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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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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