Monday, December 31, 2012

Builder Magazine - McMansions vs. Smart Design

published January, 2010

I've just finished reading “Is the McMansion Dead?” by Jenny Sullivan in the current issue of Builder. There has been much written and broadcast in the media recently about the plight of the McMansion and I can’t help but sense some animosity in the tone of many of the stories. I have sensed that some people show a little pleasure in seeing those, perceived as being more affluent, now suffering and losing their homes. Some may feel that the death of the McMansion is reprise for the flamboyant or pretentious lifestyles of their owners.  While I generally agree with much that has been said, I can’t help but think that the consumers’ desires for “newer”, “bigger”, “better”, have managed to put bread on our table for many years now.

All that said, my response has more to do with what wasn't mentioned in Jenny’s story.  Here in Central Florida where we are suffering from one of the worst new home markets in the nation, Cost-per-Square-Foot continues to be the overwhelming guideline used by consumers and most real estate professionals, to compare the value of homes for sale. This Cost-per-Square-Foot mentality fueled the boom market with big, boxy, generic floorplans and a cafeteria buffet line approach to design and amenities. With my own unsold masterpiece, twice I've lost sales to other homes that were actually more expensive than mine but offered a lower cost-per-square-foot. One of the buyers told me they preferred my home but felt the larger one was a better value. They actually spent more and purchased a home that is bigger than they need because of this brainwashing. In addition, my home is green and will cost much less to run and maintain, which wasn't even a factor in their decision process. If this rationale carried over to our automotive purchases we would all be driving gas-guzzling SUV’s and be willing to spend more for them than a practical, efficient vehicle. Oh wait a minute…

This past spring, our local HBA Parade of Homes featured the seven most-expensive new homes in the southwest quadrant of Metro-Orlando. They were built by seven different builders but were all basically the same floorplan. As builders and designers we must accept our share of blame for part of the problem. If we persist in building big, glitzy drywall barns with no real discernible differences, then the public will continue to treat housing like a commodity. The solution may be better design. In addition to creative style, our homes should be designed and built to provide low environmental impact, accessibility, adaptability, sustainability and ease of maintenance. Smart design should create a timeless appeal and lasting value, and there isn't any reason they can’t be exciting and glamorous as well. Think about it.  Keith Groninger

Hi Keith ,
We don’t know one another, but I wanted to comment on your response to the Mcmansion article in Builder Magazine.  It was well said and on the money.  Consumer demand drives what/how we build (or in my case what/how I remodel) as is the case for any manufacturer.  The problem is that Consumer demand has become perverted somehow to the substitution of substance and real value.  This is a cultural matter that extends to all aspects of the American life - what we eat, what we wear, where we live.  The pain caused by this recession is causing the Consumer reevaluate “value”.  My hope is that substance will again become something people are willing to pay for so you and I can continue to thrive.
Gary Krause
Krause Construction

I could have written your McMansions vs Smart Design column.  It is driving me and every other builder I know absolutely nuts with "real estate professionals"(your term) doing the "one price fit all", and "all homes are alike" thing with their prospects.  I am also a broker, and have become something of a pariah to Realtors as I openly admonish them for not learning the products they show. I've been is biz since 1977, and have always offered to be at a showing of one of my homes to better familiarize prospects with features. Arithmetic will tell you that's 33 years, and in all of that 33 years I've not had 1(one) "real estate professional" take me up on that.  We only have 1 paper now in Denver, and a writer I know tells me that Realtors pretty much tell them what tone to deliver in their real estate writing, and can get away with it as Realtors are one of the few large sources of advertising revenue for the paper.   Another big source of confusion for buyers here is realtors are including finished basements is S.F. prices on a public web page.  As a broker I'm formulating a complaint and rule making request to the regulatory agency about this.  There's a couple of web site links below my signature on this if you want to learn about me.
Stephen Holben
Holben Building Corp.2765 S. Colorado Blvd., #102
Denver, Co. 80222

As an interior designer and NAHB CGP, I couldn't agree more about the importance of smart design, and predict, that as consumers become more educated and particular in an increasingly competitive market, houses that do provide intelligent design will have the upper hand in terms of providing better saleability. Also, I believe the qualities of creative design and style, which are so hard to define, will continue to be the qualities that will make or break a sale, as they are the items that usually provide the emotional impetus to the purchase of a home. As a designer, I have been fortunate to find that all of my homes have sold easily, and at the asking price (including a decent ROI) because they have looked beautiful.
Good luck Keith with the sale of your masterpiece!
Victoria Lyon
My jaw dropped when I read your piece in the recent Builder Magazine. In a word, it was PERFECT.  You are 100% right on all counts.  I am so glad you had it published in a magazine with such a wide reach and a vast audience. 
Your points on McMansions are dead on.  There are those out there who love to see people with any measure of success, fail. Despite the glee people find in the distress of others,  I think the death knell for McMansions is premature.  I don’t see their demise at all.  There is a downturn in the market in general, and large homes are no exception, but they are not dead.
I would also like to point out that McMansions are known by another, less pejorative  term to those who live in them – home!
Also, you comments about cookie-cutter floor plans were absolutely correct.  Troy and I have had this conversation for almost a decade  but it is a point that a had to be delivered to builders by a builder. Thank you for doing so.  In fact, we are so tired of standard Arthur Rutenburg rip-off floor plan in multi-million dollar homes that when we renovated our own home (aka McMansion), we purposefully left our 1950’s floor plan as is.
Thank you for writing such a great letter to Builder Mag. I hope it makes a lot of waves! 
Stephanie Henley

Beasley & Henley Interior Design
Atlanta  *  Winter Park *  Naples 

Ditto…..what Stephanie said. 
I could go on for days about this topic………as you know, we (designers) like to be challenged, and we also like to see and work on projects that reflect quality and imagination…….which standard floor plans accomplish neither. They are the lazy way out! 
Custom should mean just that…..”custom”, to each individual clients needs, and desires, which rest on our (builders, architects, designers, landscape designers), shoulders………… 
I am always trying to get our clients to spend the dollars, to hire the right team, to create their future residence, and as Stephanie stated, their “home” 
We have three children, and have built our residence to reflect our “wants” and yes, we had a budget, but…….we made it happen, with a lot of thought, and care. This concept applies to a 2000 square foot residence, or a 30,000 foot residence. It’s all the same, minus the dollar difference. 
Whatever the size…….just do it right. 
Enough said, except…….thank you for voicing your opinion, ………… Stephanie said, as a builder. 
Best regards,
Troy Beasley
Kieth -
    Bob Hartford here, Silverwood Inc, North Carolina. . Check out the "Bingham Ridge" tab . As in your Builder Mag comments, these are truly better homes, but sales have been pulled into the dumper along with every other project in the state. What does it take to deal with the square footage as value issue ? NC and FLA are the worst for this syndrome. In NJ and NY square footage is not required to list a property. Price is tied to the property characteristics  and its location only. 

    If you have any thoughts regarding methods for marketing better homes at higher value with S.F. not being the main factor, let me know. Perhaps an internet posting of some kind with comments from multiple custom type builders ? The media is everything, and I am not so good at getting it on my side. Perhaps you will hear from others after builder has posted your comments.
Bob Hartford, Silverwood, Inc.

Green Resources

Building America
Certified Green Professional
Clean Air - Cool Planet
CTSI - Clean Technology Green Team
Environments for Living
Global Green
Green America
Green Builder Magazine
Green Building Advisor
Green Building Initiative
Green Building Pro
Green Home Builder Mag
Green Home Guide
Happy Planet Index
Home Energy Saver
MyFlorida Green Building
Natural Home and Garden
Orange County Yards
Sustainable Buildings Ind.
Sustainable Site Initiative
Think About Pollution
US Dept. of Energy
Water Footprint
Winter Park Green Button
Winter Park Sustainability

Construction Management

Consider Construction Management as an alternative to the traditional contractual relationship between owner and builder. The CM relationship promotes trust and productive communication.
  • Fee-Based: A fee for services is negotiated at the beginning of the project and disbursed as construction progresses.
  • Flexible Services: Services are provided to manage construction of a project as directed by the owner. The owner can choose the range of services provided to suit their needs.
  • Open-Book Transparency: All proposals, invoices, payments, account statements and project reports are accessible and shared openly.
  • Information and Resources: The construction manager (or builder) is responsible for educating the owner and making recommendations in the best interest of the project.
The key to success of a construction management relationship is the negotiated fee for services provided. When the mystery surrounding the builder's fee is removed from the picture, the builder can shift focus towards providing services in the best interest of the owner. Information flow is enhanced when everything is shared freely without hidden business agendas.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Energy Resources

American Council on Energy
American Solar Energy Society
Consumer Energy Center
Energy and Environmental Building 
Florida Energy and Climate Comm.
Florida Renewable Energy Assoc.
Florida Solar Energy Center
Florida Solar Energy Industries
FPL Energy Services
Home Energy Magazine
National Renewable Energy Lab
Progress Energy
Southeast Energy Alliance
US Department of Energy

Design Priorities for Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency starts with good design. Of course the efficiency of nearly any home can be improved, but designing for energy efficiency is always going to yield the best results. 
Depending on the status of your project, there are priorities to consider that will have an impact on the energy performance of the structure.
    1. Property Selection - View lots are the most common to create challenges with home energy use. Ideally southern views are going to be beneficial and western views the most detrimental. Additionally the shape of the lot can affect the length axis of the home with positive or negative effects on energy use.
    2. Solar Orientation - Once property has been selected, the structure should be oriented to capitalize on the seasonal arc of the sun. In the northern hemisphere it's preferred to orient windows to the southern exposure and prevent heat gain on the east and west elevations.
    3. Passive Solar Design - The sun can heat our homes in the winter and even help keep us cool in the summer - for free, when passive solar design techniques are used. In this approach, the building itself or some element of it takes advantage of natural energy characteristics in materials and air created by exposure to the sun. Passive systems are simple, have few moving parts, and require minimal maintenance and no mechanical systems.
    4. Reduce Energy Demand - Some of the most effective methods to reduce energy use include: increased insulation values and weathertightness; HVAC zoning and programmable thermostatsCFL and LED lighting; and behavior modification.
    5. Increase Efficiency - Increased energy efficiency is available for a number of building systems. This is where cost-benefit analysis becomes important. Depending on the success of the previous strategies, there may be a point of diminishing returns from the investment in higher performance products. Windows and HVAC systems are the main items to fall into this category.
    6. Solar Thermal Heating (and Cooling) - Solar hot water heating is a type of thermal heating strategy but did you know that thermal solar collectors can also be used to heat the inside of the house? This is called hydronic heating and is actually quite comfortable and can be affordable. Additionally, in the right application solar thermal panels can actually be used to cool your home in the summer time.
    7. Alternate or Renewal Energy - The final upgrade to consider is the addition of an alternate energy source like photo-voltaic panels or a renewable source like a micro-hydro generator. Recent industry articles indicate the cost of PV (photo-voltaic) over their lifetime, is getting close to power purchased from utility companies. Additionally, if PV panels are amortized over a 15-year mortgage period, the cost saving and interest tax deduction may exceed the cost of purchased power. Let us help you make the calculations.

Choose a Builder for Product or Service?

My friend, Tracy DeCarlo just posted an article describing one of the reasons many home construction projects go wrong. She hit one of the nails right on the head. Lack of specifications and an incomplete set of construction documents, expose the owner to potential change orders and expensive oversights. Omissions and inadequate allowances are typically the culprits when one builder's price is substantially less than another's. But there's another issue that often sets the stage to cautiously approach the selection of a home builder.

Most buyers choose a builder based on their product, not the service they provide. Few builders win awards for their service although many are recognized for award-winning designs. Some builders have a keen eye for details and aesthetics, but the reality is that most designs are the work of someone other than the builder. The point here is to focus first on the service provided by the builder, then consider the product. Do the skills and processes demonstrated by the builder indicate that they can manage the project efficiently without surprise and extra cost? Ask your builder about the procedural systems they use for managing their projects.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Adaptable Design

Adaptable Design refers to the ability of a home to suit multiple and changing needs of its occupants. As a family grows or ages, their needs for space and functionality evolve. There are several considerations related to the specific needs of a family but also to the changing demographics of what defines a family and the occupants of a home.

The life-cycle of a conventional family follows a somewhat predictable path, but this of course depends on the definition of "conventional". Several new descriptions of family types have been coined in recent years and demographics are constantly changing. Adaptable design attempts to address the needs of the changing family unit and allow a home to serve its occupants over time without compromises or expensive renovations.

The process of designing for adaptability starts with a look at the family unit:
  • Families with young children usually desire bedrooms that are grouped together. Young children may actually prefer sharing a bedroom or bathroom with a sibling.
  • Pre-teen children may not yet require privacy, but have some specialized needs that include study space and entertaining their friends. Spaces shared by the family may not be suitable for activities that include video games and internet browsing.
  • Teenagers desire privacy for themselves and their friends. The home where the teenagers prefer to hangout may (or may not) be conducive to healthy growth of the family.
  • When children leave for college, the home may have an empty feeling, but parents are often reluctant to downsize too quickly in case of "rebound". The current economy and lifestyle of young working adults has contributed to more college graduates moving back in with their parents.
  • The number of multi-generational households is also on the rise. As well as the above factors, increased lifespans may contribute to elderly parents moving into the family home. Add to that cultural preferences, and the number of households with three or even four generations under one roof is on the rise.
  • Empty Nesters are frequently active and social, but not yet ready for retirement. Without the additional family members under the roof, they want to entertain or travel, and be free from maintenance or management of a large home. Their needs have evolved away from "family" but they might still want some space for family members when they come to visit.
For these reasons and many others, adaptable design should allow a home to function successfully through as many of life's phases as possible. We look forward to discussing your household needs and creating a special home design just for you.

Monday, December 3, 2012

What Makes It Green?

Green can mean something a little different to everyone:  To some it may be features added to a home that increase its efficiency or improve the air quality; To others it may be more of an attitude, a feeling of responsibility or a lifestyle choice; And some may see the long-term value in quality, sustainability or reduced maintenance. The common perspective to all is foresight.

Good building science is green. Lessons from building science have taught us how to save energy; create healthy and comfortable indoor environments; and to use products and techniques that require less maintenance and last longer.

Good planning is green. With a little planning we can select products that save money and protect the environment; design a landscape that needs less irrigation water; learn how to recycle waste instead of sending it to a landfill; and utilize the sun's path to heat our home in the winter and avoid the heat in the summer.

Good stewardship is green. When we hire local craftsmen or purchase products that are manufactured nearby; control stormwater runoff and plant native species; and redevelop a property or utilize existing utilities, we are making decisions that are in the best interest of the environment or our communities.

There are tangible advantages to going green. Green can save energy, water and resources while improving the health, comfort and sustainability of our homes. But green is also an attitude. Our actions can go beyond personal benefits and affect the lives of those around us. Green feels good.