A visit to the Energize CT Center

We are just about to get going on what I consider to be the “meat” of the project - for me, that’s the framing and wall construction process. The construction of my new home’s outer shell will be a primary determinant of how much we are able to lower our carbon footprint and how much energy we will save.

I can’t let my excitement about building the skeleton of our new home and installing the associated insulation panels and layers overshadow other elements that are just as important. Once the framing/wall construction process is complete, we’ll pretty much immediately move to the next stage of the process - installing solar panels, electrical systems and mechanical systems. Since that won’t happen for at least a few months, I have a good opportunity to make some decisions now so that I am prepared when the time comes.

Before I make any decisions about things like lighting, mechanical systems, kitchen appliances and roofing materials, I want to be as educated as I can about the various options that are available to me and make the best choices possible. Since building eco-friendly and maintaining indoor comfort are equally important to me, I know that every assessment of each option is important.

Since we live in Connecticut, I have the great fortune of having an excellent resource to turn to for education about these matters. The Energize CT Center in North Haven offers a complete educational tour with interactive exhibits about many of the items I need to make decisions about for my project.

I am lucky enough to have Jennifer Parsons there to show me around - she came out to our 2.2 acre parcel a few months ago to talk about energy efficiency programs and other incentives. I am excited to learn what she has to teach and go over some of my updated blueprints and energy efficiency plans.

Do you have any tips on things to pay special attention as I begin planning for the next stage of our homebuilding process? Join the conversation and let us know!

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Q&A - Saving money without compromising comfort

It's a given that any home building project is going to cost money. If you're building a home from a custom plan like I am, the importance of keeping track of your costs and expenses increases tenfold. That's why from the beginning of my project until the end, I keep careful records of every expense that I've incurred and potential future expenses, in order to be square with my budget and make sure that my expenses correspond with the progress I make on my project.

I once heard an old navy quote that resonated with me. I can't remember who I heard it from but a long time ago, somebody said to me "Dave, plan your dive and dive your plan." I believe this quote comes from SCUBA divers who are getting ready to go on a deep-sea dive. From the beginning of a dive until the end when you get pulled back up onto the boat, being mindful of the situation and every stage of the dive is critically important - a failure to do so could result in serious injury or death.

Building a new eco-friendly home isn't quite as nerve-wracking as SCUBA diving, but to me it's just as much fun. "Plan your dive and dive your plan" has some relevance when it comes to planning out a budget and saving money. I decided early on in my project that I would try to save money where possible, but not unnecessarily so - I don't want my project to cost a fortune, but I don't want penny pinching to be so pervasive in my project that I end up with an unsatisfactory final product.

So let me put this out there - what do you think is the easiest way to save money on a project like this without sacrificing comfort and the home's "shade of green"? Your replies could help me shave a few dollars off my bills and maintain the quality of my project.

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Terms of Wisdom

It’s always nice to take a step back and look at the general progress you’ve made on a project. Reflecting on how my plans are unfolding and what’s going to happen next is usually something I try to do a few times throughout any project I’m working on, because reflection helps me focus on what I have done well, what I can do better, and how I can do my best work on what’s to come.

So far, my wife and I have made steady progress in our quest to build this new eco-friendly, comfortable home. We’ve cleared the land and have poured the foundation for the structure. As the concrete dries, my team is beginning to deliver lumber and other materials to the job site so that we can get going on the framing portion of our construction process.

Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with the way things are going so far. In this episode, I go over some terms and concepts that are important as we go forward in our project - namely, sustainability, engineered materials, certification, and beneficial landscaping.

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Q&A - Building value in your project

There's no doubt that in a complicated homebuilding project, the professionals I enlist to help me with certain parts of it hold the keys to the kingdom when it comes to being able to perform certain functions for the project that I can't do myself. Throughout my eco-friendly homebuilding quest, a few items of this nature have cropped up so far - namely, the overall design of the house, clearing the land, and pouring a foundation.

Later on in the project, there will be many items that I can do myself such as portions of the wall construction and framing, installing insulation, building lattices for the windows, and installing air conditioning systems. When I think of all the important project components that professionals have helped me with, though, I realize that the home we are building truly is a mosaic of the efforts that everyone who works on it, including myself, contributes to.

Sometimes, a licensed professional goes above and beyond the call of duty - maybe they share with you some insights about your project. They might explain some details about how the work they are doing fits in with the rest of the project, or they might catch something that needs to be fixed or could be improved.

Thinking along those lines, what's the most important or memorable thing a licensed professional has done for you in terms of the construction of your home? Join the conversation and let us know!

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Sights on the Sun

When it comes to building a zero-net energy building or a near-zero net energy building, there is no greater resource available to facilitate this than the big ball of fire in the sky that lights up planet earth.

According to the University of Tennessee, by the time the sun’s energy travels 93,000,000 miles to our planet’s upper atmosphere, the energy density of that light and radiation is 1,368 watts per square meter. By the time it reaches Earth’s surface, the energy density is 1,000 W/m2 for a surface that the sun beams down on at sea level on a clear day.

The UTIA goes onto explain that if all the sunlight energy striking the Earth’s surface in Texas could be converted to electricity, it would be up to 300 times the total power output of all the power plants in the world!

With so much potential for solar, it wasn’t hard for my wife and I to decide that we definitely wanted solar panels to be an integral part of our project. I plan on harnessing as much of the sun’s power as I can for my new eco-friendly home.

On the southwest-facing rear of our home, I have been planning from the beginning to install 42 solar panels onto the roof - 42 is about the number we can fit onto the roof without sacrificing other features of the home or altering the framing/insulation plans. With these solar panels, we should be able to offset a great deal of our energy usage and save some money on our electricity bills.

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Q&A - Hiring help vs. doing it yourself

I'll be honest with you - in my heart, I am a do-it-yourselfer. Ever since I began building my own homes about 30 years ago, I have always been a hands-on kind of person. With this project I handled the meetings, planning and logistics and lined everything up as best I can to ensure a smooth home building process. I also plan on doing the windows, framing and a lot of the building envelope construction myself.

A lot of what I can do myself when it comes to building my new home is knowledge accumulated over the years from practical experience. Some of it I learned from the licensed professionals with whom I've established good working relationships and sometimes friendships with over the years. Mainly, I love doing the work myself because I love building homes.

But of course, there are things that I know I can't do myself and need to bring in licensed professionals to help with. Digging the foundation and pouring a slab are two examples of things that I don't have the time or machinery to do. I've found that part of what makes a project successful is knowing when to do things yourself or place it into someone else's hands.

What do you think - where do you draw the line? Are you more experimental, or is there are clear place where your realm of doing it yourself ends? Join the conversation and let us know what you think!

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Two builders, two projects, one objective

Throughout the course of every project I’ve worked on, one of the things I like to do the most is learn as much as I can about each part of the homebuilding process. Since every project I’ve worked on has been slightly different, there have been takeaways from each that have had cumulative benefits over time.

The proof in the pudding for this project will be the way the walls are constructed, how the windows are placed, and how the envelope comes together by the end of the framing portion of our project. The framing techniques I plan to use for this project will have a big impact on the home’s R value, so that’s why I decided to meet with builder Bill Zdon of Zdon builders to chat with him about what I’m planning to do and get some feedback from him.

Bill has been building eco-friendly homes for quite a while too and is one of my favorite local builders - his framing techniques and choice of hardware and other materials for the homes he works on is of interest to me as I face similar decisions that need to be made. In this episode, I paid him a visit at an old seaside cottage he and his team are renovating. Bill was able to show me a few examples of techniques he’s using to drive down energy costs for the homeowner and create a more energy efficient space.

As we move forward in the project, I am happy to have Bill on board my team of knowledgable professionals as a resource for advice and a guide on eco-friendly homebuilding techniques. I plan to consult with him through the course of my project.

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Q&A - Energy-saving features

As a homeowner/builder, I’m always thinking a few steps ahead of where my project currently is. As the concrete dries for the foundation we just poured, I’m thinking about how I’m going to save energy and money once we’re a bit further along in our construction process.

For our eco-friendly home, I already know that the building envelope will play a big part in saving energy for my home. But, there are other things to think about too like home automation, lighting, mechanicals, appliances, and other passive and active energy saving features that my wife and I can incorporate into the home.

At this point, I am undecided about the majority of which energy-saving features we’ll incorporate, so I’m reaching out to you. What did you do for your project? Do you have any recommendations for us? Let us know!

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Dave's Tips - hone your negotiation skills!

I’d like to think that I’m getting the best value for my dollar when it comes to compensating the professionals I hire for their services in a project. When a lot of money is at stake, I’ve found that it’s extra important to pay attention to every cost associated with a project - each step along the way is going to affect my bottom line, and the quality of the product I receive at the end of a project.

Whether you’re spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a service, it’s easy to think that since a service is expensive to begin with that you’re getting the best deal up front. I’ve discovered that this isn’t always the case, and that there’s always room for negotiation.

There’s an old homebuilding saying that your home building process should follow the “50/25/25” rule. Your construction process should cost no more than 50% of the end price of your home. Your land should cost 25% of the end price, and if you’re selling the home when it’s done, your profit should be around 25%.

In order to get the most that you can out of your project, I would suggest shopping around for a range of prices on a job before approaching a contractor or other licensed professional. When it’s time to sit down at the negotiation table, you’ll have a good idea of what is typical in the industry. Depending on your individual project, you may be able to score an even lower price - only you know what factors you can use to your advantage when it’s time to hash out a price.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is never to assume that you can’t negotiate. Always be prepared to walk away if the deal doesn’t lean towards your terms - you’ll probably exercise this part of negotiation at least once or twice. As fun as a homebuilding project can be, it’s business because it involves money and negotiation.

Done well, negotiation can lead to a win-win situation for both parties. What do you think are some of the most important items to negotiate prices on? Join the conversation and let us know!

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From the ground up - construction begins!

This is an exciting time for our project - we have cleared the way for the construction portion of my homebuilding journey to begin!

From here on out, you’ll notice a few differences on our 2.2 acre parcel of land in eastern Connecticut. After a final visit from the land surveyor, we determined that it was time to remove some trees and underbrush from a portion of our land so that we can pour the foundation for our new eco-friendly home.

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