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3 Pillar Blog

Blog Category - Newsletter

First Impressions

Categories: Build Process, Newsletter | Posted: September 5, 2017

The best builders know that the initial meeting is about earning your trust

A big factor in someone’s choice of a builder is their comfort with the first person they meet from the company, whether it’s the owner or a sales person. Natural rapport is important, but gut feelings also play a role–feelings some homeowners aren’t sure how to interpret.

These feelings usually grow from attitudes and actions on the part of the builder. Professional builders understand this, and they make sure to act in ways that earn their clients’ trust, starting with that first meeting.

When interviewing builders, clarity about these attitudes and actions will help you choose someone you can work well with. Before signing anything, ask yourself the following questions.

Does the builder…

1. Show up like a pro? Someone in a cluttered pickup wearing old jeans and a dirty tee shirt may be a skilled craftsman, but their appearance raises questions. Although a pressed shirt and a clean vehicle don’t guarantee a great choice, they’re the first sign of a professional who runs a real business and pays attention to detail.

2. Play by the rules? Pros know that you want assurance that whoever builds your house will do it right, and that includes knowing they will follow relevant laws and regulations. Sample contracts, as well as proof of the necessary licensing and insurance, are signs of a conscientious company that doesn’t cut corners.

3. Show emotional intelligence? A custom homebuilding project can be an emotional roller coaster or an enjoyable ride. You will naturally feel more confident in a builder who works to make it more of the latter. The best builders help people understand the ups and downs that will be likely during design and construction.

4. Take schedules seriously? Homeowners who know what will happen and when during construction suffer a lot less anxiety. That’s why you will have more confidence in a builder who clearly communicates the overall job schedule as well as the approximate timetable for each major phase of construction.

5. Commit to keeping you informed? Pros also know that you will feel more secure, and the job will go more smoothly, if there’s a regular forum for your questions and concerns. While the timing of these meetings depends on the builder and project, they’re often scheduled on the building site at the end of key job phases, such as framing and electrical/mechanical.

6. Have clear change policies? Changes have a reputation for breeding anxiety and conflict, but that can be limited if everyone knows what to expect. A good builder will make sure you understand what change orders will cost, as well as how the builder will communicate any resulting adjustments in the job schedule.

7. Offer references? Most reputable companies will provide references to past clients. If some of those clients are happy to show you their completed home, that’s even better–it’s a sign that they really like and trust the builder.

A good builder knows that reducing uncertainty and developing trust, as illustrated by the actions above, are key to helping clients manage stress during a complex building project.

By the way, the best builders will also be vetting you, and they won’t be afraid to politely decline the job if necessary. Be wary of a builder who is too eager for the work. The point here is that the initial visit shouldn’t be about dollars and cents but about finding whether the two of you are a good fit.

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.

Defining Value

Categories: Build Process, Newsletter | Posted: August 16, 2017

In the current economy, it has become fashionable to define “value” as simply the lowest price among new homes. But doing so discounts the value of providing a high level of construction quality, as well as service, before, during, and after your new home is built. This may not be in your or your family’s best interest.

It’s been said many times…a new home is likely to be the largest single financial investment anyone will ever make. Why, then, would you trust that investment — both financially and in your enjoyment of it — to the lowest price and a limited definition of a home’s value?

As a professional builder, we operate with a different and broader definition of value. We believe value includes a positive building experience for the owner and a sense of confidence and pride about a home’s quality. Value should also consist of a high level of personal service and a commitment to maintaining a relationship built on trust after the move in date.

Some builders play the low-price game. They narrowly define value as a stripped-down house built on the cheap to achieve a cut-rate price. The goal: make a sale and move on. They typically don’t have the staff or systems in place to respond to issues once title is transferred.

Here’s how we define and deliver a higher level of value:

Communication: As professional builders, we listen and respond to our clients’ ambitions and dreams for their new home. We help them define and discover their wants and needs, while working within their budget. We seek to educate them about the complexities of the building process, set realistic expectations and keep them informed about what happens–and why–as their new home takes shape. We seek to be prompt and respectful when we meet to discuss a project. We follow through on promises made and keep our clients informed about a job’s progress.

An Efficient Job Site: Our crews and job site managers follow an agreed-upon schedule and detailed list of specifications that we develop with each client. Materials for a new home are ordered and delivered as needed and on time. We manage and coordinate our trade partners and materials suppliers toward the common goal of meeting our company’s standards and our clients’ expectations for craftsmanship.

Follow-Through: When a new home is finished and we turn over the keys to our clients’, it doesn’t mean we disappear. We know that it is critical to our clients’ ultimate satisfaction that we continue effective communication while providing thorough and prompt service. When issues crop up –and they always do — we have policies and procedures in place to respond in a timely fashion.  We work the problem; we don’t pass the buck. We’ve been a member of our clients’ community for years. This is where we’ve chosen to raise our families and we intend to be here for years to come.

We believe our definition of value instills confidence and helps ensure satisfaction among our homebuyers. We respect that our clients’ entrust us to deliver a product that only exists on paper and is created before their eyes. It’s a responsibility we take seriously, and it’s the cornerstone of what we call value.

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.

Building Success 101

Categories: Build Process, Building Success 101, Newsletter | Posted: July 28, 2017

Q: What should I consider when evaluating homebuilding companies?

A: First, narrow your list of potential builders based on their direct experience with the type of house you want. Next, meet with each potential builder and be ready with questions that are important to you about their building process, communication skills, change order procedures, and past work. Make sure to get satisfactory answers. Also be prepared with a budget and a solid idea of what you want and share that information with each builder. Finally, look for a builder you like on a personal level; do your styles mesh? Do your personalities gel? It’s okay to go with your gut, as long as the company has the right skill set and track record to do the work.

Homebuilding Myths: The Three-Bid Rule

Categories: Build Process, Newsletter | Posted: July 18, 2017

As the housing industry becomes more sophisticated and conscientious about achieving genuine and lasting homebuyer satisfaction, the level of professionalism among builders continues to reach new heights.

As a result, potential clients searching for a builder to create their dream home have a much deeper pool of talent from which to select. Today’s professional builder is not only skilled in construction and client relations, but also highly competent in terms of his or her business expertise.

This new and more professional breed of builder deserves to be evaluated by homebuyers in a new way. Namely by dropping the age-old practice of collecting three bids for the work in favor of a more business-like approach to a very important decision.

Comparative Bidding is Inaccurate:

In theory, the three-bid rule was thought to work because it assumed everything else, other than cost, from the competing builders was equal. This thought process assumed that each builder had assessed and calculated the scope of work, blueprints, and specifications in the exact same way.

In reality, however, such assumptions are rarely, if ever, accurate. Every builder and contractor, professional or not, analyzes a new-home project and estimates its associated costs differently; as a result, the three bids are not apples-to-apples comparisons. The differences can be subtle, but they exist. And those differences render an unequal playing field for competitive bidding creating confusion and misunderstanding.

In addition to being inaccurate as a cost comparison tool, the three-bid rule reduces each builder to a number rather than considering his or her various skills, experience, personality, record of success, and ability to do the work. For this reason, an increasing number of the best homebuilders simply refuse to bid competitively, opting out of such opportunities because they know they are being evaluated only in terms of a cost estimate (that is inaccurate) rather than whether they are the best builder for the job.

The Negotiated Contract: A More Useful Approach

Many of today’s home buyers are utilizing a different approach to select their contractor: the negotiated contract. In that scenario, a homebuilder is selected based on his or her abilities for the specific project and personality and how they fit with the homebuyer. These are two critical considerations considering how closely builder and client will interact with each other during the construction of a new home.

The negotiated contract also takes the guesswork out of the project’s cost. The budget is shared up-front with each of the builders being considered based on what the buyers can afford, not what the builder (and his stable of trade contractors) thinks it will cost.

Sharing the budget not only removes assumptions and judging a builder’s worth based on price alone, but also begins to build trust between homeowner and builder. They can explore honest communication about actual costs and, if necessary, choices that need to be made to match the project’s scope with the homebuyer’s budget. That’s the “negotiated” part of the contract process.

The negotiated contract process is far superior to the three-bid rule in matching personalities between the homebuyer and the builder, as well as between projects and a building company’s skills and experience. By first narrowing and then selecting one homebuilder based on everything but the cost of the project, buyers can better make their decision on which builder is most likely to be on-budget and on-schedule and result in a finished home that meets (or ideally exceeds) their expectations.

As the homebuilding industry continues to evolve into an increasingly professional business, it requires new and more effective models for conducting that business. The negotiated contract has strong advantages over the three-bid rule. This approach reflects the new age of new home construction to the benefit of every homebuyer.

Building Success 101

Categories: Building Success 101, Newsletter | Posted: July 14, 2017

Q: What is SEER?

A: SEER stands for seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or the cooling energy output of an air conditioner divided by the electrical energy it burns. The higher the number, the more efficient the equipment. For example, a new 15 SEER unit uses 33 percent less energy than an older 10 SEER model. All systems sold in the United States must have a minimum SEER of 13 or 14 depending on the region. The most efficient units have SEERs of 20 or more.

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.