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How long have you been in business?

A newly constructed Thelen Total Construction home - built to look like a 19th century farmhouse.

A newly constructed Thelen Total Construction home – built to look like a 19th century farmhouse.

Why this is a great question to ask a builder.

The National Association of Homebuilders estimates that it takes at least 3 to 5 years to create a sustainable building business. Most builders never get there: residential contractors have a failure rate higher than nearly every other business type, surpassed only by restaurants.

Only the strongest  homebuilding companies survive.

High-end custom home building is even more competitive. The few companies that rise to the top of this challenging niche are financially sound and professionally managed. They work to exacting quality standards. They know how to keep customers happy. These top builders all have a lot of experience. One only learns to excel at building complex homes for demanding customers by, well, building complex homes for demanding customers.

But it’s not just a numbers game. Besides having completed lots of homes for lots of people, the best builders make a point of learning something from each job. They spend time at the end of the project analyzing what worked and what didn’t, and they put those lessons to work on future projects. That’s one reason they have risen to the top of their markets.

Another reason is that they stay abreast of industry trends. Like everything else in today’s world, the demands on builders are growing faster than ever. They include ever-evolving tastes in home design, as well as codes, standards, and regulations. Successful, experienced builders educate themselves and their staff on these trends and smoothly incorporate them into their business practices.

Tuscan villa home constructed by Thelen Total Construction featured in 2015 Parade of Homes.

Tuscan villa home constructed by Thelen Total Construction featured in 2015 Parade of Homes.

Depth of experience and a culture of learning have direct benefits for customers. Top builders systematically track the time and money required to complete each project.  Over the years, they have learned exactly what can and cannot be accomplished with a given schedule and budget. And they have developed the communication and problem-solving skills to help customers reconcile the vision with the reality.

Experienced custom builders will also have earned the trust of their business partners. A long track record with material suppliers ensures the best prices and delivery schedules. And because like companies tend to flock together, experienced professional builders have long-term work relationships with the most experienced and professionally managed trade contractors in town, including plumbers, electricians, and HVAC companies. These relationships play a huge role in getting the job done right for a fair price and in a timely manner.

Rustic lodge design home

Long after the home is complete, these relationships ensure quick responses to warranty requests. In fact, customers can be confident that if a warranty item needs servicing a few years down the road, the experienced pro’s team will be around to take care of it. How many new companies can offer that peace of mind?

The point is that high integrity, great communication skills, and a track record of successful projects and satisfied customers raise the odds of a smooth building process. Hiring a professional company with the resources needed to do a great job, on time, and with minimal stress pays off big in the long run.

Man Cave Psychology 101

Rugged and comfortable place to settle in and watch the game.

Rugged and comfortable place to settle in and watch the game.

A man cave is a space in the home where the men can totally express themselves – both in deciding on the style and the main purpose of the space. Man caves are emerging as an enduring trend in today’s custom home design. That being said, do you really need to consider having “man cave” space in a home?

Sam Gosling, a University of Texas at Austin psychology professor, and author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You; said, “It’s incredibly important to be in one’s own space and have it resonate with who you are.” So yes – your man really does need a man cave!

Women traditionally influence how a home is designed and decorated, and the main living areas may be a reflection of her tastes and use for the spaces. That means men can feel isolated in their own homes, even if it’s on a subconscious level. Even in situations where couples both have input in designing and decorating the space – the space is perceived as a compromise, and it may not be meeting the emotional needs for the individuals. Personal space is incredibly important.

Man caves serve a basic psychological function.  It’s especially vital if the guy’s emotional needs aren’t being met in other spaces in the home. When it comes to designing and outfitting a man cave, Gosling says it’s extremely important that there is no compromise. That’s because a space that properly satisfies and regulates a man’s emotional and psychological needs is much less likely to evolve if someone else influences the outcome.

There is a dramatic uptick in the amount of requests for extra man space in a custom home. Men are carving out a space with home theater technology, surround sound, wet bar (including a kegerator), and game table areas. There is going to be space for the prized collection of sports memorabilia. Space for the guitars, amps and concert memorabilia. No compromise!

Man cave spaces we’ve done included a model train room, an oversized garage for restoring old cars, (including lifts to store vehicles) and a state-of-the-art workshop for wood working and tinkering.  These spaces often include a full bathroom; sometimes with a urinal.

When designing a new home, the lower level or the sub-garage area offers possibilities for a man cave space. Another ideal area is the bonus room over the garage. Sometimes it’s making the garage the ultimate man cave garage if your guy loves hanging out there.

So man cave space in your home is a good thing to have.  You work hard and all you want just a little personalized space to hang with the guys, a space that is all yours. It’s not the equivalent of the boy’s tree house with the sign “No Girls Allowed” – because if guys get their man cave space, I think the ladies will still be invited for a beer now and then!

In another blog, I’ll devote some space to what is a mini-trend I’ve noticed on Houzz: “She-Sheds” or “Chick Shacks”, for that private space women crave away from the main house!

 

January is Radon Action Month

January is Radon Awareness Month

What you Don’t Know and Can’t See Can Hurt You

Could there be a chance that the air in your home is polluted by a completely odorless and colorless gas that damage lungs and can potentially give you and your family lung cancer? Wouldn’t you want to know if it was in your home?  The gas in question is radon, and given that January is Radon Action Month; a month when we normally spend much more time indoors; it is a good time to learn more about it.

A few years ago, I became concerned about radon in my my home because the bad news is – Walworth County is a high risk area for radon. The soil in our area contains an unevenly distributed and generally small amount of uranium, the same mineral that is mined for fueling nuclear power plants. When uranium starts breaking down in soil, rock or water, one of the byproducts of this breakdown is radon gas. If your house is built on soil that contains some uranium, this radioactive gas can seep through cracks, sump pumps and other openings in basement floors and walls. The location of radon can be very sporadic. Your home may have a high radon level, and your neighbor’s home can be just fine.

Make sure your indoor air is safe from radon.

Make sure your indoor air is safe from radon.

The EPA estimates that radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year in the U.S. It’s the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. If you do smoke and your home has elevated radon levels, your risk of lung cancer goes up even more. The good news is that this problem does have solutions.

The best way to find out if you have a radon problem is to do a radon test. The Environmental Production Agency (EPA) and the Surgeon General of the United States recommends that the test be done in the living areas of your home where your family spends most of their time.

The testing procedure is very simple. It involves buying a small test kit, setting it up in the living area following the instructions, leaving it in place for the amount of time indicated, and then sending the kit back in a self-addressed pre-paid mailer. The lab will send you easy to read results within a week or two, or even earlier if you provide your email address.

Testing is inexpensive. You can get a test kit from the Walworth County Public Health Department for $10. (Contact Walworth County Public Health at 262-741-3140 to pick up a kit.) Or you can purchase mail- in test kits for less than $25 at local hardware stores.

I did the radon test on each floor of my home and found that I had a very high level of radon gas detected in the lower level and first floor; the main living areas. Since I had a problem, I knew I needed to install a system that would get the radon out of my home. Such systems need to be installed by a qualified contractor. While the cost of fixing this problem can seem high (typically $800-$1,200) it is a real bargain when weighed against removing the threat of lung cancer from your home.

The winter months are the perfect time to test your home for radon and make sure that your family is protected against this invisible threat to their long-term health. If you find out that you too have high levels of radon in your home – call me at 262-723-3588 for  qualified radon mitigation specialists to contact.

 

 

Keys to Success

The Builder 20 Group at Lambeau Field

The Builder 20 Group at Lambeau Field

Recently Randy and Jason Thelen traveled to Manitowoc , the site of the Fall Builder 20 Meeting, hosted by Jim Reif  owner of J.M. Reif Builders, in Francis Creek Wisconsin.

What is Builder 20, you might ask? Well, it’s a way to surround yourself with the best of the best; some of the smartest people in custom home building.

More than a decade ago the National Association of Home Builders started Builder 20 Groups as a way to connect custom home builders with other custom home builders from all across the country. By setting up these groups custom home builders have a network of non-competing peers. As a group they look as all aspects of the home building business and are able to share challenges and opportunities with each other.

Builder 20 members in our group traveled from all over the country: Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, South Carolina, and California, and enjoyed touring Lambeau Field in Green Bay, the Kohler manufacturing plant and Kohler Design Center.

Said Randy, “I could see similarities between custom home building and the way Kohler approaches their business. Kohler is at the leading edge in design. They set a standard for excellence, and drive for continuous improvement. Their skilled workforce produces some of the most innovative and beautiful products available. For us – after close to forty years in business, and for Kohler, after four generations being a family owned company striving for professional and personal growth is something that is never ending.”

Speaking of innovative and beautiful – Put this on your list of cool places to visit in Wisconsin:  The Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan. A must see at the center is their incredible bathrooms!  They almost always make the list of best public bathrooms of the world. (Yes, there are lists like that.) Understandably, the motto of the Kohler Art Center is “Expect the Unexpected”!

 

What is a Modern Vintage Home?

Thelen Total Construction Parade Home

Close to 1,200 people saw our Parade home during the open house event a few weeks ago, many telling us it was their favorite one in the Parade of Homes. Our home in Lakeland Builders Association’s 2013 Parade of Homes was one that can be described as Modern Vintage. A richly detailed home, with  nostalgic architectural details. You just leave your stress at the door when you enter the relaxing lakefront abode. And what can be better than a “Modern Vintage” home? We designed and built a home that only looks like it’s 100 years old without the headaches that come from owning an actual 100-year-old home!  One with excellent energy efficiency, long-lasting, maintenance saving building materials, a layout that functions for how you live today, and with all the modern electronics and appliances that add ease and enjoyment to your life.

Some visitors who admired this home own authentic historic homes on Lauderdale Lakes and other areas. A few we talked to asked how they could renovate it, keeping the character of their home yet have a home that functions for modern living.  Or is the best solution to tear down and create a new “Modern Vintage” home? (Sometimes that can be the less costly solution.) It’s a  difficult decision to make, usually fraught with emotion, especially if you have family ties to the old historic home. If this is you, please contact us for a personal analysis.

One of the favorite details of visitors was the upstairs barn doors in the home. (Or do you call them “sliders?!”) If you love “sliders”, you’ll enjoy this article in “inthralld” with great photos of barn doors as a design element in other homes.

Barn Doors add character to the home

Barn Doors add character to the home