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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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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