Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How To Pick The Right Contractor

This is going to be a long one; I am going to give you my personal opinion as well as just some common sense ideas as well as just good cold hard facts. The truth being in selecting your building contractor is where you should spend the largest majority of time aside from the selection of your new home itself. This one person will be the biggest factor in you having an enjoyable and cost effective experience.

First of all I think a lot of the housing industries problems right now are to be blamed on too many contractors as well as the bank and mortgage institutions. We all know everybody wants to get in on a good thing, knowing all the while they don’t have a clue what they are doing. Bingo, did that ring a bell? Well guess what, that happened in the housing industry as well, you see if you had the money ($12,000.00 in the bank you could qualify to take your contractors test) and could take a test ( most of it open book, way to hard for me) and pass, bingo you are a contractor. Don’t get me wrong this only qualified you to build homes $500,000.00 and less, guess what the majority of homes built fall into that range. There are three tiers of contractors, the more money you can come up with the bigger the house you can build.
Class Dollar Value Cash to Qualify
up to $500,000.00 $12,000.00
Limited up to $1,000,000.00 $75,000.00
Unlimited anything $150,000.00

But get this you don’t have to have the money in your account except for one day to get verified, loosely speaking just a snapshot that you had the money there, not that it was your money, hell you could be broke the next day, some way to make sure you had the financial ability to run a business. I don’t want to pick on all those poor contractors because there are truly a lot of good contractors that have been in the business a long time, either growing up in it, or working doing framing or some other related sub-contracting aspect of the housing industry. So you see the builder/contractors that got into the housing market to make a quick buck cost you a lot of money, they could not budget correctly or manage a construction site in a timely manner , this is where the cost you the homeowner the most, in interest added to your mortgage payment.

There are several methods you can use to pick your contractor/builder, but I would highly recommend hiring a realtor, it is their job to protect your interest throughout the entire process of building your new home. They will more than likely already have knowledge of who the contractors/builders are for the area you interested in building.

The next method I would suggest is checking with your local building supply center, I don’t mean Home Depot or Lowe’s, I have nothing against these types of supply houses they just don’t have the personal contact with the contractors as your regular supply center. I also don’t recommend the national building supply centers as well they are more interested in the production builders and usually don’t have the knowledge that your local suppliers will have. The local building suppliers also are usually more than willing to give you a list of contractors/builders they work with, take this list and pay attention. They are not going to give you the names of contractors that don’t pay their bills, this is a good indication they are reliable.

The building suppliers I suggest in my area:

These are all suppliers I have worked with over the years and they all give excellent service. If you know of any other building suppliers in this region and would like to add them just leave name in comments.

Got off track so here we go again, I would also ask your contractors for a few of his sub-contractors names and phone numbers. These guys have a wealth of information and if the contractor is not around sometimes they are willing to talk. These guys more so than suppliers or realtors know more about what is going on, they can tell you real quick if the contractor knows what he is doing and if he is paying on time. Believe me these guys talk to each other and can give you an inside look at your home. Take note sub-contractors are usually very loyal to their builders, they don’t work to look for work any more than you do, so if your contractor/builder has a high turn over rate with his subs, beware.

Last but not least you may think you are being smart by going out and getting 10 bids from different contractors , not quite , these guys talk to each other as well and if you go for that many bids the good contractors usually decide they are not going to even bother . It is a long tedious process to bid an entire house and they think you are just going for price and not quality, you and I both know on any given day anybody else can beat a given price , so don’t spread it out so much that you lose the most competent builder.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you find this information helpful. I hope your new home construction project is an enjoyable one.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Building Suppliers and Construction

This article is dealing with new home construction building supplies
. I would like to start this post with stating these are my preferences and opinions, I will try as we move along to give you the reasoning behind them and why I think it is better for you the homeowner or contractor to use your local lumber yards

There a lot of building suppliers out there falling all over themselves to provide you with the materials to either build your new home or remodel job, but for service and knowledge you simply can not beat your local lumber yard. I know Lowe’s, and Home Depot give you great prices and carry a much wider variety of products to choose from, well that’s good, but can their sales people tell your framer what your rough door opening or rough window opening should be, what about the proper way to install the windows. For example just exactly how do you wrap a window to keep moisture out, this is just an example but I know from experience that each window manufacturer has different specs as to how they think their windows should be installed, the same thing with doors. These local building suppliers also will sale roofing products, cabinets, interior trim and be knowledgeable in all aspects.

My point being that I prefer these local suppliers because they have the knowledge and the experience of working with all the different trades involved in building a new home, they also have a more one to one relationship with the manufacturers, especially important when you have a problem, i.e. windows came in the wrong size and your framer is going to charge you more to rework rough opening, or you want those windows replaced all together. The new exterior door you ordered and came in the wrong size or wrong swing, the sales people from your local building supplier are going to be in a better position to solve your problems, these people are professionals and they will usually go the extra mile for you, they will come out to your job site with the factory engineers and or sales person to try and solve your issues quickly and most of the time in your favor.

It has been in my experience that the sales people form the local building supplies
are more in tune with the nature of building a new home, they meet with the new home owner/contractors and trades on site to go over potential problems before they happen and to do take offs of materials needed and delivered on site when needed by each particular trade. This is a major consideration if you’re materials are not on site when needed, your trades may leave and go to another jobsite where the materials are being delivered in a timely manner, with your trades time is money, if they have to sit around waiting for materials and they have employees being paid to sit there, they will go somewhere that they can make money period. This will cost you more money in the long run because it will take longer to build your new home therefore costing you more in interest charges. They will also make arrangements to pick up any unused material afterwards and issue you a credit, the material must be in a resalable condition, and there is usually no delivery or return charge, although you may have to pay a percentage for a restocking fee.    

These same suppliers will usually have access to some engineering resources and these are especially helpful on new home construction and or remodeling projects in the framing aspect where floor loads, wind shear, and total span calculations are needed. This is another added benefit when it comes to the use of engineered lumber products as they will be able to supply the home owner with the correct product for each application.

Your local building suppliers are also a great resource for finding potential sub-contractors for each trade; the sales people will already have knowledge of who is working in your area and also the quality of their work, so if they give you any names they are usually qualified to do that particular trade. I also don’t recommend the national building suppliers, these guys are more interested in the production type builders and I have found that the service for the custom home builders or contractors just don’t get the service that the local guys can give you. I myself being in the construction industry and being a sub-contractor I also did not like the fact that I had to compete with a building supplier, that was using subs as a tool to sale their products in a package deal, then making me discount my price to them and all the while they were telling the contractor or home owner they would manage their job site and in all actuality not have a clue as to how to perform or specific knowledge for any individual trade.

The local building supplier will usually assign each customer a sales person for the entire process of building your new home and this will help you the home owner with all your selections, so please use their knowledge and let them help you make your new construction project be as pleasant as possible.

A good article on EZA about choosing your lumber:

Friday, September 10, 2010

New Home Construction and ICF's

    I decided to write this post on ICF's, for those of you who are not familiar with this ICF stands for insulated concrete forms. They are used in the construction of homes, business's, and government type buildings. They are a type of Green Building, specifically for their insulating value, another reason is, they are used heavily in coastal regions for their superior structural abilities due  to withstand excessive windspeeds.They have also become very popular for basement homes for their capability to hold back the static pressure from the backfill.

    Now, the reason for this post is to explain the benefits of using ICF's and also the installation and common misconceptions from contractors and sub-contractors. Contractors are especially reluctant to use this product for two reasons, 1. they do not have the experience of working ICF's and they listen to all the b.s. out there that (what about termites), well some ICF manufacturers are pretreating their products in the manufacturing process, otherwise you treat it like any other home building practices. 2. This is the big one there are just not that many qualified installers. There a lot of contractors and or sub-contractors out there that say they can, but I would ask you to ask your contractor to prove it.I would go about this first and foremost did the ICF installer and his crew get certified training form the manufacturer.What kind of equipment do you have i.e. wall scaffolding, this one is also very important, it is not only designed to allow your personnel to reach higher it also has a turnbuckle attachment which attaches to the ICF wall as it is being installed to help keep everything straight and plum, also once you are pouring the concrete you use these turnbuckle attachments to straighten  the walls again before the concrete has a chance to set up.This special scaffolding is very expensive and separates the wanna bes from the experts real quick.Your installer should also have a transit and know how to use it, this is used to keep your wall at the same height around the entire perimeter of your home, believe me folks this is critical. You don't want to walk from one side of your home to the other and there be a 2" difference from one end to the other.The next concern is what the slump for your concrete is'(the slump of your concrete is actually how much water and how wet is your concrete), this determines how fast your concrete is going to pour. I know concrete is concrete, not quite, if you pour your concrete to fast you will most likely have a blowout, this is where one one your ICF forms comes apart usually in a corner, then you have to stop and repair, time consuming and just does not look good. The above questions should give you idea if the installer know his stuff or just giving you a bunch of fluff. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you on your concrete when you order, make sure and tell them you want a slump of 5-6.

    Now just a few tips we learned as we became more familiar with ICF's and basements, your contractor or you the homeowner need to make your footings wider than in conventional construction, because most ICF blocks are wider than concrete block and brick combination, you should check with manufacturer about exact dimensions.I believe the standard is approximately 12 5/8", then if your new home is going to be brick you add another 5", brick is normally 4" and you need a 1" air space between the block and the brick.The next tip on basements is you know that the outside perimeter should always have a french drain, well I recommend you put one on the inside of your footing as well, kind a over kill but for the added protection for moisture control you just can't beat it.Now since I mentioned moisture control, I just can't put enough emphasis on waterproofing, please please find a qualified waterproofing company.A good waterproofing that we have worked with over the years.I would also recommend that you also use the ICF blocks to build your support for your front porch(it is going to be underground and not seen anyway) using this idea we even turned our supports into safe rooms and wine room with just a few more extra blocks.The last part is to make sure that your contractor uses clean backfill against your basement walls, I know this sounds elementary but you would not believe the number of stumps and trees I have seen used as part of the backfill just to save few buck.

    I want to move on up into the first floor, basically you use all the previous steps as mentioned earlier, except now you have to worry about windows and doors.The manufacturers usually will have widow and door jambs that are made of plastic, usually in 8' increments to use , but you still have to use some type of wood framing to support the opening while the concrete is setting up.There is another potential problem in these areas, make sure your contractor has vibrating equipment to help fill in these voids, most times you will need to cut a small hole in the plastic bucks to make sure you get all the voids filled in.The process is not hard but time consuming therefore a lot of installers especially the first time installers will miss this step.If your new home is just basement and one story you are almost finished, the finishing touches are 1. check your level across perimeter of home if it is level now proceed to installing your bolts into concrete before it sets up, let it dry and install top plate.The top plate has to be treated lumber.

    I would like to go over some of the details of extra requirements that the manufacturers don't always mention and that your contractors don't know about.I do not mean that contractors don't know anything, it's a lot of contractors have not been involved with ICF's before.When choosing your ICF manufacturer ICF check to see if they have a recommended contractor and installer for your area, if so check them out for yourself.

Listed below are some of the cost associated with ICF's :

1.ICF bLocks


3.rebar-this is structural steel rods placed throughout the entire ICF wall, both vertically and horizontally(this one can get quite expensive depending on the size of your home)

4.foam insulating product to fill in gaps or repairs

5.window and door bucks

6.rental equipment-vibratory equipment,chop saws,pump truck

7.ties- ties are used to tie the bocks together during installation to keep from separating during your concrete pour

8.lumber to support door and window openings

9.lumber for top plate

10.add at least 10% on your block calculations for waste

    This is just a brief explanation of some of the cost associated with building an ICF home.I have included a link to the manufacturer that I prefer, I don't mean this an endorsement of any kind.I have used different suppliers over the years and I found that I had less waste and much better customer service from these guys. I will tell you something most of you don't know, that is you have hundred of ICF manufacturers out there, but in reality there are only about five plants that actually produce the blocks, so another important factor is shipping charges,make your selection and then make them give you a set delivery charge. Even though I told you there are only five plants producing ICF's each one has their own specs. that the plants use to manufacture them,just wanted to clarify.

    I could give you all kinds of data that I have accumulated over the years from homeowners and manufacturers, but I believe if you have already made up your mind to build using ICF's you have already done the research so I will not get into that aspect.I only wanted to give you some of my experiences in the hopes of preparing you for the little inconveniences you will have along the way.If you have any direct questions pertaining to subcontractors or installers, builder/contractors or you are a DIY feel free to post comment and I will do my best to answer your questions.

    The last thing I would like to point out is I read an article from a contractor and I thought it was misleading so I want to share my thoughts, building an ICF home will cost you approximately10-15% more than conventional, the labor cost is not reduced it is actually more, yes ICF walls are sheetrock ready which reduces the building materials needed, but the sub contractors will charge more for working on an ICF home than for a conventionally framed home,that being said you will more than make up that cost difference in the utility savings.

    I hope you have an enjoyable experience in building your new ICF home.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Construction Industry and You

I wanted to write this article on the construction industry as a whole on some of the changes I would like to see implemented. We all know just how hard this industry has been devastated by the current housing bust, but I believe there is a way that we as citizens of this great country can help each other. I know it is a tough and challenging environment out there with the economic situation being what it is today and nobody wants to have to pay anymore than they have to for any particular product or service.

The housing industry as a whole needs to be revamped, that is from the lending institution, building suppliers, contractors and the sub-contractors. I know that just a couple of years ago we were all making money, well times have changed and we will all have to do some soul searching and reorganization.
That being said the home owner and or buyers need to make some changes as well, and I’ll start by asking you do you want a quality product and quality services, naturally everyone does. The hard part is are you willing to pay for that quality. I think the vast majority of people are willing to pay for quality; they just don’t want to pay an exorbitant amount. I would ask do you want your contractors to be insured, do you want all your sub-contractors to be insured, and of course you do.

Let me give you an idea of just how much insurance cost for sub-contractors, first we are supposed to carry general liability, this one is relatively inexpensive around $1500.00 per year. The workman’s comp. insurance is the one that drives all employers’ nuts, according to which trade you specialize in this one can get very expensive. I am going to give you a few examples just to give you and idea of the cost.
Framer Hourly
Rate of Pay     Insurance Cost Per Hour                  Based of 40 Hours           Per week  
$25.00                                        $4.50                                $1000.00                  $180.00
$18.00                                        $3.24                                  $720.00                  $129.60
$17.00                                        $3.06                                  $680.00                  $122.40
$17.00                                        $3.06                                  $680.00                  $122.40
$12.00                                        $2.16                                  $480.00                    $86.40

Per Week Ending Cost $3560.00 $640.80
Now add the payroll to the insurance cost, the total cost of this framing crew for the week is $4200.80, this is before we adjust for taxes and or benefits. This cost also does not cover the nails (approximately .25 per square foot), no tools the average cost of tools to set up a framing crew is approximately $5000.00, and crane if needed.

Now I want to break this down even further starting with the framing crew. A typical framing crew will usually consist of five members, this framing crew is capable of framing approximately 1000 square feet per week, and let’s say they were being paid $4.50 per square foot to frame, that means this crew brought in $4500.00 for this weeks work. The employer paid out a minimum of $4100.80, before taxes, equipment cost, or nails. This is back breaking work and as you can see these guys are not getting rich, in most cases the owner of the framing crew is working with the crew and his pay was what is left over and not counted in the above figures.

Roofing Trade
$18.00         $5.04        $720.00          $201.60

I won’t bother to do the roofing detail as you can figure that out by following the framing example. Except a roofer can average 500 square feet per day on average 8-10 pitch roof
I would like to add a side note, as an employer if you do not have more than two employees you do not have to carry workers comp, although all builders require you to have it before you can be paid, if you do not carry workers comp. they will deduct it from the sub-contractors pay, and usually at a higher rate than they would have to pay an insurance company.

I know this article has gotten a little lengthy, but I thought the information above was relative to where I am going with this article. We are all complaining about illegal immigration and the construction industry is rampant with illegal aliens, and what I am about to suggest is to use either citizens of the U.S. or individuals that are here legally. I personally think the playing field should be level and since most illegal immigrants don't carry insurance of any kind you can see why you can get a cheaper price from them.Yes it might cost a few more bucks but if the federal government is not going to do their job why don’t we do it for them. Hire responsibly and we can help everyone and hopefully we can help turn the housing industry around. The construction industry should be held accountable as a whole from the contractors to the sub-contractors, and finally the home owner, we all have a responsibility to each other.

The task of determining whether on or not an individual is here legally has been made simple by the federal government and it is free to employers to use, it is a website called E-Verify, so I am asking you to please make your contractor provide you with proof that they e- verify all sub-contractors, if they won’t move on to another. If you are looking for a new home and going to a production builder let’s put pressure on them to also make their sub-contractors e-verify, if we all work together we can accomplish anything. You the home owner should also do your part and only hire quality legal contractors, and quit trying to get something for nothing. Let me tell you people if an illegal immigrant can’t get a job they will go home.If you would like to read more please follow the link below.

I would like to add this link to show what is going on in the construction industry, follow this link about Pulte Homes.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

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