You have questions…. we have answers.

You can find our most frequently asked questions listed below. If you don’t see your question, please contact us directly.

Lake Geneva Kitchen

How long has Thelen Total Construction been in business?

Over Four decades! The company has been in business since 1974.

Do you do remodeling and addition work?

For over four decades we’ve been best known as the builder of fine custom homes. What may not be as well known is that we also offer design and construction services for remodeling and addition work too. Have you thought about making your current home better? Life evolves, doesn’t it? Children grow up, move out and grandkids are welcomed.

New interests and hobbies need space. Higher level of amenities, energy and maintenance saving products are desired. You may be thinking of modifying your home to age in place. What ever your circumstances are, we know that inspired design and materials have the ability to transform your life! Contact us today for a free evaluation.

Does it make sense to renovate my existing home or should I tear down and build new?

While there is no perfect answer to this question there are some criteria that you can use to help you make a decision. Here are some points to consider:

You should remodel / renovate your home when…

  • You like your current home with a few exceptions.
  • You have an emotional attachment to your home.
  • Your home is in good physical condition and it would be less costly to remodel and renovate than to build new.

You should build a new home when…

  • The cost of remodeling your existing home will far out pace it’s resale value.

Is there a fee for the first meeting?

No. The focus of our first meeting is introductory: To get to know each other, your home wants and needs, develop a preliminary budget and discuss overall project feasibility.

A visit to your property can also be valuable. Contact us to get started today!

Will you build my project if I already have an architect?

Yes! Through our extremely thorough pricing process we’ll work through every detail of your plans. We’ll also communicate with your architect to make sure we are covering the detail as he or she has envisioned them.

What is the cost per square foot?

When asked this in the beginning of the conversation, it is always difficult to answer. There are so many variables to consider from:

  • Size of home
  • Quality levels of construction materials
  • Quality levels of exterior materials
  • Quality levels of finish materials
  • Number of & quality level of amenities
  • Complexity of the architectural design
  • Designing the home to fit the site
  • Home site variables – well, septic, utilities, driveway length, etc.
  • Ancillary Spaces – garage, deck, screen porches, sub-garage, etc.

How firm is the price I will be given?

Our fixed price contract is just that, a fixed price. If we construct the home exactly as it is outlined in the contract and specifications that is the number you can take to the bank! The amount of your investment will be clear and realistic.

However we find that almost all custom home building clients will spend 10 – 15% more than they originally intended to. Why? The working budget can fluctuate and the final cost of your home may change due to:

During the Design Phase and preparing the specifications for your home, we attempt to provide reasonable allowances for items based upon your desires and quality levels you want in your home. If you have a cabinetry allowance of $40,000 and you spend $43,000 on cabinets you’ll need to pay the difference. (Conversely if you spend $38,000 on cabinets, you’ll be credited.) Also, the cost of other construction items – for example, your well, may not be able to be determined in advance. The bid may allow for a depth of 100 feet. A well dug deeper than 100 feet will have an extra charge.

Change Orders are an important part of the custom home building process. Although we have both invested considerable thought designing your new home, some refinements may come to mind as you watch it take shape. The earlier in the process you make a desired change, the more time and money you save.

Should I use a Fixed Price or Cost-Plus Contract?

A fixed- price contract is one in which all the plans, specifications and all of the materials and finishes are fully determined (fixed) before you start construction. A cost-plus contract takes all the costs of the home and adds either a percentage of the costs or a flat fee for the builder’s overhead and management fee.

Either a fixed-price or a cost-plus contract can be used. It depends on what you’re most comfortable with. Our costs are the same whether we use a fixed-price or a cost-plus contract. However, the price you’ll pay will differ because of the risks associated with each contract.

The advantages of a fixed-price contract are the price you pay for your home will be pre-determined (fixed) whether the price of materials and labor goes up or down. If the price of materials and labor decrease, the builder benefits. If they increase, the builder absorbs the additional cost. The builder assumes full responsibility for all risks associated with the cost of your new home. In general, people who do well with a fixed-price contract are people who are not willing to risk price fluctuations. With a fixed-price contract, the cost of repairing or replacing any item that is not right, large or small is our responsibility. Most homebuyers are more comfortable knowing their exact cost and are willing to pay a small premium for this comfort.

A cost-plus contract differs from a fixed-price contract in that it takes the actual cost of building the home and adds a fee for our overhead and management. It can either be a flat fee or a percentage of the costs. Of course, neither you nor we will know the exact bottom line for the building costs until the final accounting is completed, shortly after move-in. We can give you an accurate cost estimate, but it is exactly that – an estimate – until the final accounting. With a cost-plus contract, you’ll pay the actual costs for all labor and materials, plus a builder’s fee.

A cost-plus contract can be advantageous when building a larger custom home with finish levels and other things changing during the process. With a cost-plus contract, homeowners know their actual costs on an ongoing basis. We build with the same care and quality whether your home is a fixed price or cost plus contract. If there is a repair or replacement issue, large or small with the work, a cost-plus contract provides the synergy of determining win-win solutions that are in the best interests of the homeowner, since they absorb the cost.

We have used both types of contract with our clients in the past. You can trust that we are working in your behalf in either scenario. If you are comfortable not knowing your exact total costs until the end of the project, then a cost-plus contract may be best for you. Your final cost will depend on the choices you make.

Both types of contracts are successfully used. You decide which one works best for you.

Do you offer design services?

Absolutely! Go to “Our Process” page for a more in-depth answer.

What type of projects do you specialize in?

Do you have lakefront property? We are noted as one of the premier custom home builders of lake front homes on:

  • Lake Geneva
  • Delavan Lake
  • Lauderdale Lakes
  • Elkhorn
  • Whitewater Lake
  • and on the many other beautiful lakes in Walworth County.

Our expertise also applies to rural country estate and wooded property. We love designing homes that integrate sensitively and harmoniously with the environment allowing for great views and lower energy bills using passive solar if applicable.

We also specialize in green building applications such as energy efficient building components, and durable maintenance saving materials and products. You’ll save money every month on energy bills and your home will be quieter and more comfortable too. We are National Association of Home Builder Certified Green Home Building Specialists. We’re also knowledgeable of the latest energy saving trends and products if you are interested in taking your home to an even “higher green standard.”

Do you offer interior design services?

Yes! Through a special arrangement with Katherine Elizabeth Designs we can offer their services at special savings for our clients. We find that almost all homes can benefit from at least some input from experienced interior designers.

This can be especially important during the home design phase. Whether it is simply for paint and fixture selections or as broad as your whole home including furnishings and window treatments, these professionals are invaluable in guiding you and helping you define the style you desire. The end result is a warm and inviting home that shows your personality with the colors and finishes you love, having that unmistakable “designer touch!”

Can I see examples of your work?

Our online portfolio has many photos of homes that are sure to inspire you!

In addition, with a prior appointment we can arrange to visit a project under construction or previously completed one. Also – save the dates of the last weekend in July and first weekend in August each year for Lakeland Builders Association Annual Parade of Homes. We will always have one fantastic home you can tour in great detail and ask questions of our staff there.

Check out this year’s entry in the Parade of Homes and also visit Lakeland Builders Association’s website for more information.

Can I speak with past clients?

Absolutely! We’ll provide you with many references so you can discuss their building experience with our company in depth. We are very proud of the fact that 100% of the past clients surveyed by GuildQuality would recommend us!

Can you work within my budget?

Early in the process we’ll work with you to establish a realistic budget you’re comfortable with and will work closely with you to design and build a home that fits that stated goal.

How long does it take to build a custom home?

First – the time it takes to complete your architectural plans depends on timely decisions you make and your availability to meet for design meetings. Some of these meetings and decisions can be done on the phone and by email. We highly stress the importance of these meetings! We find there is no substitute for good planning when it comes to your new home. On average we find that developing plans ready for permits can take between three and six months.
Second – the amount of time it takes to build a custom home depends on the size and complexity. Right now the market is not overly busy with a more timely response from vendors and subcontractors, making this an excellent opportunity to build! For a custom home that is around 3,000 to 5,000 square feet, anticipate a seven to ten month construction time. For a home that is over 5,000 square feet, anticipate ten to thirteen months or more of construction time. These are rough estimates and it’s important to understand there may be weather, delays in decision making, and desired products on back-order, and the amount of detail desired that may delay a timely completion of your home. We’ll keep you informed every step of the way with a project schedule and what to expect during each phase of construction.

Contact us to discuss your timetable.

How do I get started?

That is the easy part!
Give us a call at 262-723-3588, or fill out our online request form. We’ll schedule a time that’s convenient to come to our office or at your property to discuss your construction or remodeling project.

What if I change my mind on something after construction has begun?


Thorough planning during the design phase of your home can eliminate many changes during construction, and we strive to be as complete as possible. The earlier in the process you make a desired change, the more time and money you save. But it’s reasonable to expect a few changes to be made and it’s a natural part of the process as refinements come to mind during construction.

We have a very systematic program to handle changes that will let you know not only the cost of the change but also the effects the change will make on your project schedule. Every change to your project will require your signature insuring you will not be surprised with charges at the end of the project.

Which comes first: The Builder or the Architect?

Which comes first?” is a question that confuses some people but must be answered before you start the custom home building process.

Logically, the architect comes first, right? Wrong! There is a problem in that the architect is not trained in doing very detailed cost estimates as we are. It can be devastating to find out the dream home you spent months planning in loving detail ends up costing more than you are able or willing to invest!

If you are in this predicament, contact us and we’ll give you honest advice on what to do next. One option is to do a re-draw of the plans and review the specifications to bring it in line with your budget. We’re not blaming architects – after all they are trained and skilled at designing and creating what they are asked to create. Accurate, up-to-date cost estimates is not their area of expertise.
However, you may already be reasonably assured your architect drawn plans are within your budget, and your next step is to choose a builder. We’d be happy to give you a fair and accurate price to build your home. We’ll look at every detail of your plans and specifications and using our extremely thorough pricing process give you an accurate cost to build your home. We’ll also communicate with your architect to make sure we are covering all the details as he or she has envisioned them. Contact us to get started today!

Quality, Quantity & Cost: How can I bring my dreams and realities in line with each other?

Building your home – more than any other endeavor, tends to pit your dreams against realities. Thinking about dollars, we tend to be very practical. Dreams by their very nature are often impractical. The reconciliation of the two is never an easy thing. Yet – in home building, it’s essential. People’s dreams are frequently more expensive than the reality of their pocketbook. The challenge is to find a way to bring your dreams and realities in line with one another – without making you feel like you’ve given up on your dreams.

The 3 variables involved with reconciling dreams with reality are:

  • Quality
  • Quantity
  • Cost

Cost seems like the most obvious of the three. How much are you willing to spend to accomplish your dreams? Often what people think they can afford increases over the course of the project because they don’t want to compromise on their dreams.

The budget hat seemed so absolute in the beginning rises commensurately.
As you think about your dreams and realities, it’s useful to picture quality, quantity and cost as the three points of a triangle. In designing and building a home, two out of three can remain constant, but the third has to be adjusted.
Budget is a very important factor in home building. In the initial planning phase, you should also be thinking about how much you feel comfortable investing in your new home. During the design and building process, we’ll also help you prioritize your choices in your home when final cost is a factor.

What are Allowance items?

In the Design Phase we’ll work with you to create an estimated line-item budget for your home. Each item will be listed separately in the specifications with a corresponding dollar amount.

Allowances are established for some items such as cabinetry, lighting, flooring, appliances, entertainment systems, and closet shelving systems, because these selections cannot always be made prior to building. One of the biggest challenges for both the homeowner and us is to identify a sufficient allowance and how all those numbers play into the overall budget.

After listening to your needs and expectations, we’ll establish allowances that are appropriate for your home in the specifications. It’ll also be very helpful for you to do some preliminary shopping at our selected vendors to get a sense if the allowance figure is sufficient. Final cost of the allowance items is determined by your choice of product.

If the allowance figures are not sufficient, you can either raise the overall budget or reduce the allowances and/or features in other parts of the home.

Will I go over budget in Allowance Items?

if you are like most people – yes, you’ll probably go over budget. Ever had the experience of going into the grocery store to pick up a few things and coming out with a cartful? Sound familiar? The same thing happens with building a custom home. This is a very exciting time in your life as you shop for the latest and the greatest appliances, entertainment systems, upgraded countertops, and so on.

Interestingly, we found it really doesn’t matter how high the budget is we helped establish with you – it’s human nature and easy to overspend and exceed your budget when it comes to building the home of your dreams. However it is very important to establish a realistic budget and a final cost of the home you can live with, and we’ll guide you in making informed choices for your home with honesty and professionalism.

Should I talk to you before buying my lot?

Before buying a lot, there are several things to consider – especially on lakefront lots. We are shoreland zoning specialists. Local zoning will have restrictions regarding the setbacks. The DNR may have updated rules you must follow.

There is the necessity for soil testing and suitability for septic systems. You may have questions if the home you desire will work with the topography of the lot.

Contact us and we’d be happy to meet with you concerning your proposed lot purchase to guide you in making an informed buying decision.

Can you build a “Green Home”?

Since the beginning of our company in 1975, the year of the “first energy crisis” – the way we build has always been greatly influenced with energy costs in mind. You’ll save money every month on energy bills and your home will be healthier, more quiet and comfortable too. We are a certified National Association Green Building Professional.

Green Building includes:

  • Sustainable Site Planning
  • Safeguarding Water and Water Efficiency
  • Energy Efficient Mechanicals and Appliances
  • Utilizing High Energy Efficiency Windows and Closed Cell Foam Insulation
  • Utilizing long life span roofing and siding materials to increase the life of the home and minimize maintenance
  • Using environmentally preferred products – sustainably harvested, recycled, reclaimed, and using low or no -VOC finishes
  • Maximizing solar exposure in the winter, minimizing in the summer
  • Maximizing day lighting. Installing motion sensor lighting and plumbing.
  • Using high efficiency LED lighting
  • Enhancing indoor air quality by using high-efficiency sealed combustion appliances.
  • Using high quality filters to remove contaminants.

Custom Home Building is the “Research Lab” for the Green Building Movement. Green Products and applications are continually being developed and we constantly look for the ones that will provide the most value to you.

Some of the newer products, such as LED lights are expected to decrease in price as use becomes more widespread.

Interested in a home that saves money on energy, water and replacement cost and saves the earth’s resources?
Contact us today to learn more.

I’ve seen some of your beautiful new homes. Do you only build large homes?

Many people touring our Parade Homes could understandably think we only design and build “large homes”. Actually the homes we build are reflective of what our clients need and desire in a home.

We strive to understand what is important to you, and from that analysis, the “perfect size for you” home is created. We make every effort to value engineer your home from many different vantage points. There does however appear to be a mind-shift as people focus more on the quality levels of their home. Are you thinking of creating a smaller yet detailed home, one that is more efficient and smarter rather than increasing the square footage?

Contact us to discover how we can create the perfect home for you.

I’m interested in contemporary architecture. Can you build that kind of home?

As a custom home builder, we’ve built a variety of different architectural styles – such as cottage, prairie, craftsman, French and English country, lodge, rustic and farmhouse styles as well as contemporary modern style homes.
What ever your favored architectural style is, or one that takes its inspiration from combining different styles, periods and cultures – contact us to discover how we can interpret and define the architectural style you desire, with enough flexibility to allow for fun and personalization of your home.

We’re from out-of-state. Does this make building our home more difficult?

Over the last 15- 20 years the majority of homes we built were for clients out of the area. Our typical homeowner lives anywhere from 50-80 miles away, sometimes even thousands of miles away and even overseas. We have a home design and building process that is uncomplicated, responsive, experienced and knowledgeable – giving you a high degree of client service and value.

“Many of our friends have built homes and after hearing their ‘stories’, we just felt we didn’t want to go down that road. We didn’t know enough about the building process and with both of us working and not living in the area, made it seem impossible. Working with you and your expertise made this a very positive experience and I would do it again with you without hesitation!” ~Peter & Claire Frye

I have property, but it’s not in Walworth County. Can you build my home?

We can build your home if it’s about an hour travel time from our office in Elkhorn. Over the years we’ve built homes not only in Walworth County but also in the surrounding areas; such as Northern Illinois, Racine County, Kenosha County, Jefferson County, and Waukesha County. 
Contact us
 for more details.
“From the “can do” attitude of your crew to the post move in detail work, all of the service your company offered is what puts you above all the rest! As we look back we understand the value of all those meetings…the results is what we are enjoying today!”~Chuck & Sue Alby