Building With the Future in Mind Since 1955

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Why hire a design/build company?

The design/build approach to construction brings together professional design services and construction expertise under one roof. You’re not caught in the middle if your designer blames a problem on the carpenter, or visa versa, because in a design/build company like ours they share the same roof – it’s our problem: one-stop accountability!

We go one step further and add a showroom to the design/build mix. This marriage of a design division, a construction division and a showroom can also save you time and money: one-stop shopping!

Rick pulling trailer

Try as he might, Rick will not be able to reduce the ecological footprint of hauling our tool trailer to our job site with a truck. What a baby…

Since there are usually many ways to solve a problem, design/build provides the opportunity for our designer to brainstorm, in-house, with a building professional, to choose the most cost-effective, structurally-efficient, aesthetically-pleasing and/or environmentally-friendly solution. Two heads, especially if they contain diverse skill-sets, are clearly better than one.

When you transition from the design portion of your project to actual construction, wouldn’t you feel more secure knowing that the team in charge of the construction process is completely familiar with the design?  Design elements are less likely to be misinterpreted; specified materials are less likely to be unavailable or discontinued.

Bottom line: the better the relationship is between your designer and builder, the smoother your project will flow; the quicker it will be built; the less surprises you’ll experience; the less expensive the project will end up. So be sure, if someone else describes their company as a design/build firm, that their designers are truly in-house, as opposed to being a subcontractor; that they work together day in and day out.  Otherwise, their degree of separation will cost you!

In our opinion this design/build approach is so powerful that we suggest that if you choose another firm to help you with your project, choose another design/build firm so that you have access to these critical design/build strengths.

The design/build approach provides you with a team working for you rather than a group of potential adversaries pointing fingers at one another.  Let’s form a team that consists of you and our team of professionals, all using the same compass; all pointing in the same direction…… towards your satisfaction?

How does the Design/Build process work?

Step 1

Step 1 is usually your phone call to us.  You get to tell us about your project, your concerns, your excitement; and we get to tell you a little about ourselves and how we might be able to help you.

In order to  more fully understand how we try to simplify this rather complex process, read ‘Where Do You Start?‘  And go to our GALLERY to look at similar projects we may have already done. Consider spending as much time as you can muster on our website beforehand so that when we come over to meet you and your house we can focus upon you, as opposed to talking a lot about our company!

Step 2

…. is to meet one another in order to further understand your project and to see how well we communicate  – can we work well together as a team?

This first meeting usually takes place on site, for obvious reasons. We use this initial meeting to talk about our services; to get clear on what exactly you are asking us to do for you.  You get to point and shoot at the strengths and weaknesses of your home and the areas in need of repair and improvement.  We begin to define the project together.

Even though the project you envision may be isolated to one room or one aspect of your home, we’ll also discuss your home holistically.  For example, when was the last time someone experienced studied the condition of your home?  When was its last physical? Your answer will determine whether we suggest a Pre-Remodel Condition Evaluation. This evaluation may disclose other areas of the home that may need attention, perhaps due to rot, inadequate ventilation, substandard construction and/or components of the home that are in need of repair or replacement (i.e. furnace; roofing; etc.).  We might also discuss whether or not an energy audit is called for as part of the scoping and design process. Know that this holistic approach is not about  trying to enlarge the scope of the project.  To the contrary, we want to help you spend your money wisely.

We see this all too often: a homeowner wants something like new countertops, or nicer flooring.  However, the last time someone studied their entire home was 17 years ago.  Without their knowledge some significant rot has developed in their crawlspace, or on the exterior adjacent to a few windows, or whatever, so that their money may be better spent by stopping this deterioration, instead of, or in addition to, the new countertops.

Most people want us to guesstimate the cost of the project they’re describing to us.  We refer to this guesstimate as a SWAG — a scientific wild-ass guess.  Since so much is unknown, since there are no drawings yet, since we’ve been to your home for but an hour or so, since we’re not sitting down for hours working up this estimate, you should consider a SWAG better than nothing AND nearly worthless.  It’s level of accuracy may be profoundly wild.

So how do we achieve an accurate price? Great question. Here’s a deeper discussion of pricing accuracy.

Step 3

If no design work is necessary, skip to Step 10, since the intermediate steps apply to a design-oriented project.

That said, if you do need design work, we then send you our Design Agreement to study and, hopefully, sign.  This document goes into detail about what we bill for and how.  It spells out the specifics of our working relationship during the design process.

Signing the Design Agreement does not marry you to us for the actual construction work.  We keep these two services – design and construction – as independent processes.  Sure, we hope that our relationship will proceed into the construction itself.  We hope that you will see the power, logic and seamlessness of the design/build process as we evolve together as a team, but we’re not asking you to make this decision when you’re just beginning the design process!

Step 4

If your project is to design and/or build a custom home  … Step 4 isn’t necessary; jump right to Step 5.

If this is a remodeling project, then continue here…

Drawings of your existing home are the raw materials that our designer will use to morph into your finished plans.  They are referred to as the ‘as-built drawings’With a little luck these as-built drawings already exist.  You may need to ‘dig through the attic’ for these.  Or perhaps a former owner has them.  If you’re among the lucky ones, perhaps the building department has them in their archives.  Otherwise, we’ll make an appointment for us to come out and measure your house to create the as-builts.  As-builts for a home vary in cost dramatically depending on many factors like: size; number of levels; the complexity of the home; what needs to be included in the as-builts at this time; etc. For example, if the remodel is a major kitchen remodel, we may only need to measure and draw the kitchen and some of the immediately adjacent areas.

As-built prices typically range from $400 to $2,000, depending upon such factors.

Step 5

It’s now time to morph the as-built drawings in order to achieve your aspirations for the project.  We’ll discuss your lifestyle.  For example, if the project is a kitchen remodel, are we aiming for a plan that allows two cooks to work well together in this space, or just one?  What type of cooking do you enjoy?

Clearly, we need to get to know you as well as your structure! And we need to get your designer to see through your eyes. In the end this remodel needs to work for you, not us.  So any photos or images of what you like, and don’t like, are critical pieces of this puzzle. Train your designer to see things the way you do.

How can you effectively help your designer see through your eyes? Many of our clients are finding www.HOUZZ.com very useful… fun too.  It’s a website that provides… for free… an effective and fun collaboration tool that you and your designer can use together.  The site has an incredible number of categorized photographs that you can search through, snagging those you choose to save inside an ‘idea book’.  You might have an idea book for ‘interior doors and trim’ and/or ‘appliances’ and/or ‘plumbing fixtures and faucets’… whatever.  You name the idea books and then save the images that can help align your vision with that of your designer.  If you haven’t done so already, we suggest you go to www.HOUZZ.com and set up your own free account.  It takes a few minutes to set up and it’s pretty intuitive how to navigate within the site.  Let us know about any speed bumps you run into and we’ll help you through them.

It’s also time to determine if there are any pre-existing conditions that may constrain your design work. Researching these early on is very important. These may include things like:

  1. Building restrictions due to covenants in your neighborhood or subdivision (i.e. roofing requirements; height restrictions; etc.)
  2. Legal limitations of the site (i.e. easements, setbacks, wetlands, streams, shorelines, etc.)
  3. Environmental site constraints (i.e. views, orientation, neighbors and their structures, etc.)
  4. Your values and lifestyle(s) (i.e. accessibility needs; hobbies; number of people in the home; green building; etc.)
  5. Health concerns like chronic respiratory problems that may be due to poor indoor air quality
  6. Asbestos and/or lead concerns due to the age of your home

Then we move into the sketch mode. Depending upon your project, your needs and your designer, we‘ll create sketches on onion skin sketch paper or directly onto the computer using our computer-aided-design (CAD) program (Chief Architect). CAD software allows us to build a virtual model of your home, giving you a visual tool most of our clients rave about. It allows you to point to a spot on your floor plan, for example, and ask what the view is in any particular direction you want to see.  In 3D you can then see that view. Once the virtual model is built this manipulation becomes easy and quick.

Step 6

We meet again to be sure we’re going down a path you like, offering you our feedback, and listening to your responses.  Then back we go to the drawing board where we begin the second phase of conceptual designing.  We meet again, refine a few more details, and either modify the conceptual design yet again or else shift to the drafting phase.

After (4)

Just how many iterations of sketching and brainstorming will this take before we start drafting?  Hard to say.  How quickly do you make decisions?  Do you want to show your plans to others in your family?  Will their input alter your direction of travel? How often will you change your mind? Hard to say where your particular path will go… and therefore how long it will take.  Know this… our job is to help you get there as soon as possible, without rushing.

At this point – when we have finally arrived at a conceptual solution — we often suggest that our in-house bean-counter, Patrick Martin, SWAGs the project again. While it can only be as accurate as the scope of the design work to date, it’s the best we have at the time. And its a great time for any needed mid-course correction. After all, the conceptual design needs to define an affordable project… it may be sufficiently accurate for you to make a decision about whether to move forward or, perhaps, redefine the project’s scope.

Step 7

If the budget you had imagined, and the SWAG for the proposed plan, are too far apart, it’s time to redefine your priorities and scale back the plan to something within your budget.  Or, perhaps, increase the proposed budget.

If you’re seeking financing for this remodel, this is also a good time to take the preliminary drawings and SWAG to your banker for pre-qualification.  Eventually they will want to see a finished set of signed working drawings and a builders’ signed contract, but you might be able to get some questions answered now, depending upon the type of loan you are pursuing. (Here’s a primer on how most of our clients finance their projects.)

Assuming that you decide to continue down the design path, we then complete the preliminary drafting.  This includes very little detail… just the floor plan and elevation views, a cross section, and sometimes a site plan.  At this point in the process you should spend a lot of time with the drawings to think about whether we have left something out, and to make sure it’s the project you have in mind.

Part of this step usually includes window shopping… formalizing the choices you want in fixtures, heat sources, flooring, colors, doors and windows… and more.   This list of choices is referred to as the specifications, or spec list.

Helping create this spec list is a service we provide but some homeowners like to do all or part of this themselves.  Usually, the effort is some combination of you and your designer.

Step 8

Once you have confirmed that you want us to develop this plan into working drawings, we draw them up to near-completion and pass them, if necessary, to a structural engineer.  Once the engineering is completed, we incorporate the engineer’s notes and drawings into the working drawings and make any changes they have recommended, thus creating the structural drawings.

 Step 9

The drawings are now done and it’s time to get a building permit  — assuming one is required.  This can be done by you, us, or a combination thereof.  It means filling out some forms that can be a bit intimidating for some.  It means being able to communicate with the permit center person reviewing your plans about what your intentions are.

NOTE: sometimes clients wait to submit for permits until after Step 10 (the bidding phase) so that they know their project is affordable.  If Step 9 occurs first, only then to realize the project is too expensive, you may waste some money at the permit center.

In other cases, Steps 9 and 10 occur simultaneously so that little time is wasted.  Oftentimes it takes us about the same amount of time to generate the bid as it takes the permit center to issue the permit.  So, done in parallel, we’re quickly ready to sign an Agreement and proceed with construction!

 Step 10

It’s time to generate a bid for the work. Finally… finally… we have, together, gathered all of the information we need to be precise in our bean-counting.  How many studs?  Which sink… exactly?  How many light switches? We know all of this now!

Typically this bidding process is kicked off with a Marathon Bid, the term we use for the on-site visit with all relevant subs who need to see pre-existing conditions.  Some subs don’t need to see your place.  For example, imagine the countertop sub — they need not see your home; they just need a set of plans.  But the plumber?  Usually they need to see your home.  Otherwise, how can we use words such as ‘precise’ to describe our estimates?

Clients often describe how important their Marathon Bid is in our process.  Not only do they get to meet the list of probable characters who will work on their place,  but they also get to know the complexities of the process that is about to unfold before their eyes!

Step 11

Finally, we pick up a sledge hammer or shovel and begin to turn your dream into reality!

A realistic time frame for the entire design process – from your initial phone call, to a carpenter finally arriving on site — depends on so many factors. But generally it runs between two months and a year. We’ll know so much more accurately how long it should take once we meet on site and understand your needs, but this is the typical time frame necessary to complete the drawings, engineering, specifying, bidding, financing and permit acquisition.

When should I start the design/build process? When should I start planning?

Quite simply, the sooner the better. For a few reasons:

  • Until you start in you won’t know about potential complexities or curve-balls that might affect how long the planning process takes.  Does your idea require a variance?  Will the setbacks on your lot permit the addition you imagine building? The permit center may be back logged a long time.  How long will it take you to obtain financing?
  • If you wait until spring to start the planning process and you hope to build that next summer, so does most everyone else.  So our backlog, and the potential backlogs of other resources needed to achieve your dream, may be problematic.
  • Rushing through the planning process is challenging, to one and all.  Sometimes there are compelling reasons to plow ahead, but barring these reasons, we prefer a steady, reasoned, reasonable pace.  And this also spreads your design costs out over many more months since we bill monthly (with no retainer required, by the way… and you can pay for design with your credit card!).
  • How quickly do you make decisions? This is perhaps the greatest reason to start your planning sooner rather than later.  Why feel rushed through so important a process?

Quite simply, the sooner the better!

What is a home designer?

A home designer doesn’t require any specific credentials, so anyone can serve this role, be it a home owner, a general contractor, a professional home designer, or an architect.  In some cases, design decisions are shared among the designer, structural engineer, general contractor, and home owner.

shawn eeek

Shawn staging some comic relief for our office staff using the red paint he was applying to the walls. There’s no injury here, just some playful comradery amidst our team!

The designer must be aware of the limitations of the project budget, the needs of the home owner and the requirements of the general contractor. S/he must also understand the local climate and specific limitations of the proposed site, the project time line, the construction sequence, material characteristics and the process of construction.

Adaptations Design Studio provides a broad range of services.  Here’s a detailed account of these services.  Briefly our services include:

  • Consultations (design ideas, environmental impact options, sustainable building practices)
  • Pre-remodel evaluation; lead testing; good-faith asbestos inspection
  • Drawings of your home as it is currently built (‘as-builts’)
  • Design planning and sketches, with a specialty in universal design and aging-in-place (best practices in designing spaces that allow people of any age and ability to live at home as long as possible)
  • Drafting services
  • Working drawings (these are needed to get your building permit and for an engineer and/or contractor to work from)
  • Creating the specification list (often referred to as the ‘spec list’). This is a list of the materials to be used in the home. It is used for accurate bidding and will include the make and model of appliances, tubs, faucets, etc.
  • Helping you find other building industry professionals (a structural engineer; a subcontractor (i.e. septic designer; wetlands specialist; etc.), a building performance specialist, etc.)
  • Assistance in the building permit acquisition process.
  • Project management: managing one or many subs who actually install some of the products we’ve specified and perhaps sold to you.
  • Color consultations
  • Permaculture design; landscaping and hardscaping design
  • Designing exterior environments (i.e. trellises, decks, patios, walkways, etc.)

Is a home designer the same thing as an architect?

While a designer needs no specific credentials, an architect has graduated from a school of architecture.  Their education may give you the confidence that they know what they are doing.  A structural engineer may still need to be involved, unless the architect is also a licensed structural engineer.

The drawings produced by an architect are very detailed and include interior and exterior specifications.  An architect may also be retained to design the landscaping, help find an appropriate contractor best suited for the job, and provide job site monitoring and quality control during the project.

The cost of an architect is typically tied to the value of the project and usually falls between 10 and 15% of that value.  To put this in perspective, the high end of our design services usually costs about the same as the low end of the architect’s cost.

Chrispy_&Todd_compressed_for_web

Since a home designer doesn’t require any specific education or certification it is imperative that you follow through with checking references. Please feel free to contact us for a current list of references for the work we do. We encourage people to become as involved as they want to be in creating the plans for, and building of, their home.

The cost for a home designer will vary dramatically, as you might imagine.  Some bill by the hour; some bill by the square footage of the project; some may give you a lump-sum price.

Why do we charge for our design service, while other firms may not?

A basic rule for any business is that, one way or another, you as the consumer will pay for something that generates a cost for that business.  So if you weren’t billed for our design time, then our products and/or construction would be more costly, since this purchase would have to cover the cost of our designer’s time.

Here’s our philosophy:

  • Our designers are very skilled and experienced, and like most other professional services, we consider our time spent with you as very valuable. We’re out to prove this to you!
  • ‘Fee for service’.   This is another way of saying that, since you may pick and choose some or all of our services and products, you will be charged a fair and competitive price for the particular items you choose; no more/no less.

How much will my design cost?

Clients often ask us to estimate the cost to design their project. This can be a guesstimate at best because there are so many variables affecting this cost.

Historical data indicates that you may spend between 4% and 10% of your actual construction costs for design, specifications and engineering.  In other words, if your construction project were to cost you $100,000, the design, specifications and engineering may cost between $4,000 and $10,000.  Again, at best, this is a guesstimate.

4 -10% is quite a broad range, in part, because of some of the following variables:

  • Zoning, environmental or building regulations may come into play that we could not forecast earlier in the design process. Then, at times, input from the relevant permit center may change mid-stream, incurring additional costs to make up for heading down the wrong design path.
  • We have little or no experience with how quickly you make decisions.
  • Your ideas may change after conversations with friends or relatives, perhaps necessitating design revisions.
  • Our designer may need to meet with a structural engineer, or other consultant, that we could not forecast early in the design process. This consultation sometimes creates the need for additional design work.
  • It is difficult to predict how detailed or refined a drawing or plan needs to be before you can decide whether to proceed or change your direction.
  • Clients may have already made specific decisions about products prior to the commencement of their design work; others need a significant amount of our time, often necessitating visits to other showrooms and/or vendors.
  • Say you have us do the design work for a kitchen remodel and a family room addition, but you only proceed with the kitchen remodel.  Your design costs as a percentage of your ultimate construction cost will be much larger than had you only proceeded with designing the kitchen!

Therefore, our design guesstimates are better than nothing, but they are often far astray from the actual, final price for the design work. We understand how uncomfortable such an open-ended relationship can be and we’ll work hard to help you through this hurdle to the other side, which is, in most cases, a firm price for the actual construction cost.

Know this:  since the design work is a relatively small fraction of your overall project cost, we have found that it is far superior to think through and plan your project in detail so that the actual construction work need not occur on a time and material, or cost-plus, basis.  So many contractors will work to convince you that the actual construction work must occur on a time and material basis because there are countless unknowns along the way.

Our style, instead, is to front load the planning and research so that most all of the unknowns are behind us before we pick up a hammer.  We can then work together on the construction with a fixed price, which is a far more sane way to achieve your dreams.  Let us help you avoid a bad dream. Bad dreams happen all too often in construction and our design/build process will minimize the stress you are about to engage in.

How long does the design process take?

Talk about a tough question to answer… this is it! Perhaps the easiest way to answer this is by asking YOU some questions that at this moment make this question impossible to answer with ANY degree of accuracy:

  • How quickly do you make decisions?
  • Will you want to ask friends and relatives about your ideas?  Or speak with a realtor about whether or not they agree with your direction of travel?  Might their input lead you to change your mind and alter a significant part of the design work?  How long might this delay completion of the design work?
  • Do you mean the period of time from the moment you pull the trigger to start on the design process, up until the day the first trades person arrives to start hammering?  So this includes picking your designer, doing the design work, getting an affordable bid,  getting your financing and permits, right?
  • Are you so committed to remodeling your existing place that looking at other homes on the market is out of the question? This ‘move or improve’ question often adds months, even years, to one’s decision making time table.
  • How busy is your designer?  Are you their only active client or do they have 4 others?  How will this affect their completion time?

So the answer to your question ‘how long does it take to do the design work?’ is… it depends.

Maggie changing rdrbrd -bus

Here’s Maggie changing the readerboard, thanking those in our community who use the bus for some or all of their transportation needs.

That said, if a project is large enough or complex enough to require some design time, you can expect the entire design process (including picking your designer, doing the design work, getting an affordable bid,  getting your financing and permits) to take from 3 months to a year or more.  If we were to estimate an average amount of time, we’d say six months.  Again, this guesstimate is better than nothing but nearly worthless!

How’s that for accuracy?

We’ll know so much more after we first visit your home with you because we’ll know things like: how busy are our designers at the moment? does your project require financing? does your project require a permit?

So we’re not trying to avoid answering your question; we simply need more information!

What’s the difference between billable and non-billable design time?

Generally speaking, our designer’s time is billable time while working on your specific project. Examples include: working on drawings, choosing products to incorporate into your project, and meetings related to your project design.  Our Design Agreement spells out in detail what tasks are billable versus non-billable.

At times the line between billable and non-billable tasks can be cloudy. So trust between us is profoundly important and, to this end, our design invoices spell out each and every billable task and time expended. It’s not a simple lump-sum invoice that only says “For professional services rendered”.

Our intent is to be fair, productive and creative.  No one wins if your design costs exceed your design budget.  To do so would deplete funds you want to direct towards the actual construction work.  To do so would threaten your trust and confidence in us to move forward with the actual construction.

Our mutual goal is to design a project that fits your construction budget. If not, then some or all of your design costs may have been expended in vain.  We hope to avoid this. Our decades of experience in this field allow us to achieve a high degree of accuracy, but each and every remodel or custom home is just that – a custom building project. Clearly, our goal is to create an affordable project and we will do our very best to achieve this end.

We encourage you to use your design time with us wisely, thereby controlling your design cost.  Use us as much as necessary and no more. Reduce trip charges when practical by meeting us at our office instead of on site.  And feel free to ask us if a particular request of yours will be billable time or not.

Let’s design and specify your dream together: its size; its quality; its components; its aesthetics.  Then we’ll be able to determine its cost. And together we can then turn your dream into reality.

How can I be confident that I am making design decisions that will meet my construction budget?

That is one of the toughest aspects of your adventure in home remodeling or building. Until an accurate bid is generated from completed drawings and specifications, no one can answer this particular question.  This means you may spend design money that leads to a construction cost you may not want to hear!  How often have you heard stories about designs having to be redone in order to fit a specific construction budget?

Imagine how tough this is… before you know the actual construction price you‘ll be asked to specify things like appliances and doors.  But it’s like a kid in a candy store, isn’t it? You pick what you like but weeks later you may find out that, due to a bid that exceeds your hoped-for budget, you can’t really afford the appliances and doors you fell in love with when you visited the ‘candy store’.

All you can do is find someone you trust and then walk down this path together.  Know this:  unless we can design and build an affordable project for you, no one wins.  We’re on the same page, the same path, with you.  Our goals are the same.  We want to help you achieve your dreams!

We have designed A-1 Builders with this very goal in mind.  We believe that the design/build approach maximizes your chances of achieving your goals with the least amount of wasted money; with the least amount of stress; with the least amount of your time and energy; with the least amount of stress and strain on our precious environment.

Should I buy stock plans for my new home or, instead, design a custom home?

A stock plan (a plan already developed on speculation by another  design firm that will be sold a multitude of times) run around $600 on up.  In general, if you want significant changes made to customize this stock plan to meet your own needs, purchasing and then morphing the stock plan may cost you about the same as hiring a residential designer from scratch – without having to purchase the stock plans.

10 20 09 024That said, your time spent studying existing designs is time very well spent because you’re educating yourself.  You’ll know more specifically what you want; you’ll understand the jargon better; you’ll use your time with your designer more effectively.  And showing your designer an existing plan that you like, along with photographs from books or magazines, helps your designer start to see with your eyes.  In the end, we want you to like the finished product, so it’s critical for your designer to see through your eyes.

But to truly answer your question about whether it makes sense to buy a set of stock plans, we need to know how different you would like to make the stock plans.  Sometimes you can have the company you would be purchasing the plans from make these changes for you.  If there are considerable changes, however, show us what you like about the plan and we can then work toward developing something customized for you.

What is considered a ‘considerable’ change?  Roofline changes, specific site or environmental requirements, enlarging or decreasing the size of the home, relocating bearing walls, a change in structural materials (timber framing instead of platform framing). Minor changes might refer to adding a deck or changing a deck to a patio, moving inconsequential interior doors, reversing the stairs, or changing non-structural elements or finishes (siding and trim).

How much will my project cost per square foot?

Here’s an imaginary conversation we’ve included to prove a point…

Homeowner: ”What is the cost per square foot for this remodel (or addition or custom home)?”

Builder: ”Do you own a car?”

Homeowner: ”Well, yes, I do. But what has this got to do with it?”

Builder: ”How much per pound did you pay for the car?”

Homeowner: ”What?”

Builder:  ”How much per pound did you pay for the car?”

Homeowner: ”They don’t sell cars by the pound!“

Builder: ”Right!  You see, a Ford Escort costs about $3 per pound and a Mercedes-Benz costs about $11 per pound.  Each has its own characteristics and amenities. The same is true with a construction project. You don’t purchase a remodeling project, or a new custom home, by the square foot, just as you don’t buy a car by the pound.

Do you want a masonry facade or wood bevel siding?  Clear or tight knot siding?  Hardwood floors or carpet?  Is your furnace sufficiently large to handle this addition? Is your….?”

Homeowner: ”I don’t have the answers to these questions yet!”

Builder: ”Ah, but you want a cost per square foot?

It is not your fault that you asked this question: ‘How much will my project cost per square foot?’  It’s the real estate and financial institutions that are at fault.  They are the ones who have perpetuated the faulty notion that you can build or remodel a home using square foot cost projections.

What will the actual price of my project be?

Let’s talk more about price. So much attention is placed upon a builder’s bid; and rightly so.  However, this is only one of several components that add up to your total project cost.  It’s so important that you pay particular attention to the total project cost that we’ve developed our own formula…

Total Project Cost = A+B+C+D

A.    Design Cost

  • Designer or architect costs (±4% – 15% of construction costs)
  • Permit Fees
  • Impact Fees (parks, sewer, water, etc.)
  • Appraisals, inspections, asbestos tests, and/or survey costs
  • Loan fees

B.    Construction Cost

  • Builder’s price for the contracted work, including sales tax

C.    Additional/Unforeseen Costs

  • Costs for additional work that the customer authorizes
  • Cost for understandable surprises (i.e. unforeseen bug or rot damage; invisible, substandard construction, etc.)
  • Cost for unacceptable surprises – items that, in retrospect, you believe should have been foreseen by your designer or builder
  • Cost to redo substandard work if your builder could not be held accountable
  • Legal fees to secure reasonable performance by the contractor

D.    Misc. Costs

  • Miscellaneous costs:  moving or storage costs; out-to-eat during construction; costs related to the toughest question in remodeling: “where do you stop?”  (i.e.: reupholstering furniture; purchasing window coverings; etc.)
  • Stress (the invisible cost):  living with the mess; potential builder delays; possible substandard quality control; strained relationship with your builder; living with the inconvenience (i.e. no kitchen for many weeks!)
Mountains in haze

One of Rick’s high country photos he’s taken over the years during his wilderness travels in the North Cascades.

Our approach is to minimize the total project cost for you…. the sum of A+B+C+D.  But this means that our bid – item B – taken in isolation, may be higher than someone else’s bid. Why is that?  Because our bid may include some of the costs that others do not include because they’re paying less attention to you and the inherent project details.

Simply put, we pay attention to details during the bidding stage so as to minimize the hidden costs that drive up the unforeseeable expenses of Items C through E in the formula. Examples include conducting a “good-faith” asbestos inspection; suggesting exploratory demolition to preview possible problem areas; pre-qualifying issues of concern with the relevant building or planning department.  Most of these are foreseeable if a builder simply pays proper attention.

Know this: so many builders play a different game.  If they can externalize a project cost so that it appears as a surprise during construction, simply because they chose to look the other way early on, their initial bid is low.  They set this bait, you bite, construction starts, then numerous ‘surprises’ arise.  Yes, this threatens your relationship with your builder, but the work has already started.  You’re trapped and in a terrible negotiating position.

Your job is to pick which game plan you wish to play: planning ahead of time prior to construction, or being struck by surprises because you leaped ahead into construction without this due diligence? The former strategy is the sane way to remodel.

Since the creation of a project budget is often all too important, www.HOUZZ.com has carried many articles about this topic. Two of them we’ve appreciated are HERE and HERE.

How accurate are price guesstimates made by us or other designers or builders during an initial visit, or at other times during the design process? Can you rely upon them? Should you choose your contractor based upon a guesstimate made early in the design process?

We often say that price guesstimates created during an initial visit, or at other times during the design process, are better than nothing… but nearly worthless.  We’re not being flippant; just honest. Creating an accurate bid, given that most every remodel is a unique, custom project, with differing pre-existing conditions, requires many hours of an experienced estimator’s time after the design has been settled upon and all specifications already hammered out. And prior to the completion of the design process it’s difficult to say how much your actual product decisions will affect the price.

Some general project costs, along with an estimate of the increase in one’s property value, can be obtained by reading the annual Cost Versus Value 2016 study from Remodeling Magazine. This study compares the average cost of 35 popular remodeling projects with the value those projects retain at resale, and the report tends to have more realistic prices than the often under-inflated prices you’ll find in magical reality TV shows. For example, you can go HERE to see what Cost Versus Value has to say about a midrange bathroom remodel, and go HERE to see their thoughts about an upscale bathroom remodel.  The price discrepancy is very wide indeed, which is why it’s so hard to see someone’s home for an hour and guesstimate costs anywhere near accurately.

Until an accurate set of drawings and specifications are complete you should consider any bid or estimate as a guesstimate… better than nothing but nearly worthless. Clearly not accurate enough to select which builder to hire.

Instead, we suggest that guesstimates should be used to adjust your compass:

1. How much of this project are you willing to proceed with?

2. Which items on your dream list should be part of the core, ‘must-do’ project, versus defining an item as an option that you might do, depending upon cost?

3. Which builder do you want on your team based upon your initial interviews and brainstorming?

So the bottom line is this: how can we give you a precise budget until the scope of the project is precisely defined? We can’t.  Nor can anyone else. And this issue is so huge that we suggest you go HERE to read a more in-depth answer to this question.

How attentive should you be to the resale value of your project? What if you spend more money than your home or neighborhood warrants?

Clients differ tremendously about the weight they place on resale value. Some will cap their spending on the perceived resale value of their project while others want what’s right for their needs no matter how much their neighborhood’s property values may affect their return on investment.

As a design/builder company we are experts on what a particular project will cost. But you’ll need a Realtor’s input to refine its resale value.  That said, you can access the resale value of some general remodeling projects by referring to the link in the answer to the question just above this one, if you haven’t done so already.  There’s a great amount of helpful information in that ‘Cost Versus Value’ study. Check it out!

If you don’t know a reputable Realtor whom you can turn to for advice on resale value, as us for a referral.  For so many of our clients a trustworthy Realtor is an important advisor on their team.

Given that people are, in general, staying put in their homes far longer than in the past, resale value, though important, is usually placed lower on the list of critical success factors than other needs.  Resale value used to be a much more important factor to our clients in the past. Today, instead, some of these other factors usually float to the top:

1. Aging in place: this is a relatively new term in our industry and it relates to home design appropriate for older people.  How can we alter one’s home so that it will still work as we age in place, or stay put.  Also termed ‘universal design’, we apply standards that will work for people of any age with various disabilities, even for little Johnny who broke his leg playing soccer. While on crutches, how will he get around?  Or how will elder homeowners remain at home if one or both of them need a walker or wheelchair?

2. How often have you experienced someone who fixed their home up just prior to selling it, never having enjoyed the remodel itself, yet having to live through the project’s stress?  More and more people are wanting to perform their remodel early on so that they too benefit from it!

3. Many clients will tell us they want to live where they are until they’re ‘carted away in a pine box.’ Resale value is far less important in such a case since property values will, in all probability, rise over time anyway.  The resale value of their home improvement will naturally rise over time… one hopes.

4. Surveys show us that most folks spend so much more time at home than they used to.  This drives the desire to get it right; to make your house your home; YOURS… not designed for someone else but for you; not overly constrained by your perception of the resale value of what you like.  It’s your place, damn it!

Here’s another interesting perspective on the value of one’s home from former client Guy Seaton:

“…the issue is really about living in, and with, the finished project. The true cost of doing it… is not calculated in the final invoice but in one’s psychic well-being over years and in all of the tiny moments — which become memories — that make up those years.  A home is not a commodity and therefore can’t be understood by dollars and cents alone.”

Whether or not resale value will play a significant role in your decision making process, we think it’s important information for you to access. Ask your Realtor straight up… “how much more dough would our house be worth if we invest “X” dollars into redoing our kitchen”…or whatever?

An informed, educated homeowner is our favorite kind of client.

I'm thinking about a home improvement project but I'm concerned about the overall condition of my home? Am I doing the right thing to, say, upgrade my kitchen, or my bathroom? What else should I consider?

So often we watch someone perform a home improvement when their first spending should have been to repair accelerated deterioration.  Isn’t this why you get annual wellness exams on your own body?  Don’t you want to know if something is wrong with your health so that you can expend time and energy into its healthy restoration?

Then let’s apply this same logic to your largest investment…. your home!  When was the last time your home had a wellness exam?  Doesn’t it make sense to do this prior to taking on an expensive remodel or home improvement?

One of Rick Dubrow’s columns he wrote for the Cascadia Weekly relates to the reasoning behind doing these home wellness exams, so for a bit more depth to this discussion go HERE.

We perform Pre-Remodel Condition Evaluations for this reason. No, not to enlarge the size of your project.  We do this to make sure any accelerated deterioration is nipped in the bud.  The result:  you take on these repairs in addition to, or instead of, the home improvement.

Know this about us:  repairing your home is far less fun and far less rewarding than improving it.  So it’s in our interest to do something more glamorous than fixing rot.  But there’s nothing greener, nothing that makes more financial sense, than maximizing the life expectancy of your existing resources! Let us fix what’s broken before, or at the same time, as we improve something that’s not broken.

We believe that being a careful and thoughtful steward of the resources under your ownership is the epitome of your own legacy and we can help you achieve this high dream.

What are some of the best 'return on investment' repairs or remodels that one can do in today's economy?

2009companypic

A group shot of our entire team back in 2009.

Remodeling Magazine produces an annual COST VERSUS VALUE STUDY that does this for you.  This study compares the average cost for 35 popular remodeling projects, region by region, with the value those projects retain at resale.  Clients often refer to this study as an excellent tool to educate themselves on the potential return on investment for funds they invest into their home.

But this return on investment perspective is but one of many ways to evaluate your remodeling project.  How important should resale value be in your analysis? Shouldn’t you be very careful not to over-improve your home?

Go HERE for a more in-depth answer to these common concerns.

What’s the difference between a fixed bid, and a time and material price?

We see no rationale for building a new home with anything but a fixed price.  Except for the earthwork and concrete foundation, experienced builders can, and should, be able to estimate new construction costs very accurately. Earthwork and concrete work, on the other hand, are less predictable, so we often incorporate allowances, or good-faith estimates, for these particular aspects of the project.

Is remodeling any different?  Doesn’t the existing structure prevent a builder from estimating costs accurately?  If so, does a cost-plus, or time-and-material, contract make more sense?  How can someone predict what exactly will be found within hidden wall voids prior to the demolition process?

Although many builders will try to convince you that the unpredictability of remodeling warrants a time-and-material approach, we believe that the negative consequences of tackling a significant job without a dependable price far outweigh the apparent unpredictability of concealed conditions.  Our approach is a combination of the two approaches… a fixed price for what is predictable, and a time-and-material approach for the unpredictables. It’s quite simple.

Unpredictables include conditions such as rot, bugs, substandard construction, and asbestos-wrapped ducting that no one could foresee until the concealed problems are revealed.  These surprises can be dealt with in two different ways:

                1. Preliminary, exploratory demolition into specific, suspect areas so that we can see what we’ll be dealing with, or
                2. Addressing such surprises as extra work, with an agreed-upon time-and-material formula that will be used for such unpredictable occurrences.

For most remodeling projects, the unpredictables are a very small portion of the overall scope of work.  Hence, the price for the great majority of the project is very predictable. With a fixed bid you can proceed with a predictable price, as opposed to proceeding without a dependable price.  A fixed price is the safe and sane path to a successful remodeling project.

What’s the difference between a home equity loan and a construction loan?

The amount of money you can secure with a home equity loan is based upon the current value of your existing home.  What you would like to do to your home does not affect the amount of money you can borrow.  A bank will give you a certain percentage of the value of your home, less your existing mortgages.  You can then do whatever you want to do with the money they give you.

If this home equity loan does not get you enough money to do what you want to do, the traditional path is to secure a construction loan.  The amount of money is significantly more because they consider the value of your home and property after you have remodeled it.  They’ll give you a percentage of the finished value, and this loan replaces your existing mortgages.

A construction loan is also a bit more complex because the bank becomes a partner in your adventure.  You can’t do whatever you want with the money.  You must do exactly what the plans and specifications say you will do within a specific time frame.

That said, although the construction loan process is a bit more complex, it may be the only way you will be able to access the amount of money you will need to actualize your dream!

To read more about financing go HERE.

Can I live at home during the remodel?

By this time you’re probably used to this answer……….. it depends!  Mostly upon you, in this particular case. DINKS (double-income-no-kids) typically have less of a problem than, say, a young family with two small kids.  But what’s the project?  If it’s a kitchen and its a project that will take 3 months, then allow me to turn the question around and ask you this: what can you handle? Really, the question isn’t “can you live at home during construction?” It’s more like “are you willing to live at home during construction?”

Perhaps you have an RV at home – can you use its kitchen?

Can you/we rig up a make shift kitchen in your garage or basement?

If we’re remodeling your only tub or shower, can you handle going to the gym for the duration?

Perhaps join a gym during the project duration?

Does anyone at home have particular sensitivities to dust?  Although dust control doesn’t get any better than how we approach our work, dust still wins!  Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.  While we’re amongst the best at dust management, very sensitive people need to take this exposure into consideration.

We’ll therefore discuss this question — can you live at home during construction — a lot during conceptual design and, in fact, all along the planning process.

We do know this:  picking and choosing the optimal times to be gone will help you manage what we call ‘remodeling fever’.  It’s simply hard to kick back and read a book in your recliner while a concrete saw is tearing thru your basement floor, or hearing our guys demolish the wall between your two bedrooms.  Others adore the process and have no problem enduring the noise, chaos and mess.  Where do you fall within this normal curve?Can you picture yourself living at home during the project you are dreaming about? Share your concerns with us and we’ll work towards an optimal solution.

Know that we’re with you on the desire for minimal ‘remodeling fever’.  Think about it from our perspective…….. we want clients to act normally, not with the high fever you often hear about in those nightmarish remodeling stories so rampant in the press.  We want you normal and we’ll help you stay that way!

What is ‘green building’?

Building, remodeling, maintaining and simply operating homes today consume an enormous amount of wood, water, energy, and other natural resources.  Today’s average homes are larger and have more amenities than ever before, so they usually take more material to build and more resources to operate.  Check out this data from The Sharing Solution by Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow:

          Average home size:
          i.     1950 = just under 1,000 sf
          ii.    2008: ‘roughly’ 2,500 sf
      

          Average number of people living in a home
          i.     1940 =  3.7
          ii.    2009 = 2.6
         
          Therefore, the average sf/person
          i.      1940-1950 era = 270 sf/person
          ii.     2008-2009 = 960 sf/person
          iii.   This represents a 355% increase in the sf consumed per person!

Fortunately we have the opportunity to make homes more efficient through the materials used, as well as the equipment and systems selected.  Choosing sustainably harvested wood and building products that reduce pollution, prevent waste, and reuse recycled materials significantly help to reduce the impact that buildings have on the environment.  Other considerations in green building involve reducing energy and water consumption, promoting good indoor air quality, and preserving habitat and green space.

We are driven to help you achieve a home with the smallest ecological footprint you desire.  We are regionally known for our knowledge and experience in green building and sustainable business practices.  Here’s a brief and incomplete list of the awards we’ve won regarding what is often referred to as triple-bottom-line management… paying attention to the economy, to the environment, and to our community:

          1. The Washington State Department of Ecology’s Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling Award for the small business category (less than 100 employees) for the year 2000-2001
          2. The 2001 Governor’s Award for Pollution Prevention and Sustainable Practices
          3. The 2002 Founders of a New Northwest award by Sustainable Northwest (a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization established in 1994 to constructively promote stewardship and conservation of natural resources and environmentally compatible economic development throughout Alaska, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.)
          4. RE Sources’ first annual award in 2003 as their Environmental Hero in their business category.
          5. Bellingham Business Journal’s 2004 and 2005 Readers Choice Award as Whatcom County’s Most Environmentally Responsible Business
          6. In 2005 EnviroStars awarded us its highest rating – 5 Stars. A-1 Builders was not only the first builder to receive the highest EnviroStars rating in Whatcom County, it was the only builder to receive any level of recognition in the entire Western Washington EnviroStar program.
          7. Received the 2005 Great Feets Award from the Bellingham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee for the beautiful, custom-designed and built bicycle parking facility, or bikeport, constructed at the Bellingham Community Food Coop downtown.  Practically all materials and labor were donated by our employees, suppliers and subs in celebration of A-1 Builders’ 50th anniversary (1955 – 2005).
          8. In 2011 we earned the  Governor’s Commute Smart’ Employer Champion Award for our voluntary cycling and Smart Trips incentive program.

Green buildings tend to be healthier buildings, usually achieved by significant attention to indoor air quality.  Two of Rick’s KMRE radio shows specifically address these issues:

          1. Go HERE if you’d like to learn more about dust and indoor air quality.   Rick talks with local allergist Dr. Elkayam about chronic respiratory issues which can be caused by a building… and ways to deal with this.
          2. Go HERE if you’d like to learn more about insulating homes properly yet still providing the right amount of fresh air.  This is a critical issue for older homes which, all too often,  are tightened up by homeowners who don’t also pay attention to this fresh air issue.

Is green building more expensive than conventional building?

Some green building practices do cost more; others cost less.  Let’s use framing as an example.  Our standard practice is to use ‘advanced framing’, a green building technique that uses 20 -30% less lumber than a traditionally framed building.  This technique also allows for additional insulation since there’s less wood in the way!  So this green strategy saves you money in two ways!  Less lumber and a smaller heating bill.

Let’s complicate your question and discuss roofing.  35-year roofing shingles cost less than lifetime shingles, right?  Sure. So your ‘first cost’ – your up-front cost — is less if you select the 35 year shingle.  However, in the long run, the lifetime shingles are the least expensive way to build.  This concept refers to life cycle assessment.

Here's the sorting line at T&T Recovery where the conveyor belt moves the debris by the workers salvaging reusable 'waste'.

Here’s the sorting line at Recycling & Disposal Services (RDS) where the conveyor belt moves the debris for sorting into reusable or recyclable materials’. RDS in Ferndale is where our co-mingled loads of debris are taken to by SSC for sorting, recycling and reuse.

Therefore, in order to answer your question about whether or not a particular green building technique will cost you more requires you to consider whether you are referring to its first cost or its life cycle cost. 

During the design process you and your designer can discuss many green building techniques and products.  Often we create a list of options for the bidding process that allow you to pick and choose from applicable green building strategies.  For example, we could specify the basic roofing as a 35 year shingle with an option for a lifetime shingle.  You will then be able to juggle your budget against your value system in order to protect the environment for yourself, your family and for our planet’s future health and well being.

Another obvious strategy to bring your costs, and your ecological footprint, down is to reuse, donate or sell building materials you amass during the demolition portion of your project.  What about having a garage sale for the stuff you no longer need?  Perhaps use this money to upgrade your insulation, or buy that more efficient furnace you hoped to include in your project. Go HERE to learn some cool tips on running a successful garage sale.

Learn more about this particular question by listening to Rick’s KMRE radio program called Green and Affordable which you can access right HERE.

What is 'green washing'? How do I know if a green claim is valid and not green washing?

‘Green washing’ refers to the exaggerated claim of environmental responsibility by a product, person, manufacturer or company. Seems like everything is now said to be green, right?  ‘Save the planet by using my product, or by hiring me, or by doing this or that.’  Green sells, it seems, so everyone’s speaking up.  Unfortunately this often means that they’re making it up when they are speaking up!

Frankly, there’s no easy way to know whether or not a claim or a certification is valid.  Take sustainably harvested wood as an example.  There are numerous certifications available.  There’s third party, scientific certification like FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council).  And then there’s are industry-sponsored certification labels. Unless you study this issue, or know someone you trust who knows their stuff, best of luck!  How else will you know otherwise?

Find someone or some company that really cares about the natural world.  Like our President, Rick Dubrow.  You’ll often hear him refer to himself in talks or presentations around town as an environmentalist in business.  Compare his perspective to a remodeler or builder who markets a green-leaning approach because the market says ‘paint yourself green because green sells!’

Do this by spending a lot of time studying the company you are considering to perform your design work especially.  Why?  Because the design work defines the intent of the project!  Think about that for a moment. Architect William McDonough said it this way:

“If we understand that design leads to the manifestation of human intention, and if what we make with our hands is to be sacred and honor the earth that gives us life, then the things we make must not only rise from the ground but return to it, soil to soil, water to water, so that everything that is received from the earth can be freely given  back without causing harm to any living system.  This is ecology.  This is good design.  It is of this we must now speak.”

Sure, your builder’s commitment to sustainability is also important.  But if your project is not designed sustainably, how can your home behave accordingly, even if its built well?

We believe that green building is a subset of a sustainably-driven company.  We believe that our Journey Towards Sustainability includes everything that we do, from the local sourcing of subs and vendors, to the copier paper we purchase, to the green power we purchase for all of our power.  To that end we ask you to study the AWARDS we’ve earned as well as the ACTIONS we take in order to walk our talk.

Just talking the talk is ‘green washing’.  Walking the talk is the real work. 

Another great way to understand a company’s ethics as they relate to the environment is to know who’s at the helm…… what are their core values? It’s so easy to know that about us. Go HERE to read the columns that Rick Dubrow wrote for the Cascadia Weekly.  You’ll get to know the heart that drives the walk that energizes his talk.

What's the difference between competitive bidding and cooperative bidding, and which strategy is a better fit for you?

Choosing a contractor to remodel your home, or to build you a new one, typically follows one of two different paths. While the mainstream press often suggests that you get three competitive bids before proceeding with a project, around 90% of clients nationwide actually select their builder via a different path we refer to as cooperative bidding. Most all of our work is awarded to us using this cooperative approach.

Competitive bidding goes like this:

          1. You ask two or three different companies to bid on your project
          2. You furnish them with the information that you hope will create prices that compare apples to apples
          3. You choose your builder based upon price and their performance during the bidding process (i.e. did they do what they said they would do? were they on time? could you imagine having them work in your home for many a month?)

Cooperative bidding goes like this:

          1. You interview builders, study references and testimonials until you settle upon which company you have the most trust and faith in
          2. Once the plans and specs are completed you ask this builder to submit a bid on the work
          3. Say, for example, their price exceeds your budget by $5,000
          4. You, your designer and your builder then go to work  morphing the plans and specs so as to find $5,000 in savings. Techniques to save money might include:
            1. You take on aspects of the work you had hoped your contractor would take care of.  Say, for example, the interior painting or the final cleaning. 
            2. You select that sink you could live with instead of the one you fell in love with. 
            3. Instead of the separate tub and shower, you go with a combination unit.

Get the idea?  Your builder re-prices the project and morphs the plans and specs as many times as needed until their price becomes affordable.

Clearly, unless we can get your project affordable, we won’t be working together, so we’re driven to get your project affordable.  We’ll work hard, like this dude…

Bik with Huge Load

How do I choose my contractor?

1988 was a landmark year for the home improvement industry. For the first time, remodeling contractors surpassed auto body shops as the industry responsible for the most complaints with the Better Business Bureau!  We urge you to learn from these mistakes, and we’d like to offer a few suggestions to maximize your chance of proceeding with a quality remodel or custom home project, at a reasonable cost, with minimal stress.

In a recent national survey of satisfied property owners, here are the attributes listed as characteristic of a quality construction company, in order of importance:

          1. Quality construction
          2. Clear building specifications
          3. Good company organization
          4. Ability to provide price checks
          5. Ability to provide value engineering
          6. Company responsiveness
          7. On-time performance
          8. Fair price

Note that, besides price being listed last, the adjective is fair, as opposed to lowestDo you really want a contractor driven to figure out the cheaper way of doing things, or the better way of doing things?  Providing you optimal value instead of minimal cost?

Former client Guy Seaton, commenting on the expression ‘you get what you pay for’ and how it relates to the project we designed and built for him in the fall of 2015:

“…the issue is really about living in, and with, the finished project. The true cost of doing it on the cheap is not calculated in the final invoice but in one’s psychic well-being over years and in all of the tiny moments — which become memories — that make up those years.  A home is not a commodity and therefore can’t be understood by dollars and cents alone.”

Cost Versus Value
In order to determine if your project is affordable, consider reading Remodeling Magazine’s Cost Versus Value Study.   Each year since 1988, Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Study has compared construction costs for 35 common remodeling projects, along with the value they add at resale, in the 60 largest U.S. housing markets. You’ll find that Seattle is the nearest location in their study to our community; Bellingham hasn’t hit the big time yet.

Sure, it’s common knowledge that there are countless ways to cut corners in order to achieve a lower price.  What do you want your builder to leave out of your project….. quality materials; a superior attention to detail; an attentive level of site management; trying out unproven, inexpensive subs?

We choose not to play this game.  If the end-in-mind for the builder you are talking with is to simply make a sale, he or she will start with the bottom line in mind.

We prefer to start with a different end-in-mind….. you, your dwelling and the peace of mind you will have when we, together, negotiate the price for a project that optimizes the combination of price and performance.  This is the path referred to as the negotiated contract.

Competitive bidding, instead, tends to reward the lowest price.  Without clearly defined drawings and specifications, whereby each bidder prices apples-to-apples, the competitive bidding process seems to offer a race to the bottom. And we usually find that in residential remodeling there typically isn’t clearly defined drawings and specifications. So other builders can often find many ways to give you a lower price by offering you a very different ‘apple’.  The result may be a project that differs in ways that a typical homeowner is unaware of.  In the end, the cost of accepting a low or lowest bid can be horrific!

“We always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

What kind of contract documentation does A-1 Builders use? Is the clarity of documentation something I need to pay attention to?

Our Proposals and Agreements are very specific in order to protect both you and ourselves.  There’s a Mexican proverb we live by that says…

“Agreements should be clearly expressed & chocolate should be served thick.”

Let’s communicate well and have a good time achieving your dream!

A well written Agreement can defuse most every misunderstanding, thereby fostering a project that supports a relationship between us that remains clean, clear and professional. Here are a number of suggestions that surface time and again:

          1. If your project, by law, requires a licensed and bonded contractor operating with a permit, and you avoid any of these requirements, your ability to hold your contractor legally responsible to perform the work well plummets.
          2. Your Agreement with the builder should be very precise, specifically defining what is included, what is excluded, and what is considered as an extra.  How will extras be priced? This needs to be defined clearly.
          3. If the builder’s price includes allowances for specific items or tasks, are they realistic?  Or are they deflated so as to permit the builder to offer a “low” price that may, in fact, be higher than another bid using more realistic allowances?
          4. What assumptions are being made and are they spelled out in your documentation with your builder? A few examples:
            1. Whose nickel is it if a plumbing line break in the crawlspace in an area seemingly unrelated to the work being performed?
            2. Whose nickel is it if, during demolition, your builder finds asbestos-wrapped ductwork that was hidden during the bidding process?
          5. The less specific your plans and specs are, the less likely it is that competitive bids will be comparing ‘apples to apples’.  Be sure that your design work truly defines the ‘apples’ you want, not just some “apples”!  And please understand that design work prepared for competitive bidding should be more specific, and therefore more costly to produce.  Since numerous companies are pricing out the work you need to be assured that they truly understand the ‘apples’.

So often we see or hear about a project that proceeded with another builder that went sour because a loose design became a loose agreement, which then became an unacceptable solution (i.e. too costly; poor design; substandard installation; etc.)  Or, worse yet, a project that was done on a time-and-material basis, with little or no cost or design controls in place to protect the client. So research your builders well; research your own design well.  And concentrate on the total project cost, not just the builder’s bid.

Here’s another perspective to look at when choosing your contractor… let’s say you want to purchase a new TV.  Yes, consumers tend to purchase a product from a company with the lowest price. This makes sense if you know the brand and model.  You already know what you’re getting; the store is simply a conduit; a middle-man.  It’s tougher to choose who to hire when you’re purchasing a service, isn’t it?  Say an oil change… it’s pretty obvious what you’ll be getting, but who’s going to be most careful with your car?

Then there’s contracting.  Not only is it difficult to visualize the final product, but they’re going to tear up your house on the way to achieving this goal!

We believe that in construction, you get what you pay for.  And yes, you can always find an individual or firm to perform your work for a cheaper, initial price.  In the end, however, you can count on this . . . your total project cost may far exceed your budget!  At best, construction, especially remodeling, is an inherently stressful process.  Think about the process of how to achieve your desired result just as much as which sink or window you desire.  We believe that A-1 Builders represents your best value in a reputable company that will perform a quality job at the lowest total project cost.

The key, as we see the process, is for you to do your homework on your potential contractor before you allow someone to perform the actual work on your property!  Research has shown that consumers will often spend less time selecting their contractor than they do in selecting a car!  Instead, they tend to concentrate on the more interesting stuff… like selecting plumbing fixtures and the like.


How long does the construction process actually take?

Rdrbrd 8

Building the readerboard our community has grown to consider a landmark in this great town.

That’s another tough question to answer accurately at this moment!  Here are some key factors…

Will your project require building an addition? If so, hopefully we can build the weather-tight shell before coming inside your existing home and profoundly affecting your ability to live there during the mayhem.

Are their structural changes necessary to achieve your high dream?  Let’s use a kitchen remodel as an example —  is your project simply removing existing cabinets, counters, appliances and flooring and replacing them in nearly the same layout, or must there first be wall changes and the like?  Clearly the answers to these questions will profoundly affect the project duration.

How busy are we when you ultimately say ‘YES! BUILD IT!’  Do we have a backlog or not?

What products do you imagine using?  Let’s stay with the kitchen remodel as our example.  If you choose plastic laminate countertops, we can start building them as soon as your base cabinets are in.  But if you choose granite or a solid surface product, this may add 2 weeks to your project duration because of the need for templating as an initial step, then waiting 2 weeks for its fabrication.

That all said, an outer marker is this:  a large remodel can take about the same time as it takes to build a new home……. six to eight months.  A minor bathroom or kitchen remodel might take as little as three or four weeks. But until we know you and your project, consider these thoughts nearly meaningless speculation.

So, like guessing how long the design process takes, the answer to this question about the duration of construction ultimately is… it depends.  That’s why our first visit to your home — with no cost or obligation — helps answer some of these ever-present, huge questions that are on your mind.

Except for needing to avoid freezing temperatures when pouring concrete, weather does not prevent year round construction.  Obviously your particular location may affect us big time.  Building in the watershed has calendar time restrictions to prevent erosion and sediment relocation.  Steep driveways or lots sometimes make summertime construction critical.  Snowfalls that hinder even getting to job sites sometimes come into play.

Another factor to consider is your work.  Teachers, for example, may want to avoid construction during the summer so that they can enjoy their time off.  Other teachers might want this summer construction so that they can play a bigger role in the process, thereby holding their costs down.  Does your work, or the school calendar for your kids, play a role in when you want this work to occur?

Consider the enjoyment factor… do you want your new deck built so that it’s done in November?  We think not.  You probably want it done by April, right? Perhaps starting construction in February? Probably starting the planning process in December?  This is how we like to think, so join us in this thoughtful process.

Most folks understand that it’s easier to build when the weather is nice.  And they’re right!  But what if the project is all inside?  No problem then, unless some of these other factors expressed above come into play. And since so many folks intuitively think they should build during nice weather, imagine the effect of system overload on nailing down your favorite time to build!  Everyone else is on the same path! So permits, financing, getting an engineer to do structural calcs, ordering windows and cabinets… c-a-n  t-a-k-e  f-o-r-e-v-e-r… when the building season is in full swing.

Know this — since it’s more difficult for us to sell work during the inclement months of the year, our markup is often adjusted accordingly.  Ask us about this.  Perhaps this becomes an important cost-control strategy.  For example, if we can start a significant construction project in, say, mid-December, while most people prefer peace and quiet for the holidays, we’ll be driven to meet you there.

Can I purchase building materials for my project, or do you insist on buying everything you need for our project directly from your own vendors, subs and suppliers?

Sometimes a client will be at the right place and the right time to score a deal. They will buy their vanity sink, for example.  They’ll bring it home and we’ll install it right. Not a problem.

But what if, when all is said and done, there’s a defect in one of the products you purchased on your own, and this defect was not knowable until after it was installed?  Since we’re not running this purchase through our books, we’re also not making any money from this purchase.  Why would we, or anyone else for that matter, warranty a product for which we made no money at all?

In this case we do ask the homeowner to take responsibility.  And this responsibility would include paying for the extra costs incurred to deconstruct the defective material, buy the replacement unit, and then re-install it again.

Furthermore, bear in mind how difficult it might be to determine if we should have seen this defect prior to its installation?  If it’s not clear whose fault it really is, the stress and tension between client and builder can get out of hand and fan the flame of one’s remodeling fever.

That’s why most of our clients  make their project as seamless as possible: they have us purchase and install the whole enchilada.  The more you allow us to manage:

          1. The shorter the time is to build it
          2. The less expensive it is
          3. The fewer mistakes happen
          4. The less stressful the situation
          5. The less likely you are to be caught in the middle to resolve whose fault something is.  If we’re responsible for an item’s purchase and installation, it’s simply our problem.

There’s another reason.  Very often we can buy an item at a lower cost than you… we buy wholesale, while you buy retail.  So if we buy an item at its wholesale price and then mark it up, the marked-up price may be about the same as your retail price.  So why bother buying it yourself in the first place?

And what about you buying things directly from the big boxes, or online?  Won’t this save you some dough?  Maybe; maybe not.  A few examples:

          1. You purchase a toilet from Home Depot.  Our plumber comes over to install it.  It’s missing a part. Our plumber needs to run to a supply house.  Guess who pays for this unforeseen delay?  YUP.  It’ll be considered  extra work.
          2. You order a kitchen sink but don’t know how many holes need to be drilled in it for the faucet and accessories you intend to install.  The sink comes in incompatible for the rest of your hardware.  Guess who pays for this unforeseen delay?  YUP.  It’ll be considered  extra work.
          3. One of the ways manufacturers control their costs so as to sell high-volume-low-cost to the big boxes is to decrease their quality, even for brands and items you believe are the same as you might purchase at a specialty shop.  One of their techniques to do so is to use different model names and numbers.  Try shopping at a big box and then trying to comparison shop elsewhere. Often it’s impossible to compare apples to apples.  If the quality is lower and you need to replace it sooner rather than later, have you really saved some dough?

Time and time again we’ve watch our clients try to save money only to trip over themselves.  But, hey, as consumers we’re all trying to achieve our goals at the lowest available price.  A worthy effort that works at times. So do what you will and we’ll do the best we can to provide you with the best finished product we can. Again, that’s why most of our clients  make their project as seamless as possible: they have us purchase and install the whole enchilada, or as close to the entire enchilada as they can.  The more you allow us to purchase and install, the higher the quality, the lower the stress, and the quicker the job.

That all said, there are some project components we usually ask our clients to buy directly:  appliances and light fixtures.  We even help you know where best to buy them so that the chance of smooth sailing is very high. This is because we don’t get a significant price break at the wholesale level. and because the items are fairly straightforward to install.

What sets A-1 Builders apart from other builders?

Mobile home palace

Some houses are built to last; others, built to sell.

A number of very important things:

1.  We use the ‘Project Manager Approach‘ to manage your project. Our lead person, or Project Manager, remains yours, barring the unforeseen (e.g. illness; quits; terminated; etc.). And with strong support team from our office, our Project Manager can call us there to deal with problems, thereby allowing progress in your home to continue.

2.  We are remodeling specialists… it’s what we like to do.  We just don’t do it when there’s nothing new to build. Our reputation to perform quality work, as rapidly as possible, has created a trail of happy clients since 1955. Our website is packed with testimonials and project photographs attesting to this.

3.  When it is time to actually bid the project we will perform a Marathon Bid:  we’ll meet numerous subs at your home and together learn so much more about your home from these specialists. Our price is therefore more realistic… extras are far less likely.  Compare this to a builder who guesses the price for their respective subs who have not seen your home…then, during construction, the other builders’ plumber sees your house for the first time, you’ve already signed a contract and the project is already under way.  Things which you assumed were included may become an extra. Is this the way you want your project to proceed?

4.  We lead the field regionally in pollution prevention and sustainable business practices.  Check out the awards we’ve earned along the way!

5.  Please don’t underestimate the power of hiring a design/build team, one in which your designer is on the same team as your builder.  You not only avoid the finger pointing between the builder and the designer when inevitable problems arise, but you’ve engaged an organization where daily meetings occur in-house, avoiding delays, confusion, and preventable stress.

6.  Our design division and showroom – Adaptations Design Studio — is in-house, so you pay only one markup on materials you buy through us. In other words, if you purchase your cabinets here, we bring them in wholesale and mark them up once.  Compare this to the double markup you are hit with if you choose another builder who gets their cabinets elsewhere.  The retail store obviously marks the materials up and then the builder marks that number up as well:  two markups!

7.  Each of our field employees has a Smart Phone and it serves as a digital time clock that tracks where they are, what they’re doing, and when they are doing it….. in real time, thereby insuring that you only pay for what you get.   And these same phones are digital cameras.  If our Project Manager sees a problem on site he can shoot a photo of the problem and email it to our office immediately, thereby preventing another trip by our Designer or Production Manager that slows down your project’s progress or drives up the cost.

8.  We care about our employees.  Happy, fit employees produce good work and they’re enjoyable to have around your home.  Our wages and benefits produce a team we are ever so proud of.  This isn’t a bunch of unproven newbies hired just for your job but a team of quality-driven and quantity-driven professionals.

9.  We care about our community. Both Rick Dubrow and Cindi Landreth, our President and Vice President, are regionally known for their progressive activism with organizations like the Whatcom Folk School, Sustainable Connections, RE Sources, Futurewise Whatcom, Transition Whatcom and Living Democracy.  Sure, our professional work improves our community one building at a time, but we’re also out there designing and building a quality community that you can be proud of.

We take pride in our company’s attention to detail; in knowing as much as reasonably possible about your particular home before we tear into it. All too often we run into a potential client who didn’t select A-1 Builders because our proposed price appeared high when, after all was said and done, their final bid with another builder, burdened with numerous change orders and surprises, exceeded our original proposed price!  So we ask you to think long and hard about proceeding with competitive bidding versus a negotiated contract as you make your decision about who you will hire to turn your dream into reality.

Did I hear it right? Your company anchored a radio program?

Yes, actually two programs, in which Rick Dubrow used his 38+ years of experience in the building industry and in environmental activism to help you make your home and lifestyle more healthy and planet-friendly. For 4-1/2 years Rick Dubrow anchored a weekly, Saturday morning home improvement show on KGMI 790 am.

More recently he anchored a radio show, again entitled On The Level, on KMRE 102.3 FM, the low-power FM station housed in the American Museum of Radio and Electricity in downtown Bellingham. The archived shows are right HERE.  These programs are geared towards home owners, home remodelers, and home builders. These are not how-to shows with the goal of turning you into a carpenter! Our goal is not to teach you how to frame a wall with sustainably harvested lumber. Instead, it’s all about what to build and why to consider alternative paths:

Is your indoor air quality responsible for your chronic respiratory problems?

Why should you consider using sustainably harvested lumber?

Why should you consider building a small home?

Why should you consider managing storm water on your property so that it remains on site?

Why should you consider minimizing the materials that go into a particular remodel?

Each show is packed with useful information and we hope you enjoy whichever ones you choose to listen to.

Didn’t you also have a weekly column in the Cascadia Weekly?

You bet! You can find Rick Dubrow’s archived columns HERE.

They’re about local issues such as growth management and sustainable business practices; carbon-neutral travel and managing consumption; building small and…

Go there at your convenience and enjoy his insightful thoughts and writing.

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