Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Nifty Cost-to-Build Calculator for 30 Bucks

Yeah, so I still am trying to stay current even though our project is on hold. I came across this really neat cost-to-build calculator for $29.95 that may be very useful to you guys. Here's the link:

It seems easy to use, and great for when you're in planning mode if you know some details of your house. It seems you can buy a stock plan and input your criteria in there and it will do an approximate cost to build of the house.

If you try this out, please comment on here to see if it's worth anyone's while. I have yet to play around with it, since I have done my own spreadsheet, but might like to see what number it generates since mine was pretty high.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

EPA Fugitive List?!? And other things... like India and our house budget updated

So... not only do we have to worry about terrorists, but also eco-fugitives??? I saw this on the news and was extremely surprised at the audacity of some people:

It's unbelievable how people can consciously, nevermind unconsciously, destroy the planet!

Anyway, I haven't posted in awhile and wanted to put something interesting on here since our project is ON HOLD. You know, it is actually turning out to work better this way, since I found out recently that both my husband and I may have a 1-2 year job assignment in India! This is another blessing in disguise since we will have the ability to save more cash if we live there for a bit. And since we didn't start the house yet, it makes us more mobile, which will work to our advantage. Everything is turning out well, so I am actually pretty happy.

Also, I have been getting a couple inquiries on our house budget. Since I no longer am in the bidding process, I am posting the budget to help anyone. Now, keep in mind that in Austin, we have different style homes that may be more expensive to build (like we use a lot of stucco and stone compared to siding and brick). Our job market can affect the cost of subs as well, as we have cheap labor from Mexico, as well as the construction industry is still apparently doing well. Also, there are some trades/subcontractors' bids that are more expensive and special to SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels used for walls and roof), for example the electrical wiring and framing bids. Hope it will be useful and write me if you have questions!

Good luck to you and your projects! You all have been lovely and supportive people, so keep in touch - we'll be building our dream home soon enough when the stars align and things are feeling right... and by the way, have a Merry Christmas and Great New Year!!!!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

News on the house...

I have to inform you that after many attempts with brokers and banks, we were unable to get financing on our house :-(. The reasons cited:

- need more cash reserves/savings, even though a lot of it was used toward design, fees, etc.
- too high of a budget (which can be reduced, but we still need point 1 above to work first)
- the economy, the state of the mortgage industry is making EVERYONE 10 times stricter than normal! Even people with $40,000 in the bank are not getting approved because of hella-strict guidelines (at least that's what my banker told me, or maybe she was trying to make me feel better???). Oh well.... :-I

Actually, I don't feel as bad as I thought because we think maybe the timing is just not right for us. I am dealing with health issues right now and so I need to heal. Maybe it's just not in the cards right now to start this stressful project and deal with huge house payments when the situation is not ideal.

BUT... I am optimistic that we WILL start this house, but it's going to be later rather than sooner, I promise! For the next 6 months we're going to be frugal and cheap - no more eating out excessively or we'll have to find a way to hit a jackpot! We're going to SAVE SAVE SAVE. I will let you know when that time comes.

Please feel free to come back to our blog and check it out! Thanks guys for all your support, but it's not over yet!!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Want to always stay updated on the oil crisis?

I suggest you visit this website for tons of shocking information about our oil dependencies, our global impact and what's being done in the industry:

Silence & A New Solar School in Austin

Silence is not golden in our case. Sorry it's been too long since the last post! Let me tell you, it's been one LONG ride to the financing finish line, but it will come, I promise. We are working on getting it, it's just taking much longer because of the current economic climate. I'm confident we'll get the money soon. Pray or meditate for us that it will happen sooner rather than later!

Anyway, I wanted to let you know about this Solar Design Workshop class we found at this non-profit company that wants to promote solar solutions and new technologies by way of education. This organization is newly formed in Austin and offering an off-grid course including lunch for $40 this Saturday! We are definitely going to go. Here's the link to learn more:

This is a part theory/part hands-on course that will allow us to design, build, and install a photovoltaic(PV) system. We will have an exciting opportunity to build a 500+ watt off-grid trailer complete with solar panels, wind generator, inverter, charge controller, and battery bank. This would be a valuable lesson for us, because we need to save money on our expensive dream green home. Every dollar will help, because PV systems are definitely not cheap.

I will report what we've learned. Also, I'm thinking of starting a green e-book series that will address various topics and will be available SOON!

Friday, June 20, 2008

We're coming back, promise! See ya at the Austin Cool House tour?

Yes, it has been too long, but things are finally coming together. So, you should hopefully be hearing back soon!!!

Also, I wanted to post the Austin Cool House tour brochure, because there are a lot of COOL (figuratively speaking too!)& green modern houses on this tour. It will be Sunday, June 22nd from 12 noon to 6 pm. You can download it here.

Hope to see some of you there.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Budget & appraisal being updated, and bathroom dreaming...

Sorry, I've decided to update my budget so I took it offline and edited out this post.

I'll just leave you with dreamy photos of our beautiful, contemporary Japanese soaking tub that's made of stainless steel. You can get these luxurious tubs at Diamond Spas.

Imagine meditating in one these after 8 hours of work!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Our green home brochure...

Now available, a brochure giving you details and background on how we came to build green! Feel free to download the Sjödin Residence Brochure in PDF format.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Property rights gone wild....

I had to post these hilarious pics of signage we saw while driving around the Garden Oaks area of Houston. This disturbed "patriot" (see flags in background) posted these signs ALL OVER his front yard and let his neighbors and passerby's know EXACTLY what he will not put up with.

No, I'm not joking with you... these signs are FOR REAL. And, the real kicker is this sign below (see graphic if you don't understand what "defecate" means... heeheehee)

What I really loved are the complementary graphics that accompanied the text. Like people need a visual... hahaha. And this was just a sampling! We didn't have time to snap photos of his other colorful signs posted like every 4 feet....
"Smile at the Camera: God is Watching You"
"Do not throw condoms, needles or other trash on property"

I would have loved to talked to the owner to find the background of how he came to put up these signs, but was afraid I'd be shot if I stepped a toe over his property line. :-)

Where's Myleen (and other goodies: LEED-H certification for homes, SIPs weekend, LED lights)

I know I've been silent for some time, but for good reason. I am just waiting patiently for the money to hit the bank so we can get this party started! My champagne bottles are still chilling, and I'm waiting for the big day when we can sign our construction loan.

I had such a great weekend in Houston. First, the weather was unusually and pleasantly cool and dry, which is a rare treat in April. We were outside enjoying the weather in Kemah and staring at some sail boats that Jan wants to eventually get. My poor baby doesn't want much, but a boat is his goal. He's been perusing boat ads for weeks now. :-)

Then we saw Ted, who gave us some great information for getting your home LEED-H certified. If you go to this link, you can download an Excel spreadsheet to tabulate the number of points of your home to determine your certification level. You can go certified, gold, silver and platinum. Guess what we figured? Platinum!!! Woohoo! Although, I'm not sure I did it completely right. Anyway, this is thanks to high efficiency appliances, xeriscaping, geothermal, rainwater collection and site stewardship. I didn't realize that it doesn't cost all that much to get rated. Here's a chart:

We also went out to see Ted's other client's SIP home (Theresa). I have pictures for you to see of her house frame, which we'll post later with more details. She's compiling a list of "What Not to Do for a SIP Home" that I'm going to be following with great interest. It will be of tremendous help because we will be about 2 months behind them and so we can learn from their little hiccups, but it's going relatively smoothly so far! There are a few things to watch out for, because SIPs are so precise, you have to take extra care of how you lay it up and put it in. Check out her blog, as she has put in videos of her framing.

Also, we talked a lot about lighting and Jan wants to use white light LEDs on all the track lighting, and compact flourescents in the recess cans. Why LED? Because they are so much more energy efficient and don't get very hot like halogens. They have come out with SUPERLEDs that are even brighter than halogens! There are now dimmer switches for the LEDs that are relatively new on the market. Now all the above is super expensive unless you build your own, which of course, Jan wants to do. He is the self proclaimed do-it-yourselfer... he can't stand paying for something that he can do better, so we'll have a lot of his inventions around the house :-).

Besides all the above, we have a lot of business and marketing ideas brewing in our heads that will help promote SIPs, our green home and green building in general! I am working on getting our spec sheet, home article and ads out to home tours, building green mags, and other outlets. Stay tuned, because I want to get more people to build this way! Mail me if you want to learn more (free information).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pictures of the complete casa, garage & rainwater tank storage facility

Yay, Jan finished the house, garage, rainwater tank storage area & retaining walls, so here they are!

And for those of you needing more technical detail or need some ideas on how we will do our garage, gabions, and rainwater collection system, check out these graphics:

Monday, March 17, 2008

A more detailed video on SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels)

They will answer questions like

Why they will save you 50% in energy bills...
Why they are superior in strength...
Why they are highly insulative...
Why they are earth friendly...
Why they are easy to build...
Why any framer can learn SIPs...

Check out this longer video


Friday, March 14, 2008

We're mentioned on Money Magazine!

Still thinking of building your dream home? Maybe this article will convince you. We were interviewed and mentioned in this article in CNN's Money Magazine. Check it out!


Friday, March 7, 2008

Pretty neat Google Sketchups of our house in 3D

A guy named Dan who commented on my blog introduced me to Google Sketchup, and we got hooked immediately! You can create 3D renderings of your house or any object you desire, and the best part is that it's free to download! There are even premade 3D sketches of things you can add to your own Sketchup (for example, mid-century modern furniture even!)

Jan got so into it, that he did a DETAILED rendition of our house, including the doors, windows and cedar siding that will look pretty close to reality.

We're still working on the interior and garageport, but here's our completed exterior of our house!


See how much detail you can put into it, look at our Crestview Door that we're going to use ... it's very cool, but very timeconsuming to draw up!

We're excited! Jan is going to finish this baby up and we'll probably post an animation of our house on You Tube for you to see later.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Got our appraisal in!

We're happy to report that we got our house and lot appraisal in, and although it's not the highest we wanted, it's above what we expected. I won't report what yet, in the interest of getting the best possible bids. I will, however, need to cut costs and am working on "trimming the fat" on our budget. I am getting some updated bids on things to see how prices have changed, hopefully for the better!

I have heard that lumber prices have come down. Yes, let's hope so!

Right now, one of the challenging things to do is to find a lender that will accomodate 100% financing for an owner builder and a one time close. We are right now searching for the program that suits us. I'll update you when we find out who we'll go with!

I desperately need a vacation and a backrub... over the weekend we moved apartments, so I'm sore. But, I have planned a nice little getaway to New Mexico, one of my favorite places in the world. We can't wait!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Green Misnomer & Other Issues

I just received a comment today about our house design being too invasive and "commercial looking". Well folks, I'm not building a conventional home, so prepare for something cool, hip and yes GREEN. And first of all, looks are a matter of personal taste, not a factor of how green is your green built home. I happen to LIKE MODERN. I don't want our house to have A-line gabled roofs, fake shutters or embellished exteriors that aren't the original thing (don't get me wrong, I like old European architecture, just not on our new house!). So, if you're looking for a green lawn roof or an Earthship looking abode, this is not our house, nor is it a point to make it look any more different than another modern house. The point is building green any way you like it (and to your taste!)

As I said in my post, just because it "looks" commercial, doesn't make it any less green or lower impact. Low impact doesn't only encompass natural building materials and making it "look natural" (which is just a facade anyway). Low impact also encompasses energy efficiency (our's is super efficient at 950 sf per ton HVAC, compared to 350-400sf per ton HVAC!), as well as sustainable (our SIP home will use a lot less dimensional lumber than normal stick built and that combined with our geothermal will save us about 60-70% in energy).

So, here's how I see how our house is GREEN:

- Sustainability by way of reducing the use of non-renewable resources (by our house using less energy and naturally efficient geothermal heatpump, we are reducing our carbon footprint by many folds, as well as using very sustainable bamboo, sorghum and local natural stone)

- Increased energy efficiency (like fiberglass windows and high quality insulation (SIPs)).

- Reduction in pollution (like using more fly ash in your concrete or using less electricity)

- Healthier environments (like the no VOC paints)

- Lower impact on resources (like our rainwater tanks)

So you must look at the entire picture, and not just one part of the whole green movement. It irks me that someone is calling our design unsustainable without seeing all the factors. Just wanted to make my point on my blog.... thanks for reading.

p.s. Our original goal was to make it more affordable, but I have come to realize that there are huge hurdles in this industry and a lot of people monopolizing on the green building effort. For example, subcontractors want to charge a hefty premium just because their unfamiliar, it's "new", and it's hip at the moment. This is VERY unfortunate, but only people like us can change this. I guess the only way is to raise awareness and get more people to build like us so that we can have more competition in this field. I have a few tips on this, how to make it more affordable, but it still needs to be worked on!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Financing, appraisal concerns for green homes...

I'm starting to feel sorry for myself :-(... nah, I know I shouldn't, but it's been tough because I am finding that this house and lot appraisal method is so frustrating because we are building green.

Why? You see, in order to get a construction loan for your house, you have to get your houseplans and lot appraised so that the lender can base the loan on the total appraised value. They basically compare your house square footage and the area where you're building and try to find comparable homes in your neighborhood. The problem is, there aren't too many green built homes to compare to, so they end up comparing your house to the shoddy stick builts and it's simply NOT FAIR because stick built is much cheaper to build so the price/sf is a lot lower!!!

I've been talking to appraisers around town and they are saying the same thing... it doesn't matter because we have to go by what is around you. So tell me, how are we going to get comparables around us when they make it so hard for people to build green in the first place? Add the fact that they don't appraise green features/building for a higher value, even though you're saving thousands a year in energy costs, you're not breathing dangerous vapors, as well as being the benevolent and eco-conscious hero of your neighborhood.

And so I ranted and vented and said, but we're building with SIPs, got geothermal and rainwater collection and all these other cool features but to no avail. I am so thinking of going political over this. If anyone has any insight on how I can go about lobbying for making it easier for green built homes, then I'm very open to suggestions and will put on my marching boots.

Here's our situation, and I'll be an open book (as if I haven't already exposed enough):

We need to appraise both our house and lot at about $740K so that we can get 100% financing for our construction costs which came to be approx $590K (80% of the appraised value). This allows us to put no money down because in essence we are using our equity (difference between appraisal value and costs) for the 20%. We are doing this as owner builders with U Build It. And if that's not hard enough, building green can be costly upfront, and so we require more of a loan than if we went conventionally stick built. Then add on the fact that the nation is under a housing decline at the moment....

We did find ONE appraiser who has specialized in green building in Austin, can you believe that? Here's his info (free PR for him):
Ward Appraisal Services

I guess when people build green, it's their 2nd or 3rd or more house, but of course, we are the pioneer-spirited ones who decided to build our very 1st home properly and green! Woohoo! :-D

The hope is that our land has appreciated enough to cover any large differences. Acreage lots around the Hill Country are getting expensive, so maybe that will be a good thing for us. It's almost becoming a mini California out here (pre 2006). They even built the Hill Country Galleria 8 miles from us, so there's a lot of development coming out this way.

Despite the above, I am trying to stay positive. Really truly, because we deserve this house and want to do it right!!! I am SO HOPING we get the appraisal we want. Wish us luck and as always I'll update with what I find out!

I should do a before and after picture of us when we start the building.... :-)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Quick 3 minute video on SIPs from HGTV Pro

Some more SIPs cheering... here's an excellent 3 minute video showing you the benefits of building with Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) from a non-sales biased point of view (HGTV Pro's website). It also shows how they are put together, saving you time, money and the planet!


Thursday, January 31, 2008

And the winner of HVAC efficiency is...

...Us! We did a manual J calculation of our SIP (Structural Insulated Panel) home and found out that our house was very efficient at 941 sf per ton! The average HVAC contractor normally sizes HVAC units at 450-550 sf per ton.

What does the ton mean? Your HVAC (Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning) system is sized by the ton. Typical sizes for single family residences are between two and five tons. Each ton equals 12,000 Btuh. Basically, it means our house is so air tight, insulated and efficient, it would take a 3-ton HVAC unit to cool our SIP house compared to a 5-ton HVAC unit to cool a stick built house that is the same size as our SIP home.

Our future house, a 2419 sf home, is the most energy efficient home that our green architect has ever designed. :-) Sorry to toot our own horn, but it makes us a bit proud to know this.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bush's stimulus plan actually making us happy?!

This is maybe the first thing EVER from Bush that has actually made us HAPPY. With the stimulus plan, they intend to increase the jumbo loan limit to $625,000 for 12 months. You see, anything under the jumbo loan limit gets a much lower interest rate than above that limit. Before it was around 417K which would have caused us to get a percent or more interest rate higher because our loan would have been around 575K. Here's a quote from the news:

"For instance, the interest rate difference between loans that fall
within the cap limit and jumbo loans was more than 1 percent on Thursday
-- 6.39 percent compared with 5.30 percent, according to Bankrate.com.
On a $500,000 mortgage, the difference is about $350 a month."

Below is the full story:

Friday, January 25, 2008

Duct, duct, goose!

I'm glad I'm not Mrs. Cheapo, because my husband is insisting on metal ductwork for the house which is the most expensive way to go for your HVAC (Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning) ductwork. My husband, the typical Swede, is so quality driven that he absolutely insists upon it.

From what I've learned, there are a few good reasons. We talked to several geothermal, HVAC consultants and took a couple of classes where they have said the same thing - Metal ducts are better. Metal ductwork lasts longer, is easier to clean, doesn't get particle buildup as easily as flex duct and the air flows better (less possibility for restricted airflow, which causes A/C inefficiency!). A/C usage and inefficiency accounts for a lot of Texan's house bills, so this is pretty darn important. You must insulate the metal ducts on the exterior to keep it from sweating if it's cool air or losing its temperature if it's heat. The only disadvantage I can see besides the expense, is that there have been cases where sound travels through the metal ducts to other parts of the house. There are solutions to fix this (duct liners), but I don't know what that does to the efficiency of the ducts (which will defeat the purpose of the metal ducts!).

The alternative has been to get flexduct (the most common in new homes) or fiberglass ducts (made with a rigid fiberglass duct board). The advantage is that it's way cheaper and already insulated. The problem that occurs is that flexduct bends, restricting airflow and being a lot more inefficient. They can also bust open (some guy found a little rat's family home in one once!EWWWWWW) if little critters can get in, and they are difficult to clean.

Also, you will want to clean your ducts periodically, as there is always a danger of getting fiberglass particles, mold or dust in the ductwork. You do NOT want to breath fiberglass, as that is super dangerous to your lungs, which is why you always need a mask when putting in batt (fiberglass) insulation. With metal ducts, it is easier to clean very thoroughly with a brush. Another tip is that if you are sealing your ducts, always use MASTIC tape not DUCT tape, as mastic tape is better quality and does not wear out as easily as duct tape.

Metal ductwork will cost us about $4,000-5,000 more than using flexduct or fiberglass. But again, my husband says it's worth it! (*sigh*). I guess we're going to have to wait a little longer to get another car :-).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Localvores... a growing trend that's good for us

With all the talk of building and buying green, how about eating green? There's a growing trend (or maybe I'm just late) of people who only want to buy local or nearby food and produce. They are called "localvores".

According to a Canadian researcher named Vicky Blatt, "If you’re buying green, you should consider the distance food travels. If it’s travelling further, then some of the benefits of organic crops are cancelled out by the extra environmental costs."

We try to buy at minimum 90% organic, to make sure that we're not putting dangerous chemicals in our bodies, but this localvore concept adds a whole other layer of awareness that's important too. According to localvores.org and the guy's relentless research, organic produce is "racking up" more miles than conventional produce in many cases.

So, what do you do? Whatever you can, really. Awareness is always the first step. Read signs in your produce department and buy things in your state as much as possible. It supports the local farmers, economy, and reduces your carbon foot print. What better way? Also, if possible, try to get at least these fruits/veggies as organic, as they are the most pesticide ridden of the bunch. Known as the Dirty Dozen, conventionally grown peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes contain the highest levels of pesticides, according to the Environmental Work Group (EWG), a nonprofit research organization in Washington, D.C.

Also, try going to your local farmer's market! They are a joy to go to, reminiscent of how people used to shop in the old days. Produce is fresher and mostly organic. We have 3 great farmer's markets here in Austin where they sell other wares, baked goods, hormone-free, grass-fed meat, raw or low pasteurized milk, cheeses, as well as the vegetables at usually way less than Whole Foods (in Austin, where they were founded, there's a local motto for them, "Whole Foods, for the healthy and the wealthy").

Besides making our own garden for our consumption, there's still something you can do to be as green as you can!

And something interesting to know for you carnivores, have you ever tried grass-fed meat? I'm a foodie, and its out of this world. You see, cows by nature like and want to eat grass. That's what they are supposed to eat until farmers started feeding them grains and hormones to fatten them up. Cattle aren't even designed to eat grains (who knew!) and also aren't supposed to be fat creatures! Look at these lean guys.

Even organic meat isn't as tasty. Because even though they are eating organic grain feed, it's still GRAIN FED. And not only that, grass-fed meat has more Omega-3 fat and is naturally more lean too! I just made tacos with grass-fed ground beef, and couldn't believe the taste difference.

The best would be to get grass-fed, no hormone/antibiotic free beef. Trust me, you'll never go back. More information on grass-fed beef, go here.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Understanding what a geothermal system is...

As you can see from our green features list, we are going to use a geothermal heat pump for the heating and cooling of our house, as well as for our swimming pool. It is an extremely effective system that can be up to 2.5 times more efficient than a normal HVAC 12 seer system and uses very little electric. Add that to an air tight, well insulated SIP home, and you'll save yet even more money on cooling your home, probably 75-80% of what a stick frame/batt insulated/regular HVAC home would do.

There is one guy we talked to, J.D. Holt, who owns a 1650 sf SIP home in Austin, TX with a geothermal system to cool his house. In the summertime he pays about $60/month without being conservative with airconditioning. That is rather significant!

In Austin, there are only a handful of geothermal subs that can install geothermal. It is also a very effective system in cold weather climates. In Sweden, it is commonly used for heating, especially large apartment complexes.

At first, I had a hard time truly understanding the science behind a geothermal system and even harder to time to explain it to other people. :-) I copied a Geothermal FAQ from one of the subs we're considering as well as included a link to a video presentation:


Q: What is a geothermal heat pump?
A: A Geothermal Heat Pump is an electrically powered heating air conditioning system that uses the natural heat storage ability of the earth. In Texas the ground temperature 6 foot down stays a constant 68 to 72 degrees.

Q: How does it work?
A: Like any type of heat pump, it simply moves heat energy from one place to another. Your refrigerator works using the same principle. By using the refrigeration process, a Geothermal heat Pump removes the heat from the home and transfers it to the ground.

Q: How is heat transferred between the earth and the home?
A: The earth has the ability to absorb and store heat energy. To use that stored energy, that constant 68 to 72 degrees temperature is extracted from the earth through a liquid medium (water) and is pumped to the heat pump or heat exchanger. In the winter, the heat is used to heat your home. In the summer, the process is reversed and indoor heat is extracted from your home and transferred to the earth throughout the water.

Q: You mentioned heating and cooling. Does it do both?
A: One of the things that make a heat pump so versatile is its ability to be a heating and cooling system in one. You can change from one mode to another, just like you do on a conventional heating and air conditioning system via a thermostat.

Q: What types of loops are available?
A: There are 2 main types of loops: open and closed. The closed loop is the most common in Texas. The same water is circulated throughout the entire system. An open loop is used when a water table, such as a river, lake or a pond is used for the water source.

Q: Which loop system is best, open or closed-loop?

A: The net results in operating cost and efficiency are virtually the same. It all depends on whether you have an adequate groundwater supply and means of disposal.

Q: Where can the loop be located?
A: That depends on land availability and terrain. Most closed-loops are drilled vertically about 250 to 300 feet deep. One hole per ton of air conditioning and about 4 1/2 inches in diameter.

Q: How many pipes are in a hole?
A: Actually, two. Polyethylene pipe in the 3/4 inch (one inch in South Texas) size, one down, a short over, then back up. Then the hole is almost filled with a type of grout called bentonite. This acts like a radiator in the ground for heat extraction and rejection.

Q: how long will the loop pipe last?
A: About 50 to 75 years. Polyethylene is inert to chemicals normally found in soil and has excellent heat conducting properties. PVC pipe should NEVER be used under any circumstances.

Q: How efficient is a geothermal heat pump?
A: Geothermal heat pumps are more than 3 times as efficient as the most efficient gas furnace, and more than 2 1/2 times more efficient than a 12 SEER air conditioner.

Here's a video presentation that will give you a visual on how it works:

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Picking subs and feeling the housing crunch...

We're still picking the subs (aka subcontractors) for our house project, and it's not as easy as one thinks. You shouldn't always pick the cheapest, as I've heard time and time again. So, what are my tips so far?

- Always rely on your conversation with the sub. I have found that not only do I use my gut instinct to see who I like to work with, but I also like to get an idea of how the sub thinks. I try to see if he (sorry ladies, 99% of them are Hes) think outside the box or is open to new methodologies (like anything green!), that scores a lot of points with me. You know, great minds think alike :-)... my hubby is pretty darn smart, and he can usually tell when a guy is bluffing with the tech stuff and if the sub can understand what we want to accomplish. In the end, we usually will think he is worth the extra bucks if he's of sound mind.

- Follow the "He's just not that into you" tip. If the sub doesn't seem that enthused over your project, then I think they wouldn't put as much extra effort or give you any innovative tips. It's definitely a turn off to work with people who don't have interest in what you want to do. Also, it's always nice when they have the same sense of style as you. Most of our subs we chose like the modern style and want to do something different from a conventional home.

- Always check the LAST THREE references. Any hesitation on the part of getting these references is a huge red flag. I got one "excuse" the other day from a sub who said that those references probably aren't living in those houses any longer and that he didn't have any contact with them. He avoided giving me their contact information, so it lead me to believe that there was something wrong.

- Beware of rushed, impatient or temperamental people, whether with you or with other people. Your sub's emotions are contagious. If he is stressed and angry, it will make you stressed and angry. We have found that even-keeled, patient and calm people are what make your project easy to deal with and harmonious. We lucked out. All of the guys we have talked to so far seem helpful, patient and jovial. That's what you need when you are creating your baby.

- If someone's a LOT more expensive, compare bids by seeing how much detail is in them. Usually, the person with the most detail is probably the most accurate bidder and won't shock you in the end. Therefore, it is less likely you'll be surprised with a change order or additional costs. If someone is cheap, make sure you get him to detail what is included in his quote, that way you know what you're comparing.

- Check his response time. If he responds in a reasonable amount of time or responds to all your messages, then it's a good sign. Otherwise, you should really ask yourself if he's flaky now, what about when the building starts?

- Realize that you're a "one home" show and he may prioritize a bigger home builder over you. If this is the case, I would be cautious of working with him. Make sure you feel like you're taken care of! You're important too, as you have a mouth that can spread the word!

I've got more probably, but I can't think past these. Also, lately I have been feeling the housing crunch as more and more subs are calling me instead of me chasing THEM around. This is good, as I can get more competitive bids. The only thing is the cost of transportation (thanks to oil prices) and materials have gone up significantly, even though labor is easier to come by.

Hope this helps. I know some new owner builders are nervous about this whole thing, but it's nothing too difficult.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Budget meeting and the next step... financing!

I just updated our budget for those curious eyes who want to see how the costs are stacking up. Well, they stacked up pretty high, but that's how it goes with green building! Anyway, tomorrow, we are meeting with U Build It to go over this budget and make any tweaks and adjustments. They have a list of subs that we may go with in exchange for ones we have gotten bids for. Also, we went through this spreadsheet for any line items we can do ourselves (marked DIY). For example, painting came in at about $3,400 labor only, but we opted to do this ourselves. The cost of paint can also vary depending on what you get, but we are getting the No VOC paint, so we want to select it ourselves.

The hard part was trying to find and budget for all the little stuff, which can add up! For example, door hardware, tiles, track lights, etc - you would put it in the spreadsheet as allowances, because you don't know exact costs just yet. You just need to be a good shopper.

The next step is to find financing for the construction of our house. Because we are owner builders going through U Build It, we have limited choices as to who will finance us since we need to get a construction loan first and then it will convert to a mortgage loan. We are trying to do a Loan to Value ratio so that we can get 100% financing. Here's how we will do it (simplified version, as I'm not a Finance person :-)):

1) Once the bidding is done, you have to choose the subcontractors you want to go with and input their costs in a budget spreadsheet.
2) This budget spreadsheet will be simplified by consolidating some line item costs for the lender to view the costs.
3) The lender needs the budget, all the architectural plans, your credit history and income to appraise your house and determine a construction loan amount that they can offer.
4) In order to get 100% financed, the total costs should be at minimum 80% of the appraised value of the house and lot. For example, to get a construction loan of $480,000, your house and lot needs to be appraised at least $600,000 by the lender's appraiser to get 100% financing.

The tricky part is to get an appraiser that can appreciate and not undervalue green building methods, as they are more expensive up front. Also, they have to realize that you save money in the long run. This is probably our greatest fear right now, that our appraisal won't come in at a sufficient amount, but we think we'll make it! Our lot has appreciated a great deal and we will do a lot ourselves, so I want to stay positive!!!