Tag Archive for: custom home builder

Happy New Year!

The New Year always brings to mind a clean slate. We say good bye to the past and embrace new beginnings. For some of you – that may mean a move, a new location and new home, and we welcome the opportunity to talk to you about what your dream home means to you.

For me – it means retiring after 25+ years working with Randy and my fellow employees at Thelen Total Construction. It has been a very fulfilling part of my life, being part of the process where families can realize their dreams of the home they always wanted. It really is a life changing process for them!

I’ve been proud to be associated with a respected company of people who are smart, creative, dedicated and experienced. We share the work, respect each other’s talents, and do what it takes to ensure a great experience for our clients, and also have a little fun each day too.

Carol & Melody at the annual Thelen Christmas Party

Knowing how important the role of Office Manager – “Command Central”, as we call it at Thelen Total Construction is – the next person to fill the position would need to be a great fit for the organization. A person who is smart, organized, energetic and self-confident. A person who gets the culture here of doing your best and doing what it takes to create a great experience for our homeowners.

We are excited to welcome Carol McCoy to Thelen Total Construction! Carol has been working here since early November and has proven herself to be a very capable member of the team.

Me – I’ll truly miss the people here, the best tradespeople around, and other respected professionals I’ve had the good fortune to work with. It’s been great!

Thank you all for the memories, and I plan to stay in touch.

Melody Fehling


According to the National Association of Home Builders, a pantry was the kitchen feature most desired by new home buyers.  Kitchen pantry possibilities range from a closet, a nook to a dedicated room.  A couple of interesting trends in pantry design:

  • Wanting more daylight in the kitchen prompts a shift in storage design. Delivering more daylight means less available wall space and that has translated to an increased interest in walk-in room pantry space.
  • A really large pantry can serve as a secondary kitchen; also known as a “messy kitchen” , or a back kitchen – complete with cooktop, dishwasher, sink, prep space, floor to ceiling storage for canned goods, serving platters, oversize pots and pans, and space for caterers to set up. With open kitchens adjacent to living areas, a back kitchen provides a place to keep kitchen chaos out of sight when company comes.

Convenience, accessibility,  and “at a glance” visibility are the key attributes of a great pantry.  A walk-in pantry doesn’t need to be fancy since it’s behind closed doors.  However, even if it’s only simple shelving, it’s a good idea to include a countertop for a landing zone. It’ll make it easier to stock items, provide extra place for food prep, and space for a blender, a stand mixer and a coffee maker.  You can add as needed wall cabinets with pull-outs and built-ins. Other features can include pullout baskets for root vegetables, narrow cubbies for large platters, and nooks for cookware. The pantry should be large enough to hold a week’s worth of groceries and close enough to the food prep area. Organization and the right location are more important than size alone though.

Other pantry design ideas to keep in mind are: Pantry Tip

  • Which way will the door open? A door that opens inward can work, but it may make an already small space smaller. When space is at a premium, the best options are a pocket, folding or a sliding “barn door.”
  • Ideal lighting illuminates every shelf evenly, so be sure to install quality LED lighting. A skylight is a great idea if the home design allows. And make sure the light switch is in a spot by the pantry door.

Whether your pantry is  built-in cabinetry, a butler’s, a walk-in, or a combination – storage is never in short supply, and your kitchen layout is optimized for maximum efficiency.

Early Spring is a perfect time for home maintenance.

Early Spring is a perfect time for home maintenance.

After a below normal temperature February, we are in the mood for spring, with a spell of above normal temps for early March.

Can’t do many of these home maintenance items right now, but it’s good to have a list of Spring To-Do’s  for when the weather is just right. Some of these are DIY projects; others are best left to professionals.

What you can do now:

  1. Replace your HVAC filters. (Do this more often than once a year.) A dirty filter forces your HVAC system to work harder, which in turn drains your wallet. It could also shorten the life of your blower motor.
  2. Check the washing machine fill hose. Look for cracks that could become leaks. A leaky hose under pressure can cause major damage in a short period of time.
  3. Clean your dryer vent. Not all lint is caught in the lint trap. Some makes its way into the dryer vent. A clean vent will save you money by reducing the time your dryer has to run. A plugged vent not only wastes money, but could also cause a house fire.
  4. Replace the batteries in your smoke detectors if you haven’t already done so with the daylight savings time change last week.
  5. Drain you water heater. Sediment builds up in your water heater tank. Use the spigot near the bottom of the heater to drain it. By doing so, you’ll prolong its life and reduce your electric bill.
  6. Clean your carpets and upholstery. Clean carpets promote better health for the entire household.
  7. Clean and organize your garage. Get rid of anything you haven’t used lately.

What to do once the weather warms up:

  1. Inspect your roof. Your roof is your first line of defense against water damage. Inspect and repair any worn areas to prevent water damage inside your home.
  2. Clean your gutters. Gutters direct rain away from your roof and home, protecting both in the process. Clogged gutters open your home to water damage; and there is a good chance you won’t notice the damage until you need an expensive repair.
  3. Fix cracks in your walks, driveways and outside of your home. Most of these repairs are fairly easy if done immediately.
  4. Repair any cracked or peeling paint. Paint makes your home look nice and provides a protective barrier from the elements.
  5. Prepare your lawn mower for summer. Change the engine oil and sharpen the cutting blade. You’ll lengthen the life of the mower and improve the look of your lawn.
  6. Check the seals around doors and windows. Winter weather can crack and harden caulk and other weather seals. You’ll reduce your air-conditioning bills in the summer.
  7. Clean vegetation around your air conditioning compressor. To work efficiently, the compressor needs good airflow. Prune any plant growth that could block it.

A few hours spent protecting and enhancing your biggest investment is time well spent!

Randy & Nancy Thelen in 1980.

Randy & Nancy Thelen in 1980.

Built to Last: Thelen Total Construction looks back on 40 years in business

Reflecting back 40 years, when Randy and Nancy Thelen started their home construction business in their home in 1974, think about this: The yearly inflation rate in the US was 11.3%, the 55 mph speed limit was imposed and daylight savings time observed year round to save energy. (Due to the 1973 oil embargo.) The global recession deepened with unemployment rising to 9%. A home mortgage rate was 9.79%. Mortgage rates rose to an astonishing 18.16% by September 1981!  Not exactly the most opportune time to start a business.

Yet, Randy Thelen was young enough not to be deterred by the pessimistic outlook of the country and driven enough to find a way to succeed. Deeply interested in designing and building homes from a young age, he started the company after high school; and initially did home remodeling projects. Nancy took care of the bookkeeping. His brother, Robert joined his company in 1976 when he graduated from high school.  (Today, Robert oversees home construction as site superintendent.)

In 1980 Earth Sheltered homes did save a LOT in heating & cooling costs! But there are much better options today.

In the1980’s, Earth Sheltered homes did save a LOT in heating & cooling costs! But there are much better options today.


When home energy costs rose dramatically in the 70’s, it became the impetus for Randy to use energy-efficient home building methods, design, and products – even building a number of earth sheltered homes in the early 80’s.  In that respect, the company was “green” way before “green” became a popular buzz word! Randy has continued his education in green home building science and is a certified Green Home Builder by the National Association of Home Builders.

Construction and business education is so critically important to building a successful business and the best resource for up-to-date construction education, research, building products and technical expertise is the National Association of Home Builders. Randy availed himself to every educational opportunity by the NAHB. Strongly believing in the power of the organization, Randy helped start the local builders association – Lakeland Builders Association in 1979, and has served three times as President.

The business continued to grow in the 80’s, and Marianne O’ Brien -Hurlburt (who recently retired in 2011 after 25 years), joined the company first as a bookkeeper and then took on construction project management duties.

A former corner gas station was remodeled into the Thelen Total Construction office in 1992.

A former corner gas station was remodeled into the Thelen Total Construction office in 1992.

Randy’s son Jason came on board in 2011 as project manager, and is also closely involved with Randy, meeting with clients in the home design phase.

Jason’s not the only offspring involved with Thelen Total Construction. In 2004, Randy’s daughter Katie started an interior design business – Katherine Elizabeth Designs, which created a synergistic alliance; giving our clients the opportunity of personalized guidance with color schemes, materials, lighting, floor coverings and furniture.

Parade of Homes 1994

Parade of Homes 1994

This is a family business; not simply because of family directly involved in the business, but also true of employees. Several employees have 20 or more years with the company. “It’s a place where employee’s work, attention to detail and input matters,” said Melody Fehling, the office manager since 1994.

Thelen Total Construction carpenters have a mind-set of building each home as if it was their own, and the office staff; Sue, Jim and Melody continually focus on creating a smoother home building experience for clients from start to finish.

2002 Parade of Homes; at over 11,000 sq ft, our largest and most elaborate home yet. We plan to have another spectacular home around this size in the 2015 Parade of Homes!

2002 Parade of Homes; at over 11,000 sq ft, our largest and most elaborate home yet. We plan to have another spectacular home around this size in LBA’s 2015 Parade of Homes.

Living and thriving in the community creates a natural desire to give back. Over the years we’ve partnered with many community organizations, sharing our building expertise:

Ribbon Cutting at the Wiswell Center, built by Thelen Total Construction in 1998

Ribbon Cutting at the Wiswell Center, built by Thelen Total Construction in 1998

We’ve designed and built the Wiswell Center at the Walworth County Fair Grounds in 1998. (Keeping the unique and historic octagon shape of the original building) We were part of the Elkhorn Mathesson Library and Community Center expansion project and most recently in 2013, been part of creating  “The Tree House”; the Walworth County Alliance for Children building.

“It’s personally gratifying using our building experience, working with other dedicated individuals to make our community a better place,” said Randy. “We continue to support many local charities and causes.”

We create lasting relationships with our homeowners. They know we are around to listen and help; whether they’ve just moved into their home, or its ten or more years later. One of the most telling facts is that several homeowners volunteer their time helping us staff our Parade Home each year! They simply enjoy talking to prospective homeowners about their homebuilding experience, and the quality of our homes. Said John and Linda Bauer, “Thelen Total Construction was wonderful to work with. They put your needs first, and make you think of everything in the planning process, so in the end, the final result is a home built for you.”

We believe that building a custom home should be one of the most rewarding, enjoyable and stress-less experiences in your life.  Our satisfied clients who continue to refer us and our area wide reputation for beautiful homes are just two of the reasons we have been in business for more than 40 years. For that we are immensely grateful.

Thelen Total Construction 2013 Parade of Homes

Thelen Total Construction 2013 Parade of Homes

Over the four decades we’ve designed, built or renovated over 250 homes in the lakes region of Walworth County. From small beginnings and tough economic times and during times of prosperity, our mission remains to build distinctive homes and treat each homeowner like theirs is the only home that matters.  Because of all the places we hold dear in our lives, your home is the most important. We come to understand that for us, for our families and for you – a home is everything.

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.