Building a house is really complicated. It takes hundreds of different materials, more than 25 specialty contractors and most important, a builder or general contractor who coordinates everything and resolves any problems that arise.
As a homeowner building a house, you work with your builder and make many decisions. Trish Holder is a very special homeowner. She wasn't just building a house, she was going to build a green house! She knew it would involve more research and decisions and her perseverance paid off . Trish and her husband are now the proud owners of the first LEED certified home in Greensboro, NC.
Trish recognized that what she learned was invaluable, and so the idea for her website, Greenspiration Home, was born. Her goal is to help homeowners make better decisions when building a house, to offer advice from one homeowner to other homeowners. Greenspiration Home is a resource rich with content from other homeowners, willing to share what they've learned when building, remodeling or decorating their homes.
Please welcome Trish Holder, GreenspirationHome founder who's sharing her experience building a house, with our community of homeowners and home professionals.
Building a House Is Hard
When I began planning and building my home, the Greenspiration Home, I had no idea how difficult it would be—even with an experienced builder in my corner. At the time, my goals for building a house didn’t seem so terribly lofty. I wanted an energy efficient home that utilized water-saving strategies and I wanted to use as many locally sourced materials as possible. Like everyone else, I wanted to build a house that was beautiful, comfortable, large enough for my family and lifestyle, in an area that we loved.
I hail from a fairly technical side of the commercial construction arena. I’ve been writing about mechanical HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) for (yikes) close to 20 years now, so I knew a lot about what technologies were available. I thought I was in a pretty good position to navigate the process of building a house that used as many green strategies as possible. But quite frankly, nothing prepared me for how disconnected and dysfunctional the residential construction industry is. And this, by the way, is not just my opinion. It is conversation that I seem to have on a daily basis with people from within the industry, including builders, contractors, and vendors. This isn’t news to anyone in the industry. But for most homeowners, it is news — news that all too often they won’t learn until they are neck deep in the biggest financial investment of their life.
Building a House: Who's Who
Here is an industry that relies on subcontractors for critical applications like electrical, plumbing and HVAC. And then there are the carpenters who have to make room for all this equipment in a floor plan that was chosen solely because it fit the needs and aesthetic desires of the family who will one day live there. And none of these folks are talking – at least not until something goes wrong and then it’s not so much talking as it is accusing. Get the picture?
Add to this the plethora of new technologies and an industry that hates change, and you start to see why building a house that successfully uses green strategies is a lot harder than you might have thought.
Why Homeowners Are Key to Building a House
I frequently speak to and participate in various construction related groups that are made up of contractors, architects, builders, and engineers. Depending on their profession, they frequently have their own solutions for this dilemma. If it’s an architect, they like to say, “Just hire an architect!” If it’s an engineer, they like to say, “Hire an engineer!” These aren’t bad suggestions – they really aren’t – but for the average homeowner, hiring an architect, an engineer, and a builder is simply not in the cards. And even if it was, I still question whether that would be enough to overcome the shortcomings of an industry that is as uncommunicative as residential construction.
In my mind, having been where I’ve been, seen what I’ve seen, and heard what I’ve heard, the best way to avoid the inevitable pitfalls is for the homeowner to become educated herself. Why? Because no one cares about your home as much as you. For that reason alone, no one else is more qualified than you to ride shotgun on the construction of your own home. We just want to help you do that.
So, you see, it is very clear to me who I am and what my initiatives are as I sit here each week searching for stories that effectively impart valuable lessons to homeowners. I’m not trying to teach builders how to build or contractors how to install. I, along with my guest bloggers, am simply trying to impart the value of our own collective experiences to other homeowners. We want you to ask the questions we failed to ask. We want to help you avoid the problems we’ve already had – or narrowly escaped.
WE are in nightmare build. Our builder is a bully and has not built our home to the elevation drawings.
Jodi, To start, let’s clarify what you mean by elevation. Production builders like Lennar use this term to mean different exterior styles which mostly refers to how the front of the house is decorated (see example here).
More likely you’re talking about how high your house sits above the ground which is a problem I dealt with personally when building a house in New York. The builder told us he couldn’t (wouldn’t?) excavate because he feared hitting water. Our plans showed one step/platform into the front door and we ended up with like 4 or 5 steps. This also required us to switch to a single garage door versus the 2 garage doors on our plan. We also didn’t get the house pointing quite the way we wanted so the tree we had planned to integrate into the back deck didn’t happen. Sadly I must admit that builders are guys & they simply don’t see the details most women think are obvious. Even today when I walk through model homes I am amazed at the stupid problems I see because the house was designed by … a guy!
Have you tried asking the builder to explain why he made the changes as there may be some valid reasons? While it’s difficult, try to do this without emotion and stand firm, knowing you have every right to ask any question you want … and to get an answer that’s professional and understandable.
Here’s the scary thing about your situation & wish you’d realized the builder was a bully before you started working with him. I was just involved in a lawsuit where the other parties lawyer was a bully. I can’t wait for the final paperwork to be completed so I can report this attorney to the state bar association, for his unprofessional attitude.
You only have 3 choices if you can’t uncover why the builder is acting so disrespectful, and change his attitude.
My recommendation to hire an advocate is based on several things:
The truth is that many people aren’t very good at communication which might be the problem with your builder. Having interviewed 100s of potential handyman technicians, I looked for eye content (comfortable talking to a woman), communication skills and attention to detail in how they described things. These are traits you’ll want in your advocate to insure they’re able to provide you with the support you want and need.
Good luck & let me know how things work out.