Does anyone have experience with building a custom home?


By Kevin   Follow   Sun, 18 Nov 2012, 12:46am   11,037 views   171 comments
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I've decided that since I have to live out in the 'burbs anyway, I might as well live in the perfect house. 9 out of 10 builders around here just slap together the same old generic qasi-craftsman style homes with awful layouts and pointless features like tiny unusable porches and formal living rooms.

We have a crap ton of money and I'm overpaid.

We're looking to buy a few acres of land and then spend ~$800k to build the thing (architecture, land prep, construction, etc.)

Does anyone have experience with having a custom home built (particularly modern design; no shingles or crown molding here)? Was it worth it compared to what you could have bought for the same amount of money? How was the financing?

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  1. Kevin


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    92   6:55pm Mon 19 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    I think I already said this, but our plan is to go with an integrated design/build firm. Both the architects and the GC/CM work for the firm. A portion of the architect's fee is for them to be on site at least a certain number of hours per week.

  2. SkyPirate


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    93   7:58pm Mon 19 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    swebb says

    And I don't want any power tools used in any part of the construction of the house.

    Milk shot out my nose.

  3. Kevin


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    94   8:50pm Mon 19 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    David Losh says

    If you are close to Seattle there is Architects NorthWest: http://www.architectsnw.com/designServices/customHomeDesigns.cfm

    They sell you the plans, the plan book, or the 11X17s.

    The rest of it is pretty straight forward.

    It's a great time to custom build, and there are a few builders here in Seattle, that are honest, and fair.

    That name sounded familiar, so I had to look it up. Now I remember that they had homes featured on fuckedarchitect.com

  4. rufita11


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    95   11:46pm Mon 19 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Kevin says

    So does anybody else have real experience? Or is this just going to be an endless stream of dipshits telling me I'm an idiot?

    I have experience in doing a lot of work on building an in-law. Watched my dad and sister design and build onto houses and build a tiny house. It always takes longer than promised with cost overruns. It really does help if you or someone you know can watch critical steps to make sure they are not cutting corners or doing work that will not hold up in the long run.

    My grandfather built his own house on a couple acres in Middletown--he put in an industrial size septic and an in-wall vacuum cleaner system for each room that emptied into a container in the garage.

    If I had your budget, I would go with a Dwell, Blu or another pre-fab home--I love the modern lines and you can customize.

    http://www.dwell.com/homes/
    http://www.bluhomes.com/
    http://www.fabprefab.com/

  5. Kevin


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    96   11:57pm Mon 19 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like (1)   Dislike  

    rufita11 says

    an in-wall vacuum cleaner system for each room that emptied into a container in the garage.

    I don't understand this. What advantage would it have over a modern lightweight vaccum like a dyson?

    rufita11 says

    If I had your budget, I would go with a Dwell, Blu or an other pre-fab home--I love the modern lines and you can customize.

    Why would you go that route?

    The blu lines that I would actually consider are all $300+ /sf, not even including the cost of the foundation. Upgrading to NanaWalls cost $35k, but they're only about $9k retail and maybe $12k at inflated GC prices for instance. $9k to upgrade from ceramic tile to slate in a 12x12 kitchen?

    The layouts are all pretty mediocre too.

    As near as I can tell, Blu caters to people who live in Napa and don't really think about cost. $500k for a 2000sf prefab seems like a crappy deal compared to homes I know of that cost significantly less (including foundation, garage, site clearing, etc.)

  6. rufita11


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    97   12:56am Tue 20 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    I saw one in my old Berkeley neighborhood an loved it. That's the only reason I would do it. I would bargain hard or go with another similar pre-fab. I do think it's the way to go though.

    I don't get the vacuum thing either, but it was cool to watch it in action. Maybe he saw it somewhere and just had to have it.

  7. Bigsby


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    98   2:46am Tue 20 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    swebb says

    LiarWatch says

    Thank you for demonstrating you just don't know and don't want to know.

    LiarWatch = Darrell ?

    Another troll to ignore.

    =War=RealtorsAreLiars=....

  8. unstoppable


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    99   5:35am Tue 20 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like (1)   Dislike  

    I'm doing a massive remodel of a turn of the century church, doing the ultra modern thing on the inside. It's fun and overwhelming at times.
    A bit of advice: I would recommend subscribing to fine home building their online library is a fantastic source for research. Buy a crap ton of books, pattern language By Christopher Alexander is thought provoking, residential interior design by Maureen Milton was helpful, renovating old houses by George Nash is an amazing book everyone should read, Not so big solutions, by Sarah Susanka is good. Set up an account on houzz and start clipping pictures like mad. Be prepared to think your significant other is a Martian based on their design ideas. Architects and interior designers are just over priced marriage councellors at times.
    Think about installing radiant heat, a security system, a range hood with a remote mounted blower, central vac and a whole house fan instead of a.c.

    Definitely read this: http://www.ahousebythepark.com/journal/

    Think about a wood burning fireplace, there are zero clearance units that work well with a modern aesthetic, and gas fireplaces are lame.

    Buy a gross of legal pads, sketch and make lists like a maniac.

    Don't put in stainless appliances or granite countertops, it's over people it's over.

    Be prepared for decision fatigue, and thoughts of suicide if you have to look at one more tile sample.

    Good luck and thank you for wanting to do more than throwing up yet another suburban shit box.

    P.S. the book and the website are good comic relief if you start taking modern design too seriously, http://unhappyhipsters.com/post/10522891099/uh-family-guess-what-we-wrote-a-book-just

  9. upisdown


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    100   6:04am Tue 20 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like (1)   Dislike  

    unstoppable says

    Buy a crap ton of books,

    Exactly how much is a "crap ton"? Is it kind of like a troy ounce compared to an ounce?

    I know, long time listener, first time caller, right?

  10. upisdown


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    101   6:19am Tue 20 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like (3)   Dislike  

    Kevin says

    I think I already said this, but our plan is to go with an integrated design/build firm. Both the architects and the GC/CM work for the firm. A portion of the architect's fee is for them to be on site at least a certain number of hours per week.

    So, you've already hired somebody. Questions are pretty much a moot point now, huh. And they're aimlessly directed at the wrong people.

  11. David Losh


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    102   1:19pm Tue 20 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Kevin says

    homes featured on fuckedarchitect.com

    That's true, and they haven't upgraded much since the bust.

    There are resources however, and if you get stuck you can contact Dexter Chaney, http://www.dexterchaney.com/

    You seem to have all of the facts.

    I would hire a contractor that does the style you like, and discuss with them when you are ready.

    We've done it, and baby sat a couple of projects. That was over ten years ago.

    Best of Luck

  12. HeadSet


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    103   3:02pm Tue 20 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Kevin says

    I don't understand this. What advantage would it have over a modern lightweight vaccum like a dyson?

    Dust, not weight, is the issue.

    A vacuum cleaner by its nature exhausts fine dust. Central Vacs have the canister in the garage, so the fine dust is not exhausted in the living areas. I am not familiar with Dyson technology, but it would have to exhale air somehow,

  13. Kevin


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    104   8:17pm Tue 20 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    unstoppable says

    Think about installing radiant heat, a security system, a range hood with a remote mounted blower, central vac and a whole house fan instead of a.c.

    I was thinking about going heat pump / no AC. Our neighbors did that and they seem happy, but I don't have any first-hand experience.

    My wife wants radiant but I'm skeptical.

    Definitely read this: http://www.ahousebythepark.com/journal/

    I've read it. The firm he used is one of the ones I'm strongly considering.

    Think about a wood burning fireplace, there are zero clearance units that work well with a modern aesthetic, and gas fireplaces are lame.

    I guess I just don't get it. My wife loves fireplaces, I think they're more trouble than they're worth.

    Don't put in stainless appliances or granite countertops, it's over people it's over.

    I'm not a big fan of granite. I'm leaning towards quartz. I don't see what good alternative there is to SS though. For some appliances you can do the cabinet panel thing, but that's not really an option for ovens. I hate the fingerprints of SS, but I hate the trendy stuff GE and friends are trying to replace it with even more. I want something with a fingerprint-resistant finish. SS has its flaws, but it's a pretty timeless finish. Those viking ranges from the 80s still look fantastic today.

  14. unstoppable


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    105   6:36am Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Kevin you are right about the 80's Viking ranges looking timeless, unfortunately they're new stuff looks retarded. If you like the look of old Vikings and wolfs consider a bluestar, simple design and they come in any color you want, mine is white. I bought all panel ready appliances except for the range.

    If you go with a heat pump you will have ac, a heat pump is just a fancy ac compressor that can put heat in either direction. All though the new versions are reasonably efficient I would be hesitant to heat my house with electricity. If your property is serviced by gas go with that, with all the fracking and what not, gas prices are projected to be in the gutter for years to come. I went with hydronic radiant, due to the efficiency of heating vaulted spaces, space saved by removing ductwork, and being able to walk barefoot on warm floors in the winter.

    As for fireplaces, open your eyes man, a roaring fire and a glass of chardonay is kryptonite for women, you might not even have to bother with foreplay.

  15. upisdown


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    106   7:47am Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like (1)   Dislike  

    Kevin says

    I was thinking about going heat pump / no AC. Our neighbors did that and they seem happy, but I don't have any first-hand experience.
    My wife wants radiant but I'm skeptical.

    Your architect at the D/B firm will tell you which one is more beneficial to your area, cost to install and the liecycle costs to operate/repair.
    The same goes with a fireplace, as most people don't even use it anyway.
    You have a lot of wants and are undecided about some things that you need to tell that architect so that he can adjust his design to incorporate them. Apparently the budget isn't a constraint for you.LOL

  16. HeadSet


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    107   10:20am Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Interesting.

    We have this long thread about building custom homes, and no mention of:

    Geothermal
    Bamboo flooring or other renewable material
    Solar roofs
    Solar hot water
    “Net Zero” (Putting as much electricity into the grid as taking out over the course of a year)
    Green design, such as eaves position for more sun in winter and less in summer
    Gray water or other recycling features
    Rain water catchment
    Drip irrigation for lawns
    Sustainable gardening
    Permeable sidewalks and driveways to decrease runoff
    Locally procured building materials
    Green roofs (looks like a yard up there)

    Perhaps the libs on this blog limit themselves to just being Democratic Party fan boys, along with the idea that believing in “Global Warming” is sufficient green cred and thus no real action is needed.

    Although I am very right wing, I want my libs to be LIBERAL. I am not comfortable with the idea that some conservation actions I take put me to the left of you guys. To compensate, maybe I should rent an Excursion to haul home some rain forest wood and elephant tusk ivory to build a countertop.

  17. upisdown


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    108   10:28am Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like (1)   Dislike  

    HeadSet says

    Geothermal
    Bamboo flooring or other renewable material
    Solar roofs
    Solar hot water
    “Net Zero” (Putting as much electricity into the grid as taking out over the course of a year)
    Green design, such as eaves position for more sun in winter and less in summer
    Gray water or other recycling features
    Rain water catchment
    Drip irrigation for lawns
    Sustainable gardening
    Permeable sidewalks and driveways to decrease runoff
    Locally procured building materials
    Green roofs (looks like a yard up there)

    You typed about every form of marketable crap that you know. Most of those are self evident, and the rest are basically useless. Have you been reading the Treehugger website or Mother Earth news lately?

    HeadSet says

    Locally procured building materials

    Is that in there for amusement or were you really serious?

  18. FortWayne


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    109   11:14am Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike (1)  

    I can give you some advice there from experience... If you can get the land at a good price, you can build at a cost effective rate. Best part is emotional here, not financial, you get exactly what you want and how you want it.

    If you never done this though, hire a professional builder to manage the project otherwise you are risking someone running off with your money and materials.

    Your expenses will be materials, management fees (usually 10% of the cost on lower cost projects), labor costs, trash pick up, and insurance. If your project is long you might want to figure out a way to secure materials, as those get stolen at construction sites very often and are not cost effective to insure.

    Send me a message if you have some questions, I'll help out as much as I can. Advice is always free.

  19. FortWayne


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    110   11:21am Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike (2)  

    I would not advice prefabs, prefabs are generally lower quality. They use cheaper materials to build them, and often standard plans (take it or leave it kind of deal).

    HeadSet says
    Locally procured building materials

    Be very aware of guys who "procure local materials", especially if they show up at your construction site.

  20. upisdown


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    111   11:24am Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike (1)  

    FortWayne says

    I can give you some advice there from experience... If you can get the land at a good price, you can build at a cost effective rate.

    How prophetic. And obvious.

    FortWayne says

    Send me a message if you have some questions, I'll help out as much as I can. Advice is always free.

    And that's what it's worth.

  21. TechGromit


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    112   12:34pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Kevin says

    We're looking to buy a few acres of land and then spend ~$800k to build the thing (architecture, land prep, construction, etc.)

    Does anyone have experience with having a custom home built (particularly modern design; no shingles or crown molding here)? Was it worth it compared to what you could have bought for the same amount of money? How was the financing?

    I have some experience, but lets be clear here, buying a house in a development where you get to pick options for you new home is NOT a custom house. A custom house is something you build yourself, you can be your own general contractor (the cheapest method) where you hire all the subcontractors (the framers, the roofers, electricians, etc., or you can hire a general contractor and they are responsible hiring the sub contractors and charge you (much more expensive, but less hassles for the inexperienced).

    After buying some property, you need to get some building plans for the house you want to build, this can either be from a firm that sells house plans or hiring an architect for a custom house. If you get plans from a house plan book/website, expect to pay about $1,000 a plan set, usually you need at least 3 sets of plans to build a house. One set is needed for the building department to get the permits you need, a set for the bank, another set is for the building contractor, and usually the electrician and plumber get plans related to what they are installing. If your hiring an architect, expect to buy 10% to 15% the cost you the house your building, so if you spending 500k to build a house you could pay as much as 75k to an architect. The architect will hire an engineer to make sure the house isn't going to fall apart, should be able to provide you with a building list of materials you need and an estimate of a budget, etc.

    For financing you need to get a construction loan / Mortgage. This mortgage has a higher rate than a regular loan. The bank usually releases the money to you 1/3 at a time, and inspects to make sure the work was completed before releasing the next 1/3. Since the mortgage is secured by a house and you really don't have a house yet, they are considered more risky for the bank. Once the house is completed, you should be able to convert the mortgage into a standard mortgage with a lower rate.

    My father build his own house and was able to use building plans from two different sources and combine them to get what he wanted. So he didn't spent ten of thousand of dollars to hire an architect. Since he was a house builder by trade, I guess the township allowed him to do this without having to hire a structural engineer to make sure the house wouldn't collapse. But it's unlikely a typical inexperienced person would be able to get away with this.

    On the plus side of things, you can build a house that really suits what you want. Usually custom houses are much better construction than typical tract development house. The house I live is a custom house, but I didn't build it. The roof joists are 2x8's, where as most tract houses use 2x4's for roof joists (but they are engineered with cross bracing) The advantage with the custom house I have, is the attic space is available to convert into living space and part of it is. I have stairs leading up to my 3rd floor and have a finished room on the one side of the attic and storage on the other side. If it was a tract house, the cross bracing would take up most of the attic space. I've installed a ceiling fans for my sister, who lives in a town house and while the attic was tall enough to make into living space, it was a nightmare of cross bracing.

    As Fort Wayne pointed out, houses under construction are often the target of thieves and sometimes vandals. A co-worker of mine build there own house and lived in a trailer on the building site for almost a year while they were building the house. At the very least have decent security camera system installed so you can watch your property when you not around and record any illegal activity.

  22. David Losh


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    113   4:32pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Kevin, thank you so much for bringing this up.

    This is the ultimate web site of custom home development. This guy, of course has unlimated resources, and his web sites are his business.

    This site answers all of your questions, and maybe more: http://www.ahousebythepark.com/journal/

  23. Kevin


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    114   5:05pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    TechGromit says

    I have some experience, but lets be clear here, buying a house in a development where you get to pick options for you new home is NOT a custom house. A custom house is something you build yourself, you can be your own general contractor (the cheapest method) where you hire all the subcontractors (the framers, the roofers, electricians, etc., or you can hire a general contractor and they are responsible hiring the sub contractors and charge you (much more expensive, but less hassles for the inexperienced).

    Yes, this is what we're doing. We're most likely hiring an integrated firm, though we're also considering doing design + GC as separate bids.

    Darrell In Phoenix says

    $500k for a house? Seriously?

    Yes, that's what houses cost to build in parts of the country where people actually want to live with finishes that they actually like. That's about $150/sf for a large family home, which is low/mid range here.

    Have you ever build a high end home in a part of the country with high labor costs? I haven't found a single builder after talking with 6 different ones who thinks that they can build what I want for under $150/sf (and most think $150/sf would only work if I like linoleum and IKEA cabinets).

    David Losh says

    Kevin, thank you so much for bringing this up.

    This is the ultimate web site of custom home development. This guy, of course has unlimated resources, and his web sites are his business.

    This site answers all of your questions, and maybe more: http://www.ahousebythepark.com/journal/

    See previous comments on that house. His builder is one of the ones I'm talking with.

  24. David Losh


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    115   5:31pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Kevin says

    See previous comments

    My interest in this thread is that it proves that Darrel, War, and Stop Lying have nothing to contribute to a discussion on construction.

    You posed a good question, and rather than provide insight, or resources, these people chose to troll.

    For my money, this was worth the price of admission.

    Yes, I see the comment now, but it is so obscured by nonsense it's hard to see.

  25. Kevin


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    116   5:39pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    David Losh says

    My interest in this thread is that it proves that Darrel, War, and Stop Lying have nothing to contribute to a discussion on construction.

    I'm 99% sure they're the same person. Probably some guy who does some contracting work for random people on shitty residential houses where nobody wants to live and thinks this makes him an expert.

  26. Bigsby


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    117   5:43pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Kevin says

    I'm 99% sure they're the same person. Probably some guy who does some contracting work for random people on shitty residential houses where nobody wants to believe and thinks this makes him an expert.

    99%?

  27. Bigsby


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    118   6:51pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like (1)   Dislike  

    Darrell In Phoenix says

    Not one of you has substantiate your wild claims of construction costs. Not one.

    You're all bullshitting and you got caught.

    Says the person who claims a cost of $60 a sq ft.

  28. Bigsby


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    119   6:54pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Darrell In Phoenix says

    Substantiate your wild construction costs my realtor friend "bigsby".

    Those are your claims "Darrell". You substantiate them.

  29. Bigsby


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    120   6:57pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Darrell In Phoenix says

    We're waiting.

    For you to post something factual.

  30. Bigsby


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    121   7:03pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Darrell In Phoenix says

    Spit it out. Substantiate your $400/sq number "bigsby". lmao

    I know reading comprehension is a struggle for you, but it's not my number. And quite obviously people can build homes at $400/sq ft. They can build them for substantially more and substantially less. The point is you seem to be claiming an average of $60 nationwide. I know new build pimps like yourself don't have much of an education, but seriously... lmao

  31. David Losh


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    122   7:41pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Darrell In Phoenix says

    Not one of you has substantiate your wild claims of construction costs

    Every one here has provided resources, except for you.

    You brought nothing to the table.

  32. David Losh


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    123   7:51pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Darrell In Phoenix says

    Time and time again you were asking to substantiate your bidding,

    You mean you were whining when you got caught in a lie.

  33. David Losh


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    124   7:51pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Darrell In Phoenix says

    It's up to you.... "david".

    How long will this go on for.

  34. David Losh


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    125   7:52pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Darrell In Phoenix says

    And time and time again you ran.

    I've followed up until we get here, at the point of trolling.

  35. David Losh


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    126   7:53pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Darrell In Phoenix says

    Go ahead.

    Just trolling for trolling sakes.

    You are the one who has made the claim of being a big time contractor, and the best you could come back with is International Building Code.

  36. David Losh


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    127   7:54pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Darrell In Phoenix says

    your claims of being in the construction biz.

    Those are your claims. You've made them to everybody here, without a wit.

  37. David Losh


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    128   7:54pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    So is this the game? to see yourself in print?

    What a maroon.

  38. Kevin


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    129   8:53pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Once you block him the thread becomes weird.

    I wish I could get my house built for $60/sf. I could pay for the construction in cash and then my only housing expense would be property tax.

    As of this afternoon I've now spoken with 8 builders, and the lowest estimate I got was $140/sf, but "things like hard surface counters and tile floors would be more".

    Even in a large scale tract house development with zero thought for views and orientation, using the cheapest finishes possible, I find anything lower than $125 to be unlikely. I've certainly never seen a builder willing to build for that.

    I would love to see a home that Darrel has built in an expensive town though. If he has some amazing method for building top quality homes for $60/sf the whole world would benefit from it.

  39. HeadSet


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    Williamsburg, VA

    130   9:10pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    upisdown says

    Locally procured building materials

    Is that in there for amusement or were you really serious?

    My whole post was "for amusement." Geeze.

    However, not everything on that list is "marketing" or "useless." I made most of that list from what I remember seeing in actual homes I have visited.

    http://www.hrsolartour.com/solartour_P2012.html

    One guy was putting solar panels on his detached garage, which he intended to be the sole recharge for his Nissan Leaf. Cost about $20k for the solar array, but no more a waste of bucks than someone's $60k Lexus or BMW. Interesting to see how that works out.

  40. Kevin


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    131   9:33pm Wed 21 Nov 2012   Share   Quote   Permalink   Like   Dislike  

    Residential solar isn't quite there yet in terms of either environmental or economic benefits. Especially not in seattle.

    The large-scale commercial solar farms work.

    The Nissan Leaf, on the other hand, is one hell of a deal. You can lease them for $99/mo and they give you a free charger. Electricity around here is very cheap because we have a good dam system.

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