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Advice for amateur natural builder  RSS feed

 
Brian Mejia
Posts: 9
Location: Forest Grove, Oregon
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Greetings fellow permies!

I am graduating from college in a couple of weeks, and will start to push my recently started natural building business hard. I started Earth in Palm natural building a couple of months ago and already have multiple jobs lined up for a client! I just wanted to ask for advice from other natural builders on how to get going: establishing a good base of customers, getting my company's name out there, acquiring a network for materials and resources, and any other tips relating to things I may have not even thought of. I'm located in the Portland Oregon area.

Thanks! Peace.

Brian
 
Bill Bradbury
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Posts: 684
Location: Richmond, Utah
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Hi Brian,

That's a tough question without knowing your skill set. What kind of hand on experience have you acquired? It sounds like you have a good basis in theory, but that doesn't always get the job done. I usually recommend that young builders apprentice with experienced craftsmen in their desired field for at least a year before starting off on their own.

I run my restoration business entirely on my reputation. I don't advertise and I have no web site. This reduces the number of dead end bids because if someone calls me they have seen my work or talked to a previous client. This means that I spend my time working and not chasing jobs and making up bids.

High quality work with natural materials at a reasonable price will ensure that your reputation brings in more work than you want, so you can pick only the jobs that appeal to you.

All Blessings,
Bill
 
Jay C. White Cloud
Posts: 2413
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I don't really need to add more than what Bill has put so very well...

If one can design a natural/traditional vernacular home from raw materials to a finished turnkey project (or the supporting craft skills one wishes to be paid for, such as timber framing, plastering, fenestration design/implementation, masonry, etc) without primary or intervening guidance, or needing to be shown how to do something, then they...might be...ready to start a business. If those skill sets are not yet acquired, then they can't really compete and offer competent services for a fee....

I can't really enter into a conversation about, "natural building business," practices if someone doesn't have at least 10 years of experience actually building these structures under good guidance. The current market is getting swamped with too many folks that really are not qualified to run a business. I understand this sounds harsh, yet for example, I just was sent an invitation to a "workshop" of a young man that is claiming expertise in "cobb building." This section of a multi staged workshop is on stone foundations and methods of building them. This is a turnkey project for a client who is sponsoring the workshop. I didn't even know how to respond to this "request" as the photos of past work was not anywhere near the quality of work that even one of my apprentice would perform, let alone charge money for. This is just one example of so many I come across, or actually get invited into.

I would conservatively state that 50% of the folks "charging" to teach, build and design natural buildings today probably shouldn't be, and/or haven't the base skill sets in architecture to do it as well as it should be done...

I am open to dialogue, but my standards are those that apprenticing from 14 til 23 in just one of the many required skill sets (timber framing) have instilled in me a sense of "what is" enough skill, and "what isn't."

Respectfully,

j
 
Terry Ruth
Posts: 698
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Need some more info? When you say you have some jobs lined up as a trades person or GC? What do you enjoy, hands on, management, manufacturing, sales, design, building homes, remodels, etc? Knowing this alone can help you decide or to set your business up to protect yourself legally and your insurance, along with where and how to market and focus your skill set and training.

My son is a great salesman, he's college age, I'm not. He started working for another company selling roof jobs now he has his own GC company with lots of sales, yes word of mouth by customer satisfaction primarily. Now that we are grown to a point we use our website to point large commercial investors to it so we are working on it now. We are starting to look at lots in subdivisions with restrictive covenants that is making it very difficult for other than cookie cutter junk homes, and there is no where else to go outside of way out in rural and the sales will be risky out there. So we are trying to "fit in". I think our renovation and restoration will do as good on a small scale, until we start taking 15% profit on million dollar homes but that's a long ways away. Every time I go look at what is on the market I am just amazed at what builders are making off junk! So to play the game I have to get third party testing like Energy Star "Indoor Air Plus" and HERs rating so the banks will qualify our builds under "Energy Efficient Mortgages" (EEM) which allows any cost to save energy like in the envelope to be consumed in the buyers loan. They have a stranglehold on the market making it difficult for a natural builder to compete but I think I can get them on the Indoor Air Plus since most conventional homes will fail miserable nor can they get the Home Energy Rating a natural build gets by default. Glad we don't have an energy code or standards yet, or they twist that to manufactured products too. The banks are interesting too, some only approve certain builders and they all build exactly the same way....I don't think they can really tell a good one from a bad one, they come inspect them before they make a payment too. I don't see the point that's why we have framing inspection....Just to give you an idea of what you get into when you try and build natural homes in a American subdivision where the "Architectural Control Committee" or developer makes it difficult.

I do not remember seeing alot of available lots to build on in the Portland area when I was up there a couple years ago. Some challenging hills, trees, moisture fungi restoration I bet.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
Posts: 2413
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Thanks Terry for that framing of this vast and varied profession...It buffers my rather "negative" perspective that I shared...

I apologize for that, yet at the same time don't really know how to explain to folks that getting started in this business is much more complicated than just some skills, and desire. Desire is important, yet one really has to understand the "niche" they plan on filling and charging money for...
 
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