Home Builder Spotlight
Things To Consider When Building a Home
Unless you have extensive experience in home building and a lot of cash, you’ll be hiring a builder to construct your new home and you’ll need to obtain a construction loan. Identify a professional contractor and a reputable construction lender, both agreeing to your project details, your time line and all home specifications and you’ll have the home of your dreams.
Formulate a plan and execute it
If you’ve never contracted with a builder before, the prospect of working through the process can be very intimidating. Custom homes require you to work through many details and make many decisions. If you’ve done your homework, building your custom home is very satisfying. From landscaping to rooftop, the work of art and labor of love will be yours.
Pulling your team together
Make sure your home builder and lender are reputable. Ask for references, check to make sure they are properly licensed and review their ratings online with sites like the BBB and state division of professional registration. A good rule of thumb is ensuring your builder and lender have been in business for a minimum of 5 years. Better Business Bureau: www.bbb.org
Verify proper insurance and bonding
Make sure your builder has sufficient worker’s compensation and general liability insurance. If not, you may be liable for any construction-related accidents on your premises. Most builders are bonded. Before work commences on your site, verify their coverage, or get permission to obtain verification of coverage directly from the builder’s insurance agent.
Review your contract and warranty and seek advice
Make sure your builder provides a complete and clearly written contract. The contract will benefit both of you. Ask in advance to review your home warranty to verify all warranty coverage you’ll have upon completion. Consider hiring a real estate attorney to review your contract, and an engineer/project manager to oversee your construction project. An experienced representative can spot and deal with problems as the home is built.
Schedule a final walk-through before final payment
Make sure your builder and lender agree that the final disbursement to the builder will occur when the home is 100% complete, is move-in ready and you’ve conducted a satisfactory walk-thru. All components of the home must be working correctly. A “punch-list” to correct deficiencies must be in writing. Work should be completed within 30 days of the walk-thru.
LEARN HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN TINY HOUSE.
Home Ideas Gallery
Rooms with a View Outdoors
Home owners love seeing and being more connected with nature, from the sheer pleasure of viewing landscapes to the healthful benefits that are said to result from more sunshine and the sight of greenery. Not surprisingly, this trend is a factor influencing the look and size of windows and doors.
Marvin Windows and Doors, one of the country’s top manufacturers in Warroad, Minn., has noticed over the past five years an increase in demand for bigger windows and large window walls—many windows mulled together to create a wall of light, says Christine Marvin, director of corporate strategy design. "Letting light in allows us to feel alive and connected to spaces outside our homes," she says.
How big are the window walls? Many home owners are opting for designs that are big enough for an adult to walk through easily. For example, the Marvin Ultimate Casement is the largest operating wood/clad casement in the industry, extending up to 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide. The Marvin Ultimate Double Hung Next Generation is available in sizes up to 5 feet wide and 10 feet tall.
Another trend in the quest to connect with nature is the use of more glass or larger panes in doors, as well as doors that fold open or slide into pockets. These "scenic doors," which offer unobstructed views, also increase the feeling of seamless living with the outside.
"A large door invites people out," Marvin says. The Marvin Clad Ultimate Bi-Fold door is available in a maximum height of 10 feet, overall width exceeding 55 feet and individual panel widths up to 3 feet, 6 inches. Its Ultimate Bi-Fold door is available in more than 90 different configurations. The result of all these options is greater flexibility to incorporate a variety of applications and functions.
In addition to traditional glass, home owners are also asking for practical features that don’t interfere with a room’s design such as retractable screens in climates where home owners must contend with mosquitoes and other bugs. Several company products like the Ultimate Multi-Slide and the newer Ultimate Bi-Fold Door are available with a sliding screen built into the wall, which is completely concealed when not in use.
And because energy efficiency is a priority, the company’s new Marvin Clad Ultimate Bi-Fold door is designed to improve energy- efficiency performance so it can work in a range of climates. In addition, the Marvin Contemporary Casement features a flush exterior frame and sash as well as a narrow frame for expansive views and another top energy-performance rating.
Photo courtesy of Marvin Windows and Doors
Architect Elizabeth Herrmann's Knoll House project, Best Transitional category winner of 2017 Marvin Architects Challenge. Photographer: Jim Westphalen Photography
Architects William M. Hanley and Heli T. Mesiniemi's Shorefront Camp project, Best in Show winner of 2017 Marvin Architects. Challenge Photography: Brian Vanden Brink
Priestley + Associates Architecture's Gallery Addition project; 2017 Integrity Red Diamond Achiever Award winner; Photographer: Rachel Sieben Photography
Kersting Architecture's Surf Gallery project; 2017 Integrity Red Diamond Achiever Award winner
The New Kitchen Counter: Looks Like Marble but Acts Like Porcelain
Anyone who spends time perusing "shelter" magazines like House Beautiful or Architectural Digest or who drools over glamorous house photos on Houzz or Pinterest has probably daydreamed about marble. Marble kitchen counters, marble backsplashes, marble bathrooms… while marble has been the ultimate luxury material for centuries, a moment of practical thought sometimes brings those daydreams to a screeching halt. This is particularly true if you’re thinking of using marble for a kitchen counter where your guests could splash a bit of red wine, a hot pot could leave a burn mark, your husband’s belt buckle could scratch the edge and simply slicing a lemon could do lasting damage.
Thankfully, stone and tile companies like Walker Zanger are using technology to develop porcelain slabs that replicate the look of marble – or cement or wood if you prefer – while providing the resilience of porcelain.
"Porcelain has significant advantages over quartz countertops, such as being nonporous and stain-proof, making it impervious to red wine, lemon juice and other acids that are common culprits of staining natural stone," said Jared Becker, Walker Zanger’s Vice President of Design and Marketing. "Additionally, porcelain has the strength and durability for a home chef to cut food directly on the surface or even place hot cookware on the counter without damaging the material."
If you’re renovating your kitchen or building a new home, it’s always a good idea to compare the pros and cons of various kitchen materials in the context of how you cook. If your kitchen gets light use, marble could be just fine. But for those who cook and entertain regularly, a different surface could be preferable.
New technology mimics marble
Walker Zanger recently introduced their Secolo Porcelain Slabs, which replicate authentic marble veining with Italian glazing technology. Porcelain is thinner than natural stone and has traditionally been offered in slabs between three and six millimeters thick, which can be too fragile to use for counters. The company now is able to increase the thickness up to 12 millimeters, allowing them to fabricate counter slabs as large as 126 inches by 36 inches.
The slabs can be used for all interior surfaces including flooring and fireplace surrounds and backsplashes as well as for exterior walls and water features such as in swimming pools and fountains. The porcelain slabs come in 12 color schemes such as Calacata Classic, Calacata Gold, Calacata Premio, Calacata Regent, Marron Glace (a beige and brown marble replica), Statuary Pieta (a white marble replica), Basque Black (a polished black marble replica) and Petit Bleu (a grey marble replica with a velvet finish).
For more information, visit www.walkerzanger.com
Breathe Easier with a Smarter, Healthier Insulation Option
Americans spend almost 90 percent of their time indoors. However, the air we breathe indoors is typically two to five times more toxic than the air outside due to poor ventilation and off-gassing of toxic chemicals from products ranging from flooring to paint to furniture. One way to improve air quality – and our health and well-being – is to choose Mother Nature’s own perfect home insulator: natural wool insulation.
Wool has provided the ideal protective coat for sheep for thousands of years, making it ideally suited for insulating the home. It’s an excellent thermal and acoustic insulator and contains no harmful chemicals or additives. In fact, it’s so safe that toddlers can snuggle in it. It also excels at managing moisture and is fire resistant, both important safety considerations.
Because of the inherent characteristics in wool fibers, wool insulation is able to trap formaldehyde, nitrogen oxide and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – preventing them from escaping into the air. As a result, wool insulation effectively acts as an air cleaner within a living space. A Harvard study showed that people experience increased cognitive function when exposed to spaces with low VOC levels and higher ventilation rates – which wool insulation helps to achieve.
Moreover, because wool insulation can absorb up to 35 percent of its weight in moisture, it helps to eliminate condensation and moisture within the home – significantly lowering the chance for rot, mold and mildew formation, and the associated maintenance and health issues. And, unlike most other types of insulation, no protective gear is needed when installing or interacting with wool insulation.
When it comes to performance, wool is one of the most effective insulating materials available today. The thermal resistance, or R-value, of most sheep’s wool batts is about R-3.6 per inch, similar to that of other fibrous insulation types. However, because wool insulation can absorb and release moisture, it often performs even better than its rated R-value.
And, in contrast to most synthetic insulation, sheep’s wool insulation is highly durable, lasting for up to 50 years. In addition, wool’s natural breathability helps it retain its thickness and avoid settling over time. When it does reach the end of its useful life, it can be composted and is fully bio-degradable.
If you’re looking for a high performance, eco-friendly and long-lasting insulation material that will help to improve air quality within your home, consider natural wool insulation. While it costs a little more than traditional insulation, it will more than pay for itself in longevity, lower energy costs, better health – and offers greater peace of mind.
To learn more about natural wool insulation, visit www.havelockwool.com.
Shifts with the Economy, Family Sizes & the Latest Home Features
What’s currently in vogue?
We look to national mega-builder DR Horton, Inc. for answers.
Question: Right now, are houses getting smaller or larger? What about the lots they are built on?
Q: How about the exterior detailing—still traditional and classic, or a bit more contemporary. And how is that reflected in details, colors and materials?
Q: What about interior layouts. Do they reflect the trend toward more open plans, or is there still separation of spaces?
Q: Share with us one major interior home building trend in your niche?
Q: Would you share the importance of basement or crawl spaces, and does it depend most on the area of the country?
Q: What about main floor master bedrooms. Is there interest among your buyers? Also, what is the most common number of bathrooms and bedrooms that comprise most of your designs?
Q: What are the most important features that homebuyers are interested in today that get them to close on a deal. Like appliances, extra storage, or features like fireplaces and hardwood floors?
Q: What do you see happening over the next few years as millennials buy new homes and as more baby-boomers downsize, also considering the trend of walkable urban areas?
For more information on DR Horton model homes, floor plans and communities, visit www.drhorton.com
Virtually Visualizing Your Future Home
You’ve seen the Oculus headset and maybe even the cardboard Google glasses used to play around with virtual reality, but did you know virtual reality is increasingly important to homebuyers and builders? While the old-fashioned way of looking at homes, tramping from model home to model home or visiting numerous properties listed for sale, still has its merits, buyers are increasingly willing to preview and even buy homes sight unseen.
In fact, a May 2017 survey by Redfin real estate brokerage found that one-third of homebuyers purchased a home without seeing it in person, a big jump from the 19 percent of buyers who did so in 2016. Buyers are predicted to become more and more comfortable with purchasing a home without physically visiting it. Redfin’s survey found that 41 percent of millennials in the survey said they would be likely to make an offer on a house even if they hadn’t seen it in person.
High-end condos offer virtual reality experience
While only a small number of builders use virtual reality so far for buyers, increased use of the technology is anticipated as more consumers embrace it. Industry insiders think the primary use for virtual reality will be as an adjunct to a model home. For example, a builder may opt to build just one model home in an area and then offer virtual reality versions of additional models. That way consumers can see and touch at least one home to get a feel for the quality of the building while also being able to “walk-through” alternative floor plans via virtual reality.
The first developers to jump into virtual reality have been builders of expensive condos in New York City, Miami and Washington, D.C. Condos typically need to sell a certain percentage of units before the building is complete. A virtual reality tour of a unit and building amenities can entice buyers even before a model unit is available. In the past, buyers only had floor plans and renderings to view. Many people have difficulty picturing the space of rooms from a floor plan. Virtual reality lets viewers feel as if they are walking through a home or a community and get a better sense of the dimensions of the rooms and the layout of the home.
Using virtual reality to choose options
Another use for virtual reality anticipated to be used more frequently in the future is for buyers to choose their optional features. Toll Brothers recently announced a pilot program called Kitchen 360 that allows buyers to create millions of combinations when designing their kitchen. Buyers can start by personalizing features within their floor plan on a tablet and then put on an HT Vive headset to walk through their kitchen to see what their choices look like, including appliances, cabinets, finishes, flooring, counter tops and paint colors.
While your first experience with virtual reality may feel like a video game, using this technology can help you choose or design the home of your dreams.
Landscaping Tips for New Homeowners
Planning your outdoor space
Start by assessing where you think you’ll want to spend the most time: in the front of your house, the side or the back yard. Think about what’s there now that you’d like to keep as is and what areas are problems or just need some enhancing. For instance, if you want to increase your privacy or reduce noise from a nearby street, you can decide if you want a tall screen of plants or perhaps to add a water feature.
Homeowners today are taking their outdoor spaces to new levels with fire pits and fireplaces, outdoor kitchens and covered living areas that can be used most of the year. While some of those items can be costly, you can also purchase a simple fire pit inexpensively and upgrade to something more elaborate in the future. If you plan to expand your patio or deck in the future, be sure to incorporate that plan into your initial design.
Planting with patience
Before you head to the nursery and spend a fortune on plants, think about how much you really like gardening. If it’s not your passion, be sure to ask about low-maintenance plants and about other solutions such as ground covers, decorative stones and even mulch to provide a clean look without daily weeding. Nurseries often suggest purchasing native plants for your area since they’re easier to grow.
Don’t forget the lights and accessories
Part of your planning should also include lighting for safety as well as the ability to use your outdoor space as much as possible. Solar-powered lighting along the ground level can be used to illuminate paths and to highlight plants. Be careful when choosing lighting that it won’t be too bright but offer enough visibility for evening entertaining.
Part of your landscape planning should also include the type of seating you want so that you can fit your hardscape and landscape around lounge chairs, a loveseat, a dining table or a hammock. Outdoor heaters can be a fun addition that lets you use your space even in cooler months.
Above all, plan for flexibility. Your preferences may change over the years.
Building a Home
Plan smartly from the ground up
What better way to satisfy the American dream than to build your own home. And in doing so you can meet the criteria for today’s fast-changing lifestyles, new definitions of family that fuel the desire for different floor plans, technological advancements that require special features, and a wish to save the planet by using new, more efficient energy sources and sustainable materials and systems.
Besides picking the best builder, developer, architect, or contractor, take time to be sure you cover these 3 steps that will help guarantee your top-notch results:
#1. Get a detailed contract that is specific to your needs, rather than a boiler-plate document culled from the internet. Many professional groups such as The American Institute of Architects have established contract forms that can be enhanced, says Chicago architect Allan J. Grant.
What belongs in most agreements? Everything (including the kitchen sink) from starting to estimated completion dates, materials, best practices such as daily time of arrival and departure, frequency of trash removal, a method to resolve problems, and payment schedule.
In fact, David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law in New York, says, "One of the most important contract provisions is the one that links your payments to the completion of different stages of the work: demolition; open wall work (plumbing, wiring. etc.); closed wall work (drywall, cabinetry, etc.); and finish work (painting, flooring, etc.)." You may be wise to have an attorney eyeball the contract before you sign.
#2. Learn to read a floor plan. Before the project gets too far underway, learn to read symbols on blueprint and elevation drawings that indicate what will be built. You can also check out a tutorial on YouTube. Many architectural glossaries online will also help you become better educated. "I don't expect clients to know how to read drawings, but it's a bonus if they show interest in learning," Grant says. "It's easier and less expensive to make changes in the drawing stage than during building--or rebuilding."
#3. Familiarize yourself with materials, appliances, and other options. So many choices abound. A builder may favor custom cabinets because of more detailed workmanship and better materials, but stock items may better fit your budget. An appliance salesman may recommend an induction cooktop when you've been happy with gas. And your friends may tell you that granite is so passé, and you must consider quartzite. "What's that?" you wonder. Understand differences in style, price, durability, and greenness. Grant likes to accompany clients to showrooms to weigh choices. "Appliance selections impact the layout; if we go with a 27" or 48" refrigerator, for example," he says.
Building a house means becoming part of a team. Put in your time, due diligence, and you'll reap the best results.
Share your building ideas with us.
Barbara Ballinger is a professional writer, author, blogger and speaker who has long focused on real estate, design, and personal finance. She has co-authored many books, including Successful Homebuilding and Remodeling, The Kitchen Bible: Designing the perfect culinary space, and The Garden Bible: Designing the perfect outdoor space. She regularly contributes to the National Association of Realtors® Website and magazine.
Margaret Crane is a nationally known freelance writer, blogger and journalist who has co-authored with Barbara Ballinger several books and articles on real estate, design and family business. Her byline has appeared in Realtor® magazine. With more than a half-dozen titles to her credit, Margaret’s latest design book is The Kitchen Bible: Designing the perfect culinary space.