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How long will this take?

Builder’s hear this question a lot.  The answer, as with most such questions, is “it depends.”  But on what?

homeowner-and-builder

People who haven’t built before often have an unrealistic concept of how long it can take to plan, budget, and build a home. Many variables can affect the timetable:

Design

A stock plan the builder has previously built will take less time than afully custom home, even if the homeowners make some changes to that stock plan.  A custom home can take months to design and a year or more to build.  Some people see size as the best indicator of how long the project will take. Not so—cost is a far more accurate gauge. Imagine a pair of 2500-square-foot homes, one for $200,000 and another for $1 million. It’s a good bet that the latter will have a more complex design that will take longer to build.

Permitting

The legal approvals required before construction begins have multiplied over the years. Signoff will certainly be needed from the zoning board, the building department, the health department, the fire department and, when building in a planned community, the homeowners’ association. In some areas, design committees, historical commissions, water authorities, or other entities want their say as well. Not surprisingly, the wheels of these bureaucracies can move slowly, but an experienced builder should be able to estimate the time required to negotiate the red tape. Code requirements also have lengthened the process. For instance, in many jurisdictions, estimates of the home’s heating and cooling loads are now required before a permit is issued.

Site work

Is the lot in a flat subdivision with roads and utilities already in place, or is it a sloped rural parcel where the contractor will need to cut a road to the site, then excavate and fill to accommodate the foundation? The second site obviously takes more time (and requires more permits and approvals).

Keeping on track

Fortunately, there are things the homeowners can do to keep the job moving. These include taking deadlines seriously, providing details on how they will live in the home, and minimizing changes.

Agree on a timetable

Most busy architects and builders work hard to get things done promptly, but without firm dates things can slip. Homeowners should always be sure there’s a date for the next meeting and deadlines for the next steps. “The plans will be done in a couple of weeks” is vague. Compare that to “The plans will be ready on March 15,” which provides a clear understanding for all parties. On the other hand, homeowners who postpone scheduled meetings with the builder or architect will also throw off the timetable.

Think the home through.

The more detailed the plan, the less chance of hang-ups. For example, vague electrical plans can stop a project in its tracks. The homeowners need to think through where they want furniture and cabinets so that the architect can specify the right number of outlets. If artwork is to be displayed on a wall or above a fireplace, the architect needs to know it in order to specify the correct lighting. If the homeowners don’t drill down to this level of detail until the job is well underway, things can be held up while new wiring is installed or walls and ceilings are re-framed to accommodate it.

Minimize changes

Change orders are a huge time killer because they require lots of time to plan and coordinate. Changes made late in the design stage can extend design time; those made after project kickoff can extend build time.

The bottom line is that, if moving in by a certain date is a priority, the homeowners need to be absolutely clear with the builder about it, and need assurance that the builder is on board. Then the homeowners, builder, and architect can plan effectively to meet the date.

 

Cost control during your renovation.

Even small changes made after work begins can have surprising effects on the budget. Here’s why.

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Minimizing change orders is one of the most effective things homeowners can do to control costs. The reason is that seemingly small changes can have cost impacts beyond the builder’s control—costs that ultimately are borne by the customer.

We’re not talking about unscrupulous contractors who write vague specifications to create low bids and then nickel-and-dime clients with change orders to increase profits. We mean honest builders who write detailed specs and manage their jobs in a professional manner. It’s not unusual for customers of these builders to decide, after the project kickoff, that they want something different in part of the house.

The kickoff usually happens at the preconstruction meeting, where the builder and clients review the final product and design choices, and the clients sign off on those choices. After this meeting, purchase orders are generated and sent to all subcontractors and suppliers, setting firm prices for every part of the job. Any change that happens after that point will likely add cost.

How much cost? That depends not only on what is being changed, but also when. A common example is the clients who, after seeing the opening over the kitchen sink, decide they really want a bigger window. That decision will cost a lot less if they make it early, during the framing walkthrough. Once the window is in the opening and the insulation, drywall, and sink cabinet are installed, the change is more costly.

Less obvious are seemingly minor changes that have a ripple effect. These can multiply the cost of an item to several times what it would have been as part of the original specs.

For example, suppose the homeowners decide they want a pedestal sink in the powder room, rather than the small vanity they had chosen. The builder’s staff has to cancel the order for the vanity and possibly for a granite top. If those items have already shipped, the supplier will likely charge a restocking fee. The pedestal must be ordered from the plumbing supplier, taking additional time. If the hot and cold water pipes are already in place, the plumber has to move them, and the plumbing inspector has to inspect the change. If the wall has already been finished, the drywaller must be called back. This minor change may throw everyone’s schedule off by a week or more.

Every change also requires time from the builder’s staff—time to complete and track orders, to reschedule workers and subcontractors, and to update the budget. That’s why change orders include an administrative fee.

This explanation is not given to discourage important changes. Clients are entitled to make their home their own, and most clients decide to make at least some changes during construction. But they should do it with a clear understanding of the costs those decisions will bring when they are made after the specs have been written and the contract signed. It’s a reminder that making as many firm selections as possible up front is in the customer’s best interest.

“The Narrows has undergone a stunning renovation” – Capital Gazette

 

By Joshua McKerrow,
By Joshua McKerrow,

Timberlake Design/Build is pleased to have been selected to remodel an Annapolis-area dining institution – The Narrows in Grasonville, MD.  It’s turned out beautifully – and, of course, two things haven’t changed…the food is still delicious and the setting, spectacular!  Stop by and visit.  Read more here http://touch.capitalgazette.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-83313629/

By Joshua McKerrow,
By Joshua McKerrow,

Avoid Costly Mistakes

Most homeowners judge a home by the obvious: a floor plan that’s a joy to live in, a streetscape that wows passers-by, great natural lighting, and lots of storage. The list goes on. But some less obvious details have as great an impact on the homeowners’ satisfaction over time. While homeowners have little control over these details, a professional builder with a sustainable business will make sure they get done right. Some areas that require special care and the services of a seasoned professional include…

Timberlake Design/Build
Timberlake Design/Build

Steve Easley, a California-based building consultant who investigates moisture problems, sees the same errors again and again. Three common ones:

Horizontal Valleys

Such valleys include where a roof slopes into a chimney or wall. The detailing here needs to be close to perfect to keep water out. Lack of overhangs. In a Canadian study, 80 percent of examined homes with moisture in the walls had no roof overhang, making it easy for water to flow down the siding and into the wall. Improper housewrap. When water gets behind the siding, flashing and housewrap should direct it back out before it can get into the structure. Mistakes here are rampant. Take the example of a piece of flashing that laps over the one above it. Anyone with a basic grasp of gravity will understand that if water dripping down the wall hits this intersection, it will flow into the structure rather than out. Shockingly, building science experts say that it’s one of the most common errors they see in the field.

Mechanicals That Work

Modern heating and cooling equipment is very efficient, but efficiency doesn’t guarantee comfort. Equipment must be well sized and ducts properly sealed. Sadly, these aren’t always properly done. Some HVAC contractors still use rule-of-thumb calculations to size furnaces and air conditioners. That may have worked for old, drafty structures but with today’s tighter homes the result is often oversized equipment that costs more to buy and operate, and leaves the home less comfortable than it could be. Smart builders hire an HVAC company that carefully calculates the home’s heating load and precisely matches the system to that load. Another potential problem is leaky ductwork. If the leak is outside the main living area, such as in a basement, living and sleeping spaces won’t get the air they need. There will be resulting comfort issues, and the equipment will have to run longer to satisfy the thermostat. If ducts run through a totally unconditioned space—for example, a hot attic in summer—leaks will create a slight vacuum that pulls unwanted outside air into the house through leaks in the floors, walls, and ceilings.

Proper Insulation

When insulation is installed without enough attention to detail, the home can end up with hot and cold spots and uncomfortable drafts. John Tooley, a nationally known building science consultant and energy expert, says that the most common problem areas he sees are attic knee walls (A knee wall is a short wall, typically under three feet in height, used to support the rafters) and vaulted ceilings. In the former the insulation usually gets installed without backing and so falls away from the wall; in the latter it’s stuffed into the ceiling cavity, leaving heat-sucking voids. “Insulation has to touch the surface of the drywall to do its job,” he points out. “That’s obviously not happening in a lot of cases.”

The thread running through the situations above is that the builder lacked quality systems and processes to make sure insulation was installed right, mechanicals properly sized, ducts sealed, and the home protected against moisture. And if those tasks escaped scrutiny, chances are others did as well.