What Quality Looks Like

Builders are always talking about “quality,” but few can explain what that means to their new-home clients. This should not be a mystery; construction quality is easy to see when you know what to look for.

As a professional builder, we not only take pride in creating high-quality homes, but also in making sure that our homebuyers experience quality and understand the difference it makes.

The building process is relatively foreign to those outside of the industry. The best way to help a homebuyer understand the construction process and appreciate the value of the high-quality materials and methods we employ is to schedule visits to the job site at key milestones. Walking through a newly framed home, for instance, allows us to poiint out the quality workmanship required from our framing crews. On-site, we can show examples and explain why these standards help to ensure reliable performance and comfort in the finished home.

After framing, homeowners can watch the ways that we install the home’s wiring, plumbing, and mechanical systems. Our exacting and specifications make sure that those systems perform as designed and promised. As construction continues, we encourage new homeowners to schedule similar walk-throughs so we can showcase the high-level materials and methods we use to build homes. What is difficult to articulate in the office becomes clearly demonstrated as the house takes shape.

We also consider the conditions of our job sites as an indicator of quality. We expect, for instance, that our crews and trade partners maintain a clean site. Disposing of trash and scrap materials not only makes for a professional work environment, but also a safe one. We believe that our insistence on a professional-looking job site translates to professional, superior-quality workmanship.

As a new home nears completion, quality is even easier to see and understand from a homebuyer’s point of view. Again, adhering to tight tolerances, we work hard to make sure that walls are smooth, that cabinets, trim, and other fixtures fit snugly into place. We make certain that windows and doors operate smoothly, and that flooring and other finishes are installed to meet the expectations of our discerning clientele.

But the true test of quality construction is occupancy. New homeowners will understand what we mean by quality after living in their home for a while. How our homes stand the test of time and the rigor of everyday living is a testament to the quality we strive to achieve from the foundation to the rooftop.  This also results in our homes being recognized and coveted when they are listed for sale in the future by our homeowners.

Warm Regards,


Little Room for Error

Stricter code requirements and modern materials have raised the stakes for today’s builders

Today’s homes are engineered for comfort and health. Their walls are sealed to eliminate drafts, and they include thick thermal insulation as well as high-performance heating, cooling and fresh-air ventilation systems. They’re a far cry from older homes.

They’re about to become even more so. Pending requirements set by the 2021 version of the International Energy Conservation Code will push the average new home close to Net Zero Ready, which means it will use so little power that a smaller than normal solar array will satisfy its annual needs. Subsequent code updates promise to be even stricter.

Not surprisingly, many homeowners worry about the unintended consequences of this trend, especially the code’s air sealing requirements. Common questions we hear include “Don’t walls need to breathe?” and “Won’t a tight wall trap stale air in the home and make us sick?”

These are legitimate concerns. Air sealing and insulation do create risks. Fortunately, those risks can be fully mitigated by someone with knowledge and skill—the most knowledgeable of today’s builders and designers will approach the house as an interdependent system in which walls, roofs, windows, insulation, air sealing and mechanical equipment all play key roles.

Success at this approach requires a firm grasp of building science—a discipline that describes how heat, moisture, and airflow through a structure and how they interact with one another and with the home’s mechanical equipment. Building science also includes best practices for keeping rain and groundwater out of the structure (no small matter considering that 80% of building failures are water-related).

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Training in building science also helps builders understand the limitations imposed by today’s materials. Take the example of framing lumber. Thirty years ago, framing lumber came from mature trees and was able to absorb lots of moisture without problems. That lumber was placed in drafty walls where it could easily dry out. The drying happened automatically and didn’t require special consideration.

But old-growth lumber is no longer available. In today’s homes, engineered and new-growth lumber—neither of which stores much moisture—are put into nearly airtight walls. The builder has to be very deliberate about making sure the wall will be able to dry.

The bottom line is that ever-more-strict code requirements implemented by a well-intentioned but uneducated builder can lead to moisture problems and stale indoor air. On the other hand, the new code requirements give the educated pro a helpful roadmap for creating a home that’s comfortable, quiet and healthy.

Which brings us back to the “walls need to breathe” question. The answer is that walls don’t need to breathe but people do, which is why fresh-air ventilation takes on more importance in today’s homes. What walls do need is the ability to dry out when they get wet, even when tightly sealed and framed with new-growth lumber. It’s like your clothing: you want it to retain body heat, but to release sweat and other vapors that you don’t want.

The construction details needed to ensure that results differ by whether you live in a hot, cold or mixed climate and whether it’s dry or humid outside most of the year. That’s why you need an educated local builder who knows what does and doesn’t work in your particular climate.

Warm Regards,


Foundations of Quality

The word “foundation” evokes thoughts of strength, permanence, and solidity—the basis for everything that follows. A home’s foundation is simply the most important part of its construction and overall performance, if not top of mind among homebuyers and owners.

The reason there are different types of residential foundations has to do with the soil and other conditions of the lot, regional building materials, the skills of the local labor force, and, where possible, needs and personal preference.

Almost all single-family home foundations in the U.S. are built with concrete or masonry blocks or some close variation, such as precast concrete panels or insulated concrete forms; a few are built with steel or treated wood, but those are rare occurrences and for special conditions.

Regardless, a new home has one of the following three types of foundations:

Slab. A slab foundation is what is most commonly used in California and is a lot like it sounds: a monolithic, horizontal block of poured concrete. The slab is usually supported by a relatively shallow perimeter footing that runs along its entire boundary just below the ground. The center of the slab rests on or is embedded with a steel mesh over well-compacted and level ground.

The beauty of a slab foundation is its low cost and fast construction, especially for a simple house footprint or layout. Once the footings are excavated and the formwork and reinforcing steel mesh is placed, it takes only a few men and a few hours to pour the concrete, tamp and level (or “screed”) it smooth, cut control joints to accommodate surface cracks, and embed any connectors for the next phase of construction. Within a day or so, the slab is ready for the structural frame.

Crawlspace. Also called a pier-and-beam or raised-floor foundation, this type of foundation was commonly used several decades ago but has been replaced with the slab foundation due to better handle seismic movement caused by earthquarkes.

A crawlspace creates a shallow area between the structural frame and the ground using a short perimeter wall of poured concrete (called a “stem” wall) and strategically located short support posts (or piers) in the middle. Combined, the wall and piers hold up the structural beams and joists of the wood-framed first-floor platform upon which the rest of the home is built.

This creates a 3- to 4-foot space allowing easier access to plumbing and electrical conduits and central air ductwork serving the house.  A moisture barrier on the raw ground and vents embedded in the stem wall help keep the crawlspace dry and free of water-related damage.

Full Basement. A basement foundation is basically a combination of the two other types. Excavated to about 8 feet below the ground, typically in geographic areas that require a deep footing below the ground’s freeze line. The basement foundation features a concrete floor (essentially a slab) and concrete or masonry block perimeter walls with as-needed support posts. The first-floor frame is built slightly above finished grade, creating a platform for the rest of the house.

Accessible from the rest of the house above, so-called “full” basements create at least an 8-foot clearance between the slab and the floor frame above. This full-height area can therefore be finished as living or storage space, utility area (such as the heating and cooling equipment and laundry), as well as mechanical and duct runs.

Most are “daylight” basements, with deep window wells along the perimeter that allow natural light and emergency egress. “Walk-out” types, meanwhile, take advantage of a slope on one side of the basement to create more conventional outside access to the basement … and perhaps even an outdoor living area, such as a patio or garden.

Regardless of the type, a foundation is literally the basis of a home’s strength and performance, from energy efficiency to withstanding high winds. A well-engineered and well-built foundation allows the rest of the home’s construction to go as smoothly and quickly as possible and maintains its structural integrity. It may not be visible or sexy, but a strong foundation is arguably the best way to maintain housing value.

Warm Regards,

Working with a Professional Builder: Does it really matter?

How homeowners benefit from the established builder’s systems and relationships.

Since the rebound of home building from the great recession, lots of new contractors have emerged as homebuilders. This has given home buyer more choices, tempting some to choose a contractor based strictly on price.

Bad idea. It’s nearly impossible to compare apples to apples when collecting competitive bids, especially for a complex custom home. That’s why home buyers who have previously built prefer to compare builders rather than prices.

By some estimates, the U.S. economy boasts more residential contracting companies (general contractors as well as trade contractors like plumbers and electricians) than any other type of business. This reflects a low barrier to entry: all that’s needed to get started are a contractor’s license and the right insurance. Or course, licensing and insurance are crucial—no smart homeowner hires a contractor without them—but they are simply the ante to get in the game. They say nothing about the company’s work quality, budgeting skill, financial stability, or customer service. These factors and a multitude of others are the difference between a great building experience and an expensive disappointment.

The big advantage to hiring an established professional builder is that the pro has the systems needed to manage a custom home project. It’s a real company with a physical location and proven management systems. These include systems for customer service, design, estimating, construction, and warranty work, among others. Advantages for customers include:

Timeliness and accuracy. Professional builders have a team of specialists that handle design, estimating, purchasing, and construction. More gets done, in less time, and with fewer mistakes. One important specialist is a dedicated manager for each jobsite—this person takes ownership of the project to make sure work gets done on time and as planned.

No surprises. Detailed specifications that clearly define the scope of work, eliminate hidden costs and help prevent disappointing outcomes. Specifications take time and knowledge to create.  The professional builder has the systems and staffing to develop and adhere to this ‘master game plan’. One of the pitfalls of ambiguous specifications is a low-bid proposal that is ultimately unrealistic and the source of surprise and disappointment.

Buying clout. Successful custom builders are highly skilled purchasers. They know the best places to get each of the hundreds of products that go into a home. Their relationships with suppliers help ensure the best available prices and timely delivery.

Value engineering. Years of experience have taught the professional builder the most efficient approaches to new home construction. The builder’s staff will work with the designer, architect and engineer to make sure the plan minimizes waste and is cost-effective to build.

High-quality trade contractors. Professional builders only work with professionally managed trade contractors. Because the builder is their steady customer, these contractors work hard to protect that relationship—for example, by charging fair prices and showing up on the job when needed.

Warranty confidence. Most new contractors fail after just a few years, often because they lack the financial resources to stay in business. Home buyers can’t be confident that the builder will be around to fulfill warranty requests. By contrast, the established professional builder has the resources to back up a written warranty of its work. Its longstanding relationships with trade contractors and suppliers help ensure a quick response to warranty claims.

This article isn’t meant to disparage the small or new builder. The company that lacks business acumen and capital may be led by a skilled trades person who does top-notch work. In fact, talented tradesp eople who are unable to grow their businesses often end up putting their skills to work for the professionally managed company.

Warm Regards,


What Type of Client Are You?

Successful builders are choosy about the people they work with. Here’s why.

The best business relationships are those where everyone has high standards, both for themselves and for the other parties. This is certainly the case when building a new custom home—a complex, expensive and emotion-laden effort in which the homeowner and builder must collaborate closely for months. Successful outcomes demand mutual trust and confidence.

A smart homeowner will be picky when shopping for a builder and will take the time needed to make the right choice. But it also works the other way. If the builder is a real pro, they will scrutinize you just as closely, and that’s ultimately to your benefit.

Why might a builder choose not to do business with someone? The most tangible reasons are money (the price range the builder works in doesn’t match the homeowner’s budget) and geography (the home is outside the builder’s market area). But intangibles also play a role.

The notion that good relationships need a mutual “fit” has become a cliché, but that’s because it’s so true.

A common mindset that works against this fit is an obsession with cost per square foot. That may be a legitimate metric when comparing similar tract homes from competing builders in the same market, but it’s irrelevant for custom projects.

If you already have a design, it’s fair to ask the builder for a rough ballpark—you want to know, for instance, whether construction will be closer to $500,000 or $600,000. Final costs always depend on details, however. A fixation on making the project meet a square-foot cost you found on Google will be a red flag, and a sign that no one will be happy with the outcome.

Another potential problem is a reluctance to make firm choices. That includes making all necessary design decisions and product selections by the builder’s deadlines. Foot dragging will create delays, cost overruns and bad feelings.

Then there are standards. Professional builders are successful in large part because they do high quality work, and they prefer to work for clients who have high expectations. At the same time, builders usually follow defined quality standards.

Take the example of interior paint. The quality benchmark of the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America states that you shouldn’t be able to see a blemish on the wall under normal light conditions from a certain distance, and most good painters try to exceed that. A builder will try to get a sense of whether a prospective client is likely to scrutinize the paint job with a magnifying glass and be hard to satisfy.

Successful builders seek out clients whose approach is collaborative rather than adversarial. In fact, both parties should look for reasons they can trust one another.

The tone of this business relationship affects more than the home buyer and builder: it also rolls down to employees and trade contractors. That’s one of the biggest reasons pros are choosy about who they work with. The supply of skilled labor isn’t enough to meet demand, so it’s easy for a worker to leave for another company. And since most trade contractors pay market-based wages, the choice usually comes down to job satisfaction. The best employees flock to employers who are fair-minded and loyal, and who provide a positive work environment.

In other words, good builder/client relationships make it easier to retain high-quality workers. And that’s very good for the home buyer.

Warm Regards,


Effective Communication: Key to a Successful Building Process

Communication is important in all relationships, and your relationship with your builder is no exception. Effective communication between client and builder will reduce concerns and stress before, during, and after the building process. Here are some tips for keeping the lines of communication open at key points.

When selecting a builder—The best time to explore your level of comfort with a builder’s communication style is while you are deciding on a builder. These early communications often reflect how your builder will communicate during construction and after closing. Builders who are effective communicators will encourage your questions and provide satisfactory and prompt answers.

As you reach a purchasing decision—Make sure you understand how you and your builder will discuss the project and its progress. Many builders encourage guided walk-throughs of the house at critical stages of construction, such as during structural framing, after electrical and plumbing rough-in, or after drywall. In addition, find out how the builder feels about informal meetings, phone calls, and emails, and ask how quickly you can expect a response when you have a concern.  Most professinal builders use web-based construction management programs such as BuilderTrend to communicate with their home buyers and trade contractors.

On seeing the schedule—The builder should review and proviide access to a detailed scope of work that outlines the construction process and schedule. Use the scope of work as a guide to gain a better understanding of the building process and ask clarifying questions. The construction schedule most times will show deadlines for key decisions that need to be made as well as job site review meetings.

When working with change orders—An essential part of owner-builder communication is the change order, which is the builder’s procedure for making changes after construction begins. Few projects are completed without some changes along the way. Find out about this process before construction begins. Also, learn the details of your builder’s warranty and service program.

Successful builders have systems in place for communicating effectively with their home-building clients before, during, and after construction. These systems have been developed over years with many clients, and deserve our respect. At the same time, your needs, preferences, and comfort level matter. Once you’ve settled on a communication plan with your builder, stick with it! Good communication is a key to a predictable and sane building process that provides you and your family the home you desire and deserve.

Warm Regards,


The Resilient Home

The ability to weather storms is another advantage of hiring an experienced builder with up-to-date knowledge about building science

One often overlooked benefit of a high-quality new custom home is that it will better handle severe weather events and power outages. These are a fact of life in all parts of the country. Atlantic hurricanes routinely leave millions without electricity. Just this past July, thunderstorms put thousands of Midwesterners in the dark and a summer monsoon killed power for thousands of Phoenix residents. Outages even happen without bad weather, like the 2003 blackout that affected 11 million people in an area stretching from Ontario to New Jersey, thanks to a software bug.

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Outages affect all homes, no matter how well built, but a new custom home can be crafted to stay comfortable longer without heating or cooling. “It’s called Passive Survivability,” says Alex Wilson, president of the Resilient Design Institute in Brattleboro, Vt. “It’s about building homes that remain habitable if they lose power.”

Wilson usually writes about green building, but the design and construction principles he advocates are routinely used by the best professional builders.. This is essential building science and includes making walls, roofs and ceilings more efficient with high R-value insulation, careful air sealing, and high-performance windows that offer passive solar gain. These improvements can keep a home habitable without power for days. Homeowners who want to keep the lights on during a blackout may add solar panels, a backup generator or a home battery such as a Tesla PowerWall. In fact, a battery can run a refrigerator, furnace, tankless water heater and critical basic circuits for up to 12 hours.

A resilient home also has good structural and moisture details. Elements like hardware tie-downs and plywood shear panels will make roofs and walls more resistant to damage from earthquakes and high winds. Careful waterproofing will keep wall and roof assemblies dry even in the fiercest rain or snow storms.. 

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One of the best things about resilient construction is that it pays off even if the home never loses power. Careful waterproofing means lower long-term maintenance bills and less chance of mold and mildew growth. Insulation and air sealing reduce monthly energy costs while ensuring a quieter, more comfortable living experience.

The complication is that someone with just a nodding acquaintance of building science can actually create problems. For instance, the builder’s crew needs to understand the flashing details needed for today’s windows and doors—details that can vary by manufacturer. Insulation and air sealing need to be implemented so that walls and roofs shed moisture rather than trapping it, and the approaches vary depending on the local climate.

Building science has come a long way in recent years, and you want to hire someone who has invested time and effort in keeping current. In other words, you need an educated and experienced professional builder.

Warm Regards,


Why Changes Are Costly

Even small changes made after work begins can have surprising effects on the budget. Here’s why.

Minimizing change orders is one of the most effective things homeowners can do to control costs. The reason is that seemingly small changes can have cost impacts beyond the builder’s control—costs that ultimately are borne by the customer.

We’re not talking about unscrupulous contractors who write vague specifications to create low bids and then nickel-and-dime clients with change orders to increase profits. We mean honest builders who write detailed specs and manage their jobs in a professional manner. It’s not unusual for customers of these builders to decide, after the project kickoff, that they want something different in part of the house.

The kickoff usually happens at the preconstruction meeting, where the builder and clients review the final product and design choices, and the clients sign off on those choices. After this meeting, purchase orders are generated and sent to all subcontractors and suppliers, setting firm prices for every part of the job. Any change that happens after that point will likely add cost.

How much cost? That depends not only on what is being changed, but also when. A common example is the clients who, after seeing the opening over the kitchen sink, decide they really want a bigger window. That decision will cost a lot less if they make it early, during the framing walkthrough. Once the window is in the opening and the insulation, drywall, and sink cabinet are installed, the change is more costly.

Less obvious are seemingly minor changes that have a ripple effect. These can multiply the cost of an item to several times what it would have been as part of the original specs.

For example, suppose the homeowners decide they want a pedestal sink in the powder room, rather than the small vanity they had chosen. The builder’s staff has to cancel the order for the vanity and possibly for a granite top. If those items have already shipped, the supplier will likely charge a restocking fee. The pedestal must be ordered from the plumbing supplier, taking additional time. If the hot and cold water pipes are already in place, the plumber has to move them, and the plumbing inspector has to inspect the change. If the wall has already been finished, the drywaller must be called back. This minor change may throw everyone’s schedule off by a week or more.

Every change also requires time from the builder’s staff—time to complete and track orders, to reschedule workers and subcontractors, and to update the budget. That’s why change orders include an administrative fee.

This explanation is not given to discourage important changes. Clients are entitled to make their home their own, and most clients decide to make at least some changes during construction. But they should do it with a clear understanding of the costs those decisions will bring when they are made after the specs have been written and the contract signed. It’s a reminder that making as many firm selections as possible up front is in the customer’s best interest.

Warm Regards,


No Sweat Cooling

Why choosing the right air conditioning equipment is more important than ever

The health and comfort of a new home has a lot to do with its heating, cooling and ventilation equipment. High-quality equipment will do a better job, but only if the builder works with the mechanical engineer and contractor to choose the right equipment type. With today’s high-performance homes, that choice is no longer so simple.

It’s especially complicated with air conditioning. Each new version of the International Energy Conservation Code further lowers cooling loads—how much heat and humidity has to be removed to keep a home comfortable. (The code has also lowered heating loads, but that’s a topic for another day.) That’s good news, in that the new code lowers cooling bills, but it can also be bad news if the system hasn’t been engineered for this new reality.

The problem is that the air conditioner usually has to cool and dehumidify. The mix of those loads has changed.

In older homes, air conditioners usually had to remove three times as much heat as humidity, and most were engineered with that in mind. But energy-efficient construction reduces cooling loads while leaving humidity about the same, so the net cooling and humidity loads are about equal. An older system installed in a new home could cool it but leave everyone feeling sweaty and uncomfortable.

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This challenge doesn’t just affect hot/humid parts of the country. Even in the dry climates, homeowners can generate lots of moisture from activities like cooking and showering. And in temperate climates, there are plenty of days that are humid but not hot.

Proper system sizing is crucial. Old-school HVAC contractors relied on rules of thumb. Such rules worked fine for drafty, poorly insulated homes. With today’s high-performance construction, however, the result tends to be too much cooling capacity—a system that cools the home so quickly it doesn’t have time to remove humidity. That’s why the best mechanical engineers and contractors now use sophisticated software to calculate the exact system size for the particular home.

Manufacturers have adapted their equipment to this new reality. Older systems used one-speed compressor motors, which also tend to cool a new home too quickly. Two-stage compressor motors are available today which,  if conditions warrant, will run at a low speed and do a better job of cooling and dehumidifying.

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Today you can also get true variable-speed systems, which vary the compressor speed the same way the gas pedal controls a car’s motor. A good example is the ductless mini split, in which wall-mounted indoor units are placed in different areas of the house.

But while ductless mini splits are popular worldwide, Americans as a whole don’t like the look of them. If the budget permits, you can get a ducted mini split instead. Here, specially designed indoor units are placed in attics or utility spaces with short ducts running to different areas (a bedroom, bath and sitting area, for example). A ducted indoor unit can be placed in each zone of the house, so you get the precise cooling and dehumidification needed for that zone. These systems are also super quiet.

The bottom line is that with today’s homes, equipment choice is complicated. That’s why a professional builder will work with a professional mechanical engineer and contractor—who will recommend the best equipment for the home and precisely size it to keep the occupants cool and dry.

Warm Regards,


The Hidden Build Process

Understanding the construction process will help owners manage their expectations and emotions.

Here’s a quick quiz…

It’s four or five months into a new custom build. The home is weather tight, plumbing and electrical wiring have been roughed in, the insulation is in place, and sheetrock has been screwed to the walls and ceilings. The drywallers are completing the detaling of the walls and ceiling texture.  How do most homeowners feel?

The question illustrates a crucial issue. There are two things going on at each stage of a project: the actual construction and the homeowners’ perception and evolving feelings about it. Fortunately, most people react in predictable ways at predictable times, so an experienced builder will understand how to help their clients through the inevitable ups and downs. If the homeowners know what to expect, the emotional ride becomes easier and more enjoyable.

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As construction begins, homeowners are typically very excited—and why shouldn’t they be? Preconstruction ups and downs involving plans, product choices and costs are behind them. Their dream home is about to take shape!

Emotions tend to remain high as workers and trenchers dig the foundation footings, form and pour the foundation, build the walls and roof structure. How long this takes depends on the home but with some exceptions, such as weather delays, things move fast with obvious progress nearly every day. Excitement and anticipation build as the home they have been imagining for years is finally rising from the ground!

That visible progress slows dramatically during the next phase of construction.

Once the shell is complete, the electricians, plumbers, and heating trade contractors descend on the house to rough in their systems. This is when a homeowner’s emotions can be tested. This phase of the project is inherently time-consuming. Plus, it can be drawn out by complex scheduling requirements of different trade contractors. Progress seems to come to a crawl and excitement can quickly morph into anxiety. Will the home be done on time? What’s taking so long?

At this point, it helps to remember the importance of good lighting, plumbing, and heating to a home’s livability. Investing the time to do them right will pay off big later on.

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We understand how challenging this phase of the project is for homeowners. This is the time when, as professional builders, we continue and at times increase our communication about the progress that is being made behind the scenes. We find that educated homeowners can better manage their emotions through the whole process, but especially as we get ready to move into the home stretch.

The next phase includes installation of trim, cabinets, countertops, shower surrounds, flooring and finish fixtures. Here, excitement begins to rise again as the finish line pulls into sight. By the time the keys are handed over, emotions will be at a point nearly equal to where they were at groundbreaking.

How best to navigate this emotional journey? How does one enjoy the highs and take the dips in stride? Awareness about the process goes a long way. Study the schedule and know what is going to happen and when. Think of the project as a story, and the schedule as the plot outline. A good builder will work with the homeowners to fill that outline with details that will help make the project a great experience and ensure a happy ending.

Warm Regards,


More Than a Patio

Creating Functionality and Beauty in Your Outdoor Space

A lot of homeowners are looking beyond the basic patio to a complete outdoor experience. They’re designing and building homes with multi-level patios connected to pools, spas, fire features and outdoor kitchens.

According to a May 2019 article on Zillow.com, a growing number of homeowners also want their interior design theme to continue outdoors. In other words, they want big spaces that serve multiple functions while also looking great.

Great spaces result from careful thought and planning. Before talking with your architect and builder, spend some time thinking about how you will use the space as well as aesthetics, views, maintenance and the weather.

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Here are some issues to ponder:

What Will You Do?

In good design, form follows function. Do you just want a place to hang out and read? Something simple may be sufficient. Do you like to host sit-down dinners? You might want room for a grill, a dining table, chairs and a bar.

Do you prefer informal gatherings? Consider including discreet spots for intimate or small-group socializing, such as a step-down from a main patio to a few chairs around a low table. Will your toddlers use the patio for play? You’ll want doors and windows that offer a clear view from inside the house.

These are just a few examples. Your questions will depend on your lifestyle and priorities.

How About The Weather?

Outdoor living means planning for rain, sun, views, privacy and weather.

Think about how much of the year you want to use the space. An outdoor fireplace or fire ring can extend your enjoyment through fall and winter.  The patio can have electric sun shade screens to repel bugs and the sun in summer,

Outdoor Dining

A simple grill may be enough, but if you want to have a real outdoor kitchen, a good design is as an extension of the indoor living space and close to the kitchen. Placing the two spaces as close together as possible will allow easy movement between them.

Concrete block or steel studs with cement siding and stucco are good choices for outdoor cabinets, as is granite and glazed tile for the countertops.

Get the best grill you can. Quality, powder-coated steel will last if maintained properly but a better choice is grade 304 stainless, which has a reputation for long-term durability without rust. Also consider placing some shelter over the grill, such as a pergola for partial shade or a roof to repel rain.

If you want a sink, make it big enough to hold party platters. For the refrigerator, note that an expensive one may not perform better than a cheap one on a very hot day. You can also include a steel beverage trough in a counter and fill it with ice or integrate an ice chest in the cabinetry.

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Thinking through these and other design issues takes time and effort, but in the end, you’ll have an outdoor space that enhances your lifestyle and that you’re proud to share with family and friends.

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