A lakefront home set on a lot with mature trees takes careful planning

A lakefront home set on a lot with mature trees takes careful planning

Do you have property you are looking forward to building your dream home on? Congratulations!  Get ready: The landscape of your home site is a complex part of the picture! It’s composed of topography, plants, trees, surrounding structures, and sometimes – lake and other water features. There are the zoning and code regulations. Each site also has a very specific solar orientation, views – both good and bad, and very often – an obvious character. There are a number of things to plan for when siting your home on your land. You’ll want to find out:

  1. What are the characteristics of the property? To know what your home building potential is, you should obtain a complete topographical survey of your property. A complete topographical survey will map out the contours, trees, flood plain, well and septic location, power poles, and existing drives. In addition, information on the adjacent properties can be added to the survey. It’s very useful to know the edge of the existing homes with sideyard and lake setbacks, the elevation of the structures, and the mature tree locations within 10 feet of the property line.
  1. What are the Setbacks? There are building codes that apply to your property. Municipalities have setback requirements for roads, fences, drives and more. An experienced builder will be well versed in the regulations and codes and design your home accordingly. Sometimes a variance will be needed and requested from the town and/or the county board before proceeding with the project. The home design drawings and where the proposed home will be located on the property (on the survey) are submitted when applying for zoning and building permits. In addition to building setbacks, state statutes require counties to adopt ordinances on shoreline zoning that include limits on how close structures can be placed to the water’s edge and the requirement to minimize clear-cutting of trees in the nearshore area.
  1. What type of soil is on the property? A soil scientist bores holes in the soil and tests for plasticity (how much the soil expands and shrinks) Many factors can be revealed by boring holes in the soil, like depth to bedrock, overall soil stability and depth to the water table. These factors can greatly influence where you will want to build your new home.
  1. What trees do I want to protect? Large shade trees and conifers take decades – or a whole lifetime to grow to maturity. Healthy, mature trees make your landscape come alive. A certified arborist can assess the health of the large trees. The arborist may suggest pruning weak or diseased branches, and how to protect trees during the construction process. The ground around the trees should not be compacted. (Don’t let heavy trucks roll over the tree roots repeatedly.) Plan the construction access and the future driveway away from large trees. For an extra-special tree or a group of trees, do not perform any regrading within the drip line. This may require a large area of protection. (Foundation walls and major construction cannot occur near the root zone.)

All of the above are all things to be mindful of in determining where to place your home. Your home site can also be the source of inspiration for your home design. When you look at your site for inspiration, good ideas tend to come very naturally. And by taking a meaningful approach with your builder you’ll have a home design that has unity with the land and interplay between the indoor and outdoor environments. The time and energy spent in the early planning phase pays off with a home that maximizes the simple enjoyment of a well-designed home.

Thelen Total Construction home nearing completion

Thelen Total Construction home nearing completion

The 2011 Gallup Poll of Honesty and Ethics in Professions asked people how they would rate the honesty and ethics of people in different fields. Nurses were at the top with 82% of people polled rating honesty and ethics at “high / very high”. Members of Congress were at the bottom with just 8% of people rating their ethics at “high / very high.” Where were Building Contractors? Just below Bankers with only 26% of people rating Building Contractors  “high / very high.”  If it’s any consolation to home builders, it’s improved over the last seventeen years. In 1994, the percentage was only 17%!  At least people were three times as likely to trust them as they were to trust a congressman!

The fact of the matter is: People do not have that kind of trust in building contractors, because many builders do not deserve it. This sentiment is nothing new. For more than a century, the building profession has tried to eradicate unprofessionalism with zoning, licensing, permitting, inspections and all sorts of legislation. We tried every regulatory attempt we can think of. Some of these efforts have had some impact. Nevertheless, we stand near the lower quadrant of the reputation totem pole.

Up until now, the entire modern era of building, our profession’s reputation has suffered. It’s been too easy for bad contractors to mask their performance with a license or bare minimum code compliance. It’s been difficult for people to find great companies among the mediocre or really bad ones.

Fortunately, that has all changed in recent times. The winds of change started happening with the emergence of customer ratings on sites such as Google, Yahoo, Yelp, and Angie’s List.

Next: The Rating Sites get Rated too. 

The Rating Sites were rated by Consumer Reports in 2013. Consumer Reports had some concerns that some rating systems can be gamed by fake reviews and that advertising on the sites can sway visitors. Advertisers on Angie’s List get more profile views than companies that don’t buy ads. Who indeed, can you trust?

Knowing how important reputation and reviews are to choosing the best builder, in 2005 we asked GuildQuality, a company that provides customer satisfaction surveying for builders and remodelers to send our clients a customer satisfaction survey after move-in. We like that GuildQuality’s surveying is completely impartial, and their website has no paid advertising. It’s also a great tool that helps us identify where we need improvement and helps us deliver an exceptional client experience. For a summary of our customer feedback, click here: GuildQuality.

Recently GuildQuality posted that in 2009, they looked at the recommendation rate among all Guildmembers, including those who have recently gone out of business. They observed that among those in early 2008 that had a recommendation rate below 80%, one in five had gone out of business a year later. Among those with a recommendation rate greater than 95%, only one in fifty had shut their doors.

The verdict: Companies with exceptional service are 10X more likely to succeed than mediocre businesses. 

The internet is making service and quality more transparent, and the scales are tipping towards the best home contractor businesses. The poorly run companies and service providers will find it increasingly difficult to find customers, and could potentially go out of business. It’ll be interesting to see a Gallop Poll in another 5-10 years to see if the “new reputation economy” improves the honesty / ethics rankings of building contractors!

 

 

New Home Construction by Thelen Total Construction

Are you a little apprehensive about building or remodeling your home because of hearing negative home building experiences from friends and family? Relax! By taking care to choose your builder wisely, being part of the team, having a realistic sense of budget and time completion , your home construction can go smoothly and dare we say it – even be enjoyable!

 

1. Choose an Experienced Design / Build Builder

 The most critical of the four steps is choosing wisely who will build your home. Most of us do not have the time or the expertise to research every type of technology, material or plan design that can be used in a new home or home renovation. By using an experienced company you can rely upon their years of experience to guide you in the right direction. Are they going to be the least expensive? Probably not. (They may not be the most expensive either.) A good builder will often save you money value-engineering the home design and giving you the pros and cons of various material selections.

An experienced builder will depend on the client’s input throughout the design and planning process as much as the client depends on the builder. By listening carefully to what you need and desire during the home design process, you work out the design issues most important to you and stay on budget.

Robert Thelen, job superintendent, and Randy Thelen, owner reviewing a layout on a job.

Robert Thelen, job superintendent, and Randy Thelen, owner reviewing a layout on a job.

 

2. Be Part of the Team and Communicate Frequently.

Being part of the team means a time commitment from you of participating in the process from design phase to throughout the construction phase. Communication is so vital! During the design phase, being able to describe and show your builder what space and materials you like gives a reference point to understanding where you are coming from. The website Houzz is great resource for creating visual idea books and we also use our own Design Outline in this process. If staying on budget is a top priority, create a prioritized list of “must haves”, “would be nice to have” and “future improvements.”

Ask your builder to assist you in understanding what is being done at each phase of the construction project. If you don’t understand something, ask. If something does not “look right” to you – bring it up.  Sometimes you catch a potential mistake; sometimes you need to modify something about the design. The earlier you do so saves everyone’s time and money.  You should plan on frequent status reports and meetings on site to go over important issues.

 

3. Establish Your Budget and Add 10 – 15% to it.

Be sure to set aside a construction contingency fund for the unforeseen issues that will come up. An example would be the well drilling estimate for 100 feet and your well requires 300 feet, at an additional cost. You can be determined to stay within your budget on allowance items such as flooring, appliances and cabinetry, but what if you fall in love with a certain expensive countertop and it becomes a “must have”?  Having an extra cushion you budgeted for makes for a more enjoyable experience.

 

4. Don’t Get Attached to an Optimistic Timeline

Ideally, your builder will take the time to carefully plan and build your dream home most efficiently. It takes time to work out the details both in the design planning phase and sometimes issues can only be resolved on-site. During the beginning phase of construction, extreme weather can cause delays. Later on, your time making decisions on material selections can also impact the schedule. Just like a construction cost contingency, you’ll be wise to build in a time contingency as well. You may be envisioning enjoying your new home in time for Thanksgiving, and most builders try their best – but realistically there could be a chance the building project will go late. Do yourself a favor: Have a back-up plan in case you can’t be in your home on your exact date.

Few things in life are more exciting than designing and building a new home! By doing your “homework”, knowing what to expect during the design and building phase you’ll have a rewarding experience and a home that will be a joy to live in and share.

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. www.insteon.com.

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.

www.nest.com.

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

www.meethue.com

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. www.revolv.com.

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!