a win-win relationship. I wouldn't automatically rule it out.

I do agree with the suggestion that you talk to the person with their name on the truck. Many of my subcontractors were small-time operations, and the owner was frequently the person who was there with the tools doing the work. These small subcontractors were the key to the project, not the larger production subcontractors. You find these small subcontractors only through word of mouth.


Miscellaneous  >  Superior Wall vs. ICF's, Which is best for PA?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/30/2004

I would get bids for both before making a decision. I ended up with all sorts of bids (ICF, SIP, 2x4 and 2x6 stick-framed, light-gauge steel-framed, red iron steel framed) just based on how I wanted to construct the house. Once I sorted out the how (I ultimately decided to use ICF), then I sorted out the specifics of who, when, etc. They all have advantages and disadvantages, cost is only one part of the equation.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/7/2004

We will use ICF for basement and above-grade walls, everything to the eaves. I would caution against buying ICF material from Lowe's if you have never done this yourself. When we were considering DIY for the ICF block, the quality and price of the block was secondary to the technical assistance we would get from the supplier, the ability to rent bracing equipment, the supplier connections for concrete pumps, the supplier expertise for concrete mix, etc. When you buy from Lowe's, you don't get any of this stuff.

I would recommend finding the closest ICF distributors and talking to them. Of all of the ICF material-only bids we got, there wasn't enough difference between them to justify buying material on cost alone without considering the technical aspects and hand-holding we were going to need to get the job done. We ended up with Amvic, but only for the reason that the contractor we hired for the ICF portion prefers this block. If I were to DIY, I would have ended up with ECO-Block.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/1/2004

John,

Great post. There is a lot of good information here; you should get the post of the week for this one. I agree when you are shopping for ICF to DIY, the distributor is much more important than the block itself. I got quotes from Amvic, Arxx, ECO-Block, Fold-Form, Logix, and Reward, among others. The prices between block are not significant enough to shop prices alone. Service after the sale is much more important for DIY.

Around here, the best support comes from the ECO-Block distributor, and while that was not my preferred block, I would have purchased this hands down based on support after the sale. I agree that renting the bracing is critical. I talked to a DIY that didn’t rent the bracing for the basement level as he felt like he could buy a lot of lumber for the cost of bracing rental. Basically he framed his first floor and used this as bracing to hold the ICF walls prior to the concrete pour. He rented the bracing for the next pour, and said the bracing is definitely more worthwhile.

Take the class. Even if you later decide to subcontract the ICF portion (as I did), this knowledge is invaluable. It teaches you how to do ICF correctly, usually from a factory representative and not from the distributor. This allows you to see other ICF contractors and identify where they cut corners. If you understand the process, you can make a better decision about who you hire. If you DIY, the class should be mandatory.

I opted not to use V-BUCK, but went with treated lumber. Some of the distributors recommend it, others don’t. I noticed not all of the professional builders use V-BUCK. I preferred Universal Buck (made by ECO-Block), but the ECO-Block distributor recommended V-BUCK over their own product based on labor savings (Universal Buck is modular and must be assembled in the field).

I ended up with Amvic ICF based on what the subcontractor I hired liked to use. I have to say after being on several pours, the Amvic was without question the most solid block I have seen. My subcontractor braced it very heavily and glued every joint, there were no shortcuts here.

Ken


Planning Phase  >  Mix Owner-Builder/GC
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/26/2006

The question becomes why are you interested in O-B at all? The intent of O-B is to get quality construction (much higher than spec), save money (eliminate GC OH&P), and to get exactly what you want. You can accomplish two of these goals without O-B. The GC puts up with a lot of headaches in the construction process, and are compensated accordingly. For me, I built at the top of my neighborhood (wonderful setting) so in order to get better quality construction on a custom designed house, I had to save money if I ever wanted to consider that I might sell it sometime in the foreseeable future and still cover my costs, so it was all about cutting costs as my primary reason to O-B.

 

Just because you O-B doesn’t mean that one person does everything, or that you can’t hire a foreman or construction manager or accountant or subcontractor or inspector. I worked with my SO, and we really had a clear delineation of tasks she did vs. tasks I did, and there was very little overlap. Given that we had clear tasks and expectations between us, it would have been fairly easy to use what you coin a “hybrid” approach and hire the services of a person to fill in for one or the other, for a reasonable fee of course. I would argue that anytime you hire a subcontractor, you are moving toward this “hybrid” approach, but this doesn’t make you less an O-B.

 

If you decide the best option is to pay a GC for his services, I would recommend a fixed price for a certain package of services provided. I do not like percentage-based fees. Let's use lumber as an example; how much incentive does your GC have to call around to every lumberyard to try to get the combination of best price and service? Any money he saves directly results in less fee for them – they will simply use the lumber supplier they already have a relationship with and quite likely this is not the lowest price you could find with simply an hour or two of faxing your material takeoffs to the different lumberyards in any geographic area. I don’t believe they will purposely look for the highest price for lumber either, just don’t expect much in the way of work to minimize your costs.


What the professionals will tell you (and most of them honestly believe it) that because they do $XX,XXX worth of business they get better prices is pure fallacy. I found that I could universally beat my subcontractor prices on almost everything (HVAC being the exception, you can’t really get this stuff without being licensed). I hired several subcontractors that changed their suppliers after my job simply because I could significantly beat their delivered price, much to their surprise (every one of them told me I didn’t have a chance at meeting or beating their prices from their sources). Another example are architects or designers who charge by the square foot. Exactly what incentive do they have to minimize square footage? I don’t disagree that these people that you hire don’t have your best interest in mind, but their fee structure is directly in conflict with the service they are providing, which is to ultimately save you money.


Miscellaneous  >  Does Appearance Make A Difference
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/26/2006

Does the appearance of the subcontractor affect your perceptions of them? I would try to dress "similar" to what they do. My plumber showed up driving the most beat-up vehicle, disheveled appearance, missing teeth, heavy smoker, many things I would "normally" equate to negative perception. However he was highly recommended by a source I trusted and lived up to the expectation. He certainly didn't display the most professional appearance, quite the contrary.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Window Coverings
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/28/2005

And who might that be?


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Getting subs to compete
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/19/2004

I am with Mark on this one. I like to provide a level playing field for all subcontractors. This doesn't mean I don't try to negotiate a lower price, or even that I select the low bid, I just like everyone to compete on the same footing initially.

I also wonder what they think if I am willing to fax their competitor's bid to them, do they wonder if I am faxing their bid to their competitors? This doesn't mean I won't call a subcontractor I wish to use and ask them to sharpen their pencil a bit to get the job based on someone else's bid. Even with the low bidder, it doesn't hurt to bluff and ask them to lower their bid to account for a lower proposal you have received. You also need to be careful with this, because some subcontractors know they are the lowest bidder due to efficiency, and they won't bluff and will instead walk away.

Also, even if you intend to use a subcontractor, you should bid the project just to keep them honest and make sure you are getting good value. I worked with one ICF supplier to learn ICF. I was at several of their jobs. They met with my architect several times, once before he even started design. They reviewed the plans at the preliminary stage to ensure buildability. Their engineers reviewed the structural details, as my architect had only designed two ICF houses and wanted a check of his work before he stamped it. They thought they had the job wrapped up, and if they had not been so comfortable with me on their bid it would have easily been theirs. I think they were confident enough that I wasn't shopping this portion of the project that they had a very comfortable profit. One of their competitors stepped in trying to make a name for himself in this market, and got the job.

One thing to remember, we are not just shopping for subcontractors. They are shopping for clients they will be proud to work for. If I am questionable in my pursuit of subcontractors, or they ask me to fax their competitors bid and I do, what kind of person am I hiring to work for me? Maybe I have rose colored glasses, but I like to think subcontractors like to work on my job. So far, every subcontractor I have used (and some I haven't yet but will) have received referral work based on my job, so it has been beneficial to shop beyond price points only.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Shop eBay for great deals!
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/28/2004

I would have to agree here. I have purchased plumbing fixtures, kitchen appliances, all of my interior and exterior door hardware, garage doors (Crown Door routinely sells overstocks on eBay, and they are local to me), electrical panels, electrical materials, etc. As an alternative, it is a good check to see how much markup you are paying to subcontractors to negotiate a better material price. You do have to be careful though, as shipping can get pretty expensive on larger items. Also many items sell for more on eBay than you can get them for locally, so know what you are buying.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/1/2004

As someone who is purchasing heavily off ebay.com, one of the best bargains is for tools. Any tool you need you can find on eBay. The beauty of the situation is you can sell it when you are done and recoup most of the cost.

For example, I have found for pneumatic nailers, magazine screwguns, etc. if I need to rent them for four days, it is cheaper to just buy them outright. eBay will usually have them for about half of retail. And when I am done, I just sell the tools I no longer need (I am keeping some of the multi-purpose items, but who needs a cordless coil-roofing nailer more than once?) to recoup my costs. It is basically close to free tool rental, and no pressure to return these to the rental yard.


Miscellaneous  >  Square-D arc fault breakers
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/6/2008

Any time I had a question like that, I called my local codes department. They recognized my voice by the end of my project (and had my fax number memorized from sending me pages out of the code book), but I never had any surprises on work I did.


House Features  >  WROUGHT IRON STAIR BALUSTERS
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/30/2005

I had some made for a previous house. Not knowing where to start, and the Internet wasn't quite as widespread at the time (at least I wasn't connected), I started with the Yellow Pages for my locale.

We have a heading titled Iron-Ornamental that has almost two pages of businesses. Most of them are iron fence contractors, but you can weed these out pretty quickly. I found a great local iron fabricator - I provided him the actual field measurements and he welded up a custom piece. If you are not in Kansas City my source won't matter to you. I found a custom piece was much nicer than panels you get from the hardware store, and not very much more expensive.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Need a Temp. Power Box
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/24/2006

Are you hiring an electrician to wire your house? The electrician normally provides the box.


Shopping Techniques  >  Where to Buy Hardwood Floor Material online?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/6/2008

I used BuildDirect.com. My HVAC installer (also building at the same time I was) used Lumber Liquidators. I have read plenty of bad press about Lumber Liquidators on the Internet, but he was a happy customer.  


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/10/2008

I did some shopping at ProSource. They are set up for building contractors to send their clients in so they (the buyers) can pick their finish flooring, tile, etc. They provide pretty good discount to the buyers, and then a rebate to the builders that sent them in (this is profit most buyers are not aware of when having a pro build their house).

The real discount from ProSource comes when you explain to them you are a builder (I had my GC license), I build strictly custom as every house has an owner before I break ground and is designed by an architect (not much stretch if you consider that every is just one), I was building my own house (true), and I wanted to evaluate materials so that I could adequately consider them for future build jobs (not too far from true) and that I would feature that I got the materials from ProSource (free advertising for them, albeit limited but they don't necessarily know that). Present them this while you are wearing a shirt with your logo on it (all "real" builders have these shirts; they are cheap so even us poseurs should get them made as they really look professional), and your price just hit the floor. If you order last year's models of tile and the like (yes, tile has years, the brand-new patterns are expensive and not likely to be discounted much), you will not touch their prices anywhere else with this technique.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/29/2009

Let's be careful here. If you search "owner-builder" in any popular search engine, you come up with myriad of sites. Owner Builder Network is a registered trademark for a specific company that is trying to sell you a service that some O-Bs might find valuable. This is much different than what Mark is providing on this site.


Building Phase  >  Dirt work and trenching
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/8/2005

If you are building on rock, I second John's recommendation to get a good hammer drill. However what we did was rent one from the local rental yard. We got everything laid out, marked where we needed to drill, and rented a much nicer one than I would have ever purchased for two days.

OTOH, I have found that in general if you are going to need to rent a tool for four days, it is usually in your best interest to buy it and resell it when you are finished. In these cases, buy quality (Dewalt, Hilti) as the resale will be much higher than discount stuff (Chicago Pneumatic) and will ultimately cost you less money.


House Features  >  Stairs and Rails
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/19/2006

I really like the look of cable rails, and investigated it for my site.  I found that vertical cable rails were going to run ~$90/linear foot of rail materials only.  Horizontal cable rails are much cheaper, but still not cost effective at ~$60-65/inear foot materials only.  This is all prefrabricated rails, fittings, etc. and assembly ready at your construction site.  If I was going to do this, I would go down to either the marine supply house or a shop that services small airplanes to see what fittings I could get to fabricate it myself.  Marine grade stainless steel cable isn't that expensive, it is all in the rails, fittings, and ability to tension it properly that increases the cost of pre-fabricated materials.

For code issues (when I built, my house was IRC2000) I could not install the horizontal cable rails because they are "ladder-like."  For code after IRC2003 this requirement has been removed.  The other issue I had was the requirement that you cannot pass a 4" sphere through the railing, and I don't know if vertical cables at 4" o.c. would really meet this requirement, as the cables themselves are pretty thin and any deflection would allow passage of a 4" sphere.

Given the cost of materials and the timeframe I was facing (I really didn't have time to roll my own), I investigated other options.


Finding Subcontractors  >  Industry Typical Employment - and Workman's Comp?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/17/2010

I built years ago, and I may well be the source of information recommending hiring through a temp agency.

I would suggest looking at this from a standpoint of risk. For high-risk trades (roofers pay a ton for worker's compensation insurance), I would ask for a certificate of insurance. I found for some of these trades, I needed to play in the commercial-contractor market (commercial contracts all require proof of insurance, no 1099 subcontractors there). Sure, you pay union wages, sure you pay higher overhead, sure you pay for fancier tools (latest and greatest), but honestly I found their bids were reasonable, because they spend less time on the job (those fancy tools, that union apprenticeship and training, apparently it paid off). Back to the roofers, due to high insurance rates I didn't find any that actually carried workers' compensation - so I did my own roofing.

Now for some trades such as the interior painter who might climb on a 6-foot ladder, I guess I wasn't really worried about them getting hurt and needing an insurance claim. My plumber didn't get on a ladder, maybe cut some PVC and PEX, hammered some claws in to secure the pipe and tubing; his highest risk was breathing glue for PVC joints, I didn't even ask for his certificate of insurance.

And then I hired some through day-labor shops. Those shops provided insurance (at least at that time). I know my insurance-surcharge rate (included in the hourly rate) changed based on type of work I had them doing.

That is how I balanced it out. Big power tools, you bring insurance. High up, you bring insurance. Hand tools, feet on the ground, I might not be quite as stringent.

Understand that this comes from a guy who wears steel-toed boots, gloves, eye protection, and hearing protection to mow his lawn...


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/23/2010

For some trades, I found that the subcontractor consisted of one person. Excavator - one person. HVAC tech - one person. Electrician - one person. Plumber - one person. Finish carpenter - one person. Tile layer - one person, etc. I hired the person with their name on the truck, and frequently these were single-proprietor shops. Certainly this doesn't work in all cases, but it is potentially a solution to at least some 1099 headaches.


Legal Issues  >  I've been threatened with a lien after my C of O
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/5/2008

Actually in Missouri it is more complex than this. IIRC a subcontractor cannot issue a mechanic's lien against the property if they are working directly for the owner, unless in the contract they specifically address the right to lien the house for certain conditions. As most of my subs thought I was the GC (and not necessarily the owner), I only had one sub do this properly. The only sub that did this correctly was my fence installer, and thinking about it, a fence installer would work directly for the property owner a majority of the time. Most construction subcontractors do not work directly for the owner, and a handshake agreement (typical of residential construction) isn't going to cut it either.


Planning Phase  >  Am I in the wrong?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/18/2006

In my experience, too many details on residential construction jobs will do more to scare away bidders and increase bid prices. I have some friends, both project engineers used to working on large (very large) commercial jobs. They tried to treat their residential build job like a large construction job, specifying everything down to individual part numbers. They figured it would make the G-C's job easier, as their expectations were very clear. What it did was prevent them from getting any bids, even from the big "custom" builders as residential G-Cs simply don't want to work for engineers that are looking over their shoulder daily and scrutinizing their work. Once that first bid package was sent out to multiple G-Cs, the project was burnt.

I tried to keep my job as simple as possible this way. For example, I had a mechanical engineer design my HVAC system. However I didn't provide a copy of this design, load analysis, airflow analysis, duct sizing, etc. to a single HVAC company to bid the job. I used the analysis to help me determine which HVAC company had performed a good load analysis, which HVAC company was giving me the right equipment, and to ask some "pointed" questions to steer the design closer to the "ideal" I received from the mechanical engineer. Why didn't I simply do this the "easy" way and give all the HVAC techs a copy of the design and ask them to bid it? I didn't want them to think they were working for a nitpicky engineer as when you talk to subs they consider engineers to be some of their worst customers. Perceived bad customers lead to unnecessary markup.

I also prefer to talk to every subcontractor personally, accompanied by a site visit so we can go over expectations. For example, when I walked through with my HVAC tech prior to installation of any ductwork, I explained which way doors opened and where the electrician wanted to put switch boxes. This could have all been noted on the plans, detailed specs, etc. but the personal communication with the tech doing the work is much more effective as he is used to electricians following him and is also understanding of conflicting uses of space. Same for the electrician, he needed to know where I wanted switches and what fixtures I want them to control - I could have spec'd it, but it was simply easier to get there from talking to him.

What worked for me won't necessarily work for everyone. If I were hiring a G-C for a build job, I would definitely want more specs on paper as you don't get to talk to individual subcontractors and your expectations better be clear. Since I get to choose all subcontractors, I can make my expectations clear simply by talking to them using their terms, being on site or available via mobile phone to answer questions (this significantly cuts down on rework and builds good rapport with your subs), and this can be included in their bid price. However, I know a thing or two about construction practices and what to ask for, and almost every sub I dealt with thought I was a residential G-C based on being able to talk to them this way.

Be careful, as if you don't know the correct terms you may get something you don't need. Since this topic has long posts, I will include a story about my drywall subcontractor. He suggested I use "Level 5" sheetrock on a couple of walls subject to reflection of light. Not knowing what "Level 5"  was (it is a complete skim coat), he asked which walls I want to "Level 5?" I said "Level 5 is good, I will like it, right?"  He replied affirmatively. I said "If it is good, why not Level 5 all the walls?" Well, I have skim coated walls in my garage, utility room, mud room, unfinished basement (ICF has to have sheetrock), closets, under stairs, etc., much nicer level of sheetrock finish in these utility areas than is included in living areas of custom houses costing 3-4x my project. I guess if I had known what "Level 5" meant I might have saved a bit of money on my sheetrock and focused the skim coat on highly visible walls, and used a lower level of finish elsewhere. Oops, however he was still very cost effective. By the way, this sheetrock bid was handwritten on a spiral-bound notebook with two lines, the spec was to provide sheetrock finish for the house at specific address. No details as to airtight finish, Level 5, smooth wall texture, ceiling texture, corner moldings, schedule, etc. yet I received exactly what we had discussed - if the subcontractor wasn't going to honor his word or his paper and didn't come highly recommended, I might have been more uncomfortable about doing it this way. But like I said, I picked every subcontractor.

Remember it is not just you selecting a subcontractor, it is also a subcontractor selecting a client. They all have stories they can tell you about bad clients, and they don't like these jobs. The key is to provide enough information to illustrate you are a good client, but not so much detail as to indicate you could be a bad client.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/20/2006

I see from one of the boards you cross-posted to that you solved your communication problem and hired this person as your GC.

Good luck with your project.


How Owner-Building Saves Money  >  Saving on taxes once the house is built
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/17/2005

There is a difference between an appraisal and an assessment. Your taxes are based on the assessment, not the appraisal (in fact they never even see the appraisal, this is between you and the bank).

What my bank does is appraise the house before construction to determine the amount they are willing to loan (they will loan 80% of the appraised value). However, if the estimate you submit is less than this, they will lower the appraisal. For example, if my bank appraises the house at $200K, they will loan $160K. However, if my estimate I turned in is only $150K, they will lower the appraisal to $187.5K and loan you $150K - for this reason I had to fatten my estimates because I didn't want to limit my construction loan prematurely). At the end of the project, they will do another appraisal because now I have a permanent mortgage, and not a construction loan. The appraisal will now be based on the amount of the permanent loan.

Believe me, I am going to use this artificially low appraisal to try to lower my tax assessment and my insurance rates (you should insure for full replacement value anyway). My insurance agent said with my house, they would do their own appraisal anyway due to the unique construction (ICF) in this area.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Anyone have any experience with Durisol ICFs
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/17/2005

Please note that ICF is very regional. There are probably 50 or more manufacturers of ICF, yet in my region I can obtain probably only six to seven of these very easily through local distribution networks, and being in the Kansas City area this is a fair-sized metropolitan area with a lot of construction.

Please note that Durisol is made in Ontario. My first question to you is "Is it available through a local distribution channel in the area of Florida where I live?" If it is not easily available to you, it really doesn't matter what properties you think are valuable, how easy it is to build with, etc. as you simply can't get it.

That said, many of the benefits touted on the website are obtained with other ICFs as well. Granted that Durisol does not contain polystyrene, and they identify that this is a benefit, but they never really explain the benefit of not including polystyrene. Yes, termites will tunnel through polystyrene, but this is why most ICF manufacturers use borate-treated block - so what? I would question how a byproduct of wood (Durisol) isn't attractive to termites without chemical treatment?


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/18/2005

Cindy,

Let me take a shot at some of the “advantages” and try to explain what they really offer. I have an ICF house; I have done considerable research in different ICF systems.

1) If it is not available locally, I wouldn’t touch it. If it is available locally, and you either need to return excess material or you need to order additional material, you have no problems doing so. What happens when your estimate is a pallet short, are you going to go back to Ontario to get one more pallet of block? Or if you have 10 pallets of excess block, you get to eat these because you can’t return them?

2) The key with ICF is not the block itself, especially if you plan on a DIY installation. The key is service after the sale, as you will need technical assistance with this stuff. It looks like Lego blocks, but there are a lot of tips and a steep learning curve to get to where you can pour a straight, plumb, square wall with it. If you are going to DIY ICF, and you don’t have experience using it, service after the sale is much more important than individual characteristics of the block itself.

3) Durisol does not burn or melt. Ummm, so what? While I agree that polystyrene does, there is no exposed foam in an ICF house to burn or melt. It is all covered with sheetrock or plaster, and gypsum does not burn or melt either. If you want a four-hour fire rating, you can get this with sheetrock on a stick-framed wall. This is not a big deal. Also, that four-hour fire rating means nothing once you put a penetration in your wall, and I imagine you will have doors and windows. Take a four-hour-fire-rated wall, put in a door with a 15-minute fire rating, and suddenly your whole system now only has a 15 minute fire rating. Chances are your doors don’t have any fire rating at all, and I all but guarantee your windows don’t either.

4) I agree with the thermal mass issue. If you are building passive solar, you want the thermal mass to the interior and not insulated. But once again, the practicality of this in the field is a wash. Around here ICF houses of 4K+ s.f. finished space have total utilities <$100/month during the most extreme climate conditions we have (summer or winter). For my ICF house with 4K s.f. in the envelope, I am cooling it with three tons and I am oversized (heating is 60K BTU). I went with a three-ton unit because units built smaller are aimed at the apartment market, so they are built with a target price point at the expense of quality. I give up some efficiency by using a fully insulated ICF, but not very much.

5) Promotes healthy indoor environment and inhibits mold growth. ICF material is treated with borates to inhibit termites. This borate treatment also inhibits mold growth. You cannot get mold to grow on a borate treated block. Also your indoor environment is more a function of adequate ventilation and humidity control. I would argue that ICF contributes to an unhealthy indoor environment because ventilation and humidity control are more critical with ICF than traditional construction, and most HVAC contractors don’t truly understand the HVAC issues associated with this building technique.

6) Are you using real stucco, or one of the EIFS? Around here, it is very difficult to find real three-coat stucco, but I can find EIFS installers all day long. I have yet to see one of them blink at an ICF house as the most common EIFS substrate is insulating foam board. No problems.

7) If you pour a 7-9” slump concrete unless you are using a plasticizer, you will adversely affect your concrete strength. As to voids and ease of pouring, also not a problem. ICF have been around for over 30 years, the collective experience has served enough to all but eliminate problems with voids in concrete walls. Between the vibration introduced by pumping, internal vibration, and external vibration used by most ICF installers, voids simply are not an issue if there is adequate space for the concrete to flow. In my house, we had one area where it was difficult to get concrete to flow, but this was a function of the amount of steel and not the slump of the concrete. With some vibration during the pour, I have no voids in this area. We used a 4K psi pump mix with ½” aggregate and 5½” slump, and this stuff flows like gravy out of the pump. If I were concerned about flow, I would have used pea gravel aggregate with an air entrainment admix before I would spec more slump.

8) No VOCs outgassed. If you think you can build a house with no VOCs, you are mistaken. What are your floors made of – plywood, OSB? What is your ceiling framed with – TJI or I-joists? What is your roofing deck made of – plywood or OSB? What are you going to use on your floors – carpet or hardwood floors? Are you using EIFS for your interior stucco finish? What about cabinets, no plywood or melamine, much less what they are finished with? What is your trim made of, what is it finished with? In your attic, are you using cellulose insulation or fiberglass with a binding agent? Are you going to paint your interior? ICFs are no longer made with CFCs as expanding agents for the polystyrene. If you want to address indoor-air quality, you would be better suited to try to understand the envelope as a whole than to just look at one material. Go over to buildingscience.com, a lot of good information here.

All of this is not to say that Durisol is not a good ICF material, just that we all need to get beyond the manufacturer’s advertising and propaganda and truly understand the system to make an informed decision.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/19/2005

Cindy,

I am more than a little bit impressed. You have done some homework and thought through some issues better than most.

One thing I would like to remind everyone as you read manufacturers' literature and claims (whether it be for ICF, or anything else) - the engineers are not the ones writing ad copy. I doubt there are any marketing majors in the engineering department, and I'm pretty sure the reverse is true also. You need to get beyond the marketing hype, look at the basis for it, and talk to the people using this stuff in the field - real-world experience does not always match with ad copy.

Good luck. ICF is a great building technique, and all the more critical in Florida.

Ken


Building Phase  >  Exterior Trim Work - Responibility?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/17/2005

Who is doing your siding? I would tend to think it is this person responsible for exterior trim.


Miscellaneous  >  Owner-Builder Economics
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/12/2006

Nice job on what appears to be a fairly complex house. One thing I would like to emphasize, especially as most people are not dropping $400K-$500K+ on an O-B project (at least not that I am seeing) is that there are greater savings as a percentage of overall project costs on smaller less complex houses. Your example serves to illustrate that novice O-B builders are not limited to square simple boxes and should not necessarily shy away from more complex projects, as long as they aggressively manage the project.

As to median income, I like to bring it back a little more local. In my area, median income is closer to $53K, still illustrating a significant return on investment with your time. However, I doubt too many median-income households are putting this kind of money into a house. O-B households building closer to the median level can also save more money on a house than they make in a year pre-tax.


Building Phase  >  Under the Slab: What Kind of Insulation?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/5/2010

I’ll share my experience here. Let me preface this by identifying I am not in your locale, but I am in Kansas City so you can compare climate data.

 

I would not get the foil bubble-wrap insulation underslab. This is radiant barrier, which is effective for radiant insulation provided you have an air space or void. What of conduction or convection? Put a cold ground surface in contact with the radiant barrier (no air space), and you simply won’t get insulation. I guess this is where the bubble-wrap part of the insulation is supposed to come into play compared to simply radiant, but I think you will find that this is insufficient airspace. Now get down to Texas and use this in your attic; I think it would prove its value. In an underslab install in a cold climate, I don’t think so.

 

As to underslab insulation, I bucked conventional wisdom and didn’t install any. Whoa!!! Let me reiterate this, I have no underslab insulation. What I do have is ICF walls, crushed stone inside my footers (level excavation, footers are not in trenches) to bring the bottom of the slab where I wanted it, and then the slab over a vapor barrier. In my previous house, there was a thermal connection between the foundation and the slab, and that slab was cold all the time (like wool-socks-and-boots cold). In this house, there is no thermal connection to the foundation (ICF walls, no continuous connection to the footers) and only to the ground underneath. This is barefoot-in-the-wintertime comfortable.

 

However, my plans did call for underslab insulation. It was my ICF subcontractor who suggested a cost savings by eliminating it. There is some discussion of the technique in this thread – ownerbuilderbook.com/forum/messages.aspx?ID=2196. I would tell you that this works. If I wasn’t so sure and wanted some insurance, I would have put one course of insulation board only at the edges of the slab to thermally insulate it. I do not have radiant floors though, and can see some value in that you want that heat to go up and not down to the ground. However I can tell you that I can heat my house with basically no forced air, so I am not sure how much hot water would be pumping through the system anyway.

 

As to garage, again I have no insulation. My garage temp never drops below about 44-F in the wintertime. It also never gets above about 80-F in the summertime. No HVAC intervention. I wish I had this data when I was originally sizing my HVAC, because it’s critical to know how much tempering takes place with ICF construction. As to radiant in the garage, cheap insurance is perhaps that you space your tubing much farther apart that you might expect? Or how much do baseboard radiators cost in comparison to radiant tubing in the floor? Perhaps I would stub out for a future connection to a baseboard radiator instead of tubing in the floors (if needed at some point in the future)? Now if I had a workshop in the garage and intended to use it year round, I can see where heated slab would be much nicer – but I don’t.

 

I would never pour a slab 2” thick. Perhaps 2” on all sides of the reinforcement, or 2” thick above the radiant tubes. But 2” total thickness is a very thin slab.


Planning Phase  >  Septic Systems and Pumps
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/6/2006

Don't make the decision based only on the septic system. Look at the house as an entire system and design to the entire system. There are some unique challenges to placing your house on a crawlspace foundation (option #3) in the hot humid south that must be considered (crawlspace needs to be conditioned, tight, non-ventilating), and you don't want to make decisions with far-reaching ramifications based on your septic system alone.

For me, I would elevate the house to the proper level and let gravity do what it does best (option #2). This also gives you enough elevation change to adequately drain rainwater, footing tile drains, etc. to daylight, again eliminating a pump and reducing a potential future moisture problem. Your landscaping can pretty much hide your elevation difference. You mention that other houses in your area are built this way, making it somewhat a potential standard that your house will be compared with at a point in the future when it's time to sell.


Planning Phase  >  Foundation Walls with ICFs
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/14/2005

Filter the messages at the top of the forums home to filter only messages with ICF. Most of these questions have been asked and answered. There is a tremendous amount of information in these fairly recent threads (I filtered by 90 days old or newer). Most of the information you are requesting is already here.


Planning Phase  >  Footing Forms and Drains
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/16/2005

While I investigated the Form-a-Drain, I ended up not using it due to price considerations, lack of size availability for the footings I wanted to pour (my footers are all 24" wide, 12-14" thick, thickness varied to keep the top of footings level within +/- 1/8"), not available in angles besides 45-degrees (I have 30-degree angles), and the ICF construction contractor I had seen using it seemed to be damage them fairly easily (although the contractor swears this is the best footing system ever).

As a cost savings, we used pressure-treated wood for the forms. After the forms were stripped, they became the lumber source for the window bucks for my ICF house. I needed footing forms and window bucks anyway, that I could use one piece of lumber to accomplish both was a simplification. Now if I was using V-Buck or some other window buck material, I would have looked more seriously at the Form-a-Drain.


Building Phase  >  Electrical Outlets: Height?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/25/2010

There are a lot of interesting ideas here; let me present one that's a bit more creative.

When my Sparky set the outlet junction boxes, he put the bottom of the handle of his hammer on the floor, and then he used the "claw" to scribe a mark on the adjoining stud. That scribe mark served as the mark for where to mount the bottom of the box. Every Sparky I have seen mounts outlet boxes the same way. The ones with bigger hammers mount them slightly higher. Easy to measure and be consistent, perhaps a different reason than most realize..


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/26/2010

One other thing to consider here is your garage. Around here, a typical garage gets one outlet on a wall (with a couple of outlets on the ceiling to support garage-door openers).

For garage outlets, I installed a bunch. If you think you might like to upgrade to jackshaft openers, this clearly means electrical outlets in a different location than standard garage-door openers. Also, for the wall outlets, I measured them down from the ceiling instead of up from the floor; the reason being that garage floors are rarely flat (unless you specify). They are sloped 1/8-1/4 inch per foot toward the door so the snow melt, etc., drains to the outside. If you measure up from the floor, the outlets will appear to be not level. If you measure down from the ceiling, the outlets will appear to be level. And as they are garage outlets, they are probably subject to much more plugging and unplugging (and less aesthetics), so mount them at convenient height (mine are at the same height as the switches). Also, bring some heavy 220V into your garage ;-).


Miscellaneous  >  Charge for Takeoffs? Is this normal?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/14/2005

I'll second Peter and John.

When I was getting lumber bids, I let several lumberyards do their own takeoffs. For comparison shopping, this was an extreme waste of my time and theirs as when the bids came back, quantities were all different, pricing schemes were all different (one lumber bid came back with 2x4s priced per 1,000 feet - how many 2x4s is this when comparing it to an 8' 2x4 from somewhere else?) The easy solution, I did my own takeoffs and faxed them to the lumberyards - now I can price shop.

Home Despot is a Home Improvement Warehouse, NOT a home building warehouse, big difference. My lumberyard will beat Home Depot prices, I don't even have to ask (they are lower all day, every day). I get great service (just call Frank), if I have questions about framing they know the answers, if I have questions about code and don't want to bother my code inspector, yet again they know the answers. Delivery on short notice - no problem.

Based on Home Depot Customer Care policy, I could take their bid in and Home Depot would beat it by 10%. I could then use a 10% off coupon for an instant 20% savings. But what do I lose in level of service? Also I like to put all suppliers on equal footing when price shopping, and I tend to think big boxes deliberately undercutting the smaller shops and selling at a loss to push them out of business is an unfair business practice that I tend to not support. Now if Home Despot beats them on price on equal footing (I have ordered doors and tub from Home Despot), then I will do business with them.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/15/2005

If you want to get them to price match, don't ask the store manager first. The first call you make is to Customer Care and find out the corporate price match policy. Then when you ask the manager to price match, and they refuse, you can call Customer Care again and have the manager explain to them why corporate policy does not apply at his store. Then ask who gave him the authority to override corporate policy.

They will price match on lumber; you just have been asking a little too friendly without adequate understanding of corporate policy.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/30/2005

No house is ever built according to plans, I agree, but it is not only the owner that varies from the plans or requests modification.

For example, my plumber missed a chase wall in his underground plumbing. Two ways to fix it, with the jackhammer or move the chase wall. I chose to move the chase wall.

My footing contractor got mixed up in his measurements, part of my footing was 6" too long, which wasn't that big of a deal because another part was 6" too short (at least he kept it square). Two choices, one involving a jackhammer. I changed the floorplan to accommodate the "modification."

I don't appreciate the implication that only "owners" make changes to the plans. Sorry, you get subcontractors scaling off prints using a tape measure when they are too lazy to find the actual measurement that is on the print (and if they asked, I have a full electronic set and can get any measurement they wish from my laptop accurate to fractions of an inch), and you get variances from the plans. That is just the way it is, live with it. All changes to my plan were in response to a subcontractor messing something up and me fixing it; none were initiated by me.


Missouri  >  Lot and Construction loans
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/3/2006

The difference is the first loan is for construction, the second loan is for mortgage. Mortgage lenders won't like to lend on uncompleted houses. The construction loan is like a business loan to allow you to build the house, and is higher risk (and therefore higher interest rate) than the mortgage loan since there is really no collateral (a partially finished building is not considered collateral).

If you think of it as a general contractor, they need a loan to have finances to conduct business (build a house). When they sell the house, the buyer procures a mortgage to pay the general contractor. In the case of a construction loan and a mortgage, you happen to be filling both roles (GC and buyer). The way to save a bit of money is to find what is called a "Construction to permanent" or something like this, one closing with one closing fees. The bank I used (which I do not recommend BTW so won't put their name on the Internet, email me if you wish through O-B Connections) offers just such a loan. Basically they offer a construction loan and sell it once you get occupancy and need to convert to permanent loan. Once the mortgage is sold, the construction loan is satisfied and closed.


Financing  >  Interest Payments
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/16/2007

A couple of things, and I think Tiffany hit on them as well. I found you cannot convert your loan to permanent before the invoices come in. I had a single closing on a construction to permanent loan, but my lender was only interested in servicing the construction loan and once it converted sold it immediately. They were very stringent on having all invoices, all invoices paid, and lien releases from all suppliers and subcontractors before converting to permanent loan, either for their protection or to make the loan marketable on the resale market for these things. Please note that I had one threat of a mechanic's lien, and I was certain to close prior to that being filed (and several years later, it has never been filed).

Most of the time, I simply paid the interest out of my pocket. My interest was calculated based on what was disbursed, so at the very beginning of the project this monthly payment was very small. At the end of the project when most of your money is disbursed, your monthly payment will almost equal your house payment (not accounting for taxes and insurance, which I am not required to escrow if I can demonstrate capability to pay them directly). Granted you are paying interest only and no principal costs, but at the early end of a 30-year note you are paying mostly interest anyway with very little principal. Again this doesn't include the escrow payment that most people make that covers taxes and insurance. Also note that the construction loan will be at a higher interest rate than your permanent loan, so it is possible that your permanent payment may be less than your monthly interest charges on your construction loan at the end of your build job.

To estimate interest costs easily (and probably close enough, but that is for you to decide how much work you want to do on the estimate), I would use my interest rate, and also use a standard monthly disbursement (which in your case would be $423K/12 months, or roughly $35K/month). Your first interest payment (after one month) would be about $235, your last monthly interest payment would be about $3K, so your total interest charge over a 12-month build would be about $17K +/-. Note that this didn't take me very much time, but probably puts you in the ballpark. Be sure to verify the numbers for yourself, and if you have questions ask your banker.


Planning Phase  >  To Spec or Not to Spec
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/16/2010

Framing schedule is an interesting link over on the construction scheduling part of the forum of a similar topic.

I rarely wrote detailed specs. I learned from some friends that did; both construction project engineers for very large commercial projects (that require very detailed specs). They treated their residential build the same way as a large commercial project, and then wondered why they didn't get anyone to bid on their project. They thought it would be easy to get bids since their expectations were clear.

Please note the caveat here, though. You need to select good subcontractors. If they are out to take advantage of O-Bs, not having specs gives them much opportunity to do so. However, these weren't the subcontractors I desired to have on my job site. The one time I didn't do my due diligence on selecting a subcontractor to bid cost me far more time and headache after the fact than it would have been to prescreen them better.


House Features  >  My rant about appraisals
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/22/2008

Sorry Bob, it's not the appraisers here. As long as consumers can't figure out that a better built home is worth more, homes will continue to be built to the lowest common denominator - as cheaply as possible. It isn't the appraisers who need the education (I found my appraiser was more than educated on the building process, doesn't mean my house was worth any more, though).

Henry Louis Mencken said it best, "There is no underestimating the intelligence of the American Public."


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/22/2008

I just had an appraisal done as well (as part of a refinance). The appraiser didn't even walk in my house, I doubt if he got out of the car. The bank was only interested in my LTV and making sure I had at least 80% equity.

Did I need or want a higher appraisal? Not really, because I am not trying to sell and I recognize the appraisal is there to protect the lending institution and not to identify a sales price today. Do I care that the appraisal is accurate? Not really (in fact I prefer lower because I can use this current appraisal to lower my tax burden). Does the bank care that the appraisal is accurate or at the top dollar, from a risk management standpoint? Not really, they would rather know that the house can sell for a certain amount quickly and not what it will sell for if you are willing to leave it on the market for six months waiting for just the right buyer. Are we all happy? Yes.


Building Phase  >  Who Installs the Bathtub?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/14/2005

The plumber installs the bathtub.

However, make sure the framers account for the size of the tub when they do the framing. Frequently they just frame using 16" o.c. with a typical door (whatever is drawn on the plans). However, then the plumber gets in there and can't fit the tub into the bathroom. The plumber cusses a bit, swings a big hammer, and now you are short a couple of studs so the bathtub can actually get in the bathroom. You call the framers to fix this, and they cuss the plumber.

Actually, since everyone already bid it firm fixed price, it really is only a minor inconvenience for you, however it is also easily avoided. You would think these trades work together enough to be at least a bit considerate of the trades that come after them. There was one day I thought the HVAC tech and the plumber were going to take it outside - F this, F that, I'm gonna kick your... I was glad I was there to defuse the situation.

I did all of the interior framing myself and coordinated with my plumber beforehand, so I avoided this issue entirely. It is minor details like this that the trades really do appreciate.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Question - ICF with Steel Interior Wall/Panels
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/15/2005

Angelique,

The challenge you are facing is "cost effective."  When I first started estimating my materials, steel was cheaper than wood and I couldn't imagine using wood instead of steel.  At this point, a light-gauge steel stud costs over double the price of a 2x.  I looked at using a Dietrich Trade-Ready floor system, but the structural steel bids was over 2.5x my wood floor trusses material only, installing steel was going to cost more than installing wood too.

If you are building ICF, I would look closely at one of the concrete floor systems.  As more builders get experience with these, the installed price should come down.  When I was doing this, the installed price was prohibitive mostly due to lack of experience, but here the price has come down.

For the roof, perhaps you would like to look at Thermasteel SIP panels to eliminate wood.

Also if you are building with steel, note that many subcontractor prices are going to go up.


House Features  >  Door Weatherstripping
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/14/2009

I am not sure this is the correct place or forum for this, but I know there is tremendous expertise on this board so just maybe someone has an answer or can direct me to a place to get an answer.

I have noticed the doors I use frequently, the traditional weatherstripping wears out (front and back doors). In additional to this ongoing maintenance, I also installed some bronze spring-steel weatherstripping to the jamb to seal the gap between the door and the frame. The spring-steel weatherstripping is secondary, but I notice on really windy days that the doors do seal much more effectively than with the original (or replaced) weatherstripping itself.

And this is what brings me to my question. When the wind is just right and hits the door perpendicular, the wind pressure pushes the door towards the inside (duh) which pushes the door away from the traditional weatherstripping. This is where the spring-steel secondary weatherstripping is useful, but also where my problems start. During the wind gusts, there must be some harmonic generated that activates that spring-steel because it whistles. While it doesn't bother me because it is so infrequent and the wind has to be just right, this just drives two of my dogs completely nuts and today the wind is just right. Is there anything I can do short of complete removal to quiet this type of weatherstrip?


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  materials--tile in shower
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/10/2005

Go over to johnbridge.com and read their forums. As I understand it, a waterproofing membrane such as Kerdi should not be used over cement board, but should be used over regular sheetrock. Other brands may be different, but the johnbridge.com forums are the best resource I have found on tile work.


Planning Phase  >  Building with ECO-Block, anyone know it?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/30/2004

I have found that all of the ICF distributors I have talked to are ICF builders first, and distributors second. They have a tremendous amount of expertise of actually how to put this stuff together. We had one designer try to steer us away from ICF construction as he had done one house 5-6 years ago that went $100K over budget. After looking at the plans it became obvious, as every window was arched and it also had radius corners - it was a $1M house to begin with. Then they used a concrete flatwork crew for the stacking and pouring, no experience with ICFs. If you want to train a crew, you don't start with a $1M complex house.

I have been on several placement and pour jobs; it really isn't that complex if you have a good distributor who is willing to help DIY'ers. My lowest bid just came in for cheaper than 2x4 construction, but the bid comes from a crew where the least experienced member still has 5+ years experience. I wouldn't let HGTV steer me away from ICF. Just be informed about what you are doing.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/21/2009

Dennis,

Sorry for your bad experience with ICF. This has also been discussed on the ICF forums at greenbuildingtalk.com.

As to ICF, it is just polystyrene with webs and rebar chairs every 6-12" o.c. Look at any of the myriad of ICF forms available, they are all very similar, including the price. They all use the same density of Polystyrene (although commercial blocks are higher density Polystyrene, all residential blocks I am aware of are the same density), they all interlock at the top and bottom, some fold, some are site-assembled, some ship fully assembled. As with any other construction material there are qualified installers and inexperienced installers.

My message has always been clear. If you are interested in ICF, choose your installer first and let them use the ICF they like. If you are DIY, choose your supplier very carefully based on their experience and service after the sale. I have seen enough DIY first-timers install ICF without any of the issues you illustrate, showing that if you pay attention to details, it is not that difficult (but they didn't buy this stuff at the big box with no service after the sale, either).

Hiring unqualified subcontractors is the fault of the O-B, and not the fault of the material. If you saw a house framed out-of-square, would you blame the framer, would you blame the lumber, or would you blame the lumber supplier? Me, I would suggest that the O-B perhaps didn't check the qualifications of the framer they hired in the first place, and it certainly isn't the fault of the lumber supplier or the lumber. Yes this ICF installer was recommended by the distributor, but that doesn't relieve the O-B from actually visiting completed projects this installer performed and talking to past clients that used this installer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a licensed ECO-Block distributor (yep, I took the ICF class, any O-B remotely interested in ICF should make the one-day investment for this class, whether you intend to subcontract it or DIY). However I also used Amvic on my O-B project, but that was because I subcontracted the ICF and that is what my installer preferred.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Discover Card cash back
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/16/2004

I use it for purchases I don't want to turn in to the bank for a construction loan draw, such as tools and miscellaneous small purchases.

1% cash back is smaller than the 2% and 3% I have negotiated for quick payment (2/15 net 30 for example) by setting up credit accounts directly with suppliers. The other upside to this is that I figure the bank will start to ask a few too many questions if I ask for construction draws to "Discover Card," especially when it comes to getting lien releases. The bank wants to know all suppliers get paid, including a lien release, it is easier for them if they can go directly to a specific check and say "ABC supplier was paid for XXX material on MM/DD/YYYY", because we have a check made out to them and a photocopy of the invoice.


House Features  >  Composite Decking
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/11/2006

I have Yakima Composite decking I purchased from builddirect.com. This gets shipped out of Washington State, so shipping to New Hampshire might be costly. I found that even with shipping, the price was much better than what I could get locally (my shipped price was about $1.4X/s.f. The typical street price in my locale is over $2/s.f. although I found a supplier that had a limited amount of WeatherBest for $1.76/s.f.). However you have to buy whole pallets, and unless you are building a large deck, you will end up with a lot of excess (unless you could find some other O-B in the area through O-B Connections who wants to share it with you). I also used the Yakima hidden fastening system, so my deck has no visible fasteners.

Compared to what I paid (which was a bargain), ACQ would have been a cost savings. Composite decking is very expensive. You may argue that it is a lifetime investment, but realistically you are putting it on top of a wood structure, and the wood structure has a limited life span. Composite deck manufacturers also like to say it is maintenance-free compared to wood, but realistically how many people seal their wood decks on a regular basis (around here almost none) and yet the CCA wears quite nicely (ACQ hasn't been around long enough to know). Also your composite deck needs to be power washed, and it will need this regularly, as if you don't it will look horrible in a short period of time. Composite deck probably requires more maintenance in the form of regular power washing.

Another downside to composite decking is that it fades extensively. Get a sample of the color you think you want and put it in direct sunlight. It won't take long for the fading to occur. Make your decisions based on the faded color of the deck, not the color when you buy it. I found Elk composite decking faded less, and was very nice, but this was also reflected in the price. It is not so much the faded color that I notice, but it also scratches easily (I have two dogs), and scratches expose a non-faded surface, so it always looks a bit peculiar after they use it for a starting block to chase some vermin in the yard. The fading happens quickly though, so these scratches disappear in a short time.

Composite deck gets hot, and I mean really hot. If you have it in the sun, you can't walk on it barefoot hot. And sitting on a chair, it is a hot environment. With this heat, it has tremendous expansion and contraction (a 16' stick will vary by more than 1/4" in a day in my environment), so you must make sure you have adequate expansion gaps. It was over 100F when we installed it, so we installed it no gaps end-to-end and haven't had a problem. However, since it shrinks I have found some ends that come off the bearing and the joists below need some blocking to keep you from stepping through the deck. The Yakima hidden fastening system doesn't restrain the deck from expansion and contraction (as screws would), so this is a function from my fastening system as much as the material itself (the hidden fastening system allows the deck to float on the joists).

Composite decks also need more support, as the composite material isn't terribly strong and is flexible. Most composite manufacturers will tell you that joist spacing of 16" o.c. is adequate for perpendicular decking (12" o.c. if your decking is diagonal), and this is what I did. However if you get down to the deck level you can see some undulations in the deck surface, although not quite noticeable from standing on the deck and looking down. I would definitely use reduced joist spacing next time. Yakima is less flexible than some others (Trex), however the stiffest I found was Elk. Hands down, I would say the Elk composite was the nicest composite I saw, although the Elk price was also the highest price.

Yakima also doesn't come with a matching handrail system, so if you want matching handrails, you better look for another option. We looked at vinyl, contrasting composite, cable (these are really nice, but I found about $90/l.f. for vertical airline-grade stainless cable - ouch), wrought iron, and aluminum. I ended up with ACQ, which I will paint to match the house this spring - we considered painting it white to look like vinyl, but then thought it would look even better painted to match the house. 

Lastly the Yakima hidden fastener system allows the deck to float on the joists, so the joists need some additional bracing as you can feel them moving under your feet (and this is different than the sponginess you get from a Trex deck when you feel the deck material itself deflecting under your weight). As I have access under my deck, additional bracing will be another easy springtime project. The fasteners are galvanized for contact to ACQ so make sure you get coated deck screws, as stainless steel screws will set up a galvanized reaction and cause corrosion of the sacrificial anode (ACQ is wet and contains a lot of copper). 

Would I use it again - yes. However, I would also use have reduced my joist spacing to 14" or so to give a smoother surface and would brace the joists better. The look is tremendous, I like the faded color, it fits within the decor of the house, and it should wear quite well.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/12/2006

Please note that composite deck prices are priced per lineal foot, not per square foot as I identified above. So my price for material was $1.4X/lineal foot, or double that per s.f.

My installed deck price including materials (lumber, composite, hangers, hardware) and labor (I subcontracted it out) was under $10/s.f. I found the deck contractors were very expensive, and didn't want to separate material cost from labor cost, but since I purchased almost all of my material separately (and therefore from the deck contractor bids I could determine exactly how much labor they were charging - wow, I need to be a deck contractor) I needed to search a bit further for a subcontractor.

Around here, installed price on a Lite-Deck system was about $12/s.f., not including the Sonotube columns or any finish materials (tile, balusters, stucco, etc.). Concrete is definitely the lowest maintenance deck, and if it fits with your architecture, definitely a top-notch product.


Planning Phase  >  Contracts for subs?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/23/2007

I went more with Michael's approach here.  Some of my contracts (eg. sheetrock) were nothing more than a page torn out of a spiral notebook with my address on it, and an agreement to provide finished sheetrock at a fixed price (the bid price).  However some trades are a bit more crucial, I would have never been satisfied with a proposal like that from my ICF subcontractor.

I would like to clarify or perhaps one additional bit of advice to Michael's about never paying more that the value of work done to date.  Never pay so much on the job that it isn't worth the subcontractor to not come out and finish the work.  As an example, if you pay your concrete flatworker by the square foot (not unusual), and he pours your driveway but not your sidewalks, don't pay him for the entire driveway as a sidewalk job may be simply too small to lure him back to finish, thus leading you to have to find a new flatwork contractor for a small job.  For progress payments, I like to give the subcontractor enough to cover his suppliers (unless they were using my supplies, and be sure you get lien releases from his suppliers, not just the subcontractor) and his hired employees, but I like to withhold enough so that I know he will ultimately finish the job.  This is one experience many O-Bs learn the hard way, myself included.  I would rather be able to hire a replacement to finish a job than hound a nonresponsive subcontractor to finish the job.  They don't become nonresponsive when there is a good bit of money on the table, and if they do, well that money can go to the increased cost you will incur trying to get someone to do a partial or small job.

Now you need to understand the laws of your state.  In some states it is very easy to file a mechanic's lien against your property for the amount of damages, and in some states they don't even have to notify you that a mechanic's lien was filed leading you to find it at closing - fire a subcontractor or don't pay them an entire amount whether they do the job or not and you risk seeing this mechanic's lien.  However in some states, the sub contractor cannot file mechanic's liens if they are working directly for the owner of the property (which as an O-B that is you) unless they reserve the right to file a mechanic's lien in their contract (no contract, handshake, no mechanic's lien).  Now then, their suppliers can still file mechanic's liens as the suppliers are not working directly for the owners but for the subcontractor (unless you get your own supplies).  Missouri is an example of the latter example, and since I was an O-B (although many thought I was the GC, and not an O-B) and ultimately all subcontractors worked for me and didn't necessarily know the laws, this was a bit of extra protection for me.  One subcontractor threatened to file a mechanic's lien, but a letter on lawyer letterhead explaining his rights to his attorney seemed to alleviate the situation.  Out of all my subcontractors, only one actually had the proper language reserving his right to file a mechanic's lien, and this was not a subcontractor that did new construction but always worked for the owners of property, also one of the few subcontractors that insisted on a contract prior to starting work.  Interestingly only one of two contracts I actually signed for subcontract work.

However, this makes prescreening your subcontractors and getting your own supplies that much more critical.  For example, my subcontractor could choose not to pay a supplier and I was still vulnerable to a mechanic's lien from that supplier (which is why I wanted mechanic's liens from suppliers too, not just the sub).  I figure if they are bad subcontractors, then their paper isn't much better than they are and how much protection does it really get you?  No paper, and you are free to fire them at will as they have no protection either.  I would rather they have no protection, and am willing to sacrifice my own protection to get them there.  As for me, I am resourceful and will find a solution, even if that means me doing the work myself.  This is not a conventional approach, and if you are going down this path you better make sure you have alternatives and you better make sure you know the impacts of the trades following any given trade.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/26/2007

Sorry, it has been a long time since I looked on this thread, probably too late for you but still a good question that deserves and answer.

First of all, I paid attention to the suppliers subs were using. Lets use a concrete subcontractor as an example, I paid attention to whose name was on the concrete pumper truck as well as the name on the concrete Readymix truck. The concrete guys got progress payments, I paid the first progress payment and told them the next progress payment wouldn't be made until I received mechanics' lien releases from the first round of construction. I also realized they stopped by the lumber supplier to pick up some form work, and I didn't worry about this because it was small, and since they were loading it directly on their truck I figured the supplier didn't have an address or build job associated with it. One of my concrete subs used lumber from Lowe's, and the chances of getting a lien release from them was nil anyway (and the chance of getting a mechanic's lien for a relatively small amount of lumber likely even smaller). I realize they need my payment to pay their suppliers, so one payment delay between suppliers and lien releases seemed reasonable.

For the subs that didn't have progress payments, I would also pay attention to the names on the trucks and call the billing department of these suppliers. Most subs have a history with suppliers, I wanted to know that their payment history was good. Further I would give them a week or so after I knew the check cleared my bank, and call the suppliers again asking if I may fax a lien release for them to sign.

Interesting on one supplier and one subcontractor, the supplier made the delivery and the subcontractor was not there (very common). However the supplier would not leave without payment for his materials, definitely reflecting that the subcontractor had problems with making payments to suppliers (he was a good technician, but sometimes good technicians don't get financial training when they decide to go out on their own). I paid the supplier, got a paid invoice, provided the invoice to the sub and deducted it from his bid. No problems.

And truthfully some subs (HVAC and drywall), I didn't have a clue as to who their suppliers were. Given the size of my drywall subcontractor, I figured if he had supplier problems it would severely hamstring his operations. And as to HVAC, I used to work with one of his parents and still talk to them, I don't think he would have caused me long-term issues.

Once you explain to your subs that you need the lien releases for your bank loan, they don't have any problems getting them. However be reasonable and don't ask for lien releases from every dime they spend (oops, need a plumbing fitting, I am going to the closest supplier and not my normal supplier) but at least pay attention to who the big money supplies are coming from.


Planning Phase  >  To all stucco home owners!!
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/30/2007

Are you interested in "real" 3-coat cementious based stucco?  Or are you interested in an Exterior Insulation Finish System (EIFS) that looks like stucco?  Most "stucco" around here is EIFS, but then I am not from Louisiana.


Planning Phase  >  Modern home construction methods
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/26/2006

I would use ICF with a SPEEDFLOOR system (steel/concrete composite). I would leave the ceilings unfinished to show the steel beams/ I think it would really work well with the modern architecture, very loft-like. 

However depending on the floorplan, ICF may not be the best method. Although a few minor adjustments and it would probably work quite well. If this is urban infill, you have to take in to account traffic considerations for getting your concrete pump and trucks in there, as each step (ICF pours and concrete floor and roof) will require both. This isn't much different than using precast/tilt-up or SIP, you would have to be able to get a boomer in there.


Planning Phase  >  As-drawn vs. As-Built - Where is the line?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/24/2010

Here is how I would approach this question – have you called your building department? I would think that for ICF, this is enough different that this better be included on the drawings. When I changed ICF source from ECO-Block to Amvic, my building department wanted a fresh set of drawings as they wanted to verify code compliance for Amvic block. I attempted to explain that the concrete and steel stayed the same, and the strength of the ICF wall is concrete and steel. I then asked if they needed separate drawings for wood forms than they would for steel forms. They didn’t appreciate my attempt at humor; therefore I paid my architect to revise my drawings for Amvic.

As to vapor barrier, I wouldn’t expect this to be shown on the drawings, and could be a function of the formwork (as an example, Fab-Form is a fabric form).

As to hurricane straps for the trusses, I found that the truss designer designs not only the trusses (duh) but the connections to the building. I would assume that if your building method clearly exceeds the drawings (hurricane straps) that this wouldn’t generate questions in my locale. I used hurricane straps, as these were actually a cost savings. I had to order them from Florida. They are now stocked locally, and my ICF subcontractor appreciated the education on a method he wasn’t familiar with. The carpenter crew installing the roof trusses had never seen them before, but they are pretty intuitive on how to install and this didn’t slow them down.

As far as the slab thickness, who would know?


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Start with a guest house to get on site?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/1/2008

This is a good question, I am surprised you haven’t had more response. I would agree that being very close is important for O-Bs, especially if you are home during the day and basically on-site. However I am not sure I could home school and build a house at the same time, but what an educational opportunity for your children as to project management, basic construction techniques, trades and potential career opportunities, budgeting, using computers (spreadsheets, scheduling tools, etc.) and the like – this is like shop class combined with vocational/technical school yet both on steroids.

 

If you finance that guest house/garage/workshop you won’t exactly be rent free when you are living there. I would ask if you will benefit from long-term value out of that space commensurate with the level of investment you are putting in to it. If I were looking to build a small house just to be close by the construction site, and I needed a guest house, then that is a great phasing of your construction house. However if I had no need for that guest house then I would definitely consider other options. Is there some place closer I could rent? Could I use a modular unit instead, this modular unit could be easily removed and sold to someone else and thus recover at least part of my investment (perhaps much of my investment if I buy smart).

 

You mention that you might later convert this space to a workshop or garage, but a workshop or garage is definitely built to a lower standard than some place I might like to live through either a summer or a winter, and overbuilding it is really just money down the drain.

 

If a permanent small structure is your best alternative, I would look at what I could incorporate into the temporary house that I could reuse in my larger build. For example, I might include RTA kitchen cabinets in my small structure that I could remove and reinstall in a utility or laundry room in my larger build.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/1/2008

Power yes, but maybe not water (I would guess you would want to have your primary house directly to the main). And while you would have toilet facilities, do you want your primary living space to be the rest room for all of your construction workers?


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/1/2008

Taking your time will work only if your building department and financing are in order. In my area, once you start excavation you have a finite amount of time to get that COA. Go over that finite amount of time, and you get to start submitting schedules, workplans, etc. showing how you intend to get that COA. They don't like partially finished structures mucking up the landscape.

As to financing, I would guess that most banks want to see you get that construction loan converted to a mortgage as well. I know when I built (as a GC), the bank I used didn't have a timeframe as it is not uncommon for a GC to build a house in a tract subdivision and use it as a model for several years. Bonus here also was that no monthly payments were due on the construction loan either (they would just roll the interest into the balance). However the bank inspected my house more often than the building inspectors, they really do want to see progress.


Building Phase  >  Best tile grout sealer?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/26/2006

I don't have an answer, but I know where to find one. Go over to the forums at johnbridge.com. Best resource for anything tile related on the Internet.


Missouri  >  Framers
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/11/2013

You say you are coming along pretty well, with the exception of framers. This implies you have other subcontractors lined up, or at least providing you bids. I guarantee each of these subcontractors knows framers they have worked with. Why not ask sparky, or your plumber, or your HVAC tech, or your other trades if they have framers they recommend?

Absent that, why not call some local lumber suppliers and talk to them? Steer clear of Big Orange and Big Green; while they have a Pro Desk - this isn't their primary business. Call McCray, 84 Lumber, Schutte, Owen (these are all local to Kansas City, I am not sure what your locality is). Maybe you are not in Kansas City, but I guarantee you have a local lumberyard close by that caters to professionals; find them, call, and talk to one of their sales representatives who sells to professionals.

And last, I framed my own house. However I had never done any framing before. I called the day-labor shops (I had accounts at Labor Pros and Labor Ready) and told them I was looking for framers. I got a commercial framer, his company bounced a paycheck and he needed money. There isn't a faster way to find short-term employment that the day-labor shop. He brought his own tools and a ton of expertise (and he knew others who worked for his same employer). He found a permanent job pretty quickly, but I certainly took advantage of this situation. In another situation, I found a framing carpenter who had relocated for family reasons; again what better way to find short-term employment quickly? He is now a union carpenter, but again I took advantage of his short-term employment situation. Framing my own house saved a ton of money, but it was nice to work side-by-side with a professional to help me.

On a side note, another reason you can get skilled labor out of the day-labor shops is because they get a DWI. They can't drive, they have a hard time working construction as this is a somewhat mobile workforce that needs capability to haul materials as well. Sure, they come with another trade (or general labor as a driver), but a skilled (insert any trade here) and a general laborer can work pretty efficiently to provide needed skills to your build. One skilled framing carpenter can become very efficient coupled with two other laborers with less (or minimal) expertise. And general labor costs less than skilled labor.


Planning Phase  >  Passive Solar - glazing
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/23/2006

Randy,

I have passive solar, and it has been awhile since I planned and I don't have the notes so forgive some of the terms I may be using. With a thermal window, there are actually four different surface coatings (such as low-E) that can be applied, and which surface it is applied on affects the characteristics of the window. You can maximize solar transmittance, you can minimize solar transmittance, same window appearance, same coating, different characteristic. 

In my area, when you get low-E glazing, it is usually to minimize heat gain from summertime exposure, as I am in a higher cooling climate than a heating climate. Actually in Kansas City, it is basically a wash between the two windows as cooling loads are only slightly greater than heating loads, but if you move further south cooling loads in comparison to heating loads increase fairly quickly.

However my design is that during the summer my windows are completely shielded from direct sunlight, so why would I want to minimize solar gain - they simply aren't getting direct sunlight. The other way to order is to maximize solar gain (a window used in northern climates) and this is what I did. Please note that since it was not "typical" for my area, I had to be very careful with my supplier to really get what I wanted/needed. In the wintertime, my passive solar works like a champ combined with ICF, tight construction, and good roof insulation - without HVAC intervention I hold at a steady temperature even on a cloudy day and drop less than 1-degree/hour F during nighttime, no wild temperature swings and very comfortable.


Building Phase  >  DIY Geothermal
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/1/2010

Under $550/month!?!?! Wow, my electric this month was $112. Granted, I use natural-gas heat, but for that I was still under $100 this month (1,300+ heating degree days). OK, passive solar helps too. I am quite a bit smaller; (4,000 sf in the envelope).

I guess this (and coupled with the post about building costs in CA in another thread) just has me shaking my head this morning. Do you get reduced rates or separate metering for the heat pump?


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/2/2010

Real data vs. estimate is nice (especially as $316 vs. $550 for one month is a substantial difference). Basic division would show you are at $.1046/kWh; although some of this will be broken into customer charge, license fees, sales tax, graduated pricing, etc. (Sidebar: I pay $.1015/kWh not accounting for these other fees, so while not an apples-to-apples comparison, we aren’t paying very different electric rates). Now then, I also compared climate data from my regional airport to Chicago Midway (MDW), and for this same month, we are within one heating-degree day (1,373 vs. 1,374) – I will call that a wash climate-wise.

 

Back to comparison's sake, I converted my gas usage to therms, then to BTUs, and then to kWh using electric resistance heat strips (100% efficient, yet very expensive to operate, and if I had air-source heat pumps, I would be on back-up resistance power). Because this is a back of envelope calculation that took a minimum amount of time and made a lot of assumptions, I won’t share numbers so much as conclusions:

1)     Natural gas is cheap, if you have this option. Finding a better ROI on anything else if this is available is an uphill battle.

2)     Geothermal capital cost is expen$ive. Your contractor-bid price at $80K equates to $430 principal and interest on a 30-year mortgage at 5%. Now if this capital cost puts you into a jumbo loan, the cost is obviously much greater. Granted, some of this bid was for in-floor radiant, but you don’t indicate how much. $430/month buys A LOT of electricity, and a boatload of BTUs of natural gas. OK, you have to have HVAC, and you really should include only the delta between your base unit and geothermal, so I agree that $430 is an inflated monthly cost.

3)     Now then, your DIY price of $23K (materials plus trenching) equates to $124/month PI on that same loan – I daresay you saved double that and then some this month on your electric bill ;-). Granted you need to have a year of data and not just one month, but I reckon that works out to a fine investment.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  ICF Brand comparisons... Foam thickness/ R-Value
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/7/2005

You have some very good questions. Let me take a try at some answers. I imagine John from Colorado will also weigh in. I would tend to read his input closely as it is very valuable (as is mine of course ;-).

I have not seen a good analysis on thickness of foam vs. overall insulating value. I would guess that the thicker the foam, the better insulating value. However, I think the real value in ICF construction is controlling infiltration and the mass of the concrete, and not the overall insulating value. Have you ever noticed that ICF manufacturers advertise “equivalent to R-50” and not actual R-values? This is because the R-value of an ICF wall is somewhat lower than one would imagine (concrete is not a very good insulator), but the thermal mass more than offsets this because it simply takes a lot of time to change the temperature. The thermal mass serves to temper the heat extremes the house is subject to daily. Insulating values are determined in a laboratory and are based on steady-state conditions. With the thermal mass of the concrete, you will never achieve steady state in the field.

That said, I would be concerned with the strength of the block with thinner walls. I preface this by saying the commercial blocks I have seen are based on the same size CMU (concrete masonry units) for ease of converting plans, and all of these commercial blocks use denser foam, so strength should not be an issue even though the foam is thinner. If your subcontractor identifies that strength is not an issue with these blocks, then so be it and save some money. I would not focus on the cost of the ICF material, but the cost of the installation. An ICF block that is inexpensive, but is more difficult to work with, could have a higher installed cost. At the end of the day, you want a concrete wall, foam insulation, at the most cost-effective method to do so. Ask your sub which installed ICF will provide this for you. Also don't forget the other subcontractors such as plumbing - is there enough foam to get your plumbing in an exterior wall - some of my DWV vents and pipes are in these walls and we had to cut the entire 2-1/2" thickness of foam to get the 2" PVC DWV pipe in there.

As to the thickness of the concrete, you should pour thick enough to achieve the strength you need. I used 8” below grade, and this was based on having enough strength. I could have used 6” below grade, but this would have required more steel. Steel is expensive, but more importantly, if you put a lot of steel in the wall it is difficult to get the concrete to flow around it and consolidate properly, and in this area we needed the strength. We only had one area in my house where concrete flow was an issue, and it was in an area with a bunch of steel. There is really no other reason to use a thicker block than necessary.

As to the 4” concrete above grade, if it gives sufficient strength I would use it. However I would also caution that the ICF installers around here do not use 4” because it is difficult to work with. The 4” block fills very quickly, and when you are filling ICF you can’t see very far into the forms to start with, so you tend to overfill the lift and have blowouts with 4" block. The subs I have talked to said that although 4” ICF saves concrete, the installed price is greater than the same wall with 6” of concrete due to increased labor cost. It simply isn’t cost-effective to pour thinner concrete when at the end of the day the installed price is higher. However, if your ICF installer is comfortable working with 4” of concrete, you can get the strength you need over windows and doors, and it saves you money, what is the downside? Once again, I went with 6” above grade, this was based on strength of the lintels (9’ in some cases), ease of concrete placement, and cost of installed product.

Do you need an air exchanger? The typical rule of thumb is that you do. In reality what you need is ventilation, how you want to accomplish this is up to you. An air exchanger is one way to accomplish ventilation. I am not installing an ERV or HRV in my house, and this is not a typical installation. However I am installing a ventilating dehumidifier (either an Aprilaire 1700 with the ventilation option or a Therma-Stor Ultra-Aire APD), as this will allow me to control both ventilation and humidity.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  foundation pilings
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/27/2009

Have you tried using O-B Connections to contact forum members in South Jersey? ownerbuilderbook.com/ob/?st=NJ

There appears to be several forum members that don't routinely post (that do read though) that might be able to help or suggest a source.


Planning Phase  >  Architects - What to expect/require
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/21/2010

I had a couple of take-offs done by different lumberyards and had the same experience; every material bid sheet was different. How do I compare these to get the best material cost?

Taunton Press, For Pros By Pros series. One of these books is on framing techniques. One of the things this book teaches you is how to take a plan and perform your own lumber takeoffs. The book is ~$10, a small investment. Once I did my own lumber take-offs, I faxed the same sheet to a number of lumber suppliers. Not having to do take-offs to prepare a lumber bid makes bid preparation easy for the suppliers. I feel it further dictates that you (as a GC) know your business (I have enough knowledge to do my own take-offs) and respect your suppliers (I am not wasting your time, here is exactly what I need). This way when I got lumber bids, I was able to compare apples to apples. All this for just $10 and some reading time...

I would also concur that lumberyards have better prices, better service, and better quality than the big-box stores. I did my own framing; working with lumber from the yards was a luxury compared to working with lumber from the Big Orange. Granted, I could have taken my best lumber bid into Big Orange and they would have price-matched minus 10%, but that's not how I roll.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Is it OK to change something on plans??
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/7/2005

In my locale, changes such as these would go unnoticed and not require modifications to the plans used to pull the permits. There is nothing structural about a skylight or fireplace, unless you are not using a prefab unit for the fireplace (I haven't seen a site-built masonry fireplace for some time now).

The easy way to answer this question correctly is not through the internet forums, but to call your code authority that issued the permit.


Shopping Techniques  >  Foreclosure strip-outs
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/10/2010

As much as I am compelled by a bargain, I would have a hard time buying these types of items. I know it would be hard to trace; I would pay with cash, and I doubt anyone would track my license plate, but...

I have seen a couple of houses in process and one case of foreclosure similar to this. When the owners moved out, they left the faucets on, middle of the winter, no heat. That house was basically wasted. I saw another; they basically axed a hole in the roof in a critical spot, again with winter and no heat. This house is pretty much wasted as well. I'm glad these weren't in my neighborhood.

Granted in a previous life I might have bought an FHA/HUD house or two, and these were pretty much the same deal (no floors, no wiring, no plumbing), so I guess I shouldn't be surprised at the limits of people with no options.

Bad situation, no sense making it worse than it has to be.


Building Phase  >  PEX questions
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/29/2009

Actually I would go a different direction with your hybrid system. I would look at using a manifold for all cold water, and using a structured hot water including recirculation pump. I think there is a thread on such a system over in the Green Building Section of this board. This is really only applicable if your fixtures are widely spaced, and will minimize your wait for hot water in this situation.

There is also a fairly current PEX discussion (with much relevant information) over on the Construction Bargain Strategies Section. There are most certainly others, PEX is a widely discussed topic (including some lawsuits from specfic sources) here as people discuss the merits of PEX vs. other materials.


Financing  >  Best Bank for Loan
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/7/2005

There must be different types of construction loans out there, because what you describe is very similar to what I have. I have the checkbook. I write the checks. I send the checks. I get the lien releases. I provide copies of invoices and lien releases to the bank for their records. This is the first time I have done this, so I didn't realize there was any other way.

OTOH if you read about what other people go through on this site, (submit invoices to finance company, finance company thinks about it for awhile, finance company cuts check and sends it late, you get stuck with interest for late payment or at the very least miss on beneficial financing opportunities such as 2-15 net 30 or better), you realize that I have a pretty good deal.

I would choose a bank just like any other supplier or subcontractor. Choose one that gives you personalized service, fair price, overall the best value.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Rock Bottom Prices for Doorknobs
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/29/2006

Would you please write a review in the "Reviews" section of the forum. This section is not yet reaching critical mass, but it would be nice to have one section so that future surfers can get great information like this easily and in one location.

Thank you.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  A Good Turn of Events....??
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/7/2005

If you are going to undertake the O-B process, and have never done this before, your network of contacts is crucial. That you found one so close is even better, as their experience with suppliers, subcontractors, etc. is definitely relevant to you.

Good luck with your project.


Building Phase  >  Faux Brick Panels
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/22/2008

Have you seen the Nichiha Fiber Cement Panels? I couldn't get them locally (I could, but I had to order whole pallets), but from the samples I saw they looked pretty good. The key with making faux brick look good is how you detail the corners. Also faux brick tends to be "too perfect" and just doesn't look right to the eye.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/6/2008

I believe Nichiha has the details already worked out. I don't have any of their information any longer. IIRC in the literature I had, the example was detailing how to use faux brick on a fireplace and it showed the best way to detail corners.

I imagine if I had a couple of panels it wouldn't be that difficult to figure out how to make those corners look good. Now if you want quoins to dress up the corners (originally structural elements, but brick is now veneer and not structural so entirely aesthetic now), I have no idea how you might go about this.

I was never that interested in the brick. The limestone though, I really liked that (and they have corner pieces for that material).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/24/2009

As I recall here with ICF, its not just ring-shank nails but ring-shank nails fired out of a pneumatic nailer (gun). The heat from firing them causes the plastic to melt, and this is what secures the nail into the plastic web. The key here is to get the air pressure right, and this might take some trial and error. As to Polysteel with the steel webs, you are on your own if that is your ICF.

Anyone who doesn't think that nails will hold in plastic webs, I encourage you to take a few shots with the nailer. Just try to remove that nail, any method you like. That nail isn't coming out without breaking the web and bringing a chunk of web with it.

I used stainless steel screws, but this is a bit slower than a nailer (also a bit more forgiving for the inexperienced installer, which would be me).


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Sending out Plans/Blueprints
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/7/2005

My architect gave us permission to make as many copies as we wished, even gave us his account at the blueprint shop so we could make them cheap. However he also required the blueprint shop to charge us and not allow us to bill them to his account ;-).

Anyway, having a bunch of plans to hand out is preferable to calling and trying to get your plans back. Some trades only got minis (11x17), some got full size. There was one day I handed out over 30 sets of plans, I bet out of those I only got a handful back. No problems, a full size set from the blueprint shop was only a couple of dollars.

One thing we did have problems with all of these plans was keeping track of changes. For example, we made some changes to the window order, and made some changes to the ICF subcontractor's plans to reflect this. However the ICF subcontractor ended up with a different set of plans without the changes. For some reason, I picked up a new set from the house too. When the window came in, it was 1' too large for the concrete opening - enter the gas-powered chop saw.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Is it possible to build for $25 per SF ?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/17/2010

Overordering supplies - I tend to think this is a universal GC and subcontractor issue. No one wants to stop a job and go get a part that they didn't get from the local supplier, so overordering is cheap insurance. Extra parts stay on the truck. Maybe you get some of those extra parts, maybe you contribute to those extra parts, hopefully it balances out. However I noticed the same thing when I purchased materials based on subcontractor takeoffs; there was always more than enough material to finish the job and return for refunds. My own takeoffs were much more lean and rarely resulted in enough material to justify a return.

I tend to think that people who don't O-B but claim they are getting a better deal because they pay their GC time and materials (cost plus fixed fee contract) fall into this trap. The GC submits invoices for materials purchased, the owner pays. I suspect the GC never submits invoices for material returned for a refund ;-). My suspicion is this is pure invisible profit for the GC operating on this cost-plus arrangement, and the owner is completely clueless as to this source of profit for the GC (of course also buying into the false assumption that GC's gets better prices than O-B's). Further I suspect that the invoices submitted by the GC don't truly reflect the GC's prices for material, as when I established GC accounts at suppliers I also qualified for refunds based on amount purchased (I send a client in to purchase finish materials; they get fair price, as the GC I get a refund [profit] that never shows up on the invoice. Granted, I was really only an O-B, but established myself as a GC to establish credibility when dealing with suppliers and subcontractors).


House Features  >  Metal Front Doors
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/22/2010

I went with fiberglass doors. I found them to be only marginally more expensive than steel. Fiberglass doors also have the bonus of being able to be stained, if you desire a wood look (I painted mine).

The only steel door I used was the garage entry to the house. In my locale, that is a code requirement. The code requirement is based on fire rating, and I could most certainly have purchased a fire-rated fiberglass door that provided equivalent protection, but sometimes it isn't worth the hassle, as this door is not visible from anywhere inside or outside the house (it enters into a mud room).


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Deck Cabling
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/12/2010

There is a 'blog out there titled "Modern in Minnesota" whereby Splatgirl chronicles her O-B project (not one of the contributors over here, unfortunately). If you punch the title into Google, it will be on the front page. She did a DIY cabling system, and has documented somewhere on that site the tools you need to swage, tension, suppliers, etc.

I was looking at cable systems, and the one thing I found was expen$ive. Like you, I thought there must be a better way; aircraft cabling, nautical cables, something. However I simply didn't have time. Splatgirl's build was after mine, and when I read that portion of her 'blog I would have definitely gone down the path she did if I had the information two years earlier. Here is the direct link to Splatgirl's Archive on Wire Rope


Florida  >  Footer size Florida Home
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/1/2004

How where your footers designed? Were they based on a soil test? Were they based on common soil conditions for the area you are building in? Did you buy plans over the Internet and the footer plans were part of what was included? I would design footers based on a soil test, although these are very rarely done for residential construction. For my drawings, my architect simply designed them based on typical soil conditions in the area I am building. I wouldn't take any advice from someone on proper footing sizes without more information to your site specific conditions.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Loewen Windows and Quality Cabinets
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/2/2005

Loewen windows are very nice. The problem I have found with them is getting competitive bids. Using Andersen windows for example, I have many distributors covering my metropolitan area, and I can ask any one of them for a bid (in fact I probably received five or six Andersen Window bids). This is built-in competition, and if they know I am shopping the competition who will provide the exact same product, I can compare apples to apples, so the pencils get a little sharper. I like sharp pencils.

Loewens are distributed through regional areas, with no competition. If you choose Loewen windows, you have one supplier to pick from. No competition, the product line stays a little more exclusive, and a little more expensive. Great quality, but pricey for what you get.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/21/2008

Supply and demand. I know I have recommended Milgard Ultimate windows to many O-Bs, for me they were a cost savings over Andersen 400 series. However when I ordered mine, the price had gone up 20% and the plant was operating at 100% capacity -- still a good price but my lead time went to ten weeks (from two to four weeks when I received my original "planning" bid). According to other local O-Bs using the same source, prices are way up over my bids, to the point they are no longer cost-effective.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Cheap Tile web sites
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/2/2005

The ceramic-tile-floor.com is builddirect.com. The prices are extremely cheap. However, notice that they are FOB Italy. Once you pay to ship a container from Italy, the price goes up considerably.

We found a great porcelain tile we wanted at a local tile shop for $5-6/s.f. It happened to be a line that builddirect.com carried (at $0.80/s.f.), so we thought champion! we would simply buy a whole pallet of it, use what we wanted, and simply sell the surplus for some rock bottom price and probably recover our whole investment. Until we factored shipping into it.

If you are shipping from Italy, you better be ordered container quantities and not pallet quantities.

The biggest problems I have found with buying tile over the internet is shipping costs. The best deals on tile come from closeouts when you agree to take all the remaining tile. However if you need a significant quantity, you will never get a closeout with enough volume.


Green Building  >  SIP's Are Expensive!
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/11/2008

How about you share a floorplan so we are all looking at the same picture?

When people want to construct "outside the box" of stick framing, I always recommend that they consider the building amterial they wish to construct out of in their design process and start from a blank sheet. Sometimes adapting a house plan from stick framing to these alternate (ICF, SIP, Red-Iron) works very well, but more often than not is doesn't.

Do you have a hip roof - that will increase your SIP costs. Do you have dormers in your roof, - also an increase. Back to the basics, if you want a SIP roof you need to keep it simple. Without your floorplan and elevations, we have no idea what your roof might look like. We also have no idea how many SIPs you need.

Just as an example, I could build a 1,600 s.f. structure consisting of a 40x40 box, this would only take 160 linear feet of SIP panels. I could also build that 1,600 s.f. consisting of 1,600x1 box, this would take 3,202 linear feet of SIP panels and therefore cost about 20x as much for materials. But hey, its the same square footage - right? You can't compare prices based on square footage of floor space, this isn't how your framer is going to bid the job, not how your ICF contractor will bid the job, and not how your SIP supplier will bid the job? Please share some more information...


Miscellaneous  >  What is luxury?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/12/2010

I am going to disagree a bit here. Luxury is a combination of quantity and quality, but only to a point. More isn't better beyond the point you can use it. I only use two bedrooms; having six wouldn't be a luxury.

I'm going to suggest that luxury is a house that works seamlessly or transparently, and without fuss. You turn on hot water; you get hot water for as much or as long as you desire without worry of it going cold. Whether you do this by fire-on-demand or sufficient storage is your choice, but as long as it works and disappears. Same thing for HVAC; comfortable conditions (temperature, humidity, no drafts), programmable thermostat, and maintenance free.

What do you do in your house, how do you live in your house? Make your house fit you through good design. Kitchen, hobbies, entertaining, solitary time, pets; whatever it is, design for it. When your house disappears, you have reached what I desire as luxury. And when I said "disappear" I don't mean Philip Johnson's Glass House.


Miscellaneous  >  Generator vs. Temporary Electric
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/1/2005

I am with John on this one. Generators are backup power only. We used generators until the electric utility set the temp pole (in my locale, the electric utility provides the temp pole, not the electrician). This started as "provide 2 days notice", which I did. Ten weeks later I got a temp pole. That is a lot of gasoline, a lot of noise, and a lot of wear on temporary power.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Land !?!?! need help.
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/1/2005

Around here some of the localities have their plats on GIS available through the Internet. For Kansas City, MO, I can find the owner and residence address for any parcel of land in the city - and I can do this all online.

You can do the same in the county where I am building too, including how much money I have qualified for on my construction loan. It is scary how much information is available on the Internet if you know where to look. I have used it to see what houses in my neighborhood loan at. While I can't get sales prices, I can get all lien information about property. You can also check for mechanic's liens against subcontractors too. 

Easy, Fast, Scary!!!


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/14/2005

Jon,

Good to see you are making progress. There is reciprocity between MO and KS, so if the MO engineer needs to get a KS license it isn't too difficult. In Johnson County I am surprised you need a structural engineer stamp at all.

As to lots, any new subdivision will be limited to a specified list of approved contractors. Unfortunately an O-B is not on the list of approved contractors. And then if you want ICF (I don't know what your final plans are, but you have expressed interest in ICF on the forums), you are stuck even more if no one on this list has any experience with ICF.

The only lots we found where there were no approved contractors included infill lots where the development is almost closed and the developer is looking to unload the last couple of parcels; older developments (tear down and rebuild), and a more rural setting. We found some developments where you can bring your own builder, but the plans must be approved by the developer - in fact we are building in such a development.

Perhaps your Realtor can help you find developments without builder restrictions. Be very careful here, as most Realtors are not looking for commission on land but on build jobs. The Realtor will not do very much work if they are only getting a land commission. And you certainly don't want to pay them a commission on the entire build job!


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Windows
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/1/2005

Try replacement-windows.com - I learned a lot from this site.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/1/2005

My personal opinion, as previously stated on the board, is that you can get much nicer windows than Pella, Andersen, or Marvin for much less price. Do they carry the "name" the big three do - obviously not.

While Pella, Andersen, and Marvin do have some nice lines (the Architect Series for example), they also have builder's grade junk I would not want in my house. I have seen more failed Pella ProLines than any other single window. Unfortunately these are still "Pella" and therefore carry some sort of cachet. JMHO.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/1/2005

I agree, Pella ProLine is builder's grade. But your previous post said something about quality and value, and you get neither with Pella ProLine. However, you do get the Pella name. Andersen and Marvin also have lower-grade windows. True, they do have decent-grade windows, I just don't see them used.

Around here they use Pella ProLines in $1M+ houses as well. If I were paying for this level of house, get me a decent window, please. But then this is why I O-B. I couldn't get quality construction in any price range without taking charge myself.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/1/2005

I just noticed some details you mentioned. You said white trim, and you investigated fiberglass windows. I would look long and hard at fiberglass windows. They are rare in the replacement window market, and even more so in the new construction market, but I found them to be an order of magnitude higher quality than any other window out there for a comparable price.

Even window lines with lower-level windows (Milgard for example), the fiberglass offerings are their top of the line. Other window companies offer fiberglass only. I looked at Accurate Dorwin and Comfortline. I found Accurate Dorwin triple-paned, low-E, double-argon filled price comparable with Andersen 400, and looking at the two you would choose the Accurate Dorwin hands down every time. The downside is they are very heavy, and your installer won't appreciate this much. Very nice quality.

There are many other fiberglass windows available. Most of them are made in Canada. The problem around here is the only dealers are Accurate Dorwin (very small volume, all custom order only, no actual showroom) and Comfortline (all replacement market). I ended up with Milgard Ultimate fiberglass windows for significantly less than the price of Andersen 400 windows (this was my price bogey).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/2/2005

I chose fiberglass windows just like I chose all of my building materials. I looked beyond the hype, the manufacturer's claims, the manufacturer name, investigated myself, and made my own independent decisions.

For windows, there are really only a couple of choices; aluminum windows. cheap (and look cheap), not energy efficient due to conductance of the frame, corrode in time. I found nothing of value in an aluminum window that would make me want to consider them.

You have all wood. I have all-wood Peachtree windows in my current house. These aren't bad windows, but they aren't maintenance-free. The exterior wood needs to be maintained, and this includes scraping, sealing, and painting. The windows with south and east exposure get especially beat up and require maintenance every two years. I am not very good about preventive maintenance, so despite how well they look and how well they might hold up, they simply weren't for me.

You have clad wood. This looks like the best of all worlds. You have wood interior, and you have a weatherproof exterior that should be maintenance free. The problem with the cladding is that there are seams, the seams fail, you get water intrusion, and with water intrusion you get wood rot. The problem is you can't see it, so you can't correct it. If you go this route, look at the Andersen 400 series of vinyl-clad wood windows for a bargain-priced clad window. Compare this to a Pella ProLine (a builder's grade clad window), and you will see what I mean. The downside is you get to pick your cladding color once, and if you want to change it later (via painting your house), tough.

You have vinyl. I have seen some nice vinyl windows, but I simply couldn't get past the vinyl is used for replacement windows mentality. The other problems I had with vinyl is that they are somewhat clunky looking (large frames for the amount of glass), and once again you can't paint them.

You have fiberglass. Fiberglass is extremely strong, and has a coefficient of expansion very close to the glass frames. What this means is a smaller frame to a larger piece of glass than other types of windows for a given window opening. Fiberglass windows are very efficient, as the frames are not conductive. You can order your frames any color you want (similar to cladding on wood clad windows), but you can also paint them later if you wish to change the color. They are truly maintenance free. They are one-piece seamless frames (no seams to break, no water intrusion). They won't rot. There were no downsides, except since they are such a small part of the market it is very difficult to find local distributors.

Which brings me to the local distributor issue. I looked at Comfortline because they were local. These are somewhat "clunky" looking windows (check one out, you will see what I mean). They are nice quality, proven, and pricey. I looked at Accurate Dorwin from Canada. Very nice, probably the single best fiberglass windows I have seen. The Canadian dollar gained some strength, and the currency market moved against me on these (short answer, the price went up just a bit too much). Which brought me to Milgard. We have several local Milgard dealers, however none of them carried the fiberglass line (Ultimate). Since the top-of-the-line Milgard vinyl windows are pretty nice (which says a lot considering my personal bias for vinyl windows), I took a chance on the higher-level fiberglass Ultimates. My distributor had never seen them before, but since the price was right, I bit the bullet and ordered them. I ordered all casements, awnings (basically casements turned on their sides), and fixed windows, so I can't comment on single or double-hungs, but the casements are very nice. And for the price, much nicer than any of the quality clad wood windows I would have considered purchasing.

So there you have it. I chose fiberglass for the maintenance-free aspect, value, and cost savings.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/12/2005

$400 a window for what size window? I would consider that a great bargain for some of my windows. Or did you simply take your total window bid divided by your total number of windows?


Planning Phase  >  ICF, SIP's, stick built?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/1/2006

Welcome to the forum, you should find almost anything you need here, and if not a new post will generate relevant answers and options.

 

When I was designing my house, I also looked at SIP, ICF, traditional framing, light-gauge steel, and heavy gauge steel as options. Traditional framing and light-gauge steel are the most versatile framing options, and it is relatively easy to adapt a house plan with traditional framing to ICF or SIP. However it is much easier to adapt a house for ICF or SIP to traditional framing, so if I were doing design with an eye toward using ICF or SIP I would design to the most limiting system first, ICF (there are certain rules using ICF that you don’t want to violate in the design process, otherwise your project becomes much more complex) or SIP (roof designs are critical if wanting to use a SIP roof). This gives you the option of using traditional framing later much easier than adapting to ICF later. Did this make sense, as I re-read it perhaps it is not terribly clear. For reference, I ended up with ICF construction. I found it more cost effective than traditional framing. Heavy-gauge steel was my preferred option until steel prices skyrocketed, and while I investigated SIPs I simply didn’t know of any houses locally that used them.

 

If you do go with ICF or SIP, you would typically use traditional construction for floors and interior walls. With ICF, the floor system connects to the ICF through connectors cast into the concrete before it is poured. Simpson Strong-Tie makes a connector to use either a wood framed floor or a steel framed floor (ICF-LW series for the wood-framed floor). USP Connectors also makes a IFH series connector, although for some odd reason it doesn’t show up in their catalog or on their internet page but call your supplier and they should be able to get them. I used the USP IFH series connector for my ICF construction. The only time I would consider an interior wall of ICF would be if I were going to build a home theater; it would be very quiet with ICF interior walls.

 

There are no problems doing brick or stone with ICF, it is not unusual. Most ICF block manufacturers have a brick ledge block that you put in where you want to start the masonry to give it the necessary support. This way the bottom course of the brick rests on a concrete ledge.

 

The problem with the future is you don’t know what it brings, so you need to think about options for integrating it later. As to running wiring in the walls, if you have access from the top or bottom it is not insurmountable. However for a three story total wall height, this is clearly not the case if you finish the basement. The unfinished basement gives you access to the main level, the attic gives you access to the second level; so maybe this isn’t such a big deal.


I have always been a fan of planning for the future, so even in traditional framing I recommend installing a couple of lengths of pretty good sized conduit (2-1/2” or so) from the vicinity of the electrical panel to the attic (in my area the electrical panel is usually in the basement) so that you can get future wiring into the attic, giving you at least a fighting chance for upgrades to the electrical service. There is no reason you couldn’t do this in other locations to simply to provide options. It's not like conduit is that expensive (no different that installing conduit under your driveway for future landscape lighting, etc.).


When you build your own house, you have much more option of burying upgradeability than buying something already done. You could also run conduit from some electrical boxes to a more accessible place if you think you will upgrade wiring to specific areas later. You always have your interior walls you can install wiring in to, and these are simply 2x4s with lots of void space.


Building Phase  >  Textured vs. smooth sheetrock
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/3/2009

Skim-coat an entire wall is Level 5 sheetrock finish? I doubt you would find a custom home around here with that level of sheetrock finish. I would use this level only on walls that will see direct sunlight, walls with wall-washer lighting, or something that draws attention to the wall itself and you need a perfect finish. That said, this is a very high level of sheetrock finish, and totally unnecessary to get smooth walls in most situations. I guarantee it looks good.

BTW, this is the level of finish I have throughout my house; but then I didn't know what I was doing when I talked to the rockers, and when they were done it was too late. Perfect walls though, so no complaints there.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/4/2009

My rockers used Bazookas (another taping tool besides a banjo). Pro tools definitely make the job faster and easier.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Stick Frame: 2x4 or 2x6 walls?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/27/2005

I hate to throw too much uncertainty your way, but why stick build at all? There are too many cost effective choices out there such as ICF and SIP. I found ICF very cost competitive with 2x4 sticks (actually a cost savings, but then my lumber bid came in at the height of the lumber prices this past spring). I found 2x6 almost 30% more for the frame. Given that ICF saved me money over 2x4, it was a huge savings over 2x6. Even with recent steel and cement price increases, compared to lumber price decreases, it is still very cost competitive with 2x6 framing. In Canada the extra insulation will pay you back in the short term.


Planning Phase  >  Concrete V. Framed Walkout
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/11/2006

The simple answer is to have your concrete foundation contractor bid it both ways, and have your framer bid it both ways.  The rest of the finish (insulation) is something that comes later so call an insulation company to get a typical price on insulation and vapor barrier costs.

It has been awhile, but I found a poured concrete wall was cheaper than a framed wall, hence I built my entire house out of ICF.  Looking at some of the ICF bids locally of recent, this is no longer the situation.


House Features  >  Stone-like siding
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/19/2004

I'll second the nichiha site. This company is Nichiha. They manufacture fiber cement siding, some of which looks like cultured stone. I really like their sandstone. As a side note, when I called them and explained I was a contractor (I applied for a GC license to support my O-B project), they FedExed me a contractor pack with samples of all of their products. I didn't realize that they would do this, but this box had to weigh close to 100 lbs. I can't imagine what it would cost to FedEx 100 lbs.

The downside to this is it isn't used in the Midwest. For me, the closest sites are Oklahoma City and Colorado, and I would really like to see the product installed before I made a decision. I worked with the closest distributor (Kansas) to try to get my house to be a demonstration house for their product, at a substantial discount. They were willing to do this, but unfortunately for me I really didn't like the distributor and didn't feel I wanted to do business with him at any cost... The product is wonderful, though. The other downside is that much of it is not stocked, so if you want this material you have to order pallet quantities, and this is beyond simple accents.

Also be careful at the corners as the Nichiha are panels, and the corners could show a seam in the rock. Nothing says fake rock and cheesy more that stone that doesn't look right at the corners. There are ways to address this, and some of the patterns have corner panels, just something to think about.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Engineered floor trusses??
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/27/2005

I have them. This is one feature I wouldn't change. The cost to upgrade from dimensional lumber was fairly small. They actually posed a cost savings from TJI.

They are nice because the truss fabricators get much nicer lumber than I could. Straight, true, dropped in place like a champ. And you can't beat the spans. I tend to not disagree with the engineering either.

I have heard about the fire issue before. They are much less substantial than equivalent dimensional lumber. But you need to weigh the benefits with the downsides. For me, I chose open-web floor trusses.


House Features  >  Fiberglass Windows
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/4/2004

Does anyone have direct experience with fiberglass windows? I am considering them, but don't have any direct experience. I can get Comfort Line (comfortlineinc.com) and Milgard locally. However, there are many other manufacturers that looks great, such as Owens Corning, Marvin Infinity, Fibertek, Fiber Tru, Duxton, Accurate Dorwin, Sovereign, Omni Glass, and others. Fiberglass appears to offer many advantages, but they just simply aren't used in this region, which will make price shopping more difficult. Also, I hate to order windows without seeing what I am getting first.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/8/2004

We just installed windows yesterday.

I wanted fiberglass windows to ensure no future maintenance. Vinyl clad and aluminum clad wood windows are only as good as the cladding, and if there is a seam in the cladding there is a failure point. I don't know how many (more than I care to count) aluminum clad wood windows I have seen from respected manufacturers where the seam failed, water intrusion, and eventually wood rot and window replacement. Wood without cladding was not an option simply because these are a maintenance headache, and when it comes to house maintenance I am not the most diligent about getting things done. I didn't want vinyl, simply because I don't like the look of the big clunky frames. I didn't want an aluminum or steel window simply from an energy efficiency perspective. This left fiberglass.

Lines I actually viewed were Comfort Line and Accurate Dorwin (I held, touched, operated, etc. each of these). The Comfort Lines were nice, but the frames were somewhat clunky for lack of a better way to describe them, and they were very pricey. My comparison for windows were Andersen 400 series, low-E, argon filled (yes these are clad wood but still my bogey window; I wanted nicer at less cost) - the Comfort Lines were about double the Andersen 400 price and therefore outside my budget. The Accurate Dorwins were very nice and significantly cheaper - these were only about 50% more than the Andersen 400 price but still outside my budget unfortunately and with the weakness in the American dollar the price on these is increasing. These are the only two lines of fiberglass windows in the area that I could feel, touch, look at, etc.

I ended up ordering Milgard Ultimates almost purely on faith. There are several local Milgard dealers, but they deal in the vinyl lines and didn't have experience with the fiberglass lines. However they do have a nice vinyl line that is well constructed, and the fiberglass are Milgard's top-of-the-line offering, so I figured it was worth the risk. One interesting note is that although these are top-of-the-line, they are not available with argon fill (the value of which is debatable anyway). That they were cheaper than the Andersen 400 windows also helped.

These were installed yesterday, and I must say I am happy with my decision. I used casements and fixed over awnings, so I cannot comment on single or double-hung quality, but overall I was favorably impressed. My installer was also quite impressed, as he had never seen fiberglass windows. The casement operators are very smooth, I found much smoother than the Andersen 400s of the same size  and I am using large casements (5-6 tall). I havent had a chance to operate the awnings yet, but I am anticipating these as well. The downside is that my original 3-5 week lead time turned in to 4-7 weeks and eventually took 10 weeks to get my windows. The only Milgard factory making them is in Colorado, and apparently fiberglass windows have been discovered (also reflected in the recent 30% price increase, although still cheaper than the Andersen 400).

Around here the mainstream construction windows are Pella ProLine and Andersen 200 even at 2-3 times my price range for total house cost. My bid prices for the Milgard Ultimates ranged from under my lowest Andersen 400 price with low-E and argon fill (courtesy of Home Despot) to over double this price, so shop around.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/9/2004

Actually I cannot provide individual window prices for Milgard. For all of my window bids, I provided Andersen 400 part numbers figuring all manufacturers can look up equivalents to their competition. All of my window bids came in detailed by window EXCEPT the Milgard bid which came in lump sum for all windows (and with slightly larger sizes). Since it was slightly lower than the Andersen 400 detailed bid from Home Depot, I can only assume that the prices for each individual unit are about the same price as the equivalent Andersen 400 from Home Depot.

Sorry I can't provide more specifics.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/10/2004

$62K for 58 windows, those must be fairly large units or with some of the custom options.

A couple of things on Milgards you need to be aware of:

1) Custom sizing doesn't bother them, they don't stock them so they don't make the windows until they are ordered.

2) Be careful and flexible when looking at optional hardware. For example we wanted brushed nickel hardware (locks and latches), and these added $168/window! over the standard painted hardware!!! We then ordered clay hardware, received white hardware, but will have the correct hardware FedExed to us. This gives me a complete set of extra hardware to take to either the plating shop for a brushed chrome finish or the powder coater for a painted finish. Either will be significantly cheaper than the custom hardware from Milgard. You think this is expensive upgrade, you really don't want to think about the upcharge for brass.

3) You can get them in custom colors too. Once again while intriguing, I would forego this option as the price is prohibitive. If you want the fiberglass a different color, I would recommend painting them instead.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/13/2004

I really hate to do this because my windows are very variable in size and my options may be different than you select. This is of limited value. Since you asked though. 

I have 2640 casements in the basement, 2650 casements in the upper floor bedrooms and garage, 4060 fixed over awnings in the great room, 6050 triple casement in the dining room, 4050 double casement in the kitchen, and 1630 transoms in a couple of locations. I used no grids, standard hardware (clay or white are both standard), low-E, no argon fill. My average price/window was under $400, including tax and delivery. Now if I could have gotten additional 4060 windows for $400 each, I would jump on this deal. OTOH if I thought they were charging $400 for 1630 fixed transoms I would run quickly to another manufacturer.

I think perhaps a better comparison would be to go to Home Depot and look at the Andersen 400 windows with the same options. The Andersens were slightly more expensive (Andersens about +10%), but since they came in so close perhaps it is reasonable to assume that each component window in the bid is also very close?


Electrical and Lighting  >  Hunter Ceiling Fans
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/7/2006

I used Hunter ceiling fans exclusively throughout my house; one 52” Turin, one 60” Tribeca (model 28121), and two small Beacon Hill (model 20431).  Please don’t automatically associate a single brand with quality (as in the “old” Hunter oil-filled fans being high quality), as all fan manufacturers today are made in China and have various lines to meet different price points, so you simply cannot associate a single brand with quality.  Even “high” quality brands such as Casablanca make economy grade fans.

 

For two ceiling fans, I was interested in quality balanced with styling and price.  I wasn’t shopping on price point alone, as I wanted a quality fan that would operate quietly and move a sufficient amount of air, with price being a secondary.  For these, I shopped the motor quality first, and for a top quality fan you really want a performance grade stack motor such as a K55, unfortunately these are only in the highest price Casablanca and Emerson fans and therefore out of my price point.  So I went one step down on the motor quality scale, and found two Hunter fans that I liked the styling, the Turin and the Tribeca.

 

The two Beacon Hill fans get much less use and are much less visible, so for these I was interested mostly in a price point over styling and motor grade.  These are economy grade fans with smaller motors.  However I have no complaints with them, they operate quietly, and move a fair amount of air for a bargain priced fan.  I don’t know how long they will operate quietly, as they get little use and are still fairly new.

 

These were professionally installed by my electrician, and he had no difficulties.  I like the styling, the two main fans operate quietly at all speeds, are in balance, and move enough air to know they are working.  Although they weren’t my first choice (I really liked the Brushed Steel and Maple Emerson Odyssey with the K55 stack motor, but at almost $600/each I just couldn’t justify it at the time I was building), I would purchase these again.

 

If you are interested in buying Hunter fans, I found the best prices over the Internet.  However I also found a local lighting supplier that was willing to price match Internet prices, so shop around and don’t be afraid to ask for discounts.  I ordered mine online in the interest of time, but they were drop-shipped from the same warehouse my lighting supplier used so it didn’t get me any benefit (given equality between a local source and a remote source, I would always rather deal with a local source).


Miscellaneous  >  Whirlpool tubs by Whirlpool called Cielo or rigid
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/1/2005

Have you looked at any air tubs? These have a drying cycle and blow heated air through the lines after the tub is drained, preventing most whirlpool funk. Lasco, Aquatic, Bain Ultra are a couple of suppliers. We ended up with the Lasco, special order from Home Despot.

While my plumbing supplier could hands down beat the big box on pricing, for this the Box was way cheaper. I asked my plumbing supplier to price match, and HD was below their cost, so they chose not to. Then we used a 10% off coupon for an additional savings. As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes you just gotta shop HD.


Miscellaneous  >  James Hardie siding with 'Topcoat' vinyl paint com
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/14/2005

I am also using Hardie lap siding. I would be careful about putting too much faith in the website vs. what your local wholesalers carry. I wanted smooth lap. The only size the local wholesalers carry is 8-1/4" (7" exposure) - I simply cannot get any other sizes unless I order lift quantities. Lowe's will order lift quantities from a wholesaler in Oklahoma City, 84 Lumber will get lift quantities from a wholesaler in Omaha, Nebraska. I found it interesting that 6" exposure cost the same/plank that 7" exposure did, effectively a 14% cost increase in materials alone because you need that many more lap planks (not to mention labor, but I am hanging it myself so my only cost is time).

The other challenge I found was getting the coordinating trim pieces and smooth vented soffit - the local wholesalers simply do not carry them so they are simply not available, although I got them from 84 Lumber. They run enough trucks between here and Nebraska that they just loaded them on one of the trucks as it was returning.

I think the smooth looks really good. My previous house had cedar lap siding, and it was completely smooth (if you notice no painted wood siding ever has wood grain). All the wood grain products (vinyl, Hardie) look very fake to me compared to the real thing. If I could find a permanent paint for it, this would be the best of all worlds.


Building Phase  >  Footing depth?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/23/2006

Your footings need to be below the frost line to prevent heave, as John noted. Even though you are farmstead exempt from inspections (whatever than means, I really don't know but it is not necessary that I do know), there are still building practices that should be adhered to. The footings should also be sized depending on soil bearing capacity and the size and loads of the structure you are building - I realize that most people don't get a geotech analysis to size footings, but anything less is a guess. Proper sized footings are cheap insurance, fixing them later is very expensive.

For reference, in Kansas City they want to see the footings at least 36" below grade, although there are special exemptions if you have to excavate bedrock. I didn't do a geotech analysis, I just poured them big (24" wide, 12"-14" thick), but I also built ICF so I needed larger footings due to the increased mass. Although it wasn't necessary to pour them this thick, this allowed me to use the PT lumber I used for formwork as my window bucks, saving me some material cost.


Owner-Building as an Investment  >  Hot or cold?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/23/2006

I would say in the Midwest it is definitely cooling off. There is still considerable new home construction, and the subs seems to be quite busy, but the resale market is starting to soften up. Since most people need to sell their existing house to buy a new house, this will eventually translate into the new home market as well, although it is not readily apparent just yet.

Shift takes some heat out of home sales

Oversupply and softening demand turn the KC area into a buyer’s market

By KEVIN COLLISON
The Kansas City Star

This is peak season for selling homes, but Joey King has had his four-bedroom, 3 1/2 -year-old home in western Shawnee on the market since mid-January.

He already has dropped his asking price from $309,950 to $289,950. Now he is willing to throw in the family’s home theater setup that includes a 55-inch, high-definition television.

King and his wife, Brooke, a pharmacist, have two young children and are expecting a baby. They are building a house on 18 acres near Louisburg, Kan., that is scheduled to be finished in late July.

“We’ve tried a multiple of things,” said King, a 32-year-old computer software salesman. “We’ve lowered the price, put in incentives to the agents, and the buyer can even take the refrigerator.”

Join the growing crowd. After years of record-breaking home building and surging sales and prices, the Kansas City-area real estate market is awash in homes for sale.

Inventories for new and existing homes are at historic highs while demand is reverting to historic norms. The result is that homes are sitting on the market longer than they have in years, price appreciation is ebbing and stealthy incentives increasingly are becoming part of the negotiating process.

It’s all supply and demand — and it’s becoming a buyer’s market.

On the supply side, there were a record 21,104 new and existing homes listed for sale in April, a 30 percent increase from a year earlier, according to the Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors. That figure did not include homes being sold privately by owners.

On the demand side, meanwhile, sales softened. In April, the Realtors reported 3,090 closed sales, still healthy but down 13.5 percent from a year earlier. The average sale price for a new or existing home in April increased 2 percent, to $180,128, from a year earlier.

What is happening, real estate professionals say, is a shift to a more normal market after several years of red-hot real estate. They say there are fewer discretionary buyers who took advantage of the exceptionally low interest rates of the last few years to move up the housing ladder. As a result, the inventory of available new and existing houses has swollen significantly — and it will take time to work it off.

“The people who wanted to buy entered the market during the past five years when rates were more favorable,” said Jim Gamble, an agent with Reece & Nichols Realtors and past president of the area Realtors association.

“Now, the people who have to buy are driving the market: people moving into town, people getting divorced, people having more children — all the things that happen in life. It’s a more balanced or average pool, and the inventory is sitting on the market longer.”

A buyer’s market

When there is less than six months of inventory for sale, Real estate agents consider it a seller’s market. Above that constitutes a buyer’s market.

By that standard, April marked a buyer’s market, with 6.8 months’ supply of new and existing homes on the market. There were 6.2 months of existing-home inventory for sale in April, while there were 9.1 months of newly constructed home supply for sale.

Some industry experts have warned that sales competition would make it tough for people trying to sell larger, recently built homes near outlying subdivisions where similar larger houses continue to be built.

That appears to be what is hampering the Kings in selling their home in the Maplewood of Crimson Ridge subdivision in Shawnee.

“There are so many new spec homes sitting out there, which I think is hurting resell,” Joey King said.

Tim Underwood, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City, said builders had noticed the shift in the market.

So far this year, permits for future construction are down 13 percent from last year, but inventories remain high. The local industry is coming off four consecutive years of building more than 10,000 houses annually.

“The number of finished unoccupied homes is 35 percent higher than a year ago,” Underwood said.

To be sure, no one is predicting that the housing bubble will burst in Kansas City in the way that some expect in such hot coastal markets as Florida and California, where prices exploded in recent years and unsold inventory now is piling up even faster.

Indeed, industry studies and the financial press regularly cite Kansas City as a comparatively safe housing bet because of its steadier growth and price appreciation in recent years.

Even so, the local real estate market is adjusting to the new supply-and-demand equation. One early indicator is the appearance of stealthy incentives to attract buyers.

Homebuilder Bruce Rieke, for example, is offering buyers a free two-year lease on a BMW 325. He has sold four homes since the promotion began in mid-April and has two sales in progress. His homes range from $300,000 to more than $1 million.

“There’s more competition than before,” said Rieke, who has built homes in Johnson County for 17 years. “You have to differentiate yourself from the competition.”

Soft landing?

Despite the increase in incentives, housing prices generally are holding up, according to the Realtors association. Price appreciation is expected to continue — albeit at slower rates.

The average price for a new house in the Kansas City area was $264,574 in April, up 8.5 percent from the previous year. The average sale price of an existing home was $158,199, up 1.3 percent.

“We’re not seeing the appreciation we had seen,” said Dan Whitney, president of Landmarketing Inc., an area housing research firm. “Builders and developers don’t have the elasticity to move up their prices. It’s a difficult time because costs are rising rapidly.”

One key expense that is affecting buyers and sellers alike is mortgage rates.

The typical interest rate on a 30-year mortgage has climbed about one percentage point in the last year to nearly 6.75 percent. That means the cost of repaying a $150,000 home loan is almost $110 more per month than it was a year ago, said James B. Nutter Jr. of James B. Nutter & Co. mortgage bankers.

“We’ve completed the move to a buyer’s market,” Nutter said. “More and more people are so informed about this. They understand that supplies are up and sales are down. They’re going to try to get the best deal they can.”

A slowdown in the national housing boom — which some economists credited for helping create four out of 10 new jobs in recent years — would affect the broader economy. Although the U.S. gross domestic product surged at an estimated 5.3 percent annual rate in the first quarter, it is expected to slow in the latter half of the year.

David Lereah, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, said he expects a “soft landing” for the national housing market. The national association on Thursday reported that April sales of existing homes were down slightly, and the nationwide median price of $223,000 was up 4.2 percent from a year earlier, the smallest year-over-year increase since September 2001.

Some see that as a buying opportunity, if would-be buyers can sell the houses they already are in.

“Some of the consumers who haven’t bought the past four or five years will find better values, but their challenge is getting out of their existing houses,” Whitney said. “Many have taken cash out of their houses by refinancing, and they don’t have as much room to negotiate a price.”

Showtime for sellers

Real estate agents like to talk about “staging” when it comes to selling a home. That includes making sure the first impression from the curb is positive, and once the buyer is inside, making the home feel more spacious and inviting by properly positioning furniture and eliminating clutter. Scented candles, soft music and freshly baked cookies often are part of the show.

“It’s critical that sellers stage their properties well and price according to the market,” said Greg Koons, broker-owner of Re/Max of Kansas City and a past president of the Realtors association.

Bob Hennecke and his wife, Debbie, recently bought a home in the Highcroft area of Overland Park. They had been living in a condominium in Mission but decided last winter to search for a bigger place after having their first child. Their price range was $180,000-$220,000.

Bob Hennecke estimated that he and his wife looked at 50 houses before buying.

“I did notice the houses that were quality houses were selling quickly and the ones that need work, unless priced right, were staying on the market,” he said.

“It was my impression that people still thought it was a seller’s market and could put any house on the market at a price above the market. They weren’t so much concerned about how it would appear.”

Teresa Booker, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty Partners, organizes quarterly seminars on the housing market for fellow professionals. She detects a growing nervousness among some colleagues.

“Some agents feel they’ve already hit a summer slump,” Booker said. “People are best served by talking to agents who are candid, honest and realistic about the condition of their property. Then they’ll get accurate and competitive pricing.”

On the pricing front, the homes that are taking the longest to sell generally are the more expensive ones. Entry-level homes continue to do well. In all categories, rational pricing is the key to getting a deal.

Kathy Copeland, an agent with Prudential Kansas City Realty and the president-elect of the local Realtors association, said how well the local housing market does this year may depend as much on psychology as supply, demand and mortgage rates.

“We need to be very positive,” Copeland said. “If we believe it will slow down, then indeed it could. I’m telling agents it’s a very decent market.


Miscellaneous  >  Insurance Coverage Problems
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/14/2009

Yes, my insurance premiums are pretty stout. I got two explanations from my agent; the first is that we saved a lot of money by O-B, and they can't account for that in their replacement costs as we would have the option of just hiring a GC to replace or repair our house. The second was a surcharge for ICF, yes I pay extra because I built ICF. He had two explanations for this as well; the first was that replacement of ICF was premium, and thus the insurance rate was compensated to account for this premium.

The second was that if a tornado hit my house compared to my neighbors' house, the insurance company risk curves would count both at a total loss and start with demolition on both sites, and then complete replacement. However, the difference would be that demolition on a stick structure would be basically site clearance, whereas demolition of a reinforced concrete structure would be time consuming and expensive (his estimate is over $70K for demolition costs associated with rebuilding). I suggested that the reinforced concrete structure designed for 250-mph wind gusts might not need demolition in this situation? Obviously that went nowhere. At least for fire, I qualify for masonry rates and these are significantly less than more traditional construction. ICF pays me back enough other ways that I still highly recommend it.

So short answer, my experience with insurance cost is similar to yours. I stroke that check annually.


House Features  >  door height /density cost differences
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/27/2005

I used some 8' exterior doors. The main problem was not getting into the custom market. When you are shopping for 6'8" doors, you order from a large catalog with a myriad of options - glass, hardware, panels, everything. When you order 8' doors, you get a page of standard styles to choose from.

For example, I wanted brushed nickel hinges on my 8' door. This wasn't an option in the catalog, so it put me into the custom door market. This one change on an otherwise standard door was a cost increase of over $150. I asked if I could purchase the nickel hinges separately, and they were willing to sell me the same hinges for $1.60 each. So, the hinges came taped to the door when it was delivered. Now why they couldn't assemble the door with different hinges I will never know. But I got my "custom" door anyway, just at a standard price.


House Features  >  Ceiling height cost differences
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/1/2005

On my house, the cost of one additional layer of Insulated Concrete Form, which increased the total house height by 16" was right at $1.5K in place (ICF block, rebar, concrete, labor). This doesn't account for increased length of interior framing. My sheetrock bids came in right around $.73/s.f. and would also need to be factored in to the total costs.

What I found was that precut studs were more costly than full length (e.g. the 92-5/8 studs that result in standard 8' walls were more costly than 8', the studs that result in 9' walls were more costly than 10'). You will use the scrap anyway for sheetrock backer, bracing, cripples, headers, etc., so just get the longer studs and save some money. I also found the precut studs varied in length as well, and needed some cutting to get them all exactly the same, so they don't really result in a time savings either. Maybe it was the lumberyard, but I got great quality lumber with very little wasted pieces so I tend to think the quality control issue was elsewhere.


Missouri  >  Mid Missouri
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/19/2006

Welcome to the site. I am on O-B Connections, but let me warn you that messages get picked up by my anti-spam filter, so unless I check periodically they get automatically deleted. 

If you have questions of a general nature, post them to the general forums and you will get better response as we don't seem to get too much traffic over on the local forums area. However I am always willing to help, and we seem to have a fair number of people from Kansas City also willing to help, although I don't know how many subcontractors we deal with are willing to travel to Columbi so you will be out there on-your-own somewhat.

If you run the numbers and you don't have extenuating circumstances, I doubt you will find that geothermal to be cost effective in our environment. We get better payback out of incorporating passive solar, upgrading insulation, controlling infiltration, better windows, airtight sheetrock, etc. than we do by going with geothermal. Build energy efficiency in first, the payback will be greater than trying to add energy efficiency through the most energy efficient HVAC.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/12/2007

If you do all of that, you will have more building knowledge than most of the people that undertake an O-B project the first time. Knowledge is good, and being overqualified is always a good thing. However please remember that O-B is about managing the project too, and not just how these houses go together. I am pretty hands-on though, I like to know how it comes together so I know if the professionals are getting me good product. Also I sometimes like to show the professionals a better way to do their job, better construction at less cost is a win-win situation for all parties involved.

There is currently a discussion on the Planning forum of the General Forums on must read books. It hasn't had much traffic, but gets you a starting point. As to recommending Mark's books, or the Whole Enchilada, I am not the person to talk to. When I started this, the Whole Enchilada was not available. I was still on the third edition of The Owner-Builder Book (the fourth edition is greatly improved), and many of the books I read are out of print or re-released.

That a pretty big house down there you are planning on building. Is that a year-round house, or vacation house? The reason I ask is I might recommend considering different construction techniques (ICF or SIP), but if that is summer only then I wouldn't worry quite as much about thermal mass. Also (and I have not been down there in awhile) you will be somewhat restricted to local talent and subcontractors, so you don't necessarily want to be the learning laboratory at your expense.

As far as sitting for a MO GC license, check with your permitting authority where you are building. For me, sitting for the license basically meant writing a check. I learned to do that in high school, I like to think that it takes more expertise to build a house than write a check but the gov't. doesn't necessarily agree.

I would definitely consider the community college avenue, perhaps you don't need the entire associates' degree, but I bet some of the coursework is definitely worthwhile. Are you in the KC Metro area, which community college? I didn't know we had this option and would be interested in learning about it.

And as to Habitat for Humanity, definitely some value here.  There are two kinds of people who volunteer; those who know what they are doing, and those that like to say they volunteer. The first type tolerates the second type. Gravitate towards the first type and really try to learn something (it is really easy to tell the difference). Don't waste your learning time scraping sheetrock mud off the floor, sweeping, and picking up trash - help the real workers get the real work accomplished and let the volunteers do the menial labor. And in the end besides learning something, you also helped a somewhat valuable cause. Spend some time learning the language, trades like to talk to people who know the language and it definitely gives you an edge when talking to them.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/12/2007

If you are looking for an eventual year-round house, I would look at ICF. However the challenge, depending on where you are building at the lake, is getting equipment in. For ICF, you need to have good access for a concrete pump. Concrete pumpers get some good money, and you get to pay travel time, so make it efficient. Depending on which side of the lake you are building on, your concrete pumper could be traveling quite some distance. Looking at SIP (a strong second choice for me), you still need to get a boomer in there, which will probably be more local.

The problem with SIPs is that they are prebuilt, and any variation in your foundation could be problematic. I built ICF, and had my trusses built to my template, which was based on my footers. I had some 30-degree angles (which for construction is unusual) and although my angles were set very close, trusses built to the drawings and not to the template would have been problematic. Trusses built to the template were exact. Now next time I pre-order my trusses and get my surveyor out twice (once before my excavator gets there, and again to lay out the footers), time is also a factor that must be considered and survey equipment is much more accurate than anything else out there. For panel-built (of which SIP is a subset), this is critical.

I will check out the metropolitan community college coursework. I don't need it (I manage far bigger projects), but I get a lot of inquiries from local O-Bs and I like being somewhat informed.

Most of your questions will be answered on the General Forum side of the house, the local forums don't get much traffic. As to local suppliers and contractors, your best bet is O-B Connections in your area. I get over here simply because I am a moderator and Mark sends all posts to my email directly, so I know when there is traffic. And as a habit, I check the Kansas forums too since I am so close.

And yes, the MO GC program thoroughly disappointed me. I always felt (before my O-B experience) that I could rely on professional builders having some modicum of experience or knowledge. After doing this once, I realize that I will never again trust professional builders (not to say all are bad, but I have seen houses built with minimal actual building experience by a professional builder who had no qualifications whatsoever). As to the inspectors, they are your friend but they have limitations too. No one cares about your project the way you do, again it never hurts to be over-qualified when it comes to construction knowledge. I found many cases when I could explain different construction techniques to my subs (e.g. using Miami-Dade Building Codes) that actually both saved me money and resulted in better construction. This is something they can incorporate later (and save money, and set themselves apart from competition, and probably ultimately charge more money) and I get for a reduced price, I like that.

As to Habitat for Humanity, all of the Kansas City chapters have recently joined together, they are Heartland Region Habitat now. I have been involved with several previously that were very good (Wyandotte County had great ICF houses), and some that were not so good. Perhaps with the joining all under one umbrella, they are all better. PM me, and I will send you some contacts to look for on Habitat houses. One of which is the single best resource in Kansas City on ICF - he has worked both the custom $1M+ houses and Habitat (as a paid employee, not volunteer) and knows more single-handedly about ICF than any other source locally.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/14/2007

I checked out the KC Area Metropolitan Area Community College link to Construction Management Associates' Degree. Wow, right in our backyard. I would recommend any prospective O-B's in our area at least get some more information on this program. Now then, it requires 63 credit hours, but 15-18 of those are general (history, English literature, etc.) that really don't equip you for construction management, so i don't think I would pursue the entire degree unless I had a larger long-term goal such as trying to get a job in the construction industry. 

But that doesn't mean many of the courses are not worthwhile. If you pursue these, please provide some feedback on the courses you are taking, and which you feel would be the most worthwhile for an O-B. I think that would be a valuable resource to other O-B's in our area, both from a content area as well as potential networking with other people either thinking about doing this or in the industry.


Georgia  >  Is PEX OK for GA?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/7/2005

I have no idea of the answer, but I would be happy to point you in a couple of directions to find a correct answer:

1) Call your local code official and ask.  Any information from the Internet is always suspect and should be verified prior to acting on it.  Information from you code official is reliable.

2) Call a local plumbing supplier.  If PEX is not allowed for potable water systems, they will know it.


Planning Phase  >  Getting bids before or after permits?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/20/2008

I am a big proponent of sharing draft plans with subcontractors, prior to having your designer drawing the final plans. The reasons for this are twofold;

1) I like to have a handle on costs. Are you going to get firm bids, probably not. Are you going to get ballpark bids written on the back of a napkin, probably. During planning I always wanted to make sure I was in the ballpark, and the back-of-napkin bids were good enough for me. Also I wasn't looking for three or four bids from every trade at this point, just ballpark.

2) More importantly I wanted their input on how this gets constructed, and any changes that should be made now to make their jobs easier as subcontractors, or using their expertise to give me a better overall product. This may be fairly simply like building in some utility chases to you can get plumbing, electrical, or mechanical up the walls. Some of this is so basic as to not locate a truss where you want a toilet, but is rarely considered (normally that truss would either get field modified [a bad thing] or that toilet would get moved).

As it turned out, the subs I consulted during planning did almost no work on my build job. However the subs I hired were all amazed that their trade had been considered in the planning process, and definitely appreciated this extra level of detail. This level of detail also resulted in almost no field changes (one field change based on an error in my plans themselves), and no field changes equates to no change orders, and this is good from a budget perspective.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Do We Have to Use an Architect?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/10/2006

Ray, you don't identify where you are located. The requirement for an architect will be dictated by your local code officials. In some states, you need an engineer's stamp to build. In mine, an architect or engineer stamp is unnecessary unless you are doing certain things (a roof or floor truss plan needs to be engineered, a suspended concrete slab needs engineering, if you are outside the code book for ICF headers you need engineering, etc.). Even though I identified that engineering is needed, an architect stamp is sufficient.

Even though an architect is not required, understand that a good architect will save you more money than the fee charged. I didn't need an architect, I had a good concept of how I wanted my house to flow and had a draft set of plans before we started interviewing architects and designers. However the architect identified many things in the plans, optimized them for my building method, simplified them and yet made them appear more complex, and ultimately made them easier to construct. I am convinced I could have done the job without the architect, but the final house wouldn't be as nice and it would have cost me more money - this is the value of a good architect. That said, I could have hired another architect, paid more money for the services, and ended up with little to no value for my expense too, but then this is true of any of the services I hired out.


Miscellaneous  >  Anybody used HD "At-Home" Services?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/26/2006

In my area they offer the same type of services. Let me reiterate a couple of things here:

1) Home Despot does not employ siding installers, HVAC technicians, roofers, etc. These are all subcontractors to Home Despot, they also do their own subcontracting.

2) Home Despot makes a profit on setting up these installations. As I understand it, Home Despot makes about 25%-30% off the top on the installations. The contractors actually doing the work also have their overhead and profit. Why pay for two sets of overhead and profit?

3) One of my subcontractors runs a crew entirely dedicated to Lowe's installations. He told me the difference in installation prices he gets from that crew through Lowe's, what he is charging me, and how much Lowe's makes just setting up these installations.

4) I would use this for bid purposes for the bank only. You will get better bids elsewhere and equal quality work, perhaps from the same subcontractors Home Depot is using. Home Depot offers you nothing except convenience, and even that is debatable.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/25/2006

I want to clear up a big misconception here. Just because you used HD "At-Home" Services, and paid through HD, don't think for a second that you have HD backing the work with their name and reputation. Find someone who wasn't happy with the HD "At Home" installation, and the trouble it takes them to get things corrected, and you might just change your opinion.

HD backing and commitment to work simply does not exist, except in their marketing department.


Shopping Techniques  >  builddirect
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/1/2009

I used them several times on my build, primarily for horizontal natural bamboo flooring and composite decking. I found they delivered directly to my house, but you better have a way of unloading pallets from the freight carrier's truck (ABF was who came to my house). The freight carrier has a length of time they will allow you to unload the truck, after that it costs you extra.

I was pleased with the product I received, and you can't beat the prices as long as you need pallet quantities.


Miscellaneous  >  Concrete bag retaining wall pics
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/7/2007

It is not so much the foundation that is the limit on segmental stone retaining walls. The weight of the wall holds them in place, this is not a function of the foundation these walls are bearing on. If you get too high though, you need to tie them back using geofabric, and this is where the complexity comes in via engineering design. Once you introduce too much height, you need to tie back, you need to know how much to tie back, you need to compact properly between layers of fabric, you need to know what you are doing, and in my locale you need an engineering design, permit approval, and inspection.  This is different than concrete retaining wall, the concrete is much stronger and doesn't simply rely on weight. As to these bag concrete pics, these are not used locally.

If you use two separate walls to keep your height down (and avoid engineering design and complexity), be sure to separate them adequately so that they are truly independent walls, and upper wall does not impact the loading on the lower wall. If you separate them by twice the height of the wall, you should be OK. For example, you have seven feet of retaining wall needed, if the first wall is four feet tall, you will want the second wall at least eight feet back.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Floor joists?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/27/2005

I found open-web floor trusses to be a cost savings over TJI wood I-joists. The beauty of open web is all of the utilities can be run in the joists, leaving a flat ceiling in the basement. You need to coordinate with your HVAC tech to make sure utility chases are in the spots s/he would like them, but otherwise not a huge issue.

The biggest advantage of open-web joists are no one hacks them apart. With TJI you are limited to certain size holes in certain locations. With dimensional lumber you will find all of the subs will hack them up to get their pieces in. With open web, no one touches the trusses via modifications. Nice. That they offered a cost savings over TJI made them a no brainer (both TJI and floor trusses from the same source too, so a real comparison).


Finding Subcontractors  >  Workers' Comp for hourly employee/ friends
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/19/2006

You might try sending them to a labor shop, and having the labor shop pay them an hourly rate. I used Labor Pros and Labor Ready both. I had agreements with both if I wanted to hire someone specifically that I could send them in. The labor shop hired them at my hourly rate plus their surcharge for insurance, and their service charge, and they would then send them out to my job site. I found this a more cost effective way to make sure they had insurance, they also paid taxes and I didn't need to worry about the administrative costs.

I found that friends in the planning stages were not very reliable labor. I helped people build their own houses, had several friends volunteer, have friends that felt that if they helped me I would help them with a project later (I would), etc. When it came time to work, very few actually showed up.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/6/2006

Yellow Pages. There are day labor shops in most medium size to larger metropolitan areas. The idea was not mine, it was recommended to me by a person working on Habitat for Humanity houses as a way to get side labor but still with insurance coverage.

As a GC with no history, I found workers' compensation insurance to be prohibitively expensive. In fact they wouldn't even write it unless I covered myself first, at a fairly high salary even though I wasn't making any money. (I figured my time on my house was free; I have a day job after all). And then it was based on class of labor. For example, workers' compensation on a roofer was 120% of their salary (and we wonder why there are so many companies willing to hire/exploit illegals doing roofing work?).


Planning Phase  >  Engineer needed for HVAC?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/19/2006

I would be careful hiring an HVAC subcontractor to do your design. Some of them know what they are doing and will provide a very good design, others are just metal benders and don't know enough about sizing ductwork and HVAC systems that you will never get a balanced system with proper airflow to every room.

If you don't believe me, take your plans to three to five HVAC subcontractors and ask them each to design the system you need. I found that by doing this, I received multiple designs that had no relation to each other and certainly couldn't be compared apples-to-apples. At the very minimum, download one of the trial software packages for HVAC design, and do the calculations yourself. The best solution is to hire a mechanical engineer. I hired one and mine more than saved me his fee. In the end, engineers usually save far more money than their fees.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/30/2006

To be honest, the M.E. I hired I would not use again. I didn't even share my engineer's report with HVAC contractors and ask them to bid it apples-to-apples, as the HVAC subcontractors (or any subcontractors for that matter) tend to inflate their bids if they think an engineer or architect is looking over their shoulder. If I provided an engineer's report, they would make the assumption that said engineer would be inspecting their work.

I used the engineer's report to determine which HVAC subcontractors truly understood system and ductwork design, figuring if they have this level of knowledge they probably also have good installers. I found one HVAC installer that did truly quality design (I tend to think the quality from this source was better than the engineer I paid), although I found out later that they don't do their own designs and they subcontract this portion out. They include this design as part of their bid process (no charge), obviously using someone very knowledgeable and with a proper software package.

For the HVAC subcontractor I ended up hiring, I shared his design, the engineer's design, and the other HVAC tech's design and we discussed why the differences between them and what we should do to make sure the installed system is the "right" system for my house. Doing this over again, I now know who to call to get a good HVAC analysis. An engineer is not required. I would focus on HVAC installers who do commercial work to do the design, although getting one interested in your residential project is not likely to be easy.


How Owner-Building Saves Money  >  Big Family - Lots of Help in Building - DIY
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/14/2004

You need to balance the time value of money in here somewhere. If you have financing, you pay interest every month. When you calculate the additional interest cost vs. cost savings from DIY, you find often it is more cost effective to contract it out. You need to treat yourself as a limited resource, and determine where your time is most effectively spent.

Another thing to consider is builder's risk insurance. Ours comes as a single policy with a time frame of up to one year. If we complete the house in six months, we don't get a rebate for half the policy amount. If it takes 13 months, we have to pay for another policy, which is good for one year.

For some trades you will find it is actually cheaper to contract than DIY. I don't know what it is about insulation, but I can have better insulation installed cheaper than I can get materials and DIY. The key is to be honest with yourself about your skills, and focus on the trades that have higher labor to material costs. I know for some issues we chose to DIY, we upgraded materials or bought nice tools to assist relatively inexperienced people (us) to do a quality job, and by the time you consider this increased cost it didn't really save money. However I do have some really great tools I will use in the future, and the capability to use them appropriately, and this is worth something as well. I also learned some basic carpentry capability (I hired an experienced carpenter to help me), basic plumbing (I hired a plumber to help me), basic electrical (my brother is an electrical contractor), and really understand the mechanics of the house.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/16/2004

Great post, John!!!

I'll second what you say about making sure you have the funds to have someone do all of the work. When I was securing my financing, my banker wanted bids from all of the major trades, and strategy for how the rest would be done without our involvement. I thought this was a bit silly and a large waste of time, as we fully intended to do most of the work ourselves. However he asked the question "what if you break a leg the first day on the job, how do you ensure it gets completed?" My translation was "we don't really care about you, but we (the bank) have a lot of money tied up that we don't want to lose."

When we started getting bids, we realized that hiring professionals would still allow us to meet the ultimate goal. At this point, we chose some high return on investment tasks to do ourselves. For example, originally I was going to do my own ICF, but I found a talented crew (each individually with a considerable amount of experience) that was trying to get established in my locale - this was win-win situation for both of us as when they submitted the bid this turned out to be a low return on investment task for me, so I hired them.

I never really considered how my lifestyle might change if I was injured, just how my house would get completed. There is more at stake here than just building a house.


Building Phase  >  Glue drywall on ICF and SIPs?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/13/2009

nationalgypsum.com/literature.pdf

This seems to be an industry standard. Actually I didn't know what the industry standard was. My sheetrocker asked how I wanted my walls finished. I said, "smooth." He asked how smooth, did I want level five? I asked if level five was good. He verified that if I wanted smooth, I would be really happy with level five. He then asked which walls I wanted level five? I told him if it was good, why not do the whole house level five. Well that's what I got, skim coat walls in the garage, basement, utility room, bathrooms, closets, and the living areas that really needed it. I guess if I had known the lingo, I might have saved a bit of money on that portion of my build. However I do have nice sheetrock. That said, I upgraded all my paint to satin, and it looks fantastic.

I don't know if that smooth sheetrock was necessary in the garage, but you know when I go out there every morning to drive out, at least once a week I think of the funny look on my subcontractors face when I said "level-five the whole thing". Makes me think of the Visa commercial. "Level-five sheetrock - $$$. Look on sheetrocker's face when you tell him it's only good enough for the garage - priceless." It gives me a story that makes me smile anyway, and that has to be worth something. For everyone else, I recommend a bit of cost savings. And truthfully his bid was only $300 more than the low bid, so my cost wasn't that much more (although I imagine his would have been the low bid had I known how to ask for sheetrock finish).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/12/2009

I know when sheetrockers came and looked at my house for bids, most of them had this strange look on their face when they looked at the ICF. I had a spare block I kept at the workplace just to show them how to find webs, have them screw a couple into the webs and then try to pull them out, etc. After the demonstration, most didn't upcharge their bid prices because they realized drywall on ICF is not a big deal.

The sheetrocker I used had experience with sheetrock on ICF, and he liked to glue and screw onto ICF. When I hire experienced professionals, I tend not to tell them how to do their job, and he liked glue and screw on ICF and that's what he bid, I wasn't about to ask him screw only. I did ask him to use #8 drywall screws instead of #6; he had no problems with that and showed up with buckets of both.

I also had them provide the materials. He showed up with 4x8, 4x12, 4x16, 4x20, and some monster 5x20 panels. Not knowing how they calculate how many of each they needed, it seemed best to let them bring what they wanted. Those big panels for open rooms really make their job fast, and eliminate a lot of joints. The same subcontractor finished and taped, but as Terry identified, this was a separate crew from the hanging crew.

I asked for "Level-5" drywall, this is smooth (really smooth). You probably want this level of finish where you might get sunlight shining directly on the walls or you have wall-washer lighting. I would go one level down (level 4) for most of the drywall in the finished area. I would go one level below (level 3) that for garages and utility areas. If I am going to tile over it (bathroom shower, tub surround, kitchen tile backsplash, behind kitchen cabinets), then level 2 is fine, since it will be covered up later.

Levels Of Gypsum Board Finish

LEVEL 0: No taping, finishing or accessories required. This level of finish may be useful in temporary construction or whenever the final decoration has not been determined.

LEVEL 1: All joints and interior angles shall have tape embedded in joint compound. Surface shall be free of excess joint compound. Tool marks and ridges are acceptable. This level of finish often referred to as "fire taping", is frequently specified in plenum areas above ceilings, in attics, in areas where the assembly would generally be concealed, or in building service corridors and other areas not normally open to public view. Accessories (corner bead, base shoe other trims) optional at specifier discretion in corridors and other areas with pedestrian traffic.

LEVEL 2: All joints and interior angles shall have tape embedded in joint compound and one separate coat of joint compound applied over all joints, angles, fastener heads and accessories. Surface shall be free of excess joint compound, tool marks and ridges are acceptable. This level of finish is specified where water resistant drywall is used as a substrate for tile; may be specified in garages, warehouse storage or other similar areas where surface appearance is not of primary concern.

LEVEL 3: All joints and interior angles shall be tape-embedded in joint compound and two coats of joint compound applied over all joints, angles, fastener heads and accessories. All joint compound shall be smooth and free of tool marks and ridges. Note: It is recommended that the prepared surface be coated with a primer/sealer prior to the application of final finishes. This level of finish is typically specified in appearance areas which are to receive heavy or medium texture (spray or hand applied) finishes before final painting, or where heavy-grade wall coverings are to be applied as the final decoration.

LEVEL 4: All joints and interior angles shall be tape-embedded in joint compound and three coats of joint compound applied over all joints, angles, fastener heads and accessories. All joint compound shall be smooth and free of tool marks and ridges. Note: It is recommended that the prepared surface be coated with a primer/sealer prior to the application of final finishes. This level of finish is typically specified where light textures or wall coverings are to be applied, or economy is of concern.

LEVEL 5: All joints and interior angles shall be tape-embedded in joint compound and three separate coats of joint compound applied over all joints, angles, fastener heads and accessories. A thin skim coat of joint compound, or a material manufactured especially for this purpose, shall be applied to the surface. The surface shall be smooth and free of tool marks and ridges. Note: It is recommended that the prepared surface be coated with a primer/sealer prior to the application of final finishes. This level of finish is recommended where gloss, semi gloss, enamel or non-textured flat paints are specified or where severe side lighting conditions occur. This highest-quality finish is the most effective method to provide a uniform surface and minimize the possibility of joint photographing and of fasteners showing through the final decoration. (note: Application of primer/paint products over Level 4 and Level 5 smooth finish: Industry experience demonstrates an effective method for achieving a visually uniform surface for both the primer and topcoat is spray application immediately followed by back-rolling or roller application using good roller techniques such as finishing in one direction and using roller types and naps recommended by the paint manufacturer.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/8/2011

This is a common mistake among inexperienced ICF installers; the blocks go together pretty easily, but you need to keep the webs lined up. We had one of two areas on my house this way, but I painted on the wall where they were, so that the drywall installers knew where the webs were out of whack and to pay attention to the marks on the wall as far as where to screw into webs.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Hiring Out-of-Area Subcontractors, Pros and Cons
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/20/2008

Oleg,

I am surprised this post has been out here a couple of weeks without any responses. I can share my experience.

I hired an out-of-town ICF subcontractor for my ICF work as well. I had a couple of challenges:

1) Checking workmanship and quality of other ICF projects that the subcontractor had completed before I signed the contract required me to take several days off work and drive around western Kansas. I saw a lot of windshield time before I was confident in their capability. Local subcontractors you can probably do this after work or on weekends.

2) The subcontractor had to pay travel and per diem to his employees, and he also paid one way of drive time. As a result, he wanted to come out for full weeks of work -- so if the weather was calling for rain on Wednesday he may decide it wasn't worth the drive time for two days of work. As a result, my shell took longer than it should have. Local subcontractors don't have to worry about this. You get to pay for this travel cost; it will be included in their bids.

3) ICF requires other support than just a crew, including local concrete ready-mix plant, local concrete pumpers, and other local supplies. "New" subcontractors that may not necessarily bring in repeat business may have difficulty competing with established ICF subcontractors with the concrete pumpers (price and/or service). Establishing new ready-mix accounts shouldn't be an issue, but concrete pumps are expensive, so having a local subcontractor with a better price may result in more competitive bids.

That said, I received top-notch ICF workmanship (straight, plumb) at a great price. I have had no problems recommending this ICF subcontractor to others, and I know he has accepted other jobs in my area. If I were building another house tomorrow, I would do it again.

There were other subcontractors I hired who weren't exactly local; the main problem is checking references (and not just calling people over the phone, I like to actually check workmanship, preferably before it gets covered up) and paying for travel expenses.


Miscellaneous  >  AVG. SAVINGS ACTING AS GC?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/27/2006

Thank you for your apology about all-caps.

 

First of all, a GC probably doesn’t “make” 30% on any house.  However you can save more than the GC profit percentage of 15% quoted by your builders.  Lets look at how this might get done.

 

1)      Your builder has a truck, his employees have company trucks, all of these company trucks get gas, insurance, maintenance on them.  Now on each of these trucks you have tools, someone buys these tools.  The cost of this comes out of building houses, but as part of overhead.  As an O-B, you immediately eliminate overhead, as you already have a car and you are managing your project out of either your apartment or your old house, you have no employees, you have no accountant doing your bookkeeping, etc.  As your builder friends how much “overhead” they charge, in addition to how much “profit” they charge.  Some put this together (OH&P), others don’t.

2)      Now builders will tell you they get better prices on materials because they have commercial accounts.  The problem is this is complete legend, I found I could beat almost every one of my subcontractor’s prices on almost every material.  I had them all bid material separate from labor, using their normal material suppliers.  Some of them turned in price quotes directly from their material suppliers, which I compared to bids I received from my own material suppliers.  Guess whose were lower?  Several of my subcontractors changed suppliers after I showed them my bids compared to what they were paying.  Builders usually only use a couple of suppliers, and they are not very good shoppers, so they pay too much, more than you do.

3)      Just like suppliers, builders like to rely on the same set of subcontractors.  Actually I found that many quality contractors don’t do spec work because the builders are trying to squeeze them for every dime.  However these subs weren’t necessarily more expensive.  My HVAC tech came out of commercial HVAC for a fairly large company, and was trying to start his own business.  He had no history as a business, so couldn’t compete on commercial work.  He really needed some references for residential.  I was able to provide him an opportunity to showcase his residential capabilities, and also provide a reference for future work.  Lower overhead plus startup equates to good deal for me.  This wasn’t the only subcontractor I hired without local history (they all had history though).  Again builders don’t shop for new subs, O-B have to every time so we can get the best combination of price and quality.

4)      Builders don’t take advantage of special offers.  I found great tile on closeout, took advantage of the situation and purchased almost an entire pallet of tile as I wasn’t sure just how much I needed.  Our tile prices on this closeout ranged from $0.25/s.f. to $0.6/s.f. (three different tile styles), original street price ranged from $4/s.f. to $6/s.f.  How many builders would either be shopping for tile deals, or be in a position to take advantage of this quickly?  Builders don’t shop for tile, they leave it to the subcontractor, who again unless they have a place to put it probably are not buying it.

5)      Builders manage schedules, and don’t like to rearrange schedules to fit suppliers or subcontractors.  Take cabinetry for example, I can go to any number of places and order cabinets and have them delivered on a set timeframe.  However I found custom cabinets were a cost savings, custom made using wood of my choice to my house.  What was the catch, my cabinet maker had a nine month wait time before he would get started.  Managing my own schedule, I could make that work and got on the waiting list.  I have much nicer cabinetry than I could have purchased for double the cost, but it took me additional coordination and time to make sure I would get them at the proper time of my project.  Many houses are complete in less than nine months, but since I was doing the planning as well I included the entire process for considering materials and suppliers.

6) Builders do what they know.  Frequently there are other methods you can show them that result in better quality at less cost.  The Internet is your friend here, and most builders are not current on the latest materials or building techniques.

7)      Builders cannot use side labor.  You can hire your friends and family to perform some side labor (not that I would condone such a practice, but it does happen).  Be careful here, just because someone is working as a side job doesn’t actually mean it is saving you any money.  And side labor is outside your normal insurance policy, so you take on additional risk.  But cash talks…

8)      I know what I paid for my house, I also received a bid from a quality builder to build it turn-key as well as just a dry shell.  After I received my bid, I upgraded almost everything and came in with a complete finished cost at the same expenditure that the builder had agreed to build just a dry shell.


Green Building  >  Rainwater Flush
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/7/2009

I might suggest looking at this in two approaches; rainwater harvesting and greywater. One is easy to accomplish; greywater poses challenges. Rainwater harvesting benefits not just your landscape, but it reduces peak flows from stormwater runoff and extends the time to peak, both critical issues. Sure these are limited to one lot at a time, but enough single uses can be somewhat significant. For greywater about the only thing I would do differently today might be a split collection system in my house, tied together as it exits the house. This is minimal cost today that allows for greywater reuse at some future date when it becomes viable.

For rainwater harvesting, look at "rain gardens" that are essentially mini-wetlands and/or depression storage. I am using native wetland fringe vegetation that once established will have root systems 12-18' (yes that's feet, not inches) deep, and this is a lot of soil porosity that absorbs this water instead of stormwater runoff (not to mention erosion benefits). A bit of grading dictates where you might wish to establish your depression storage areas/rain gardens/mini-wetlands within your landscape. Reducing stormwater runoff has multiple benefits and is easy and cheap to accomplish at these micro levels.


Construction Scheduling  >  Framing schedule
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/16/2010

Nice starting point, if I gave that to residential framing crews in my locale they would run and hide.

Right off the top, you identify that framing materials are supplied by owner. If you are supplying the materials, why do you need to spec them out? 1/2" OSB for the roof, 3/4" OSB for the floor, galvanized screws, etc. I found plywood cheaper than OSB for the floor, I substituted that, and since I was supplying materials...

I also feel bad telling them they need to work to code, that is almost assumed. And what if the contract is sub-code (something got transferred wrong), I need a change order to bring it up to code? I like to adopt the relevant code as a whole in the first line (All work not otherwise specified on the plans is in accordance with IRC Code...). You also give the code enforcer much more credit than I do.

Now that I have materials and code established, I like to focus on what makes my job different.

1) You have wall framing, you have roof trusses, I am very specific how the two come together as this is a common failure mode during high winds (standard toe-nailing techniques are very weak here). I like hurricane straps here. Since I provided them, the framers used them, and while they had never used them before (I ordered them from FL) they are pretty self-explanatory. My framers really liked these, my builder decided he would incorporate these into future projects and they are now available locally from at least one source.

2) Sill plate and anchors, you have some specifics here. I would suggest that rather than standard washers, that larger load plates are used. I have found another typical failure mechanism is that standard thin washers don't adequately spread the load, thus leading to failure. And what if the J-bolt doesn't quite line up - they drill a bigger hole in the sill plate to make it work. Are there any points you want better connections, perhaps something from Simpson or USP Structural Connectors? Granted, these get cast into your foundation.

3) Between bullet points 1 and 2, think "continuous load-path engineering" and how you might like this incorporated into your house? Hurricane areas, earthquake areas, these get them in the building codes (or they should - New Madrid fault areas have no such codes). The rest of us, not so much. However there is much here that is applicable everywhere, and your framers may not understand the connections. However with a bit of education, they can (this isn't extra work, which is why it is so disappointing that it isn't widely incorporated into residential construction).

4) OSB exterior sheathing, you provide some information here. However there is a proper way to install this to add considerable uplift resistance, and there is the method that gets commonly used (your spec allows for either technique). Research construction in hurricane states to understand the proper way and specify it. There is a minor change here, but it makes a significant difference on the wind (uplift) resistance of the house. FEMA and the state of Illinois collaborated on a Windstorm Mitigation Manual for light-frame construction following a tornado in Urbana; there is much good information here that is easily incorporated into residential construction. Unfortunately, it seems to be out of publication.

5) Do you want the wall studs and trusses aligned? Makes a nice detail, but you need to reduce spacing on your trusses. This is common with light-gauge steel construction, not so much with wood.

6) To get details I would include in specs, I would read over at the APA internet site (Formerly American Plywood Association, but now Engineered Wood Association, although still APA). They have free publications for both residential and commercial wood framing - much good stuff here. This covers your framing information.

7) I like to eliminate gray in my specs; either you meet them or you don't. Things should be straight and true? That's a spec?

Now then, you start putting all this into your specs, and you are going to really scare these framing subcontractors. I like to use this as a collaborative approach and discuss my expectations with them, sharing what I have learned from such reputable materials as the APA publications, continuous load-path engineering, the Windstorm Mitigation Manual, proper flashing techniques, James Hardie information (I built ICF, James Hardie specifies a bugle-head stainless screw, yada, yada, yada for attachment. I provided the screws, I provided the James Hardie information, I said you do it this way, and for your future reference I got the screws from XXX source), etc. I find that good subcontractors are always looking for an edge on their competition, and me taking the time to train them on proper techniques gave them an edge they have used after my job ended.

Now understand that my model isn't so much a straight business relationship, so I only invited subcontractors that weren't looking to hose me, as I provided them much opportunity to do so (OK I confess; I got in a hurry and invited one who tried to hose me; he lost). This technique doesn't work for production builders, spec builders, commercial construction, or anyone who is looking at strictly a business aspect to building a house. Also note that these wouldn't be low bidders in an open-bid process, but they are craftsmen who appreciate working for someone who understands quality. Your build isn't a government contract open to all bidders; you get to select whom you send the plans to, so only select good-quality subcontractors (preferably reference, but at a minimum if you are cold-calling or don't have a reference, check out examples of their work). When I selected professionals and treated them as professionals, I got professional work. When I short-circuited my selection criteria, I generally wished I had taken the time to do more research to only invite professionals.

I found that many of these subcontractors brought prospective clients to my house during construction (or incorporated my house into their internet site or business brochures) - that they exhibited that level of pride in their workmanship reinforced that I hired the right subcontractors.


Planning Phase  >  Hardwood over Concrete
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/25/2005

The install I have seen, they put nailers into the floor before the concrete was poured. This way, they had something to nail the hardwood floor to. I would guess the nailers to be a borate-pressure-treated wood, but don't recall specifically.


Building Phase  >  inspections
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/19/2006

When you pull a permit from your code department, they will identify what inspections you need. 


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Andersen 400 Windows vs. Pella 850
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/15/2008

Is it the Andersen windows you are displeased with, or the service you received from your distributor? Did Andersen mess up the order, or did the distributor mess up the order to Andersen. I am not trying to defend Andersen, but there is more than one entity at play here.

I ordered Milgard Ultimate fiberglass, and while the windows themselves are excellent, I agree that I wasn't entirely pleased with the company I ordered them from. However, I also recognize that the problems were local and not with the windows nor Milgard. I heartily recommend Milgard Ultimate, I might think twice about who I order them from though...

Please provide some clarification.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Hiring an independent building inspector?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/22/2005

I would recommend an independent inspector even if you didn't live 2-1/2 hours away from the project site. I did not hire one, but then I also have a degree in civil engineering, project engineering experience, and am not afraid of a blueprint. In fact, to show my bias here, I would look to the pool of engineers to pick my inspector from.

There are so many pieces to the house that are critical, I would want someone looking at it to make sure it gets done right - you can hide a lot of defects with concrete or sheetrock. I know some people like to rely on the code inspector, and after seeing them do the all-rough inspection (framing, electrical, mechanical, plumbing) and their final report, I am extremely uncomfortable relying on them to ensure anything (which makes me all the more scared of spec houses now).


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  ICF's adapted to custom plans?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/22/2005

ICF can be adapted to just about any plan.  Some dimensions may change slightly as the ICF is adapted to the house you want to build, based on the ICF itself.  This is common.


House Features  >  Propane Gas/Electric/or Geothermal HVAC???
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/3/2005

John brings up a good point that is often overlooked. When we look at HVAC options, the first person we call is an HVAC tech or an HVAC company. They analyze the situation, and if they are good, present us with several options for what might be the best system to meet our needs. However, the only tool they have to offer are HVAC solutions, because that is either what they know best or what they sell. There is an old adage that goes something like this, "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

Your house is a system. It is interconnected. No component of that system works independently without affecting other components. Your windows, roof, framing, insulation, and construction techniques all impact HVAC. The HVAC tech may tell you the best HVAC components to meet your design criteria (I want to maintain XX temperature during these conditions). However your HVAC tech does not understand the entire system. It may be more cost effective to downgrade your HVAC system and use this money to upgrade your insulation or windows, change your construction techniques to a "tighter" construction, etc.

When I looked at my system as a whole, applying principles of engineering economy, I found that the most "cost effective" (combination of up front capital costs, long-term maintenance costs, and long-term operating costs, the long-term costs all brought back to current dollars using a reasonable rate of return) system was actually an 80% furnace with a 10 SEER A/C unit - the least efficient unit on the market today. However I also have tight construction, ICF, R-50 in the roof, light gray well-vented roof (as opposed to something dark like slate), and constructed to Department of Energy recommendations for my climate. My system is so efficient that upgrading my HVAC system to save money simply isn't an option.

That said, I put in a 90+% furnace (my installer upgraded me for free since I direct-vented my hot-water heater and he didn't have to run the vent flue; basically he gave me more equipment and less labor for a wash), and a 14 SEER A/C. I upgraded to a variable speed, two-stage furnace because I knew this would have comfort ramifications. However I also understand that the extra money I spent basically is an upgrade only, and will never pay me back in long-term cost savings. In my climate, for my system, geothermal was just money down the drain with no hope of recovery.


Miscellaneous  >  Flexible Heat Ducts
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/1/2006

I rarely see flex ducting installs, even on the cheapest spec houses.  The question is what is the standard in Chillicothe, MO.

My HVAC tech had all of the ductwork shop built, it came in to the house in fairly large pieces.  It requires good planning and measuring, but he installed all of the ductwork very quickly.


Finding Subcontractors  >  How do I find subs?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/27/2006

Ray, it looks like you are up in New York State.  Now I don’t have a map handy, but there are 222 people registered at O-B connections in New York State, some of these resources must be local to you?  This doesn’t even consider potential subcontractors traveling from adjacent states if you happen to be near a border.  Unfortunately (or fortunately if you don’t want to receive spam) you can’t simply mass mail all of them, but for those of us that get many more O-B messages than we send it is a nice feature.

 

Is there new construction taking place anywhere near your site?  You might stop in and talk to the plumber and see if they are interested in another job.  This is nice, because you are already on a job they are working on and you get to review their workmanship right there.

 

Do you have other subcontractors lined up?  Subs work side-by-side with other subs on job sites; they know who the good ones are and conversely they know who to avoid.  You might ask the subcontractors you already have lined up who they would recommend to work on their own houses.

 

Have you ever called a plumber for your current house?  Plumbers tend to either be service, or construction, but almost never both.  Your service plumber you use at your house probably won’t do new construction, but since they shop at the same supply houses first thing every morning they know who the good construction plumbers are and can provide a reference.

 

You might call your code office.  Code officials cannot recommend specific trades as they need to maintain impartiality.  However they can provide a list of plumbers licensed to work in your locality, and more often that not they will share their opinions verbally about which are good plumbers and which aren’t.  They get to see the workmanship of all of the competition; they know which plumbers pass code inspections the first time out and which ones require rework.  They won’t commit to anything (maintaining impartiality and all), but they are usually happy to talk if you ask.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/8/2009

I hired an electrician for rough-in and only minor finish work. I wanted the sparky to do complex stuff; four-way switches, three-way switches (there are a couple of different ways to wire these, none are exactly wrong, however, you need to figure it out), code compliance (how many conductors can run to that size box?), smoke alarms, etc. I did the labor that sparky would "normally" do, such things as drilling studs, hanging boxes, running conductor for home runs, stapling wire, etc. Sparky focuses on "electrician" items. When it came time to finish, sparky hung the more complex fixtures, I hung the simple fixtures. As to duplex outlets, I did these, again I focused on "easy" and paid sparky for stuff more complex than I wanted to figure out. I pulled my own service, and made up my panel - sparky said the level of detail was quite good, as good as many professionals.

I did the same with the plumber. Rough-in seemed a bit too complex, especially for drain/waste/vent (DWV) and gas line. However installing finish fixtures went pretty quickly. EXCEPT I had one of those fancy-mount toilets with the smooth apron. I had the finish carpenter, painter, tile layer, and other trades there, we looked at that thing for an hour; it's not like the toilet manufacturer includes good instructions since these are mostly mounted by professionals that don't need instructions. We had all mounted toilets before, and the other two "standard" mount toilets went quickly, but we all looked at that smooth-apron alternate-mount toilet for what seemed like hours. I figured it out, could mount another one just like it in 30 minutes flat, but there was definitely some learning curve on that one. I did all of my own finish plumbing. I had the plumber run the supply lines using PEX and a manifold system (Vanguard Manabloc). After watching him next time I do this part myself, as this was definitely within the realm of low complexity.

I know what going rate is on both trades, I would rather they focus on what makes their trade complex, and allow me to do the easy stuff and the less-skilled parts of their trade.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/9/2009

If you read my compendium of posts, sometimes I recommend acting like a professional GC for a client, sometimes I recommend acting like a GC building your own house as a model, and sometimes I recommend acting like an O-B. When talking to these two trades, they both knew I was O-B, they both knew I was looking to save money wherever reasonable and possible, they were willing to accommodate this. Do it this way - I recommend you don't make any callbacks for warranty work on either trade.

For sparky, this was kind of a win-win arrangement. Sparky didn't bid ICF houses because of the unknown factor, I told him I would show him details for ICF (channeling conductor in polystyrene, securing conductor in polystyrene, special work boxes that make ICF work easier, etc.) in exchange for him doing the wiring. We both benefited here.

I met my plumber through building ICF houses for Habitat for Humanity. While Habitat houses are largely volunteer labor, there are plenty of skilled trades still involved (either volunteer or paid). I learned a lot volunteering for Habitat, and met a number of people that later proved quite valuable in my own build. Work next to someone such that you get to know them and they understand your capabilities (you aren't going to take their work and make them look bad), and you have a bit more flexibility in what you can ask them.

Actually when looking for plumbers, I explained to several of them that we really had four phases; underslab, underground water and sewer connection, rough, and finish, and please bid all phases separately as I might be willing to discuss ways we can save some money. For example, why would you bring in equipment for underground water and sewer connection when my operator can dig this trench for you when he is here anyway? I really didn't find any that were opposed to this arrangement.

If you tend to DIY troubleshooting and repairs on your own house, having this level of knowledge on how your house went together will prove invaluable. If you are the type of person that calls a professional service call to change a light bulb, I don't recommend this.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/10/2009

Wow, Rachal, you had some that would rather work than talk?!?!?! At the risk of going off-topic here (and as a moderator I really know better)...

I came by the project site after work one day, and my deck builder (carpenter), finish carpenter (different carpenter), painter, tile setter, skid loader operator, and a laborer were all outside sitting on the deck enjoying an icy cold adult beverage, talking. From the looks of it, they had been doing this all afternoon. Now most of those guys I didn't care, they bid the job fixed price. But my laborer was being paid hourly, I didn't exactly relish seeing him out there kicking back with the rest of them.

I do agree with Rachal that if you treat them with respect, they will return the favor. Buying lunch when I come by during the day, bringing coffee and donuts, bringing cold beer by after work, etc. Not every day of course (couldn't afford that), but don't be stingy either. One of the greatest things they seemed to appreciate was me giving them one of my company T-shirts, they really seemed to wear them proudly. Based on that, those were one-off "Thank Yous" that I gave out to people that did something special to earn them.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Craigslist
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/19/2008

Julia, it looks like you have saved $7.5K +/- just on appliances by being an aggressive shopper and being willing to store these items in your current house. Out of curiosity, how much time did you invest to save that amount of money? I would have no problems driving a couple of hours (was that each way, or round trip) to buy a Sub-Zero for $250, even if I left it there, it would probably have been worth the risk at that price.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/19/2008

So for an investment of 32 hours and $80, you saved $7.5K. That works out to over $230/hour for your time, and spare time at that when you weren't otherwise going to be productive. And some critics say that being an O-B doesn't save you anything ;-).

Nice example, I see your journal also provides cost savings you have accumulated. Please keep us posted on your project.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/21/2008

This sounds like a lap siding bid. What is the dimension of the lap siding? I used 8-1/4" Hardie lap siding, which is 7" exposure, but it comes in many different sizes depending on what your local wholesaler carries.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/23/2008

Here is how I would interpret this. Your bid is $5/linear foot of lap siding. The question is how many linear feet of lap siding does it take to finish your house -- right? This way you can at least compare this bid to others you are receiving.

Well, Hardie lap siding is 12' long, and at $5/linear foot this would mean $60 for every piece of lap siding (and for this price, it better include everything including two coats of nice paint). Now then the 8-1/4" lap has 7" exposure, and covers 7 s.f. of wall. So your bid price in a more comparable unit is $8.60/square foot. Please note that this is square foot of exterior wall space covered by siding, and not square foot of wall. The question is, how many square feet of siding do you need? At least square feet is a little easier to calculate.


Building Phase  >  Input please. Building with ICF is not possible?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/25/2006

Let me get some thoughts down here:

1) The window to the right of the front door, second story. Are you going to have enough header space above the window using ICF? This looks to be minimal height, and depending on your roofing framing choices, may be difficult. 

2) My ICF subcontractor uses corner windows all the time without corner supports. I would think the look with your corner windows would be much cleaner if they wrapped around the corner with no center supports. Since your ICF needs considerable detail anyway, this is something you may want to think about. However you are also limited as to the size of the window when you do it this way, although the limits are greater with ICF than they are with stick construction.

3) I wouldn't think the different roof heights would be much problem, as long as the first floor supporting walls and the second floor supporting walls line up. Think of ICF as Lego blocks, and how you would put them together, you just stack. You don't have to stack all of your Lego blocks the same height; this is no different than ICF. For the flat roof portions, no big deal, just stack that wall higher. My architect drew the plans showing each level of ICF block (my plans are nowhere near as complex as yours), if you have this level of detail it shouldn't be hard for your ICF subcontractor to identify how to stack and brace it.

4) What are you using for your roof framing? For the flat roof and slightly sloped portions, have you looked into SPEEDFLOOR or Hambro? I haven't used either one (I considered SPEEDFLOOR for my house), but it would appear on the surface that a floor system such as these would work well for your flat roof sections. Given your styling (I really like it ;-), I would consider leaving the flooring system exposed from underneath if using either of these systems(not using sheetrock finish).

5) Your ICF subcontractor isn't going to like your arched roof section. Depending on your roof framing here, I would stack the block, mark the arch, and hit it with a reciprocating saw. You need to provide a masonry-based anchoring system cast into the ICF here to secure your roof framing. I would do the same for the sloped sections, stack the ICF higher, use a chalk line to mark your cut, and a reciprocating saw to finish to final height, and then fill as typical. Your rebar placement within the ICF block becomes a bit more of a challenge doing it this way, but I don't see that as insurmountable.

6) You must not get much rain and obviously no snow load. The flat roofs don't bother me, but the roof over the garage will drain back into your house. I like all drainage to go toward the perimeter, but on your house the aesthetics simply wouldn't be as pleasing to pitch that roof the other way.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/25/2006

If some walls don't have anything to rest on below, that will certainly pose a challenge for ICF. One of the first premises of ICF design is that all exterior walls need to line up to form a continuous path to the footers. For some reason, subcontractors don't like to construct suspended concrete walls.

However, my ICF subcontractor Dean, who is my friend, designed his house (actually his ex-wife's house now), with the second story walls not matching up to the first story walls. He has a suspended ICF wall on the second story with roof load, that is completely open underneath. This was done for the sole purpose of dispelling the common myth that ICF walls need to line up.

The suspended wall is designed as a concrete header/beam, bearing on each end. The roof load is evenly distributed across this header/beam at the top. The floor load for the second story is evenly distributed across this beam at the bottom. Obviously the two walls supporting this concrete header/beam are reinforced for the extra point load as well. You won't find this in the IRC2000 code book (standard used at the time he built his house), nor the more recent IRC2003. It definitely takes engineering to back this up. I wish I would have been there to watch the pour, as I imagine underneath the suspended concrete wall was some considerable bracing to support the weight of the wet concrete, not to mention the shock of dropping it from the top of the wall as it was filled with a pump. It has a pretty good amount of steel in this header/beam, but given the depth of the beam (a full story), it isn't as much as you might think.

I saw a website for an Amvic house that was under construction when Hurricane Katrina hit, the house was elevated on piers, the ICF did not bear directly on walls below on that house either. Do a search for "Sundberg and Katrina" and you will find information, although much of it is the same as nbnnews.com/CHBC. This was designed by a structural engineer, and he uses beam walls as well.

You can do it, and it isn't as difficult as most ICF subcontractors would lead you to believe. However most don't have experience doing it, and you will pay extra for their learning curve.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/25/2006

As an O-B, I was inexperienced doing residential construction work. However I also know that more subcontractors and more trades leads to more problems for things to go wrong between the trades, mostly due to miscommunication.

Anytime you start combining systems that the subcontractors are not used to combining, you introduce uncertainty. Combining SIPs with ICF, and you introduce uncertainty to both subcontractors, especially on your house where they will be working side-by-side, and they have never done this before (the HVAC tech is used to working beside plumbers and electricians, the ICF subcontractor is not used to a boom truck being on-site lifting SIP into place). This is why ICF subcontractors (around here anyway) like to bring their own excavators and pour their own footings - less uncertainty for them. This is also one reason I have an ICF garage. Why bring in a carpenter to frame the garage when the ICF crew is already on site (and that it was a cost savings is an extra bonus).

The other item I found was that if you start breaking jobs up too small, you get less interest. Would your SIP subcontractor rather undertake an entire SIP house, or would they rather undertake a minor supporting role? I would rather deal with less subcontractors, and larger chunks for each one. O-B is challenging enough, less subcontractors to worry about makes your job simpler. I would rather have a more complex job that can be completed by one trade, even if that means less than ideal use of ICFs or SIPs, just to eliminate an entire subcontractor in a small role.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/26/2006

As I was thinking about this, is your architect aware of your desire to use ICF construction? If so, and if he provides a design that isn't conducive to ICF construction he isn't really providing the services you need. I had a difficult time finding an architect who had experience with ICF. It isn't that difficult to work with or design to, but there are certain things commonly done with sticks that simply should not be attempted with ICF.

I would like to see some of the interior renderings of your house, please post some more pictures.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/4/2004

The best thing to do in this case is to find a local architect or designer you want to work with and let them know your expectations for the design. I explained to the architect that I had a good DIY project background, but wanted enough information on the plans so that anyone could build it without a code book (how many trades carry code books in their trucks? How many actually refer to them? How many O-Bs even know what code requirements are?). I didn't want to rely on the code official for all inspections, as I intend to be on-site daily.

As a trade-off, I told the architect to not spend time on finishes or the "how things look" stuff as I could do this myself. My 90% plans have considerable "how it goes together" construction detail and not very much "how it should look" design detail. It helped that my architect had been involved in many low-income infill-type house designs, so he also knew how to design houses economical to construct.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/23/2009

Be careful where you build. In my locale, you get 12 months from the day the front-end loader shows up and starts scratching dirt until you get your certificate of occupancy. Go over 12 months, you suffer the wrath of the codes enforcement department. I went over 12 months, but they could see I was very close. Cash only and taking years to complete construction would not work.

After the planning and one year of construction, I was tired. I still haven't finished grouting the tile backsplash in part of the kitchen. I simply attempted too much for too long and needed some recovery time. I can't imagine attempting to do it all for several years and maintaining any semblance of a life. If you get burned out on your project, you will grow to resent it, and that won't help your progress or attitude toward working on it at all. I was burned out enough that I am only now finishing up the odds and ends and exterior landscaping, and I subcontracted much and my timeline was 12 months.

Good luck.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/14/2008

I would say any concerns about attaching sheetrock or siding to ICFs are a red herring. ICF has been around long enough, and there are enough examples, to demonstrate that this isn't an issue.

When I was building my ICF house, I had to explain to several sheetrock subcontractors how to attach to ICF, but once they picked up the block and drove a couple of screws into it they realized it was a non-issue. I did have my sheetrocker use #8 sheetrock screws instead of #6 sheetrock screws for the ICF portion, no big deal to them but then they were also experienced with ICF.

As to siding, call the siding manufacturer of you choice and they will have specific instructions on how to attach it to ICF to meet their warranty requirements.

One of the great features of ICF is quiet. If you use ICF walls between the units, you get by with a nice firewall as well as almost complete sound isolation, a real value for attached housing.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/14/2008

I know someone that built a dual-wall system using 2x4s and fiberglass insulation. What he didn’t do was leave airspace between the two walls; he filled the entire cavity with fiberglass. More importantly, he staggered the stud locations on the inner wall to eliminate the thermal ghosting you get with any framed wall construction. Those of you that think that thermal ghosting doesn’t exist are sadly mistaken. Those of you that fill that cavity with Icynene or other foam also get that thermal ghosting, despite what you may have been led to believe. Anyway the person I know would identify substantial benefit. Whether it is worth the increased cost, or more importantly whether that increased cost is better spent elsewhere, is up to you to decide.

One thing I would recommend is looking at subcontracting your insulation, I found I could hire it installed for less than the price of insulation I could buy through my normal suppliers. Further I found that upgrading my attic from R-30 (standard) to R-50 was negligible increased cost, leading me to believe that this is truly cheap material with substantial markup for profit, and that the truly high volume users don't pay the same price as I was being quoted.

Now then what you haven’t included is the additional cost from installing nonstandard door depths and window depths. If you look to other building methods that use nonstandard framing members and thick walls (log cabins, ICF) you will find solutions to this problem. More importantly, you will find opportunities that don’t necessarily increase cost but look very nice with thicker walls. I have attached photos of a window detail that is easy to figure out the framing work to accomplish (this was an ICF install here, but very clean way to take advantage of a thick wall nonetheless):


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/14/2008

The question I have here is what would a more traditional air-to-air heat pump cost? What is the SEER of this more traditional method? What is the SEER of the geothermal? How much monthly operating costs do you expect to save? What is your acceptable return on investment? It is only with these numbers that one can calculate whether the additional investment in geothermal is worthwhile. I know for what I paid for HVAC for a similar sized house in your environment (Lees Summit is not very far away ;-), that there was no way I would have a payback on that additional investment.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/14/2008

I’ll throw some real data on here just to make this more fun (I have previously posted this in the green building forum). I have ~4,000 s.f. in my envelope, ICF walls, R-50 roof insulation, light gray (Tamko Pewter) shingles, 3-ton 12 SEER A/C (geothermal is rated using EER which is a different rating) which is less efficient than anything you are allowed to buy today, 90+ variable-speed gas furnace, low-E windows but without Argon fill. My A-coil is slightly oversized, and coupled with the variable-speed furnace I get an effective 13 SEER. I am in the same environment you are, as Smithville and Lees Summit are both basically Kansas City (and I use weather data from the Kansas City International Airport, as you would as well). We are also similar sized in square footage, so this should be an apples-to-apples type comparison. That said, three tons of AC was way too small according to everyone (except Manual J), every tech wanted to install at least four tons; my ICF subcontractor thought four tons might work, and a mechanical engineer I hired to do independent calculations recommended minimum four tons as well. In actuality, three tons is too large, but no one knew how to calculate the thermal mass effects of an ICF house.

 

With over two years of data and pulling out baseline data, my HVAC costs are ~$50/month. I use my summer natural gas usage as baseline, as while I don’t need heat I do need hot water and clothes dryer (truthfully I will use more gas to heat water in the wintertime as incoming water temperatures are lower, but I can’t easily quantify that and it doesn’t matter anyway). I use winter electrical as my baseline as my air conditioning isn’t running. I run a ventilating dehumidifier almost year round, so I include this in my baseline and not my HVAC costs. This is fair, because you still need ventilation regardless of whichever HVAC system you choose (and I maintain a ventilating dehumidifier better suits our needs than an ERV for both ventilation and independent humidity control). Natural gas is generally cheaper than electricity for an equivalent energy usage, but including the monthly fee I pay to say I am a natural gas customer (which over the course of over two years equates to about 49% of the total I paid to Missouri Gas Energy, $0.49 of every dollar I send the gas company goes toward administrative cost and not natural gas cost!!!) and converting back to 100% electric, natural gas is still a wash with the $0.10/kWh +/- I pay Aquila.

 

So let's speculate that your geothermal HVAC is double the efficiency as mine, thereby reducing my HVAC costs by half. So you would save ~$25/month, or $300/year. My capital costs two years ago are roughly 25% of your geothermal bids. This is the reason I don’t have geothermal. It is also why I don’t have a $1,700 ERV (this is what it cost when I built, perhaps more today); energy recovery coupled with ventilation simply wouldn’t pay for itself either.

 

As I have said before, and will continue to say, you get more bang-for-the-buck by putting your money into building the box to minimize energy usage than you do with upgrading your HVAC efficiency coupled with standard construction. Icynene is definitely an upgrade, but coupling that upgrade cost with some of your geothermal HVAC costs easily gets you into ICF, and ICF is definitely superior. As I understand the new KCMO code, housewrap isn't required for ICF either.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/15/2008

I apologize for the thread creep, this really should get moved over to the green building forum, and it is especially disturbing that as I moderator I am contributing to it. But here goes…

 

For my next house (my SO would kill me if she heard me say that ;-), I figure I can get very close to zero energy. Passive solar heating is a no-brainer, and there is enough information to perform good design here. However you are constrained by your building location here so it is not for everyone. Solar DHW has great ROI, however solar hot water heat doesn’t because you only use this capacity part of the year and the rest of the time your equipment is idle (this is equipment I pay for, I like it to work for me). However radiant heating is very nice, and would work well with solar hot water.

 

And here is where it gets interesting. In the summertime, what if you run your pumps for your solar hot water collectors at night, do you get night-sky radiant cooling? Some of the data in arid climates is showing you can get that water 10C below ambient (I am not in an arid climate, I would be happy with 50% of that). So what does this do for you? Well how about using your temporarily used very large hot water tank supporting heat only during the wintertime to store chilled water in the summertime, and using your radiant heating tubes to flow this chilled water through your slab. Radiant floor cooling is not ideal, but it would seem that 60F water running through that concrete mass might be about the limits of how cool you want that floor anyway, which should be right at what I might achieve if I get 50% of the benefit of an arid climate. Now then the equipment investment to support solar hot water heat is working for me twice as much, increasing my ROI. Of course air conditioning is also humidity control, and this does nothing for that (but I have that covered with my ventilating dehumidifier ;-).

 

The next question is would this provide sufficient cooling? I built my garage out of ICF as well (for me, ICF walls were actually cheaper than stick so ICF decision was a no brainer). My garage slab is thermally isolated (I turn my own wrenches), it has windows but no HVAC. Anyway I track the garage temperature daily first thing in the morning (I figure this is the only way I might be able to calculate the thermal mass effects of ICF). In the hottest part of summer, it never gets above ~84F (until you open the garage doors and do a quick air exchange with hot air, but it will ultimately stabilize again in the low 80s). In the cold of winter, it never gets below ~45F. What this tells me is I only need my AC to cool 12F to get down to acceptable 72F, provided I accept the lag time caused by uncontrolled ventilation. In a higher-volume structure with air circulation, the lag time shouldn’t be as great as a garage. 60F water running through the concrete slab might just do that for me.

 

I have also performed some experiments on my house by turning the AC off (actually it is part of trying to make an oversize AC work more efficiently). On the hottest days (temperature delta of 25-30F), if I turn my AC completely off my house temperature increases ~1F/hour, so I actually let my temperature rise to 78F before cycling my AC system on. My AC system will cool 2F/hour, but more importantly by running longer is not short-cycling and provides better humidity control. Again exactly how much cooling does a high-mass house need and could you get this from a basically “free” source (once you pay for the equipment, and of course your pumps take electricity).

 

To further increase ROI, what if during spring and fall when I don’t need much if any HVAC, I use this solar heating (or cooling) capacity to start preheating (or precooling) the ICF walls? This thermal mass is not directly accessible as it is insulated, and you would lose ~50% as half goes inside and half goes outside, but your only cost to do this is pumping cost. As might not surprise you, I track my natural gas usage and can very accurately predict it based on heating degree days. Winter 2006, from November 13 through April 16, I had 4,453 heating degree days, and I can exactly correlate natural gas usage to heating degree days until February 14, when my natural gas usage starts to increase relative to heating degree days. Winter 2007, from November 13 through April 15, I had 4,951 heating degree days, and again I can correlate natural gas usage to heating degree days until late January when natural gas usage again increases relative to heating degree days. I attribute this to thermal mass effects of ICF, and in both winters the effect starts as I get past 3,300 heating degree days and continues to trend upwards as long as I need heat.

 

If that doesn’t work, there is always waste-heat adsorption chilling equipment, and I figure solar hot water heating equipment in the summertime may provide enough “waste” heat to generate a sufficient amount of water chilled to a much lower temperature. The problem is this is industrial equipment, and not sized small enough for residential application (which doesn’t mean the technology isn’t coming). There used to be residential natural gas absorption chilling using ammonia, but obviously that technology didn’t work out. I actually have a friend who has an Arkla unit, probably the only one that has ever operated trouble free and it has been operating 30+ years now. He also has a never installed, brand new, still in the crate, Arkla replacement unit (these things haven’t been made in decades and he figures he might need service parts some day).

 

Now that I have eliminated my largest use of electricity, a relatively small PV system should do the trick. This also has the added benefit of feeding power to the utility during peak times while I will be using power during non-peak times.

 

Please refrain from any more disparaging remarks about desk jockeys.  ;-).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/13/2007

Go to the library and look for the Means Manual for Residential Construction. It is a good starting point to determine house costs, and fairly accurate as long as you put in accurate information. Follow the process, and you will get a pretty good idea what it costs to build.

It starts with basic rectangle and square footage costs, and then you can add/subtract based on level of finish, level of trim, more complex shapes (more corners), different roofing materials, etc. From a starting point, it will help you narrow down quickly what you can and cannot afford, and then you can target your plans accordingly based on either your champagne or beer budget, and again based on if you like to drink vintage champagne from France, or if a Sparkler from CA is adequate. A lot of information in that one manual. Most libraries will have a copy.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Cheap vs. Quality, sometimes cheap wins
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/21/2009

This topic over in the Miscellaneous forums (Bargain-faucets) got me to thinking. While my general mantra is that you generally get what you pay for, are there certain instances where it makes perfect sense to plan for obsolescence and simply purchase the absolute cheapest materials you can? I know most O-Bs are drawn to building because they perceive that they can build greater quality for less money, and there are two parts to that equation. The GCs I know will also spend more on finish materials than the building envelope simply because they want the perception of quality, and buyers see finish and not what is hidden behind the sheetrock.

I know early in my build process, a couple of hundred here and a couple of hundred there, all for better quality and it's only a couple of extra bucks in the grander scheme of things, and hey you really only have one opportunity to "do it right" anyway. However at the end of my build I was worried about dimes, my budget was tight and my contingency and fat were gone. And the housing market was starting to crumble and I didn't have a final appraisal. On a side note, I had to get two final appraisals because the lending institution my construction loan servicer intended to sell my mortgage to thought the first appraisal was inflated. When the second came in within a couple thousand, that's when they purchased the paper. And I still had to sell my primary residence, so had considerable cost tied up there.

Anyway, in the above-linked post I advocated for quality over cheap when it comes to faucets. But thinking about it, faucets are one of those items where cheap may be a good alternative. Sure they are temporary, they will fail, and parts to service them will be tough to come by. But who cares? Faucets are something within the realm of the simplest DIY project, when you replace them get the nice ones, and replacing a faucet requires nothing more than the faucet itself (not like you need to replace a vanity, countertop, or piece of cabinetry to get to them). So this is easy in the realm of planned obsolescence to save money today, and in my mind a fine compromise. Now clearly a GC wouldn't do this; they would find the cost savings behind the wall where it isn't visible (and where it couldn't be easily fixed later). Now I might not use this advice for faucets with valves in the walls (shower, tub) because unless you have access panels these aren't so easy to replace, and truthfully this is rough-in phase so your budget probably still looks pretty good.

So for the future O-Bs, where else are there great opportunities to economize (translation: cheap out) by using the cheapest components at the expense of quality. I have perhaps a couple of examples I incorporated in my build:

1) HRV/ERV, in my locale at the time I was building, these were pretty consistently $1,700 as part of my HVAC contractor proposals and these seem to be pretty standard for new construction. I put in the ductwork for intake and exhaust, tied a Skuttle valve ($15) into the intake side, foamed the exhaust side, and saved $1,700. Sure I paid a bit for the sheet-metal ductwork, cast scrap PVC into my ICF walls to accommodate the ductwork, and ran the electrical for the ERV, so I have some cost. However I can retrofit this later for the cost of the ERV itself and a service call from my HVAC tech. Four years later, I still don't have the ERV, but if I wanted to install it tomorrow, I could. If I left out the ductwork I might have saved a bit more, but retrofit would require me to core out two rather large holes in my ICF, and part of my ductwork is behind the finished part of my basement, so this would require sheetrock and finish work, and my retrofit cost suddenly gets prohibitive. Anyway you don't "need" an ERV, what you need is ventilation and make-up air, and I have both.

2) Zone controller. Based on passive solar, my house has drastically different airflow requirements for heating and cooling. We accomplished this with a zone controller and five separate zones of ductwork. Sure I ran the thermostat wire for each zone, but in the end I saved a boatload by eliminating the zone controller for manual dampers. I set them once in the spring, and reset them in the fall, five minutes tops. Sure I lost individual zone control, and as I use rooms differently depending on the time of day this is kind of inconvenient, but hey, that's a big chunk of "$1,000 here, $1,000 there, and pretty soon this is real money."

3) I hate to say it here, but I cheaped on my paint. At most major holidays, Home Depot has a sale on five-gallon buckets of paint, $25 off. My exterior paint cost $17/gallon before rebate (Glidden, I didn't even have the budget for Behr) and this was deliberate, as I was watching every dime at the end. However here I am four years later and my exterior paint still looks amazing over the James Hardie siding. I contrast that with the Benjamin Moore paint I used on my previous house and T1-11 siding as I visited one of my former neighbors just a couple of weeks back, that Bennie Moore paint was $35/gallon (very, very nice paint), yet the southern exposure on that house is basically destroyed at one year older. I attribute this to the siding selection more than the paint selection, and again provide a good example of where to make a cost sacrifice (good siding with cheap paint is much superior to cheap siding and good paint). Paint is within the realm of easy for the DIY, whereas trying to retrofit new siding is a tough job. Sure I could have gotten even cheaper paint and saved a bit more money...

4) Landscaping; truthfully you don't need it. I have planted several new trees and have some nicer landscaping now, but this is definitely something that can be added later. For trees, I have found that buying smaller trees (less $$$) actually transplant better and after the first growing season getting established, really flourish. Larger trees seem to have more transplant stress and may actually get surpassed by smaller trees with less stress. As a cautionary example here; I have seven fairly-large trees I would like to remove, and the cost to do so is about $4,500 (several bids, including stump removal). When my excavator was here, removing these trees was a five-minute process, and he hauled off all of the trees anyway, so I wish I would have given some additional thought to landscaping five years ago and I would have saved several thousand dollars today.

5) Door hardware. I used surplus door hardware I got from fleaBay. It is actually pretty nice stuff, and since my house is the only house locally I have ever seen it in, people tend to think it costs much more than it really did as it has a perceived exclusivity (Ken built quality, I have never seen this door hardware, he must have ordered it from somewhere, therefore it must be really nice stuff). Now then if I wanted to install Baldwin hardware later, I could do this at any time DIY (except calling the locksmith to re-key so they all match). So, door hardware seems to be a good place to save money as well.

Note that the common factor where I chose cheap over quality were items that I can replace later (or install later) without impacting anything else. To use a kitchen as an example, I would rather install plywood countertops on top of custom cabinets, because countertops are relatively easily replaced (at least compared with cabinets). Compare this with spending the same money by installing cheap cabinets and granite countertops, I have to remove the granite to get to what's underneath. I would rather cheap on the last items I install than something dependent on other items. Another example would be a less-efficient furnace vs. foam insulation (Icynene or bio-based), the insulation will pay you back every month, the furnace has a finite lifespan and will need replacement 12-15 years from now anyway.

One thing I would caution here is to consider your schedule. Prior to my house build, I was a pretty good DIY kind of person. I always had a home-improvement project underway. After my house build, I was so drained that it took me several years to just get where I wanted to lift another hammer to work on a project here (and I don't even have a hammer, I use pneumatic nailers; but you get the picture).

What examples do you have where "cheap" is a good (and perhaps even preferable) alternative to quality.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/3/2009

I thought this topic might generate more discussion ;-(. I have received some private email discussion, and the feedback has been positive, but no new ideas. That said I submit a couple more for your consideration (some I used, others perhaps I could have had I needed to).

I used all decorator series switches (including more than a couple fancy touch-dimmer switches) and decorator-series duplex receptacles (as a side note, all side-wired and not using the quick-wire in the back, which is extra labor). And while an outlet is an outlet functionally, and I am kind of a form-follows-function person, for some reason I have always been enamored with the decorator-series switches and outlets. I just checked Lowe's and verified that in my locale, a single-pole switch is over $2 cheaper each than a decorator-series single-pole switch, and this is a drop in the bucket compared to the touch dimmers. I didn’t check duplex receptacles, three-way switches, or four-way switches, but I assume the cost savings is similar. In past houses, I have upgraded all switches and outlets to decorator series in the course of an afternoon DIY; however I would caution you with electrical work that what you can’t see can hurt you, so be sure to turn off power to those junction boxes before you take the cover off. If I was counting dimes at the end, why did I not cheap out on these? Good question, it is because I had previously purchased large lots from fleaBay previous to actually needing these, so I had already acquired them much earlier in my build (I provided them to my electrician to use). Based on the quantities I had, I even used them in my garage. I sold what I had left over on eBay after I was done, and I sold a pretty large quantity then, as well.

The same way that faucets can be replaced without affecting anything else, light fixtures offer this same opportunity. I spent a good amount of money on light fixtures, and it shows. However I have already replaced some that I really liked with others I liked better. It was kind of an impulse purchase that went, hey, that would look really good in our dining room. I already have one that looks really good in the dining room, but I like that one better, so I bought it. If I knew I was going to upgrade later, I certainly could have saved a couple of bucks on that first one ;-). However I could also upgrade them without impacting anything else.

Another place to save money is on ceiling fans, you can buy cheap or you can spend a ton of money. Because we have always had ceiling fans in the bedroom, I decided I would put in a really nice one because I wanted quiet. While I really wanted only fans with a K55 motor for the master bedroom and the great room, I actually went one step down on the motor size. Everywhere else got nice-grade fans, but nowhere approaching K55 motor fans. These big-motor fans move a ton of air and are whisper-quiet, like silent quiet. Well it turns out that the reason we always have ceiling fans in the bedroom is because my partner likes the “whoosh” noise, it helps her sleep. The big electric motor doesn’t make any noise, so it just doesn’t work for her. Hmmm, I wanted silent ;-). I would suggest that if you intend to use ceiling fans, these are something that can be easily upgraded later as well and that good ones cost significantly more than builder’s grade. If you aren’t putting in ceiling fans today, but you plan to in the future, make sure your electrician knows, so he can provide wiring to control the light and the fan separately (wiring behind sheetrock is a tough retrofit) and that he can adequately brace the fan to secure to the structure itself (big motors such as K55 are heavy, you really don’t want them hanging solely by the junction box). Again this is money saved today that can be easily upgraded later without impacting any other portion of your house.

And actually one I implemented but forgot about; closets. We put a lot of thought into seemingly thousands of details, but one detail we kept putting off was closets. Sure we had them, but how did we want them configured? Have you seen those ads in magazine for those fancy closets? We knew we wanted that, but you still have to have details of what you need here. We had a great walk-in in the master bedroom, but it was just a completely empty space. No hangar rods, no shelves, nothing. We bought some plastic shoe racks and a couple of mobile drying racks to hang clothes. However this gave us time to figure out exactly what we needed, and then how to best configure it. We later purchased modules from IKEA, and the closet today is as nice as any I have seen from vendors at the home show that charge much, much more. Now one might suggest that IKEA is cheap and not quality, but I would suggest that their closet systems are as good as anything sold for much more money. We thought about using our cabinet-maker, but he had an 11-month backlog at that point. However this is still an opportunity where you can do it later, within the realm of reasonable DIY project effort and timeline, and is an end point.

Back to landscaping. Normally they put down sod, but truthfully you can establish a pretty nice yard from seed for considerably less. It is definitely higher maintenance and higher risk of failure, but once established, you will never know. Cutting your exterior landscaping budget (as suggested in my earlier post) may not make your neighbors very happy, but one of my neighbors commented this year on how nicely my landscaping has filled out. It is nice to see they noticed the change, although they probably laughed at some of the sticks I put out and called trees.

Beyond this, I am really at a loss for further ideas where cheap might be preferable over quality. If you notice some of my ideas aren’t necessarily cheap over quality but are flat-out eliminating items you can install later (ERV, zone controller, closet, landscaping). Perhaps if you were really tolerant, you could live without automatic garage-door openers and maybe finish flooring (if you don’t mind the aesthetic of OSB or plywood, but you could certainly install this with only impacting furniture placement)? So while a lot of this is nickels and dimes, just how much savings potential is here? Well just eliminating the HVAC equipment was definitely into four figures, and looking at my lighting and finish electrical (decorator series and touch dimmers) expense that could have been another four figures, and plumbing could easily be another four figures, landscaping another four figures. Hey, $1,000 here, $1,000 there, and pretty soon we are talking real money ;-).

I would recommend that if you choose to sacrifice quality for cost, don’t settle for “cheaper” because you may never actually replace these items and then you get to live with stuff you don’t like. I would go “cheapest” and put it on a schedule for upgrade/replacement and actually budget for these (time and money). Believe me, at the end of your project your budget is very tight, and the appraiser isn’t likely going to notice these finish items and start deducting unless you go hardcore (such as eliminating finish flooring). If my appraiser would have asked, my answer would have been something along the line of "my plumbing fixtures are special order and I didn't order them soon enough, I didn't want to hold my entire project and occupancy based on a handful of fixtures, here are the ones I ordered [show pictures], and in the interim my plumber has provided these temporarily." So, even if arises the rare occasion your appraiser does notice, you have an answer prepared.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/10/2009

Therein is one of the cautions I included when going down this path, the list of projects that isn't complete in your "new" house that would be unacceptable if you were buying a spec house or custom house. When people buy "new" houses they aren't looking for projects. I know before my house was completed, I had a target (get my Certificate of Occupancy) and I had incentive (I had another house that needed selling, and two house payments is an obvious drain on your finances). However, once I moved in, my projects accomplished pretty much went to zero. You are tired at the end of this, it was a full-time job in addition to the one I already held.

A vanity is an easy replacement though. There are several topics on floor before cabinetry or finish floor after cabinetry on this site, and there are valid opinions on both sides. If you intend to replace your vanity, I recommend you fall on the finish-floor-before-cabinetry side of the fence. Also, for projects I made the sacrifice for cheap (such as my closet), I might put in a vanity or couple of shelves made out of scrap OSB from my build job; I found when I had nothing, I tended to place those items higher on my priority for fixing (replacing) later.

I have lived here four years, and still have some projects I am working on. I probably have at least one or two more years before I get to completion. As an example, my eating bar in the kitchen is OSB and I have a slab of 3' x 12' solid-surface countertop still on a pallet in the garage. The OSB was intended to be a template, and I wanted to try a couple of different shapes and dimensions. I have settled on the one I want, but I just haven't fabricated the solid surface to this shape yet, and now that it's winter this definitely doesn't happen until next spring or summer. Now how many people would live this long with an incomplete kitchen?


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/15/2009

Suspended slab, much like a parking garage, only on a lot smaller scale. Call a structural engineer; around here you won't get a building permit on this without a stamp. I have seen it used several times in residential applications, none on sloped lots where it would make the most sense.

One house that had suspended slab had 10,000+ finished s.f., completely unfinished basement (another 5K+ sf potential), $2M. I guess the extra dollars to say you "could" finish the basement under the garage was important? I might suggest that for $2M you start to not care about details and how much they might cost. Actually though, this house was a case study in how GCs might cut costs vs. quality:

1) 400-amp service. Don't look too closely though, as it's aluminum and not copper coming into the panel. And count the number of circuits, two big 40-panel commercial boxes, but each one was less than half full. I have more circuits for 25% of the total square footage.

2) Great countertops, cheap boxes. Commercial-looking appliances, but I wonder how many circuits came into the kitchen for countertop appliances? Given the total number, I am guessing few.

3) Minimum level of forced-air furnace and AC, no upgrades for efficiency. Five of each; you might think a monthly electric bill on a house this size would be substantial (I can only guess). I found my HVAC tech was willing to upgrade to 90+ furnaces for the same installed price because he could direct-vent them, and thus reduce his labor. I s'pose the GC used a different HVAC tech. Five zones of HVAC might sound good, but the airflow rates to ensure consistent temperature across the individual zones didn't happen.

4) 2x4 stick framing, fiberglass insulation. Wow, $2M and you get 2x4 stick framing and standard R-13 insulation?!?!?!

5) Open the service closets (not all of the HVAC equipment was in the basement), and the drywall was hung, not taped, not finished, not painted. Come on now, how much more "cheap" did you hide behind the drywall?

6) One (yes one) 40-gallon HWH.

7) Every column in the basement had to have the concrete slab torn out to place a footer for the column. The concrete was replaced. I would think a skim coat across the top so that this error was covered up might be in order, but I guess people buying $2M probably would finish the basement anyway and not see this glaring omission (that was later corrected).

8) The designer clearly did not read Better Houses, Better Living, as I identified literally dozens of livability items that would make the house so much better, most at no cost. 

9) This buys you $2M of spec. There are a lot of lessons to learn about how to cut costs when looking at spec houses. Sure was pretty though, but pretty was only skin deep.

 


Miscellaneous  >  HardiPlank or HardiPanel (stucco finish)?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/22/2005

If you are trying to go with a spanish style, you will see the seams at the panels.  My Hardie supplier identified that the pattern won't line up from one panel to the next.  On the vertical wood grain panels, there are natural "seams" so you won't mind the appearance.  If you want a board and batten look to the stucco, the seams won't matter.  Based on this, I decided to go with hardieplank.


Planning Phase  >  Stuck In Plan Land
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/11/2006

I would get an architect, but then if you search here you will notice I hold my architect in very high regard. However I would negotiate on what services you need from them, and the fees. I found may architects do the plans, assist with subcontractor selection, site inspections, etc. right up until the house is complete. I have an engineering background; I didn't want this level of service. I didn't even want too much detail on my plans, as subcontractors tend to get a little nervous if they know engineers or architects are looking over their shoulder (they didn't know my background).

I asked the architect to put only enough detail on my plans that you could build it without a code book (most subcontractors don't have these on their trucks). I also asked him to develop plans only, no follow-up construction inspections, etc. that he can normally provide. Once we got his level of service down, his prices were actually very competitive. Also given some things he incorporated to ensure ease of construction, I am almost certain that he saved me more money than I paid him in our negotiated fee.

We looked at thousands of sample plans, and had a pretty good plan drawn up ourselves that would have worked well, but the architect thinks in terms of space and proportion and was able to develop a house plan that was better than anything I could have come up with on my own.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Pouring your own ICF walls
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/22/2005

I would say this is doable based on the following items to consider:

1) How much technical support are you getting from your ICF supplier? I asked for several references in different stages of building from the ICF supplier I was considering. I called these references (all owner-builders), volunteered to provide free labor to use the system, and noticed that Blaine (the salesman) was at every pour, getting his hands dirty. I realized two things, service after the sale from the supplier, learning ICF on someone else's project, and hopefully gaining points for favors I could call in later.

2) Does your supplier have an ICF installation class? I would take this no matter what supplier you end up using, or even if you are considering subcontracting it out. You learn a lot in the class, if you buy ICF from the supplier they will credit the class costs on your first order. I ended up using a different supplier, but the class was still worth every penny and then some. If I had some labor I knew I would be using for pump day, I would pay for the class for them too.

3) Does your supplier provide bracing? ICF needs a lot of bracing, you need to have a source for it somewhere.

4) Does your ICF supplier provide contacts for pump companies, concrete ready-mix suppliers, etc.? Subcontractors usually have these contacts worked out, but your ICF supplier may have these as well.

5) Around here, some of the Habitat for Humanity organizations use ICF. The block is stacked by volunteer labor, but they use experienced people to pump the block. Do you have a similar opportunity? Learning from professionals on someone else's house is worthwhile.

In the end, I subcontracted the ICF portion of my house. This was not because I didn't think I could do it myself (I knew I could, I had experience on other houses), but simply based on cost and limited use of my resources. Your time is a limited resource; you need to balance the cost savings with the time commitment to determine if your time is better suited doing something else.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/8/2005

The ECO-Blocks make up pretty quickly, although very tedious. I would hire some day labor from the local labor shop and have them do it. It will be the best money spent on your project.

I would argue that the bracing is less important for the block strength now, and more important to keep your walls straight.  I have seen the pros cut their bracing down to every 8' or so, but the difficulty with keeping your wall straight with minimal bracing increases exponentially. Straight walls more than offset the additional labor in the bracing.


Miscellaneous  >  3,000 or 3,500 PSI for foundation?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/3/2006

I can't really answer this question for you, but I can tell you what I put in. I used 4K psi concrete mix for all concrete. I placed most with a pump, and 4K psi flows through the pump like gravy and consolidates much nicer. Compared to recent concrete prices, you are getting a bargain at $60-62/cy.

The price delta is so cheap, I figure it is just cheap insurance. At the same time, $200 today, $500 tomorrow, $150 next week, and pretty soon you get to some "real" money. I drew the line at stronger than 4K psi and also didn't use state grade aggregate. I would consider the upgrade as money well spent.


House Features  >  Favorite Features
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/9/2009

Interesting topic, I will watch this one closely to see the feedback.

 

I compare my house to my favorite piece of clothing, my favorite leather jacket, my favorite chair, or my favorite pair of shoes. Think about it, what is it that makes your favorite chair what it is? Is it the covering, the style, what? It is not easy to define as one feature, but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and it is just inherently “right” for you. Your favorite pair of shoes probably doesn’t fit me, and if they did I might not like the style.

 

That is how I feel about my house; I can’t point to any one feature so much as I can just say “it fits.” We worked with an architect, which was a very difficult exercise for us. Instead of traditional design questions you might expect, he wanted to know things like “how do you want this room to make you feel?” Huh!?!? Well, once we sorted that out, I can say he got inside my head and determined what I wanted better than I could explain it, and truthfully better than I knew it myself. He didn’t design a house, he designed my house. No different than getting custom made clothing vs. off-the-rack. It is that transparent, you can’t describe it, but the house is just right.

 

If I were to build another house, I can’t imagine I would do much differently. Sure I would change some things in the interest of ease of construction, perhaps some different finishes, I know where the one error in the construction drawings is and would avoid that, but overall I can’t think of much I would do differently or specific “features” I wish I added. More often than not, I don’t notice specific “features” until I see other houses (new construction, major remodels) that don’t have them and then I think that for only a minor effort more you could have achieved greatness vs. mediocrity.

 

Now then, to attempt to answer your question as to what simply “works” let me try.

1)    We designed passive solar, this simply works. In the winter, we get just the right amount of heat gain. At night, due to quality shell construction, we don’t have significant heat loss. It all balances out very nicely, never too hot and rarely needing HVAC intervention to warm the living area. In the summer, we have adequate overhangs to protect from excessive heat gain.

2)    In conjunction with passive solar and super tight envelop, we needed HVAC that wasn’t traditionally sized. Given a challenge, we built flexibility into the system. Five zones of ductwork, but we left out the zone controller and thermostats ($1,200 for the zone controller, we adjust manually twice/year, thermostat wire is already in place). Your HVAC tech needs to know that this doesn’t fit into standard analysis techniques.

3)    I used a fire-on-demand hot water heater. I never run out of hot water. We had guests this past week, one liked long showers. Every house I have lived in previously would have been a challenge, not this one. These are transparent features you don’t notice until they don’t work or you don’t have them.

4)    Durable and low-maintenance finish materials, inside and out. We have three large dogs and entertain frequently. The comparison of dust mopping the entire living area vs. pulling out a vacuum cleaner, and truthfully a dust mop across hardwood is much more effective at cleaning than a vacuum across carpet. James Hardie exterior siding really holds a coat of paint, exterior fiberglass doors and windows are equally low maintenance. Other examples include Corian windowsills instead of wood (dogs like to look outside), tile entries at every door, composite deck, timeless finishes instead of trendy. Think about your favorite leather jacket, it feels better and looks better today than it does the day it was brand new – choose finishes and materials that will age with patina vs. simply wear out or look dated.

5)    The layout of the house is as comfortable for two people spending leisure time as it is for entertaining a large amount of guests. For example the kitchen is open to the living area, so guests are connected (for us, the kitchen seems to be a gathering point) without crowding the kitchen. Yet the kitchen is comfortable for one person to cook, but when other people want to help we have five separate workstations we can spread out to.

6)    Hire professionals vs. technicians. Any electrician can wire a house to code, a good sparky will listen to what you want and need, and suggest ideas to make that utility transparent to your lifestyle. They might suggest larger service, more circuits to certain areas (kitchen, entertainment center, future hot tub, garage/workshop), areas with insufficient lighting details, areas you might want future ceiling fans, switched exterior outlets for Christmas lights, all things that become transparent because they work for you and are not simply code minimum. Sparky is just one example, every professional you hire has experience you want to listen to, and many of these professionals can save you money in the process.

 

From these examples, these are features that become transparent once you live here. I have probably missed dozens of examples (and the architect was only responsible for #1 and #5 above, but good design is a critical feature that can’t be easily changed or retrofitted later).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/19/2009

Mandatory reading for all O-B's in the design phase should be Better Houses Better Living. I checked out the previous version from the library (truthfully I checked out seemingly 100's of books from the library, most took all of a couple of minutes to review and return) but had so many Post-it notes stuck in the book I just had to buy my own copy so as not to lose the thoughts. Many of these suggestions and ideas cost absolutely nothing, but the concept is that your house should be user-friendly.

I had the previous version of this book at my job site. Over lunch it wasn't unusual for a tradesperson to read it. Every one of them was more than impressed with the book and came away with ideas and suggestions they could use in future homes they would be working on. I probably sold a dozen copies just from subcontractors working at my house.

This was one of the very few books I recommend purchasing.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/20/2009

Great point on Universal Design, I did this as well. I have stepless entrances from both the garage and front entry, wide doors, and many other features of Universal Design. My thought was just as yours; if I ever need it I will really appreciate it, if I don't I won't notice. Actually my movers noticed, they said this was one of the easiest houses to get large furniture in that they had ever experienced. Most of these features don't add cost.


House Features  >  What unique items did you put into your house?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/10/2008

Welcome Phil, this is really a wide-open question without an easy answer; every house is unique. Perhaps if you share a floorplan or something, we could help. I will start and toss out an easy one. In your kitchen have your framing contractor inset your refrigerator into the wall - you won't mistake it for a Sub-Zero built-in, but with refrigerator depths what they are, it is something that will make you smile every day, especially those days you are at other people's houses and realize they missed a detail so easy and free. I have many ideas (many I incorporated myself), but I need some help from you here too.


Building Phase  >  Insulating basement ceiling - your recommendations
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/23/2009

Construction techniques do indeed vary depending on environment. I would suggest that JLC is a pretty reputable source.


Planning Phase  >  Want to do ICF in Ellicott City, MD
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/3/2008

I paid a lot less for an architect, I could have paid more for a designer. It depends on the services you need. As Jon identified, if you are comfortable with your floorplans and elevations, you could just pay for a professional engineer. Actually in my locality, I don't need any stamps so could get by with home-drawn blueprints as long as it was all in compliance with the IRC tables. Truss designers provide their own engineering.

I would look at Speedfloor, I have no direct experience with it though (I do have the design manual and span tables, but it looks like Jon beat me to that). I would also look at AmDeck if you have a local Amvic distributor. Talking to my local representative (I used Amvic ICF, my build site is used in their advertising material, even though I am complete I maintain ongoing relationships with some of the people I used) they can easily get spans of 35' and are only using shoring at the midway point (17-18'), this is much less than typical shoring needed for ICF floors.  I can't compare the costs between the two, only that the source exists. ICF floors (and Speedfloor too) will require engineering, and in my locale would require an engineer's stamp (the reinforcing steel schedules or span tables are not in the IRC) to issue a building permit.

Sorry to hijack your thread, but here goes ;-). Jon how did you like Speedfloor? What concrete mix did you use, I was thinking something with some fibers and minimal water to reduce shrinkage so that I could actually etch the floor so the concrete would be my finish floor (either stained later or with color mixed in at the plant)? You have pretty short spans, do you know where you are on the span tables? Are the floors rock-solid? Did you have a local supplier, or deal you deal with speedfloorusa.com (or formerly ARIT)?


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/3/2008

Let me start by suggesting if you are interested in ICF construction, your supplier will have a one to two-day training course. This is worth your time tenfold. If the PolySteel distributor doesn't offer the course, take it from another supplier, as ICFs are similar enough that the installer's course from one supplier will translate directly to another supplier. Use the search tool; there have been some informative discussions on ICF. Also greenbuildingtalk.com is frequented by a number of professional ICF contractors and installers, a wealth of information over there and a great search capability.

I was under the impression that many (most?) ICF products could be obtained with borate treatment. This serves not only as a termite issue (and if I had an issue with termites, I would get my termite guy out there and spray under slab, spray prior to backfill, and not just rely on borate) but IIRC, borates also discourage mold growth - which is only a problem if you don't design your moisture issues correctly.

As to thermal mass, the only data I have seen was from John in Colorado, and he hasn't posted here heavily since circa 2005. He checks in occasionally and was a great asset, but obviously moved on to other things. He had temperature sensors throughout his house... I know there is debate on this topic, but as someone who lives in a passive solar ICF house, I can tell you the thermal mass is there, and it does impact the interior, unfortunately there is no way to model it ;-(. How much mass is there on the south face of your house? Understand that this mass is available, only that it is covered by R-10 insulation (EPS ~R-5/inch) so is not as accessible as uncovered concrete would be - this serves to slow the whole system but not eliminate the effects entirely. Understand that 50% of this benefit goes outside, but if you are putting on thicker exterior foam then you can reduce this percentage.

As to spray foam on the underside of the floors, spray foam is expensive and its greatest benefit is sealing the envelope. If sealing isn't necessary (and inside your envelope it should not be), spray foam is probably a lot of extra expenditure for little commensurate benefit.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/4/2008

See: ownerbuilderbook.com/forum/messages.aspx?ID=2364 - this thread, "Thermal Mass Example" is over in the Green Building forum. Notice there is also discussion about a system to move the thermal mass to the interior. While ideal, and you could simply use plaster to finish your interior walls (and over outside of Baltimore you probably have plasterers to choose from as a trade, while it looks a lot like sheetrock, they are two different trades; I haven't figured out why). My issues with this stem from getting your electrician in there early and operating completely differently by running conduit in the walls and preplanning your electrical. ICF is far enough outside most subs comfortability (read that you get surcharged for the PIA Factor), that pushing this envelope further wasn't something I wanted to do.

I have discussed this issue with my department of natural resources energy specialist, and he tends to agree on the thermal mass benefits. At one point we discussed collaboration to try to figure out a better way to capture and predict/model but we have never really gotten this issue off the ground.

I have posted a lot on ICF, some on passive solar, and my build is pretty well documented on this site. The easy way to get a compendium on any single users posts is to look at the left side of a post on any topic with a user you think is interesting, look at the number of posts that user has made, and click on that - it leads you to a complete compendium of that user's posts. From that you can actually go back to the topics of interest. The compendium is a great kicking-off point to get to some really interesting topics, which in turn gets you to some really interesting compendiums. For thermal mass and ICF issues, I would definitely get the John M compendium, or as a shortcut here - ownerbuilderbook.com/forum/user.aspx?ID=5854.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/6/2006

Spray foam insulation is your variable. Find some contractors familiar with ICF or other tight construction to run the calculations. At a minimum, find a contractor that fundamentally understands Manual J. Also consider hiring a mechanical engineer or other specialist who fundamentally understands Manual J. This shouldn't be more than a couple of hundred dollars and you will more than save this amount on your install.

I found that many HVAC contractors who use Manual J don't fundamentally understand the variables, leading to garbage in-garbage out. Anyone can use a computer and plug numbers into a black box and get results, the question is in the validity of the results. I found the best Manual J I got from HVAC subcontractors were when they independently had the analysis done (the techs bidding the job didn't run the Manual J themselves). They either had one person in their shop who just did Manual J, or they used a service that just did the calculations for them.

I commend you for learning about your needs, running the evaluations yourself, and then asking questions when the results come back different from expected to learn why - this is one reason O-B houses are superior.

Richard from Valparasio will probably weigh in on this subject due to his experience in HVAC. I would expect his advice to be a great next direction as he is directly experienced here.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/16/2007

Yes, or that different-depth toilet that was selected. Engineers don't like field changes performed by the trades; it makes them very uncivilized (and as a civil engineer, I really like to stay civil).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/16/2007

The intent of this chapter of the book is to think through the house in sufficient detail to get accurate bids from subcontractors and avoid rework and change orders. Rework costs money, potentially a significant amount. Change orders are a potentially significant source of frustration for everyone involved. Trades don’t like them, who likes to do work multiple times because expectations were not clear (think about your professional career, how do you like it?), so trades will charge a frustration factor into change-order prices. You don’t like them, because the increase in cost is something that you have not budgeted for. And this is a potential significant cost increase, one that can be avoided through your 1,000+ hours of planning that Mark espouses in his book.

 

Now looking at your spreadsheet of expectations; I notice that many of the items are things that should be included on your plans. However, many significant details that normally wouldn’t be included on your plans and need to be in your story of a room are missing.

 

To illustrate the level of detail necessary, let me pick a seemingly simple room you haven’t completed your spreadsheet for. I will pick a full bathroom, not master bathroom; typical level of finish with a bathtub, toilet, and sink. A relatively small room we have all seen hundreds of times, if not more. These only encompass roughly 50 square feet, how hard can it be after all?

 

Starting with your bathtub, do you have a left-hand tub or a right-hand tub? Now this will actually be shown on your plans, but do you want a cast-iron tub, a fiberglass tub, or a steel tub? You need to know this because while fiberglass tubs are all built to a standard dimension, and cast-iron tubs are all built to a standard dimension, they are not the same dimension, as fiberglass tubs are wider than cast-iron tubs. Why does this matter? It affects your drain plumbing. If you are building this in a basement or slab-on-grade, this plumbing is put in before the concrete gets there, and changing this plumbing later requires a jackhammer (read lots of time and frustration for the plumber plus tool rental equates to a big unbudgeted bill for you). If this is installed on an above-grade framed floor, your framer needs to know because you do not want a floor joist directly where your drain belongs. And if you are using an engineered floor system (TJI or open-web joists), your engineer needs to know as well, as they need to know where they cannot put a floor support because a drain is needed. Engineers take a dim view of field modification of their engineered system, and if a plumber hacks a floor joist or engineered system to get his drain where you want it, it won’t pass your framing inspection. And what does this mean for you? Rework and additional cost that could have been easily avoided simply by knowing where that drain has to be, accurately.

 

OK now, we have a tub. Is this tub going to be mostly shower use, or do you intend to use it for baths as well? I ask this because on a standard 60” rough-in dimension for a full bathroom, if it gets significant use as a bath, I like to have the bath roughed-in at 61” so that the sheetrock can extend all the way to the floor surrounding the tub (normal sheetrock installation is to a lip at the top of the tub), this allows for insulation and the additional sheetrock really helps hold heat in the tub, which is nice for whoever is bathing. However if this is just a guest bath not intended for frequent use, I would forgo this minor detail (which isn’t standard, so your sheetrockers better know what you intend as well, as this moves you drains a bit so your plumber needs to know, too).

 

For your tub, what do you intend to use as a surround? If this is a fiberglass tub, is it a one-piece insert? If so, this answered your question. Do you intend to tile your surround? You need to know this, because your plumber needs to mount the shower valve so it will be flush with the finished wall. Tiled wall has different thickness depending on your tile selection, and fiberglass is different yet. Now if your plumber is using PEX, remounting this is not too much trouble, but if it is all soldered together (copper) then it takes more work. Your plumber will charge less if he only has to install it once. This is also the time to think about the height of the showerhead. Are you extremely tall, does it really bug you to stoop to wash your hair? For a child’s bathroom, maybe this isn’t a problem, but this is one of my pet peeves when I go to hotels - having to stoop down to get my head under the shower. You get one chance to do it right the first time; raising it later costs extra and it is avoidable cost.

 

However your sheetrocker also needs to know some details here, as well. Is this a guest bath for intermittent use, if so perhaps greenboard (marine-grade sheetrock) is adequate? For daily use, you may want to upgrade to tile backer board such as Hardie tile backer. You better specify this. And of course your tile layer needs to know; again if this bath is for intermittent use, perhaps mastic is good enough, for daily use I would want a thinset tile install. However if your tile layer likes to use the Schluter Kerdi system, then this really should be installed over sheetrock, and tile backer is an unnecessary expense for your sheetrocker. For more information here, just put any of these terms into the search tool at johnbridge.com and learn more. Your tile layer will also be interested in if this is primarily a bathtub, or primarily a shower, as they will install the soap dishes at different heights depending on primary use.

 

And lastly for a bathtub, I always like to assume that the bathroom will be later upgraded for handicap accessibility, and it is better to install backing for such things as grab bars now than try to tear out finished tile walls later – your framer needs to know this.

 

OK, all this just for a bathtub, let's move to the toilet. Do you have a specific toilet picked out? I ask because toilets come in three different depths; the center line of the drain in relation to the back wall can be 10”, 12”, or 14” depending on toilet model. Standard is 12”, but again different models come in different depths. Without additional information, your plumber will use a 12” because this gets him the greatest chance of success, as you can almost always find a 12” toilet that fits your aesthetic needs. Again this matters to the framers because you don’t want a floor joist or key piece of your engineered floor system directly where your toilet needs to be. Or maybe you have your heart set on some obscure toilet that comes in a 10” size only; your plumber needs to know. Alternatively, perhaps you want a wall-mount toilet to make it easier to mop the floor, a nice clean look that is much more prevalent in commercial work, but possible in residential work. Your plumber needs to know this, but your framer needs to know as well, because now you are putting a significant moment on that wall it was never intended to take and needs reinforcement to make sure the toilet doesn’t come off the wall while someone is using it (think about the extra weight on the wall, not to mention the torque). Also if your plumber is supplying the toilet, is this available locally or is it special order? My Toto Drakes were on-the-shelf, but my Toto Pacifica was eight-week lead time, your plumber will want to know what your expectations are. The Toto Pacifica is a smooth-apron toilet; these don't mount to the floor the standard way. The plumber will charge extra to mount it, as they take more time. (For the record, I did all of my finish plumbing, and I had the painter, the finish carpenter, the cabinet installer, and basically a handful of other trades at the house that day; all of us had replaced toilets at one time or another, and yet none of us could figure out how to mount that Toto Pacifica. We all looked at it completely dumbfounded. I figured it out eventually and I could mount another one fairly quickly, but it is still not as easy as a standard mount).

 

Alright, now we have a bathtub, shower, and toilet, let's move to the sink. Are you going to use a pedestal sink? You need to know this, because this affects your plumber. Normally when they run water lines, they run along a wall stud, but with a pedestal sink they like to tuck those lines in much closer to the center line of the sink so they are not visible once the pedestal is installed. This also affects your framer, because pedestal sinks hang from the wall. You need to have reinforcing backing in there to support the sink (the pedestal itself is purely decoration and serves no other purpose). What height is your pedestal sink? The reinforcing needs to be at the appropriate level.

 

Now to finish plumbing. Do you want the capability to shut your water off at the fixture in case you get a leak? Or do you want to run to the basement to shut off the water supply to the house to replace a leaky faucet? And what if your lifetime warranty faucet needs to go back to the factory for a six-week rebuild (this is why for lifetime-warranty faucets the warranty is useless, but I digress). I like vales at each faucet; your plumber needs to know this. And further if you want valves, do you want the normal righty-tighty, lefty-loosie crank valves, or do you want those trick little quarter-turn specialties? I like the quarter turn valves; I found them to be under $4/each from the big box (one of the few items cheaper at the big box than the plumbing supplier).

 

If you are going to use a vanity, do you have the room for a standard-size vanity you can purchase off-the-shelf from a big box? Or do you have a custom size that will need to be made by your cabinetmaker? I do not know what standard sizes are available, as I used all custom cabinetry in my house and didn’t worry about such details; further coupled by the fact that I found custom cabinetry was cheaper than off-the-shelf cabinetry, so I didn’t worry about it. However, if you are going custom, at what height do you want your finished vanity? Children’s vanities are normally 30” above finished floor, and adult vanities are anywhere from 32-34” above finished floor. Are you exceptionally tall? Perhaps you want a vanity that is 36” above finished floor? Maybe you are short; either way, I wouldn’t get to far out of the expected range, as someday you will sell your house and you don’t want a noticeable “defect.” Your cabinetmaker isn’t going to care; they just need to know your expectations, as once your cabinet is made, further opportunities for customization have disappeared. I will assume for the sake of simplicity that your cabinetmaker is also providing your sink (mine did not, but could have).

 

However let's think about some details you might like in your vanity. Some people like to have the top drawer hold their hair dryer and curling iron; among other power tools, women tend to use these more than men. It is a nice clean install if you have power in that drawer, you pull the drawer out, use your styling tool, and when finished you push the drawer back in; very nice detail. However, this little detail automatically eliminates your standard big-box cabinetry and mandates a custom unit (but if you are custom anyway, your cabinetmaker isn’t going to care, as they simply make the top drawer to lesser depth). Now then, a tricky little detail like this requires your electrician to understand your expectations, and your code official is going to want to look closely too. What happens when you leave your curling iron on, push the drawer in, and it builds up heat all day long while you are at work? I’ll tell you what happens, you come home to a burnt house, how much damage is directly related to how quickly one of your nice neighbors noticed your house was on fire. The outlet should not be energized when the drawer is closed, which is why your electrician needs to know about this little detail, and your code official will scrutinize this little detail closely. However, this little detail doesn’t add very much additional cost, as long as everyone knows your expectations up front. Also understand that you can’t plug your rechargeable razor into the drawer, as the outlet is not energized when the drawer is closed, this is a limitation you must understand you get to live with.

 

We are making progress here. The next question is how are you going to ventilate the bathroom, and which trade provides the vent fan? Again, let's go shopping at the big-box home-improvement store. Notice the base-level Broan bath fan is ~$12; this is what you are going to get. However, notice that you can easily spend a couple hundred dollars if you want more capacity, more quiet, a combination heat/vent fan, or any of the above. Or perhaps you want a remote ventilator to eliminate the noise almost completely. Depending on what region you are in dictates who buys the fan in the first place. I have seen it where the HVAC contractor buys and installs the fan, and the electrician wires it. I have also seen where the electrician buy and installs the fan, and the HVAC tech comes back later to run the ductwork. And speaking of ductwork, where is this nice fan going to vent to? HVAC techs like to take them close to your roof vent and let them vent directly into the attic, although if you have a cold attic without sufficient ventilation, this will lead to icicles forming along your ridge; not a good thing for many reasons. Do you want it vented through the roof, truly the proper venting location? If so, this mandates a hole in your roof, including proper flashings, which means now this simple bathroom has also impacted your roofers. I like to vent out the soffits, although this is less than ideal, any shortcomings can be overcome with powerful vent fans. For the record, I used Panasonic vent fans, sized at least double code requirements, vented through the soffits, and extra ventilation for clearing humidity from bathing is very nice.

 

Which now brings me to lighting and switches. Do you want your vent fan operated on a timer, so you can leave the fan on after you leave and not worry about leaving it on all day and sucking your nicely heated and/or conditioned air right out of your house all day? This is a nice little detail, and it fits in your standard switch box, but your electrician is unlikely to have one of these little units on their truck. It is an easy retrofit, if you have a neutral in your switch box, but there is more than one way to wire your bathroom and your electrician doesn’t have to install a neutral in your switch box to meet code requirements. Depending on their normal method for wiring, they need to know this minor detail. If this all sounds like a foreign language to you, go ahead and have the electrician put the timer in as part of the finish work.

 

Keeping this at switches, one of my pet peeves with custom-level housing is varying locations of switches in relation to doors. They will all be at the same height, but I like them all to be at the same location relative to the door. Normally the electrician will put the switch box based on where the framer put a wall stud, but if the framer knows you want your switches a certain distance from your door they can make sure a wall stud is always at that location. This way, it becomes second nature in your house where your switches are, especially nice as you are fumbling around in the dark trying to use the restroom. And for switches, do you want that standard cheapo stuff, or do you like the decorator switches? And maybe you really like the no-exposed-fastener covers; it is cheaper to identify this now than to change your mind later.

 

Which brings us to lighting. Do you want your lighting on top of your mirror, in the center? Or perhaps you want a smaller, more decorative mirror with wall sconces on both sides? Or perhaps you want something different entirely. The problem is, your electrician needs to know, because these lights all mount to boxes, and the boxes go in before the sheetrock goes up. If you don’t know, your electrician can leave a fairly long length of wire looped through the studs and use what is called an “old work box” and cut them in later. However this is also a tricky little detail, as sheetrockers don’t like to bury non-terminated wiring and will likely pull this wiring out near its termination, leaving it exposed where you don’t want it. If this happens, push it back in the wall before the finishers get there and they will tape and finish it properly without the Romex exposed.

 

However, we also have a couple of questions relating to your backsplash for your sink. Are you going to tile that backsplash? The reason the electrician needs to know is because they have to mount the boxes so they are flush with the finished wall, and a tile wall is thicker than a sheetrock wall, so this affects mounting depth of the boxes. And perhaps you want a big mirror, and an outlet actually in the mirror (I have this as well). Not a hard detail to do, but now you have to involve your glazer so that they can properly cut the mirror, as well as provide the mirrored cover for your outlet.

 

And speaking of walls, what are you going to put on them? Are you going to tile the walls? If so, perhaps you don’t need to pay your sheetrocker to make them paper smooth, thereby saving a bit of money. Are you going to paint them? Then you don’t want to use the standard flat paint you typically use throughout the rest of the house and you want to go to a satin paint. Well, satin paint shows more defects in sheetrock, so if you want smooth walls be sure to let your sheetrockers know you want level-five finish, paper smooth, so there will be no finish defects and the satin paint will look really good.

 

And this takes me to finish floor. What flooring are you intending to use in your bathroom, and what flooring is in the adjacent area leading to it? In a new house, another pet peeve of mine is differing floor depths from different flooring materials. Are you going to tile your bathroom? Well, this is a different depth of flooring than a sheet-vinyl floor would be. If the adjacent floor is carpet, your carpet installers can do this pretty easily. But if your hallway leading to your bathroom is hardwood floor, you want to make sure your flooring material choice in the bathroom ends up at the exact same height as the hardwood floor.

 

So here I have almost six pages of detail for one relatively small room; apparently that small bathroom is not quite as simple as it appeared!!! You can see how what appears to be a simple bathroom affects your engineered-floor-system designer, your framing crew, your plumber, your electrician, your roofer, your HVAC tech, your sheetrocker, your tile layer, your painter, and even the person laying flooring in the adjacent area, and I probably missed a couple here.

 

Now some other minor details you may wish to consider include where are your towel racks? Do you want your framer to put some blocking back there so you have solid mounting points for them? What about your toilet-paper holder?

 

So how do you get all of this down on a detailed spec sheet? I didn’t. I met each trade individually, I talked to them about my “story” like I just wrote above, for every room (for the record, the kitchen is your most complex room, so write this story last, followed by your master bathroom, so save this one for second to last). I asked them how I should coordinate with trades before and after them to ensure it all moved smoothly. I asked them if I missed anything (you do this every day, what details am I missing that you need to know about?). I basically facilitated the entire thing. Next time, I think I would build a storyboard for every room, 7/16” OSB was under $5/sheet the other day and you could build a board with a half sheet for every room. If you know your toilet and tub, include pictures and specs. If you know your pedestal sink, include pictures and specs. If you are buying your own material (I highly recommend this), include specs on all material you have bought or intend to buy. Laminate all of this information at your local Kinko's, and duct tape it directly to the board. If you have a picture you cut out of a magazine, laminate it and tape it to the board as well.

 

Now even with this level of detail, you will get caught off-guard on something. But compared to “normal” 20% +/- change orders on custom houses, my change order total was <2%, and this was actually based on an error in my architect’s plans and specs, so I could have perhaps recovered this cost from him in small claims court.

 

A book I heartily recommend to help you do this is Myron Ferguson’s Better Houses, Better Living. I read the old version, Build it Right, but I understand the new version is much improved (hard to believe; the old version was excellent). And while Mark isn’t paying me to publicize his site or the products he is selling, he has this book available in his bookstore at a better price than Amazon. I checked it our from the library first, but I had so many Post-It notes stuck to it I eventually had to buy my own copy, which not being entirely frugal, I purchased from Amazon.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/16/2007

I am no longer involved in construction projects.

The most difficult thing for an engineer supervising their own residential project is not letting anyone actually know an engineer or architect is checking their work. Engineers tend to be picky about details, and as such, residential trades really don't like working for engineers and will typically surcharge a bid by 30% or so just for the headache of doing so. I never volunteered what my profession was, but all of my subs knew I was somehow in one of the trades just based on the way I talked to them, and an overall knowledge of better construction techniques.

I didn't even want my code inspector to know my background. The only two people who knew my background were my architect, (because he and I collaborated on the structural details that would be included in the blueprints), and my sparky, who happens to be related. My blueprints were actually the least level of detail I could get, again not wanting to unnecessarily scare potential subs, although I was very specific on expectations when I talked to the subcontractors directly.

Putting together specs for your own use, and sharing them entirely with your subs are two different things. I had some friends, husband and wife, both large-scale engineers working in construction project management, who decided to manage their residential project like they were used to. Once the subs invited to bid quit laughing, and of course none even returned bids, the project was burnt. They couldn't get anyone residential to touch that project, even at significant premium. They eventually got their house done, and it is hands down one of the nicest houses I have ever had the pleasure of touring, but at what cost?

Hence my recommendation above to keep it simple. Know what you want, share what your expectations are, use their language, but don't get too technical on the specs. Start telling your sparky that you want GFCI outlets in the bathroom, and you are going to upset him quickly, because that is a basic code requirement and he already knows that. Use quality subs and treat them like professionals, and they will enjoy your project and deliver to your expectations. Try to write specs like an engineer, or try to get too many details that are already on your plans or in the code book, and they won't respect your project.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/25/2007

I used a Gastite home-run system for my gas lines; corrugated stainless steel. There has been a recent class-action lawsuit against several CSST manufacturers. I put some information on this in the "Product Reviews" section of the forums, since I also provided a review of the Gastite over there, and more recent users should be aware of that lawsuit and potential implications for their project (for me, I am not a party to the lawsuit and didn't share in the proceeds, nor do I intend to).

This is one of those things I would discuss with potential plumbing subcontractors when you are asking them for bids, as it will definitely affect your bid price. I wouldn't put it on the plans though. I like to talk to subs; the plans are secondary to our walk around the house, and provide them something to take notes on so they may prepare a bid later. It is the story I tell on the walk-around that is important. Of course your plumber gets involved pretty early (underground plumbing), so you need to have this walk-around with him/her before each stage (underground, rough, finish), just so they remember.

Now then, I would also pick out a representative stove and outdoor barbecue. Different appliances have different supply needs, and I would want to make sure that when I hook up my big commercial range that it gets enough gas. Just saying I want a gas line here doesn't do much, saying I want a gas line here that can supply my XXX,XXX-BTU appliance tells them what they need to know to adequately size the supply line. Same thing goes for your electrician. Not all cooktops use the same amount of electricity, and you want adequate amperage there. Running bigger copper or gas lines after the sheetrock is up gets mighty expensive.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/6/2006

There is more than one way to solve a squeaky floor.  I used open web floor trusses, sized to L/480 deflection, glued and screwed subfloor.  I don't have any squeaks and I also have a rock solid floor, albeit wood.

If I was going to do a suspended concrete floor, I would use Speedfloor or Hambro to avoid the extensive bracing (they are braced, but much differently than Litedeck).  I seriously considered this, but in the end went with the wood trusses.


Missouri  >  Contractor's license to pull building permit
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/5/2006

Call your code department, they will tell you the requirements to pull a building permit.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Countertop Deals
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/5/2006

Capri, available at some Lowe's, used to be available to DIYers, but no longer.

The material itself is pretty cheap, install is more complex and uses some fairly expensive tools. However the real price is in the exclusivity and professional installation. It is a premium surface, you will pay a premium price.


Building Phase  >  Re-work
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/5/2006

The person I would call is your surveyor.  My surveyor did the plot plan, as required to pull my building permit.  My surveyor laid out the corners of the house, offsets, and excavation depths.

Your building code should not have been issued with a mistake in the plans, and an inappropriate setback is an obvious mistake (they would have caught that locally, but you aren't building here).  However you surveyor should have known better, and this is where the mistake first occurred.

We had to put our house back 10' further than we were expecting, but we learned this when we got the plot plan back so it really wasn't a surprise other than we cut down a tree we would have otherwise liked to keep and had to cut down another that we wanted to keep.  This is a common first-time O-B mistake.


Miscellaneous  >  Bargain faucets
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/19/2009

I am with you as well here. Bargain and cheap are rarely the same, and shouldn't be used interchangeably. That said, my plumber had never seen Danze faucets, and when he held them in his hands he thought they were a bit pricier than what I paid. And while I originally found these based on the Internet and aesthetics, I certainly didn't order them without finding a local supplier and going to look in person. Besides appearance and what appeared to be initial quality, my decision point on these faucets was ability to obtain any single replacement part locally, from multiple sources. Being able to service and repair items vs. simply replacement is often the difference between bargain and cheap.

And while those 1850 faucets are clearly quality, how easy is it to find parts? Granted at this point parts cost what they cost because you wouldn't replace the faucets themselves as that would significantly diminish the nature of the room. However with quality fixtures, there is not a lot to wear out either. And here is a situation where replacement and updating would probably lower the appraisal as well ;-). Thin metal foil finish over plastic parts is something different entirely.

Given the thought and level of detail Faye has put into her house, and that this isn't her first build, I definitely have a high degree of confidence when she recommends a source.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/21/2009

I don't wish to hijack Faye's post here, so I started a new thread over in the Construction Bargain Strategies section on cost vs. quality (Cheap-vs-Quality-sometimes-cheap-wins). Actually as I think about it some more, if I was in a budget crunch I would definitely buy the absolute cheapest faucets I could get by with. Why, because they are easily replaced later with minimal impacts on anything else in the house. There might be other examples, which is why I don't wish to hijack or scope-creep this thread but thought a new thread might be better.


Miscellaneous  >  Foundation / basement
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/1/2006

Actually Mike, it is concrete.  Cement is simply one component of concrete, there is also course aggregate, fine aggregate, water, and admixtures.  The strength of concrete is a function of your water/cement ratio (more water, less strength), your aggregate, how much air you have in the mix (obviously air has no strength), and admixtures.  You can mix concrete for many different reasons, they all have different proportions of the same basic ingredients.  For example, the newer pervious pavements use a concrete mix without fine aggregate, so they contain a lot of pore space (and hence porosity).

Are you using a subcontractor to pour your footings and basement?  You might start there as they should know a thing or two about the concrete they are pouring and finishing.  Alternatively you might try the Portland cement association Internet site such as cement.org.  Most concrete specs for residential construction is based on 3,000 psi strength.  I used stronger for two reasons; it's cheap insurance, and since I am using Insulated Concrete Forms and don't strip the formwork to make sure I get good consolidation of the concrete the 4k psi pump mix is easier to consolidate and more forgiving to flowing in tight spaces.  For exterior slabs (driveway, sidewalk, patio) I used a 4k psi mix for insurance, and also included air entrainment admixture.  You will find that most people that finish concrete will tell you that 4k psi concrete finishes better than 3k psi, but I think there are too many other factors here than simply strength of the cured concrete.


Planning Phase  >  HVAC and SIPs
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/18/2007

Brandon,

I would agree, you do not need an ERV. Let's look at what an ERV supposedly provides for you:

1) You do need ventilation, no question about that. Building a tight envelope, ventilation becomes more critical. However, an ERV is not the only means of providing ventilation. In fact, design and adequate ventilation in humid climates is more critical to control than design and ventilation in heating climates (which isn't nearly as critical to get right, so do it easy and throw in an ERV or HRV in that situation and don't worry about it). Here is an old study, but I find the concepts still quite relevant - buildingscienceconsulting.com//Bugs_Mold_Rot.pdf

2) You do need humidity control, no question about that either, especially in a hot, humid climate. An ERV is not a good method of providing humidity control. I would suggest that a dedicated dehumidifier would provide a better method of controlling humidity than an ERV.

3) An ERV provides energy recovery, and this is icing on the cake. Build with SIPs and properly detail this, and you have reduced your energy-use levels a significant amount over traditional construction, reducing the amount of money you will save with your energy recovery, thus reducing the amount of benefit energy recovery actually gets you.

4) You do want positive pressure, and this can be accomplished with a $15 skuttle valve.

For my money, I ditch the ERV and install a ventilating dehumidifier in its place. I would look at the Aprilaire 1700 or a Therma-Stor APD (air-purifying dehumidifier). The Therma-Stors are nicer, but also much pricier. This will allow you to control ventilation independently of humidity, both factors you need to control. I would worry about the best way to do this, and forgo the icing on the cake if that means sacrificing key design parameters (short answer, the ERV isn't going to do the job you need it to do, energy recovery isn't something you get if you want to adequately control humidity AND ventilation, sacrifice one or the other and you can have energy recovery - not a good sacrifice).

As a side note, I have tracked over two years of HVAC data for my ICF house, 4,000 s.f. +/- in the envelope; and my HVAC costs are right at $50/month with ventilation, positive pressure, but no energy recovery. Would an ERV save me money? Probably in the winter, but summertime likely not (my AC is oversized, so reducing operating need is counterproductive in that it leads to short-cycling - a design flaw I get to live with as I have not fixed it yet). An ERV was $1,700 installed at the time of my installation, so assuming $10/month cost savings financed at 6% mortgage interest, I would never recover the incremental cost of an ERV.

As to the greenbuildingtalk.com website, I don't find the link very compelling for relevant information on this topic (yes, I am a member over there). For your question, I would suggest spending some time over at the indoor air quality forum on HVAC-talk.com, and even then I would read about hot, humid south and not pay any credence to dry, north, heating climates, as the issues are entirely different.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/20/2007

Notice the lack of an ERV?

This diagram (Thank you, Jon!!!) is exactly what I recommend, except you install your ventilating dehumidifier between the outside air and the supply for your air handler. That motorized damper gets removed (this function is provided by the dehumidifier). There is also a duct from the supply for your air handler to the dehumidifier as well.

Figure 28: Outdoor air connected to return side of air handler

 

Notice a Therma-Stor Ultra-Aire APD has provisions for both by looking at this picture (indoor air from your supply line, outdoor air from your outside air source, and fresh dry filtered air back into your distribution ductwork):


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/21/2007

I will provide my final recommendation, and it is not any different than what I did in my house. I had conflicting recommendations, and based on this I even had a mechanical engineer (living in an ICF house) perform an independent analysis to help me figure out the best approach. Next time I save my money, as the engineer didn't give me anything of value for what I paid. Anyway I figured out the installer I wanted to use. I then shared with him the conflicting information for the other installers, including the mechanical engineer and said, '...let's work through these issues because I honestly don't know who is right and who isn't, but I do know none of you "experts" agree and sometimes your disagreements are pretty significant.'

That said, I went with the minimum system I could get by with, but with the ability to upgrade to the top-of-the-line system easily if that were needed.

1) For example, I am ducted for an ERV or HRV, as installing ductwork in a new construction job is easy, retrofitting ductwork behind sheetrock is hard. If I decide I want an ERV or HRV later I can bolt it up and connect the pipes. Sure I paid a minimal amount extra during construction, but I minimized my risk in that if I ever need one I can install it pretty easily. Since I openly disagreed with the experts, I felt I better build myself an opportunity to save face when I was later proven wrong (how can a person who has never done this before explain that he is right and everyone else is wrong?).

2) Another example I had is that even the experts couldn't agree on what size AC to install. Manual J showed three tons, but "rules of thumb" showed anywhere from 5-6 tons. My ICF subcontractor said there was no way I would get by on anything less than four tons. Even the mechanical engineer said he wouldn't install anything less than four tons on my house. So what to do? I have ductwork and air handler to support four tons of airflow, A-coil for three and a half tons, large enough line set, and a three-ton compressor. If three tons wasn't going to be sufficient, I have only one piece of equipment to upgrade to four tons, the compressor. Nice and easy to fix this later. Sure some of these upgrades cost a bit extra, but in the face of uncertainty I was willing to invest a bit extra to minimize risk and minimize the cost of "fixing" it later. As it turns out, three tons is actually too much, but I live with this and am happy I didn't listen to the "experts" steering me in the right direction. However I am also happy I had the foresight to upgrade if I were indeed wrong.

I have other examples, but they really aren't relevant to your situation. The point I am trying to make is to assume the solution you are using is wrong, but allow yourself the opportunity to fix it later if it needs to be fixed. Live with the minimum; if you don't have sufficient dehumidification you can later install a unit like I recommend (the Aprilaire or Therma-Stor APD) using the ductwork (and the power your electrician already ran for this unit and the floor space you left next to your air handler) you installed for your ERV or HRV. If you don't have sufficient ventilation, you can later install an ERV or HRV. If you don't need either one, well, you have some extra ductwork that didn't cost very much. If you decide you do need it, you (and your HVAC tech) will appreciate your foresight to already have the ductwork and electrical connection in place, because now a retrofit is very easy.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/21/2007

One question on HRVs. The way I understand it is that when they are balanced, the exhaust-air flow rate equals the intake-air flow rate. I understand you can set the balance to provide a negative pressure or positive pressure (me, I would set to positive pressure and not zero, but that is open to debate and a separate discussion for another day). My question is how does the HRV provide enough makeup air when the house goes into a negative pressure situation, such as when you fire up your bath fans (I know some people use the HRV to exhaust bathrooms, I don't like it and code officials in my area don't allow it, but that doesn't mean it doesn't change after the code official leaves) or more importantly a big flow such as your kitchen hood (unless you have those horrible recirculating kitchen hoods - yech)?

I don't recall the exact details on my system (it is a couple of years ago), but we addressed this in "most" situations. That 500-CFM kitchen vent causes negative pressure, no doubt about it. Fire up all bath fans together (~350 CFM), and I get negative pressure then, too. During "normal" operation, I maintain positive pressure, and one or two bath vents or a clothes dryer doesn't change this. As a side note, my other combustion appliances (furnace, HWH) are two-pipe systems bringing in their own combustion air.

Agreeing with Jon, when you exhaust air, you better design a place to get an equivalent amount of makeup air back inside, preferably with some sort of conditioning before it is introduced into your living area, especially on an SIP house. That air will come inside; you want to control it.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/21/2007

That's how I understand it as well. 

BTW that Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Report is a fantastic resource that should be mandatory reading required in any O-B's 1,000 hours of planning. Or at least the condensed version in The Journal of Light Construction.

Truthfully, this is one of the best discussions on this board in some time, the resources and information here are relevant to every O-B. It is the education from topics like this that continue to bring me back here even after my house has been completed for over two years (I would dump this moderator gig in a second if the discussion weren't fresh and exciting). It is also helping O-Bs to do their own research and when necessary to buck conventional wisdom to do things better, probably the single link that draws us all here together.


Planning Phase  >  Here's our design - feedback appreciated
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/28/2007

Without providing any specific comments, I am going to provide you a homework assignment of mandatory reading ;-).  Go to the library, check out Better Houses, Better Living, What to Look for in Your New Home by Myron Ferguson. There are only a handful of books in my O-B library, and this one is one of them. I originally checked it out from the library, but I had so many Post-It notes stuck to it after reading it I couldn't compile the note and thoughts, so I was forced to actually buy the book. Given that the only other book I bought in planning was The Owner-Builder Book, this is high regard.

Please note that these aren't the only two books I read (we literally read hundreds, and this isn't even counting the ones we left at the library), these were the only two books I found valuable enough to need.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/28/2007

I read Sarah Susanka's The Not So Big House (also a really fine website at notsobighouse.com). Please note that her idea of "not so big" as defined by her original NSB house is by no stretch of the imagination a small house. A good book, definitely on my short list of mandatory reading materials, just not on my top couple.

Since no one asked, but we are talking about books, the other books in my home-building library are mostly Taunton's For Pros by Pros Series. These are mostly aimed at people who actually do the work and not project management or design books. However for any work you intend to do yourself, or are thinking of doing, these are invaluable resources.


Financing  >  Can't Finish Build -- No more funds
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/12/2007

I have a couple of suggestions here:

1) When I received my construction loan, it was based on an appraisal based on the plans I submitted. However when it came time to close on a permanent loan, they based it on the appraisal at the time of closing (which allowed me to take a cash stipend out for my labor since my appraisal went up). I wonder if you could ask your construction loan lender for a new appraisal, based on current market conditions and perhaps a bit less conservative (you actually have most of a house, not just a piece of paper, there should be less risk). With current market conditions, this could work against you, so be careful what you ask for.

2) Does your construction loan need to be closed? I know some get called within a certain period of time, say 12-15 months. However on mine, they (my small local bank) routinely lent money to subcontractors for construction loans that would be used as model houses to show to prospective clients, and these loans remain as construction loans for time periods of potentially several years. My construction loan had no deadline for me to convert it to permanent, in fact we left it open as a construction loan for several months after we received our CO and moved in, as it was an interest only loan we weren't really in a hurry to convert this to a mortgage. Do you have this option?

Truthfully I would get my CO on a shoestring (you would be surprised how little you actually need to get this) and finish it as you have expendable funds. Selling a partially finished house is a definite loser as no one will pay what you have in it and have to complete your project.


Miscellaneous  >  It looks like ART has gone out of business!
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/11/2007

Geothermaldiy.com, speedfloorusa.com, same physical address.


Construction Budgeting  >  Cost of ICF vs CMU
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/10/2007

I have no idea about CMU costs. However, let me clear up a misconception you have with ICF.  ICF does not require special tooling to run electric or plumbing. Any sub that has worked with this in the past uses either a router or an electric chainsaw. The only person telling you to use a hot knife is your ICF distributor, any sub doing work learned long ago that this was too slow to make money.

The polystyrene will deteriorate with exposure to sunlight, you get yellow dust that may need to be brushed off depending on your choice of exterior finish. This deterioration is only on the very surface. You will need to finish ICF exterior.

As to interior sheetrock, you screw it into the webs that are every 6-8" on center. I used #8 drywall screws instead of #6, but otherwise exactly the same for your sheetrocker as finishing a stud wall.


Planning Phase  >  heated/living vs garage
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/27/2006

I figured about 50% of my price for rough-in, 50% for finish.  A garage doesn't have a high level of finish (painted sheetrock, no heat, no bathrooms, no fancy floors, basic lighting), so roughly 50% of finished living area.  This is an estiamte, I have seen some garage mahals that cost as much on a finished cost as my living space.


Miscellaneous  >  TRUSS HELP!!!!
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/25/2004

I recently received an order of wood open-web floor trusses, some of which needed repair. I requested the truss designer come out to the sight and inspect the trusses I identified didn't look quite right to me. Of the seven trusses I identified (out of the entire order), he submitted truss repair orders to their engineer to determine appropriate follow-up. The engineer identified that one truss needed replacement, identified field repairs for four other trusses (field repairs to be performed by the truss company), and determined the the other two were fine. The truss fabricator provided a replacement truss within 24 hours. Unfortunately this was the wrong truss, so they provided another replacement, although this one took 48 hours (total 72 hours after identified problem). As a bonus, the first replacement truss coincided with a truss that needed field repair, so we used that one instead of the field repaired truss. The critical part of this equation is that the engineer modifications become part of the paper trail for the truss package. When the code inspector gets here, if he sees modified or field repaired trusses without the engineering drawings, he will fail this immediately. Since the truss designer and fabricator have the engineering to support these repairs (and I have a copy for the code inspector), this should alleviate this issue (not been inspected yet). Bottom line, if the engineering supports field repairs, I would let the truss designer use field repairs to fix their mistake. I would not do field repairs on my own, and especially not without engineering drawings.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/18/2004

I want to provide some process information and tips for anyone considering using trusses.

1) The truss fabricator will provide a template and shop drawings for your verification and ordering.  They will not fabricate these without your approval.  The shop drawings are very difficult to interpret, but since they are all different scale (they are scaled to fit on a page), you can't look at one truss and compare it to another.  As O-B, we are not "experts" and may not know exactly what to look for to identify potential problems down the line based on 2-D renditions.

2) My roof truss fabricator "claimed" to use the architect's drawings to design and fabricate the trusses.  Unfortunately we didn't notice until they were all installed that two roof transitions simply looked "wrong."  All trusses matched the shop drawings, so there was no problem with the fabrication shop.  As it turned out, the Architect left a key piece of information off the plans to allow for a smooth roof transition, and the truss designer simply assumed that the slope should be the same as most of the house (an incorrect assumption).

3) The truss fabricator has the ability to provide a 3-D visual image of the trusses.  My fabricator identified that they simply don't use this capability since the architect provided the specifications.  If I would have taken one hour to go to the fabricator and view this in 3-D, I would have immediately realized the error and we would have corrected this BEFORE the trusses were ordered.

4) As it is now, the truss designer is blaming the error on the architect and the architect is blaming the error on the truss designer, and all I want is a correct roof pitch so I can get my roof sheathed and roofed before it gets too cold.  As such, I am paying for the extra materials, labor for repairs, and will take up the "who pays for it" question later.

5) The main lesson learned here is to use the 3-D tool to visualize what you expect the roof to look like.  Do not order trusses without this visualization.  This simple step would have prevented ordering and installing incorrect trusses, delay to engineer "corrections," delay to the installers, and delay to the subcontractors that can only come in after the roof is installed (roofer, windows, doors, Plumber who puts vents through the roof, HVAC).


Legal Issues  >  Insurance desperation
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/9/2005

I have Farmer's Insurance for my current homeowners policy.  They didn't blink an eye when I asked for Builder's Risk.  I don't recall if I told them I was a contractor or not (I have GC license - definitely a positive on many factors), but it was very clear that I am doing much of the work myself.  Builder's Risk has no application to whoever is doing the work, because if you are working on the structure it offers you no protection anyway.

However, are you talking Builder's Risk or some sort of Workers' Compensation?  Before I can have any employees, I have to have a workers' compensation policy on me - and Workers' Comp is very expensive for a GC with no previous construction experience.  I don't have employees anyway, just perhaps the way you are presenting the information to insurance companies maybe they think this is what you are asking for?


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/9/2005

Basically I called my agent (John) and told him I needed a Builder's Risk Policy for a new house I was constructing.  I provided a set of blueprints, but this was more of a formality as I think John was simply interested in what I was doing (note here that John comes over to my house and drinks beer on occassion, sometimes with his spouse and family, there is more than just a business relationship).

John provided a price and faxed the information to the bank.  I write a check and give it to John.  John filled out all of the paperwork, I signed it.  I am happy, bank is happy, John is happy, we have insurance.  That is the process I followed, and I didn't leave any details out.  This is probably not much help, but this is also why I went through my existing insurance agent (although I also shopped around to make sure he was giving me a fair price).


Miscellaneous  >  Building with ICF
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/6/2004

I am relatively new to this site (first post here, but longer-term lurker), but am also considering owner-building with ICFs. I am looking at the ECO-Block system, mostly because I can get great local support and the local distributor (ICF Solutions) really supports O-B. There are several O-Bs locally who have used/are using ECO-Block. I was able to take an ICF installers' course sponsored by ICF Solutions and ECO-Block - if you have one available locally from whatever ICF block distributors service your area, I highly recommend it. As a bonus, If I do use ECO-Block at some point in the future, they will refund my course costs.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/22/2004

One of the challenges we are finding is designing to use ICFs. Most of the designers and architects we have been talking to "...tried this once five or six years ago, and the project went over budget..." so they don't recommend it (and all identified that this cost anywhere from 20% more to over $100K more). You really need to find someone familiar with the technique for the design; they are out there, it just takes effort. I don't simply want to convert a stick house plan for use with ICFs, because I am interested in reinforcement schedules, designing window locations for ease of placement, designing dimensions for ease of placement, etc.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/30/2004

I am going to start construction pretty soon (excavator gets here on July 5) and ended up planning for the Amvic ICF system. I ended up with Amvic because the installer I hired prefers this system due to the strength of the block. I had bids both ways (ICF and stick-built) and found the ICF costs the same compared to good-quality stick-built construction based on the cost of lumber.

My bids came in at the absolute high point of lumber prices (they have stabilized and are starting to come back down in Kansas City)... Given the $0 price differential and the quality and experience of the ICF crew I hired, the decision became a no-brainer. The key here is an experienced ICF installer and ICF crew, so no on-the-job training at my expense.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/19/2004

I have heard of other O-Bs using ICF having the same problem. This is threefold; 1) Most framers haven't actually worked on ICF construction so there is a learning curve. 2) The ones that have have probably worked on ICF construction where the walls weren't quite straight (typical using ICF) and the labor costs ate them up, hence the higher installed price they pass on to the builder. 3) The carpenters who know what they are doing with ICF probably have enough work with established ICF builders.

There are two solutions to this. I know in Illinois, the union apprentice carpenters are learning to frame the exterior walls with ICF. This education process is the carpenters' recognition that ICF is here to stay, and if they want to ensure future work for their carpenters they better embrace this technology.

I took a different approach. I had floor trusses and an engineered floor system developed. If you are going to do this, you better be very meticulous and detail oriented. The USP truss hangers were cast directly into the ICF and tied into the top course of rebar. The upside, once these were delivered floor framing took a professional crew of two people 1-1/2 days, with another day for the subfloor. This system cost me about the same in materials as using TJI wood I-joists. The crew was impressed enough that they have used my truss supplier to bid a couple of other jobs.

The downside, my underground plumbing was slightly off, so a 2x6 wall became a 2x10 wall (2x4 furred next to the 2x6 wall) so the trusses would have proper bearing and the plumbing would end up in the wall. This could have been solved by moving the plumbing slightly. In traditional framing, the fix would be to leave some joists longer, and since they are all field-cut anyway, this wouldn't be a big deal.

Once this was done, the interior non-load-bearing partition walls become easy to frame. I hired a laid off carpenter to help me and paid him hourly. I had him go through a day labor shop so that he had workers' compensation insurance and they also took care of social security, taxes, and the other administrivia I don't know how to deal with. I certainly don't need an uninsured carpenter getting hurt on my construction site.

Wherever there is a problem, sometimes you just need to be creative to find a solution. Given the cost and ease of using floor trusses, I am surprised this isn't more mainstream.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/21/2004

Rundquist and Associates. I dealt with Greg Rundquist. He was great.  816.472.6006. He definitely knows who I am.

I shopped a lot for an architect willing to work with ICF; I found this to be a big challenge. I found a couple, but Greg was far and away the best alternative for me.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/21/2004

This is where you need to get creative in your planning process.

1) For example, my DW and I frequent several local drinking establishments for Happy Hour. Several of these are "blue collar" type bars. We talk to everybody while we are there. We know all of the bartenders, and a lot of the patrons. The bartenders know all of the patrons. Point being, the bartenders know we are building our own house. When we are in there, they always ask about progress. We tell them we are looking for certain expertise, and to let us know if they know anyone willing to bring us a proposal. For example, when we needed carpentry, we told them we were looking for a carpenter, basic scope of work, how much work, what tools, whether we were willing to take a side job on the weekend or wanted a primary crew, etc. We have met suppliers here, subcontractors here, and if we talk to them while we are at the bar we buy their drinks. We buy a lot of beer at Happy Hour prices.

2) Another example would be to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. There are two kinds of volunteers: 1) those who understand construction, and 2) those who like to say "I volunteer for Habitat for Humanity." Gravitate toward the first type, even if you don't know anything. Most of these people are professionals (you don't learn framing without swinging a hammer, same goes for electricity and plumbing), not amateur volunteers pushing the broom. You get contacts, and you can validate quality of work because you worked side by side with them to build a house when they were working for free. I figure if you pay them, you probably get a higher grade of work than the pro bono work.

3) Talk to your local suppliers. They know what contractors are busy, who is looking for work, who does good work, and who cuts corners. This is one reason you use smaller trade-only suppliers and not Home Depot or Lowe's. Talk to them. Most people working at the lumberyard have built their own house, or at least a garage or deck - these people have expertise. Many of them used to work in the construction trades. These people have contacts.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/26/2004

PM me at by clicking the "send a private message" button at the left and I can provide more details. I am somewhat hesitant to discuss my bids on a public forum, lest they be taken out of context. I have been happy to share my sub list with other people who have contacted me via this site. I will even tell you people I talked to that I didn't select, and why - perhaps saving you some time and effort. You're local; I would be happy to give you a guided tour.

As to the floor trusses, this is one decision I have been happy with. My truss supplier is Builder's Resource in Merriam, KS, although McCray Lumber has since acquired them - talk to Jerry Meek. My roof trusses should come in within a week or so, from McCray this time (again Jerry Meek).

If you are going to do floor trusses in ICF, you need to be meticulous in the template. Especially if you did like I did and cast the truss hangers directly into the concrete. Floor trusses are not very forgiving. My architect asked me the day before the trusses were delivered if I thought I made the right decision. He was skeptical, but not as skeptical as the truss designer was. Considering how easily they dropped in, with no truss modifications (although a couple of field repairs as described in another thread), I really think the factory-built floor system was a good decision. When you consider that the material only costs were slightly less than the TJI material-only bid I received, and the labor savings from the floor trusses not needing any cutting, etc., why it really becomes the right call. The only downside was that a plumbing wall (also a bearing wall) was not in quite the proper location, and furring a 2x4 wall adjacent to the 2x6 wall solved this. Using TJI, these pieces would be field-cut anyway and this wouldn't be an issue.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/6/2004

No problems with the inspector. However, my truss system was engineered based on the USP hangers - I provided the manufacturer's data and a sample directly to the truss designers. My truss designer had never seen these before, but afterward has recommended them for several installations (which says a lot as they are Simpson Strong-Tie distributors). My code inspector simply looks at the installation to make sure it was installed per the engineering. They don't have the qualifications to determine if the hangers are the correct way to attach the trusses, but they do have the qualification to tell if they were installed per the engineering specifications and drawings. The inspector looked at these connections prior to the concrete pour (tied in to the rebar), and will again during the framing inspection (enough fasteners holding the truss in place).

The USP connectors I used have a lot more bearing than was necessary per the truss designers. What I did was stub my trusses 1/2" (have them all fabricated 1/2" short) so that they would drop in easier. The whole floor system dropped in smooth as butter with this extra 1/2" to work with. If your trusses aren't stubbed, you need to make sure the trusses are perfectly perpendicular to the wall or they will bind and be difficult to install.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/21/2004

I don't have one close by right now. An interesting note is that it isn't in the catalog - this was pointed out to me by the truss designer.

IIRC it is an RPW series connector. I will get part numbers and report back later.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/28/2004

USP IFH Series. The sizes for 1-1/2" wide (single joists) are IFH28 and IFH28-11 (longer bearing). For a 3" wide (double joist) they are IFH28-2. For the 3-1/2" (Trus Joist) they are IFH48 and IFH48-11 (longer bearing).

This should help you.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/1/2005

Most of the block is based on a 48" linear size by 16" tall, so it really doesn't matter. ARXX has some strange dimensions (metric), and the corner dimensions are all different. If you deal with the commercial ICF block, they are all based on sizes of CMU units and are standardized. Also the IRC does not care what block you use.

Now then, the code inspector needed to know what block I was using so they could verify code approval. Interesting, since the block contributes no strength to the finished wall. It was the first time they dealt with Amvic, so they had a learning curve to get up to speed. I tried to explain that Amvic was no different than Reward and ARXX (both of which the building inspector was familiar with) in that they don't ask whether a builder is using aluminum or wood for basement form work in traditional construction. This all fell on deaf ears.

One advantage is that all of the ICF companies have standard drawings that you simply add to the detail drawings of your plan. This is all based on their block. When I switched from ECO-Block to Amvic (based on the subcontractor), my architect simply printed a page of Amvic standard details and eliminated the page of ECO-Block standard details. No problems. I don't know if it would have been necessary for the permit, but I felt that since they were not familiar with either system, it would be best if my drawings match my materials.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/18/2005

I took the ECO-Block course for $125. If I would have purchased ECO-Block, it would have been credited off my first order. Even though I didn't ultimately use ECO-Block, it was money well spent. I anticipate most manufacturer's courses are very similar. Even if you intend to subcontract the ICF, take the course as you learn enough to be able to evaluate good subcontractors vs. subs taking shortcuts with factory requirements.

I didn't choose Amvic over ECO-Block. Instead, after receiving bids I chose to subcontract the ICF portion of my house. I am trying to balance my limited resources vs. what it costs a professional to do the same job. Based on my ICF bid, I decided to focus my efforts differently (I just finished all interior framing myself, something I originally intended to subcontract). My ICF subcontractor prefers Amvic over all of the other blocks he has used, and I saw no reason to disagree or ask him to use a block he was not familiar with. At the end of the day, I have concrete, rebar, and foam insulation; any ICF would provide the same thing to the end user.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/19/2005

Are you using roof trusses? If so, the gable ends would normally be taken up by the truss fabricator who would provide gable-end trusses.

What ICF system are you using (more to the point, since you are local and we have exchanged PMs, I am curious who you may have been talking to).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/20/2005

vbuck.com/gallery

V-BUCK has them.




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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/20/2005

While I found many of the ICF distributors were installers first (distributing the block they are installing), Bob is a distributor only.  Are you looking to DIY the ICF portion of your house?

If so, I would encourage you to look at the service after the sale.  Do they rent bracing?  How much technical assistance will they give you?  Bob is not really local (Lawrence), how much support will you get?  How many material deliveries?  Will they pick up excess material?  Will they be there when the pump truck shows up?  Do they get their hands dirty?


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/31/2005

Wow, a lot of recent activity in this thread. Now for my input:

1) I would not select my ICF based on trying to save concrete. If you want an ICF house, you are at the mercy of your local market and what is used there. If they only use flat-wall systems in you local market, I wouldn't want them trying to learn waffle-wall, post-and-beam, or other system on my project. Stick with tried and true and locally available.

2) If I am trying to DIY, it is flat wall only. On my six-inch flat wall, for large openings (9"), we had a tough enough time getting the concrete top flow around the double #5 rebar top and bottom of the lintels, and this was with 4,000 psi mud (flows like gravy compared to the standard 2,500 psi mud). I can't imagine trying to get it to flow into all of the waffle grids without voids.

3) If you want to save material on flat-wall systems, look at the four-inch systems and save a third of the concrete over the six-inch wall. In my area, they don't use these because the increased labor cost more than offsets the material costs. (This is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Deal with qualified ICF subcontractors, and they will tell you the best-value way to get the job done.) If it is waffle wall, they will let you know.

4) Please note that the code deals with waffle-wall and post-and-beam differently than flat-wall systems (at least IRC 2000, which is my relevant code). In my locale, I had a tough enough time educating my code inspector on flat-wall, I would not want to take the extra time or engineering to try to educate on post-and-beam.

5) Hydrostatic pressure is not based on the quantity of concrete, but the height of the lift. Pour the concrete in XX lifts, and the hydrostatic pressure doesn't care if you are pouring four-inch-thick wall or 24-inch-thick wall. However on the thinner wall, the wall will fill faster allowing the hydrostatic pressure to increase faster, potentially overshooting the maximum and resulting in a blowout (according to the local knowledge, fairly common with four-inch flat wall systems). The hydrostatic pressure subsides as the concrete sets up, which is why they pour in lifts. You could pour that 14' wall in 4' lifts without any special bracing (although the standard bracing I have seen only extends to about 12').

6) Around here, any wall over 10' requires engineering to support the wall height. If you are pouring a 14' wall, this is definitely an engineered wall and not just what the reinforcing schedule is in the code book.

7) Fire protection - isn't this largely provided by sheetrock? I can't have exposed foam, even in unfinished areas (a large part of my basement is unfinished). Also with fire rating, please note that once you put in a penetration (window or door), your fire rating reduces. e.g put a 20-minute fire-rated door in a four-hour fire-rated wall, and now your wall is only rated for 20 minutes.

8) Lumber prices are volatile. Steel prices are volatile. Labor prices are based on regional factors. There is not a set amount that ICF will cost more or less than stick framing, unless you are reading the manufacturer's literature. My house cost less to frame with ICF than with sticks, and this is not even accounting for reduced HVAC, different insulation, etc. This is simply comparing shell to shell; ICF was cheaper. Since that time however, lumber prices have come down and steel prices have gone up. Bid them both and make an informed decision based on current conditions, and not on anecdotal evidence presented by some manufacturer trying to justify upgrading your components.

9) ICF houses are not tornado proof. They would be if you didn't put in any windows, but who wants to live here? The main failure mechanism with tornadoes is the garage door fails first (are you building a house without a garage?), causing the roof to fail next. The fact is that the roof connects to the house with a mechanical connection, typically a hurricane clip or hurricane strap (preferred). These connections have limited strength. If your garage door fails, it is all over regardless of your construction methodology. The other tornado-failure mechanism is missiles, and as long as you have windows and doors you have little defense against missiles.

10) My homeowners insurance provides a discount based on ICF construction. However they also surcharge my cost of replacement based on ICF construction costing more to replace than standard construction (they obviously didn't pay attention to number 1 above). My homeowners is the same using ICF construction or stick-built for the same floor plan.

11) The appraiser recognized that ICF is quality construction. However the appraisal is based on what you can sell your house for, not what it cost to build. If your local market does not recognize ICF as a superior product, or if your local market does not have adequate sales of comparable ICF houses, your appraisal will be based on comparable stick houses. Being conservative is not a bad thing, it serves to keep you out of trouble.

12) After using a router to cut all of my channels for electrical and plumbing last week, I can say that hands down I would never use PolySteel. Before this sets off too much of a PolySteel defense, let me ask how many ICF manufacturers are out there, and how many use steel ties? ICF construction has been around for over 30 years and the industry has a tremendous amount of knowledge based on many years of construction. I can name only one company using steel ties, yet I can name dozens using plastic ties without issues. Since most companies are on second and third generation block, you would think that if steel ties offered a competitive advantage they would all be using them.

13) And once again, if you are subcontracting the ICF, you should select your block based on the merits of the installer and what they prefer to use. If you are DIY, you should select your block based on local availability and the distributor willingness to provide technical support and expertise to your project. In either case, the ICF itself is secondary.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/31/2005

Fair enough with the patent issue.

What is an interior-exposed web you refer to on the ARXX blocks? I haven't seen one in awhile. I am trying to figure out what was different. I do recall the web exposed on one side - is this what you are talking about? I have seen them installed with the exposed web pointing outward as well.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/1/2005

I simply set the depth gauge on my router to 2-1/2" and cut the foam all the way down to the concrete. I do not know how deep the electric has to be in the wall, but it can't go any deeper. To secure the electric, I got some "Great Stuff" expanding foam from the local evil orange.

As to backing, for the cabinets I used 1/2" plywood based on the millwright's template - the sheetrock will butt up against this. Once the cabinets are installed, it will not be visible (the backing is slightly smaller than the cabinets). As to towel racks, I have only one on an exterior wall, and I can pick up the webs in the ICF with a stud finder. For curtain rods, I am using wood bucks, so I have plenty of backing to screw into. I have seen people use aluminum screen patches behind the sheetrock on the walls where they might want to hang things - basically it just spreads the load out and gives you something a little bigger to hit. Since I can find webs via stud finder, I am not too worried about small stuff (pictures, shelves, towel racks). And then don't forget the drywall anchors for small items either.

For the deck, I will carve a section of ICF foam out and secure a 2x12 ACQ or borate (hard to find borate in large dimensional lumber) ledger plate with Hilti anchors. I will cover this plate with a 1" plywood, bringing my total depth to 2-1/2" or equal to the foam removed. This way, the siding will completely cover my ledger plate, leaving only the joist hangers exposed.

I have not figured out what to do about baseboard trim yet though, (actually if I could eliminate it altogether it wouldn't bother me, as I am trying to achieve a very modern look), although this path has been crossed by others prior to me - there is always construction adhesive.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/7/2005

Good discussion on membrane-type waterproofing products - look what happens when I am working on my house and don't have time to check the computer.

My ICF subcontractors used a rubber roll-on type waterproofing. They swear by this stuff - I will check the packaging (it comes in 5-gallon cans) when I get back out there and post what it is. This stuff is thick and goes on like plaster or stucco; they use a trowel to spread it over the surface.

I also looked at dimple board (Platon is fairly common around here for ICF, systemplaton.com). I tend to think that these systems are not really waterproofing, but backup that provide a way for the water next to your foundation to drain away. If you combine a membrane or roll-on type waterproofing with a drainage-type system, I don't think you can really go wrong.  For the drainage-type waterproofing, I spread 120 tons of 3/4" clean crushed limestone with a 4" perforated sewer pipe (not the typical flexible black plastic drainage tile) to create a French drain around my entire house (I have a walkout basement, the drainage is daylighted about 4' down elevation in my backyard). This provided about 3' of crushed stone around my entire foundation (around here, a sump pump system usually has about 3-4" above the drainage tile). Cheap insurance.

As to staying on budget - good luck. Prices go up, prices come down, hopefully there will be some balance, although I have found more material prices going up than coming down. One of the hardest issues affecting our budget is upgrading materials and options - when we bid items we were frequently not aware of these options - and while good value, it doesn't take much "a couple of hundred dollars here, another hundred there") before you start getting into some serious money. Our bank still thinks we will come in under budget though, although I think we will be extremely close.

One thing that helped, never quit shopping for materials, suppliers, and subcontractors - many of our suppliers or subs are not what we turned in with our loan information (we had to have bids for all major work packages). For example, we found great tile on closeout for extremely low prices, and we agreed to take all remaining tile (bathroom floor tile for $.25/s.f., kitchen backsplash tile for <$.50/s.f., floor tile for other areas for $.65/s.f., all in the $4-$6 price range before closeout - whatever we don't use goes to Habitat for Humanity for a tax deduction).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/3/2007

As someone who has been on site during many pour operations using several different brands of block, I might be inclined to disagree with this statement.  Some of the blocks are much more stout when it comes to dropping concrete at 150 pcf down into a wall 12' high from the top.

However once the wall is installed, they are all basically the same.  You have a concrete wall, you have rebar, you have insulation on both sides.  I would also recommend extensive bracing, but bracing itself has a cost both in terms of rental and time.

For a subcontract job, select your ICF based on what your subcontractor likes to use.  For a DIY job, select your ICF based on the service after the sale, bracing rental cost, strength of the ICF, and overall cost.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/3/2007

I agree with many of your positive and negative experiences, however I would add a couple of my own.

1) For me, ICF was actually cheaper than sticks. However, lumber prices are down based on what I paid, concrete is up, and steel is roughly the same. I would assume that ICF prices themselves have increased as well.

2) As to lower insurance costs, I asked my agent about this. He explained that I qualify at a lower rate, but then they surcharge the rate based on the cost to replace the house being higher for ICF than for traditional construction. I found insurance costs to be a wash.

3) Energy efficiency - this speaks for itself. My house is also passive solar, so my bills are not directly correlated to anyone else's, even with comparable-size houses.

4) Quiet and solid - there must be some monetary value here, although I wouldn't know how to compute it. Temperature swings, wind, outside weather, everything that affects "normal" construction is completely eliminated.

5) I found that the block stacks pretty quickly, it is bracing and aligning that takes time. On my house, a skilled crew of three could assemble an entire story in five hours; of course they spent the next four days setting up bracing, adjusting to ensure straight walls, plumbing the walls, building walk boards, etc. Compared to removable concrete forms, this is definitely slow. However we had no difficulties during the pour, no blowouts, no floating, no settling, nothing. I attribute this to heavy bracing and gluing every block.

6) I found the drywallers simply looked at the stuff and said "huh, what am I supposed to do with this?" However after I showed them how to find where to screw, and how much holding power a screw had, none of them upcharged me on their bid. My plumber had already worked with ICF; my electrician agreed to do it only after I told him I would cut all the channels for the wire (and once he realized how easy it was he bought his own router); my HVAC tech was familiar with ICF, my sheetrockers didn't care, siding again didn't matter. It took some hand-holding initially, however none of the trades had any difficulty. Your trim carpenter might not be too happy if you didn't consider where to nail your window trim, your baseboard trim, or your crown molding, since polystyrene doesn't have much holding capacity for a finish nail; but there are easy solutions here if you consider them prior to sheetrock.

7) I found that most siding installers don't bid ICF because siding will telegraph every imperfection. The only imperfections in one wall, we were able to trim with a rasp to get perfect. The walls are straight as a string, plumb, and true. The truss fabricator set a template based on the actual structure, I can tell you every angle, every length, based on his CAD rendering, and yes, they are true. Again it is all in the bracing. Brace it heavy and take your time to do it right - this is your single largest labor source for ICF walls.

8) If you sheetrock, wrap your windows. ICF is much nicer than traditional construction and the drywallers don't care and won't charge extra. If you like fully-cased window trim, you will pay extra for your finish carpenter's time and effort for the non-standard wall depth.

9) As far as cutting blocks, I would encourage anyone building with ICF to adjust your plan dimensions to reduce or completely eliminate the amount of blocks that need to be cut. Working with my architect, the plan dimensions almost completely eliminated any block cuts. This makes the ICF stacking go much faster.

If I were building again today, I would definitely consider ICF even at a cost premium based on the concrete. I talked to my ICF subcontractor, and he said he doesn't charge too much more than I paid because he has gone to weaker concrete (mine are all 4,000 psi, he now uses 3,000 psi, the IRC prescriptive tables are based on 2,500 psi) and has trimmed back his steel (I have horizontal steel every 16" o.c., IRC prescriptive tables require only three horizontals, and again with verticals we put in over double the amount of steel required). So given weaker concrete and less steel than I used, he says ICF is still cost effective with sticks (however not cheaper), but that is simply one data point.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/11/2007

Ben,

Any pricing estimates I have are well out of date and probably of very little relevance. Concrete prices are different, steel prices are different, labor prices are different; you will find that all construction commodities are somewhat volatile so estimates from three years back have very little comparison to reality today.

You need to find some local installers of ICF and talk to them. If you have some local distributors of ICF, they should be able to guide you toward some installers. I found the material prices to be somewhat constant among the different brands. Obviously the concrete price is fixed as the dimensions are all the same, however some blocks are easier to work with, some installers already have bracing (others rent it), pump prices are variable based on how often the installers need that service; this is where the variables come in. Price of form work (since you found a reseller for INSUL-DECK) is pretty much the cheapest part of the install, it only goes up from there.

If I were looking towards INSUL-DECK, I would take a hard look at SPEEDFLOOR. I think it is more versatile, probably easier to work with, you can get much longer unsupported spans (try working around columns your entire project, not much fun), and the installed price seems to be quite reasonable. However if you have no local installers, you will pay a premium for asking them to learn on your job. Honestly anyone who does flatwork could use either system, if they take the time to mind their details. If you are stuck on ICF forms for your floor work, check out AmDeck from Amvic, but then since I know my Amvic Distributor and used Amvic on my house perhaps I am biased? I am fairly impressed with AmDeck, although I would use SPEEDFLOOR on my next build (many years in the future, probably plenty of different options by then anyway).

Yes, there was some engineering work done on my house. However most of it followed the IRC2000 ICF schedules that were in enforced in my jurisdiction when I did my build, which are all based on the prescriptive method for ICF construction prior to code approval. Suspended concrete slabs do need engineering stamps in my jurisdiction.


Miscellaneous  >  Steel roofing vs. composite shingles
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/13/2004

I looked at Decra and Tamko Metalworks. I really like the Tamco Metalworks and would have done this hands down if it was in my price point. Installed price was brutal.

I could get the Tamko Metalworks for about $200/square including all shingles, ice and water shield underlayment (I have 4:12 pitch roof which is a little low for ice problems), hip and ridge shingles, flashing, hardware, etc., basically all materials for my roof. The installed price quote I got was $650/square, because this is a premium product and they can command it.

I can't imagine why installed price is so high. 60 fasteners is all that is needed to secure one square, so it has to go up quick. I guess cutting the panels at transitions, valleys, hips, etc. must increase the labor somewhat. For my roof, I just couldn't see paying $16K labor and profit just because that is what the market will bear.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/14/2004

No, I ended up with Tamko Heritage composition shingles, Olde English Pewter.

If you want steel, look at Tamko Metalworks. These are really nice.


Green Building  >  Value of Energy Efficiency in planning
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/10/2006

Let me tell you a story of two houses.  House #1 is fairly well constructed, the house I used to live in (and still own).  It is 2,700 s.f., fairly well-built, however typical stick construction, nothing extraordinary but a good example of what you get if you get quality construction.  It uses natural gas heat, natural gas hot water, and natural gas clothes dryer.  In December 2005 it was vacant, so the only natural gas usage was for heat at a low level (~60-62F), no hot water, and no laundry.

House #2 is ICF, R-50 roof, extremely well built (I like to think, it is my O-B house).  It is 4,000 s.f. within the envelope.  This house has natural gas hot water, natural gas laundry, and natural gas heat, all three were being used since we live there.  The heat is up to 72F during the day, 62F at night.  Given the same billing period and the same environment (both use the same gas utility, so billing periods are the same, they are 20 minutes apart driving through the suburbs), even though this house is 50% larger than house #1 it used over 35% less natural gas than house #1. 

I could install a more efficient furnace into house #1, but since the efficiency already exceeds 80% I only have about 12% reduction in gas possible (going to a 90+), and this in no way accounts for the significant difference in gas usage between the two houses (house #1 uses 50% more fuel than house #2, even at less intensive usage).

This example is why you incorporate energy efficiency into your design and consider it along the way.  I don't have the most efficient HVAC (I could have used geothermal), I don't have the best roof insulation (I have blown cellulose, expanding foam would be better), I don't have argon filled windows (although they are Low-E), however none of this is relevant because I have an extremely efficient and tight envelope.  Energy efficiency is not something you add on along the way, it is something built in from the start of construction.

Given the tax credits for energy efficiency, this spring I plan to bring in a blower door and optimize my new house.  I am confident there is another 10-15% reduction in utility usage simply by optimizing the system.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/17/2006

The only ductwork that is sealed are the exhaust fans and the outside air intake.  The rest of the ductwork is entirely within the envelope (I don't have any HVAC ductwork in the attic for example).  As most of it is still accessible, this is on my springtime projects although I don't expect much here.

I should also add that I don't have energy recovery on my ventilation (ERV or HRV) as I wanted to see how the house operated prior to expending the funding.  An ERV is about $1.7K installed in my area, I want to know that this is a good investment before I purchase it.  I do have ventilation though.  Given the overall energy efficiency, I have other projects that will provide much faster return on investment.

Focus on the building envelope first.  Adding energy efficiency after this is an add-on only, and only has limited results and return on investment.


Planning Phase  >  House plans first vs. buying land?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/24/2007

Mary Beth,

There has been some good advice given here, but I thought I might weigh in with a different perspective.

I would get the lot first, and as with a perc. test recommended, and reasonably priced utilities, I might also suggest a geotechnical evaluation just to ensure you can indeed put a foundation there before I finalized the purchase. However, this doesn't mean you can't have an idea book, or dream book of what you want the plan to be. These will greatly aid the designer or architect.

·        What exterior style do you like,  how do you want the rooms to flow

o       Do you want a ranch, 1-1/2 story, 2-story, walkout basement

·        Where do you want your laundry room

·        How many bedrooms

·        Do you want the master bedroom separate

·        How many bathrooms

o       Perhaps some Jack-and-Jill bathrooms for the kids, etc.

All of this information is critical to planning and developing a basic cost estimate, even without a final set of plans.

Architects cost money and I prefer architects to designers. You don't want to spend a lot of money on plans that need modifications; thereby costing more money. Yet, you want your architect to be efficient in their use of time. Therefore, having your idea book or dream book will greatly aid them in meeting your needs. You can develop specs and expectations without a floor plan, but the floor plan should be designed to the land.

 


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/1/2007

How do you get your component costs together without a plan to do takeoffs? You can use a rule of thumb that X,XXX s.f. will need a certain-sized HVAC, and perhaps a certain-sized lumber package, but this is really preliminary until you get a plan together.

I wouldn't spend as much time as this. Go the the library, get the RS Means Contractor's Pricing Guide: 2007 Residential Square Foot Costs (or you can buy it, it is under $40). This gives you a good method of preparing estimates, adding or subtracting level of finish, adding or subtracting level of complexity, locality factors, etc., and really does provide a good estimating tool to determine what you can build for what cost. You don't need to have material takeoffs to make it work, it is all based on square footage, so you don't need plans to make it work either, which is why it is such a good planning tool.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/1/2007

It's Parade of Homes time in Kansas City. The single easiest way to see what you get for the money is to go out and tour brand-new houses. When you do this during planning, you can quickly realize your square-foot costs in your area, including land. Land is about 20% in my area. The Parade is about selling build jobs, so you can find out land costs easily just by comparing lot prices with house prices. You also realize what features you get for the price, and more importantly, what upgrades you don't get that you may want to get if your budget allows.

Remember that Parade houses have 6-7% Realtor commission right on top, in addition to a GC OH&P fee of anywhere from 10-30% depending on how hungry they are (and Parade homes, probably towards the higher range since these are feature-laden advertising homes). So take your $400K Parade home, reduce the price by $24K because you aren't paying a Realtor to sell it for you, reduce the price by another $60K because you aren't paying a GC, and your bogey price is $316K on a similar house with similar level of finish.

Now then, sort your design to maximize use of materials, start shopping, actively manage your project to minimize costs through your planning, hire better subcontractors (the volume builders use different subcontractors than O-Bs. Typically, O-Bs pay more but get better value), and chances are real good that you will end up saving an additional 10% off of this number, without lifting a hammer or getting your shoes dirty. This is either instant equity, or more likely upgrades you are going to buy because O-Bs don't actually save money (we all have a budget) but we certainly get much more for every dollar we spend.

I paid $75-$80/sf a couple of years back (not including land) and got a custom design from an architect, ICF construction, stout interior structure (no standard floor joists for me), upgrades everywhere, efficient HVAC with five zones, hardwood and tile throughout on the main level, all custom cabinetry including bathrooms, solid-surface countertops (Corian) in kitchen and bathrooms, fiber-cement siding, level-5 sheetrock, fiberglass windows, basically anything that could be upgraded was upgraded. I saved $60/s.f. over a quote I got from a GC, and realistically he wouldn't have provided the same level of finish that I ended up with. I just toured a $2M Parade spec house (about $200/s.f.), and quite honestly I have nicer structure and/or finish in most areas than this house (although for $2M you get nicer kitchen appliances and a better view, nicer trimmed-out stairs [I guess they put the experienced trim carpenter on the hardest area] but little else). 

Also included in my price structure is that I did a lot of work myself, but this truly wasn't where my cost savings were. My guess is that all of my trades combined saved me about $10-12/s.f., which is relatively small compared to my partner, who expended less effort and ultimately saved much more money. She is a ruthless shopper and subcontractor screener.  However, she probably got a callous or two on her dialing finger ;-).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/2/2007

When people throw around square-foot pricing, they are talking mainstream-style houses. You build out of the ordinary, or out of proportion, and square-foot pricing no longer applies. For example, square-foot pricing normally would include exterior appurtenances such as driveway, deck, garage, etc., but these are obviously not included in the square footage of your house, so how are they included? Build a 600 s.f. deck on a 1,200 s.f. house, and suddenly you are outside the model and square-foot estimating no longer works. Now add a three-car garage and blow it out of proportion that much more.

Which is why I recommended the RS Means Manual. Rule of thumb and standard square-foot pricing only work within a very limited range. Start adding septic systems, wells, run long lines of electrical service, long driveways, extensive land clearing, larger decks, level of finish, upgraded materials, and square-foot pricing suddenly gets blown out the window. The simplest model is frequently not the most accurate, although it will usually get you in the ballpark, which is all it was ever intended to do. You are building 5,000 sf, around here that could be anywhere from $500K to $1M+. There is your ballpark; it is a pretty big range, but I bet I captured it somewhere in there - that's what s.f. pricing will do for you. Now sit down with the RS Means Manual, and I bet you could get your estimate within $25K of what it would actually cost for a GC in your area to do the job as opposed to +/- $250K.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/2/2007

OK, you caught me, I have never done any project estimating before ;-). Perhaps that’s why I recommend (and use) the most widely sold, quoted, and respected unit price guides on the market, also used every day by people who do project estimates as their only job. And you recommend what as your source?

 

You use a set of plans to take quantities from, a valid technique that has little validity here, because as Mary Beth has identified she doesn’t have land or plans yet, and is still trying to figure out if she can afford to undertake such a project. If she can’t afford to proceed with her O-B project to build her house, there is really no sense in expending funds by hiring an architect or designer to draw up a set of plans. In fact she is undertaking her O-B project so she can save money to get what she wants, as opposed to paying $180-$250/s.f. for custom construction in her market. So your estimating alternative of using construction materials and components is relevant here how? And your alternative estimating technique of using $100/s.f., when she has already identified that custom houses are costing $180-$250 in her area?


Based on her continued responses, she is a clearly a novice trying to understand the limitations on square-foot pricing, when it is appropriate, and what might be included in this figure. And you are familiar with the building trade in Dublin, Ohio because you loan money there? I certainly am not and never claimed to be. Working through the appropriate RS Means Manual, all of this is explained and the limitations are clearly set out. There is no magic number, as an estimator you know it simply is not that easy.

 

I apologize if you took my message as a personal affront, as I merely meant to explain that using a square-foot pricing model leaves a lot of gaps and potential for misuse, especially for a novice. A good cost estimate is critical in the planning process, as it really drives her decision points in her design (can I afford this), her land acquisition, her financing, and a whole host of other critical elements that would ultimately lead to reduced stress as the project proceeds.


Missouri  >  SF cost of construction in KC
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/23/2006

Are you looking at GC cost or O-B cost? When I was shopping, I found that the going rate locally for entry level (house and lot) seemed to be about $100/s.f. I looked at some fairly-large houses at about the same s.f. cost; it seemed to be more in the level of detail than in the size (the local McMansions are built to the same level of detail as the entry-level housing).

My final price to O-B was very similar to this, including land. However I have upgrades throughout including custom design, larger footers, ICF construction with extra steel, five-zone HVAC, flash hot water, fiberglass windows, custom cabinetry throughout including bathrooms, R-50 roof insulation (code is R-30), upgraded rough wiring and plumbing (actually I upgraded almost everything you don't see), nice fixtures and lighting, nice grade of appliances (although not commercial), all hard-surface flooring on the main level (tile and bamboo), no sheet vinyl anywhere, etc. I got one bid on my house, and prior to all of the upgrades I wanted, we were well over $150/s.f. - at this point we quit asking and realized we would have to O-B if we wanted to get exactly what we wanted and still be able to pay for it. The insurance company confirmed this when they performed their own evaluation of what it would cost to replace it.


Financing  >  Be Careful
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/12/2005

Is this other people's experience getting construction draws as well?

Not for me.  I hold the checks.  I write the checks.  Gayla or I take the invoice to the bank, along with the check before I mail it.  The bank makes a copy of the invoice and the check.  I mail the check.  Done.  Whole process takes less than five minutes from the time I go in the door.  If the vice president is on the phone and can't get to me immediately, the president does this for me.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/18/2005

 

Baine,

Switch to decaf please.


Planning Phase  >  Anyone willing to look at my floorplan?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/11/2007

1)       That front entry is not the most welcoming feature of the house. Without a front elevation it is hard to tell how it is integrated. However perhaps remove that wall immediately to the right (by the formal living room) and it opens that space up considerably.

2)       Double doors from the garage into the house are nice for big items, but they are always troublesome on where to properly put your switches so think about which one you want for your primary.  Also look at the door interaction between your coat closet and how the door from the garage opens into the closet door – this is years of frustration living with this feature.

3)       I would reverse the door swing in the kitchen to your back patio. You will be coming from the kitchen, carrying your tray of steaks out to the BBQ to cook, and oops swinging in the wrong direction.

4)       Your kitchen is going to be a high traffic area, do you want this? All traffic coming in through the garage is routed directly through the kitchen, and you have to go through your kitchen to get from the living area to the guest bedroom.

5)       That Dining Room entry from the hallway or from the family room is kind of odd. I think I would eliminate the short wall between your family room and the hallway there, and use either a different floor or different ceiling treatment to delineate the space. This would open this space, however too big and you also have scale issues. My living room, family room, and dining room all come together like this, I used a lower ceiling height over the kitchen and it works very well to delineate the spaces.

6)       Around here, that would be a huge 3-car garage (generally a 2-car is 20x20, a 3-car is 30x20). You will appreciate the extra space of being able to store bikes, lawn mowers, etc. and still open your car doors. If you need an intermediate column for support, make sure it is in a usable space - nothing like having a column right where you park and want to open you car door ;-(.

7)       For your office, I would use a double door entry with glass doors, this would open up your entry a bit and still nicely enclose your office space. However understand that double-door entries are always inconvenient about light switches, so you need to understand you trade aesthetics with everyday livability.

8)       Those are pretty large bedrooms, at least for children’s rooms.

9)       That is a pretty big laundry room, is that a utility room too (furnace/air handler, hot water heater, electrical box)? I also like to think about venting by clothes dryer, you have no easy vent to the outside from the center of the house. You can vent your gas furnace and hot water heater through the roof, or you can vent them through the walls (direct vent). I like to think about my line sets for air conditioning, how far away is the compressor from the air handler?

10)   In the Master Bath, look closely at that door leading into the water closet and shower area. I would make the shower entrance through the main bath, which compromises your humidity control (but hey, big bath fans are relatively cheap), making the water closet a bit nicer. I would also give myself more room, you don’t have space to turn around and open that door, the way you have that door sized it won’t even open all the way without hitting the toilet.

11)   That coat closet in the hallway is a long way from the entrance, this will be inconvenient.

12)   I know the idea is that less corners equates to cheaper to build, but sometimes less corners looks like cheap too. Sometimes a corner or 45-degree wall can add a lot of architectural interest. Perhaps I took it to an extreme with 17 corners and two odd contours following the cul-de-sac I was building on, but I found that corners didn’t equate to increased cost (ICF was square footage bid, footing was linear foot bid, the surveyors took it in the shorts because they bid all houses the same price, etc.). I would try to add some architectural features to add visual interest. Again this is without seeing any elevations, so I have no idea what your exterior will look like.

13)   How high are the ceilings?


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/15/2008

1) Much better layout, those few changes will make the house much more liveable and have greatly improved the house.

 

2) Get the book Better Houses, Better Living.  You can get it from this website (cheaper than Amazon), at a minimum check it out from the library. This book is an amazing resource into factors you should consider in actually living with your house. There are so many things and small details (most of which add absolutely zero cost) affecting liveability that should be considered (and rarely are considered) in design. These small details are the things that will make you smile daily, at the same time these are probably details you don’t realize you are missing now. These are also the small details that once you live with them, you can never go back to tract housing.

 

3) Nice kitchen, is that the view you have to the back, if so sign me up for dish duty (and I hate doing dishes).  Is that two dishwashers you have there?

 

4) Think about how you intend to use those ovens.  I like to have a staging area for food prep for the ovens, as well as a staging area for food waiting to go in ovens (cookie sheets?) and a staging area for food coming out of the oven to cool.  The island might work (and is really the only thing that would), but the distance may be too far away to make it work really well.  At least think about how you use the oven, and make sure your new design will accommodate it.

 

5) In the kitchen to the patio, I would not change from inswing to outswing, I would change from left-hand to right-hand (or right-hand to left-hand, I can never remember which way to spec these and had to ask every time I ordered doors).  The door hinges should be on the opposite side, so the door opens towards the living room (and not towards the kitchen).

 

6) Think about your pantry to the left of your refrigerator, again it is nice to have a landing area as you are getting ingredients out to cook with.

 

7) Be careful with your thinking about pocket doors, into the study, these are framed into the wall and will compete with your desire for location of electrical switches. You can’t locate two things in one location (door and electrical wiring).

 

8) You have better defined your laundry room now, I understand better what you are trying to do. I still like to think about how that dryer vents to the outside, I don’t recall the code requirements as to length of the vent run and the number of corners, but you should find out during the design phase. I like to locate dryers on outside walls because nice short vent runs are far more efficient, and those vent runs need cleaning as they get filled up with lint (yes, even with your lint filter). They can lead to fires, hence the code requirements for length and corners. The question I had as to compressor/air handling was related to your air conditioning equipment and how you intend to distribute this throughout your house (and furnace). Your air conditioner has two large components, a compressor outdoors and an A-coil indoors, and these are connected with a lineset. I like to make sure that all components can be easily replaced later (air conditioners have lives much shorter than your house), although most replacements do not replace the lineset. Also when your HVAC installer delivers the unit, the compressor is precharged, but only precharged for a certain length lineset – not a big deal but longer linesets will increase your bid).

 

9) Master bath is much nicer. With the covered porch, I would perhaps consider a hot tub on the porch, if you think you may want this wire for it now. My thought for putting this comment while leading off with the master bath is that if you may want a hot tub at some point in the future, perhaps it would be nice to have an access from the master bath? I don’t know, but I might think about it. (and actually given your use for the guest bedroom, I would think about an exterior door to the back on that one too.)

 

10) I agree the coat closet is much more accessible.

 

11) Given the size of the house, the ceilings should be commensurately higher for scale. Be careful going too high as this ruins scale too. I don’t have a good eye for scale, but my architect sure did. Along with the scale issues, I would think about my interior doors. The most common door height is 6’-8”, and this works well with a “normal” 8’ ceiling height. I find them a little short for 9’ ceilings, and 7’ doors look great and are just big enough, but these are also customs and get very expensive quickly. However an 8’ door (standard size and relatively cheap) is simply too tall for 9’ ceilings. I find that 8’ doors look good with 10’ ceilings though. Normal front exterior doors are 36” wide, and I find a 3080 door to be a little off for front scale so I would see if you can order one 6” wider (42” front entry, 8’ tall).  For interior, I would worry less about the width of the doors, but do think about the heights relative to your ceiling.

 

12) Overall much better, you are definitely moving in the right direction.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/16/2008

If you think $300 is expensive for an 8' solid core door, ask them to price a 7' door for you. Yep, standard sizes help stay cheap. I ordered standard doors (from a wholesaler), but wanted satin nickel hinges instead of standard brass. Changing to custom (different hinges) increased the price over $100/door. Yet they were willing to sell me the hinges in a box for under $2/hinge, if I ordered them at the same time. So there you have it, $6-8/door (8' doors have four hinges, the 6'-8" doors have three) or $100+/door. I paid my finish carpenter to change the hinges, it only took a couple of minutes/door.

For interior doors, I would think about at least one wheelchair. I used mostly 36" doors (where I thought that I would want to go in a wheelchair), and then used 32" doors on the rest. Some idiot framed a 22" door on a small closet (and since I was the framer, I guess I might know who that idiot was) and that was a custom door too. 24" - no problem, 20" - no problem, 22" - problem.

Actually for some really good feedback, I would post this over at ths.gardenweb.com in the Building a New Home forum. I don't generally like that forum, but for floorplan critique they tend to be very good.


Planning Phase  >  Rebar Question
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/21/2007

Marty,

Good question, I don't think I have seen anything similar asked here before. For rebar smaller than #8, the number signifies the diameter of the rebar. To illustrate this, a #4 bar is 4/8" diameter, or 1/2" diameter, a #5 bar would be 5/8" diameter, a #6 would be 6/8" diameter, and so on. Once you get larger than #8, there is a different sizing rule.

Exactly what are you hoping the rebar in your footings is accomplishing for you? Your footings are poured directly on a bearing surface, your walls are poured on your footings, so technically you will never have any concrete in your footings in tension (for a typical footing, which I am assuming you have please clarify if you do not). The intent of your footings is to take your roof and floor loads (including dead, live, snow, and wind loads), and spread these loads over a sufficient amount bearing surface.

Have you done any geotechnical testing to determine the size your footings should be? I poured my footings oversize (at least 24" wide, 13-15" thick to ensure a nice level footing) because it was cheap insurance, but I also used only two #4 because the steel really doesn't do much for you here.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/21/2007

Good point on the beam on nonhomogeneous bearing surface. However this is not a typical scenario, at least in my area. A geotech investigation would show when and where that might be necessary.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/21/2007

Using the basic pi-r-squared forumla to figure a cross section of rebar, a #5 rebar will give you over 50% more steel in the wall.  Rebar in tension has a strength of about 35,000 lbs per square inch. However the location of the steel is critical to overall wall strength.

In Jon's drawing, it shows both pieces of rebar at the center of the footing at different heights looking at the footing down from the top. When I poured my footing, I put the rebar closer to the edges of the footing looking from the top down.  In the horizontal dimension, my rebar was about 3-4" above the bearing surface (maybe not quite that high), so it would be in the bottom-third of my footing. Generally you want the steel at the bottom of a reinforced concrete beam for strength, however if your intention is to reduce shrinkage cracking you might put it in a different location.

The bond, at least in part, is due to the deformed nature of rebar. If you tried to use smooth steel of equal diameter in place of rebar, it would contribute very little strength.

I also agree that codes are minimums, and you can substantially increase quality with little additional investment, and unless you are trying to maximize your profit from spec building is really a waste to not take advantage of this opportunity. You get to a point of diminishing returns though too. And just using better materials is really secondary to better installation. Here is a link to a very detailed build, there is a lot to learn at this site - imageevent.com/okoboji_images/deloreshouse.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Kohler Factory
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/27/2004

I've been there.  Just go to the Kohler showroom and museum, no apointment necessary.  Bring some big money though, my plumber could get better prices on the same products locally.  Know what you want, and what you can get it for before you walk in, so you can judge whether you are getting a good deal or not.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  How do I get a great deal on trusses?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/7/2005

There is probably more than one truss fabricator in your area. Set the radius fairly large (on the order of 100 miles or more) when you look for trusses. I found that the local suppliers were willing to go up to or exceed 100 miles of distance in free delivery. My trusses came over 100 miles, not a big deal until you consider that they had to send a replacement - this is expensive for them to absorb this delivery charge for one truss.

Be careful that the trusses will work for your application. For my floor trusses for example, I had several designers that didn't pay attention to my instructions about keeping the floor trusses perpendicular to the wall (the USP connectors I used wouldn't allow any other configuration). Also for roof trusses, they will be able to show you a 3-D rendition of what your house will look like, this is important because it allows you to see any obvious mistakes in the plans that are not readily apparent on paper (once again, this is from experience).

Try to find a truss fabricator that sets their own templates - this way they take the measurements. They will try to get your framer to take the measurements, that way if they are wrong they can place the blame on the framer. The framer will want to blame the truss designer, so they would rather have the designer take the measurements. Absolutely do not order from drawings without field verification of the measurements, or you are almost guaranteed they will not work without adjustment.

Even with some difficulty (some floor trusses required field repair, one required replacement, some roof trusses improperly pitched and needed scabs), I definitely recommend trusses and would use them again.


Legal Issues  >  Owner-Builder Insurance help needed!
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/5/2004

I considered hiring a GC as project consultant as well. One thing that really struck home was that I could then purchase builder's risk insurance through him at a considerably better price than I could get on the street. In the end, I decided that the project consultant agreement just wasn't going to work for me. I purchased builder's risk insurance through Farmer's Insurance Group.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Looking for bids
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/19/2005

I am going to disagree a bit with Mark on the reference issue.  If I ask you for job references, of course you are going to provide names that paint you in a positive light.  I prefer to visit job sites to actually view the work product (I tend to think I am more knowledgeable than most, so I can spot quality workmanship).

I ask them for at least one bad reference or reference where a job went all wrong.  Any person in business very long has some negative customers.  You don't want them just showing their best work, but also at least one project where things went wrong and how they were able to correct the problems.  You learn far more from negative references than you do from positive.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Panelized vs Stick-Built
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/16/2005

Danielle,

Welcome to the site. There is a way to get in direct contact with registered users in your area, and is perhaps more appropriate for the type of regional one-on-one exchange you are looking for. In the upper right hand corner of this screen, there is an icon titled "Owner-Builder Connections" that will allow you to send messages directly to individuals in your geographic area. If you are looking for region specific information, subcontractors, references, etc. it is much easier to do this.

Ken


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/19/2006

Lets try to keep the advertising off the forum.  If you want to contact a person directly, please use O-B Connections and take it off-line.  The purpose of the forum is a discussion of the merits of panelized framing, and I don't mind professionals and panelized companies providing input, as long as you acknowledge your affiliation.  However if your post is pure advertising, or I view it as pure advertising, it will be deleted.

If you have any questions, PM me directly.  Thank you for your support, and for contributing valid information to this forum.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/21/2006

Larry,

As moderator of this forum, I certainly have no objection to vendors as they bring a valuable experience perspective that controbutes greatly to the forum.  Also you are up-front about your affiliation, and I appreciate that as well as I am sure there are other people associated with vendors that do not disclose their affilitation.

However the forum is not for advertising.  I will not delete your message, but it is getting close to crossing the line between sharing information and perspectives and advertising your company.

Thank you for your consideration.


House Features  >  Ceiling Paint - What Did You Do?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/16/2006

Congratulations on your progress. Sheetrock finished is an important step, and very dramatic, as you now have something that looks like it could be liveable someday.

I went nontraditional on my paint and used satin. Satin is more durable, easier to clean, but the sheen will show every imperfection in your wall or ceiling, and is also a bit trickier to apply. I would not have selected satin unless my sheetrock was very good. I didn't understand the correct terminology for sheetrock finishing, so I got "Level 5" throughout, which is skim-coated and the highest level of sheetrock finish. Even though the sheetrock looked great, the satin finish paint showed imperfections that you didn't see until after it was painted. Most people wouldn't notice the difference, but it is one of those details that I notice and like.

For the ceilings, I used the same shade as the walls but in a lighter tint - did that make sense? Let me try to explain it differently. On my paint chip there were six tints of the paint color I was interested in. The walls are the third tint down, for the ceilings I used the first tint down. It is almost white (IIRC the shade name was "billowy down"), but looks very good with the wall paint color. I used satin finish here as well.

Something to think about when I asked a painter why they used so much flat paint (I assumed it was because flat paint is cheaper, cheaper paint means more profit). He said that when you use a sheen (eggshell, satin, semigloss), every time you paint it you get more sheen. So if you need to touch-up your wall, you would need to paint the entire wall or you would forever see the repair as a different sheen. He said that with flat paint this doesn't happen. I don't know how much professional painters only do touch-up work and not entire walls, but this is something that I hadn't thought about.


Missouri  >  2006 KC Area Home Show March 23-26
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/15/2006

I would recommend bringing more copies of plans.  When I went in 2004, I handed out three full-size prints, and probably 35 sets of minis. 

For your windows, provide your window schedule to every person at the booth.  For example, Andersen doesn't use factory reps to man their booth, the reps are all local suppliers that carry Andersen Windows, and outside of the Home Show they are competitors.  So if you are interested in Andersen Windows, make sure you give a copy of your window schedule to every rep, and make sure the other reps see you are shopping them.  Their pencils get a little bit sharper when they know who the competition is.  This won't work with the Loewen windows, as their distributors have exclusive distribution areas.

I agree, this show is invaluable to local O-Bs.  You will never have more potential contacts and local suppliers in one place again this year.  For time invested, this was some of the highest return on investment during my planning process.  Have fun, stop by the Carter-Waters booth (local Amvic ICF Distributor) and you will see my house on their display.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/25/2006

So did you go?  What did you think?  I went yesterday, I must say I was a bit disappointed compared to recent years.  However I had little incentive and not a clear mission, so perhaps my memory is a bit clouded compared to how it was in the past.

I noticed there were a couple of fiberglass window manufacturers that hadn't been there in the past (fibertec was one, I don't recall the other), although comfortline and Accurate Dorwin were there in the past and not this year.  Two SIP manufacturers this year (Premier has always been there, the other was new).  However there were less icynene installers, although one bio-based installer and the prices seem to have come down on spray foam insulation.  Less ICF involvement, this is probably reflective of installed prices.

It was still the best single place for contacts with distributors and potential subcontractors at any one point in Kansas City area and well worth the discounted $7 ticket price.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/27/2006

I just sent you an O-B Connection message.


Green Building  >  PV install, mounting, etc
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/14/2009

I would go over to Solar Professional magazine and subscribe. This magazine is heavy on advertising and light on content, but because it is so heavy on advertising (all of which with internet presence) it is actually a pretty good starting point for learning about different mounting systems.

Is your roof standing seam steel? If so the answer is pretty easy, especially if the mounting is close to the same slope as your roof. However, standing seam isn't the only steel roof out there. Flashing any roof penetrations is the most difficult aspect of this type of mounting.


Finding Subcontractors  >  Accountability Channel
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/28/2006

I agree with Richard here, although the plans and specs need to go beyond simply HVAC to include the other trades.

Just a simple example, my next-door neighbor is getting ready to close on his house later this week (almost done), and he just realized he has no phone lines.  While phone placement would not normally be included in the plans, basic electrical specs and scope-of-work should have included that the electrician runs the low-voltage (phone and/or cable), otherwise they will leave this out of their bid.  Since he has no phone lines, I would guess he has a minimally code-compliant install (and since this is basically a spec house, probably a good assumption).  Your electrician needs to know what type of light fixtures you are using, where you want them, where you want ceiling fans, that you want a pathway of light, kitchen appliances, laundry appliances, special electronic gear such as an entertainment system, outside lighting, security lighting, etc.  All of this is above-and-beyond basic code minimums, which is what you will get bid without any specifications or understanding of exactly what it is you are looking for. 

The same thing goes for the plumber.  What are you using for your furnace, hot water heater, dryer, cooktop, and oven?  If you don't specify gas, and how many BTUs these appliances have, don't expect that you will get gas lines in your low bid.  Does your house use one of those fancy new Roman Tub faucets that flow at 16 gallons/minute, if so you better have the pipe to supply this faucet and you won't get it unless you specify this somewhere.

There is no trade exempt from this.  Does your roofer know what underlayment, ice and water shield, shingles, and roof vents you expect - if not you are going to get 15-lb felt and 3-tab shingles.  Does your concrete flatwork subcontractor know what you expect for slab thickness and reinforcement?  Does your tile installer know you want a thinset install on top of a decoupling membrane, and not mastic?

The same way Richard identifies that if you don't adequately plan your HVAC you will end up getting burnt applies to all of the trades.  Provide plans without specs, and the low bidder will leave out everything beyond basic code compliance.  When you make your decision based on price point alone, that is all you are going to get.  When you make changes realizing you didn't get what you wanted and/or needed, you will pay extra for the change orders, probably more than you would if you selected a higher bid that told you how to do the job correctly and wouldn't put their name on a minimally code compliant job.  With electrical and/or plumbing, it is usually easier to make changes to fix your problems, but with HVAC and concrete flatwork wholesale changes are extremely difficult.  If you provide a level playing field, at least all the trades know your expectations and can provide the price it takes to meet them.


Green Building  >  SIP home advice/tips?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/13/2008

You are trying to compare apples to oranges to grapefruit, and your comparisons are not valid. You are trying to compare $40/s.f. to $6/s.f. to $10/s.f. to $20/s.f. to who knows what all other figures have been tossed in here. Can we agree on at least one thing - you pay for your panels by square foot of panel, and you pay for your installation also probably by square foot of panel.

Dale is quoting without installation, materials only and he has indicated that so he has valid figures to compare to. Please when quoting, indicate how many square feet of panels, and whether this includes installation. This way we can make valid comparisons as to "reasonableness" of cost as well as comparisons with other materials such as stick-framing or ICF.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  ICF Second Story Wall Issue
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/15/2006

I have stayed out of this thread for a bit here, but as someone who actually has an ICF house, and probably understands fairly well how it might work as a system, I will enter in now.

ICF are not R-50 - this is absolutely correct. I believe the greatest benefit to ICF construction is not absolute R-value walls, but is a tight envelope with minimal infiltration. The equivalent to R-50 is necessary to get HVAC models to work correctly to size your A/C properly. In the Manual J, you put in R-50 walls, reduce the infiltration to the lowest possible level (about 1/100 of well-built), and it will still oversize your equipment. ICF marketing representatives have simply capitalized on this factor, doing the math you will never get to an R-50 value.

The other support for this statement (equivalent to R-50) comes from the thermal mass (although it is insulated, there is still a thermal mass effect, we discuss this a bit on the Green Building forum and John from Colorado has some real temperature data to support this) and that ICF walls in the real world never truly reach equilibrium as is necessary for a "laboratory" analysis (stick walls reach equilibrium quite quickly in comparison).

If you understand heat loss, you also understand that you get far more heat loss through your penetrations (what is the R-value of your double-pane window?, what about your 1-1/2" thick door?) and your roof, and there are not too many ICF roofs out there. Well-constructed SIP will give you the same level of infiltration as ICF, which is far superior to well-built stick-frame construction. However it won't give you the thermal mass benefits. SIP was my second choice, I chose ICF because of availability of local expertise from ICF contractors (I don't know anyone out here building SIPs, I can point to entire subdivisions built ICF).

It is common in ICF construction that the second floor exterior walls line up with the first floor walls, so that ICF walls are always bearing on concrete. However there is no such requirement to do this. If you notice on this house - eehomebuilders.com the second story walls do not line up directly over the first story. Specifically, in the third picture down on the left column, you will see that the concrete wall is suspended and not bearing over the first floor wall, and also not directly bearing on the footer. Suspended ICF can be done, the calculations are simply that that portion of the wall act as a beam. Don't try it without an engineer's stamp though. Although I have no affiliation with Dean (it is his house), I should identify that I used Dean as my ICF subcontractor.

As to interior ICF construction, I wouldn't necessarily discount it. What is the cost of a stick-framed wall in your locale? What about an ICF wall? When I priced my house out, I found that installed price for ICF was cheaper than installed price for just 2x4 sticks, not even counting vapor barrier, insulation, and housewrap. So while you may not typically use ICF for an interior wall doesn't mean that it won't be cost effective to do so. Be sure to plan your penetrations well here though, as they become very critical for utilities, specifically HVAC duct runs.

If you want to use an alternative building technique, you select the technique first, and the house plan second. ICF is not suited to all plans, neither is SIP (just try to cost-effectively do a hip roof with dormers). If you have your heart set on a plan first, then you select the building technique that best meets that plan. This is why stick-built construction is so prevalent, as the versatility of site-built 2x4 walls is second to none. Personally I think sticks are overrated, but whatever plan you may choose will be easy to build with this method. Not all alternative building techniques are suited to all plans.

My recommendation is to choose the setting first, the building technique second, and design the house to incorporate the best of both. Anything else is an unecessary compromise.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/16/2006

When I filled my walls, concrete cost me $68-72/yard for 4K psi pump mix and a pump truck cost ~$150/hour. This was at the time lumber prices were also a peak - I track 7/16" OSB because Home Despot has it out front and I drive by daily. At the beginning of planning my project, OSB was <$10/sheet. When my lumber bids came in, this same OSB was >$20/sheet. My lumber bids were at the lumber peak price. I didn't notice this morning as I am done and I don't track any more. As a comparison, a light-gauge steel stud was <$2 when planning, yet this same piece was $7 when my steel bid came in, I didn't use any light-gauge steel. Another comparison is that #4 reinforcing was $0.10/linear foot when planning, yet I paid $0.35-0.37/linear foot - steel is still one of the cheapest pieces of the ICF wall.

The other part of the equation is one of labor costs. Labor costs for carpenters to stick-frame are higher than comparable labor costs to stack, brace, and fill ICF. If you are doing the work yourself, you compare material prices to material prices, and 2x4 sticks will almost always win out here. If you are subcontracting it out, you compare installed price to installed price, and this is where I found it cost beneficial to upgrade to ICF. Due to installed price on framed walls, I did all of my own interior framing at a considerable cost savings. I would agree that I paid less for a square foot of framed wall than I did for a square foot of ICF wall, but this isn't a fair comparison because I provided all labor for the framing, and none for the ICF.

For me, ICF was a cost savings. My garage is ICF construction, not because I heat it, nor because I need the strength, nor any other fathomable reason except that an installed concrete wall was cheaper than an installed wood wall.

There is one local custom builder that uses either ICF, wood, or steel depending on which is more cost effective (read more profit) for him (not like his customers understand the difference, it surprises me how many seven figure houses use 2x4 sticks and fiberglass insulation). He uses his own crews so he can switch back and forth at will, and sometimes does so in the middle of a build (I saw one of his houses with ICF exterior walls, steel interior walls, and 2x4 stick garage). At the time I was planning my house, he was using ICF with steel interior walls as he said his cost for any given house plan was cheaper to use ICF and steel than sticks. When I built my house, he was using ICF exterior and wood interior, again a reflection of his cost basis. Last house of his I looked at (which is several months back), he was using sticks with no ICF or steel on site, again a reflection of his installed price. As he has a very good grasp of installed costs, this is reflective of his opportunity for maximum profit.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/17/2006

I would talk to your SIP suppliers on the best way to do this. I don't have any experience with SIP, I have never seen a SIP structure under construction, all I know is what I have read and what I can think through myself. You can do complicated roof designs with SIPs, it simply isn't an efficient use of the material and if you are not using the material efficiently, it usually isn't cost effective either.

If you had to aplogize for the long posts, I would have to put an apology on almost every post I make ;-).


Building Phase  >  ICF's and Cultured Stone
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/24/2007

greenbuildingtalk.com, search on the ICF forum.


Planning Phase  >  Best Toilets, Let's Rank Them
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/23/2007

If you get the Toto, be sure to get the G-Max flush units (Toto has some lower lines as well).  I have three of them, have installed several others for other people, and personally for my time wouldn't install anything less. Everyone I know with Toto G-max units (mostly the Drakes) think they are fantastic.


House Features  >  Living (and Loving?) Concrete Floors
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/30/2009

David identifies some "real" issues related to concrete floors. I was all set on this, until I spent some time standing and working on a concrete floor. At the end of the day my legs didn't like me, and I am not THAT old. At that point, it was clear, no concrete floors in my house.

However as I am living in my house, how much am I standing/working vs. how much am I sitting down? I think the "right" answer is something in the middle. Certainly the kitchen needs a floor with some shock absorption to it. But maybe not all rooms need this. And maybe you can accomplish this with gel mats in front of the cooktop and sink and that's all you need?

A friend of mine has hydronic in his concrete floors, throughout his house. I don't think he would do it any other way. He is older than I, but then older doesn't mean his genetics (knees, etc.) aren't superior either. Something about heated floors really appeals to me, and the people that have them really seem to like them. Maybe they focus on one aspect vs. the whole package of concrete floors, but given the large body of anecdotal evidence I have a hard time dismissing it entirely.

I can tell you that hardwood throughout is nice, as I can hit this with a large dustmop in almost no time at all. This would be no different with a smooth concrete like you would use interior (broom concrete inside would be horrible finish). I find I use the dustmop several times/week, vs. the one time/week I would vacuum, so the economy of "easy" translates to more frequent, but also much less total investment time in cleaning, which is win-win.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/2/2009

I wouldn't completely rule out hydronic heat if not using concrete floors. Hydronic is easy with concrete floors, but hydronic can be applied to wood floors as well.


Missouri  >  Step by Step
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/15/2007

Carolyn,

There is no specific list of order, as this is highly variable and also many trades can be there at the same time.  In fact, the order is variable and doesn't have to be sequential.

As to your plumber being there before the concrete walls, I would say yes maybe.  You need to get water from outside the house to inside the house, and DWV (drain, waste, vent) from inside the house to outside the house.  If you know where they would wish to do this, you can simply have your concrete guys install sleeves for the plumber.  Now I would suggest that any sleeve in the concrete walls below grade level is a potential leak, so would recommend installing your water line under your footer, and your drain line should go under the footer simply be best practice anyway.

Another thing to think about with the plumber, is whether or not they have their own backhoe (some of them do).  If not, your excavator is already out there to excavate for footers, you might have them go ahead and excavate for water lines and drain lines and save them a trip.  However if you miss this opportunity this can always be done later too.


Construction Budgeting  >  Square Foot Cost vs. House Size
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/30/2009

Why limit your ICF to basement only?


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/1/2009

The thing about square foot costs is that there are simply too many variables for them to be accurate. Let's use a 2,500 s.f. house, this could be 50x50 perimeter, for a total wall perimeter of 200 linear feet. This same s.f. could also be accomplished by a 2,500x1 perimeter for a total wall perimeter of 5,002 linear feet. Clearly one configuration is much more costly per s.f. than the other configuration. Granted, these are both extremes in the model, but then an s.f. cost model deals with neither. This is why s.f. pricing estimates fail.

I wouldn't automatically assume that ICF prices are price-premium to wood walls, especially if you desire to upgrade those walls with icynene or bio-based insulation. And being in Minnesota, ICF offers many benefits that will be extremely difficult (and costly) to obtain with wood walls. Granted the price point worked for me, it might not work in every situation, but make no assumptions and let the numbers come in. ICF is most certainly an upgrade in quality, the cost premium might not be what you expect. And since you already are planning an ICF sub on site, you have already absorbed the mob./demob. costs so the premium of having them do more work might be quite reasonable. For me, the cost premium was actually negative (ICF wall was cheaper that wood framing). As to three stories (two stories and basement), reinforced concrete can easily accomodate much more than this.


Financing  >  Looking for feedback on a financing scenario
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/10/2005

As silly as it sounds, I also found no discount for cash payments. In fact, I found just the opposite to be true. Most suppliers were willing to give me 2-10/net 30 or 2-15/net 30 terms (or even on my lumber supplier, 3% discount for quick payment), but would not give me a discount for cash. Go figure, I get to use their money for a 30-day term (about how long it takes for them to invoice me), and then they give me a discount if I pay within 10-15 days of invoice. However if I pay the day I order, I pay full price. For some suppliers (i.e. my plumbing supplier), my price is based on volume of business, and interestingly they keep track of this through their financing department. So even worse if I pay cash, the amount of my invoice doesn't get credited to my business account for future discounts.

Since I write the checks on my construction loan anyway (or more accurately, usually Gayla writes the checks), quick payment is not an issue as we don't have to wait for the bank.

While it is counterintuitive, around here there is absolutely no upside to paying cash and it is entirely beneficial through discounts and reduced future pricing to set up credit accounts with every supplier.


Planning Phase  >  Gutterless Home
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/31/2005

My old house had no gutters on it when I bought it (it was a historic craftsman-style). It had never had gutters on it, and I bought it from the owner that lived there 40 years. Apparently no problems. There was a diverter over the front porch so you could exit the house without getting hit with a load of rainwater.

Now my finance company (I was FHA due to low down payment) required that the seller install gutters prior to my purchase. I am not sure this contributed any value, as this was more of a maintenance issue than without gutters. If I didn't clean them, I had water problems. If I did clean them, I had too few downspouts that concentrated the flow too much in certain areas and I had maintenance problems. The A/C condensers were placed so the wash from the roof would clean them every rain, with gutters this wash was diverted and now I had to clean these as well. The house is in excess of 80 years old, with no indication of foundation problems or repairs. Grading was probably crucial, as were the larger overhangs, to get the water away from the house.

My house that I am currently building also has 2' overhangs. I would leave the gutters off if the code didn't require me to have them.


Financing  >  Financing?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/3/2009

Does your bank have a deadline that the construction needs to be completed and the loan paid off? Back when spec houses were more routine, GCs often built one model house and then used this to sell other houses, so the first house usually wasn't sold for several years. In these cases, the GC kept the original construction loan open until sold. When I built my house, I used a bank that financed several other GCs and were used to just such an arrangement. In fact I moved in, lived there several months, and waited until my finances were more stable prior to converting to a permanent mortgage (even though my interest was at a premium, my monthly interest could be rolled into the loan itself up to the ceiling of the loan, and there were no required payments for principal reduction, taxes, or insurance although as owner I was still responsible for taxes and insurance separately). My banker said it wasn't unusual for contruction loans to remain open several years, even after the house was complete.

Financing was one benefit of establishing myself as a business prior to going to the bank, rather than going the O-B approach.


Building Phase  >  Outdoor Electric
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/1/2006

Here is probably one of the single largest challenges facing O-B, coordination between subcontractors.  Production GC's that build houses, and use the same subcontractors every time, the subs know what to expect when they show up.  If the siding person the electrician is used to working with normally provides boxes, the electrician expects this.  Hire a different siding subcontractor, and suddenly you get some rework,

I would say that the siding person normally puts in the boxes, as depending on what type of siding you want the electrical box in a certain place.  For example, if you are using horizontal lap siding, think about where you want the electrical box in relation to a piece of siding?  You want the electrical box in the center of a lap, so that the outside cover seals properly.  Now think about brick.  Now think about stone.  Now you realize that the location of the electrical box is more critical to the siding installer than to the electrician - imagine cutting a brick to go around an electrical box - your mason isn't going to like this.

Around here the electrician would typically run the wire, leave some excess, and leave the box loose so the siding subcontractor can install it.  I have also seen the electrician leave just the wire, so the siding subcontractor installs the box and pulls the piece of wire through into the box.  Either way works fine, like I said it is simply what has the electrician come to expect from previous jobs.  I left the wire loose myself, put on the siding, and then came back with an old work box to put the electrical outlet where it made sense. 

This is not different than the electrician leaving the wire pulled out of the wall in the kitchen at the approximate height of the over cabinet or under cabinet lighting, as until the cabinets are installed you don't know the exact height of these boxes.  You want the wire to come out of the sheetrock somewhere behind the cabinets, so that the hole will be covered up by the cabinet installer and the wire will get to the proper location.  Bathrooms are another example of where the boxes are not installed until later, because frequently the electrician doesn't know what mirror/vanity you will be using, or at what height (vanities range in height from about 30" to 34").  Another common example might be a floor electrical box, as the final location for this is dependent on furniture placement.  I have a floor box just hanging in the ceiling of my unfinished basement, waiting for me to figure out the best location to mount it.  There are many examples where the electrician doesn't mount the final boxes, I am providing several to show that it is not isolated to siding.

And no, mounting an electrical box the electrician left loose would not be considered "doing electrical work."  If the wire is already there, mounting a box in the proper location for your trade is also not "electrical work."


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/1/2006

The point I was trying to illustrate with the brick mason is not the vertical cut he has to make on one brick, but if the electrical box is not at the correct height horizontally, he may have to cut four bricks in both a vertical and a horizontal dimension.  So instead of one simple cut, he now has four more complex cuts - more likely he will simply move the box to facilitate brick placement if the electrician already mounted it.  Alternatively if the electrician left the box loose or didn't provide it at all, the brick mason simply puts it at the most convenient place for him and is much happier because of this.


Miscellaneous  >  large tree stump close to a new foundation
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/31/2005

I would also put some extra steel in my footer at that point so it acts like a beam.  The excavator will have no trouble removing the stump.


Plumbing  >  Gas-Tite Corrugated Gas Line
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/7/2006

Since I recognized the value of a home run style plumbing system, and all electrical systems are also home run style, I figured why not do the same for the gas appliances.  Gas-Tite is a corrugated stainless-steel gas line that is installed basically the same way as PEX.

 

Gas-Tite offers some distinct advantages:

1)      It is fast to run.  My plumber installed my entire natural gas system in a morning, ready for inspection the same day he started.  This was hot water heater, furnace, and gas dryer.

2)      Just like the other home-run style systems, I can turn the gas off at the manifold.

3)      There are only two fittings on each gas line, one at each end.

 

Gas-Tite also has some distinct disadvantages:

1)      Expensive.  The material is pricey!$!$  However installed price was no more than black iron pipe, and black pipe has a lot more fittings.  Combined with advantages above, since installed price is a wash or slight cost savings, I didn’t mind paying more for material.

2)      Since it is so expensive, you don’t want to purchase more than you need.  You need to measure your runs very well, as excess cut material can’t be returned.  However estimate too short, and you now have a very expensive cut coil that also isn’t worth anything.  Your material estimates are critical.

 

This was installed by my plumber.  I tend to think gas line is critical system, and not for the faint of heart, and almost always defer to professional installation.  However both the code inspector and the gas company leak tested it, so even if you decided to DIY there are some safety checks in the system.  Given how easy it was to run, it could be within the skill set of many DIYs, however again I always recommend professionals when dealing with natural gas or things that can kill you.  This was an unusual installation in my locale for new construction (most are black pipe), although my plumber routinely used it for retrofits.  I figure it isn’t used more because even though it was a cost savings, most GCs of production houses like to order their materials a bit tight, and underestimating the amount of Gas-Tite you need will always result in an expensive worthless coil of cut pipe, underestimating black iron pipe requires an extra trip to the plumbing supplier and a new stick of pipe, much less critical.


Building Phase  >  owner-builder time frame?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/7/2004

This is an old thread that just got revived - I wonder how it went for them. One thing easy to overlook is your financing and insurance. Our Builder's Risk policy is for a period of one year, not pro-rated for more or less time (i.e.. if we get it done in 9 months we don't get a refund, but if it takes 13 months we have to renew the policy for an additional year). Also we are paying the bank monthly for interest on our construction draws. You have to balance the money you save doing it yourself vs. the time it takes, the opportunity costs (you will be doing something else related to the construction), and the money side of things tied to time such as construction loan interest. Once we looked at the whole picture, we started looking at ways to contract more out. Once we started getting proposals, we realized this was the right decision for us. As a rule of thumb, the construction project will be half materials, half labor for installation, so figure about how much your house would cost if you were buying it from a builder, take half and that will be the labor costs.


Project Management Techniques  >  Benefit of having a contractor's license?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/5/2009

Welcome to the forums, Claire (I noticed you are a first-time poster). Good question.

In my locale, only GCs can pull permits, so my decision was made for me. However, I found tremendous value in dealing with subs and suppliers when I acted like a business instead of acting like an O-B (and the corollary is also true in that other times I had better luck acting like an O-B). It is much easier to get subs and suppliers to cut you a deal when they think they might get repeat business -- new customers are hard to develop and that pencil gets really sharp for a first-time customer landing in their lap. When they asked why don't I use my "normal" subs and suppliers, I responded that I was building my own house and I wouldn't introduce new subs or suppliers into my mix without living with their workmanship and quality myself first. Subs and suppliers like the prospect of repeat business more than a one-time customer.

However, you will find some subs do not like working for GCs, they are afraid that GCs pinch every last dime of cost and are willing to sacrifice quality for price (and that reflects on them negatively). These subs, you revert back to O-B and explain that the reason you are O-B is because you understand that quality and price point gets balanced and you are tired of GCs focusing on price first and quality second.

I also found my building department treated me different as an O-B (even though I was mandated to have GC license), and truthfully I found the benefits to be overall positive as an O-B vs. GC. At first though, they showed no respect to me as an O-B, until they realized I was building quality. Perhaps this treatment was earned and not a function of O-B vs. GC. Positive benefits from the building department included slack in identifying subcontractors (a GC has to turn in subcontractors they intend to use when the pull the building permit, especially electric, plumbing, and HVAC, I didn't have to submit these until I hired them), consistency with inspectors (they assigned one inspector to me for my entire build, GCs get FIFO when they call for inspections, of course if my inspector is on vacation...), they were tolerant of me calling relatively frequently and asking questions on code interpretation (they had my fax number memorized or at least in their speed dial), and some other ancillary benefits.


Building Phase  >  Hardwood Floors
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/3/2009

Are you putting any barrier between the hardwood floor and the subfloor? My cabinetmaker suggested using roofing felt butt joints, for just such a purpose. While this is not a substitute for drying moisture out of the subfloor, it does seem that this could prevent moisture transfer between adjacent materials. I used 15-lb roofing felt myself, didn't really see a need to use heavier for this application, but then my subfloors were also dried out and my flooring was acclimated for a period of several weeks.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/4/2009

I don't know how thick your hardwood is, but I found that with overlapping joints of felt, my hardwood would telegraph the locations of the joints, as suddenly my subfloor wasn't perfectly smooth and uniform. Hence why I used butt joints. My felt joints ran parallel to my hardwood flooring though, perhaps if they were perpendicular my results would have been different? My floor was prefinished; site-sanded and finished might also knock this down as well.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/5/2009

Thank you for the explanation Jeff. Sometimes there are other variables in play, which is why it's nice to have knowledgeable people posting and helping on this forum.


How Owner-Building Saves Money  >  Should I try it?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/28/2006

I disagree completely with this statement.  You can easily beat builder prices on almost all materials.  The reason for this is most subcontractors only deal with one or two suppliers, and they have for the past 10-15+ years thinking they are getting the best combination of price and/or service.  How do they know if they never shop the competition?  I found by taking my own quantity takeoffs, I could call the suppliers reps cold and explain my situation like a business (I am a GC.  Although I am limited production, I build custom houses that are sold before I begin construction, no spec.  I don't think my current supplier is giving me the best value, I am shopping around for a new supplier.  I have quantities, may I fax them to you for a bid?).  Ask anyone that owns a business, it is much easier to service an existing customer than it is to develop a new customer.  I just dropped an opportunity for a new customer into their lap, an easy bid as quantities are already figured and it will only take them about 15 minutes to look up all the materials in their computer, their pencils get real sharp when they think about the prospect of repeat business.

I found I could get better prices on engineered trusses and lumber than my ICF subcontractor, a custom house builder himself (he changed his lumber supplier when I showed him my invoice vs. his supplier's proposal through him for the same take-off).  I got better prices than my plumber, using my plumber's quantity takeoffs (my plumber bid material separate from labor, and for his material bid he simply submitted his takeoffs and quote from his supply house he has used for 15 years and which he said I could never match).  I got better prices on copper than my electrician, and all finish electrical fixtures were simply not available without a custom order locally so enter larger market price matching (my electrician was amazed at what I actually paid for fixtures).  I got better prices on finish materials such as tile, however this is largely because I found a tile pattern I liked on closeout and agreed to take the remaining quantity.  There was very little I couldn't beat established subcontractor price on, even though they claimed I could never match their prices.  I tend to think this is marketing from their suppliers, they give good service and make them think they are getting great prices, it keeps them from shopping the competition.

As to subcontractors, I found that I didn't want the same subcontractors that work for production builders.  You want the subcontractors that take pride in their work, that are proud to have their name on the house.  As an O-B, you can attract this caliber of subcontractors.  They are very difficult to find, they are small independent shops and appreciate customers interested in quality over bottom -line price, they don't advertise yet stay very busy, and ultimately they are the best combination of quality vs. value although they are not the cheapest price (production builders will squeeze the last dime out of a house, and this includes the subcontractors that work for them).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/28/2006

As I thought about this, I really want to add some more ideas on how you can beat the prices obtained from other professionals:

 

1)      Nichiha fiber cement siding is not available in my area.  I was particularly interested in their sandstone series.  I called Nichiha, explained that I am a GC, am currently building my own home, and interested in Nichiha sandstone siding.  However there is none locally, the closest installations are Colorado and Oklahoma (although there is a distributor in Lawrence, KS).  Kansas City is a large construction market, you could really gain a foothold here if you had a demonstration house, are you interested in my house being a demonstration house for your product?  I didn’t end up using Nichiha fiber cement siding as I didn’t like the local supplier, but this question wasn’t limited to Nichiha.  I offered my house as a demonstration house and local reference, in exchange for a below market price.

2)      You can ask for discounts along the line of “I am a GC, I won’t put anything into houses I build for other people unless I live with it first and can recommend it as a quality product.  I am currently building a new house for myself, and not afraid to be innovative with my finish materials.  Are you willing to help?”  Obviously this doesn’t work so well with lumber, wiring, etc. but when it comes to finish materials that are highly visible in an area with little market penetration it is a different story.

3)      Lest you think I am being dishonest with these suppliers, look at these statements individually.  I am a GC – true and I have the license to prove it.  I build strictly custom, no spec – true.  I know who is living in my house before I break ground – true.  I am limited production – true.  I am building my own house – true.  You can use my house as a showcase for your products or workmanship – true.  I don’t think I had too many subcontractors that didn’t use my house in some promotional material of theirs, whether it is brochures, references, websites, or bringing someone by to show them their workmanship, etc.  If you are willing to offer something in return for great materials, prices, and/or service considerations, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/1/2006

I certainly meant no offense with my posts.  In the realm of O-B, you will never save be able to complete the project for the absolute cheapest possible, there is simply a finite amount of time and resources you bring to the table.  However, beating established GC or subcontractor prices was fairly easy, and I found took a very minimal amount of time.  Considering I dropped $20K +/- on lumber, taking several hours talking to sales reps and by faxing my quantity takeoffs to many lumber yards in the regional area to save 10% +/- is a pretty significant return on investment.  I even found that the same company with multiple locations you get different prices on materials from the different locations.

Please note that Home Depot, Lowes, Menards, or any of the big boxes will almost never offer you best price nor best service (although they will offer you price match guarantee and lower quality lumber).  Also note that most professionals I know around here also don't use the lowest price lumber available, they are looking for delivery times on short notice, who will pick up excess materials, and other service considerations.  According to a carpenter who is a friend of mine (although didn't work on my house), the local source I used has both the best price and best lumber - however he doesn't use them because of delivery issues and how quickly he can get materials on short notice.  Savings on materials is something easy for O-B to accomplish, and realistically one of the easiest tasks of the O-B process.


Finding Subcontractors  >  Finding Plumbers in Houston
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/16/2009

I'm going to agree with Rachal here. I watched my plumber do PEX, he used my tools (he had the tools for Wirsbo, I used Vanguard, different connection types, he borrowed my monster hole saw). It took him about one day to run the PEX, and another to have a helper staple it up so it didn't move around. That was it. Using the go/no-go gauge we didn't have one failure. Next time, I do my own PEX plumbing. Drain, Waste, Vent (DWV), I will still use the pro next time.

As to using a carpenter, in my locale, plumbers, electricians, and HVAC all have to be licensed for their trade. However, you can work on any portion of your house you wish. Using an unlicensed trade to do licensed trade work is strictly forbidden.


Construction Scheduling  >  IDEAS TO CUT TIME!!
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/31/2005

Not going to happen. But to address a couple of your issues individually:

1) There is some efficiency to be gained here, but you can't hang your siding until the windows and exterior doors are installed.

2) How are you going to schedule inspections? In my locale, the inspector won't even do a plumbing rough, electrical rough, mechanical rough, or framing rough inspection until they can do all four at once. I can't be having the rockers in as electrical is being done if it means foregoing an inspection. The rockers make a huge mess; they get the entire house to themselves. I participated in a Habitat for Humanity Blitz Build a couple of years back (something like 10 houses in 10 days). The foundations were poured about 30 days prior to actual construction start, but the rest of the house construction was completed in a 10-day period. Even with this accelerated schedule, when the rockers showed up everyone else left.

3) The plumbers usually put this in at the same time as the underslab plumbing, so it goes in about the same time as the foundation and before the basement slab. For the mechanical, plumbing, electrical trades, you want mechanical first as they are hanging sheetmetal and need the most room. It is much easier to route electrical wires and plumbing around duct runs than it is to run duct runs around plumbing and wiring.

4) See my comments to #2 above.

5) I don't see likely that rockers will work side-by-side with electricians. Good rockers work like lightning, and they aren't going to be waiting around for other trades getting in their way.

6) You want mechanical in there before electrical and plumbing. Yes, they can all three be there at once, and should be there in case there are any issues that need to be resolved such as putting air returns where the plumber wants to run water lines or the electrician wants to put switches. In general though, the mechanical gets a head start on the plumber who gets a head start on the electrician. This past week, they were all three working at the same time on my house.

7) These are replacement windows, but they can be used in new construction. I figure there is a reason they don't use them in new construction though, perhaps because they are more labor intensive to install?

8) Good luck getting any trade to wear booties.

9) I thought this was common practice.

10) Always involve your subs in the planning and execution process, they almost always have some good ideas that should be considered.


Green Building  >  Solar Laminates
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/9/2009

I think the key with solar, to make it look good, is solar has to be a design element. As an example, look at the Solar Decathlon houses. The first year (2002), solar was definitely an add-on for many of the teams. Subsequent years, solar has been a design element included in the aesthetics and architectural design of the house itself. Perhaps many people probably don't like the aesthetics of the Solar Decathlon houses, myself I find them fantastic (as a fan of modern starchitecture anyway).

Actually I like these for other reasons as well. Great design, liveable, panelized construction (with potential for easy pre-fab construction in quality-controlled factories off site), small size (perhaps too much so, but for what they are...). Granted, square foot price will probably knock you over, but what do you expect from engineering schools using the latest and greatest technology? Good design costs money, but good design eliminates waste as well, the key is to find happy tradeoff where good design saves you money overall (including scrapping the state-of-the-art technology for off-the-shelf proven technology instead, but so much less fun).


Miscellaneous  >  6'8" vs 8.0 Doors
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/2/2004

I just ordered all of my exterior doors (actually they just got to the shop, not delivered yet though). I found a different experience when comparing prices on 6'8" doors to 8' doors. We have 10' ceilings in the main living area of the house, and considered either 6'8" doors with transoms or 8' doors. If you order your transom with your door, the transom is very expensive - frequently exceeding the price of the door itself. We looked at another option of ordering our transom from our window fabricator, and found this much more cost effective although you don't have nearly the glass configuration options.

What we found with 8' doors is not so much that they cost more, but the selection is limited in "stock" items. For example, we wanted fiberglass doors. You can get 6'8" fiberglass doors from the catalog with seemingly countless glass configurations, window options, decorative glass caming, hardware, finish options, and everything variable (these aren't really off-the-shelf, as you are ordering from a catalog, but these are all "stock" doors).

Now go to an 8' door and look at the catalog options and you probably have one page to pick from. For example we wanted brushed nickel hardware, and the 8' door we wanted comes in bright brass hinges only - you can't even specify the hinge options, although every 6'8" door you could (our solution: order the brushed nickel hinges separately and we will have the carpenter install the new hinges - funny thing is if you order them at the same time they are very inexpensive). If one of these off-the-shelf options suits your needs, an 8' door was only marginally more expensive than a 6'8" door. If one of these off-the-shelf options does not fit your need, you are into the custom market and very pricey (back to the hinges example, the price increase to get different hinges in the otherwise "stock" pre-hung door was prohibitive as this was now custom and not a catalog item. I don't have a clue as to why). Although 1' does not seem like much, the scale and elegance of an 8' door is appreciably different. 

The second thing we found was that 36" wide doors were exactly the same price as 32" wide doors. If you can accommodate these wider doors, there is really no downside. My architect had specified 32" wide doors in several locations that we upgraded to 36" wide doors. In two cases, there simply wasn't room to fit a 36" wide door, so I left these as 32" wide.

Which then brings me to sidelights. Sidelights are also very expensive, once again exceeding the price of the door itself. Buy a fairly plain door, put the matching sidelights on it, and a matching transom, and now you are out some very serious money on your entrance. This combined with The O-B Book identification that the location of switches next to an entrance with sidelights is always a little tricky, made us think about other options. Once again back to the window manufacturer, and we talked about using glass block for the sidelights.

Our main entrance will have an 8' fiberglass door, switches as you enter the door in the proper location, and a 16" wide sidelight with glass block. You can order the glass block in a number of different patterns and options, including lighted. Alternatively you can go to a custom glass block installation and still end up cheaper than a sidelight. I will post pictures when my doors get installed.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/2/2004

I got my doors from evil orange - Home Despot. This is one of those rare cases where I got the best service at the big box store, so I ordered from them.  They carried multiple fiberglass door manufacturers; they let me thumb through the catalogs and price lists at my leisure - this way I could figure out different pricing schemes and stock doors. Larry (the sales guy who helped me) was knowledgeable about the different fiberglass door lines, price differential, and quality differential. He ultimately led me to "best value" for my money. I was in there multiple times asking questions. When it came to special order parts (e.g. hinges), Larry took the effort to call the manufacturer and figure out how to make it happen.

And then I used one of those 10% off coupons that are so readily available.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/29/2004

The easiest way is to search for "Home Depot coupon" on ebay.com. At the present time, there are 60 active listings.

If you prefer Lowe's, ebay.com has 74 active listings for "Lowe's coupon"

A third way is to take a weekend class at Home Depot. They will give you a coupon for the asking at the end of the session.

A final way is to simply ask the employees. They periodically get them and can do with them as they please, including giving them to their favorite customers. We used a kitchen designer from Home Despot so we would have an estimate for the bank. Since she still recognizes us, it gives me an opportunity to stay in touch and ask when I am there. We are probably going to use custom cabinets, but it never hurts to keep your networks open to alternative options.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/29/2004

Are you looking at interior doors or exterior doors? My experience I outlined above is for exterior doors. I haven't started to get bids or price interior doors yet, but perhaps I should before I do too much rough-in (although it is easier to make a R.O. smaller than to increase it).


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  tile shower floor
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/1/2005

My quotes for mud bed showers range from $350-550 just to set the mud bed (preslope, liner, bed).  Installation of tile is about $3.5-4.5/s.f., not including tile but including all other necessary materials.

I would recommend lurking over at www.johnbridge.com forums if you are considering tile work.  You can learn more about tilework in a couple of hours over there than you could days reading books.  If you choose to DIY, they are a very friendly group that will provide assistance.


Building Phase  >  DIY stone veneer
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/27/2010

I don't know anyone who has gone to the trouble of casting their own stone. However I do know of a person who DIY-installed cultured stone on a chimney. He built a model from plywood the same dimension as the chimney so he could plan his layout (model was obviously horizontal, not vertical like a chimney). Once he got to the real install, he simply transferred from the model directly to the chimney and it went pretty quick. With cultured stone, you will want to take some time on the layout to make it look good.


Building Phase  >  Rain Gutters
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/23/2006

When I built my house, I did a lot of work myself both to control cost and quality.  I subbed out my gutters, it simply wasn't cost effective and the seamless gutter installers really get better quality product.

With seamless gutters, you take a sheet of aluminum from a roll and they form the gutter profiles on-site.  If you are DIY, you get to purchase already formed gutter profiles in lengths of 10-12', and this simply isn't as nice of an installation.

My gutter installer used Alcoa 25-year warranty aluminum, available in about 25 different colors.  I found one that matched my paint color perfectly, allowing for painting prior to gutter installation (better for my schedule).  For what I got, I simply couldn't have done it any faster, cheaper, or better if I attempted to DIY.  This isn't true of most trades, but for guttering I would recommend getting some bids and realistically looking at your cost savings potential.


Green Building  >  ICF QUOTE
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/12/2009

When they quote price per square foot of ICF, it is usually quoted as per square foot of ICF wall space. This is how the ICF subs I know figure their bids. Also please note that square foot of wall space includes square footage of windows and doors - don't count windows and doors as "holes" in the wall, and therefore delete them when you are validating their bids. Your garage door is a pretty large "hole" so they may accommodate that one, at least partially. While this doesn't seem right, remember that window and door bucks cost money (have you priced VBUCK?) and take labor (framing and bracing) as well. For ICF, remember your footers go down below ground so you have to count wall space that is below grade (not visible and easy to overlook) in your square footage, and if you have a walkout basement your footers are stepped to go deeper over the walkout portion of your house. It is easy to forget these details when we O-Bs estimate our costs for the bank (if we don't have bids to turn in).

Your sheetrocker and framer likely calculate the same way (square foot of sheetrock, square foot of framing). However I found commercial sheetrockers do remove windows and doors from their bids (they bid square feet of actual sheetrock, thus removing the "holes"). For my house, the commercial sheetrockers bid it $1.15/s.f., the residential sheetrockers bid it ranging from $.72-$.80/s.f., and yet all bids were within about $300 total after they measured. This was an overrun on my part, because when I estimated in my budget, I calculated square feet the way commercial sheetrockers did (with holes), and yet applied price the way residential sheetrockers did (with no holes; I found they would give s.f. bids over the phone, and weren't interested in actually bidding a house based on plans that may not get built) - oops.


Construction Bargain Strategies  >  Stick Framing vs. Trusses
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/29/2005

I would disagree with the generalization that truss roofs are cheaper. Like everything else, this is regional. Around here, very few carpenters have experience using roof trusses, most use traditional stick framing. If you want trusses, your pool of qualified subcontractors gets smaller, and the price increases. Around here, roof trusses are not typical. The only people installing roof trusses are the ICF builders, and this is because they are not carpenters and find roof trusses easier to install with existing crews (not subcontracting to carpentry crew for roof construction).

That said, since I used an ICF builder to place the trusses, I used roof trusses. He later subcontracted the roof installation to a carpentry crew, and I was a little less than pleased with the workmanship.

One thing about trusses is they go up fast. John mentions that the trusses install as fast as the boom truck can bring them up. For my house, the boomer brought all of the trusses up within an hour or two and then the trusses were installed over the next couple of days. Trusses are definitely the fast way to get this built, and you can't really argue with the factory built roofing system as to quality (seems the truss fabricators get nicer lumber than common folk like me).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/31/2005

This is not true, at least in my locale. The truss designers will only provide quotes based on drawings. No fabrication begins until a truss template is set and trusses are specifically designed for your structure based on ACTUAL measurements.

The trusses are designed and fabricated accurate to 1/16". My garage was 1/2" out of square, each successive truss is 1/16" longer than the previous truss so that the soffits remain a consistent 2'. Please note that this is somewhat overkill as I have 6" of bearing, and the truss designer only required 3-1/2", so the trusses could have been designed for "square" with no problems. Also note that if they set your template to this accuracy (angles figured to four decimal places of accuracy), your bid will go up as your truss package just got more complex. The carpenters installing them didn't care, but the designers and fabricators did.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/1/2005

I was not aware of it being done any other way - back to construction practices being regional I guess. Every truss fabricator I called said they would not start fabrication until after the template was set - standard practice here.

I am building ICF. To set the template, we stacked a couple of blocks high and filled them with mud. Next the basement slab was poured. The truss designers set the template and start designing and fabricating trusses at the same time the remainder of the basement is being stacked, braced, poured. This takes the downtime between the order and delivery (~4 weeks lead time on trusses) out of the critical path.

And yes, they did know I was an O-B. However the designer also identified to me that it would be better if I set up a commercial account (I am a licensed GC) as I would get better terms from the financial side if I did - I followed his advice.


Planning Phase  >  2009 IRC Changes
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/17/2009

I am not sure if this should be under "Planning Phase" or "Building Phase" forums (mods - feel free to move if I selected wrong), but here is a presentation I found outlining changes to the 2009 IRC. Of particular note to me is the residential sprinklers (starting for permits after January 1, 2011), and the ARC-fault electrical throughout (when I built, these were hard to come by and the breakers were $30/each; I have a 40-breaker box and needed two, you do the math on the new requirements).

psu.edu/phrc/Training/2009webinar.pdf


Green Building  >  Thermal Mass Example
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/23/2006

John,

 

Great data. Kind of makes me wish I would have instrumented my house. How much HVAC intervention and at what times are you getting it? You temp-in stays +/-2 F even as your delta between temp-in and temp-out ranges from almost nothing to >40, yet this doesn’t seem to be a factor for temp-in. It would appear that you get some HVAC intervention at between 21:00 and 22:00 as the temp-in slope levels and perhaps even starts to trend upward and you certainly aren’t getting any solar effects at this time.

 

I don’t get as much temp-out swings as you do over the course of a day, but I find that without HVAC intervention my temp-in (using your data definitions) range is ~+/-4 F (whereas yours is +/-2 F). At night my delta between temp-in and temp-out is routinely >40, similar to what you are showing. I also find that wind is not a significant factor.

 

I use a forced air HVAC, which is different than your hydronic, but I also find that it primarily operates in the morning as we prefer to sleep in a cooler environment and would like to lose more heat (we keep the shades drawn in the bedroom to minimize daytime solar gain). I never thought I would say that I am disappointed because I would really like to lose more heat at night when my HVAC isn’t even operating. On cloudy days, we get occasional HVAC intervention after the sun goes down in the evening, but this is infrequent. The other day, my HVAC actually came on during the day (!!!), but my delta between temp-in and temp-out was >60 and it was cloudy, which is an extreme in my environment for daytime temperatures.

 

Some additional data points. My floorplan and orientation is on my website, light-colored roof (Tamko OE Pewter), R-50 dense packed cellulose attic insulation with a well-vented attic, low-E windows for maximum solar gain with cellular shades at night, 6” concrete core ICF with #4 steel ~16 o.c horizontal and ~24” o.c. vertical on the main level and 8” concrete core with more vertical steel on the lower level, 2-1/2” foam on interior and exterior (Amvic ICF). In my environment, most low-E windows are for minimum solar gain (heavier cooling environment), but I wanted maximum solar gain because they are shaded from high angles during the summer.

 

Just to add a data point from my old house, we had an ice storm and lost electrical power so no HVAC for four days. During the sunny days, it would get to 70 F inside from solar gain, but once that sun went down it would get !@#$%^ cold quickly. We were in bed by 8:00, down comforter and two fairly large dogs in the bed just to keep warm. This is typical stick-framed, R-13 walls, R-30 roof, no thermal mass, and the temp-in range over the course of one day is probably +/->20 F without HVAC intervention. This is the same environment I am in now, so it offers a valid comparison to my new house.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/12/2006

I would think that part of the reason has to do with the steel in the concrete. My ICF wall uses a 6" core of concrete, plenty to surround the steel needed for large headers (I have some 9' openings) in an ICI package. One of the challenges with a 4" core ICF is getting enough steel in your headers, and getting the concrete to flow around this steel, so for a CIC package you would need at least 4" concrete on each side of the insulation, which is 50% more concrete (not exactly cheap at today's prices).

Then you have concrete interior and exterior, exactly what finishes are you going to use, and how are you going to attach them? What about utilities? You can channel the interior foam for plumbing and electrical (while it is always a good idea to avoid exterior walls with plumbing, you need electrical outlets on all walls). You can screw your sheetrock directly to the ICF, although if you are doing a CIC package and interested in thermal mass perhaps you don't want to cover your interior concrete with sheetrock? Depending on your choice of exterior finish, a solid concrete mass may not be desirable either.

And then there is the finish work. For these concrete walls you would want smooth finish (trowel finish), for ICF walls where you never strip your forms, you pump and vibrate, a much quicker solution.

And finally, the CIC package would appeal to only the fringe. The ICI package using ICF can appeal to the mainstream buyer. If I am in a business selling product, I prefer to cater to the larger market as this poses less risk for me.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/6/2006

I was at a Storm-Resistant Concrete Homes and Buildings Workshop last week, just trying to stay current on concrete technology for residential construction. It has been two years since I poured my ICF house, and a lot has changed.

 

As to the interior thermal mass systems, Integraspec ICF block has an exposed concrete face option – integraspec.com/noncombustible. I am not familiar with this block, but it is basically a site-assembled block, so for this option you would use only one face of the block and the spacer, and use plywood for the other side of the forms that will be stripped. This would give you insulation on the outside, with thermal mass on the inside. I suppose you could put the concrete on the outside, and the insulation on the inside, but why? I know ECO-Block is also site-assembled, and you could probably use any other site-assembled block to accommodate the same results.

 

Locally to me, there is a company using the CertainTeed ThermaEZE system with their aluminum forms. Basically they are a basement forming contractor that has recently gotten into the business of above-grade walls, thereby allowing them more use of their aluminum forms (if you have priced these units, aluminum forming systems are not exactly cheap, so more uses is a good thing to justify investment). These use a web structure with Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) panels that can be located just about anywhere within the traditional forming system. So you can put your insulation at any point within the wall. For a thermal mass system you would want your exposed thermal mass on the inside. The downside here is that the web system doesn’t have nearly as many attachment points as an ICF, limiting your exterior finish options (most ICF have attachment points at 6-8” o.c.). But if you want an EIFS system, this is probably a potential option.

 

And then there is Thermomass (thermomass.com), that uses Dow Polystyrene insulation sandwiched between two concrete panels. This system is intended to be used in conjunction with traditional forms as well. I asked them about steel placement, and how they can accommodate strength in longer lintels (openings) with two seemingly separate concrete walls. They use a fiber composite connector through the insulating panel that holds the two concrete panels in place and supposedly ties them together structurally. This seems a bit spongy to me, especially if you have any seismic codes that might apply where you are building. These are different than the steel ties normally used, and should not result in a thermal bridge. The nice thing about using a system in conjunction with aluminum forms is that you can drop a big vibrator in there and really get good consolidation (with ICF you are pretty much limited to a ¾” vibrator unless you really want trouble).

 

Both of these systems recommend using a skim coat of plaster to finish the inside concrete walls. I didn’t ask for plaster company references, but I know in this market they are limited (this is a different trade than sheetrocking) and much higher installed price. (But then I was looking at blue board, a step that would be eliminated using a concrete substrate). It seem like if you can finish sheetrock, you should be able to finish plaster, but finding a plasterer is a challenge. As to running your electrical utilities on interior concrete walls, I’ll leave that for you to figure out. And hanging anything, well there is always the hammer drill and Tapcon solution.

 

Imagine my surprise when I picked up the local Amvic Block distributor brochure and recognized my house in two different pictures ;-).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/6/2006

No textured interior walls around here. Sheetrock is finished smooth, my 'rockers' used a Level 5 finish, which is fully skim-coated with sheetrock compound and very smooth. The plasterers use hand-applied skim coat over blue board, no sanding, and this stuff is as smooth as paper. Even the traditional stucco (which is textured) is trowel applied. Drywall ceilings are textured with the hopper though; they say it is hard to hide joints in the ceilings.

Given that the rockers could skim-coat a drywall wall, it strikes me as odd that it is a completely different trade to skim coat a blue board wall. It sure looks like the same process to me? Plaster is much more expensive, and much more limited tradespeople locally.

The concrete guys said the finished concrete walls are very smooth (they can even cast in crown molding, painted of course, and not stained). But anytime you pull forms you will have some imperfections and bug holes, especially if your forms are not well-seasoned. This is why they recommended a skim-coat plaster finish directly to the concrete. Again I didn't ask for references, I was only trying to stay current and am not actively pursuing any construction projects in the near future - I'm too busy enjoying the one house I built to dive into this project again anytime soon.


Miscellaneous  >  How do I pay myself to build my house as O-B?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/20/2005

My bank would not allow this.  You turn in invoices or receipts, you take a draw.  I don't guess they would like to see an invoice from myself for time.


Planning Phase  >  Estimating Cost of Permits
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/17/2007

In my locale, your building permit includes the electrical, plumbing, and HVAC permits. The GC pulls them all as part of the building permit (although the GC also has to identify what subcontractors they are using to accomplish these other trades). Again in my locale, the largest part of this fee is based on what water service you need, which seems completely arbitrary but that is how their fee schedule is based.

The easiest answer is to call your building department. You will need to get to know them on a first-name basis if you undertake this project.


Shopping Techniques  >  Confused by windows!
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/19/2006

1%-1.5% seems a very low budget for windows. As a reference point, I spent 3% for nice fiberglass windows. Andersen would have cost me more (although the windows I purchased are now more expensive than Andersen). Around here, Andersen 200 are base windows, anything less is simply junk and will be reflected in resale (and Andersen 200 are builder's grade too). My windows are nicer, but the brand is unknown around here and has no "quality" name recognition. If you are looking to resell in the near future (upgrade path), there is value in using at least the standard window in your market.


Legal Issues  >  Capital gains vs. interest
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/19/2005

I am going to take a shot here, as this could be an interesting discussion.

In your example, you can take your capital gains of $50K immediately by paying $10K in taxes, walking out with a $40K profit by O-B and never actually living in the house. This is true, but where are you living? If you are building in the market you currently live, you are paying interest now. If you are renting, you still pay interest albeit indirectly.

Back to your example though. You are paying about $14K/year interest at 7%. If you itemize, this interest is tax deductible. If you are living in a $250K house, you are probably in the higher tax bracket, so $14K interest equates to a tax deduction of about $4K federal (and another deduction for state, although all state tax laws vary) so your net interest payment is about $10K or less (agreed that you get to take a base deduction if you don't itemize, but if you itemize you get other deductions as well and lets keep this as simple as possible).

So considering tax implications you are paying $20K interest over two years to avoid paying $10K in capital gains tax immediately. You are correct in that this isn't the best investment out there, but this still begs the question of where are you going to be living as this has some cost.

Now then lets factor in some appreciation. Let's say that the $250K house appreciates at 3%/year (very low if you are building in a hot market?). After two years you are looking at $265K and the potential for $65K capital gains tax-free. Back out your interest that you paid over the past two years, and you are looking at about $45K free and clear. Now consider that you have to live somewhere, and this has an associated cost to it. Suddenly the capital gains tax avoidance strategy doesn't look quite so bad. If you can build in a hotter area and achieve 5% appreciation, you are looking at over $75K tax-free capital gains - now the capital gains avoidance strategy starts to look very good.

Please note that is neither free money nor a get rich scheme. O-B is a lot of work - the book says 2,000 hours invested in your house. I am building a custom house (no production-based items here), doing a bunch of work DIY vs. subcontract, and can tell you I will have well in excess of 2,000 hours. You cannot discount the amount of work. You also need to back the capital gains back in to the hours you work to figure if this is how you want to spend your time (you have to spend it doing something, I am looking forward to sleep ;-).

However if I were doing this for profit, I would do things completely differently. I would stay out of the custom market, base my plan on a production model that I could build in different trim levels so I could use one plan multiple times, using the same plan multiple times allows you to fine-tune your suppliers much better (saving considerable time here), shop my suppliers only once instead of every house, shop my subs only once instead of every house, doing more business equates to more discounts for supplies. Suddenly I sound like a production builder!


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/19/2005

There is a fine line between "professional" builders and O-Bs. I find that the codes people tend to treat me much nicer, are much more patient, much more willing to provide technical assistance over the phone, etc., all because I am an O-B and have never done this before. If I cross over this line, suddenly I am a professional builder and all kinds of things change.

For example, as a professional builder I have to submit my subcontractor list when I pull the building permit (so they can verify all my subs are licensed to work in my locale, a revenue enhancer), I have to submit all truss plans and associated engineering, and a whole litany of other requirements including timeframes to get the house constructed (six months from digger to C/O). As an O-B, I don't need to submit my subcontractor list, I can sort my truss supplier later and have to have the plans, templates, and engineering at the house, etc.

One of the opportunities for O-Bs is to continue to shop subs until the work actually starts (i.e. I find subcontractors much more willing to provide bids once the house has started, and much more competitively, as a professional I don't have this option as my subs are locked per my permit). What you are describing is not O-B but professional GC, and at least in my locale this has additional administrative burden, much of it with an associated cost. On paper, GCs seem to make a lot of money, but there is a lot of inefficiency in the process we can address only by being O-B.


Planning Phase  >  Moneysaving design elements?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/4/2007

While I am the one that originally brought up the GC license in this thread, please note that as O-B we can be change out message anytime we want, depending on who we are talking to. 

1) Did I consult with other GCs - absolutely and I found them to be terribly helpful since I wasn't competing with them. I even asked to borrow scaffolding from one GC, he dropped it off. I had another GC loan me one of his crew to help me out doing something I had never done before, I simply had to pay his hourly wage (he didn't even charge me for insurance, benefits, burden, etc.). In some cases, they provided subcontractor recommendations, and in one case they even used their leverage with a subcontractor to get me a better bid. Would they have done this if I was competing with them? Of course not.

2) Some trades knew I was an O-B, some trades knew I was GC building my own house, and yet other trades just knew I was the GC building a custom house for a client. The beauty of this is I could select the best message for subcontractor I was talking to. I did not limit myself to GC building my own house, I realized that for some trades they don't like working for GCs. Other subcontractors like the lure of repeat work, and they do like to pick up another GC to do regular work for.

3) Talking to suppliers, talking like a GC will get you better respect and a sharper pencil. Suppliers do like repeat business, and the lure of it dropping in their lap is something they will sharpen their pencils for the first bid. It also gets you 2-10/net 30, I found as an O-B I had to pay for my materials up-front. As GC, I get better pricing and I don't have to carry a checkbook.

4) Do you want to get invited to contractor appreciation days at supply houses? Yes the free lunch is usually not much to write home about, but you do get to see open houses, innovative techniques, and more importantly an opportunity to interface with other trades, opening the door to identify subcontractors you may wish to call. I would recommend that anyone you meet at contractor appreciation days you approach as a GC.

5) One example here. We were trying to find roofing contractors and finding it very difficult to get anyone to provide bids. They all did tear-offs and replacements, but it seemed that no roofers wanted to do new construction. Completely dumbfounded by this, I finally asked why? They don't like to do new construction because GCs pinch them so bad trying to minimize cost that they also give up on quality. From that point forward when I called roofers I explained that I was an O-B, and nothing about being a GC. I ended up doing my own roofing ( I would hire a roofer next time), but learned that adapting my message was valuable.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/17/2007

Before, you finish your plans, please talk to the trades and ask them. Ask them what works for their trade, what doesn't work for their trade, what should be changed to accommodate their trade, and if they have any recommendations to make it easier for their trade. You don't need to talk to three electricians, three plumbers, three HVAC techs, three carpenters, three ICF stackers (if using ICF, which I highly recommend but if you didn't account for it in design it may be too late), just one of each. The trades I consulted with all had an opportunity to bid the final project, although none of them actually received the work itself. However every trade was impressed that they had been considered in design, and that they enjoyed the job more because of it.

Now that said, I will squarely disagree with most of the advice provided so far. I find that plumbers bid the project by counting the number of fixtures, and then putting a cost/fixture and voila, the bid is fast and easy. The electricians bid the project by square footage with upcharge for ceiling fans and complex fixtures. The HVAC techs bid the project by tonnage of HVAC needed. The carpenters bid the project by square footage of wall, square footage of floor, the number of doors they install, and the number of windows they install. The foundation installers count the number of linear feet of foundation. So in theory lining up bathrooms for common plumbing walls, minimizing electrical wiring, and all of the advice is good, in practicality it is simply not applicable in the residential construction world, at least locally. The trades like to complete bids quickly, and their systems allow them to do just that.

So while I did consider the trades while designing my house, and all of the trades appreciated the consideration, none of them actually reduced their standard pricing to accomodate that my job was easier than "typical." However they all commented on how nice it was to work on a project such as this. Now if you are building many copies of the same house, then yes you can squeeze your costs out by using the same subcontractors on subsequent builds and using that as leverage to fine-tune their bid process. For one copy of your house, it isn't going to happen.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/17/2007

I'll grant you that the PITA factor is critical, actually working for an O-B is a PITA factor that you will face first-off. Which is one reason I recommend getting a GC license, that way you can represent that you are a GC working on your own house, not an O-B. However you still need to use their language, and represent that you really do know a thing or two about construction, so this avenue is not for everyone. As to the question that will obviously come up along this route (why aren't you using your normal subs/suppliers), I answer that I am not sure my normal subs/suppliers are giving me the best value, so I am shopping them this time since its my own house I can afford to take some time to screen some new subs/suppliers. But this is another topic entirely, so let me apologize for the scope creep and get back to the topic at hand.

I think the main reason is that these are essentially "custom" houses. They may be very similar to that tract house across the street, but to a new subcontractor they are something they have never seen before. Think about learning something complex yourself. The first time it takes you much longer to do it, the second time you can do it in about half the time, and the third time you really get some efficiency. This is no different than your plumber, the first time he sees the house he has to think about where the DWV is going, where the water lines are going, what quantities of each. Now if he sees that house again (tract house, regular subcontractor for a builder), the second time he knows exactly where those DWV and water lines are going, and exactly how much material he needs from the supply house, and when he needs that material delivered. You can see the second time he may get you a better bid, because his material prices are better sorted and his work is better defined. Now then the third time he sees that same floor plan, he is even more efficient as now he knows which tools he needs to unload each day, and not just materials. This is the same for all of the trades, the HVAC tech can perhaps get his ductwork shop-built next time since he has better dimensions, the electrician knows exactly what it will take, the carpenter know exactly what lumber he needs and when it needs to be staged. Efficiency and cost savings comes from repetition, not from a single construction job. And if I am building many copies, as the GC I make some adjustments after the first build to make it easier still.

Build one copy with all new subcontractors, and you are essentially building a prototype. I tend to think this is the largest factor on why we pay unit-price bids, and not bids truly based on ease of installation or minimizing materials. However once the trades get into the project, they appreciate the extra touch that good design work affords them. Passing the savings on to you, you won't see it until you build that house again (and quickly while they still remember) and you won't see it really good untilo the third copy (and keeping them constantly employed). Efficiency is through repetition first, design second. However have a bad design, and the second time you build it your sub prices will go up, you will never gain efficiency through bad design.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 9/21/2007

Great question Wendy. While you certainly should minimize space, you don't want to minimize to the point of unusable. For example, I find that most garages around here are 20x20 for a two-car, and if you widen this to 12' wide for each bay you will gain tremendous utility and will appreciate this small touch greatly. So how do you figure?

I have a book titled, Building your Dream House, by William P. Spence (one of the very few books I actually purchased) that really goes through each and every room with ideas on size. The other book I would recommend purchasing is Better Houses, Better Living, which is available on this site (I have the older version, I understand the newer version is much improved although the old one was great) that will also take you one room at a time. I would also look at the Susanka books based on the "Not So Big House" understanding that Ms. Susanka's idea of not so big is really pretty large, still some good ideas she espouses although she doesn't seem to practice them entirely.

Believe me, those big McMansions that people are building and calling "Dream Homes" are not entirely so. Useable space, comfortable, good scale, are all much more liveable and dreamier (is that a word?). In the design state, are you working with an Architect? I find they have much better utilization of space and proper building scale than designers, but this is just my limited experience.


How Owner-Building Saves Money  >  Building a home in phases with a constr. loan?
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/23/2009

I was planning to do something similar to what Faye did, spend my money first and get a construction loan when I needed it. However my bank recommended not doing this - their reasoning was that they wanted to be the "first lien" on the house, and if there were other subcontractors and suppliers that were involved then they were not guaranteed this position. Also they explained that they wanted to see my involvement at 20% (either land value, which was free-and-clear, or cash), and if I spent my money I wouldn't have the 20% cash they were looking for. I came to understand that a partially-finished house is an asset only to me, to the bank it was a liability.

Further researching with other O-Bs, I found a person that had the same thought as me (use money first, get construction loan at later date when needed). He never got a construction loan for his house; a bank wouldn't touch a partially-finished house. He was lucky to get a signature loan to finish his house, and once finished, a home equity line of credit to pay off the unsecured signature loan. Interest rate on an unsecured signature loan is quite a bit higher than interest rate on a construction loan, and further isn't tax deductible.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/24/2009

I understand what you are saying, Faye (this was my original plan), but the bank I dealt with simply identified that they weren't willing to accept the risk. Their money, their risk. They are not obligated to give me a construction loan; their rules. I could have continued to shop for other banks to service the loan, but this bank was used by other O-B's and (as it turned out) several of my subcontractors.

You only pay interest on the money you borrow and not the amount of the construction loan, so having the loan open earlier rather than later didn't impede anything for me otherwise. And since I was a GC, I identified that I was building a model home that might not be sold for several years to eliminate the bank imposing any time constraints converting to a regular mortgage - this wasn't an uncommon request as they carried construction loans for other builders doing this. My bank sold the mortgage before my first payment, they only wished to service the construction loan and not the final mortgage, they only wanted an appraisal sufficient to sell the paper. YMMV.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 2/16/2006

Bill,

I found that with that paid invoice, as long as I also had a lien release, the bank wouldn't have problems allowing us to write a check to ourselves to cover the costs. 

I found some people willing to share and consult their expertise and help on weekends, and for these you will not get an invoice or lien release but cash is still required.  We drew from our own reserves, but at the end of the project we were allowed to write one last check to oursel