Monday, December 17, 2007

Bidding Projects

Today, after gathering bids from sub-contractors, it was time to fine-tune my total bid for the aforementioned 3 phase project. While the uninitiated may feel this is when the builder really starts envisioning the huge profits and that 2nd home in Tahiti, I really find the opposite to be true. This is the time for second guessing. Is my pricing spot on or is it high (or is it too low). With the state of the economy in Michigan and elsewhere, competition is fierce and ruthless. The additional pressure for the Green Builder on pricing jobs is the perception that Green inevitably is more expensive. It really comes down to choices and the decisions that the client makes. 
  • Is a well insulated job that costs more initally better than a less insulated house (or addition or basement finish) that costs the client more each month?
  • Is it better to spend a little more for low or no-VOC paints and finishes or buy cheaper paints and then wonder why everyone is coughing and hacking. That "new home smell" isn't really good for us. This is also true for carpets (Naturals vs Synthetics), pads, wood products, and furniture/cabinets that have chipboard components.
  • Is it better to protect the house structure under the siding or trust that horizontal rain or snow won't get in and cause problems like dry rot and mold. Caulk alone won't protect your investment. I've repaired and replaced too many exterior doors/windows and their underlying structures to know that isn't true.
  • Is an investment in a ventilation system that exchanges inside air/outside fresh air at the proper rate too much to spend?
  • Are Energy Star appliances worth the extra cost?
  • Are water saving shower heads, faucets and toilets really needed here in N. Michigan where we have all these lakes and rivers?
  • Is a quiet bath fan, that the client will use, a must-have?
  • Is bamboo flooring greener than local sustainably-harvested maple?
  • Is money better spent on quality windows or should the client get granite?
The key is that the client needs to really think about their investment. I truly feel if the client wants an exceptional job done well, that lasts, and won't give them a reason to worry about the future, the answer to all of the above is obvious. The Green Builder needs to educate, inform and advocate for the products and practices that will best balance the client's aesthetics, wants and needs.  

Friday, December 14, 2007

Decking the halls with TREX

I just had a proposal accepted for a deck that will have a TREX deck (and Bench) surface.  This deck will be 14' x16' with chamfered corners so that steps come off one of these and a bench can wrap around on three sides. Now, I've just got to get the weather to cooperate. I've worked with TREX before and haven't had any problems with it. I did a BIG deck, 1200 sq. feet, a couple of years ago that had Crosstimbers composite decking and that was a real nightmare. This material is very temperature sensitive so it expands/contracts alot and because it is fastened with clips that fit in a grooves on the side it also suffers from "deck-creep". We fastened all ends with surface screws and spaced it appropriately for the installed temperature and it still was a problem. The deck has a glass rail and all the corners were pulled/pushed apart. Elk Corp., who makes the product, was really great about diagnosing the problem. They sent one of their Tech guys to Northern Michigan and had me tweak a few things and we fixed it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

December Projects

I'm currently working with homeowners on a 3-phase project. 
  • Finish off basement into family room with 3/4 bath. 
  • Finish existing attached garage to expand small dining room and living room. It will also have a mudroom and bring the laundry group up to the 1st floor.
  • Bump-out a new garage in such a way to create a L-shaped ranch.
This project started as a 2nd story addition on top of the existing garage, finishing off said garage and adding a new garage out front of the existing. My suggestion to the clients was that they had an existing space in their home that they weren't using, this space was uninsulated and was contributing to higher energy bills. Let's do the basement! They've agreed!

The greening of this project will encompass:

  • Build up floor in basement with DriCore floor panels to get flooring (and feet) off of cold and (in summer), damp cement.
  • Insulating block walls with 1" white foamboard (r-3.6) on top and sides of wall. This will seal, insulate and allow any moisture to dry to the inside. All joints to be caulked.
  • 2 x 4 wall on 2' centers on treated plate .
  • Insulate stud space with blown-in cellulose. (r-
  • This insulating of the basement should be done anyway-This just gives the homeowner a great excuse.
  • Paperless drywall in 3/4 bath.
  • No-VOC paint, stain and finish.
  • Egress window to provide more natural light and escapability.
Finish Garage:
  • Utilizing a space that has a footprint, walls and roof is a great way to minimize the construction process. We don't need to excavate the lot for comparable space, no framing or roofing materials. We'll build the floor up level with house with Trusjoists and 3/4" OSB. Minimal interior partitions will be needed. We will need to provide for attic ventilation with soffit/ridge vent. We will, of course, be minimizing waste as well.
  • No-VOC paints, stains and finish.
  • Insulate with blown-in cellulose, walls will have 3.5", ceilings 12-16"

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Green built Philosophy

The time has come for us as Building contractors, sub-contractors , vendors and homeowners to acknowledge the need for and the pursuit of the philosophy of building green. Our environment demands nothing less. We must embrace energy efficiency. We must utilize alternative sources of energy. It makes sense for our customers to enjoy life in their homes without fear of their next utility bill or whether their homes can withstand rain, snow and wind.

How do we get there? With education we can improve the homes we live in, the quality of life and the environment. All it takes is common sense and the commitment to Green Building. Here are the 6 guidelines that lay out the way to approach a project.

Lot Preparation and Design - Even before the foundation is poured, careful planning can reduce the home’s impact on natural features such as vegetation and soil; and enhance the home's long-term performance. Such preparation can provide significant value to the homeowner, the environment, and the community.

Resource Efficiency -  Advanced framing techniques and home designs can effectively optimize the use of building materials. There should be an effort to reduce construction waste by efficient use of building products, recycling unused materials and where possible use recycled contents products.

Energy Efficiency – This is the most quantifiable aspect of green building. The information in this section will help a builder create a better building envelope and incorporate more energy efficient mechanical systems, appliances, and lighting into a home, yielding long-term utility bill savings and increased comfort for the homeowner.

Water Efficiency/Conservation - Although, the relative importance of water availability and usage varies from region to region, the concern with adequate supply is becoming more widespread geographically. Experience also shows that employing the line items from this section of the Guidelines for indoor and outdoor water use can reduce utility bills, regardless of location.
Occupancy Comfort and Indoor Environment Quality - Effective management of moisture, ventilation, and other issues can create a more comfortable and healthier indoor living environment.
Operation, Maintenance and Education - Given the level of effort a home builder goes through to create a well thought out home system, it would be a shame not to give the home owner guidance on how to optimally operate and maintain the house. Line items from this section show a builder how best to educate homeowners on the features of their new green home.            Thanks to NAHB’s Voluntary Model Green Home Building Guidelines 

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

It all starts here!

Let me begin with just a few words about the concept of green building. As in most things in life there are varying degrees of "greenness" and I think every degree is good. There are those that feel they should only build with straw bale construction or recycled tires, to those that can only swap out their incandescent bulbs for florescent. Whatever you can manage is going to help your pocketbook and the environment.
I've been building and remodeling homes in northwest Michigan for 14 years. I didn't always build green, I'm reluctant and a little ashamed to admit. There have been practices and procedures that I've gradually added to my business without realizing they were green. It just was common sense. On remodeling projects I've reused materials (ie. torn out studs) on the same project or the next one. Removed windows, cabinets, sheeting etc. can be taken to a local resale shop. Last year on a deck remodeling project we removed 800 sq. feet of 2x4 treated decking and stacked for future projects. The homeowner was pleased that she didn't have to pay for the landfill expense and wasn't contributing to more environmental degradation. She has projects in mind for that stacked lumber too.
What I plan to do with this Blog:
Part of my job as a contractor is to educate my clients on the best practices, products and procedures for any given project. I hope to continue here. I'll be sharing links to sites that are green in philosophy and have green products. Comments and questions are welcome.