STRANGE & INTERESTING TALES from a Custom Home Builder

As a custom home builder, we’ve encountered all kinds of strange and interesting tales. Thought I would do a short, lighthearted, post about some of these.

One of the more memorable and strange requests was from, I’ll call him “The Bachelor”. He was doing a whole house remodel and wanted his and her toilets….side by side. I couldn’t ask about why because I didn’t want to know. Oh boy, women want the man to use an entirely different bathroom, much less sitting on the john next to him! We didn’t end up doing the job but I often wonder if he found “The One who would sit by his side, come what may”!

Women don’t want this kind of sharing!

Then there were the people who wanted us to remodel their home and at our first meeting, they produced a sketch of the layout they had drawn up. Wait…why is there a bathroom that opens up into the kitchen? The woman thought it would be really convenient. I will always laugh replaying in my mind Kevin trying to explain to them why it wasn’t a good idea!

Kevin recently visited a home that the people had purchased for the land, not the home.  They were wondering if we could help them fix the home. Some of the problems would have been hilarious if someone didn’t have to figure out how to fix and pay for them. Here are just a few of the problems:

  • The showers controls were totally outside of the shower, requiring one to exit the shower to change temp or pressure.
  • The hood over the stove was so high that the exhaust system was useless.
  • An old remodel had expanded the kitchen but they placed the refrigerator around the corner and from the cooking triangle one had to go around this large island to get to the refrigerator.
  • Then there was the wet bar where someone had either not wanted to waste a pre-cut countertop or someone did a lousy job of measuring and the top hung over the sink on one side by about 2 inches.

Several years ago we encountered the strangest floor plan I’ve ever seen. The people had bought it site unseen before moving here from Ohio. First of all, there was so much wasted space. The rooms were small but the halls were huge- like 6 feet wide and when you walked through the front door, you stepped right into the dining room. There was no pantry in what was a huge kitchen but rather it was a converted bedroom that was located down a long hallway. Words cannot express my dismay!

Then there was our client who didn’t want to have to leave the Master suite to get to his liquor- well it would have been a long walk- I’ll give him that. So, we built a wet bar in the bedroom. Along the same line, we built an indoor putting green adjacent to the master so that our client, an insomniac, could practice his game instead of roaming the halls at night. Hey, this is exactly why people build custom homes!

And, of course, we’ve built many cool safe rooms but I can’t disclose any details. Let’s just say that the options out there now for these are mind blowing.

Or our custom home client who had a little kid’s mini kitchen just off the main kitchen. Mini fridge, microwave, sink and cabinets were stocked with all of their favorite snacks. I actually really like this- it’s keeps their little fingerprints off the one in the main kitchen ūüôā

Then there was the time we built the rectory for the Catholic church in Ahwatukee and Kevin opened up a cabinet door and a huge gila monster emerged! I’m sure the priest forgave his language, given the situation.

Back when we were first getting started, we built a custom home for an engineer who counted every 2 x 4, 2 x 6 and piece of wood in the entire house making sure he wasn’t getting ripped off. Nothing against engineers, as they happen to be some of our best clients, as they appreciate the quality and efficiency of our homes.

Some of our favorite clients were Italians who immigrated to Canada and we built their second home here in Arizona. She was Sicilian and about 4′ 10″. I think I told in a past blog how she rolled out her homemade pasta every day but couldn’t comfortably do this with a normal counter height. So, we built the island at a very low height and made some other adjustments to make living more convenient for her.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this. We did a full remodel on a townhome and Kevin went to pick up the final check. He left and was at the end of the block when his phone rang. It was the woman. She asked him if he could come back. When she opened the door, she grabbed him and hugged him in a full-on frontal position and kissed him before he knew what was happening! I guess she was super happy with us- or with him rather. A simple thank you is just fine!

Hope you’ve enjoyed these Strange and Interesting Tales!

COST PER SQUARE FOOT: WHY IT’S A TERRIBLE WAY TO PREDICT THE COST OF YOUR HOME

“How much will my house cost per square foot”?  It’s a question that builders get asked a lot and it’s a fair question.  However, when a potential client asks this question without plans in hand, builders literally cringe.  It’s not that we don’t want to answer it, it’s just that there isn’t a simple answer and builders struggle to communicate  as to why there isn’t a simple answer.  In addition, it’s a terrible way to predict the cost of your home.

Imagine if someone called up a car dealer and asked how much it would cost for a car.  They tell the salesman that they are looking for a really nice car but not top of the line.  The dealer would have to have much more information in order to even come close to an estimate.  First of all, “really nice” is relative.  To some, a Ford Explorer might be really nice but to others, that might mean an Autobiography Range Rover.   Big difference in price.  And beyond that, do they want leather seats? A sunroof? What about the stereo system? 2 wheel or 4 wheel drive? Turbo?

Now extrapolate that out into a custom home that is many, many times more expensive, thereby exaggerating the price range differences.  In addition, there are far more options on a home with a very broad range of costs.  When you carry out all of the potential differences in all of the thousands of potential components in a custom home, the range is so wide that you might not even land in the ballpark.  We really have no idea how much your custom home will cost without seeing at least conceptual plans.

Curves are more expensive than straight

You can imagine the cost difference between a ceiling like this and a flat, 10′, ceiling.

A few months ago, a potential client was trying to figure out how much framing would cost, knowing that this has become the major cost in a custom home.  “Well you know how much it will cost per square  foot  to frame a house, right?”, they insisted.   No, we don’t.  Is the house going to be a simple rectangle or will it have angles or curves?  Also, did you know that it costs far more per square foot to build a long, shallow home than a big square home? That’s because the ratio of walls per square foot is much higher in a long rectangle than a square.   Is the lot flat or will earth work be required?  Are the walls 2 x 4, 2 x 6,  or 2 x 8 or a combination of these sizes? How high will the ceilings be (10 ft versus 8 ft makes a big difference in price) and will they be the same height throughout?  How many window and door openings, etc. etc. etc.  And that’s just the framing!

An area that impacts the cost in a huge way is that of finish materials.  Take for example an appliance package.  You can get an entire suite of GE Stainless appliances for $3,000 but just your Wolf Dual Fuel Steam range can set you back almost $20,000.00.  As you can see, there are so many elements can drive huge price differences, making a cost per square foot estimate

This Wolf 60″ Dual Fuel Steam Range will set you back almost $20,000.00

very unreliable.  To illustrate even further how difficult it is to give a cost per square foot estimate that will even be relevant…. we could build several homes with the same exact plans, on the same lot and the cost per square foot could vary from $165- $385-  just due to the variances in the finish materials selected!

Then add the fact that different builders quote cost per square foot differently.  It used to be that only air conditioned square footage was the number that was used (called livable square footage) but now some builders are including expensive non-air-conditioned space (non-livable), as well. Let me explain, back in the day the non air-conditioned spaces were relatively inexpensive shells: garages, patios, etc.  But many custom garages now have cabinets, epoxy floors, a sink, a ceiling fan, expensive garage doors, exterior architectural elements, etc.   Patios no longer just have the standard grey broom finished concrete.  They  have expensive flooring, outdoor fireplaces, and the same expensive roof over it.  If you have that expensive non-livable square footage being thrown into the livable square footage, it makes the cost per square foot in the a/c space deceivingly expensive.   Imagine if one builder is giving a cost per square foot estimate based on this method versus one who is quoting it based only on the livable space?  This would be skewed on the low side.  Think about it, an expensive garage has a far greater cost per square foot than a basic bedroom so by excluding this from the cost per square foot estimate, you are leaving out some major costs.  Something else to keep in mind when talking cost per square foot is that,  all things being equal, a smaller home will have a higher cost per square foot because expensive spaces; such as, kitchens and bathrooms, are a greater percentage of the overall space.

When a builder is pressed for an answer on cost per square foot , if he (or she) guesses too high, the client may not move forward with a home that actually would fit within their budget and if he guess too low, they may proceed and then not be able to afford the home.  It’s a real catch 22 and that’s why builders hate this question and struggle to answer it.  It’s not as simple as one might think.

Some things can you do to make sure that you don’t end up with a home you can’t afford to build

First of all, you can have your builder show you some plans, elevations, the finish material list and approximate cost of some of the homes they have built.  That way you can get a general idea about what kind of home  can be built in a certain price range.

The other is to get architect and building designer recommendations from your builder. Find one that’s a good fit,  then have everyone sit down to discuss the client’s expectations. If both the builder and designer think that this is doable, then you can proceed with confidence and if not, then you can decide where you go from there. If you move ahead, then you have a team who is well aware of the parameters in which they must work and the builder can check in with his trades and weigh in in real time.  In addition, if the owner is going to use an interior designer (highly recommend), then this is the time to bring them in, as well.

I can’t even tell you how many times people have come to us after plans have been drawn with an expectation of a certain price point based on a cost per square foot estimate and then are highly disappointed to find that the price comes substantially higher.  Often this is a result of the plans being designed with expensive architectural details or materials that aren’t easy to eliminate without going back to the drawing board.   Sad.  

I hope that this has given you a little more insight into why builders struggle when you ask them about cost per square foot.  They aren’t trying to hedge or be vague.  They just know that there’s a good chance that they will be wrong without more information.  Please feel free to share your input, questions or stories and let me know if there is subject that you would like me to address.

By Kimberley Cullumber Alexander, Partner,  Alexander Enterprises Construction & Development, Inc.

Disclaimer:  This content is proprietary and can only be shared as a link or if credit is given to the author.

ALASKA: AN ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME

So, maybe someday I’ll separate my work blog from my travel blog but in the meantime, they are in the same spot. I absolutely LOVE Alaska and we just returned from another Alaska adventure of a lifetime (destination Tutka Bay Wilderness Lodge) and I have to share!

Tutka Bay Lodge (photo I took from the air)

“To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the greatest countries in the world” John Muir

This trip was one we took with another couple who we’ve been friends with forever, it seems. I call Wendy my travel guru, as she is so great at planning vacations, finding the best restaurants, destinations and hotels. She had called me early fall and asked if we would like to join them for a trip to an exclusive, remote, luxury wilderness lodge called Tutka Bay Lodge ( a National Geographic registered lodge). Of course, we couldn’t pass it up!

I have to do a disclaimer up front on why you will see me in the same shirt in almost every photo. It was the only one I packed that was right for the weather on most days! Had I been in New York, I for sure would have made a few purchases:)

I guess this means that being that I’ve been to Alaska so many times, I’m rugged, breathtaking and untamed ūüôā

We’ve been to Alaska twice before, once by way of a Holland America cruise through the inside passage and on another, we flew into Juneau and explored Glacier Bay and took float planes to a magical place called Taku Glacier Lodge. Before continuing about our recent trip, I must mention that flying over 5 glaciers and landing in the water in front of the remote Taku Glacier Lodge and partaking of a salmon feast there was one of the most magical experiences of my life! This trip was a gift from my Dad and Mom to my family and my brothers and their families. Experiencing this with family was a memory that we all will talk about for the rest of our lives. The cruise was first class (highly recommend Holland America for an Alaskan cruise) and our venture into Glacier Bay was a spiritual moment that i go back to time and time again. I can’t explain it. We were the only ship back there (they limit it to 2 a day) and we sat right in front of the glacier. People were absolutely silent and all we could hear was the crashing of ice falling into the ocean and the cries of the osprey. The water was turquoise and clear and pure with pieces of ice floating everywhere. I felt so deeply connected with nature and my God that tears streamed down my face.

At the end of the Tarr Inlet, Glacier Bay, Alaska. The photo does not do it justice.

Anyway, back to the recent trip. This was an opportunity for the men to fish in some of the best waters in the world for halibut and salmon. The plan was to fly into Anchorage, rent a car, drive down the coast all the way to the charming town of Homer (the halibut capital of the world and a trending adventure destination), which overlooks Kachemak Bay and the Kenai Mountains. The men were going to do some halibut fishing and then we would leave for the lodge. Then we would drive back to Anchorage, stay the night and head home.

Anchorage

We arrived into Anchorage late, so we stayed at the Alaska House of Jade B & B that night. By the way, I highly recommend this place. Zach and Krista were wonderful hosts and made a beautiful breakfast for us!

Kenai Peninsula

The next day, we drove all the way down the coast on Highway A3 into the Kenai peninsula. This drive is absolutely gorgeous! After commenting every minute on the beauty around us, we realized that it was just going to keep going so we could give the constant comments a rest. We visited the renowned The Hotel Alyeska in Girdwood and ate at a cute little place called The Bake Shop , where the flowers are so gorgeous you have to make sure they’re not fake and everything is homemade (try the cinnamon rolls).

We made lots of little interesting stops along the way and ended up in Cooper Landing at the Kenai Princess Lodge for the night, which is nestled on a hill overlooking the Kenai River. If you stop there, take the little hike right off the parking lot down to the river. There is a phone down at the bottom to call the concierge, as many who make the hike down don’t want to hike back up! This is where I tell you that Ricky, almost 2 decades older than us, kept up with us the entire trip- or rather we kept up with him (my daughter saw him recently and said, “Mom, he looks your age”! I’m glad she didn’t say we look his age)! Down on the river, we saw an eagle catching fish down on the river flying eye level- so cool!

Prior to arriving at the Princess, we hiked down to Virgin Falls. Of course, we had to endure the guys comments about wanting to find the virgins. Gorgeous!

The Virgin Falls, Alaska

No Alaska Adventure is complete without watching the salmon run! The next day, we stopped at the Russian river and fulfilled one of our bucket list items when we watched fly fishermen pulling out salmon left and right. The Russian has to be one of the most beautiful rivers in the world! In addition, there are awesome walking trails beside the river. Next time we’ll bring some poles and try our luck.

Fly fisherman on The Russian River

Homer

Along the way through Soldatna, Kasiloff and then Homer, there was gorgeous, shocking- pink Fireweed everywhere.

Fireweed

We checked into another B & B, Halcyon Heights, in Homer. I don’t really know what to say about this place- super interesting and I made my little grandchild Harlee laugh hysterically with some stories about it when we got home. I’m sure it piques your interest for me just to say that in spite of some funny things, I highly recommend it. Juxia, the host, is an incredible cook and ask for Steven’s special coffee ūüôā . We ate at Cafe Cups that evening- one of best restaurants in Homer. Make sure you make a reservation.

The next morning, Kevin and Rick went halibut fishing and Wendy and I explored the beach and the town. The guys fished with North Country Charters and Captain Ben did not disappoint! That night, Pattie at Captain Patties, cooked our fresh halibut family style. The best halibut I’ve ever had! Just hours ago they had been swimming in the cold, cold waters of Alaska.

Wendy and I explored Bishops Beach, which has to be one of the most stunning beaches anywhere! They were enjoying an unusually low tide and we saw all kinds of sea creatures in the tide pools.

Bishops Beach, Homer, AK

We also went to the famous Salty Dawg Saloon on the Spit- fun, crazy place to have a beer and take an instagram with who-knows-how-many dollar bills surrounding you!

Alaska Adventure: Part 2 to come

Then, we headed back to the B & B to pack up and get some rest for the main event the next day, Destination: Tutka Bay Lodge. Join me for the highlight of our Alaska adventure in Part II!

ARIZONA GHOST TOWN ADVENTURE

This post is obviously not specifically about the building business but this adventure did include some old homes and structures that were very interesting!

We were at our place up north when picked up a large coffee table book that my Dad had given me 2 months before he passed away, called Ghost Towns of the West. My life was filled with adventure with my father. He loved Arizona and he was a walking historian on everything Arizona. We shared a love for outdoor experiences; such as, motorcycles, jeeps, desert trips, discovering remote Arizona places, harley rides, etc., etc. I was feeling sentimental and wanted to go on an adventure later that day to 2 ghost towns that weren’t too far from where we were; which was Heber, Arizona. I was intrigued by Aripine and Zeniff. Kevin and my Mama are always up for adventure so we set out!

Sidenote: On our way out of town, we stopped at a little drive through espresso place off Hwy 260 called Perky’s Espresso. One of the best latte’s I’ve ever had…chocolatey, strong, smokey and smooth. She uses espresso ice cubes so the iced lattes aren’t diluted- makes all the difference! I don’t do dairy and she didn’t have almond or coconut milk but she made it with Oat milk, which I’de never had but loved. https://www.yelp.com/biz/perkys-expresso-overgaard?hrid=h7FCuX5skFt2V9YC9ycEug&osq=Coffee

Then we headed for Aripine. Aripine is in Navajo County, Arizona. It was originally named Joppa and was settled by the Mormons in 1883. The name was, at some point, changed to Aripine; which was derived from the first 3 letters in Arizona and pine (because there are lots of pines in the area). From HWY 260, we hit the FS332, which was a dirt road, and about 30 minutes later we were there. What I would like to learn more about are the homes there that looked well cared for and possibly lived in but yet we didn’t see one soul…or ghost, I should say, not one car, etc. The most interesting structure here was a charming stone house with a metal roof and some silos.

Then we headed to Zeniff, located about 15 miles south of Holbrook. We inadvertently took a wrong turn and ended up in an area that was super remote with thick undergrowth. We were joking that people could go back there and never be found again when the most amazing property appeared right in front of us. It was a 25 acre ranch that was for sale for $1,450,000.00 – right in the middle of nowhere!

Then we got back on track and were on our way to Zeniff. We saw a grave marker off the road and stopped to pay our respects to Mr. Larry Grant.

The GPS said we had arrived in Zeniff but there wasn’t really anything to signify that we had in fact arrived anywhere. We started driving around and it ended up being very interesting. Zeniff was settled by the Preston Bushman family in 1911 with the goal of dry farming but they were continually flooded out and thus, their farming operation was abandoned. Preston’s father, John Bushman, had helped settle Heber and Preston had dreams of settling his own town…and that town was Zeniff. Zeniff’s location on the cattle trail made it an important stop for cattle drives to Holbrook. There were acres of corn, oats and clover for the livestock, as well as pastures that the cowboys could turn out their cattle and horses in. The only problem is that the wells all went dry. The story is like a crazy soap opera about the Bushman’s financial problems and of how they were swindled by Fred Turley, which led to their abandoning Zeniff and moving to Mesa, AZ. in 1938. In 1956 Southwest Forest Industries purchased the land built a paper mill on it with the intention of using the Dry Lakes as waste storage. Soon after, Zeniff became unlivable due to the horrific smell from the waste water. We actually met someone about a year ago who had a family member who had worked in the paper mill and he said that that family member had gotten cancer very early in life and it was attributed to his work there. Only 3 buildings remain today. You can see the old dams, pastures, crop fields and where large trees were planted in between sections, possibly to cut the wind. There appears to be an active ranch or farm operation in the area, though. I found it difficult to find information on Zeniff but this youtube was about the most helpful thing out there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4dQ4gcf70A

If anyone knows anything to add or correct my surmisings, please let me know in the comments!

As we drove around surveying abandoned crop fields and old corrals and fences, out in the distance we saw a horse. Being as we hadn’t seen a soul all day, we were feeling social so stopped and whistled to try to get him to come over. He held his distance. We got back in the car and just as we started to drive away, he started running towards us! We got back out and introduced ourselves. We picked what were some old crops still growing here and there to feed him but they stunk- not sure what they were. He turned his nose up at them and we promised to return with cold apples some day.

W

CHOOSING A CUSTOM HOME BUILDER … are they more than glorified babysitters?

See more of this project on our website at http://www.buildnaz.com/gallery.php

So imagine that you have worked for years, saving enough money to finally build your dream home.¬† You get a few builders to bid your home and you figure that they are all about the same, I mean, how hard can it be to babysit a bunch of construction workers?¬† Might as well save some money and go for the lowest price, right?¬† One truth I’ve found to be true over and over again¬† is this quote by Red Adai that the owner of our elevator company has as a byline on his email signature,¬† “If you think hiring a professional is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur”!¬† Nowhere is this as true as it is in choosing a custom home builder.¬† Many times over the years we have seen where the cheapest bid ended up being the most expensive.¬† This can be due to inexperience,¬† incompetence or intentional deceit, among other things.¬† There is no need to for this to happen to you, as there are quality, seasoned,¬† builders in every part of the country.¬† You just have to know what to look for.¬† The builder you choose will be the determining factor as to whether your project is a disaster or a success.

The client is good at their particular field, and that’s why they have hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to build a custom home in the first place.¬† However, they are not experts in the intricacies and complexities of custom building, so the situation is often one of Buyer Beware. They don’t necessarily know how to tell if corners are being cut or games are being played.¬† This is why it’s essential to find a builder with a long track record (do you want the surgeon who has only done a few surgeries or do you want one who has operated on hundreds of patients?) and who has the clients’ best interest at heart.¬† ¬† As builders, we feel that one of our key roles is that of the homeowners “Protector”, per se.¬† ¬†A builder is the homeowner’s advocate and one with integrity will not allow the customer to be taken advantage of, spend more than necessary and he keeps everyone in check, so to speak.¬† Another way a quality builder protects the homeowner is by surrounding himself with like-minded trades, suppliers and reps.¬† ¬†The team we surround ourselves with prides themselves on educating the client, when needed, so that that homeowner can make wise and informed decisions on their selections.¬† In addition, these reputable companies will be there to help should any issues arise down the road.

A few months ago, we got a call from homeowners who were upset about some issues that had cropped up in their custom home that was about 4 years old.¬† They said they choose their builder because he was about $50,000 cheaper than the other 2 builders.¬† He had a winning personality and a clean record with the registrar but had only been building for a few years.¬† They said they knew of our reputation and thats why they called us to give honest input on the issues (keep this point in mind when you get to the end of the paragraph) .¬† When Kevin got to their home, he found that the upstairs shower had not been waterproofed or sealed properly and water had been leaking down the wall into the bathroom below, which had created a substantial mold issue.¬† Also, the granite top in the kitchen was cracked and come to find out there had not been any support placed below a span of 7′ of granite!¬† ¬†In addition, there was a good chance that the backsplashes would be destroyed when the granite was removed.¬† ¬†Also, the sub-floor had been installed poorly, there were leaky skylights and the shower in the master had one of those rectangular drains that was placed along the top of the sloping shower floor, forcing the owners to swish the water towards it with their feet in order to drain the water (I don’t even have words for this one),¬† just to name a few of the issues.¬† They said they had no idea at the time that they were choosing a custom home builder how many things could go wrong.¬† Oh, and he is out of business now.¬† ¬†I’m sure that this guy was well-intentioned but he clearly had no clue how to tell if the work being done was done properly.¬† They may be able to recover some money from the Recovery fund but that is a real pain in the you-know-what and only goes up to $30K.¬† After Kevin pointed out the issues, told them what needed to be done and gave them a competitive price to fix everything, they thanked him profusely but said they needed to find someone cheaper because they were already out so much money.¬† I guess they wanted to learn the same lesson twice!

Just a point I would like to mention here that is a real point of pride to me, and has a lot to do with choosing a custom home builder.¬† After Kevin graduated with a business degree, he went to work as a roofer and then a framer.¬† He had already been doing restoration work in high school but said that he was not going to be one of those drive-by builders.¬† He wanted to know and understand everything in a hands-on way.¬† So, I had convinced this California, surfer boy to move to Arizona after he graduated, and he went to work for a roofer in what was one of the hottest summers on record!¬† When he didn’t run back to Cali, I knew then that he would be an outstanding builder!¬† My point is not that every quality builder needs to have worked in the trades, but that they possess a deep knowledge of the nuts and bolts of building.

Complex 2nd story addition on a custom home we built several years earlier. We were able to preserve the existing ceilings, which is extremely difficult to do, which saved the homeowner’s a great amount of expense.¬† Kevin and our amazing framer figured out a system to keep the ceilings below in tact and the only evidence of all the demo above were a few nail pops.

Most of our clients come to us on their second custom home,  as after the first one they understand and appreciate the value of a seasoned builder who has survived the ups and downs of the economy.  A true professional will not only save aggravation, headaches and time, but they are almost always less expensive in the long run.

Think of a home builder¬†as the hub or conductor that is orchestrating a complex project where quality and timing must be coordinated like a fine machine to pull off a successful project.¬† We interact with, coordinate and/or manage hundreds of people on any given project; such as,¬† the architect or building designer, engineers, interior designers, the lender, title companies, government authorities, inspectors, suppliers, reps, subcontractors, owners, HOA associations, architectural review boards,¬† realtors and developers, just to name a few.¬† ¬†In addition, a builder has to be able to solve problems and issues creatively, efficiently,¬† and in a cost effective and timely manner because many challenges arise on every project- it’s just par for the course.¬†Also consider that the standards for your project will rarely rise above the standards of your builder.¬† ¬†So you see, there really are very important things to consider when choosing a custom home builder and we really are more than babysitters.¬†¬†

Thank you for joining the conversation, which has been more of a general overview; however,  in Part II,  I will give you the insider details on what to look for when choosing a custom home builder and the Red Flags to watch for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

AGING IN PLACE: STRATEGIES (Part 2)

Continuing our conversation about Aging in Place strategies….

KITCHEN CABINETS

Cabinets can be particularly frustrating when aging in place is a priority.  Replace lower cabinet doors with large, deep drawers.   This helps a person easily get what they need without reaching in and trying to pull things out from the back of the shelf.

Rev-a-shelf

Rev a shelf¬† makes some really innovative solutions; such as, pull down shelves that can be installed in the uppers.¬† This also keeps them off a step stool, which can be dangerous.¬†¬†We built a custom home for an Italian couple where the woman was 4′ 10″ and she rolled out homemade pasta every day.¬† They wanted the kitchen island very low to make this easy for her.¬† She also had had hip replacements, so we did all the cabinets with roll out drawers and pull down shelves so she didn’t have to bend down.¬† The small appliances that she used everyday (espresso machine, pasta maker, Kitchenaid mixer)¬† had places on the counter with outlets in the right spots so she could leave them out.¬† When they went to sell, people didn’t like the low island but they lived in the house for over 20 years and the entire family benefited from that low island, so who cares, right?¬† ¬†A custom home is all about creating an environment that enhances and facilities your lifestyle, so it was worth it to them to make the kitchen function specifically for her needs. The cost to put in a new island was small compared to the use they got out of it.¬†

BATHROOM CABINETS

Make sure there is knee space in the cabinet area where a person can sit down to get ready.  Also, if a person is much shorter or taller than the average, their vanity can be made to a specific height to minimize stooping or counters that are too high.

APPLIANCES

Appliances can pose a danger to the elderly if they are not well thought out.  The controls need to be easy to read and the appliances should be located where one can see, open and put things in and out safely.

Induction cooking can be a great choice for aging in place:¬† So, gas cooking has been all the rage with the professional chefs and foodies who love to cook but there’s a new game in town (actually not new but recently embraced) and it is very safe for young and old!¬† Induction is the cooking method of choice for many high profile chefs these days.¬† What makes it so safe is that it heats the cooking vessel by magnetic induction but the cook top does not get hot.¬† So, when the pan or skillet is removed from the top, there is no heat and that makes it a safe option.¬† Also, gas can sometimes be left on when people start getting forgetful but with induction, once the pan is removed, there is no conduction of heat.¬†¬†Frigidaire explains induction cooking.

Also, many appliances can now be connected to an app on ones phone, voice activated, controlled from a distance, etc., etc.   While it may not be easy for all people to learn a new way of operating appliances, it can be a great thing for family members to be able to check and make sure things are turned off, etc., from a distance.

DOORWAYS & HALLWAYS:

Doorways and hallways are very important for those who aging in place is important.¬† If they can’t navigate with a wheelchair or walker, it is very difficult to stay at home.¬† ¬† Also, the areas around the toilets, sinks, laundry, etc. need to receive consideration.¬† Areas should allow for walkers and/or wheelchairs to have plenty of access.¬† 5′ x 5′ turn around spaces are needed in areas such as kitchens, in front of bathroom sinks, toilets. etc. .¬† Use 36″ min. interior doors to allow for 32″ of clearance.

ELECTRICAL

By age 75, a person needs lighting that is twice as bright as younger people. Lighting is a very important issue.   Here are just a few tips on lighting that we implement in our homes.

  • Lighting systems where single buttons turn on specific “scenes” can be very helpful.¬† Such as; a “hello” button by the door so that when one arrives home that turns on specific lights with one touch.
  • Automatic lighting where a light comes on automatically when a door is opened, such as closets and pantries.¬† Kevin puts these in as a standard thing in our clients’ pantries so that if their arms are full of groceries, etc., they won’t have to fumble for the light switch.
  • Night lighting can be installed to shine dimly at night near the floor or come on when motion is detected.
  • High tech security systems for video¬† monitoring of home and the front door are extremely important. Also, family members can check in on them remotely.
  • Replacing incandescent bulbs with LED so that bulbs are not constantly needing replacement.

DOORKNOBS & FAUCETS

Instead of handles that twist, which are difficult for people with arthritis to navigate, choose levers.

FLOORING

Flooring material is very important, as as one ages, ones skeletal structure becomes more sensitive and often there are issues with ones feet.¬† For optimal aging in place, the flooring should be non-slip and softer materials; such as wood floors, should be used.¬† Also, it’s important to have some contrast where there are steps or stairs.¬† We sometimes do this on the rise- even a subtle change alerts one to a change in the terrain.¬† A friend of mine just told me that she fell at a home where there were¬† curved steps that were the same color as the surrounding flooring.¬† She didn’t notice them and walked right into them.¬† I am a rug lover but they¬†should be minimized and any carpeting should be a low pile.

I hope that you found this article about aging in place helpful!  These are just a few strategies but feel free to ask me about specific needs that you might have.   Also, I would love to know your thoughts and ideas on this subject.

 

 

 

AGING IN PLACE: STRATEGIES (Part 1)

Alexander Enterprises Construction & Development, Inc.¬† has¬† been building homes and remodeling with the aging in place concept in mind before it was “a thing”.¬† If, when building a new home, we can anticipate what the needs might be years down the road, then we can help our clients stay in their homes longer and minimize the expense of retrofitting things.¬† The cost of long-term care is just one component to the popularity of the concept.¬† The bigger picture is that when people are in their own homes, they are happier.¬† When a person starts to lose control of their lives in areas such as driving, health issues and/or mobility,¬† it is important for the things that can stay the same, to stay the same.¬† If we can design homes where one can bathe safely, cook safely and to do the things they love safely in the comfort of their own homes, they will thrive.

BATHROOMS & Aging in Place

Bathrooms are  the scariest places in a house and they are a key component in determining whether a person can remain independent in their home. Grab bars are essential- by the toilet, in the shower and anywhere else where one might need help or stability when they navigate a wet surface or go from a sitting to standing position.  The old hospital looking grab bars are a thing of the past.  Almost every plumbing manufacture makes beautiful decorative bars in all kinds of finishes.

We built a guest house that was primarily for the owners parents to stay in when they visited. They really did a great job making the bathroom a safe place- a perfect example that the design can be both gorgeous and safe.

Tubs and Showers:¬† ¬† Tubs are great but when safety is a concern, it’s best to avoid them.¬† A nice walk in/roll in curb-less shower with non-slip flooring and grab bars is the safest way to bathe.¬† Make sure the opening is a min. 36″ wide.¬† My Mama moved into our guest house when Dad passed away and we were very concerned with the shower situation.¬† ¬†We remodeled it (shown below) and¬† Mom said that she would not be able to be independent without the changes we made.¬† She can even take her walker into the shower, if necessary, but the grab bars have made that unnecessary.¬† In addition, something we do regardless of the age of our clients, is to make the faucet controls accessible by reaching in by the entry point, not where one has to walk into the shower to turn on the controls.

BEFORE: There were a number of things that made this shower dangerous: the curb, no grab bars, no handheld faucet and the floor wasn’t¬† non-slip.

Added grab bars everywhere but we were still concerned with safety.  The bench was already there but a shower chair closer to the faucet is safer.

Grohe handheld on slider for easy reach.

We were able to keep the existing wall tile due to the careful demo by one of our awesome tile craftsman.

AFTER:  We took out the curb, put in non-slip tile, grab bars on every wall and a hand held faucet so that a person could sit in a shower chair or on the built in seat.  Also, by using a light tile in the shower,  one can see their feet and watch their steps.

Fixtures & Aging in Place:

Toilets should be¬†comfort height with soft close lids.¬† And as a side note that I can’t resist; I am a clean freak and the best thing ever are the toilets with the all smooth sides…no yucky stuff in those nooks and crannies! Before those were being made in the states, we used Caroma because they were the only ones we could find.¬† Now there are many to choose from.¬† ¬†

Single lever faucet by Moen

Fixtures are very important.  Toilet paper holders should be the kind where the paper can slide off and on.  Faucets should minimize twisting motions, which are difficult when one gets older.  Lever faucets work well and using a single lever faucet makes things easier.

 

Toilet paper holders where the t.p. easily slides off and on are great.

To follow:  Part 2 will focus on cabinets, electrical and flooring.  Feel free to share your comments and ideas with me!

ENERGY EFFICIENCY: When is it worth the cost to upgrade?

Clients often ask how they should go about deciding if the cost of more energy efficiency is worth it.¬† This is NOT meant to be the end all be all on energy efficiency.¬† ¬†I’m just offering a few simple things that you can do to get a feel for whether the extra investment might be worth it-or not.

For example, a common thing that our clients have to make a decision on is what SEER value to go with on their HVAC units.¬† Should they go with a 16 or a 19?¬† How can they decide whether it’s worth it to pay more for that 19 SEER vs. the 16 SEER?¬† ¬†It’s not always a black and white thing, well it can be but that might take too much time, so you can solve for the basics and if it looks like it might be worthwhile, then ask a few more questions and get more information to make the decision more clear.

STEP 1:  FORMULA to calculate how long it will take to recoup your savings:

Divide the initial cost of the energy-saving investment by the projected annual energy cost savings.

Investment/savings per year= how many years to recoup

For example, if going up in Seer value on an A/C unit costs $3000 more per unit and the projected savings is $300 per year, then $3000/$300=  10.  It will take 10 years to recoup your investment and start paying off.

  • Will you still be in your home 10 years from now?¬† ¬†If so, then….
  • Will the material or item still be working at that point?
    • Many technologies are evolving so fast that it could very well be obsolete in 5, 10 or 15 years.
  • Will maintenance costs¬† increase or decrease?¬† If so, then factor in the increase or decrease in cost¬† for this.
  • How will the upgraded product influence resale or desirability of your home?
  • Is there any enjoyment factor or aesthetic, other than cost savings, that would make it worth it to you even if you didn’t recoup your money?

After answering these questions, it starts to become clear as to whether you should spend that extra money on more energy efficiency.

Here’s a quick example:

If going from a 14 SEER to a 16 SEER saves you approx. $81 per year and you paid $1000 more for the 16 SEER, then it would take approx. 12 years to recoup your money.¬† Then I always take into account having to pay up front for future savings, which causes me to discount it a bit.¬† I say a bit- there are formulas for this- but I just discount it a bit depending on how long I will have to wait to recoup the savings. The further the spread of efficiency between 2 things, the greater the savings; but that doesn’t mean that the savings is necessarily worth it,¬† although it often is.

Quick Side notes:

HVAC systems:  Your heating and cooling costs account for approximately 40-45% of your total energy bill so they are one of the first areas to investigate, as far as energy efficiency goes.  Units last between 10-15 years, so if you plan to stay in your home for less than that, and it will take 10 years or longer to recoup the investment, then it might not be worth it unless there is evidence that a buyer would value that enough to pay enough to offset the cost.

Appliances:¬† As far as appliances are concerned, they account for approximately 15% of your energy bill.¬† My suppliers have told me if an appliance was made in the 1990’s- it’s almost a no brainer that an energy efficient upgrade will pay off.¬† ¬† If appliances are newer, you have to be aware of the likely life of the product and make sure that the product won’t have to be replaced or that you won’t move before you recoup your money.¬† If you are deciding between 2 things with one having just¬†a little better energy efficiency, then paying the higher price probably won’t pay off in a significant way.¬† One thing that can reduce your bill significantly are programmable water heaters.¬† Program them to not heat up during on-peak hours or times when nobody is home.¬† Otherwise, they are constantly heating up when there is no need to do so.

Windows:¬† Energy Star estimates that energy efficient windows can save up to 15% on your energy bill so they’re pretty important.¬† Energy efficient windows contain something called Low E, which is microscopically thin layer of metallic oxides that both reflect the sun’s ultraviolet rays and control infrared light .¬† New windows can cost anywhere from $8,000- 50,000+ and could take decades to pay off so if your existing windows¬† are pretty good already, then going up to a little bit better windows probably won’t pay off.¬† However, if windows are outdated with very little protection, it could be a wise investment.

Insulation:  Insulation is an area that can return more money than was invested, as far as resale on an existing home.  This is a big deal in energy efficiency but I will leave it for a future post.

I hope this helps a bit but it can definitely get complicated.¬† Our trades and suppliers are always willing to educate people on the ins and outs of the various products and help them make these decisions.¬† In addition, Energy.Gov’s site has a comprehensive collection of information on everything from windows to heating and cooling.

If any of my readers can shed any more light on this subject,  please do.

Here are a few other links that might be of interest:

Net Zero Homes

Energy Efficient Windows  

INTERIOR DESIGN TRENDS – a Builder’s Perspective (Part III)

Now that we’ve talked about all these cool Interior Design Trends, let’s talk interior design mistakes and why you should use common sense when incorporating trends.

Right now, there is a huge issue in neighborhoods across the country (and even in my own neighborhood) with homes that were done in the trend of the day.¬† For example, the homes that went with the heavy Tuscan vibe back in the day are not getting much love.¬† To remodel some of these can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.¬† ¬†Tayler Alexander-Perez , of Launch Real Estate in Scottsdale, AZ, says,¬† “Years ago, people didn’t mind buying something and fixing it up but now days buyers want a home that is move-in ready.¬† At some point these hot trends cycle out of favor so if a trend has been used with a heavy hand, at some point the owner will either have to invest¬† a significant amount of money to remodel, reduce the price accordingly, or find a buyer gutsy enough to take on a major project”.¬† ¬† ¬†I find this to be true, we get calls after a home has sat on the market and the owner wants to know what they can do to make it sellable.¬† In a million dollar plus home, this can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is good for our business but it really hurts to see fabulous homes that have become irrelevant due to trends.¬† ¬†To avoid this happening to your home, try to incorporate the trends in things that are not that big a deal to switch out and keep the big ticket items more timeless.¬† If you do your entire floor in a trendy pattern or every counter top in the trend of the day, then ripping it out and re-doing it is a major expense.¬† For some, money is not an issue and they can go for it, enjoy it and call us down the road, but for most people this is an issue.

Although they were all the rage years ago, overdone Tuscans aren’t getting any love these days.

I like to think of Interior Design Trends like my wardrobe.¬† If everything is trendy in my closet, then I’ll have to spend a lot of money every time the trends change. But if I have a few cool, trendy pieces that I can put with a mostly classic wardrobe, then I am able to transition with minimal cost throughout the seasons.¬† If you are unsure about how trendy you should go, it can be worth every penny to consult with a designer who is able to strike the perfect balance between Trend and Timeless Design (and yes, I know of some great ones).

Hey, thanks for spending some time with me discussing Interior DesignTrends and let me know your thoughts! I’m interested!

INTERIOR DESIGN TRENDS – a Builder’s Perspective (Part II)

Current Interior Design Trends continued (Builder’s perspective in Part III).

CREAMY NEUTRALS… IS GRAY PASSE?

I am hoping that some design professionals might comment on this.¬† I’ve heard from a few designers that Gray is going away….at least as far as being the main event in a space.¬† I am told that in New York and L.A., creamy neutrals, taupes, and bones are “THE THING” and I also noticed that there were very few of the cliche all gray and white colorscapes in the recent ASID design awards.¬† I understand that Grays will be incorporated as more of a minor accent role to layer with neutrals.¬† I love the whole gray carrerra marble/white cabinet trend but those who have used this throughout their entire house may end up regretting it.

Builder: Alexander Enterprises Constr. & Dev., Inc. Designer: Amy Bubier, AB Design Elements

WHITE OUT

According to the most recent edition of Remodeling magazine, “Homeowners are ready to ditch all-white kitchens”.¬†¬†¬† ¬† ¬†Darker cabinets (even black) are making a comeback and they are being used on their own as well as being mixed in with lighter cabinetry (see photo above, as well).

Builder: Alexander Enterprises Constr. & Dev., Inc. Design by Kimberley Cullumber-Alexander

CONCRETE

This is one of the biggest interior design trends of 2018.¬† Whether it’s a concrete floor, countertop or a faux concrete look on the wall, concrete’s neutral color is organic, earthy, durable and low maintenance. Geometric concrete tiles are going to be a thing, too.¬†¬†

Builder: Alexander Enterprises Constr. & Dev., Inc. Design by Kimberley Cullumber-Alexander in collaboration with other design professionals.  Concrete floors, copper fire surround, Porcelanosa concrete look wall tiles.

VINTAGE: Especially Lighting Fixtures & Bucket or Trough Sinks.

Think farm sinks and nostalgia.¬† I LOVE Kohler’s new Farmstead cast iron vintage farm sink¬†!¬† We have some client’s looking at this one and I would love to see it in their kitchen!¬† Note the matte black faucet (matte black is another current interior design trend).

Kohler Co. design center

REDS, PINKS BOLD YELLOWS & TEAL

Builder:  Alexander Enterprises Constr. & Development, Inc. . A bathroom from one of our award winning projects. .

I’ve seen yellow being used on a large scale and I love yellow because it exudes happiness and confidence. Be careful, though. In too great a quantity,¬† yellow can create anxiety, but in small pops, it is powerful.

Pinks, purples and gold quartz tops- one of the most fun bathrooms we’ve done!¬† Builder: Alexander Enterprises Constr. & Dev., Inc.,

Hey, thanks for spending some time with me discussing Interior DesignTrends! Let me know your thoughts! I’m interested!