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3 Pillar Blog

Blog Category - Design

Building Success 101

Categories: Building Success 101, Design, Newsletter | Posted: December 12, 2017

Q: Which cabinet door costs more?

A: Doors and drawers fall into two general categories. Overlay styles lap over the cabinet frame at the edges, and inset styles sit flush to the frame when closed. Both include high-quality products, but the tighter tolerances required by the inset method tend to raise costs by 10 to 20 percent.

Counter Intelligence

Categories: Build Process, Design, Newsletter | Posted: December 5, 2017

Which of today’s best-selling countertop materials to choose for your new home? Here’s a short buyer’s guide.

Countertops have a lot to do with how pleasant your kitchen is to use and how easy it is to maintain. And of course, they play a big part in the first impression the space makes on visitors. It’s worth taking the time to choose the countertop materials that work best for you.

Homeowners have more choices today than ever, but let’s consider the four most popular materials: laminate, solid surfacing, granite and quartz. Each has strengths and weaknesses.

Laminate comes in several quality grades. Although most people may think first of the inexpensive grades common in rental units and entry-level homes, there are high-quality, preformed laminate counters with three times the durability and no edge seams. Homeowners can choose from a variety of colors and patterns, including some that mimic the look of stone. On the downside, even these better products can scratch and burn under some circumstances–damage that’s difficult or impossible to repair.

Solid surfacing has lost market share in kitchens but remains a top choice for bathroom vanities. Made from a blend of acrylic and polyester, solid surfacing can cost three times more than basic laminate, but it looks more stylish and doesn’t have any surface or edge seams. Homeowners can choose from a wide range of colors and patterns.

Although solid surfacing isn’t immune to scratches and burns, a skilled installer can often repair the damage. The material is also nonporous, so it’s less likely to stain than laminate.

Some people like the fact that solid surfacing doesn’t feel as hard or cold as granite, although others find it looks too artificial for their taste.

Granite has been hugely popular in custom homes for years. That’s no surprise, given this natural material’s beautiful flowing patterns and mottling, as well as each slab’s unique look. Most homeowners enjoy visiting the granite supplier and choosing the specific slab they want their countertop made from.

Costs for granite are slightly more than for solid surfacing.

Granite stands up well to heat and isn’t easily scratched, but its hardness means that ceramic dishes or cups can easily chip or break when dropped or bumped against the surface. Raw granite can also be stained by hot grease, so it needs to be sealed during fabrication and resealed at intervals recommended by the fabricator. Its heavy weight means it may not be the best choice for cabinets with particleboard frames.

Granite slabs are 9 to 10 feet long and 5 feet wide, so if you want something bigger you will have a seam.

Quartz has recently passed granite in popularity among custom homeowners, even though it costs 10 to 20 percent more. Made from a blend of crushed stone and resin, this material is harder than granite and impervious to stains, including those from cooking oil, wine and coffee. Quartz has a rich, attractive finish and a regular surface pattern. It comes in 8 x 4 feet sheets, so anything bigger will require seams.

These descriptions are just an introduction to today’s most popular countertop materials. Other options are marble, wood, stainless steel, concrete and even soapstone counters. Your professional builder can help you sort through the pros, cons and pricing of whatever materials you are considering, so that you choose the right ones for your new home.

What Home Are You?

Categories: About Us, Design, Newsletter | Posted: October 4, 2017

Production, custom or in between? The answer depends on your priorities.

If you have done any research into new homes, you’re likely familiar with the three categories of homes and builders: production, semi-custom and custom. Which one you choose will depend on your budget and your priorities–and each type may appeal to the same people at different points in their lives.

Production

If you have lived in a tract home, it was built by a production builder. The company built it and similar homes over and over, in what amounted to an outdoor factory. The repeatability of this approach lets production builders systematically shave time from the process, while the volume of homes they build qualifies them for bulk material discounts. Production homes also tend to be built on relatively inexpensive land. These cost savings make the production home cheaper than a custom home of similar size.

The tradeoff is that you get a cookie-cutter home. It’s like buying a car: you can choose a color and opt for a sunroof, but the basic model doesn’t change. Most production builders limit the buyer to a menu of predefined options–four carpet types, three cabinet styles, six fixture lines and so on–arranged in good, better and best tiers.

The production model is for those who would rather buy than build. It’s popular among people who want a new home but don’t need something unique and don’t have time to think through a lot of choices, such as young families with two working parents.

Semi-custom: Somewhat Different

Some people don’t want a cookie-cutter home but also don’t want to start with a blank canvas. This is the person who says, “I like that floor plan, but it’s not exactly what I want.” Semi-custom builders offer these clients a portfolio of floor plans that can be customized to a greater degree than the production home.

Although customization usually includes some structural choices, the options tend to be predefined. They might include the building a master suite at the back of the house, adding a screened porch or changing the siding, all of which the builder has priced to the dollar.

Structural options make the semi-custom home more expensive than an equally sized production home and require a bit more homeowner involvement. Semi-custom homes are popular with families moving up the income ladder, as well as with retirees who want to sell their custom home and downsize.

Custom: One-of-a-kind

The custom homebuilder works with homeowners to create a home that perfectly serves their particular wants and needs. The homeowners might want a certain architectural style or specific features. Or they might not. These are people who, simply put, want what they want.

The custom home’s status as a unique reflection of its owners makes it more complex than the production or semi-custom home in design, product selection and construction. These homes are often built on the homeowners’ land, which can bring unique design and engineering challenges.

Custom builders excel at imagining and creating something unique with each home. And because these projects involve so much interaction with homeowners, the most successful builders have a company culture that revolves around customer service and customer satisfaction. Not only that, professional builders have systems, organization and subcontractor and supplier relationships in place to efficiently and cost-effectively guide their customers through a complex building project. In fact, it’s a huge part of their success.

Building Success 101

Categories: Building Success 101, Design, Newsletter | Posted: August 23, 2017

Q: What’s the difference between a wood window and a clad window?

A: Window frames can be made from a variety of materials, including solid wood, composite or engineered wood, vinyl, aluminum or steel. Wood windows are very popular because, from the inside, they show an attractive, natural grain pattern that can be preserved and enhanced using a stain and varnish. On the outside, however, wood must be diligently maintained to protect it from the elements. So, most wood windows are clad, or covered and protected, by an aluminum or vinyl material molded to the shape of the outside section of the window frame, thus reducing maintenance chores and costs.

Building Success 101

Categories: Building Success 101, Design, Newsletter | Posted: August 8, 2017

Q: What is a cool roof?

A: A cool roof is just what it sounds like: a roof that stays cooler than a typical roof on a sunny summer day. This, in turn, keeps the attic from overheating and eases the burden on the air conditioner. Although many people think that a cool roof has to be white, new coating technologies let manufacturers build reflectance into a variety of colors.

The Multi-Generational Home

Categories: Design, Newsletter | Posted: August 1, 2017

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.

How Builders Help Ensure Health and Comfort

Categories: Build Process, Design, Newsletter | Posted: July 4, 2017

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.

Building Success 101

Categories: Building Success 101, Design, Newsletter | Posted: June 30, 2017

Q: Should I demand a low-VOC exterior paint?

A: There are an increasing array of high-quality exterior paints formulated with low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can contribute to ozone depletion; in fact, VOC emission standards for paint started with exterior formulations. Still, VOC emissions indoors from paint and other finishes appear to be a bigger occupant health hazard than a quickly dissipated exterior paint is to depleting the ozone layer. Consult your builder and his painting contractor for recommendations.

Extending Exteriors

Categories: Design, Newsletter | Posted: June 20, 2017

A home’s exterior finish is literally its face to the world. The right combination of material, color, and texture deliver a lasting impression, evoking pride and creating value. The right exterior finishes for a given climate and their proper installation reduce ongoing maintenance chores and repair costs.

In our experience, there are several factors that help ensure the long-term quality and value of exterior finishes, namely:

Top-Quality Materials. There’s no substitute for the best-made roofing, siding, and trim/accent materials. As a professional builder, we work to find the best available quality exterior materials within our client’s budget. Climate conditions and the style of the house can also dictate materials selections; wood might be a good choice for a moderate climate, but perhaps not in extended extreme weather conditions.

Professional Installation. An exterior finish is only as good as its installation. We work with and supervise professional installers to install and finish exterior products properly. We then inspect and approve their work. To ensure long-term value, lasting good looks, and low maintenance, we use the recommended type and number of fasteners, allow for slight, climate-induced shrinking and swelling, and seal joints between materials to avoid buckling and separation.

Water Resistance. We’ve learned to respect water. We avoid water intrusion behind exterior finishes by utilizing systems that shed and vent it away before it causes any damage requiring maintenance, extensive repairs or replacement.

Common solutions include weather-resistant barriers for the roof and sidewalls, flashing around windows and doors, metal drip edges and kick-out flashing at roof eaves. Where necessary we provide airspaces and weep holes for brick or stone veneers and rain screens behind stucco finishes.

Proper Painting. The value of a high-quality, exterior-rated paint cannot be overstated. Paint must be applied over a well-prepared surface…a job in itself. We apply a universally thick layer of paint, which can often last twice as long as the conventional 7-10 years before it requires a new coat. The best way to achieve full coverage and a uniform thickness is with a sprayer (not brushes or rollers) and it is essential that the paint be applied over a completely dry surface.

For wood-based siding, such as clapboards or shingles, we may specify a factory-applied primer that encases the entire panel against moisture and enables better adhesion with the finish coat.

As a professional builder, we take pride not just in how our new homes perform and meet a buyer’s needs, but also how they look–especially over time. We also want to minimize ongoing maintenance chores and avoid expensive repairs or replacements. Properly applied exterior finishes are critical to achieving those goals and exceeding the expectations of our homebuyers.

Picture Perfect

Categories: Build Process, Design, Newsletter | Posted: June 6, 2017

A great finish doesn’t come cheap, but it can make or break the look of a custom home.

Many homeowners expect plumbers and electricians to be expensive but are surprised at the prices charged by other subcontractors. The most obvious example of this is the professional painting company.

Although people tend to see painting as intuitive work, there’s a vast difference in appearance and durability between a do-it-yourself finish and one applied by a pro. A professional paint job may run as high as 5 percent of the total job cost (for example, $35,000 for a $700,000 home) but will produce lasting results that make your new home pop.

Professionals get these results by paying attention to details that most homeowners and casual painters miss. In fact, really good painters—the kind of people whose work meets the quality demands of an expensive luxury home— are nothing short of obsessive. They spend unbelievable amounts of time prepping surfaces, following a multi-step process that includes sanding, masking, caulking and filling, then priming, sanding, and caulking and filling again before they even think about applying the finish coats. The final appearance has as much to do with all this prep work as it does with the paint.

When it comes to paint, pros stick to products that have proven themselves over years in the field, and they have the experience to know which ones work best where. They understand the differences in sheen and coverage between different products, as well as what kind of surface each covers best and in what environmental conditions. They also know how to mix paints in the right quantities, what additives to use, how to make crisp lines at edges and intersections, and how to create even looks over multiple surfaces.

It’s no surprise that pros also invest in high-quality tools. There are an overwhelming number of choices in rollers, brushes and spraying equipment, and it takes experience to learn which ones will provide the exact look the homeowners want, whether that’s a traditional brushed finish or one with a glass-like sheen.

The payoff for all this work is a finish that looks great and stands the test of time. Due in part to the careful preparation and right materials, a finish applied by a skilled painter will last much longer before it needs painting again, which of course lowers the long-term cost.

But what if the homeowners have worked with a professional painting company in the past and want the builder to use that company? There are a couple of concerns with this.

Professional builders vet all subcontractors using the same criteria. Their trade partners are reputable companies with a track record of satisfied customers. They all have adequate insurance coverage. And because they get steady work from the builder, they tend to show up on time and offer fair pricing. To ensure that a new subcontractor can meet these criteria, the builder will insist on trying them out on a couple of small jobs.

The bottom line is that successful builders become successful because they zealously guard their reputation for quality work, and the quality of the paint job can make or break the look of a fine custom home. The final finish is one area where you definitely get what you pay for.