Connecting screen porch, deck and patio spaces draw you outdoors.

Connecting screen porch, deck and patio spaces draw you outdoors.

Homeowners are increasingly drawn to including outdoor rooms for entertaining and recreation when improving or building a new home. Landscape architects who specialize in residential design rated the popularity of outside design elements. Outdoor kitchens and entertainment spaces received a 94.5% as very popular. 97% of respondents rated fire pits and fireplaces as very in-demand.

We believe you should plan your home and the surrounding landscape as an integrated whole, rather than two separate environments. This will create constant interplay between the inside and the outside.

What are the most important things to consider when designing your outdoor space?

  • Views to be enjoyed or obscured
  • Entertaining: Seating areas, grilling space and outdoor kitchen
  • Play space for children
  • Outdoor games space
  • Garden space: Vegetables and flowers
  • Sheltered and screened-in space from wind, rain, cold and insects
  • Orientation of the sun at different times of the day
  • Lighting requirements for night time
  • Place for spa, swimming pool, fireplace and/or fire pit
  • Low maintenance outdoor products: stone, composite decks, pavers and concrete
  • Low maintenance native plants and/or irrigation system
  • Designed water features: Pond, waterfall, and/or stream

In Wisconsin, we want to extend the months of outdoor enjoyment. We’re creating screen porches that really can be used for three seasons! Going way beyond just space for wicker furniture, the screen porch gets larger to accommodate an outdoor kitchen, dining, and entertaining spaces – maximizing function and enjoyment. During the early spring and autumn months, a fireplace in the screen porch makes it a cozy gathering place. 92% radiant efficient ceiling mounted quartz heaters direct the warmth to you, not the surroundings, and they are less expensive to operate. Roll-down clear-view shades block wind, rain and cold during unpredictable spring and autumns.

The fireplace in the screen porch is a focal point and adds cozy warmth.

The fireplace in the screen porch is a focal point and adds cozy warmth.

Only your imagination and budget limit the extent of your outdoors retreat. When you extend your family’s living space outdoors, you are allowing a greater opportunity to connect with nature. What could be better?


Not home? Set the stage for your arrival by turning on the lights with your smartphone.

Not home? Set the stage for your arrival by turning on the lights with your smartphone.

The volume of technology news is enormous. From the perspective of a custom home builder, this stream of tech news is like trying to drink from a fire hose. What are the important macro trends? The Internet of Things (IoT) is a macro trend worth understanding. There are powerful internet chips that are being specified into products like thermostats, lights and appliances, and included in home networks to deliver increasing energy efficiency, expanded monitoring capabilities and greater control using smart phones.

One of the best magazines on home building; the appropriately named “Fine Homebuilding” has an article this month on how a smart phone can orchestrate an entire house full of electronic devices, many of which could only be controlled manually a year or two ago. Here are a few standouts:

Complete Remote Control

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a device in your home that Insteon doesn’t make controls for. Their remote, switches, plugs and sensors can monitor and operate lights, HVAC systems, garage doors and even irrigation controls.

Civilized Fire Safety

Fed up with being screamed at by your smoke detector for burning the toast? the Nest Connect smoke-and-carbon-monoxide alarm has an impressive list of features to make you and your family more secure. Wirelessly pair multiple Nest Connect alarms to create a web of devices that alert you to impending threats while constantly monitoring itself for issues such as lowe batteries (no more chirping low-battery sounds while you are trying to get to sleep) or sensor malfunctions.

  • Green, yellow and red lights work together with spoken messages to tell you what is-or what isn’t happening in your home.
  • Nest Connect can tell Nest Thermostat to shut down a gas furnace when it detects dangerous levels of CO.
  • Control features and receive notifications through Nest iOS or Android apps.

More than a light switch

The new Hue LED bulbs from Phillips with the Hue app can gradually ramp up the bulbs brightness for a virtual sunrise, turn lights on and off when you are not at home, and even match the color of the light to that of a photo you take with your phone’s camera. It’s not really designed to give you bright light, but if you love color and how it evokes a mood – you’re going to fall in love with it!

  • Join up to 50 bulbs
  • 600 lumens per bulb

Singular Smart-Home Solution

All of the above new home automation systems are great, but with every smart light switch, thermostat, and home automation component you purchase, that’s one more smart phone app or web interface you need to set up and manage. The solution for app clutter? the Revolv Hub. It’s a wireless base station and its companion app connects to dozens of popular devices for an integrated automation experience. The company plans to link 95% of all app-controlled devices.

Homes will be increasingly connected to the Internet of Things over the next 5 to 10 years. Our job as custom home builder requires assessment of the new technology – weighing the benefits and drawbacks for you. If you are building a new home, the possibilities are exciting for creating a technologically advanced home!

The Perfect Lot

You are ready to build a new home. What do you do first? Do you select the style and a plan – or do you select the building lot? Both approaches have merit. Having an idea of the architectural style you prefer will determine the size and characteristics of your ideal building site. You’ll run into problems if you select a specific floor plan too soon though. You can always design a home to suit the landscape, but you may not be able to alter a landscape to accommodate a predetermined house plan. Great custom home design always starts with the site. A truly special home is never designed first, and then placed on the property. Every person has a different idea of what is the ideal location for their dream home. It’s important to do your homework and learn all that you can about the property before jumping in. Take the time to truly evaluate the amenities you’d like in the area. The following are some of the key issues to consider.

Location  The most important is location. What to evaluate when selecting the location?

  • Your preference for a town, subdivision, lakeside or rural setting
  • How far do you want to travel for work
  • Proximity to shopping, entertainment, schools, emergency services and health care
  • Property tax rate
  • Zoning or permitted uses of land near any locations being considered
  • Building codes. Regulations will specify how close you can build to property line, streams and lakes.

Improvements and Features The next step is to determine what the lot offers in terms of improvements or features. Most rural locations, outside of towns are well and septic. The cost of improvements to keep in mind is:

  • Sewer and/or municipal water hook-up or septic system and well: What is the approximate cost of each?
  • The two types of private sanitation systems are the traditional septic tank and leach field, or the “mound” system. They vary cost and the choice is determinate on the soil type, slope of the lot and available area for the system.
  • Natural gas, electricity, telephone and cable TV availability and associated hook-up costs.
  • Water drainage. Are there any hills or low spots that make your home subject to water runoff and require fill?
  • Tear-down costs of the existing home on the property

Features and challenges to evaluate:

  • Is the site flat? Are there slopes or streams? Wooded? Are there any other geological conditions that may affect the design or placement of your home?
  • Where are the most pleasing views? Which views would you lie to see from the living areas? From the kitchen? From the bedrooms?
  • Opportunity for an exposed lower level basement with a sloped lot
  • Direction the house will face. A properly orientated home can save you in fuel bills, and give you a lot more enjoyment, if you orientate the primary family living spaces south.
  • Suitable soil or subsoil. This can vary from one building site to another. Soils drain and retain water differently, and have vastly different capabilities to bear structural loads.
  • Can other structures and homes be clearly seen from the building lot? What is the prevailing architectural style?
  • Will the size of the proposed home be proportionate to the size of the lot? 

Subdivision Controls If you are considering a subdivision location, you will need to have a sense of the type of house you’d like to build. Then check each development’s protective covenants to make sure your house fits within those guidelines. Some subdivisions may have:

  • Protective covenants, deed restrictions and architectural controls such as square footage, setbacks, roof pitch and required building materials
  • Home Owners’ Association structure and fees
  • Setback/building envelope rules 

Take your time evaluating each proposed home site.  You may also be tempted to skimp on the cost of the land so you can spend more money on building your dream home. Don’t. The cost of altering an unsuitable lot is likely to be more expensive that purchasing land that meets your needs and your dreams. How much should you spend? There are exceptions, but in most areas your land will represent 15% to 25% of your total building costs.

For such as important decision, we’d be happy to offer our input on the home site you are interested before buying.  Because while many details about your new home can be modified in later years as your lifestyle evolves, changing the location is not one of them!

The Green Built Home: High Performance, Cost Effective & Low Maintenance.

The Green Built Home: High Performance, Cost Effective & Low Maintenance. 

What can you do when building a new home to lessen the harmful impact on the environment? With all the resources and knowledge available today – there is no reason not to build an environmentally conscientious, green home. Here are the 5 most important things you can do:

Don’t build more than you need. You don’t want to build too much house, instead you want your home to feel and fit “just right”. A house that is too large will contain wasted space. Unused space and cost you more to heat and cool. When planning your home, take careful consideration of your current lifestyle. By the same token, do take time to think ahead. If you plan on expanding your family, or plan on caring for your senior parents, put the right accommodations and resources into place. Will you be living in your home 10, 20 or 30 years? As you age, consider what your future needs and lifestyle are and plan for such.

Go solar. No matter where you live, build your home so you have unobstructed solar access from 9:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon with a southern exposure. Place the majority of your windows on the southern side, and place overhangs or awnings to shield the sun’s hot summer rays. Use energy efficient low-e windows that will absorb and radiate the sun’s heat.  (low-e windows can save up to 24% on heating & cooling costs) Plant trees near your home to offer natural shade on the southern sides and take advantage of skylights (with shades) to maximize the sun’s energy.

Use adequate insulation. The greatest energy savings to your home will come in the form of your home’s insulation. Spray polyurethane foam insulation (which contains no urea formaldehyde) has the highest R-Value in the market and uniformly seals cracks and crevices and eliminates drafts. And gives you a quieter indoor environment too.

Use environmentally friendly products. Everything from your roofing material, building materials, insulation, to your flooring, counters and cabinets and paints can be environmentally friendly. Many of today’s home products are made recycled materials (composite material decking, recycled glass), or are natural (cork, bamboo) and harvested sustainably. Other products are very durable (lifetime warranty shingles, granite countertops), keeping replacement waste out of landfills.

Use energy efficient products. Choose appliances and electronics with the Energy Star label for energy efficiency. For heating and cooling, consider geo-thermal. Geothermal can save up to 60% on heating & cooling compared to other systems, operates for years with little maintenance, and excess heat can be used to supplement the home hot water heater. Choose LED lighting, which can last 25 times longer than an incandescent bulb and use 75% less energy. Widespread use of LEDs could save the equivalent of $30 billion at today’s electricity prices.

Some of the choices will increase your initial building cost, but they have the potential to save you a LOT more down the road. Green is the preferred, smart way to build a home that respects the environment, saves resources and your money in the long run.


Consider all the details - large and small that make it a home for you.

Consider all the details – large and small that make it a home for you.

I read an article recently in Houzz that really resonated with me. It was written by Bud Dietrich, an architect in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, and he thought there was a perception out there that when you build a new home, you’ll never get it completely right. There will always be something you forgot, or something you’d do differently if you’d have another chance. People just believe that the house they build just won’t be 100% right.

You know what?  It’s simply not true! I’ll share with you the steps he wrote about and the ones we live by too, that will ensure that your new home will be perfect, with no regrets.

Know Thyself. Who are you? What do you like? What do you hate? What is your ideal living space arrangement? What’s your typical weekday? What’s your typical weekend? What do you enjoy doing? (We get to know you with questions like these in our own Design Outline, a step-by-step, room-by-room outline that helps you help us create the perfect home.) So yes, while we all share a lot of common traits, we are also quite unique. You can begin with a room count, square footage and a style, but then take that to the next level by tailoring the perfect plan to you and yours.

Hire a Professional. Just like there are benefits to hiring a lawyer rather than representing yourself in court, or going to a doctor to diagnose and treat an ailment, you’ll benefit by hiring professionals such as a design/ build home builder, an architect or an interior designer. They will help you in countless ways including:

  • Helping you get to know yourself and what you want
  • Guiding you to the best solutions for your particular issues
  • Asking you things that you never would have thought about

Make sure you hire the right professionals though. Doing your homework to find the right person is well worth your time. They are not all equal. An experienced professional that listens to you and whom you can work with will save you time, money and grief throughout the project.

Think Big. Don’t think “big” relates only to size; it doesn’t. Think about how your home relates to and becomes part of the landscape, and how a home is a reflection of you and who you are. Remember that “big” is what gives your home its uniqueness and defining character.

Think Small. Designing and building a home involves making many, many decisions. Some of these will be big, but many, many more will be of the small detail variety. It can seem daunting, but with the guidance of a design professional, having a universe of options available will mean you’ll select the perfect detail.

Think In-Between. From the scale of the big idea to the smallest detail, it all comes together somewhere in the middle. This is where you’ll live; where you will enjoy the outdoor sights and sounds from the screen porch, loving that the counter is at the right height, contemplating the morning vista from your bedroom window, and more. You don’t want to skimp on the amount of time you’ll spend planning and designing this middle ground.

Enjoy. It’ll take longer than you thought, and you’ll invest more than you expect. But in the end you’ll have a home like no other. The details… You’ll revel in the touch and feel of everything. You just can’t wait to be home to enjoy how the light fall across the wall, or how that little extra storage makes all the difference.  You’ll have a place that you won’t feel you need to change, to expand, to redecorate, to remodel for many, many years to come, if ever.

Welcome home!