Archive for August, 2009

Tips to Stay Within your Building Allowance

Custom home by Brock Builders

Custom home by Brock Builders

Whether building a new home from a stock plan or working with a custom home architect, staying in budget is what homeowners aim for most. Although most general contractors will provide a building allowance, not all builders explain what is covered in the construction budget and leave many homeowners confused about what they are actually allowed to choose for their home. Settling for the cheapest bottom line and not comparing allowances from builder to builder often leaves the homeowner with a higher price tag in the end, or less than satisfactory products and finishes in the home. With a few simple steps and questions however, building a house on a budget is not as hard as it seems.

While the term budget can often sound restricting, in new home terms it is meant to identify the bottom line, or implied total cost of building your home. A construction allowance shows more than just the final cost. It should include several components that allow homeowner and builder to agree on the number at the bottom and the products in the end result. Many new homeowners make the tragic error of wanting one number on the receipt but don’t understand how the building allowance works. Before signing on the dotted line, consider the following points:

Don’t buy more house than you can afford.
While this may seem obvious, several new homeowners find themselves building a larger home than they can afford only to run out of money for allowances. If your entire construction budget is spent on the dwelling itself, there is typically not much money left over for upgrades or high-end products and the homeowners are left unsatisfied. Too much house often equals too little money for the finishing touches.

Talk with your builder about your wants before signing any contracts.
A good builder or general contractor will listen to your wants and needs before creating the new home allowance. Discuss what you envision the home will look like. Remember, adding a couple of square feet here and there or switching tile for hardwoods can translate to thousands of dollars in unforeseen upgrades.

Visit wholesalers to see if your choices are available.
You may prefer granite countertops, but your building allowance only calls for laminate. Often times in the construction budget breakdown, the builder’s preferred vendors or stores are available for you to visit and make sure for yourself that the products you anticipate wanting in your new home are in fact part of what you’re paying for upfront.

Spend money now on the products that will cost more to install later.
Products such as tile work, hardwoods, fireplace surrounds and cabinetry can be expensive to upgrade, however they are even more expensive to install at a later date. There are hidden costs in removing, stripping, replacing all of these products, not to mention costs for installation. It makes sense to spend the money now to have them done, rather than pay someone later. After the move in, less costly items such as light fixtures, towel bars, and drawer pulls can be upgraded and installed as time and money permit.

Remember, the most important thing when trying to stay within your new home allowance is to do as much research upfront and talk with your builder about the types of products you envision in the home. Simple conversations in the beginning can result in thousands of dollars saved in the end.

Trends in Custom Homes Offer Innovative Techniques

2009 building trends have seen quite a few changes from the recent years of opulence and grandiose residences. While many homeowners still enjoy elegant living, it is not the showy products that are popular, but rather the increase and focus on sustainable living and practical spaces. With several builder trends moving away from the McMansions and onto green building, smaller homes and flex spaces, new homes are an improved version of what once was.

Outdoor living space - Custom home by Brock Builders

Outdoor living space - Custom home by Brock Builders

Smaller Homes
The old adage of less is more is not always true, but with many trends in new homes, this is becoming more and more popular. Smaller doesn’t necessarily equal less quality, but having a smaller footprint can often create a larger impact on saving resources, time and money. With the rise of open floor plans, many smaller homes are still just as functional as larger ones, but are more practical in layout and functionality.

Flex Space
It might be a home office to you or a library to another, but whatever the reason, flex space is a frequent addition to new floor plans. A qualified general contractor can assist in altering a plan’s flex space to fit your needs. Work with your builder to create a black-out room for home theaters or the builder trend of built-in furniture and French doors for the home office.

With homes shrinking in size, storage remains a top priority among 2009 building trends. While closets are important, many homeowners are turning to the attic as a new functional space. Often thought of as dead space, the walk-out attic can now become additional square footage to store more than Christmas ornaments and old clothes.

Outdoor Living/Outdoor Rooms

You don’t need a sprawling back yard to have an enjoyable outdoor living area. Functional living space can include everything from an outdoor kitchen and fireplace, to a comfortable seating area and a water feature. How you choose to spend your time outdoors is entirely customizable with your vision and local home builder’s prowess. The recent increase in home technology and green building also expands to outdoor living spaces. Wire your outdoor room for football games and movies, while enjoying delicious meals and an on-site recycling station.

Green Features
One of the largest builder trends practiced today is green building. Whether the home is entirely green, such as a HealthyBuilt Home, or includes tankless water heaters, recycled materials, rainwater collection systems or energy-efficient appliances, green home builders are in high demand and with recent energy tax credits, any-size home can do its part to conserve energy.

Several other trends in new homes include the addition of technology throughout the home such as in security systems, cameras, built-in speakers and other technological conveniences. Custom kitchen design is still one of the most popular home building trends and includes functional spaces rather than rarely-used rooms, such as the formal dining room. Desks, computers, cell-phone recharging stations and multi-use islands are all easy additions yet popular examples of functional custom kitchen designs.

Trends in new homes come and go, but how you live in your home is always the most important part of any new home build.


New Home Punchlists are Crucial for Homeowner and Builder

Saturday, August 15th, 2009 | Custom Home Construction, General Contractors | No Comments
Custom home by Asheville general contractor Brock Builders

Custom home by Asheville general contractor Brock Builders

When building a new home, most homeowners care about staying in budget and moving in on time. One often overlooked but important part of the home building process is the punch list. Any professional general contractor or custom home builder will work with the homeowner to complete the criteria listed on the punch list in order to create a positive relationship with the homeowner.

A punch list is a list of items created by the homeowner and builder toward the end of construction and explains all of the necessary items needed to complete the custom home construction. Typically the builder and a representative for the builder will walk through with the homeowner and possibly the real estate agent (if one is being used) and scan the home for flaws or anything that was not done according to the contract. When determining the flaws, there are two categories in which flaws usually fit: reasonable and unreasonable. The latter affects the quality of the home and can often delay moving into a new home.

While damage is fairly inevitable, most custom home builders will prepare for reasonable flaws and typically do their own walk-through before the official punch list inspection occurs with the homeowner. It is important that the person who prepares the punch list is familiar with the home’s plans and specifications and is not someone who is new to the home.

Just as no two custom home projects are the same, no two punch lists will have the same items. Typically speaking however, the same types of items are inspected and they usually include the following:

  • Paint and Finish flaws (external and internal)
  • Missing trim pieces
  • Inoperable plumbing fixture
  • HVAC controls
  • Hardware
  • Appliances
  • Inoperable electrical fixtures and outlets
  • Fixtures and materials that do not conform to specifications

Prior to the punch list inspection, the following items should also be closely examined for any flaws:

  • Smoke detectors
  • Lights and outlet testing
  • Hand rails, guard rails and stair rails
  • Electrical systems
  • Stairs
  • Insulation
  • Appliances
  • Plumbing fixtures

Once all of the punch list items have been addressed, it is still important for the homeowner to obtain a list of contractors and building material suppliers in the event a repair is necessary and the builder is unavailable. It is also recommended to acquire a list of design consultants, including the architect, engineers, landscape architect, interior designer, etc for any record keeping.

After the homeowner moves into the home, a truly great builder will not dissolve the relationship and should make him or herself available for any necessary repairs. For example, in certain regions such as Asheville, weather might cause one to use the heating and cooling systems differently than in another region, and this could lead to eventual shrinking or expanding of certain materials. This and other problems are often not known until the home has been occupied for some time and will require a professional builder’s attention.

When choosing a builder for a custom home, remember to consider the relationship not only during the building process, but also after. Word of mouth and referrals are the most important advertising for any builder, so finishing the home on time, in budget, and continuing to make the homeowner happy even after move in, are all crucial practices for any local home builder.

Residential Solar Panels Save Money and Energy

Residential Solar Panels

Residential Solar Panels

Residential solar panels continue to be one of the largest trends in green building and energy conservation. With new government tax credits in place to those implementing green practices, solar panels are quickly becoming one of the most affordable ways to lower utility costs for the homeowner. No longer eyesores on the roof, home solar panels are now available in several styles that blend with tiles and shingles to create a seamless roof line and attractive streetscape. But how exactly do they work?

Solar roof panels consist of modules that contain solar cells and convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity. An inverter within the panel converts the DC power into alternating current (AC) electricity that is used to heat and cool the home, and also operate any home appliance or device. Homes connected to the utility electrical grid are known as grid-tied homes or on-the-grid systems, while off-grid homes rely on batteries and need to be a safe distance from power lines. Most homeowners choose to work on the grid due to the added security from the utility company. Depending on your electricity provider, you may be allowed a credit, or net metering, if your solar-powered panel produces an excess of energy.

For those concerned about bad weather or dark skies, no additional plan is needed. Residential solar energy systems still function on cloudy days by drawing upon backup electricity from the utility company (for on-the-grid systems), and the same is true during night hours. For off-the-grid systems, the panels are usually connected to a battery storage system as the backup power source and will extract energy if there is a deficiency that day.

Before installing solar power panels into an existing roof or new home, it is recommended to work with a custom home builder or general contractor. Many builders have existing relationships with solar panel integrators and can assist in determining the best position of the panels based on the amount of available sunlight in the various seasons. Although composition shingle roofs are easier to work with than tiled roofs, don’t worry if your home has the latter. There are now several solar modules available in gray, brown or terra cotta frames that are aesthetically pleasing and blend in with the home’s roof.

Not only are solar power panels becoming more attractive and saving the planet, they are also making daily living more affordable for homeowners. New federal tax credits reimburse homeowners 30% of the cost of their residential solar energy systems, while state and local incentives are in place to promote green building. The cost for upkeep is also very little as solar panels require very little maintenance other than battery replacement and a non-abrasive cleaning agent. With government support, low maintenance costs, more attractive products and lower monthly bills, residential solar systems are more widespread than ever before.

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