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Ultimate Dream Home vs Reality Dream Home

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Thelen Total Construction Kitchen

Building a new home – more than any other endeavor tends to pit dreams against the hard reality of cost.  And it’s pretty common for the homeowners’ vision to be out of sync with the budget and actual costs to build. That can be disappointing, but there can be creative solutions that reduce building costs while still delivering that vision.

The solution to the budget conundrum involves more than shrinking the size of the home and giving up favorite features and amenities. The method for finding the happy medium is called ‘value engineering.’ It’s a way of doing everything that optimizes the return on every dollar, and it’s not just a random cost-cutting exercise. Instead it’s a systematic and thoughtful approach to satisfying the homeowners’ most important needs while still honoring the budget.

We put on the “value-engineering glasses” when initial pricing is completed and it looks like the home design and materials will need to be modified to keep it in budget. An experienced builder knows of alternatives that lower costs while maintaining quality. The goal is to support the homeowners in making informed choices.

It’s not unusual to be able to shave tens of thousands of dollars off the budget for a custom home by making a lot of small adjustments that only minimally impact the home’s look and feel—if you know how to do it right.

How does a builder know where to make those adjustments?

By asking the right questions in the right way, identifying patterns in the answers, and reading between the lines. A builder who is good at this can often uncover priorities that the homeowners weren’t able to articulate. Solutions can then be tailored to those priorities.

For instance, if the conversation reveals that the homeowners aren’t likely to use the front porch very often, they may be receptive to making it smaller. If a priority is a large kitchen with high end appliances, having a simply designed family room can completely acceptable. Where substitutions must be made, the trick is in knowing which lower-cost materials and design features will deliver the needed performance, aesthetic, or warranty features, while not increasing maintenance costs or reducing the home’s longevity.

Value engineering can also include reducing exterior wall space by simplifying the facade. Exterior walls cost a lot more to build than interior walls, so a facade with fewer corners, nooks, and crannies will require less materials and labor. Changes could be as simple as moving windows or doors a few inches to eliminate framing members, or as complex as adjusting the home’s footprint to minimize waste in roofing and siding without sacrificing interior space.

It even means working with subcontractors to redesign pipe, wire and duct runs. In fact, good value engineering is a team effort, and a good team of subcontractors will be accustomed to helping make it work.

Budget is a very important factor in home building. During the design and the building process, fully understanding what the essentials are for the new home, and considering what are the “nice to include if budget allows”, helps you make informed decisions to create a home you’ll enjoy for a lifetime.

A Lot to Think About…Planning your Home on your Lot

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.

Four Steps for Stress-free Home Construction

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.

The Internet of Things: How Home Automation is changing with Smartphone Apps

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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!

Steps to finding the Perfect Lot

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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!