Q&A - Avoiding pitfalls in the homebuilding process

Sometimes, I think of building a home like going on a very expensive whitewater rafting trip. The river is the whole project, which flows in one direction - from inception to conclusion. The raft is my plan of action - everything that I do to support the project, my level of involvement, and contingency plans help strengthen my craft. My oars are my ability to communicate - I "row the raft" by using email, a mobile device, or in-person communication to facilitate the dialogue between me and the other knowledgeable professionals who assist in the process.

If you've ever gone whitewater rafting, then you know that once you're in the boat going down the river that you'll have to make a lot of decisions on the fly. Sometimes, you can't really slow down and remain in a particular section of the river for too long and other times, your raft might get nudged by a rock that crops up along the way.

As I get ready to work with foundation contractor Mike Evangelesti on pouring the foundation, I'd love to hear a few words of inspiration from you all - what pitfalls should I look out for going forward? What did you do to make your home building project a great success? Join the conversation and let us know!

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Learning from the industry's best

I've made a point to learn as much as I can from the professionals I've encountered throughout my quest to build an eco-friendly, comfortable home. Even though I have home building experience that stretches three decades, I have the good fortune to work with some of the very best, most knowledgeable people in the HVAC industry.

My colleagues at Taco Comfort Solutions are a great resource, and they're right in my own backyard. Like me, many of them have interests that encompass parts of any home building project that include but are not limited to HVAC and indoor comfort.

One person who I've enjoyed talking to the most is Taco's FloPro Team Leader John Barba. He is well-known as one of the best trainers in the industry, and in this episode I had the opportunity to sit down with him and talk shop about this project. I found his insights to be valuable, and you may pick up a few things from him too. If you have any comments about what he says to me in this episode, join the conversation and let us know!

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Dave's Tips - Custom vs. Stock

If you’re thinking about building a new home, one important question to think about before you get started is whether or not to hire someone to design your home from scratch, or go with a stock plan - that is, a home plan that’s designed and marketed by an engineering or design firm.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. According to The House Plan Shop, a website that assists people in their home building process, some of the advantages of building a custom plan include getting exactly what you want and you can get as specific as possible.

Sometimes it makes more sense to do a custom plan, especially if like me you’re experienced at building homes and you know what to look for when selecting elements for your project. Maybe you have an unconventional lot size and you need to develop a custom plan to accommodate this. Or perhaps you’re building an eco-friendly home and the available stock plans simply don’t match up with your vision for a home that balances energy savings with comfort.

However, stock plans can be economical for a large swath of homeowner/builders. These homes have already been designed by an architect or engineer, so usually the plans are ready to go. They can also be customized to some degree, and selecting a stock plan means you can cut down on the time you’d otherwise spend designing the home or consulting with an architect.

What did you choose for your project - stock plan, or custom home? Join the conversation and let us know!

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Q&A - Hiring the right people for the job

So far in our homebuilding project, we’ve already had the pleasure of working with a number of professionals, including an architect team, a land surveyor, an expert on green building financial incentives, and our town’s building inspector.

The keyword here, at least for me, is “pleasure”. I know enough from my experience that no homebuilder is an island - that is, working well with the experts whose help I enlist for my project and taking their advice when I need to is key to the project’s overall success.

When I’m looking for licensed professionals to do business with, generally I look for people who are knowledgable, who will listen, and who will help guide me when necessary but also take into account my needs and desires for the project. If all goes well, I may enlist the help of these professionals again if I have a project in the future, and recommend them to friends and family who are embarking on similar ventures.

What qualities do you look for in the licensed professionals you hire for a job? Join the conversation below and let us know!

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Getting the lay of the land

At this stage in our homebuilding process, I’m getting ready to make some serious modifications to the 2.2 acre parcel of land that my wife and I bought to build our eco-friendly home on. When I made the purchase, the land was categorized as what they call “raw land” - that is, land in its natural state, with no man-made improvements.

Now that we’ve consulted with an architect, discussed incentives for building green, developed plans for our new home, and met with our town’s building inspector, it’s time to take a serious look at the land on which our new home will be built.

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Q&A - Keeping an eye on the bottom line

In the entry immediately preceding this one, the architects and I sat down and hashed out what types of advanced framing/wall construction are available for this project, and weighed the costs and benefits of each one. Whichever type of wall construction I choose for this project will have a major impact on the overall energy efficiency of my home, and also on my wallet too.

I've mentioned it before, but one of my goals in this project is to strike a balance between not overpaying for the elements of my project, but not cutting necessary corners. We have some information available here on the blog about resources to turn to for financial incentives/tax breaks for projects like mine, but I'm interested to know if any of you have had a similar experience - how did you strike a balance between your checkbook and building the best project possible? Join the conversation and let us know!

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A crash course in wall construction

Now is the time for me to seriously begin thinking about some of the details of how I’ll make our new eco-friendly home as energy-efficient as possible. My wife and I have our hearts set on a design that we like for our new home, now I am starting to plan the nuts and bolts of how we will lower the energy costs of our home and reduce its carbon footprint.

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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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