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Problems with ICF contractors. Now what? ICF Basement Only?  RSS feed

 
Eric Bristol
Posts: 13
Location: NE WI
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Hey guys!

This is my first thread so I thought I would do a short intro.

My name is Eric and I am in the planning phases of building a new home. I am 32 years old, work in the IT field, and enjoy learning about green technology solutions.

I found a local builder who has been building ICF homes in North East WI for almost 30 years. I have been working with him over the past 5 months and we recently ran into some communication issues. He is from the "old school" and can be pretty stubborn. He is strictly a General Contractor and does not have any employees. I am from the new school and like things fast. He never once met his self imposed deadlines for getting me the information I need to keep my project moving forward. He would tell me that he would have something ready by Monday and I would not get it until the following Monday. The entire bid process took 2-3 week longer then he said it would and when the compiled bid came back he was over 30% higher then the budget he was given.

During the entire process, I had concerns that an ICF home might be out of reach of my budget. From the research I did and from speaking to other builders, I found it was "about 10%" more to build ICF vs Traditional Stick construction. The ICF contractor I was working with told me it was "about 3-4%" more.

I am not one to price shop bids because of all the techniques that builders can use to cut corners to save money. I understand it can be extremely difficult to compare bids apples to apples.

From the very beginning, my plan was to work with an ICF contractor and a stick builder to properly educate myself on the techniques and cost difference. However, the ICF builder strongly discouraged me from doing it. He used pressure techniques to strong arm me into signing his Pre Build Agreement. I really wanted to build an ICF home and I put my trust in him. I wanted to work with a certain stick builder because of their large abundance of human and financial resources and the cost effectiveness of getting design plans done.

After I got the bid back from the ICF contractor I took the floor plans to the stick builder for a bid and found out the price difference was ~10%. This made my ICF contractor upset. Having both bids, I had a much better idea of the cost difference between the two techniques. I continued to work with the ICF builder to find ways to save money by cutting my allowances and making a few changes to the floor plans. We met on Tuesday (July 9th) and he said he could have the updated bid to me by the next day. On the following Monday (July 16th), I still had not received the revised bid that I needed to take to the bank for official funding approval. I emailed the ICF contractor explaining the importance of the information and my concerns about the timeliness of his promises. On Wednesday (July 17th) I still did not have a revised bid so I met with the stick builder I got the second bid from and signed their Pre-Build agreement. On Thursday (July 18th), the ICF contractor called me to let me know he still did not have a completed bid ready for me to submit to the bank. He said he hoped to have it by the following day. I told him about my meeting with the Stick Builder and the commitment I made to them regarding their Pre-Build agreement. He was not happy.

For those not familiar with Pre-Build agreements this is how they work.

The Pre-Build agreement with the ICF contractor required that I put down a $1000 non refundable deposit. $300 would go to an "Energy Analysis" completed by an Energy Specialist which will give a complete breakdown of the energy usage of my home. $700 would go to "Building System Consulting" which is basically paying the General contractor for his time. I also had to pay for the design work by the architect billed at $60 an hour. There is no commitment to build. If I built with them, the $1000 would get credited to the bill. The designs is mine to keep. I signed the Pre-Build agreement with him on April 15th.

The Pre-Build agreement with the Stick contractor required no money down. There was a flat fee of $600 for the design work with up to 3 "Major" revisions. There is no commitment to build. If I built with them, the $600 would get credited to the bill. The designs is mine to keep. The stick contractor gave me the first bid without requiring me to sign their Pre-Build.

On July 19th, the ICF contractor emailed me saying "Eric, At this point I do not feel its in my best interest to continue any focus on your project unless we are moving forward into contract." Again, using pressure techniques to sign something. I do not need a signed contract to get formal approval from my bank so I told him I was not going to sign his contract until I got formal approval from the bank. Since then, I have asked him for several things which he has not provided me.

1. An updated bid
2. A copy of our Pre-Build agreement with his signature on it. (I signed a copy and sent it to him via email. I never got one with his Signature on it.)
3. A copy of "Energy Analysis" as defined in the Pre-Build.

I have not heard from his since July 20th.

So right now, I am out $1,000 for his down payment, over $2,000 to his designer, and I have lost 3 months. I sold my current home on July 5th. The buyer has agreed to allow me to stay in the home "until my new home is built".

If I would have went with my original plan of using the stick builder to get the designs done and get the first bid, I would have known in early May that I was reaching beyond my budget. I could have scaled back my plans and allowances and have a good idea of how much it would cost to build the home I wanted to build using traditional stick construction. I could have then taken those plans to the ICF builder and he could give me a price on how much it would cost to build the home using ICFs. It would have cost me $600 and would have happened MUCH faster.

Was I wrong to do what I did?

I know this forum is full of builders and consumers so this is probably not a new story. I will be the first to admit that I had no clue what I was doing when I started this process. My wife and I attended the local "Parade of Homes" in the spring and we saw a lot of different homes at different prices. It was easy to pick out the quality builders verse the budget builders. We set our goals high with the idea of scaling back if necessary.

There were a couple of other things where the ICF contractor dropped the ball. He used to work in partnership with another group called Lifetime Structures. Their specialty was building Net Zero homes. The two important aspects of a Net Zero home is a tight structure and a Solar Grid Tie system. The two groups had a mutual separation sometime last year. Every time we met I brought up the Grid Tie system and every time he skated the question. The roof system did not include a Solar friendly design until I made brought it up and his first bid did not include any Solar Grid Tie system.

Also, the first time we met in March he said his normal contract fees are 10% of cost. But if I allowed him to show the home, he would only charge me 8%. His bid included a 10% General Contractors fee. When I confronted him about it he skated the question. When I asked him to remove the verbiage from the contract and he skated the request.

MOVING FORWARD

My stick builder is currently revising their bid for the changes I made to make the home more cost effective. A complete ICF might be out of my budget. The Stick builder is more then willing to work with me to find a Sub Contractor who will do pour a basement of ICF and then build stick on top. I plan on having finished space in my basement so it would be silly not to do ICF down there.

On July 18th I contacted a different ICF contractor about building an ICF basement. Although he would have preferred to be my General Contractor he sounded excited at the opportunity to be a part of my project at any level. He said he would get my a bid in a week but cautioned he might not be available for my time lines. On July 26th, I got an email from him stated he had to decline my project because he would not have resources available for my time frames. I appreciate his honesty but my time lines were not set in stone. This second ICF builder used to work with the first ICF builder so I think they must have made contact at some point recently.

Is this normal in this trade? Am I the problem?

Either way, I am searching for alternative ICF builders who don't mind being subcontracted to only do the basement in ICF. What is the best technique for joining an ICF basement to a stick built house? I know the intersection of the floor system and basement foundation can be a point of heat loss. Can a floor system set on top of an ICF wall perform well vs a floor system hung from an ICF wall. What other areas should I make sure the Stick builders focuses on for energy efficiency?

Thanks for your opinions!

Eric
 
Adam Klaus
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Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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well, nothing personal to anybody, but General Contractors are easy people to not like, IMHE.

If you feel anything funny this early in the process, run like hell, and do it with confidence.

Like you said, it is really impossible to get an apples to apples comparison because of quality issues and the myriad ways contractors can cut hidden corners. It really does all come down to trust, contractors are pros at manipulating a budget to get as much out of you as they think they can. I speak from experience. I hired an excellent builder to contruct my home, and just over a year after my family moved into that home, I am just now letting go of the last of my resentments. The house was built well, but budgeting honesty, heh. Not quite as quality. They can move fast or slow, blame subcontractors, etc, etc. Sometimes you feel like you just cant win, and you cant.

My advice is to trust your gut on the individual you entrust with being your GC. Get a good contract with tons of carrots and sticks to encourage budgetary integrity. Stay on top of the project as much as is humanly possilbe. Talk to all your subcontractors. Work to source as much of your fixtures and appliances as possible. Any contractor that balks at any of this is suspect, IMO.

Good luck. Paying someone to build my house was more stressful than the house I built myself. In the end, just accept that, try your best, and accept the rest.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Eric,

I am so behind in my emails to everyone, but after reading your request, I knew I had to respond. Adam, has reflected a story of his own and more truths. My opinion on this is not humble at all, but well deserved and learned. I work in the construction field, I also despise 80% of the GC that I meet, and absolutely loath 90% of their business practices. I, fortunately learned my business, and craft from Old Order Amish, and as a Timberwright, apply an ethical standard that provides me the satisfaction of putting most GC in a defensive position. I also have an extensive background in group and leadership development, so I also get many of the young men and women that are working on a given crew, to hold their employers (GC, Architectural firms, etc.) to a standard that these types don't want to meet, there by forcing an ethics code onto the project.


Do not ever let anyone dictate to you who you speak to, what you want, or whom you want to consult with. If they have a problem with that, get rid of them. Even if your wishes may be unreasonable, they (the people you consult for a project) must be educators, not manipulators. Demand missions statements and ethic codes from any GC, subcontractor, or craftsperson on your job. which can either be written or orally submitted, but should be reflected in their personal affect, and written documentation. Demand 100% transparency on everything from their business practices to sharing information with you and project members. If they buy material for example, pay for the material and not any "hidden handling fees," or such nonsense, as an example. Also, don't let them "bill out," subs, and hired help at one amount but charge you another. Pay Scales, fees, and for that matter, all finances related to the project are under your control and should be 100% public, nothing hidden, period. Professionals work by a contract which is based on some metric, (i.e. square meter/foot, board foot, cubic meter/yard, linear meter/foot etc,) never "Time and Material," (or very, very rarely so.) Good consultants come from a place of power, and are willing to share it and have their views vetted and challenged. If they can't deal with that, move on, as they are probably under qualified or hiding something.

I wish I could help more, but the hour is late, and I have more lines to type. I wish I could help more technically as well, as I have some very strong ideas about stick building in general and ICF...just too many pitfalls to list. I also build traditionally for the most part, and dislike many of the contemporary building methods which are too unproven, and too much driven by a corrupt corporate modality and construction field. You even reflected it as a characteristic yourself, which is normal as society has "bought into," a normative culture of consumerism and have no patience. It's all about speed and rushing, not quality and forbearance. You get what you pay for, and speed does not present quality in most cases, just a better profit margin for the one holding the whip.

Good luck and if you really need to, give me a call...these long emails kill me as I tend to be long winded.

Regards,

jay
 
Brian Knight
Posts: 554
Location: Asheville NC
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Hi Eric, welcome to the community. Sorry for the trouble. It doesnt sound like youve done anything inherently wrong but perhaps could have had better communication or set better expectations upfront. I think Jay and Adam have some good points.

There are so many ways to approach having a home built. I think GCs are in general, likable people. Theyre main job is to coordinate and cooperate in a firm but fair manner and it takes people with good communications skills to get it done and stay in business. Its easy for them to get a bad rap when so much money and emotion is on the line. Of course just like any business, scoundrels can ruin your day and should be avoided.

I think your approach is sound. I feel its better to seek out someone that shares the same values and goals as yourself as opposed to trying to get fixed bids on detailed plans. In a fixed cost contract, its not really any of your business what stuff costs whereas in a cost plus, everything should be open book.

It really seems that the ICF portion of the plans are giving you trouble. I have to challenge ICFs here. They can be a great system, but there are other alternatives that can perform better at lower up-front costs. Not sure if pre-cast concrete panels are available in your area but around here, they have pretty much driven the ICF companies out of business. Superior Walls is our local brand and they cant be beat in price, performance, speed, warranty, code acceptance(regionally dependent) and warranty.

If they arent available, then why not traditional poured walls with foam or mineral wool insulative sheathing? The performance advantage can be big because you dont have the inner layer of foam separating the thermal mass from the conditioned space like you do with ICFs. Heck, I would probably even spec poured CMU with foam insulation before ICFS. A lot of this is regionally dependent. In my area, ICFS are just not common enough to compare with the traditional foundations. Their R values arent that great and there are very little thermal mass advantages. However, if they were more cost competitive as it may be in your area, it would be a different story here.

I hope the stick builder youve talked to is planning on double walls or some type of insulative sheathing. Thats the only way you could compete with ICFS, SIPS or pre-cast concrete panels. I think that sort of thing is finally being locally enforced in your climate but Iam not sure.

Finally, much wasted effort and agonizing is spent over wall design. The roof, slab, windows and transitions all contribute to the building envelope as a system. Be sure your builder has some blower door test goals and knows how to seal up the transitions. Its a great question about the foundation to floor to second story wall transition. Most builders could be doing this detail much better and it accounts for quite a bit of energy loss, more than the overall wall design in many cases. I prefer to build the foundation walls taller and hang the floor system.

Be sure to use a super thick sill sealer and check out Protecto wrap's Triple sill sealer. http://www.protectowrap.com/energy-saving-solutions/triple-guard-energy-sill-sealer%E2%84%A2/
Used it once with good success but Iam currently exploring a cheaper and hopefully better way of doing it by using 1/2" foam concrete expansion joint as the sill sealer (appears to be same as protecto foam) and priming(Tescon primer) and taping (3m 8067) around the entire perimeter.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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You are ONLY out a couple grand and a couple months now. Once you are in the middle of a build, you can be out A LOT MORE--tens or hundreds of thousands and years of time can be lost to a bad GC (or sub). Been there, done that. I know many that lost everything because the builder shafted them and then the bank took the land to recoup their losses.

You need to be 100% in agreement with how the GC has built other homes, because most don't like to do anything different--not out of pure stubbornness but a matter of "stick with what works" when money is on the line. They are liable if your ideas don't work in many states. In the same vein, you need to listen (not necessarily follow, but consider carefully) to the experts as they know more of local conditions and experience of past failures in the area.

If I had it to do over, I would not hire a GC and do a self-build for cash, no mortgage. But not everyone can do that, and there are risks.

 
Eric Bristol
Posts: 13
Location: NE WI
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Adam Klaus wrote:well, nothing personal to anybody, but General Contractors are easy people to not like, IMHE.


The analogy that I have learned to use is that General Contractors are professional Car Salesmen. They all are very nice and seem knowledgeable until you get to know them.

Adam Klaus wrote:Like you said, it is really impossible to get an apples to apples comparison because of quality issues and the myriad ways contractors can cut hidden corners. It really does all come down to trust, contractors are pros at manipulating a budget to get as much out of you as they think they can. I speak from experience. I hired an excellent builder to contruct my home, and just over a year after my family moved into that home, I am just now letting go of the last of my resentments. The house was built well, but budgeting honesty, heh. Not quite as quality. They can move fast or slow, blame subcontractors, etc, etc. Sometimes you feel like you just cant win, and you cant.


People keep telling me "You got to get a second bid." right from the beginning. So I asked them "What if one builder comes in at $125/sqft and the other is $120/sqft with all things being equal? Do I automatically pick the cheaper one?" Well the answer is No. I thought I had the builder I wanted for my project and I put my trust in him. Turns out, I should have keep my options only.
 
Brian Knight
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Hmm funny you should say that about builders. Ive heard IT folks are like professional engineers and should be avoided because they are too difficult to work with.
 
Rufus Laggren
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Eric

I'm a plumber who has worked all aspects of "traditional" stick building starting as a kid long ago. Design, HVAC, framing, insulation, electrical, plumbing, fire sprinkler, roofing, trim, tiling... No masonry yet. <g> I've generaled a few jobs but that's not my career. Below are some thoughts, some of which I'm sure you've already considered yourself.

You're not wrong. Your expectations may not match up well with reality but you gotta start somewhere. It helps to have _some_ idea of what you're getting into, the various players, what _your_ job is, what standards and practices are reasonable, the pressures, constraints, the economics, various business formats, etc. Read several books on the residential building and/or renovating experience and the industry. Read as many as you have time for. It will give your at least an overview and some understanding of what kind of process you're getting into and the different viewpoints, motivations and constraints on the participants.

Some general rules of thumb:

1) The way it starts (with any associate) is the way it's going to continue. Forewarned.

2) Expect and budget your time to talk with a LOT of people. When you can't personally develop total expertise in a particular area you must rely on as much research as you can afford and then spend time talking with at least three and as many as 7 or 8 contractors (or other people) in that field. Talk with as many people as you can afford the time for and take good notes so your time is well spent. You start to see common threads, agreements, recognize certain types of business practices that you like (or don't); you also develop a feel for and start to recognize people who a) _know_ what they're talking about (not all that common actually, even w/a major degree after their name); b) Are willing and able to work with you in a worthwhile way; c) evince good business practices that you can have confidence in; d) relate well with you.

If you can't be deeply involved (it will consume your life for the duration of the project) you may want to use the services of a management agency to monitor the job of the GC. This is not a very satisfactory situation - it's expensive and it _will_ involve some conflicts. But if you can't spend the time needed to oversee the job on at least a weekly basis it's something to consider. Again, read some books about the residential home building process to pin point alternatives and key players that might help you.

If you work directly with the GC, expect to visit the job site at least weekly and inspect everything carefully as you can. You _must_ raise issues you see and get them remedied or clarified to your satisfaction as soon as possible - that's _your_ job and it's a LOT of work. You need to have at least bi-weekly milestones and generally conform to good project management process - you _need_ to know when there's a problem to attend to. The specific methods you use to manage the project (manage the GC) depend on you and the GC but you must actively manage it IMHO. You will likely spend 15 to 20 hours a week (if you're working a "day job" full time, otherwise a lot more) on this and other aspects of the build for some months preceding the build and some months after the job is technically finished - as well as during the actual build. Try very hard spend a couple hours a week personally inspsecting the jobsite. You're not an engineer or architect or builder so you don't expect or try to confirm _all_ the details of a build; that's not realistic.. But you _can_ look closely at everything, focusing on the latest issues and milestones, get an overview of the job, show the GC and others that you _are_ most interested and paying close attention and perhaps most importantly give yourself a feel for the actual physical house which in turn will influence your real time decision making. And of course you will often see things that don't line up with your expectations and need a little clarifying.

Nobody got this far in life w/out having some smarts and you absolutely have the right and the need to apply any and all intuitions, skills, training, energy and any other advantages you might accumulate to this project. You more or less owe it to the house and yourself and the world in general. You mention your wife and if she can join actively in the project you'll be way ahead. Don't hesitate for one second to play good-cop bad-cop with the people you have to work with. Only remember they're human too and we're all in this together.

Best luck. It's a damn fine challenge and you're sure to learn a whole lot.

Rufus
 
Eric Bristol
Posts: 13
Location: NE WI
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Brian Knight wrote:Hi Eric, welcome to the community. Sorry for the trouble. It doesnt sound like youve done anything inherently wrong but perhaps could have had better communication or set better expectations upfront. I think Jay and Adam have some good points.


I understand. I take some fault through the whole process. When I started, I had no clue what I was doing. I was open and honest about this. I had a general idea about how much it cost to build the homes we saw in our local Parade of Homes but that was pretty much it.

Brian Knight wrote:I think your approach is sound. I feel its better to seek out someone that shares the same values and goals as yourself as opposed to trying to get fixed bids on detailed plans. In a fixed cost contract, its not really any of your business what stuff costs whereas in a cost plus, everything should be open book.


The Stick builder I am working with uses a fixed pricing system. I am not a big fan of it at all. I informally asked what margin their company aims for in building the home and my Project Manager said "He did not know. That was handled by their Financing area." I think if I pressed hard enough they will tell me. My revised bid should be ready this Thursday.

Brian Knight wrote:
It really seems that the ICF portion of the plans are giving you trouble. I have to challenge ICFs here. They can be a great system, but there are other alternatives that can perform better at lower up-front costs. Not sure if pre-cast concrete panels are available in your area but around here, they have pretty much driven the ICF companies out of business. Superior Walls is our local brand and they cant be beat in price, performance, speed, warranty, code acceptance(regionally dependent) and warranty.

If they arent available, then why not traditional poured walls with foam or mineral wool insulative sheathing? The performance advantage can be big because you dont have the inner layer of foam separating the thermal mass from the conditioned space like you do with ICFs. Heck, I would probably even spec poured CMU with foam insulation before ICFS. A lot of this is regionally dependent. In my area, ICFS are just not common enough to compare with the traditional foundations. Their R values arent that great and there are very little thermal mass advantages. However, if they were more cost competitive as it may be in your area, it would be a different story here.


Interesting. I will do some research on Pre-Cast Concrete panels.

The reason I like ICF for the basement is because I plan on having finished space in the basement. ICFs have built in screw channels so I can hang sheet rock right on the foam. I don't need to frame a wood wall, insulate it, and then apply the sheet rock.

I live near Green Bay WI so it gets cold up here. As far as building codes go, they require a minimum 4' frost wall and 1" foam sheathing on the outside of the basement. Soon, the requirement is going to be 2" foam sheathing.

Brian Knight wrote:I hope the stick builder youve talked to is planning on double walls or some type of insulative sheathing. Thats the only way you could compete with ICFS, SIPS or pre-cast concrete panels. I think that sort of thing is finally being locally enforced in your climate but Iam not sure.


That is a good question that my Stick Builder did not have a straight answers for yet. When setting the upper framed walls on the ICF foundation there is going to be a 2" difference between the two surfaces. They use 1/2" OSB on the outside so we were talking about how to make up that 1 1/2" difference. I said "How about 1 1/2" foam on the outside of the house?" Even 1" would be nice. They could bend the flashing in a "Z" type fashion to mate the two surfaces. And once the siding is installed, it would be very difficult to tell the difference.

But I don't know what the solution will be at this time.

Brian Knight wrote:Finally, much wasted effort and agonizing is spent over wall design. The roof, slab, windows and transitions all contribute to the building envelope as a system. Be sure your builder has some blower door test goals and knows how to seal up the transitions.


All their homes go through a blower test to get Energy Star/Focus On Energy certified. But that is not good enough for me. I will make sure they set their goals higher and meet those goals.

Brian Knight wrote: I prefer to build the foundation walls taller and hang the floor system.


Me too.

Brian Knight wrote:Be sure to use a super thick sill sealer and check out Protecto wrap's Triple sill sealer. http://www.protectowrap.com/energy-saving-solutions/triple-guard-energy-sill-sealer%E2%84%A2/
Used it once with good success but Iam currently exploring a cheaper and hopefully better way of doing it by using 1/2" foam concrete expansion joint as the sill sealer (appears to be same as protecto foam) and priming(Tescon primer) and taping (3m 8067) around the entire perimeter.


My stick builder provides a insulation upgrade that takes the standard 2"x6" R19 wall to a R25 for a very reasonable price. I don't remember the exact difference in the technique but I will get more information on it. That option, along with possible 1" foam sheathing on the outside might get me closer to the performance of a complete ICF home. But as you mention, the roof, slab, and windows must all be addressed. My old ICF GC used Triple Pan Windows.
 
Eric Bristol
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Location: NE WI
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Brian Knight wrote:Hmm funny you should say that about builders. Ive heard IT folks are like professional engineers and should be avoided because they are too difficult to work with.


There is some truth to this.
 
Eric Bristol
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R Scott wrote:You are ONLY out a couple grand and a couple months now. Once you are in the middle of a build, you can be out A LOT MORE--tens or hundreds of thousands and years of time can be lost to a bad GC (or sub). Been there, done that. I know many that lost everything because the builder shafted them and then the bank took the land to recoup their losses.



Very true. I am not too upset about the money. I am more upset about the time. My money could have been spent a little better but I can not get my time back. In the grand scheme, a few thousand bucks and 4 months is not that bad considering the amount of money and time some people put into planning their new home.

R Scott wrote:You need to be 100% in agreement with how the GC has built other homes, because most don't like to do anything different--not out of pure stubbornness but a matter of "stick with what works" when money is on the line. They are liable if your ideas don't work in many states. In the same vein, you need to listen (not necessarily follow, but consider carefully) to the experts as they know more of local conditions and experience of past failures in the area.


I liked the ICF builder because he never once used the terms "Curb Appeal" or "Resale Value". I am building my dream house and I plan on living there for the rest of my life. I am building a 1650sqft 1 bedroom home on the first level. Then there will be two bedrooms with a total of 1000sqft of finished space in the basement. Everyone in my area is building 1800-2200 cookie cutter 3 bedroom split ranch homes. I have gotten mixed responses about building 1 bedroom on the first level. But in my opinion, it is not much different then building a two story (above ground) home with all the bedrooms on the second level.
 
Eric Bristol
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Rufus Laggren wrote:our at least an overview and some understanding of what kind of process you're getting into and the different viewpoints, motivations and constraints on the participants.

Some general rules of thumb:

1) The way it starts (with any associate) is the way it's going to continue. Forewarned.

2) Expect and budget your time to talk with a LOT of people. When you can't personally develop total expertise in a particular area you must rely on as much research as you can afford and then spend time talking with at least three and as many as 7 or 8 contractors (or other people) in that field. Talk with as many people as you can afford the time for and take good notes so your time is well spent. You start to see common threads, agreements, recognize certain types of business practices that you like (or don't); you also develop a feel for and start to recognize people who a) _know_ what they're talking about (not all that common actually, even w/a major degree after their name); b) Are willing and able to work with you in a worthwhile way; c) evince good business practices that you can have confidence in; d) relate well with you.

If you can't be deeply involved (it will consume your life for the duration of the project) you may want to use the services of a management agency to monitor the job of the GC. This is not a very satisfactory situation - it's expensive and it _will_ involve some conflicts. But if you can't spend the time needed to oversee the job on at least a weekly basis it's something to consider. Again, read some books about the residential home building process to pin point alternatives and key players that might help you.

If you work directly with the GC, expect to visit the job site at least weekly and inspect everything carefully as you can. You _must_ raise issues you see and get them remedied or clarified to your satisfaction as soon as possible - that's _your_ job and it's a LOT of work. You need to have at least bi-weekly milestones and generally conform to good project management process - you _need_ to know when there's a problem to attend to. The specific methods you use to manage the project (manage the GC) depend on you and the GC but you must actively manage it IMHO. You will likely spend 15 to 20 hours a week (if you're working a "day job" full time, otherwise a lot more) on this and other aspects of the build for some months preceding the build and some months after the job is technically finished - as well as during the actual build. Try very hard spend a couple hours a week personally inspsecting the jobsite. You're not an engineer or architect or builder so you don't expect or try to confirm _all_ the details of a build; that's not realistic.. But you _can_ look closely at everything, focusing on the latest issues and milestones, get an overview of the job, show the GC and others that you _are_ most interested and paying close attention and perhaps most importantly give yourself a feel for the actual physical house which in turn will influence your real time decision making. And of course you will often see things that don't line up with your expectations and need a little clarifying.

Nobody got this far in life w/out having some smarts and you absolutely have the right and the need to apply any and all intuitions, skills, training, energy and any other advantages you might accumulate to this project. You more or less owe it to the house and yourself and the world in general. You mention your wife and if she can join actively in the project you'll be way ahead. Don't hesitate for one second to play good-cop bad-cop with the people you have to work with. Only remember they're human too and we're all in this together.

Best luck. It's a damn fine challenge and you're sure to learn a whole lot.

Rufus


Good tips.

I do have time to get deeply involved. My new home will be built on the same road my current home is one and it is on my commute. I will be there often because I drive by at least twice a day. The home is going on a 2 acre lot. Half of the lot is covered with trees. I have spent many evenings and weekends clearing the lot for construction.
 
Eric Bristol
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Location: NE WI
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:

Good luck and if you really need to, give me a call...these long emails kill me as I tend to be long winded.

Regards,

jay


Thanks for the offer Jay. I'll keep that in mind!
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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So Everyone is clear, Brian and I are from different ends of thinking about buildings, but we do respect each other, and have corresponded off line for sometime now. Brian is more a mainstream design builder, with a very clear "green," ethics at his core, IMO. We differ on approach modalities, and certain concepts. When we really go at it over something, anyone that reads are debates learn something, I always do. This time is probably no different, and will cover some of the same points we differ on. So I would like to make a few points...

There are so many ways to approach having a home built.
I could not agree more, and what I think Brian might also be saying with this line is it's your responsibility to have clear project goals and agendas. Without those, even ethical designers and contractors will have a challenge assisting you. Know what you want, and be open channel to feed back from individuals that have earn/proven your trust.

In a fixed cost contract, its not really any of your business what stuff costs whereas in a cost plus, everything should be open book.
Here Brian, and I differ. Fixed cost, or open cost, ethical operators will open their ledgers, and justify there expenditures. This should be vetted before any project work of any scale, large or small, is conducted. Do not tolerate hidden costs or closed financial praxis.

It really seems that the ICF portion of the plans are giving you trouble. I have to challenge ICFs here. They can be a great system, but there are other alternatives that can perform better at lower up-front costs.
In general I do not care for ICF either, and I know them well, including some of the developers that now even question their real world viability. There are some new types that are much more robust, and better made, that can service the "owner builder" population, but even then you must take your time and never cut any corners on facilitating a structure with them. If you are more of the main stream type, I would recommend Pre-Cast Concrete Panels, 10 to 1 over ICF, in most project considering either, and using a GC.

At this point, I would also encourage the readers to avoid hiring any GC, and acting as their own. You may move slower, but you will be better served in most cases. It will be really hard work if you do not have a strong graphic and analytical mind, but you will take better care of yourself than anyone else will.

I would also point out that Brian's link is exactly what I talk clients out of doing, as this is a major contributor of collected and accumulated moisture within many contemporary wall systems. (just examined two in the last 12 months with rotted sills because the structurer was to "air tight," now that the building warp has been removed, things have dried out and the system is working much better for them. I do not disagree with the use of blower tests, but if you build with natural building systems, that are naturally "snug" and breathable, the home will be efficient, less technology depended, and will last centuries longer. Could not agree more about thick walls, (ours start at 250mm (10") and go up from there) with as little thermal bridging as possible. If you have any, it should be understood and well thought out.
 
Brian Knight
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Jay speaks of more natural builders preferences for vapor permeability in all directions. Most building scientists (and research) suggests that one-way drying is fine provided assemblies are protected from bulk water wetting events. The key, (and something the inexperienced fail at often) is keeping bulk water away from structural elements through proper weather resistive barriers and flashings. Sills dont rot from being airtight, they rot mainly from water leaks and not being separated from masonry. Well if you dont do that it would certainly be better to dry in all directions!

Its also possible for sills (and other structural elements) to rot from air leaks. There is an extreme wetting potential in the flow of humid air past cold surface (sills and other framing). I believe masonry to wood is the leakiest transition in most buildings. If you are going to seal it up in a vapor permeable way, fine. Just make sure its sealed. The Euros are making some great vapor permeable tapes these days..
 
Rufus Laggren
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$.02...

> [permeable walls]

It's my understanding that "tar paper" (felt) is still one of the best water barriers. Sheds water, medium/high permeability for drying, 30# lasts 50++ years when protected by a proper exterior cladding w/in a few days of installation, cheap. It relies in proper detailing for it's quality (not taped seams) and labor may be slightly more than plastic house wrap. House wrap (permeable) may be more appropriate if there will be several weeks (or more) between installation (to protect the structure) and covering with exterior cladding.

Flashing systems are fairly well established for most construction types. This should not be a re-invent-the-wheel area if the house design (whatever system) has been properly layed out. It's important to spec all details (corners, joints, sill, doors, windows,etc) but these details are all well known (sometimes with good/better/best options) for the different construction types. CAD drawings for most any detailing should be readily available from standard design libraries. Occasionally a contractor will purposely deviate from standard or even manufacturer's specs but he better have a darn good (explainable, hopefully supporting documentation) reason and you should research that in depth.


Rufus
 
Rufus Laggren
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Eric Bristol
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I would like to thank everyone for their replies. It is very helpful to get opposing viewpoints on topics.

Interestingly enough, there is a local ICF manufacturer who specializes in Vertical ICFs I have been in contact with.

http://www.tfsystem.com/HomeOwners.aspx

They has provided me with a materials quote for their vertical ICF system and are looking working on getting subcontractor bids.

However, my focus has switched from ICF to Traditional Stick construction. The R25 upgrade my builder provides is a Blown in Blanket. They also spray foam around all ceiling fixtures and the floor joists. They have an energy expert who blower tests the home for Focus on Energy (Energy Star) certification. He has a computer modeling solution where he will be able to estimate the energy performance of the home before it is built. He can different models to determine the RIO of increasing or decreasing insulation.

Insulating a home properly can have a huge payoff but chasing the last bit of of inefficiency can be expensive. At least at that is what I am finding out.

My new contractor is well aware of my energy efficiency goals but I feel like he is still missing the mark on some things. I asked for 3 options for Windows. My builder has their preferred Jeld-wen Premium Vinyl windows they put in the majority of their homes. These are considered Jeld-wen's 3rd level of their window offers. I was also provided a quote for Pella 25 series (cheapest product from Pella) windows and an Anderson Fiberglass window. Price wise, the windows were ranked:

Pella
Jeld-wen
Anderson

Performance wise, they were all about the same because they are Low E, Argon filled, double pane windows. But there was a $2,000 increase in price going from the Pella's to the Jeld-wen and $2000 from the Jeld-wen to the Anderson because the windows are of different quality and build. The Uvalues are:

Pella - .26
Jeld-wen - .27
Anderson - .29

The cheaper windows had the best energy performance.

So they still have a little to learn!

I am going to do some serious research on the Pre-cast concrete panels.
 
Brian Knight
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Those performance numbers probably wouldnt be much to sway my opinion about overall quality. I think Pella's nailing fins are garbage which is a critical element in my opinion and Ive heard bad service. Fiberglass clad or frame is where its at usually across the board. Are you doing passive solar? Not sure JeldWen does the glass. Andersons have good rep but price is not commensurate to me. Weve been using Weathershild's Endura with good success. Local sales representation is huge.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Eric,

Sounds like this is more "mainstream," contemporary general construction than "nature based," - "traditional" building styles you are going to employ. In that case I would heed Brian's guidance.

I will note, that "splitting hairs" about windows is often not worth the time, especially if you're just trying to compare "numbers" that the manufactures themselves provide. Those numbers can vary greatly from installation to installation in the real world application of any given window. I would further note, that a "period home," with fully restored wall assemblies and proper "textiles" on it's vintage windows, are just as warm, efficient, and functional as any of the "new" replacement windows or modern walls, and of course have the test of time behind them. The "marketing engine" in the big window industry would of course have us believe otherwise.
 
Brian Knight
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As usual, I see some agreement and disagreement with my friend Jay. Mainly the part about heeding my advice..ha! No I agree about not changing period windows out in old construction or even be suspect of changing out existing windows at all (which is why its important to put good stuff in from the beginning).

New construction is entirely different. Dont pass up the chance to put high quality windows into a new home. They are a very permenent feature being part of the building envelope and greatly influence performance for a very long time on a modern code built home. The third party testing by the NFRC is solid science. A triple pane window with a Ufactor of .19 will perform close to 5x better than a good quality wood window with a ufactor of 1. Thats 5x more comfort, 5x lower energy costs and less condensation forming on the glass which degrades interior wood. Picking high shgc glass for the south and low shgc for the West and East will make a dramatic difference in the performance of most homes. Passive solar design can cut heating costs by 40-90% and the windows and window design matters a lot.

I agree an old single pane COULD perform better than a new triple pane but it would be the exception and probably would be the result of not air-sealing between the framed opening and window pane. High performance windows do little good if you have air flowing right past them. As ocd as I am about air sealing, it still amazes me how much air gets through this location. Thats why we will try taping the jamb to the framing with vapor permeable tape moving forward, along with careful use of spray foam and/or backing rod with caulk. Speaking of window openings, be sure you slope your rough sill and flash it properly, especially on windows not well protected by overhangs.

I would say be very careful how you use the energy modeling. It can be very accurate but getting payback periods of detailed items is sure to result in inaccurate numbers. One of the main issues is that the software will be conservative to avoid over promising on certain results. The main thing is try not to go below your local code prescriptive minimums. If you do fine, but make up for it somewhere else. That's what the performance modeling is there for. NOT to look at payback periods of every single item because it will make it seem like you should cut corners everywhere. Build above code if possible.
 
Linda Hill
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Make sure you look at the NFCR rating as well, not just the Energy star label. NFRC label will have rating for your climate area. My contractor has this on his site:

Energy saving windows are rated based on four properties, U-factor, Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC), Visible Light Transmittance (VT), Air Leakage, and Condensation Resistance. All criteria for energy star windows are based on these properties.

Energy efficient windows with an Energystar label will also show the regional zone its more suited for. Northern regional areas will require a window with different U-factor, SHGC, VT, Air leakage, Condensation Resistance rating than a window for a southern regional area.

NFRC labeling provides a guide for consumers based on independent research to help understand how a window performs. NFRC energy efficient windows will carry a label showing the window properties for you to validate the type of energy saving product you will install.

If you’re energy conscious, you need to make sure the NFRC label is good for your area.
 
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