Q&A - Staying on top of it all



Over my years of building homes, I’ve learned that my frame of mind during the course of a homebuilding project is an important determinant of the project’s success. Building a new home from scratch can sometimes feel like conducting a symphony orchestra - I am the conductor, the musicians are the licensed professionals that will be working on various parts of the new home, the movements are the various stages of the project.

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Dave's Tips - Knowledge is a time-saver

One of the best pieces of advice I got from building inspector Don Lucas was that the more familiar I am with the town’s building code, the easier of a time I’ll have planning the details of my eco-friendly home building project.

Right now, the state of Connecticut uses the 2009 International Residential Code. Even though the 2009 IRC has been superseded by newer versions of the code, the state you live in may use an older version. In our case, this happens to be the 2009 edition. Generally, the price for a paperback copy of this code ranges from $30 to $129 - I suggest shopping around for the best deal.

The purpose of the IRC is to create minimum regulations for one and two-family dwellings of three stories or less. According to energystar.gov, the code brings together all building, plumbing, mechanical, fuel gas, energy and electrical provisions for these types of residences.

I found that being more familiar with my state’s building codes enabled me to talk shop with the town building inspector. Since I read up on it beforehand, we were able to accomplish more in our face-to-face meetings because he didn’t have to spend as much time explaining things to me. Being familiar with the code has also helped me communicate more efficiently with the architectural firm and other licensed professionals who will be doing some of the work on my home.

If you’ve had an experience with your state’s building codes or the building inspector in your town or city, I’d love to hear about it. Join the conversation and leave a comment below!

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The building inspector - a vital resource for our project

So far, I’ve covered five important steps in my home building project:

  • My wife and I selected a nice, forested 2.2 acre parcel of land in Old Saybrook, Connecticut on which to build.
  • We have selected and have been consulting with an architect firm, Point One Architects, who have been assisting us in developing the plans for our new eco-friendly home.
  • I’ve familiarized myself with some of the terms and vocabulary used in this type of project - I have a fair amount of experience building homes, but this type of project is special because I’ve set out to make this home as comfortable and eco-friendly as possible.
  • I have also met with Jennifer Parsons of the Connecticut Green Building Council, who explained to me some of the financial incentives available to eco-friendly homebuilders like myself.

 

There’s also another important step in the home building process that I haven’t mentioned yet - my interactions with the town in which I am building. I mentioned earlier that working with licensed professionals is, more than anything else, a series of conversations, and my conversations with the Old Saybrook building inspector are undoubtedly important to make my homebuilding project a success.

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Q&A: Online Resources

There are so many places to turn to for information about building an eco-friendly home, whether you’re consulting with an expert, reading a “how to” book, or looking for resources online.

Throughout my experience in this home building project, I’ve learned of a few websites that provide good, solid information on items of importance for my project, with information that’s both educational and influential in my decision making process. One good place to go for information is Energize Connecticut’s website. Energize Connecticut provides information about different energy options, contractors, and renewable energy. I’ve found this website to be an invaluable resource that has helped push me in the right direction.

I’m always looking for other good websites that have good, credible information or stories that I can relate to. If you or anyone you know has benefited from a particular resource, I’d like to know about it. Leave a comment below and share your knowledge, so that we can build the best eco-friendly home possible.

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Coordination is essential

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my years of building homes, it’s that if I want my project to be successful, then I need to keep tabs on everything from start to finish.

That can be a little bit challenging at times, especially when there are so many specialists involved in building a home. For example, the HVAC contractor may not have been present when the home was being framed, so if that person begins their work after the home is framed, then the HVAC contractor has to work with what has already been completed.

If you are able to go over your plans with the professionals who will help build your home before the work begins, or if you can get everyone in a room together to discuss how it will all come together, then you have a much better chance of having a successful home project and a home of higher quality.

I’ve found that it’s important to strike a balance between trusting the professionals I’m working with to do their jobs well, and coordinating logistics for the project so that everyone can be on the same page when it comes to getting the job done well.

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Blueprints are on the table!

It’s taken a few months of hard work for us to get to a point where my wife and I finally have a home design that we like - one that’s functional, makes use of renewable energy and has other eco-friendly features, and incorporates a design with creature comforts in mind.

You’ll see in the video that the design is for a two-story home, with most of the emphasis on the first floor - our children are grown, so the bedrooms on the second floor will be there for when they come to visit, but mostly this home will be for Debbie and I, and our friends and guests. We plan to put the master bedroom and bathroom on the first floor, with French doors opening out of the master bedroom to a patio area where we can enjoy the sunshine and nature in our backyard.

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Q&A: Useful experts and homebuilding professionals

If you’re anything like me, you like to consult with as many experts and licensed professionals as possible during the course of a major project, especially when it comes to building an eco-friendly home.

From the land surveyor to your town officials and contractors, each professional you work with during the various stages of your project will have something unique to offer to your homebuilding process. Many professionals you’ll work with have many years of experience, and you can learn something from each of them.

For this week’s Q&A, I’d like to know who the most useful expert has been to you when it comes to homebuilding projects. If you have built an eco-friendly home or are building one, what were some of the most important takeaways for you from your consultations? Who do you think the most important person to learn from is, or are they all important?

Leave your comment below, and help my wife and I make this eco-friendly homebuilding project one we can learn from and remember for the rest of our lives.

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Excitement is building

My wife and I have had a few meetings with our architects so far to discuss the particulars of our new eco-friendly home. Out of all the home building projects I've done, this one is definitely the most comprehensive and the most fun. Not only are we doing something we enjoy, but we're building something we believe in - a home designed with both comfort and sustainability in mind. We're really looking forward to seeing what Point One Architects has in store for us... stay tuned!

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Positioning your home the right way

One big advantage of building a custom eco-friendly home on a lot that hasn’t been built on is that you can control nearly every detail and plan your home to come out just the way you like it.

When it comes to energy efficiency, the devil’s in the details. One item that many people over look is the positioning of their home on the land that they plan to build on. If you have a few acres, like we do, you’ve got some wiggle room as to what direction you’d like your home to be facing.

Since the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, we’ll be placing our home relative to the position of the sun on our land so that when the sun rises, we can capture and store as much of the sun’s energy as possible.

Right now, I’m not really sure what the particulars are for this part of our project. To accomplish this, we’ll be needing the expertise of a solar expert as well as our architects - we’ll explain what decisions we ultimately made in an upcoming episode.

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Getting the best deal possible for your project

When I first began considering building an eco-friendly home, one of the first things I did was do some research on the cost of adding energy-saving features into our new home. The bottom line is important for any homebuilding project, because many times your budget dictates what type of features you will be able to add. I plan on putting photovoltaic solar panels on the roof to help us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. A four-pack of 265-watt polycrystalline PV solar panels costs $1,399 at Home Depot – that's a cost that not every homebuilder includes in their budget, but there are some important things to know before you make a final decision about what eco-friendly features to include.

 

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