Questions & Faqs
Q: How are loan draws figured?
A: A good draw schedule balances the contractor’s need to get paid for work done and materials purchased, with the homeowners’ and bank’s desire to not pay too far ahead of what has been completed. On a new home, payments are usually matched to completion (or “substantial completion”) of a particular phase: foundation, frame, drywall, and so on. On a remodel, payments often depend on percentage of completion. It’s important that the homeowner communicate with the contractor to ensure there are no misunderstandings about how and when funds will be disbursed.
Q: What is an “insulated” window?
A: Modern windows are often referred to as “insulated” because of technology that retards, blocks, or slows the transfer of air through the unit. Most people are familiar with fiberglass or other types of insulation material in a wall cavity. In a window, the “insulation” is a combination of several factors. Most common are windows with at least two panes of glass enclosing a ‘dead’ airspace between them. The airspace may also be sealed to contain a clear, odorless gas (commonly argon), which is heavier than air and thus an even more effective insulator. Better yet, one or both inside surfaces of the glass can be permanently laminated with a clear coating that further retards thermal transfer and protects the home interior against solar heat gain and damaging ultraviolet rays.
Q: What is Thermal Mass?
A: Thermal mass describes how certain building materials can help flatten out temperature swings. Masonry is probably the best example. A thick brick or tile floor next to south facing windows will soak up solar energy during the daytime, helping to keep the house from becoming overheated. At night, it will let that heat out slowly, helping reduce the load on the furnace or boiler.
Q: What is a “sone?”
A: A unit of subjective loudness, equal to 40 decibels. An average refrigerator chugs along at 2 sones, a good bathroom fan at about 1.5, an average office is typically 3 sones and the volume from a TV is around 4 sones. Two sones are twice as loud as one, three sones are twice as loud as two, and so on.
Q: How do allowances work?
A: Allowances allocate funds to parts of the job that haven’t been fully specified at the time of contract signing. For example if the homeowner has yet to find the right kitchen cabinets, the allowance permits construction to begin by specifying how much can be spent. It also sets a date when final selections must be made. Most projects include some allowances, but because they can be a source of uncertainty and potential stress, builders work with the homeowners to minimize their number.
Q: How do I know my builder is a good businessperson?
A. It’s true that many contractors come from the field, where they have developed a high level of technical skill and expertise. But translating a talent for carpentry into a successful small business is not easy or natural to many builders. To get a bead on his or her business acumen, ask for and follow-up with references to the company’s trade partners, financial backers, and suppliers. Ask questions about how he runs his office and keeps the books on your job and his business. Inquire about professional business courses he may have taken, and whether he participates in his industry as a member of the local trade association chapter.
Q: How much do permit requirements and codes vary from place to place?
A: We work in over seven different jurisdictions as a builder in the Albuquerque Metro area. While all jurisdictions require a building permit for structural work, whether it’s a new home or a remodel, others require a permit for every job, and still others set their requirements somewhere in the middle.
As for codes, while the International Code Council publishes a model building code, states can choose to adopt all, part, or none of it, which means that codes vary considerably from one jurisdiction to another.
A few areas charge Impact Fees that can add up to $20,000 to the cost of a building permit. Other areas charge school fees, public works fees and other local fees.
The differences are driven by factors that range from politics to local conditions. As a professional builder it is our business to know our local permit and building code requirements.
Q: What’s the difference between the various grades of stainless steel used on outdoor appliances?
A: The grade of stainless steel indicates the amount of chromium and nickel in it. 304 stainless has more of these elements and is thus more rust-resistant than 430. How to tell the difference? The most common suggestion is to place a magnet on the grille in question: if the magnet sticks, it’s probably 430, which has a higher carbon content. Note that some manufacturers will use 304 on the lid (because that the part most people check) but not the body, so the test should be done in more than one place. These days, 304 stainless is used mostly in high-end grilles, with most of what’s on display at box stores being 430. Also examine the screws: some manufacturers use non-stainless screws, which will rust.
Q: How do workers’ comp and liability insurance protect homeowners?
A: Workers’ comp covers medical and disability claims when a worker is hurt on the job. If the worker is uninsured, the contractor and homeowner can be sued for damages. General liability covers claims for damage caused by defective work. For instance, if an improperly flashed roof leaks onto a wood floor, causing it to buckle, the roofer’s general liability policy should cover the cost to fix the floor. Fixing the leak should be covered by the roofer’s and/or contractor’s warranty.
Q: What is an escalation clause?
A: In a contract with an escalation clause, the customer agrees to pay any price increases for specified items that occur between the signing of the contract and the start of construction. Volatile materials markets have made these clauses fairly common today. The alternative is for the builder to inflate the contract price to cover possible increases. The decision to sign or not sign such a clause is basically a market bet, and will depend on whether or not the customer expects prices for the materials in question to rise.
Q: How does a tankless water heater work?
A: Unlike a traditional water heater with a storage tank, a tankless unit operates only when hot water is needed for an appliance or hot-water-using fixture, such as a shower or tub. Demand for hot water triggers the water heater to fire its gas/propane burner or electric coils to heat water as it travels through coils. Without a tank, the unit rarely runs out of hot water and there is no “recovery time” as with a tank unit when hot water is not available.
Q: What is value engineering?
A: Value engineering is a process whereby the builder offers suggestions for lowering the cost of a project. Suggestions may range from changes to the floor plans and elevations to the use of different materials or processes. A good professional builder can sometimes bring the cost of an over-designed project back within budget while still giving the clients most of what they want.
Q: How are purchase orders used?
A: A purchase order (PO) is basically a price agreement between a builder and a subcontractor. With a PO system, subs and suppliers who find they need to do something on the job that will incur extra cost have to clear it with the builder first. Although POs take time to create (up to a week for a large custom home), most professional builders insist on them. POs provide a valuable level of predictability.
Q: What is the legal relationship between covenants and building codes?
A: Most planned communities have legal covenants—more formally known as “codes, covenants, and restrictions.” In most cases, covenants are considered a civil contract and are not enforced or monitored by the city or town. A community’s covenants may be more restrictive than the jurisdiction as a whole, but they cannot allow something that the city, town, or state codes prohibit.
Q: How do draw schedules work?
A: Lenders don’t want to pay for work that isn’t done yet. If it’s a big job and the contractor can’t complete it for some reason, the lending company will want to protect itself. Most lenders require that construction loans include a draw schedule that ensures they pay only for work that has been completed. For instance, if the foundation and framing are budgeted at $75,000, the check issued at the completion of framing cannot bring the total amount paid to that point to more than $75,000. A good draw schedule not only protects the lender and homeowner, but will be welcomed by a professional builder who does work on time and on budget.
Q: What is R-value?
A: R-value is a measure of energy efficiency. The higher the R-value of the insulation, windows, and even a home’s structure, the better the house is able to block the transfer of unwanted hot or cold air through walls and ceiling. Residents of homes with high R-values experience far less variation in temperature—and enjoy lower energy bills—by not having to run a furnace or air conditioner continuously to keep the house comfortable.
Q: Am I liable for accidents that occur during the construction of my house?
A: In most cases, no. Professional builders and their subcontractors carry liability and workers’ compensation insurance against job site accidents. In addition, builders are regulated by the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), as well as their insurers, to maintain a safe workplace, eliminate hazards, and train our workers in safe work habits and emergency response. Please follow your builder’s safety guidelines and procedures when you visit the job site.
Q: How difficult is it to move a wall to enlarge a room?
A: That depends. If it’s a non-structural blank wall—one that doesn’t support structural loads from the roof or second story, and doesn’t include doors, windows, or plumbing—moving it slightly is usually a simple job. If the wall has doors, windows, or pipes, however, the change can be more time-consuming and costly. A structural load-bearing wall is the most difficult and most expensive type to move.
Q: Is data wiring still needed?
A: Despite the availability of wireless, data wiring (sometimes called “structured wiring”) is still a must in today’s homes. Wireless is convenient, but when TVs, games, computers, and security systems are all competing for bandwidth, a wireless router can’t match the speed, stability, and security of a hardwired network. An advanced wiring system may add 1 percent or so to the cost of a typical home, but it is well worth the lifestyle benefits.
Q: Who will be in charge of my job?
A: This is an important question to ask a builder. The answer will depend on the size and type of building company. While a smaller builder might be on site every day, the large, professionally managed company will have a separate on-site manager. The manager will have as much hands-on knowledge about building as does the owner of the company—and may in fact have more. The site manager will also have good working relationships with all the builder’s subcontractors and is usually the one who supervises those subcontractors.
Q: What’s a “change order”?
A: A change order is a request to alter, exchange, or substitute a product or design feature that has already been approved, delivered, or installed. When you request a change, your builder will likely have a process in place to confirm the request and make sure it is done to your satisfaction. The farther along the construction path, the more costly a change order is likely to be in terms of actual dollars and time, so it’s best to make informed decisions early and try to stick to them during the building process.