The Savvy Owner Builder

The #1 rule of real estate is location, location. location. The #1 rule of home improvement is consultation, consultation, consultation. The savvy home builder exhausts his resources for principles and practices, technologies, codes, green issues, efficiency issues, and especially costs. A complete package. An understanding of a unique project. And believe me, all construction projects are unique.

Even if an owner builder has entered the construction process, consultation should not be ruled out. Many a time the savvy owner builder can save big bucks by understanding the trades with a little advice from someone on the inside. Case in point:

I had a long time friend who called ‘out of the blue’, with a major issue threatening to over run his costs. He was remodeling a restaurant to adhere to ADA (American Disabilities Act) codes in the bathrooms. He had a set of plans drawn to reconfigure the men’s and women’s bathrooms to make them both code compliant to ADA standards. I went to the location and reviewed the site. The plans called for a relocation of one of the bathroom walls that was back to back with the electrical service room. In that wall was a 400 amp service panel that carried ‘home runs’ of heavy cable to the kitchen area. The panel would have had to move further away causing the electrical cables to be removed and replaced. Not to mention a structural problem with a roof support column. Can you say “Cha-ching?” . It seemed the only way to make the remodel work was to follow the architects plan. But, if the architect had seen what I had seen, the plans would have been drawn differently.

The bathrooms are separated from the kitchen by a long wall. On the other side of that wall perpendicular, was a bank of stoves some sixteen feet long. The fire suppression hood for the stoves are the same length, but what the architect did not see, was a seven inch extension at the bathroom end of the hood. This was the key! I over drew the plan to move the hallway wall allowing the extra seven inches to be incorporated into the ladies bathroom and move the bathroom sideways in the end of the long hallway. Now the men’s bathroom could stay intact and all utilities reconfigured inside both bathrooms to meet code. The electrical service room would remain unaltered. I asked the owner to take the plans back to the architect and have them redrawn. Without charge. They did and the remodel was completed (to my credit) and saved the owner almost $13,000.

Consultation, consultation, consultation. It’s cheaper than a divorce lawyer!

Outsourcing Construction References

Many websites claim they can give you qualified contractors to fulfill your wildest home improvement dreams. And how you can depend on these entities. What I’d like the reader to consider is the ‘source’, of that reference. In my forty years of construction experience, I have found many people wanting to build or re-build with little or no practical experience. You almost never hear of these builders who remodel their own homes from their construction career talent. They just ‘do the job’; and the only people who see or hear of  their work is their family and close friends. I would wonder how many career builders use any of these web reference sites for construction references. Who we are talking about are folks who do not have an inside contact with the industry. So they depend upon these sites where regular folks from different occupations can make comments or references about builders who have completed projects for them. This is the point. Regular folks in occupations other than construction. How can they give an objective opinion on a builders performance if they haven’t the professional construction industry mindset? They simply see a completed project and have made a judgement  upon their own level of understanding. Who knows; they may have spent too much. They might have gone ‘green’ to some extent if they had had more information. The energy efficiency level may have been higher due to orientation, or Energy Star complience. Any number of ‘tricks of the trade’ only seasoned builders know. Bottom line is that ‘word of mouth’ is still the best advertisement. Only make sure that mouth is attached to an experienced builders face.

So here’s you’re ‘Owner’ Builder tip: Be careful of these web reference sites for construction! Remember; behind these sites are business administrators who make a living on the web. Not out in the field building and/or remodeling. Check any reference, especially if the contact lives outside your city or especially your county. There’s more to lose by trying to save a buck in this business.


Green Building Ideas

The web is ablaze with green building ideas. Does anyone really know what ‘green’ is? Let me tell you. ‘Green’, is equal amounts of yellow and blue! All kidding aside, green building is creating or renewing a sustainable efficient building product that affects the environment with less impact, from inception through manufacturing and delivery, to installation and beyond.

OK, what is an example of an green building product? How bout wood? The most sustainable building product on the planet. Wood  in it’s natural state is wonderful. Problematic is what we do with wood. So what is my solution? Here’s one.


Most trusses are built to mimic standard roof rafters. They start from the plate or wall line, and rise to the ridge. Are they green? Not as green as they could be. Remember the rule. “Renewing”. So, lets renew the ‘Truss’. We know the truss ‘rises’ from the plate to the ridge. And most roofs with more than four inches of rise in twelve inches will have enough height at the ridge to allow enough insulation to code. My insulation in my attic is well over twenty inches deep. But what of the plate, or wall line? On a truss, the rafter and the ceiling joist meet at the wall line and are joined together with a metal gusset. For short roof spans, they are commonly built from two by four stock. From the bottom of the ceiling joist to the top of the rafter vertically, the total height is four and one quarter inches. This only allows for (at best) R-11 insulation directly above the exterior wall. But wait; In standard framing practices, an eve vent is installed about every six feet. This takes the effective insulation value down. Also, the eve vent needs to have clear space in between the rafters, so a wood or paper baffle is installed to keep the air way clear. In other words, No insulation every six feet at the wall line. Depending on the size of the home, the configuration of the roof ( gable or hip) this can be a substantial loss. Winter or summer. What’s the green fix? The ‘Stand-Off Truss’

Here’s where we go green. We have a product (trusses) that is already manufactured for the housing industry. It is sustainable. It is renewable. To make a more ‘green’ product from this example would be to modify the manufacturing enough to create more initial and  long term efficiency. How do we do it?  By adding a vertical leg in the truss between the ceiling joist and the rafter directly over the exterior wall line. The Stand-Off Truss.

This accomplishes many things.

  1. Allows for deeper insulation directly over the exterior wall.
  2. Reduces radiant energy from entering the conditioned air space
  3. Removes the baffle that hinders insulation at the eve vents.
  4. Allows a stronger frame to roof attachment when sheer wall is installed
  5. Allows for an optional built-in soffit at the eve line. (Continuous venting for the WUI codes)

And the benefits are increased when the roof configuration is a hip roof. Then the application is continuous around the structure.

The example is the roof frame of one home. If entire subdivisions were to be build with this one example, the energy savings would be significant for the community. This is ‘Green’.

See my Blog on “Open Comments onGreenBuilding” and share your green building ideas.

Name and Town if you want to keep your intelligent property. Glad to promote ‘You’.

Disaster Education and The Building Industry

Disaster Education and The Building Industry


Christmas Catastrophe

If I were to ask you, “When you think of disaster preparation/mitigation, what sort of people do you think about?” Before you answer, consider ‘preparedness’: the state of being prepared. Or ‘mitigation’: to make or become less severe, less painful. Now, back to the question. Was your answer “the police or fire department?” Or the Red Cross or Salvation Army? The local newspaper or TV station? The thought should be, “What, are we preparing and mitigating for?” Ans. The possible destruction to our primary investment! Our homes and property. Since  the topic is Preparation/Mitigation, injury is not in the equation. Since there has not been a catastrophe, the news plays no part. So the final answer to the opening question is, The Building Industry. Was it not the builder who initially constructed the dwelling? Surely the builder will be the entity who re-builds the structure after a natural disaster.

With the times seeming more and more disaster prone, and the populous in sprawl, it would seem a good time to consider a plan for surety and piece of mind. Sure, disaster preparation is a boring subject. Because after all, “it will never happen to me”. The internet is a wash with failed attempts at disaster awareness/preparation/mitigation. Why? Because of the lack of a comprehensive knowledge base. I believe there needs to be a comprehensive knowledge base in an ongoing format for the dissemination of information. That platform is Construction Talk Radio. With the evolution of home improvement, there are many things that an homeowner can do to protect his or her investment from eminent uncertainty. But the primary objective is to consider the people who make a living of building houses, and ask them what you can do to prepare and mitigate.

Click on “it will never happen to me” to watch a house fire aftermath

Fire Safety


Fire Safe Council

See on Google Maps

Builders build houses. Firemen put out fires. Builders re-build houses. Fire safety for most home owners means protecting the family and mitigating disaster to property. But the point is that any disaster mitigation to real property is ‘remodeling’. Even if it is ‘landscaping’ and ‘irrigation systems’ for the 30/70 rule. New building codes and the Wildland Urban Interface mean new concepts in buying or improving your primary investment; your home. Go to Google maps and type in 915 14th St Oroville, CA. Click on the ‘satellite image’ tab, and drag the little man icon over to the street. You will now see THIS house as it stood before the fire.  It has been my contention that the construction industry and incident command should indeed colaborate on a truly public/private venture. Case in point is the Shasta County Fire Safe Council. People coming together to help their community become more educated about fire safety. It is why The Owner Builder is a member of the SCFSC. Bringing the elements of the construction industry to people who make a difference for your safety. It just may be that some day, you’ll thank your neighbor for creating a fire break that saved your property.

The New Curb Appeal


trash or treasure? use your curser

It used to be that a prospective real estate buyer would look at a home from the street and become ‘misty’ about some aspect of the property. “I want it”, proclaims the dreamy eyed buyer and the offer process begins. However, a new type of savvy home buyer lurks the hot sheets and  back streets for the deals that parley. The green buyer! Not the tree hugging sort, but the economically construction smart person that sees the structure for the real value, not the sentimental. And while the not so bright first timer is considering the buy, the sophisticate is locking in the deal with his guaranteed loan and negotiating prowess. What does this person know? I’ll tell you! This person is looking at the property from the building industry standpoint! He/she sees a new HVAC system with a SEER 13 or higher energy rating that was installed last year. This person sees a retrofit window job done sometime recently with vinyl dual glazed windows for added efficiency. They see Energy Star appliances in a kitchen remodel. And if the home is located in the Wild Land Urban Interface, they see cement board siding and building code upgrades galore. They are not too interested in the paint on the ceiling, rather the depth of the insulation just above the sheet rock. And they look in the attic to see that the prior owner was smart enough to make it R-40. This is what separates the mature home buyer from the Wanna-be. What’s your edge in the R/E market? Get hold of your favorite contractor buddy the next time you want to buy a home. Have him save you some green. It’s amazing what he knows.

Conditioned To Buy

Look through the eyes of a builder when he views the television ads. And consider the message sent by the advertiser. Does the ad really want to help you make a home improvement? Or is the advertiser simply; trying to sell you something.


Dark & Cramped

Case in point. A commercial selling attic insulation shows a man in a well lit attic with more than enough head room and what appears to be a solid floor. Here’s the problem. Most attics are dark and cramped. They are dusty and splintery. They are filled with truss webs and/or rafters with perlins, braces, air conditioning ducting, skylight shafts and all other manner of construction damaclese. If there is any old insulation, that insulation is hiding, to a certain degree, the ceiling joists you would have to step on to begin your new insulation project. Did I say stepping? I’m sorry. More like crawling. And when you have to get that new insulation way down to the exterior wall line, you will no doubt have to ly down in a most uncomfortable position to get the job done right. And that’s when you have a little surprise you’d like not to have happened. A carcass. YUK! “Yeeoow, get me outta’ here”, and you step through the ceiling causing a sheet rock repair job for yourself. Oh, and by the way, how would you get your new insulation batts into your attic? That fancy commercial isn’t showing you these things.

Here’s your ‘Owner’ Builder tip:

Watch out for TV commercials that ‘Condition’ the home owner into thinking construction is so easy anyone can do it. If you are going to do a home improvement project of this type (because the commercial made it look ‘so easy’) have a licensed building contractor give you a consultation, and proposal, just to even up the score. You’ll find out for 1. The commercial isn’t really looking out for your best interests. And 2. The professional building contractor has a few tricks up his sleeve that can beat the competition, with a few bonuses the other guy wouldn’t even think of.