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The Multi-Generational Home

These amenities will make the home more comfortable for all family members

Anyone planning a new home might want to consider age demographics. For instance, recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau projects the over-65 population growing from 47 million in 2015 to 71 million by 2030, and most older people who answered a 2016 survey by Home Advisor said they intended to stay in their homes as long as possible. These trends mean that a growing number of households will include multiple generations.

While most older homes weren’t designed for an aging population, it’s not difficult to make a new home accessible.

The word “accessibility” makes some people imagine wheelchair ramps and institutional grab bars, but the truth is that a well-designed multi-generational space feels like a home, not a hospital. There are many creative ways to make a home feel welcoming to everyone, and as a bonus, accessible features provide an edge in the market when it’s time to sell.

With this in mind, here are some features to consider for any new home:

An easy entry. Your builder can create a “zero step” entry by gently sloping a landscaped walkway from the driveway to an exterior door. It’s an attractive alternative to a wheelchair ramp, and–if well designed–will look like a convenience, not an accessibility requirement.

A ground floor master suite. Budget permitting, this belongs at the top of the priority list. The suite’s bath needs a shower with a tile floor that’s flush with the bathroom floor, so that users don’t have to step over a curb to get in and out. As for grab bars, the big plumbing manufacturers now offer models with looks that match specific fixture lines, so they blend in seamlessly.

The suite can also serve as a convenient office, den or guest room. If the bath’s design includes two doors (the second from an adjacent common area), it can double as a guest bath.

36-inch doorways. In many homes, the only wide doorway is the main entry, but a true multi-generational home will have wide doors throughout so that a walker or wheelchair user can reach every room. As an added advantage, wide doors make it possible to move large pieces of furniture that might not fit in a room with a 30-inch opening.

Lever door handles. Levers benefit older people with arthritic fingers, but they will also be appreciated by anyone who needs to get into the house while carrying an armful of groceries.

Visual contrast. Besides making life easier for someone with poor vision, good lighting and strong color contrast between wall and floor surfaces make for a more interesting space. The interior designer can arrange these contrasting elements to evoke nearly any mood, from joyful and energetic to subdued and serene.

Smooth, non-slip flooring. Eliminating carpet makes it easier for someone with a wheelchair or walker to get around, but it also helps keep dust and other indoor pollutants out of the air. Non-slip tile reduces anyone’s chance of slipping in the shower.

Amenities like these will enhance any home, but what if a family member has a permanent injury or a progressive illness? In that case, the professional builder can work with an occupational therapist. This medical professional has the training and experience needed to evaluate the client and to help the builder customize the space to have the right features for today and tomorrow. A custom feature could be something as simple as putting plywood backing behind the drywall in the exact spots where that particular person will likely need a grab bar in the future.

The bottom line? Nowadays, there’s no reason not to have a house that feels like home to everyone.

Estimating Time

The work of building a price and schedule for your custom home is a project in itself.


There’s a reason that quality project estimates don’t happen overnight. Every home is a collection of thousands of individual components that range from large-scale assemblies like walls and roofs to small items like doorknobs and faucets. The builder has to consider every one of these elements when projecting what it will cost in time and materials to complete the home. How long this takes varies by project type. For instance, a production builder that builds the same plan over and over will be able to generate estimates on the spot in its design center. That’s because even though the company offers some options to buyers, it’s really mass-producing a cookie-cutter product.

Custom homes are different because each one is unique. An estimate for a simple custom home can easily require 40 hours of staff time, and even more if it’s a complex architectural design. The logistics of getting the estimate done means those hours will likely be spread out over several weeks. The builder needs to calculate the time and expense for everything from having the plans reviewed by permitting agencies to framing the shell and installing the roof, mechanicals, interior finishes and landscaping. Assembling all these numbers is a massive project that requires experience, knowledge and organizational skills. And, of course, time.

In addition, the builder needs to ensure that the products being priced for the home are the ones the customers want and that the budget will support. In many cases, this means investing time to complete the plans and clarify the product specifications, or specs. People come to the table with dramatically different assumptions about costs, so the builder needs to clarify these assumptions. For instance, the home’s overall quality level may indicate that it’s safe to base the fixture allowance on standard brushed-nickel faucets, until a discussion reveals that the homeowners are imagining something more expensive. This clarifying work may need to be done for every line item in the estimate. The builder also needs to solicit prices from each trade subcontractor that will work on the home, from the excavator to the plumber and painter. This can be the most time-consuming part of the estimate. If getting the subcontractors’ bids in house weren’t enough of a challenge, those bids also need to be put under a microscope. That’s because the builder needs to make sure that subcontractors’ estimates are realistic. For instance, if a drywall bid seems low, the builder has to know enough to ask the drywall contractor how many sheets the estimate was based on, and someone on the builder’s staff needs to check those calculations. When asking for bids from 30 trade subcontractors, it’s not unheard-of for one or two to submit inaccurate bids because they were busy and needed to get their estimate to the builder on deadline. That’s why bids must be carefully reviewed.

All this work is about getting the estimate right. Taking the time to do a thorough and accurate job today will save time, expense and headaches tomorrow. It’s an area where patience pays real dividends. Call Timberlake Design/Build today to explore your custom home options!

How Builders Help Ensure Health and Comfort

Optimized heating and cooling is critical in a modern home.

Everyone wants their new home to be comfortable, healthy and energy-efficient. Professional builders satisfy these expectations with high insulation levels, careful air sealing and optimized heating and cooling systems. In fact, few homeowners realize that with today’s construction methods, their health and comfort depend more than ever on how the contractor chooses the mechanical equipment.

The most important pieces of equipment are the furnace and air conditioner. Unlike on a tropical island, where mild temperatures allow windows to be open much of the year, physical comfort in our local environment depends on having a furnace and air conditioner of the right size.

In the past, mechanical contractors used rule-of-thumb guidelines to match the equipment to the house. A lot of contractors still do this. For example, a guideline might be 30 BTUs of heating capacity per square foot of living space, or one ton of cooling per 500 square feet. The rule wasn’t very precise, but a drafty old home would lose much of the conditioned air to the outside anyway, so imprecision was no big deal.

Today’s efficient new homes leak less air and thus need less heating or cooling capacity, so rule-of-thumb sizing will likely give you a bigger furnace or air conditioner than you need.

But isn’t bigger better? Not in this case–in fact, it’s just the opposite.

An oversized furnace can actually make an efficient home less comfortable by excessively heating some rooms before the warmed air can reach the thermostat. An oversized air conditioner can cool things down so fast that it shuts off before the equipment has time to dry the air to a comfortable level, leaving the house feeling cold and clammy. No one will be happy, except perhaps the mold and mildew growing in the bathroom or behind the refrigerator, or the dust mites and other allergens that breed faster at higher humidity. That’s bad news for anyone who breathes.

Good mechanical contractors eliminate these problems by using only the most accurate sizing protocols. The most common of these, Manual J from the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, figures the exact amount of heating and cooling needed by considering all of the home’s features: air leakage rates, insulation levels, the type and square-footage of roofing and siding, the model and orientation of each window, the dimensions of soffit overhangs, and other data.

In the past, these measurements and calculations took a lot of time, but today’s mechanical contractors have the advantage of sophisticated software. Such programs eliminate much of the work by, for instance, automatically calculating the solar gain and average seasonal temperatures using data from Google maps, the local building code, and other online databases. The builder and mechanical contractor can then revise the numbers and make any adjustments needed to account for the home’s unique features.

These software programs also help the contractor size the home’s ductwork and choose registers that distribute just the right amount of air to each room without noise or drafts.

Accurate sizing is one reason that professional builders work only with top-notch mechanical contractors. In fact, the mechanical contractor is a crucial team member–a trusted advisor who understands that energy-efficient construction is an opportunity to use measured data to optimize comfort and health.

Helping You Breathe Easier

How professional builders create a healthy indoor environment.

If you have questions about how healthy your new home will be, you’re not alone. A March 2016 paper by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University detailed a nationwide study that asked 2200 people whether they had concerns about their indoor environment. Nearly half expressed some worry, and the issue cited most often was indoor air quality, or IAQ.

Those results are what we would have expected. Energy codes are mandating nearly draft-free homes at the same time that manufacturers are introducing more synthetic materials and chemical-based finishes. When you add high-profile media coverage to the mix—like dozens of news stories in 2009 about drywall imported from China emitting hydrogen sulfide gas, and a 2015 CBS 60 Minutes segment about formaldehyde emissions from imported laminate flooring—people naturally want assurances.

The good news is that today’s professional builders take their responsibility for good IAQ very seriously. They spend time educating themselves on the issue. They carefully choose materials. And they make sure the home’s mechanical system is engineered to deliver the needed fresh air.

Knowledge and Experience

When it comes to materials choice, experienced builders have a big advantage because they have taken the time to test manufacturers’ claims. A 2010 review of residential building product information put out by Lawrence Berkeley Lab found “no consensus” in how manufacturers certify chemical emissions, and the situation hasn’t improved since then. Pros know enough to go beyond the labels by keeping careful records about customer satisfaction and analyzing that data to confirm which products don’t cause health complaints.

As for the building shell, a tightly built, energy-efficient home may have better air quality than an old, drafty one because it gives the mechanical system more control over the indoor environment. The pro will ensure that your home maintains good air quality by specifying that mechanical ventilation replaces stale interior air with fresh outside air at a predictable rate.

Hidden Health Factors

While material choice and ventilation play obvious roles in IAQ, there are two other factors most homeowners don’t think much about: the size of the mechanical equipment and the ductwork. Heating and cooling equipment that’s properly sized, with carefully installed ductwork, will use less energy and deliver better air quality. For instance, while an oversized air conditioner will keep the home cool on a muggy summer day, it won’t remove enough humidity. And ducts with leaky transitions that run through an unconditioned basement, attic or garage can draw mold, insulation fibers or chemical fumes into the living space.

The professional builder avoids such problems by hiring a top-notch HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) subcontractor. The HVAC pro uses the latest software to match the mechanical system to the home’s heating and cooling needs and makes sure the system is correctly sized with properly sealed ducts.

The bottom line is that a new custom home is an opportunity to create a healthy indoor environment. The smart homeowner will choose a professional builder with a track record of making sure this happens.

How Much Will it Cost?

Home pricing is a complex subject. Here’s how we answer the most common question.

A question we get from a lot of potential clients is “What’s the per-square-foot cost of your homes?” Some clients arrive armed with numbers gleaned from Internet articles. Others quote realtors who appraise and advertise houses by the square foot.

It’s an understandable attempt to simplify a complex subject—but when it comes to custom homes, this approach is too simple.

Production builders do often price homes by the square foot. What the potential client may not have considered, though, is that these companies are simply product manufacturers. They build the same plans over and over. Like car manufacturers, they offer relatively few models and limit the number of options available for each. This allows them to calculate the cost of each model and option to the dollar, leaving little to the imagination.

Custom building is different. While professional custom builders rely on proven, scientific management systems to finish a home on time and budget, creating an accurate budget is as much craft as science. No responsible builder will quote a per-square-foot price without more information, because doing so would risk misleading the client.

That’s because a custom home is not a product; instead, it’s the physical realization of a particular client’s dream on a specific site. Because each client’s dream is unique, the only way to estimate the cost of its realization is to ask some follow-up questions.

These questions start with checking assumptions about what the client means by square footage. Do their assumptions include the garage, or the unfinished basement or attic space? Also, do they understand that prices for excavation, utilities, permits, and engineering vary greatly, depending on the site and the jurisdiction in which they want to build?

Once the assumptions and variable costs have been clarified, we ask for a general overview of the home they’re envisioning. Is the floor plan complex or simple? Is it a traditional two-story Colonial with a couple of dormers and intricate interior moldings or a modern structure with a flat roof, lots of glass, and minimal trim?

Finally, we need to define the level of interior finishes they want. Some people give a nondescript answer like “medium.” While that’s too general, it is a good place to kick off a more detailed conversation about expectations. A professional builder can help refine those expectations by starting with some easy questions, like the client’s preferences between two levels of plumbing fixtures, flooring, windows, or siding. The answers will tell us what to ask next.

After sorting through the topics above, we may be able to show them plans and photos for similar homes we have built in the past. And we can often provide a ballpark estimate of what it would cost to build that home with their finish specifications on their site.

The key word in the above paragraph is “show.” We can’t do this over the phone. The clients need to spend some time with us before we can offer a realistic idea of what they can get for their budget. Regardless of whether they ultimately decide to build with us, this is time wisely invested.