The August 2 Mansions section of the Wall Street Journal featured a piece written by Beth Decarbo entitled “Construction Hindsight is 10/10: Here are the things I wish I had known before building a house from scratch.”
The article begins on a high note by proclaiming that while the construction process was longer than she had anticipated, “building a house from the ground up has been one of the best experiences in my life.”
The rest of the article laments things Decarbo wishes she had known before construction began. The subheads and copy warn of surprises, disappointment, and even the need to go "underground" to save money. Your Warmmodern Living Lindal Experience would not be that way.
Decrabo writes “Starting takes forever,” (and that took us by surprise”)
I cannot vouch for what others do, but I can assure you that if your intended site comes with environmental or regulatory issues, I will explore them and advise you before we put pencil to paper. We’ll discuss the probability of obtaining a variance, if one is needed, explain the process, and estimate how long you can expect that will take (it can take years!). I will help you assemble a team of professionals you need to address particular site-related issues (geotechnical engineers, botanists, arborists, wetland specialists, civil engineers, and expeditors), and I will join the team to promote the design we are developing and modify that design based on the input of other team members. I will also explore how long the permitting process may be after the issues are resolved.
Warmmodern Living clients are aware of the issues we find as well as the time and cost of resolving them. In some cases, clients decide to continue their search for more ideal sites.
“Lots of expenses are not included in the price of the house”
Every Warmmodern Living client receives estimates throughout the planning process, and each estimate includes allowances for finishes (cabinets, countertops, appliances, light fixtures, flooring etc.)
Each allowance is established after discussion with the client, in which we explore their personal preferences and overall homebuilding budget. For example, some clients have a $12,000 allowance for appliances, while others have a $40,000 allowance. I urge my clients to explore each category online to confirm that the allowance is appropriate.
Allowances are adjusted as necessary if the budget allows. If not, a compromise is made in some other more palatable cost center. We do this, without the pressure of time, many months before breaking ground.
At a later date, we may add allowances for site prep (wells, septic systems, driveways, excavation) and permits. My clients understand what is included (and the items that are not) in our estimates.
By the time Warmmodern Living clients sign a contract to purchase the Lindal materials and to construct their homes, they know precisely what the Lindal materials cost (and Lindal holds prices for up to a year!); on-site construction costs have been estimated carefully by the builder (sometimes by two or three); and we have established realistic allowances for finishes.
The two most common exceptions are:
1) Site related issues that could not easily be anticipated (underground springs, hidden ledge, exceedingly deep wells) and;
2) Client-motivated changes and overspending of allowances are the most common source of cost overruns.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with $50,000 smart home systems or $30,000 worth of Italian pluming fixtures if the client’s budget can cover them. However, when the $16,000 allowance was based on white Kohler fixtures, if these optional add-ons force a reduction in some essential item later in the construction process, that is a problem.
I must admit, however, that I am not fond of overhearing later conversation late when new homeowners complain of cost overruns without acknowledging that they "own" a healthy portion of the added cost.
One Decarbo subhead is actually offensive. ”There are sneaky ways to save money.” Her copy conveys frustration with the planning process and unpleasant surprises during construction that could have been avoided with proper guidance and openness. Regardless of the reason to shop for bargains, there should never be a need to be sneaky. (To the contrary, I appreciate being told of great “finds” that I can pass on to future clients.)
When the anticipated project cost exceeds the budget during the planning process, I prepare a list of “value engineering opportunities,” (sometimes 20 to 30 of them) that includes the anticipated saving for each.
The VE "menu" includes items from all three cost centers:
1. The Lindal materials
The Lindal system makes value engineering easy and accurate since every one of the hundreds of Lindal options are pre-priced (by unit, length, or area). Estimating the savings accrued by selecting tight knot cedar siding in lieu of clear cedar siding or the savings accrued by using fiberglass windows in lieu of aluminum clad windows can be accurately figured in minutes. The Lindal savings may also include eliminating a few specific windows or cutting back a secondary wing of the house by a few feet.
2. The builder’s on-site construction cost.
I consult with the builder for the value of this list and ask for additional items we can add to the menu. Savings accrued in the Lindal materials may also affect the on-site cost (e.g. selecting windows with fiberglass interiors instead of wood interiors will reduce the painter’s cost).
I also suggest savings in non-essential areas (e.g. a less expensive garage door or 45-year fiberglass roof shingles in lieu of a metal roof).
3. The client’s allowance budgets
The client’s allowance budgets are a good place to look for realistic savings. Topping the stone chimney face at 8 feet with a one-piece stone mantle will be less expensive than if the stone continues to a height of 16 feet and through the roof. Could they rethink the $30,000 appliance or the $27,000 flooring allowance?
The value engineering menu often exceeds the needed savings, and the client usually selects some — not all — to bring the project cost back into budget.
At Lindal and Warmmodern Living, we believe in engaging in a value engineering effort as soon as we see an issue with cost, before the final permit plans are drawn and engineered and well before breaking ground. There is less time pressure at this point while the client is considering compromises, there is no need to sneak around. Ours is an open and enjoyable effort with great results.
Decarbo declares that “There are more cost-effective ways to design a house.”
While the statement is resoundingly true, Decarbo focuses on product and does not suggest a better process in which surprises can be avoided, choices are clear and unpressured, and budgets are respected well before construction begins.
The Lindal building system is much more than material. The system It is a well-conceived and continuously refined process with a challenging mission: maximizing flexibility without sacrificing efficiency or predictability. (No material can have a mission, whereas every process should.)
Tens of thousands of parts and their connection to adjoining parts is detailed and time tested in thousands of Lindal houses. The details are continuously refined as new materials are brought to market. The company has a long tradition of innovation. Sir Walter Lindal, the company’s founder earned patents on over twenty innovative construction details, and more recently the Company was selected by the National Association of Homebuilders Research Center as their industry partner in developing a new residential green building code, which has since been adopted into code in nearly 30 states.
The industry's broadest palette of options is available for clients to further personalize their Lindal designs, based on personal preference and price. Their substitution includes proper detailing for each.
Every component — I’d wager well over 100,000 of them — is numbered, and each is priced and updated regularly.
This links design flexibility to efficiency and predictability, reducing the time and expense of the drafting, engineering, pricing, ordering, and construction functions.
Warmmodern Living’s role is to guide each client successfully through the planning process by utilizing this system to design highly personalized homes - many of them designed from scratch - that respond to site and lifestyle and respect budget.
My architectural training, four decades of industry experience and leadership, and my special relationship with the Lindal management team and staff enables me to provide clients with a satisfying Lindal experience and a joyful conclusion.
The iterative design process is facilitated by Lindal producing preliminary plans, 3D modeling, and pricing in just a few weeks and repeating that process as I work with clients to refine the design and fine tune the cost.
I work diligently to provide the level of professional design talent and the local support required to fulfill my client’s expectations. My personal mission is to transform fear to delight.
Decarbo concludes her tale of an experience fraught with annoying issues with introspection:
I ask myself, “Would I ever want to go through this new home construction again? I’d do it in a second.”
Next time, If Decarbo designs and builds a Warmmodern Living Lindal, she’ll have a better experience to share!