I have a vision of the type of homes we should be building lots more of in the Omaha area. Homes that are better built that will require less ongoing maintenance. Homes that have windows that are not going to have to be replaced for thousands of dollars. Homes that are tight & cost less to heat & cool every day of the year. Homes that, when the original purchaser decides to sell, have proven, added value compared to the ones around them, thereby making them more desirable & marketable. Instead of “hardboard-box, minimum-code” quality, these homes are sustainable & energy efficient. And all it will take is to have home buyers who realize these benefits before making their investment because they know what to ask for & what to expect. And finally, if built “smart sized,” will be priced fairly yet offer superior value to homes around them. I feel that I have the knowledge, passion, & skills necessary to assist people who are considering having a home built for them in this manner.
Remember during the Clinton administration when the dot-com boom took off & mortgage interest rates were attractive? Then after 9-11, when the housing market kept things together economically? Were you one of those who chose to have a new home built during that time span? I was, & it was my second experience with having a home built for my family & me. What I want to do in this posting is to share the experience I had which was like that of so many, many other people who fell for a build that provided lots of square footage & appeared to look great to us when we moved in. But then, with the passage of time (& not too much of it, sadly), we learned the hard way about the trade-offs we made to get a “big, new house.”
Specifically, I’m talking about “minimum-code quality” builds, homes that give us square footage but at a bare-bones level of quality of construction. How many of us are really experts about building components & home-construction methods? I know I certainly wasn’t in 1998 when my wife & I decided to purchase a spec home because we liked its floor plan & location. But…WE thought we were on top of things. What we ended up with was a house that did indeed have a great floor plan & location, but a house that was lacking in both sustainability & energy efficiency.
With what I have come to learn the hard way about build quality, sustainability, & energy efficiency, I have come to the firm conclusion that the Omaha area needs what I would call “smart-sized” homes. These are homes that provide for the needs of the family while minimizing the over-building above ground that was so prevalent in the past 12 years or so. Think about it: is there a room in your home, above grade, that you really don’t use enough to justify its existence? Could you have gotten along with some space finished below grade instead?
Along with those questions, how about the build quality? Most homes, even those “high-end” (i.e. pricey & pretty) ones built in the past decade, were put together with components that were as cheap as possible in order to maximize subcontractor & general contractor profits—unless the purchaser knew enough about what s/he wanted to specify either the building components, construction techniques, or both. In my home, for example, when I had to replace a light switch that had failed after a year’s use, I learned while at the home-improvement store that it was the cheapest switch the electrical contractor could select. After the wind- & hailstorm of June, 2008, the fins on my AC compressor were so damaged that they couldn’t be combed out, so we needed to replace the coils. We learned that this unit was so far down the list of equipment lines owned by Carrier that it was no longer in production & would have to be remanufactured at a cost more than a whole, newer model. And my windows…don’t get me started! Cheapest level, non-clad, started to rot within a few years. When I discovered what was going on with them, I actually removed the window with the most problems, replaced its failed components, & reinstalled it properly (including foaming around it which wasn’t done originally) for about $55 in parts & a lot of time on the ladder. However, I got a look “at the patient” & I now realize all too well that not only my house, but so many others of like genre, are standing out there & in need of constant maintenance. In reality, this doesn’t happen. Homes deteriorate, windows fail, HVAC components (most of them oversized too much to begin with, which causes them to cycle too frequently & fail sooner) go out, & on & on.
What’s the point here? There is a better way to build a home. If you want to find out more about what I’m talking about, please visit my web site. You’ll find more information & a link to another blog I’ve got going, “Building Greener Homes Is NOT a Mission to Mars!” And by all means, if you’d like to see a Powerpoint I have about a “residential greener building plan,” give me a call. I’d love to share my ideas with you & have some dialogue about the way homes can & should be built.
Oh, one last thought for this posting: on my bike rides, I have seen quite a few homes in an “upscale” neighborhood I ride through that are having geothermal heating & cooling systems installed. I can see this from the well-service vehicles & equipment in the homes’ front yards & driveways. Why in the world would someone want to spend over $15,000 to do this when the home’s build quality & inherent energy efficiency doesn’t match this huge investment? Gosh, that would be a little like an elected official obtaining a high-percentage lease on a hybrid SUV in order to “make a statement” about “doing what’s right,” energy-wise, but in the end, not very cost-effective, eh? -Scott