Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Getting it together for the ACC and what to do next!

It's been a rough few weeks, with getting everything done and together and then having work and family calling our attention, it's great that we were able to finally submit our houseplans and forms to the Architectural Control Committee (ACC).

For those unfamiliar, all the hard work you put into the design, your lot and specifications now lies in the hands of the architect who was hired by your neighborhood homeowner's association (HOA) to review your plans and elevations to approve it for the subdivision or neighborhood where you will build your house.

First, we submitted our permit applications for the building, septic and driveways to the county office (Travis). Then, we had to take copies of these receipts, our completed houseplans (not the structural engineering), and forms from the HOA to the architect hired for the ACC. Every month they have a meeting to discuss houseplans of houses that will be built and will either approve or disapprove your plans and make recommendations.

Simultaneously, our structural engineer is working on the structural plans. Once those are all done, we can submit all our plans to the U-Build It guy who will go and get a preliminary bid for us from sub-contractors they know are good and use frequently. It is completely optional to use their sub-contractor bids or get our own bids for subs. We might get a few extra bids for a few line items (for example, plumbing, SIPs installation/framing, etc.) , but might keep some bids from our rainwater collection and geothermal system which have a lot fewer subcontractors.

Next, the financing begins, and in order to do that, you have to get your bids/budget for the house done, get your documentation together (like your paystubs, tax forms, etc. if you go for a full doc loan) and make sure your credit is repaired or already good so that you can get your construction loan. The construction loan will be modified at the completion of the house to a mortgage. It's a slightly different process, which will be explained in greater detail in a future post.

Overall, things are going smoothly! I am going to update the houseplans with dimensions for those interested. Also, we are just waiting to get our permits, financing and then we are ready to go! I plan to also document everything in better detail for an e-book that I've decided to make more affordable since I am going to base it off how things are in Austin. But feel free to get it to get an idea of costs, as well as our trials and tribulations! I think it will be an overall happy journey!!! Can't wait :-).

P.S. I just read on Yahoo News that Austin is the 2nd largest Green city!!! Hurrah!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Green screen used for climbing plants, trellis, possible pebble wall use

I happened upon this great looking Green Screen wall that can be used for climbing plants, trellises and possibly even a pebble wall. The best part is that they are made of recyclable material. They would look terrific on our landscape, and we're hoping they are affordable. I'll call them up and see then will post prices on my blog. Here's the link and photos below:

I love the look of climbing plants, giving a "soul" to the house. Here are some preview pics:

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Good Questions on SIPs and using a Designer/Architect

Sorry it's been awhile since I last posted, but I'm about to start a flurry of new posts because of all the activity happening with the house. Add that to the fact that I've been swamped at work. Anyway, no more excuses! :-) I am about to get this party started, and we're so excited!

A gentlemen here in Austin wrote me with some good questions on SIPs, so I thought I might post with my answers. He and his wife are wanting to custom build their home, and I thought to give them my unbiased take. Remember, costs and the permitting process information mostly applies to the Austin area, but it still gives you a good idea (I'm not afraid to post costs for things, as I like getting and giving the idea of what you'd be getting into cost-wise).

Q: We took a 6 week class offered by the Owner Builder Network at ACC and were thinking about going with them. Why did you choose U-Build It program over OBN?
A: We researched Owner Builder Network, Owner Built Custom Homes, and U-Build It and found not only was U-Build It the most professional, organized, and responsive, but they were cheaper fee wise. They charge by only the A/C square footage and don't count patios, decks, garage ports etc. More details at this link. Not only that, but the classes we found to be unnecessary. We thought the most important factors were the support, the fact that we don't pay the entire fee up front but in installments and the 20 site visits.

Q: Did you get quotes on what the cost difference was between traditional framing and SIPs?
A: Yes, we certainly did a cost analysis, and basically, 2x4 or 2x6 stick built wood framing costs approximately $5.50-$6.50/sq ft for labor+material versus SIPs that would cost about $9-10/sq ft. HOWEVER, if you were to at best save 50-60% on your cooling costs, through time, SIPs pay themselves off and are cheaper to maintain, as well as extremely energy efficient. Basically, much of green building is a higher upfront cost, but cheaper in the long run in use and maintenance. Besides, we all need to think about global warming and our planet! :-) When deciding on a getting a SIP home, you are investing in more than just your house value, but in a legacy home that will last forever and be cheaper to maintain for years to come.

Q: We like the flat roof idea. Do you have any details on how much weight a SIPs roof support?
A: One of the videos we saw about SIPs has a huge pick up truck on top of a SIP roof to show their strength and they really are that sturdy. They are the choice material to use in hurricane prone areas, because they have actually shown several SIP homes that have survived against massive hurricanes while their stick frame counterparts were obliterated. SIP design meets or exceeds windstorm code which means its design withstands a 5 times stronger windstorm than a conventional new home. All the information about SIPs can be found here: http://www.sipweb.com/learningcenter/default.asp When getting a flat or low-slope roof, make sure you get a COMMERCIAL grade flat roof, lined with a single ply membrane up to and including the parapet wall. And don't let anyone tell you they will leak! They won't if you design them correctly and to commercial grade. If you will notice, 99% of all commercial buildings have flat/low slope roofs, so if they don't leak, yours won't either.

Q: I noticed that your designer is based in Houston. Do you feel like this distance was in any way a drawback to the process?
A: Honestly, yes, it was a bit of a drawback but not too bad because my parents live in Houston and our designer allowed us to see him on the weekends. I'm a telecommuter, so I work on the computer by trade, and it was easy to get stuff via computer from him, which I'm used to.

Q: Why didn't you go with a designer in Austin? Which ones did you look at?
A: We searched far and wide for a designer who would design a "SIP-friendly" home, and the closest SIP designer was in Houston. I found Ted through the SIPA organization directory. We were determined to get one who had SIP experience and was amiable towards this alternative building method. He fit the bill. The one remarkable thing about him, is that he's VERY frugal and has suggested ways for us to cut costs without compromising quality and the look we are after (like the flat roof design).

Q. In your research, did you get a sense for what the average cost per sq/ft one would pay for the design?
A: A designer/architect can cost about $8-10/sq ft to custom design your house. Depending on how many projects are going on for your designer/architect, it can take 6 mos. to a year to properly design it according to your lot and your specifications. You could also opt to buy a "stock plan" that can range from $1500-5000 which are all over the Internet, however, I don't recommend it because it's not the same thought and process that goes into doing your own design. The advantage is that you can place things in a more space, energy or sound efficient way, tailor the plan to your lifestyle, and get cost saving tips from your designer/architect during your building process. Believe it or not, it actually is advantageous that your designer/architect is independent from the subcontractors or builder (General Contractor) you work with, because your designer/architect can act as your personal consultant, letting you know if something isn't built or done correctly as opposed to your GC "hiding" imperfections or cutting corners you don't want cut.