DeMotte Architects is a design firm based in Ridgefield, CT specializing in Residential Architecture serving Fairfield and Westchester Counties. The firm is known for creating homes and spaces of simplicity, grace & beauty, not being limited to a single style.
When planning an addition or a custom home, there are primarily 2 ways to go about doing this & each will be explained below.
Design / Bid / Build Process: This is the traditional route where an architect would be hired to design the project & do the construction drawings. A few builders would then be asked to bid on the project, which is known as “competitive bidding.” One builder would then be hired to build the project.
Design / Build Process: This is best explained as “one stop shopping.” 1 firm would be hired (which is typically a builder) who would design the project, do the construction drawings, & then build the project. Most design/build firms are builder-owned, not architect-owned. The builder has expanded his services to provide architectural services in-house. This is how it’s sold to clients & some find this attractive, but chances are they don’t understand the potential downside.
The Cons of Choosing Design / Build No Checks & Balances
The advantage of going the design/bid/build route is that 2 different firms are being hired to provide 2 very different services, & there are checks & balances that should take place that are critical to the success of any project. The builder should be responsible for keeping both the architect & client within the budget during construction, while the architect should be supervising the builder’s work to make sure it’s being done correctly, completely, & according to the construction drawings.
In the design/build scenario there’s no architect to oversee the builder’s work, as they’re essentially one in the same. As an analogy, this is like the fox guarding the hen house.
No Competitive Bids
In the design/build scenario, the client is hiring 1 firm to provide both the design services & the construction services. They’re essentially putting all their eggs in 1 basket from the very beginning of the project & have lost the ability to get bids from other builders to get the best value. They’re trusting that the builder will give them a fair, competitive price, but have no assurance & no way to compare the bid to others.
Quality of Design & Construction Drawings (Who’s actually doing the designing?):
All design/build firms handle this differently; some (but few) may be architect-led, some may have an architect on staff, some may have a “designer” or draftsman on staff, or some may hire this out to an outside firm (like an architect). The concern here is when it’s someone other than a licensed architect doing the design work.
There’s a reason why architects must go through a rigorous education, an internship followed by a licensing exam…followed up with continuing education requirements throughout their career. A draftsman or “designer” might be self-taught or had a minimal amount of education, but it’s doubtful that they’d be producing the same quality of work when it comes to both the design & construction drawings.
Should You Choose a Design/Build Firm?
Ideally, there should be 3 parties in the building process: the client, architect, & builder; and they should all have the same goal in mind – which is to design & build a great house. In my opinion, the design/build route is not in the best interest of the client if the architect is removed from the process. Hiring an architect & investing in the design phase is always money well spent as the design & construction drawings will guide the project that comes to life.
The typical homeowner/client knows so little about the process of designing & building a home, that they’re easily misled in many ways. That’s why it’s so important to work with a trusted team & know precisely what you’re getting into if you’re considering a design/build firm.
DeMotte Architects | Residential Architect | CT & NY
DeMotte Architects specializes in residential architecture & has been serving Connecticut and New York since 1990. For projects in Fairfield County CT, Westchester County NY, and surrounding areas, let’s connect.
In my many years of practice, this is a scenario that I come across quite often when first meeting with clients contemplating an addition. A family lives in a house for a while & then they start to outgrow it, as it no longer meets their needs in some respects…“we need more bedrooms, we need more living space, we need a bigger kitchen.”
They contemplate whether to stay in the house (which typically involves an addition & remodeling), or to sell & move. Being a third party with a lot of experience in this area, I often help them through this soul searching exercise. A big part of what architects do is creative problem solving, so I’m in a good position to help them assess the pros & cons of this scenario.
The typical scenario goes something like this:
We like our house, our property, the neighborhood & the town, but we’re outgrowing our house & it’s no longer meeting our needs. We’re trying to decide whether to stay & do what we need to make it work, or should we sell & move?
There are many factors that come into play in this decision, such as:
What’s the current value of the house, & how does that compare to buying another house, using the proceeds from the sale of the house along with the money you’re going to spend on improving it. A realtor could help you assess the value of your house by doing a comparative analysis (“comps”) & show you other houses that might meet your needs.
How much will it cost to build an addition & remodel the house to meet your needs? An architect or builder could help you analyze this.
What will the value of the house be once that work is done? A realtor could also help you assess this.
How much are my taxes going to increase? This is best answered by the local tax assessor, who should be able to approximate based on the proposed improvements.
Are you pricing yourself out of the neighborhood, being the most expensive house on the street? Some people are very concerned about this, while others are not.
How long do you plan on staying in the house? Is this a short term solution or a long term one? If you’re in it for the long haul, then it may make sense to stay.
Are the improvements being done primarily to solve your problems, or would this also be done with resale in mind? While you might need a 6 car garage, a future owner most likely won’t. Some projects definitely improve the value of the house more than others.
The Cost of Buying a House vs Building an Addition
What I typically recommend is that homeowners do their due diligence by looking at other houses to see what’s out there. Many times, people find this is a sideways move…they’re buying another house which might be slightly bigger, but also needs some work. While that work may just be cosmetic (such as remodeling outdated kitchens & bathrooms), it can still be expensive.
After going through this exercise, I find that most homeowners choose to stay in their house & do what’s necessary to make it work for them. Personally, I think it’s the combination of the many factors that attracted them to the house in the first place…the house, the property, & the neighborhood. It’s home & they have a lot of emotional investment in that, so many decide to stay.
Home Sweet Home
Contrary to popular belief, your house is primarily a home & is not an investment. If you plan on settling in & being there a while, you might choose to make it yours even if you won’t realize the full payback on resale. While you may not get back what you put into it, there’s something to be said for the enjoyment you’ve gotten out of living there & your quality of life.
For a couple with kids, this is surely a soul searching exercise that’s a life changing decision, not to be taken lightly. It’s ultimately your decision, but a good architect can help you filter through all the pros & cons.
DeMotte Architects | CT & NY Residential Architect
DeMotte Architects has been serving Connecticut & New York since 1990, helping to bring dream homes to life – for every style & every budget. Our work primarily consists of homes in Fairfield County CT & Westchester County NY. If you or someone you know is considering an addition or remodel, let’s connect. View our past projects & testimonials on Houzz.
As an architect who primarily designs houses, one of my main goals is to design & build a “better” house that’s also aesthetically pleasing.
What’s a “Better” House?
You may be wondering “What’s a ‘better’ house?” This is easily explained by simply looking at the building code. Building a house to “code” is like getting a “C” on a test…you passed, but barely. It’s not great, but it’s OK. This may be perfectly acceptable for some homeowners, as most are novices & have no idea that houses can be built to different standards.
As an analogy, look at cars…you could buy a Chevy or you could buy a Porsche. They’re both cars, but they surely don’t cost the same & they’re very different with regard to how well they’re made, the quality of materials used, how well they perform & how long they last. The saying “you get what you pay for “ definitely applies to cars as well as to houses.
Building To Code & Beyond
In all fairness, the building code is getting better with each new version (but they’re still behind the times). They’re forcing architects & builders to design & build houses that are structurally stronger & more energy efficient than they used to.
Building professionals have no choice but to at least meet the code required minimum standards, but that’s what many choose to do….just meet the standard. Meanwhile, there are other architects & builders who have higher standards, but unfortunately not all buy into this premise. Some will design & build marginally acceptable houses that just meet code, while others who have a higher standard want to build a better house for many reasons.
Some clients are more knowledgeable than others when it comes to building a better house, & it’s those who are that allow us to take the ball & run with it. Other times, I may ask clients if they have an interest in building a better house, which can be taken to different levels.
Unfortunately, building a better house typically costs more money which is usually a determining factor. Not everyone wants or needs a house built to “Passivhaus” standards, as it can become prohibitively expensive.
The key is finding the right balance between what you’d like to spend relative to what you’d like to achieve. There are numerous variations on how to build a “green,” “high performance,” “sustainable” or “eco-friendly” house.
While design is very subjective & is a matter of taste, building a “better” house can be more precisely defined such as:
·Building with more durable materials that will hold up over time
·Constructing an envelope that’s airtight, will manage water, & is well insulated
·Designing & installing a properly sized HVAC system with ducts within the “conditioned space”
·Installing mechanical ventilation to bring in fresh air (“HRV’s” or “ERV’s”)
·Selecting products that conserve energy
·Choosing materials that will not off-gas & contaminate indoor air
Collectively, these measures should result in a house that’s comfortable, durable, energy efficient, & healthy; which is what I would think most people want. These strategies can be taken to different levels such as good, better, or best – which have different price points.
Successful Implementation of Design
Meeting these goals requires teamwork; regardless of how well I design a house & specify what materials are to be used, it all comes down to the installation. The builder & his subcontractors play a critical role in the successful implementation of all of these strategies.
Done correctly, the end result should be a well designed & well built house. Done incorrectly, the house will most likely suffer from problems resulting in an unhappy homeowner. On a side note, this is another good example of why you should involve the architect during construction…to ensure the work is being done correctly.
As an architect, I’m always looking for good builders to work with…those that have the same philosophy who want to build a better house. Together we can provide a better level of service to our clients, who’ve invested their trust in us to design & build their home.
DeMotte Architects | CT & NY Residential Architect
DeMotte Architects has been serving Connecticut & New York since 1990, bringing ideas to life…for all styles & budgets. Our work primarily consists of homes in Fairfield County CT & Westchester County NY. If you or someone you know has a home project in mind, let’s connect.
Open Floor Plans Are Not For Everyone
I came across a Boston Globe article recently & it made me think about many of my past clients who wanted open floor plans. Some are happy with that decision, while others may regret it (even though they may not confess to it).
For many years now I’ve had some clients say “I want an open floor plan” on the first floor, whether it be just an interior remodel, a small addition or a custom home. While many older homes had well defined rooms with small openings between them, most people these days prefer to open these spaces up to each other.
Taken to an extreme you can eliminate most interior walls entirely, which is another story. With walls gone, you’ll have to define spaces in other ways – with furniture or changes to the flooring material or ceiling heights, which is surely possible.
Living With An Open Floor Plan
Most homeowners who want open floor plans haven’t lived in them, but they surely WANT one! I try to caution them, but they want what they want. What do I know, I’ve only been doing this for 30 years… Often clients find that once they move in and start living in the house – it’s too open!
One person may be in the kitchen with the TV or music on, & the other is in the adjacent family room “trying” to watch TV. Then the volume levels go up, trying to drown out the other one…or someone is turning something off to appease the other.
Another scenario is a 2 story family room (or one with a cathedral ceiling) that’s open to the second floor. If you have little kids, they’re in bed by 7, 8, or 9…and then you’re sitting quietly, whispering with the TV volume way down because you don’t want to wake them up. Forget about having people over…just doesn’t work if the kids are sleeping.
Now reverse the roles…your teenage kids are up until 12 (or later), & you’ve gone to bed at 10. I highly doubt they’ll have the same respect for you that you had for them when they were little.
The Truth About Open Concept Homes
The bottom line is – if you really want an open floor plan house, spend some time in one first. Make SURE you know what you’re getting into before you commit; consider your lifestyle along with your family’s.
That said, adding walls inside a house after the fact is surely easier than removing them. What’s your experience with open floor plan houses?
DeMotte Architects | CT & NY Architect | Fairfield County CT | Westchester County NY
For home renovations, additions, and new home builds in Fairfield County CT, Westchester County NY, and surrounding areas, let’s connect.
We’ve been working with clients in Connecticut & New York since 1990. View our past projects and testimonials on Houzz.
First time remodeling or having an addition built? First time working with a particular builder? Involving your architect for a few hours during construction can save you a lot of money in the long run & give you peace of mind.
Involving an architect during the construction phase can ensure that your project goes according to plan, literally. Unless a homeowner is familiar with the building process or has worked with his/her builder before, it’s smart to involve the architect during the construction phase to be sure the builder is following the architect’s construction plans.
Don’t Just Assume Everything’s Going to Plan
I’ve been practicing architecture for 30 years (view projects here) and have pretty much seen it all when it comes to construction. Good builders will follow my construction drawings to the letter and even go beyond the specs, while others seem to think the construction drawings are “suggestions” and proceed to do whatever they want. If I’m involved during construction, I can observe their work and confirm it’s being done correctly. If I’m not involved, all bets are off & you’re hoping the builder is following the plans & that you’re getting what you’re paying for.
The following story is a recent example of why a homeowner should involve the architect during construction:
A current client of mine with a project under construction, recently called me to do a site visit to check up on the builder (who I didn’t personally know). I specifically remember my client telling me that this builder was so much less expensive than others…now we both know why.
After walking through the job site and inspecting his work, I went back to my office & wrote a “field report” that documented all the mistakes I found:
Aluminum flashing was used where I had specified copper flashing. There’s a huge difference in price & quality, & flashing is not somewhere to cut corners.
The flashing was installed wrong, which would have led to a leaky roof. All flashing had to be removed & replaced.
There was no copper flashing at the roof valleys, which was specified. The roof shingles around all the valleys had to be removed so the copper valley flashing could be installed.
The headers above windows were specified as engineered lumber, but sawn lumber was used instead…which will shrink & lead to cracks in the sheetrock & interior trim. All headers had to be removed & replaced.
All windows were installed incorrectly, with no sill pan flashing. All windows had to be removed & reinstalled.
The house wrap was installed sloppily, not according to the installation instructions. The house wrap had to be installed correctly & then taped.
The seams in the “zip wall” sheathing were not taped, which is critical for it to be watertight. If not taped, it will lead to water leaks. The seams in the sheathing had to be taped.
It was clear to me that this builder was taking shortcuts by making material substitutions, without the client’s knowledge. He was substituting inferior, less expensive materials and pocketing the difference. It would be one thing if he proposed these substitutions to the homeowner to save him some money, but that wasn’t the case.
Once confronted with my field report, the builder apologized profusely to my client & proceeded to correct the mistakes at his own expense. I did a follow up site visit a few weeks later only to find that some of the mistakes were corrected, while other mistakes were not. At this point my client lost all faith in this builder, and he was let go. I’d put money on the fact that the builder was not planning on his work being inspected by me, and thought he could pull one over on the homeowner since I wasn’t involved.
Take Steps to Ensure Your Project is Successful
Most homeowners do not understand construction and have no idea what they’re looking at during the building process. They’re just happy to see something getting done and they assume it’s correct. While renovations and custom home projects are exciting, it’s important to work with professionals you know and trust. You should trust the builder, but sometimes that trust needs to be earned first. By the time construction starts, the 1 person who you should trust by then is your architect.
When you pay for a building permit, that fee is for many inspections they’re supposed to do during the course of construction. Unfortunately, just because the work got inspected & approved by the building inspector doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right (content for a future blog post!).
If I hadn’t been involved to provide an occasional site visit during construction, my client would have been taken advantage of by paying for materials that were not installed. He would have also paid for inferior work in terms of quality. There definitely would have been problems after the project was complete, which might take years to surface. Repairing a leaking roof and cracks in the sheetrock and trim would be very costly to repair later, at an additional cost.
For a few hours of my time, my client has the peace of mind that his project is built according to the construction drawings, which was confirmed by me. In my opinion, any money spent to involve the architect during construction is money well spent. This is just one of many stories…I’m sure there will be more.
To schedule a free consultation for your new home or home remodel project in Fairfield County CT, Westchester County NY, and surrounding areas, contact us or email email@example.com. In addition to our architectural services, we can also provide a list of our preferred builders that we’ve personally worked with successfully on multiple projects.
I don’t make it a habit to watch these home improvement shows, but my wife’s addicted so I occasionally get roped into watching a little. They’re all different but similar, and have a few things in common…completely unrealistic timelines, completely unrealistic budgets, and they glaze over the architectural phase.
Unrealistic Expectations on HGTV
The illusion these HGTV shows perpetuates is that you buy a house, wave a magic wand to come up with a design scheme, start construction immediately, and then get done in record time – for an amount of money that would barely cover a kitchen remodel in the area we live in (Connecticut and New York).
These shows give viewers a false sense of the time it takes to complete a project from start to finish. In reality, once you start to work with an architect you’re typically at least 4-6 months (or longer) away from starting construction, depending on what your project entails. If doing an addition or a remodeling project, it typically takes 3-4 months for the architectural phase…measure and draw the house, develop the design, and then complete the construction drawings. It may take the building department anywhere from 2-4 weeks just to issue a building permit.
If the project is being “competitively bid” among builders, that process alone takes 2 months. Once you pick a builder, you’ll then ask them for a contract which also takes some time. You might then have your lawyer review, which takes time as well.
For a new house, it could take even longer since there’s more time spent in both the design phase and construction drawing phase; it may be 6 months to a year before you start construction. If your project needs approvals from a Zoning Board, a Planning Commission, a Wetlands Commission, or an Architectural Review Board, you can be sure it will take even longer before you start construction.
Realistic Expectations of Building
The point to be made is that there’s an awful lot of work that must take place before construction ever begins, which most homeowners are completely unaware of. This is understandable because most homeowners are simply unfamiliar with the process.
These shows glaze over everything up until when construction starts…the architectural phase, the approval process, and the bidding process, which is very misleading. I’ll occasionally have clients call me (typically in spring) because they’ve been thinking about their project all winter. They’d like to start working with me in April, thinking they’re going to start construction in May. My response is “if you want to start construction in spring, we should have started on this last fall.” They’re taken by surprise when I tell them they’re 4-6 months away from starting construction.
The construction budgets I see on these shows are just not realistic; the amount of work being done relative to the amount of money being spent clearly does not reflect actual construction costs in this part of the country. Material costs don’t vary that much across the country, but labor costs surely do which drives up the cost per square foot. Even taking into account that labor rates may be lower in Mississippi or Alabama than New York and Connecticut, the numbers still don’t work.
It could be that a lot of materials being used on these shows are provided for free or at deep discounts in exchange for publicity, but that’s skewing the numbers heavily. I’ve occasionally had clients say that a project should cost $100/SF, because that’s what it cost on one of these shows. While you could build for $100/SF around here many years ago, that cost is now somewhere between $200-$300/SF and higher.
I think it’s safe to say the “original” remodeling show was “This Old House,” which is probably the only one that does any justice to the realities of both the architectural process and the construction process. The current shows seem to be more about the TV personalities and the drama created (which is most likely scripted).
While these shows have brought home design and interior design to the masses which is a good thing, I think they would serve a better purpose if they were just more realistic when it comes to the actual time frame and construction costs…while also giving a little more due respect to the architectural phase, which is the most important part of the project. After all, can a great project be realized without a plan?
Next time you’re watching HGTV, enjoy the show and take in the design inspiration, but remember that what you see on TV isn’t always real. To discuss your home addition, remodel, or new home project in Fairfield County CT, Westchester County NY, and surrounding areas – Contact DeMotte Architects today.
Believe it or not you will spend just as much time searching for a builder as you will to find an architect. There are several on-line services that will match home owners with builders in their area. These are helpful in that they pre-screen builders for legal and credit problems and when possible will check licenses, liability insurance, and references. You can also ask friends, Realtors, or your local home builders association for the names of builders in your area. Whatever route you take to get names of builders, you still have to go through the long arduous process of deciding on one that’s right for you.
In your initial phone call, ask the builder what kind of houses he usually builds and what size budget he typically works with. If he says a million dollars and you can spend only a third of that, ask him if he’s comfortable working at a smaller scale. You’re not giving away the ranch at this stage by giving him a ballpark figure of what you can afford and what size house you want to build. If your project is too modest and he’s not interested, you’re saving everyone’s time by learning this at the outset.
When you meet the builder face to face the first thing you need to do is size up the personality mix. You will be working very closely with the person for 6 months to a year and the project will be very stressful at times, so you need to get along. He will have a portfolio of finished projects, similar to the architects. You should look it over very carefully for both style and substance, and consider these questions:
Does the builder have a variety of styles? If he has only one or two it maybe that he’s not comfortable building anything else. If you want something substantially different, he may be unable to deliver it. If he has worked with a variety of styles he may be very comfortable tackling anything and be willing to build what you want. This is your judgment call.
What size house does he routinely build? If he’s used to building houses that are 2500 SF or less and you want one that’s 10,000 SF, the detailing and logistics will be different. Ask him how he would handle a difference of this magnitude.
When you look at the builder’s portfolio ask him how much each house cost. You’ve already given him a ballpark figure of your budget in your first phone call; now ask whether or not he could build something similar for you. You may resist telling him what your true budget is, but if the builder doesn’t know your constraints as well as your goals, he can’t deliver a realistic price or product. It’s a waste of time if the builder develops a project and works up a budget for a house you can’t afford to build.
When the inevitable cost-per-square-foot question is posed, don’t be surprised at the inevitable response, “it depends”. Square foot prices may range from $200/SF up to $800/SF, all depending on materials & finishes inside & outside the house. The builder should be able to provide some parameters so that you can correlate the house size and the finishes you want with your budget.
How soon can he start your project? If he says six months, give him credit for being candid, but keep looking if you want to start sooner.
Does he carry liability insurance that includes errors-and-omissions coverage? This is an important protection for both you and the builder and you should stipulate that an insurance policy be maintained for the duration of the project.
How many houses does he build at one time? If he says more than three ask him how big his operation is and how many people are working for him. A custom-home project requires keeping track of endless details and scheduling subcontractors and deliveries of materials. If the builder has only a skeleton crew, building more than three houses at a time could mean the builder is stretching himself very thin.
To get a true comparison among builders, ask each one for a standard specification sheet. It should list brand names, model numbers, and other descriptive information for every material. Note that many items will be listed as “allowances”, meaning that the builder allocates a specified dollar amount in the budget and you select the item yourself. Ask what kind of allowance items you can expect with your budget. Would the ceramic tile be a grade that goes for $4/SF or one that is $20/SF? Would the kitchen cabinets be custom, semi-custom or stock? Which cabinetmaker does he regularly specify?
Many people find that going through the process of selecting everything can get overwhelming. Does the builder offer help in making selections? Does he accompany you to suppliers?
If you have any promising candidates after your initial meetings, get lists of their former clients, contact several, and arrange to see the builder’s work. Seeing a portfolio is helpful, but seeing a completed house is so much more informative. Be sure to be thorough and ask the following questions:
Did you like the builder?
Did your house cost what you expected?
Were his allowances adequate to get what you wanted?
Did you feel his costs were adequately monitored throughout the process?
Did he answer questions promptly?
Were you able to resolve disputes amicably?
Was he there everyday to check the job?
Did he come back to fix things after you moved in? This is an important point because every house will require minor adjustments after completion.
Selecting the right builder is not easy, and should be done carefully. Construction should be fun, but it can also be trying at times. The construction process is an emotional roller coaster, and having the right builder will make it all that much easier to deal with.
Once your architect is done with the construction drawings, the next step is to file for the building permit while also simultaneously giving the drawings to builders for estimates. While you could simply give each builder a set of construction drawings & ask for an estimate, there are flaws to that approach. The problem with only providing construction drawings to bid from is that each builder will provide a written estimate in their own format, and each format will be different (along with their own inclusions & exclusions), as is customary to how they typically work. Each builder will also be making assumptions on the values of all the materials not yet selected by you (known as “allowances”), which will also create discrepancies within the bids. In this scenario, it will be difficult to compare the bids on a level playing field.
The best approach is to provide a standardized “Bid Form” which levels the playing field among the builders, helping you to evaluate the bids & then pick the builder who will give you the most value. This can save you a significant amount of money by insuring that you’re getting the best price relative to other comparable bids.
Invitation to Bid Forms:
The “Invitation to Bid” forms are used to supplement the construction drawings once they are ready to be released to builders for estimating.
The Bid Form is essentially a standardized form give to each builder & they are asked to enter values into each line item, including their profit & overhead. The Bid Form also takes all the guess work away from the builders for all of the “allowances”, which are those items not yet selected by you (such as cabinets, plumbing fixtures, tile, carpet, flooring, etc.) Between us, we will establish those values so each builder is not guessing at what those materials may cost.
By evaluating all of the itemized line items asked for in the Bid Form, you can create a spread sheet & easily compare the values for each, which will alert you to any discrepancies. You can then ask the builders to clarify their intent, in which case one builder might have overlooked something or included something that should have not been in the scope of work. Two builders might have been providing very different HVAC systems in terms of quality and price point, and you could ask each to bid on the same exact system.
As an example, out of four bids you may narrow it down to two builders, and then go back to those two builders and ask them to clarify certain issues and values of their bid. They may then revise and resubmit their bid, at which point you’re assured that both builders are bidding on the exact same scope of work.
Once a builder is chosen, he would be asked to submit a contract. Each builder has a standard contract, but they all vary. Some are very simple and are one sided, not being fair to you and do not include many of the things that should be addressed in a construction contract. The preferred contract is one of the many versions of the AIA (American Institute of Architects) contracts, with a rider attached which cover additional issues. The contracts and riders are typically done by a lawyer, but your architect should also review the contract as well on your behalf to make sure it is fair to you.
Note that while you are asking the builders for a lump sum price, there are other ways to hire a builder such as on a “time & material basis” also known as “cost-plus”. There are pros and cons to each, but there is another way which is know as “cost-plus a fixed fee”, which is explained in the attached article. This is a fair contract structure which has a fair balance of risk & reward for both parties involved.
Keep in mind that builders should be evaluated on price, quality, service & your comfort level with them, but all too often price is the determining factor. While the lowest bid is often attractive, you must evaluate if you’re compromising or sacrificing on quality & service, and how important those are to you. And remember that you will be working with your builder for up to and sometimes over one year so you must take into consideration the mix of personalities involved in this process.
The following concepts can be used in whole or in part to provide a house that:
• Doesn’t squander scarce non-renewable resources (oil, gas, old growth trees).
• Doesn’t harm the environment
• Is free of toxic chemicals, dust, pollen, bacteria & allergens
• Reduce utility costs & reduce maintenance
• Geothermal heat pumps (provides heating and cooling at a fraction the cost of conventional systems, but are the most expensive).
• High efficiency HVAC equipment (SEER rating: +14)
• Spray foam insulation (open cell or closed cell, soy bean based)
• Wet spray cellulose insulation (85% recycled content: newspapers)
• Cotton (old denim) batt insulation (natural fibers with no allergens)
• Energy recovery ventilation (ERV) system
• Tankless water heater
• Solar water heater
• Programmable thermostats
• Air sealing the building envelope
• High performance windows (double or triple glazed with low E glass)
• Energy Star appliances & lighting
• Drought resistant landscaping (reduce water use)
• Rainwater collection (reuse water for lawn & plant watering)
• Dual flush toilets (saves 7000 gallons/year)
• “WaterSense” rated plumbing fixtures (by the EPA)
• Hot water recirculating pumps activated by motion sensors (significant water & energy savings)
Renewable Energy Sources:
• Geothermal heat pumps
• Solar hot water heating (generates electricity and/or hot water)
• Wind power (generates electricity)
Site Planning & Site Preparation:
• Site work that minimizes environmental impact before & after construction
• Proper building orientation to maximize solar gain (passive solar)
• Erosion control
• Use natural/native landscaping (reduces water consumption)
• Plant trees for summer shade
• Use of permeable paving materials to minimize water runoff
• Smaller building footprint
• Locally appropriate design
• Deep overhangs to reduce summer heat gain
Indoor Air Quality:
• Whole house balanced ventilation system
• Prevent pollutant sources (non-toxic, formaldehyde free materials)
• Electrostatic air cleaners (trap 99% of pollen & mold spores, 98% of bacteria sized particles, 94% of respirable dust & 80% of virus-sized particles)
• Radon mitigation
Construction “Best Practices”:
• Air sealing the building envelope
• Water managed detailing (“rain screen” walls, flashing, etc).
• Use of recycled & salvaged materials (i.e. wood timbers)
• Use of sustainable materials (i.e. bamboo flooring)
• Non-toxic, formaldehyde-free materials (i.e. plywood, insulation, cabinets)
• Lumber: engineered lumber (saves old growth forests)
• Siding: fiber cement siding, cedar clapboards or shingles
• Roofing: shingles made from recycled plastic, stone coated metal roofing,
• Decking: wood composite decking (i.e. “Trex”)
• Paint: low or zero VOC paints & water based paints or stains
• Flooring: FSC certified wood flooring, bamboo, cork, linoleum, carpet made of recycled plastic.
• Electrical: CFL or LED lights
Sources for green certification:
• Energy Star (energystar.gov)
• Forest Stewardship Council (fscus.org)
• WaterSense (epa.gov/watersense)
• Ecologo (ecologo.org)
• Greenguard (greenguard.org)
• Green Seal (greenseal.org)
• Green Products 3rd Edition: The Greenspec Guide to Residential Bldg. Materials
• Greenspec-listed products available online @ www.buildinggreen.com/menus