Before You Buy: How to Spot Quality Construction

It’s a buyers market. No doubt about it. Real estate professionals and home builders have been yelling form the rooftops that “now is the time to buy!” A glut of new and existing homes are listed across the country and anyone looking to buy has plenty of choices.

With so many bargains out there buyers need to be especially vigilant about the quality of the homes they consider.

Crooked walls, broken fixtures and crummy materials aren’t very hard to spot—even for the first time home buyer with no experience to draw from. But often, the most important things to look for aren’t so obvious.

So we asked Gord Cooke, one of North America’s leading construction and energy efficiency experts, toshare tips on what to look for (and what to look out for) when considering a homes construction quality. While it is easy to spot a poor siding job from the curb or a single pane window, the bigger problems often are more difficult to spot. According to Cooke, “It can be difficult to focus on things that are not in plain sight, yet it is important to look for some tell tale signs of hidden problems.”


Since moisture is the number one thing that destroys building materials, it should be the focus of attention. According to Cooke, “professional home inspectors look for the following signs of moisture issues: cracked, peeling, stained, discolored or bubbled paint - often on window sills, under windows, in corners of rooms or closets or in basements. Another great symptom would be musty or earthy odors in basements and closets, indicating mold or water damaged materials. Even signs of recent painting can be a clue that homeowners have been trying to cover up moisture problems.”

If there are no obvious signs of moisture problems then at least a general understanding of watermanagement can be helpful. Cooke considers it wise to look at the general condition of “roof shingles, gutters and downspouts. Make sure the ground around the house is sloping away from the building. On the exterior, again look for signs of water stains, peeling of paint, damaged materials etc.”

Heating & Cooling

Regarding energy performance, we can look at the government sticker on the mechanical equipment and it will tell us how efficient the unit is supposed to be when newly installed. But what about the quality of the installation? What should we look for with heating and cooling systems in the home to know whether it is a well built system?

“Most important in furnaces is to ensure safety. If a homebuyer has any concerns about the condition of an older furnace they should insist on an inspection by an independent HVAC contractor. Older furnaces vent into chimneys. Signs of poor venting would include water staining, scorching, peeling or burn marks around the base of the chimney New high efficient furnaces are much safer. They vent through a sealed plastic pipe that goes through the side wall. Frankly, if buying a home with anything but a high efficiency furnace (over 90%), homeowners should make it a condition of sale that allowance is made to exchange the furnace.

Finally, good installation of duct work will have no obvious gaps in joints, better yet joints would be taped or sealed. Homebuyers may want to look at the condition of furnace grilles as an indication of good maintenance. Even lifting off one or two grilles from the floor and looking for excessive dust or debris in the ducts can be a good indicator. Certainly look for signs of rusting or water stains on or in the ducts.”

Indoor Air Quality

Nearly one in four children now have asthma or other respiratory issues. And since we spend 90% of our time indoors, home buyers certainly should consider the quality of the indoor environment. One of the best signs of air quality according to Cooke is odor. “The human nose is a powerful tool. Check out the odor of a home upon first entry. Don’t be fooled by air fresheners or other intentional odors such as scented candles or cooking smells. These are often used to mask musty or earthy smells that are signs of mold problems. Ask sellers to remove all scented products a few hours before a second visit to a promising home.

Check out the operation of bath fans and range hoods. First do they run, are they reasonably quiet and do they move any air. Use the old facial tissue trick - hold up a sheet to a bath fan and make sure the fan is drawing air.”


We asked Gord how can a home buyer can tell the quality of windows and if they are properly installed or even geographically appropriate (yes, windows should be appropriate for your local geographic and climatic conditions) .

According to Cooke, “the best signs are similar to those we use when considering moisture problems, look for water stains on sills, seals or frames. Open and close the window to make sure seals and latches work properly. A failed sealed in a double glazed window is usually indicated by fogging or cloudiness between the panes. An energy audit will be the best way to have windows assessed for overall performance. It is important to note that there have been tremendous improvements in windows over the last 10 years or so. Houses with windows older than 10-15 years present an excellent opportunity for replacement with much better performers.”

Energy Audit

Cooke believes energy audits are the best way to test the performance of windows but he also recommends this service be performed if someone has their list narrowed to one home. “I certainly recommend an energy audit. In many places there are state or utility run ‘weatherization’ programs that include independent audits. Otherwise folks can check out the website of the Residential Energy Services Network (www.natresnet.org). RESNET offers a directory of qualified, independent energy raters in each state.”

Typically, a homeowner can expect to pay a few hundred dollars for a professional energy audit. Don’t be afraid to ask to see the owners utility bills as well. It will give you a better idea of what to expect. When you consider the size of the investment your home is, this seems like an easy decision to make—whomever writes the check.

Final Thoughts

Before signing the check or making any decisions, always have the home inspected by an experienced, professional home inspector. Your uncle the handyman can offer helpful advice as well, but it is wise to seek counsel from someone who has climbed into hundreds of attics before making a final decision.

About Gord Cooke

As a certified Energy and Environmental Building Association (EEBA) trainer, author and industry consultant, Gord has been an effective and passionate educator and advocate for better building practices, improved indoor air quality and energy efficiency during the past two decades across North America.

Gord brings to his training, his technical and mechanical background, the logic and integrity of a professional engineer and the passion of one committed to helping the residential construction industry build and sell better homes. Based on his homebuyer market research, Gord has pioneered a new training program designed to assist builders in marketing and selling their high performing, energy efficient homes by communicating their value to their customers.

Gord’s building science training curricula covers the gamut from creating and delivering basic and advanced building science principles through managing indoor air quality and HVAC system design, to an intensive technical sales and marketing workshop.


Frequently Asked Questions About Green Remodeling

What is green remodeling?

A home can be considered green when energy efficiency, water and resource conservation, sustainable or recycled products, and indoor air quality considerations are incorporated into the process of home building. The increased availability of education for builders, growing consumer awareness and the exploding market for sustainable, environmentally friendly and recycled building products has accelerated green building’s acceptance rate and move into the mainstream. According to a recent survey, more than half of the members of the National Association of Home Builders, who build 85 percent of the homes in this country, were incorporating green practices into the development, design and construction of new homes by the end of 2007.

What are the benefits of green remodeling?

Green homeowners enjoy knowing they are doing something good for the environment, their family and the future by saving energy and precious resources. Counties can make consumers aware of rebates and credits to encourage them to build green. Many lenders now offer energy efficient mortgages . Visit: http://www.dsireusa.org/.

It’s good for the community, too. Local jurisdictions can make consumers aware of rebates and credits to encourage them to build green. By using fewer materials and generating less waste, green remodeling can help counties lower waste management fees, achieve recycling goals and delay the need for new power sources.

Who does green remodeling?

A new professional designation program from the National Association of Home Builders will soon provide home buyers with additional assurance that the remodeler they’ve chosen is authentically “green.”

The Certified Green Professional™ designation was unveiled during Green Day at the International Builders’ Show in 2008.

“We know green is the future of building. With the Certified Green Professional designation, we’re helping our qualified members demonstrate to their clients that the future is here,” said NAHB Past President Sandy Dunn, a West Virginia home builder.

Builders, remodelers, and other industry professionals must have at least two years of building industry experience to apply for the Certified Green Professional designation.

They must also complete the “Green Building for Building Professionals” course, a two-day training and education session that more than 1,200 industry leaders have already completed since the course was piloted two years ago. Candidates must also complete a University of Housing management course, agree to continuing education requirements and sign a code of ethics. The business management and Green Building for Building Professionals classes are also offered at other NAHB conferences and by local home building associations throughout the country.

Search for a Certified Green Professional in your area at www.nahbgreen.org.

How are NAHB Remodelers involved in green remodeling?

NAHB is helping its members move the practice of green building into the mainstream. Energy efficiency, water and resource conservation, sustainable or recycled products, and indoor air quality are increasingly incorporated into the everyday process of home building.

When a green home doesn’t look or feel significantly different from one built using more traditional construction methods, when builders have the tools and resources to build them without sizeable materials or labor cost increases, and when consumers readily accept the finished product, then ‘green’ has arrived.

The exploding market for sustainable, environmentally friendly and recycled building products, along with the greater availability of educational opportunities for builders, has accelerated green building’s acceptance rate .

The association prepares members with programs addressing education (such as the Certified Green Professional designation), award recognition, and market awareness.

NAHB also recently launched the NAHB National Green Building Program, a comprehensive resource on green building and remodeling at www.nahbgreen.org. NAHB is also launching a national green building and
remodeling standard.

What is the significance of NAHB’s national green building and remodeling standard?

Communities can choose from a number of nationally recognized voluntary green building programs, but right now there is no recognized standard for green building. For that reason, NAHB worked with the International Code Council to develop the first-ever residential green building standard just completed in early 2009 . The standard is based on the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines . The American National Standards Institute certified the development process, ensuring a consensus-based document and adequate public comment. The standard requires third-party certification, above-code baselines for energy efficiency and guidelines for “right sizing” heating and air-conditioning equipment, but it does not mandate specific practices to achieve the required number of points, allowing home buyers to make choices for an affordable, flexible, regionally appropriate and “truly green” result.

There are more than 60 state and local green building programs in the United States, and you can find one by consulting this list or by contacting the state or local homebuilders association in your community.

Successful voluntary green building programs help to systematize the green design and construction process, instill consumer awareness and offer training to help the builder incorporate more green features into homes. They take advantage of tax credit programs and rebates . They often include educational initiatives for other members of the industry, including Realtors and product manufacturers. They emphasize the importance of homeowner education in maintaining the efficacy of a green-built home. Most importantly, they emphasize affordability and flexibility by allowing a menu of choices: homeowners can choose how much they want to spend and make sure that their choice is regionally and geographically appropriate.

Voluntary, market-driven programs — maintaining a choice for builders and consumers — help the dynamic process of green building to advance further.

What are some popular green remodeling options? Learn about these top 10 energy savers and wasters.

Source: Kelly Mack, National Association of Home Builders. For more information about this item, please contact Kelly at (800) 368-5242, ext. 8451 or via email .


High Performance Windows

Many ENERGY STAR qualified new homes feature high-performance windows. High-performance, energy-efficient windows can improve the energy efficiency of your home by reducing heat loss in cooler climates and heat gain in warmer climates.

image map of house with links to ducts, envelope, windows, insulation, and equipment

Window technologies have advanced dramatically and prices for these windows have dropped significantly. Look for windows with the ENERGY STAR label. Heat gain and loss through windows accounts for up to 50% of a home’s heating and cooling needs. Many technological improvements have been made in recent years that have advanced the insulating quality of windows including:

Improved Window Materials

Advances in window technology such as double glazing and low-e coatings substantially reduce heat loss and gains. Look for ENERGY STAR or National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) labels to be sure you are getting high-efficiency windows.

Improved Framing Materials

Low conductance materials, such as wood, vinyl, and fiberglass perform better than aluminum. Look for “thermal breaks” where aluminum frames are used in heating-dominated climates to avoid condensation. Insulated frames, including insulating spacers between glazings, also perform better than uninsulated frames.

Air Tightness

High-performance or advanced windows need to be sealed around framing and other gaps that may exist. Caulks, foams, and weather-stripping work well to keep drafts out.

High-performance, energy-efficient windows can offer you:

  • Quieter home interior — multiple panes and insulated frames block outside noise.
  • Reduced fading of curtains, furniture, and flooring — low-emissivity (solar window) coatings can block up to 98% of UV rays.
  • Reduced utility bills — houses lose less heat in winter and absorb less heat in summer.
  • Improved quality windows are made from better-quality materials easier to operate and carry extended warranties.

Dig Deeper

Windows typically comprise 10 to 25 percent of the exterior wall area of new homes. Research studies report that windows in heating-dominated climates account for up to 25 percent of a typical house’s heating load and that in cooling-dominated climates, windows account for up to 50 percent of the cooling load.

In recent years, many technological advances have been made that significantly enhance the thermal performance of windows. As shown in Figure 1, these technologies include improved framing materials, low-emissivity and solar control coatings, low-conductance gas fills, improved thermal breaks and edge spacers, and better edge sealing techniques. These technologies can be used independently or in combination, but must be selected based on climate to optimize performance.

Windows can improve the thermal performance of homes by minimizing heat loss in heating-dominated climates and by minimizing solar heat gain in cooling-dominated climates. Thus windows with lower U-factors or higher R-values perform better in heating-dominated climates and windows with lower solar heat gain coefficients (SHGC) perform better in cooling-dominated climates (see Figure 2). SHGC is a measure of the amount of solar energy that a glazing material allows to pass.

The materials and design of the frame also influence thermal performance. Low conductance materials, such as wood, vinyl, and fiberglass, perform better than high conductance materials such as aluminum. Look for “thermal breaks” where aluminum frames are used in heating-dominated climates to avoid condensation. And finally, insulated frames perform better than uninsulated.

Air tightness is another important consideration. Windows are now being tested and rated for air tightness. A rating of 0.2 cfm/ft (cubic feet per minute of air leakage per linear foot of window edge) or lower is considered good. The best windows have a rating of 0.1 cfm/ft or lower.

An effective building envelope is a key element for an energy-efficient home. ENERGY STAR labeled homes are often constructed with high-performance windows that can improve the effectiveness of the building envelope and improve comfort.


High-performance windows can provide many benefits including:

Improved comfort. High-performance windows reduce conductive heat losses and gains resulting in warmer interior surfaces during the winter and cooler interior surfaces during the summer. In homes, approximately 40 percent of our physical comfort is due to the radiant heat exchange between our bodies and the surrounding interior surfaces. Thus, high-performance windows improve comfort by reducing this radiant heat exchange. In addition, improved frames reduce drafts and provide more consistent temperatures throughout the house.

Quieter home. High-performance windows often utilize multiple glazing and insulated frames. These features reduce unwanted noise from the outside.

Increased quality. High-performance windows are often constructed with better quality materials that can result in stronger, easier to operate, and longer lasting windows. As a result of these improvements, manufacturers frequently offer extended warranties on these products.

Improved indoor air quality. High-performance windows often have air tightness ratings of 0.2 cfm/ft or less which reduce the amount of unconditioned air leakage into a house. This air leakage can bring in dirt, dust, and other impurities that can negatively affect indoor air quality.

Lower utility bills. High-performance windows are better insulated and more air-tight. These features reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling which result in lower utility bills, making homes less expensive to operate.

Reduced obsolescence. Based on recent trends for improved efficiency, high-performance windows are expected to become standard practice for the building industry. Since it is both difficult and costly to replace windows after a house is built, it is best to install high-performance products during the original construction. ENERGY STAR labeled homes constructed with high-performance windows are, therefore, expected to be less vulnerable to obsolescence.

Fewer condensation problems. High-performance windows stay warmer in the winter resulting in drier windows with fewer condensation-related problems. Condensation can stain fabrics, lead to mold and mildew build-up, and in cold climates cause damage due to the freeze/thaw cycle.

Reduced wear on home furnishings. Low-E coatings can block up to 98 percent of the ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun. This radiation causes curtains, window treatments, carpeting, and furniture to fade and wear faster.

Improved resale position. High-performance windows can provide the many impressive benefits listed above resulting in a more comfortable, quieter, and higher quality home with lower utility bills and fewer condensation and fading problems. These benefits can translate into higher resale value.

Source: EPA


State by State Window Recommendations


A Breath of Fresh Air: Ventilation Matters

Breath of Fresh Air When creating an energy-efficient, airtight home through air sealing techniques , it’s very important to consider ventilation. Unless properly ventilated, an airtight home can seal in indoor air pollutants. Ventilation also helps control moisture —another important consideration for a healthy, energy-efficient home.

Purpose of Ventilation

Your home needs ventilation—the exchange of indoor air with outdoor air—to reduce indoor pollutants, moisture, and odors. Contaminants such as formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds, and radon can accumulate in poorly ventilated homes, causing health problems. Excess moisture in a home can generate high humidity levels. High humidity levels can lead to mold growth and structural damage to your home.

To ensure adequate ventilation, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) says that a home’s living area should be ventilated at a rate of 0.35 air changes per hour or 15 cubic feet per person per minute, whichever is greater.

There are three basic ventilation strategies:

1. Natural ventilation occurs when there is uncontrolled air movement or infiltration through cracks and small holes in a home—the same ones you want to seal to make your home more energy efficient. Opening windows and doors also provides natural ventilation. Because of central heating and cooling systems, however, most people don’t open windows and doors as often. Therefore, air infiltration has become the principal mode of natural ventilation in homes.

A home’s natural ventilation rate is unpredictable and uncontrollable—you can’t rely on it to ventilate a house uniformly. Natural ventilation depends on a home’s airtightness, outdoor temperatures, wind, and other factors. Therefore, during mild weather, some homes may lack sufficient natural ventilation for pollutant removal. Tightly sealed and/or built homes may have insufficient natural ventilation most of the time, while homes with high air infiltration rates may experience high energy costs.

2. Spot ventilation can be used to improve the effectiveness of natural ventilation. However, if both spot and natural ventilation together don’t meet your home’s ventilation needs, then you should consider a whole-house ventilation strategy. Spot ventilation improves the effectiveness of other ventilation strategies—natural and whole-house —by removing indoor air pollutants and/or moisture at their source.

Spot ventilation includes the use of localized exhaust fans, such as those used above kitchen ranges and in bathrooms. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends intermittent or continuous ventilation rates for bathrooms and kitchens instead of using windows (natural ventilation): 50 or 20 cubic feet per minute for bathrooms, and 100 or 25 cubic feet per minute for kitchens, respectively.

3. The decision to use Whole-House Ventilation is typically motivated by concerns that natural
won’t provide adequate air quality, even with source control by spot ventilation .

Whole-house ventilation systems provide controlled, uniform ventilation throughout a house. These systems use one or more fans and duct systems to exhaust stale air and/or supply fresh air to the house. There are four types of systems:

Exhaust ventilation systems : Force inside air out of a home.

Supply ventilation systems : Force outside air into the home.

Balanced ventilation systems : Force equal amounts quantities of air into and out of the home.

Energy recovery ventilation (ERV) systems : Transfer heat and cool from
incoming or outgoing air to minimize energy loss.

Moisture Control Matters

Properly controlling moisture in your home will improve the effectiveness of your air sealing and insulation efforts, and vice versa. Thus, moisture control contributes to a home’s overall energy efficiency.

The best strategy for controlling moisture in your home depends on your climate and how your home is constructed. Before deciding on a moisture control strategy for your home, you may first want to understand how moisture moves through a home .

Moisture control strategies typically include the following areas of a home:

In most U.S. climates, you can use vapor diffusion retarders in these areas of your home to control moisture.

Source: US Dept. of Energy Consumer’s Guide to Energy Efficiency

If this information doesn’t scare you into hiring an experienced professional, nothing will. Click here to find a professional in your area who can assist you in building a tight, energy efficient, and properly ventilated home.


10 Ways To Maintain Or Improve Your Home Value

We are always looking for ways to increase, or at the very minimum, maintain our home value. Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: It doesn’t always have to break the bank. Sometimes it just means taking a closer look at things when we go to do those normal fix ups around the house.

For the most part, every community has a high end and a low end. In the Real Estate Industry we call these "Comparables". Depending on the size, condition and location of the home- your home may be anywhere in between. For the sake of this article, let’s focus on getting you at the top.

10. Keep it Clean - Sounds simple right? Well, it pretty much is just that. If you are thinking about selling take a few days and do some ‘deep cleaning’ or call in a maid service. Clean out some of those closets that look jam-packed full of linens and boxes. It just needs to be tidy. Get rid of those dust streamers on the ceiling fans, dust and wash the baseboards/door casings. A clean and organized home leaves the impression of one that is well maintained.

9. Maintenance - Keep up with your property…all the time. If you wait until it is time to sell, the cost of repairs may be so much that you won’t want to do it. Set a schedule and paint the house every so often, change the roof in a timely manner, keep those fences looking good. This way, it won’t be overwhelming when you need it the most. Other items that would be on this list would be Hot Water Heaters, A/C and Heat equipments, etc. Buyers really DO look at these things. Wouldn’t you?

8. Update - Often times we confuse the term ‘Update’ with ‘Upgrade’. Updating the home just means to keep it cosmetically as though it is recent. Sometimes this just means changing out a couple of light fixtures, paint on the walls, color choices on the exterior and maybe even the flooring.

7. Flooring - Keep it clean or change it. If you don’t want to mess with it, put down a tile or Hardwood Floor (A little Hint: If the color of the grout in the tile is your only issue, you can have someone come in and stain it for a minimal amount of money). If you think you might be moving in 5 or so years, why don’t you change it now so that you can also enjoy it?

6. Kitchen - When your appliances are getting to look a little…used- Maybe you are getting tired of them? Change those also, and don’t forget to buy ENERGY STAR appliances! If you want to spice it up a little bit more, change the color of them. That would then be updating. Then maybe change the paint and the light over the breakfast table, faucet on the sink. You would have a whole new kitchen for less than $300. Update the pulls on the cabinet doors/drawers, countertops maybe?

5. Bathrooms - The same thing goes here as in the Kitchen. If money allows you can always update the shower and flooring. If not? Just changing out the light fixtures (ENERGY STAR of course) a little paint or American Clay Wall Plaster and you will be lookin’ good!

4. Exterior of the Home - Painting the exterior was mentioned above, but there is so much more to the exterior of the home. If you have gutters, clean them out regularly. Not just to look nice, but to reduce the maintenance of your home as they can cause severe wood rot. Speaking of wood rot, change out the wood that needs to go if there is any. Get the roof changed or washed (don’t forget the radiant barrier) - Should you change out the windows? Check with a local Real Estate Professional, but if this is something you want to do, you will likely get your money back on resale and THEN some.

3. Reduce Your Energy Bills - Now, this is something to do even if you don’t want to move. It could be as simple as sealing around your doors and windows and upgrading to Energy Efficient (ENERGY STAR) items as you go through the home. Make the home a little more affordable to actually LIVE in, and you will likely see the return when you go to sell. On top of that, put a little more money in your pocket every month before you decide to make the big move. First things first though, get an energy audit!

haisma skyvale 2. Upgrade - If you are changing out items in your home, and the Comparables allow you to do so, Upgrade what you put in. Remember, when you go to sell, the other homes around you will likely be your competition. What can you put in that maybe some other homes won’t have? Just don’t over improve your home! I recommend getting with a local real estate professional to find out how much you have to play with in your renovations if there is a chance you may move in the next 5 years.

1. Curb Appeal - This is number One! Your front yard is the first thing that people see, make sure that you make a good impression. Do a little bit of landscaping and maybe try to use Native plants to your Region. People are busy and don’t always like to have High Maintenance yards, but we LOVE to enjoy them. Try to Landscape somewhere in the middle. Let it Dazzle but be easy to keep that way.

Houston Skyline It really is easy as that! If you are having a hard time figuring out what to do to your home, contact a local Professional whether it be a Remodeler, Interior Designer, Landscape Company or Real Estate Professional.

My best advice would be to make a list. Write down what you want to see in your home over the next ‘X’ years or months and how much they will cost. From there it will probably be easier to figure out in what order you want to complete the tasks. Stephanie Edwards-Musa

Stephanie Edwards-Musa is a Realtor® and Certified EcoBroker® in Houston, Texas. She teaches a course on "Making Your Home More Energy Efficient" at Lone Star College and is the founder of TurningHoustonGreen.com .


What is Universal Design & Why You Should Care?

In our company, we believe Universal Design is extremely important. We’d like every home to incorporate Universal Design concepts out of desire, but not by law. So what is it and why is it so important?

So, What is Universal Design?

According to North Carolina State University Center for Universal Design, the intent of Universal Design is to “simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal Design benefits people of all ages and abilities.”

There are a lot of names people use in place of Universal Design: barrier free, handicap accessible, ADA compliant, and many more. Universal Design, I think, is the best name for this concept because to me accessibility is not just for "them folks" in wheelchairs. It is for everyone regardless of age and current physical ability. It’s universal.

So, What does Universal Design Look Like? Copyright 2008 Heartland Builders LLC

Click here for a full floor plan. Here are some features that are very important in the design of the home which are basic to Universal Design :

1. Exterior Doors - Without question should be at least 36" wide.

2. Interior Doors - Bedrooms, bathrooms, laundry rooms, common area doors - 36" wide While many sources recommend 32" doors, keep in mind a person in a wheelchair likely will scrape their knuckles as they go through the door opening that is only 32” wide. Remember, this is about comfort and dignity too. I once priced out doors for a home including 10 doors ranging from 32" to 36" wide. The cost to go with the wider doors didn’t even total $100 - for the entire house (not per door). No brainer !

3. Wider Halls - Minimum 42", better if halls are 48". Please note that halls are a waste of space. Eliminate them or reduce them and you will increase the functional space in your home.

4. Clear Floor Space (otherwise known as Turning Radius) – Especially in kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry a turning radius equaling 5′. What is the benefit? If you utilized a wheelchair you would have the ability to enter and function without obstacles in these parts of your home. For those without wheelchairs, a little elbow room for carrying laundry baskets or groceries.

5. My personal favorite: A Zero Step Entry - What is that? No steps into your home from the front porch and from the garage into the home. Imagine, not having to worry about steps as you bring home groceries. There are so many benefits to this feature.

6. Wider Stairs - Minimum 42", better if 48".

7. Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist - There are many other features associated with Universal Design. Their necessity for you depends on your needs. Make sure you work with a Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist and member of your local home builder association who can asses and implement exactly what you need in order to live a comfortable life in your home.

Benefits of Universal Design

Thanks to wider doors, wider halls, wider stairs and clear space your home will appear larger and will feel more open. Wider doors, wider halls and wider stairs will allow you to carry furniture throughout your home much easier.

So you are 30 years old and own your home. If the home incorporates the basic features of Universal Design, guests will be able to visit your home without limitation. Imagine if your grandparents or Aunt Millie is in a wheelchair or requires the use of a walker. They could visit without limitation and feel welcome.

Or imagine you are 65. Retirement is just 10 years away (no please, not that long!). Your parents may still be around. Mom and Dad could come visit your home without limitation as well. Not to mention, you are probably thinking about your own future AND want to remain in your home for as long as possible. A home that has incorporated Universal Design is livable for much longer than a home without such features.

The Big Question: How Much Does it Cost?

1. Wider Doors - Under $100 for the entire home.
2. Wider Halls and Stairs - Hard to answer this one, but under generally around $500.
3. Zero Step Entry - this one depends on the size of the home but generally around $1,000.
4. Levered Door Handles, Light Switches a Little Lower on the Wall, Rocker Switches – Shouldn’t cost more than other styles.

Wow! If all you do is 1 and 2, you can have an accessible home for under $500. Better yet, for under $1,500 you can have a home that is really accessible to you and everyone. It makes a great deal of sense. Rich Kogelschatz

I am a proponent of Universal Design for one reason: I believe that it is my responsibility as a builder to provide value for my customers when building their home. To me there is no greater value than accessibility. If something were to happen to you or your family, without accessibility your home has little value to you.

So when building new or remodeling, consider Universal Design. You won’t regret it.


Richard Kogelschatz CGB CAPS of Heartland Builders LLC was recently named 2008 Builder of the Year and is President of his local Home Builder Association , chair of Great Lakes Green 2008 and is a past recipient of the ZeroStep builder and Disability Advocates awards .


Is My Home Ready for a Small Wind Energy System?

Pick up any newspaper these days and I will bet you a dollar to a donut you will find at least one article about energy. Of specific interest lately is wind energy.

SkyStream 3.7 Small Wind Energy System, Manistee, Michigan, COPYRIGHT © 2009 Mary McGraw-Bigelow All Rights Reserved Why? Wind is clean energy. And it’s totally renewable—just wait for the next breeze. As a wind energy installer, it is a very powerful feeling leaving a home knowing the homeowner is producing their own energy. They have their own private power plant.

With so much information and so many points of view whirling around, I hear a lot of confusion over the variety of wind energy systems available specifically to homeowners.

There are basically two different types of residential wind generator systems:

1. Off Grid – These systems require some type of battery storage for the energy created. They are not tied to the energy company.

2. Grid Tied - The majority of small wind energy systems feed the energy produced to the power company. These are required to have an automatic shut off when the grid is down. Otherwise, you could produce energy and feed it back to the grid while some poor line worker is trying to restore power to your neighbors. The poor line worker would get a heck of a shock!

The majority of wind energy systems we install are Grid Tied. For most households the best source of backup power is the electric company’s grid! Why? There will be times when the wind doesn’t blow so you won’t create any energy and for the average household the draw will normally be more than their wind generator can produce. So that back up from the energy company is still necessary.

Now the conversation moves toward, "So then I can sell the extra I make to the electric company?" Well…that is another deep subject (sorry, I had to say it!) and depends on the number of KiloWatts per month or year your home uses. So I ask.

With that you would think I asked a question about the periodic table of elements. It’s unfortunate but most people simply don’t know how much electricity they use.

I must confess, I never knew until getting into this field and that’s ok. Now I know. Awareness is half the battle! And now our family can take action to cut down on wasting electricity.

So how many average KiloWatts does your household use in a year? There are a couple ways to find out:

1. Many utility companies now have a web site where you can check your history. You will need to register and will need your bill handy because you will need your account number and some other personal information. I have found this to be the simplest way.

2. If you don’t have access to the internet you can go through your records of paper bills (uggh!), add the KiloWatt hours you have used over "x" number of months, divide by "x" number of months and voila, you have an average. The KiloWatt hours on my bill are listed in the upper right hand corner. Each utility will vary where KiloWatt hours are placed on the bill.

3. If you can’t access the internet or paper billing records you will have to call your utility company (double uggh!) and have them send it to you. This is always last resort!

In climates like the Midwest it is good to get a 12-month average since you have extreme swings in temperature throughout the year. Most air conditioning is used in the summer, which is powered by electricity. Most of our homes are heated with some type of gas or fuel oil so the electric utility is normally lower during winter months.

In warmer climates with less extreme temperature swings can go with a 6-month average, selecting every other month.

For those of you who pay utilities on a "budget" program, there are several reasons to reconsider. Unfortunately people tend to look at the dollar amount of their bill and not the KiloWatt hours used. If the bill stays the same for 10 months out of the year most people are unaware of times when they are using more energy. This causes less conservation again due to unawareness and leads to higher utility bills.

Once we know how much energy the home requires we can determine the best turbine for our situation. Check back for part II where we discuss the various wind energy system makes the most sense for your home.

Mary McGraw-Bigelow is a renewable energy sales representative for Contractors Building Supply . Mary is facilitator of her local LEED for Homes Member Circle and has worked with clients from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast.

COPYRIGHT © 2009 Mary McGraw-Bigelow All Rights Reserved

Photo: SkyStream 3.7 Small Wind Energy System, Manistee, Michigan


Cork: Revered Renewable Resource

I have a confession. Sometimes I like to think of myself as smart. There are many smart people, right? I have a degree. I made it thru 12 years of the military, that’s gotta count for something. My home state is world famous for “Yankee Ingenuity”. Smart right? Well, Not… So… Fast! I’ve been learning ALOT this last year after opening Green Builders Source. So many things that a laymen’s understanding didn’t do justice. Let me share my latest discovery! CORK! Cork Sample

Seems, my layman’s understanding of cork was woefully inadequate! Sure, there are the cork boards, the underlayment of engineered flooring, and then my personal favorite, the wine cork! Yummy! But it wasn’t until 1999 that I had even HEARD of a cork floor. Tile? Yup! Wood? Of course! Marble? Have you seen the Duomo in Florence? But Cork? Apparently it was all the rage in Europe! And I just lived in Europe for 5 years? How could I miss it? How?

Well, being the ever curious, I started to pay attention every time information on cork was available. Jump to 2008 and Cork is now a top player for any green building project. The top green choices almost always start with: Cork, Bamboo, Linoleum, and locally manufactured tile. Many don’t know why Cork is on the “Short list” for Green. Bamboo is obvious as it’s a grass, it can be harvested and rapidly renew its stalks for a future harvest. Tile is sustainable, that’s green. Linoleum is very natural and long lasting. But Cork? The harvesting of Cork is not yet as well known nor is how and from where it is harvested.

Cork oak cross sectionCork comes from the Cork Oak. A medium sized tree that can be found in southern Europe and northern Africa. An interesting piece of information that is quite indicative of our vocabulary is all trees generate cork as a layer between the old growth bark and the living inner plant cells. It is a major component of the tree bark that protects the inner growth cells and sapwood from disease, insects, and damage. (note this… it protects the tree from bacteria, insects, and damage) It can be harvested from any tree, but only the Cork Oak is commercially viable due to its thickness and ease of harvesting.

The harvesting is equally interesting and truly a sustainable commodity, if not entirely practical. A Cork Oak does live an amazingly long time, upwards of 200 years. However, the first harvest cannot be taken until the tree is 20 years old. This harvest is of poor grade and it is not till the cork has been harvested an additional 3 times, or when the tree is 50 that high grade cork is available. This thought quickly squelched my desire to create a Cork Oak orchard in Texas given my level of attention and interest would surely expire before the first harvest. I did entertain the “second generation” idea, but my children would probably be so bored of hearing of the future harvest, they surely would be interested in more rapidly rewarding endeavors. Maybe Bamboo is more our “speed”? That said, the following harvests can be made at 10 year intervals. This allows 15 or more harvests from one tree! Truly a quest for a forward thinking entrepreneur. Very forward thinking!

Here’s a summary from the Canada/Portugal Chamber website:

Given that a cork oak produces cork tissue until it is 150 or even 200 years old, during which time it Whistler - Worlds Oldest Cork Treemay be stripped 15 to 18 times, and that the average ages of trees presently in production is 85 years and that the area under plantation is growing by an average of 4% a year, cork production can look forward to a rosy future in Portugal. There are at present more than 600 industrial facilities operating in Portugal, employing a labor force of about 15,000. Cork products were exported in 1990 to the tune of 80,433,356,000 escudos (corresponding to 105,516 tons). In the same period natural cork stoppers accounted for 55% of total cork product exports. At 44,614,694,000 escudos, this trade is worth more than the export of Port Wine.

This only further clarifies that the commercial leaders in cork production are in Europe and Africa with Portugal producing 50% of the world’s supply. Don’t let the scarcity of the harvest locations fool you, however. Cork has a plethora of qualities that make it very desirable. It’s elastic in nature and near-water impermeable. It has low thermal conductivity, low density, fire resistance, and good energy absorption, antimicrobial, and resistant to insects, mold and mildew. (remember how it protected the tree as part of the bark?) All these factors make cork an excellent product for wine stoppers, sports equipment, sound management in musical instruments, and more. However, these qualities sound amazingly grand for use in construction.

Microscopic view of cork cellsCork cells are comprised mostly of air. This trait makes each cork cell act as a balloon or a gasket. Additionally, the cell walls contain a waxy substance called “suberin” which enhances the impermeable wall to liquids and air. The product qualities that are found from the features of cork are: reduced sound from dropped items or walking, cork has a natural feel, it insulates against temperature changes (It has an “R-factor” of 2.6), it is low maintenance, extremely durable, and above all, it looks great. I found during my research for this article that there are cork floor installs that are still in use today over one hundred years old! One is a church in Chicago that had cork flooring in 1890 and is still in use today! And I just learned that The Library of Congress has cork flooring installed. Did I mention the sound absorption! Libraries and museums love cork. So do child care facilities. Not that I quote “Bob Vila” much, but his website had this to say about cork: “Finished cork flooring can have the look of textured hardwood… the soft give of carpet, and the easy maintenance of vinyl….cork feels softer than hardwood and warm underfoot, making it an obvious alternative to carpet.

Because of its cellular composition, it is extremely durable and resilient. This makes it much less affected by impact or friction than hard surface floors such as wood, laminate or tile. One feature that I always get questioned on is its resilience. I too worried that such a “soft” product would fall victim to high heeled shoes and the like. Apparently that “elasticity” that I mentioned has a “bounce back” factor of 40%! So, no worries about your high heeled shoes! Once the pressure is off, the cellular structure returns to shape very quickly.

Ok, so now we know it’s water resistant, insect and bacteria resistant, resilient, durable, quiet, and insulating, what do you have to do to get some? First, there are suppliers all over including Green Builders Source. Check all your options, inquiring about thickness, colors, patterns, pre-sealed, and quality. Second, there are two options for installation. Your cork floor can be installed as glue down tiles or as a floating floor. The glue down tiles uses fewer materials, but requires a near perfect floor for installation. The floating floor with interlocking tongue-and-groove edges is easier to install, and repair, and ready to walk on, thus making it a popular flooring choice.

For the floating floor planks and tiles, the cork floor looks like any engineered hardwood. Locking or There is a wear surface made of a factory applied, UV rated varnish or sealer, a veneer of cork oak bark, a cork core, a moisture resistant hard rigid core, and a cork underlayment. This layered solution provides the best of both worlds. The price is on par with other engineered woods or ceramic tile, so any alternative should put cork within the same budget range.

Once you have decided on cork, and you think you have a source, before you install it, you better have a maintenance plan. Every floor requires maintenance right? Well, yes, that is true, but cork is a low maintenance floor. The good news just keeps getting better with this flooring, doesn’t it? The catch? There isn’t any. Pick up loose dirt with vacuum, broom or “swiffer®”. The most important step is to Damp mop. Do NOT Wet mop! Do NOT let water stand on the floor. Then spot treat any tough to clean areas. Water is cleaning solvent enough. If you have to add something, nothing more abrasive then a drop or two of dish soap. Given all the water-resistance of cork, the seams of the flooring would swell under standing water.

Photo from Pretty amazing, hun? I know that in the time it’s taken me to finish this article, I’ve walked the house twice to see which room would look best in that new Green Builders Source Cork Floor! It’s a toss-up between the children’s play room or the kitchen. I’ll keep you posted.

Angelique Grado
Green Builders Source

References for this page came from: Wikipedia, Nova Cork, Natural Cork, Bob Vila, Canada/Portugal Chamber, TexasParks.org, and several .edu sites.


How To Choose A Builder

‘The 7 Deadly Mistakes to Avoid when Choosing a Builder’

blueprint2.jpgBuilding your new home may be one of the biggest investments you make in a lifetime, so you are right in doing your research first so that you can do it right. But did you know, who you choose to build it can impact the outcome dramatically.

Now I am not talking about the horror building stories that we’ve all heard or read about: the home that never got finished, the builder that cut corners and more, the chainsaw massacre remodel job. They are out there and in some cases true. I am talking about how much your builder’s experience and expertise can affect the decisions you make while building your home. The difference can be the creation of the home of your dreams or just another home. So use these tips, and choose wisely.

Mistake #1 - Failure to do proper background investigation and research

Don’t be shy about asking. If they are a reputable builder, they will want you to know their credentials. The Home Builder’s Association (HBA) will be able to tell you if the builder has any complaints against him or if he has been involved in any contractor related legal actions. Ask for references and then talk to them. Ask questions like:

  • Did the builder stay on budget?
  • Was the builder helpful with materials, finishes, recommendations?
  • Did the builder stay within the projected completion time range?
  • Did the builder return calls quickly?
  • When problems arose, how quickly was the builder able to respond to them satisfactorily?
  • Are they registered with the local Home Builders Association (HBA)?
  • How long have they been working with the same trades?
  • Have they won any awards?
  • What do they feel they excel at?

Today the building process is very complicated. Code and industry changes are happening regularly. The number of choices in materials and construction techniques has risen exponentially in the last 10 years. There are too many options, and it is a difficult process. If they are registered with the HBA there are programs and training to keep them in touch with industry trends and changes.

They say a pick-up truck makes for a great office. If you’re not so sure, check to see that they have good management skills or a strong team behind them. This won’t guarantee a better job, but it usually means that the process will go more smoothly as the builder will not have to see to everything personally.

  • Check with the local HBA to see if there have been any complaints
  • Ask for references and then talk to them.
  • Ask for the names of some of their trades and ask them if they like working for the builder? How well does he resolve problems? Does he pay on time? Does he set high job site standards? Does he cut corners on the job site? *Please handle this sensitively. Trades can be very loyal to their builder so don’t risk your future relationship with them.

Mistake #2 – Failure to choose the right builder for your job

Not every custom house build project needs the same kind of a builder. Consider your needs. Are you looking for a one man artisan who pays attention to every detail in your home? Or is it important to you that your home be built on a tight schedule and problems and challenges are addressed quickly and efficiently?

Assess your needs by asking yourself these Questions:

  • How much time do I have to invest in the home building process?
  • How much research am I you able to do for the products and finishes?
  • How much time do I have to select the material finishes?
  • How much guidance are you prepared to offer your builder in how you want your home built?

For instance, some builders are expert craftsmen. Everything they do is on the custom level. If you are looking for a lot of detailed woodwork, you might be better suited to a builder who either, 1) does it himself and stakes his reputation on it, or 2) has his own skilled people doing the work, rather than subbing the work out to (possibly) the lowest bidder.

Some builders offer a much more streamlined approach to building your home, which will save you time and may save you money. Of course you may not have the full ‘custom’ approach to every detail in the house, but do you really want to be picking out every last little thing on your house?

Mistake #3 – Failure to choose a builder you like and trust

Signing with a builder is a big commitment. If you discover halfway through the construction of your new home that you don’t like your builder, or he is too busy to ever get back to you, it is a difficult mistake to undo. If everything else checks out with the builder, go with your instincts. Do you feel you can trust him? Do you think you will enjoy working with this builder/firm for the next 6 months or so?

If not, find someone else before it’s too late. Don’t cheat yourself of the fun and excitement that comes with building a home by making a poor choice of builder.

Mistake #4 – Failure to get it in writing

Get your estimate in writing. Have the builder specify what is included in the price. Sometimes items that you see in a model home, may not be included in his standard pricing. Ask the builder for his allowance amounts for things like lighting fixtures, flooring, cabinetry. Then pay a visit with his suppliers and see if those allowances are realistic. Just how much you can get for that price? Some builders will put in lower amounts for their allowances because it makes the bid price look lower. But what you don’t pay for up front, may cost you more down the line.

If you don’t think the allowances will cover what you want to put in the home, how will the excess amount be handled? Will you have to pay for it in cash? Can you include it in your mortgage?

Have your builder specify on the estimate a list of the standard materials used, including model numbers if appropriate. It is difficult to get a good job and durability from inferior quality materials. If price is your biggest concern, I recommend building a smaller home, before paying for inferior materials or poor quality workmanship. These will not only decrease your enjoyment of your home, but will affect your resale value as well. You know what they say, “You pay for it now, or you pay for it later. Either way you pay for it.” I have found that to be true.

Get a signed Contract in writing. Please read your contract, or better yet, have a lawyer review it. You don’t want to be stuck in a contract that only benefits and protects the builder. You might consider including performance goals, ie. job completion dates, guarantees on estimates, back-up should something happen to the builder personally.

Mistake #5 – Failure to confirm liability insurance

Just because a builder has a licence doesn’t mean that he is insured against injuries, job site accidents, storm damage or other unforeseen hazards. Ask your builder to see his certificate showing that he is up to date and fully covered with liability and damage insurance. Different areas use different names for their insurance – check with the local HBA for standard coverage requirements.

Mistake #6 – Failure to understand the Builder’s Warranties

Call the HBA and find out what the local industry standard is for a home warranty. If your builder doesn’t offer at least the average warranty, find a different builder.

Mistake #7 – Failure to ask for help

I have been in the building industry for years, and I don’t know it all. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to be the expert on everything. Ask for help. But do be careful where you get your advice from. Many people like giving it, but are they really qualified to give you valuable advice. I have heard much advice on the job site from well intentioned trades people. They told me about the mistakes I was making, and how ‘nobody’ does it that way, ‘everybody’ does it this way.

Today your choices are vast and your options many. You can’t know it all. So do ask for help from experienced sources.

Congratulations on your decision to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. Happy building!

Yours Truly,

Some additional thoughts:

While choosing a builder is a very important detail, do not overlook the value of good plans. See ‘How to Choose an Architect’ and ‘Tips on How to Design your Dream Home’ for more information.


How To Choose An Architect

blueprint.jpgOther than choosing a spouse, this may be one of the most important relationship decisions you make in your lifetime. Considering that the home you will be building is a legacy that will impact many users and generations to come (statistics show we live in a home for an average of about 7 years,) it is not a decision to be made lightly. And like a marriage, you will develop a relationship with your architect or architectural designer that can make the building process even more enjoyable or, well, one can only imagine.

As you begin your adventure in home building I recommend three very important aspects to consider when choosing your architect.

  1. Do your research.
  2. Be prepared.
  3. Communicate your needs and goals clearly.

Do Your Research

The Value of Good Blueprints: I cannot overestimate the value of a good architect and properly prepared plans. Today with the do-it-yourself CAD programs, it seems anyone can design a home. As builders, we have built homes that have been designed by many different architects. It doesn’t take long to know which architects are favourites. And it often doesn’t have anything to do with how much the architect charges. It’s funny how some architects designs are difficult to build. Or the blueprints of other architects have space or traffic flow that just doesn’t make sense. When you are working with an inexperienced designer, the mistakes can be disastrous. One architect whose plans we built regularly was known for not leaving enough headroom for the stair opening, and bathrooms that were too small. Once a builder knows that about an Architect, he can watch out for those details. But how can you? Check with your builder.

Get References, Referrals and Recommendations: First, if you have already selected a builder, talk to him about it. Chances are he will have some pretty good advice for you. You can also talk to friends who are happy with their homes, but many of them might not realize the problems that the builder encountered while building their home. Another good research tool is the Parade of Homes. There’s nothing like walking in a home and experiencing it to understand how a designer works.

Set Realistic Goals: Let’s face it. We all want more in a home than our budget or the square footage allows for. You know in your head that there is only so much that can fit in your desired size of home, but your heart wants to convince you otherwise. Also, size doesn’t always determine price. Many other factors like quality of finishing materials, structural and design elements, site preparation and accommodation will affect the final price. If you are realistic and specific up front with your architect, it will save you heartache later.

Check the Portfolio: Has the architect actually designed homes similar to what you have in mind? There is a big difference in designing a Lakefront home or a house on an infill lot than for a home on acreage or in a neighbourhood.

Trust Your Instincts: When you are finally interviewing your potential architect and everything else seems to be right, trust your instincts. Do you think you are going to enjoy working with the person, the firm? If not, keep looking. There’s too much at stake.

Be Prepared

Understand What you Want. I know this sounds obvious, but it is important. Collect magazine pictures, lots of them. And maybe features from other plans that are particularly appealing. This may most easily communicate to your architect the look and feel that you are after. You can tell your architect that you want a home that looks French Country, but what if his idea of that is different than your expectations?

Understand your budget. Your architect is not going to pay the bills from your builder. If you have a specific amount that you are able to invest, you need to know before you get to the cash register that you are over budget. Many architects are unaware of how much it will cost to build their blueprints. Aside from variables like your choice of finishing materials, how they structure a house can affect the cost to build it dramatically.
Check the architect’s portfolio to make sure that he designs homes for your budget. I have a favourite architect that I like to work with when there is a limited budget. When I say something like, “What do you think about putting a Cathedral ceiling in here?” and he responds with something like, ‘Well, did you want a 2 car garage instead of 3?’ I know where I stand. A good architect is going to have an understanding of how much things will cost.

Understand Your Lifestyle. Your architect is not going to live in your home. You are. Another obvious statement I know. But you may know that you usually have more than one person working in the kitchen, so the typical ‘work triangle’ may not be the best approach for you. Or that organizing your stuff is a top priority, so planning for the appropriate storage spaces, whether inside or outside your home, had better be too. Also, consider furniture layouts. A great big large room may look good on paper, but where has your architect put the room entrances for traffic flow? Will you be able to layout your furniture in a pleasing way? Make sure he is able to understand how you live, and then when he makes recommendations, take into consideration his professional expertise.


Make Sure You Tell All: Now that you know what you are looking for, and how much you want to invest, you need to tell your architect. There is no substitute for clearly conveying this to your architect. Don’t assume that he knows, because it seems obvious to you that something should be done a certain way. Remember, you are working with someone who is part Engineer, and part Artist. Enough said!

Get it in Writing: I have always had good experiences with the architects I have worked with but it is always a good idea to get it in writing. How much will the plans cost? How long will they take? How much will it cost to make changes? What if he does not have them completed when expected?

Questions to Answer: How willing is the architect to work with you? If you have a unique lot, would he be willing to walk the site with you? Does he prefer to do a typical ‘stock’ type home with front and back views, or can he think outside the box? How long does the design process typically take? How does the architect price his work? Has the architect done a broad range of designs? Does he have stock plans that you could modify to suit you? Is the architect familiar with the building codes in the area you are building your home?

Some architects will take a lot of information from you and then begin the process of the preliminary drawings. Others will sketch things out right in front of you to make sure that they are on the right track.

Review your preliminary plans with your builder. Does he think the house will come in on budget?

Remember, there is NO such thing as the perfect house. But by doing your homework, understanding your needs, goals and budget, and finding the right architect for your job you will have a rewarding home to be enjoyed for many years and hopefully have fun building it too.

Yours Truly,

Some additional thoughts:

While choosing an architect is a very important detail, do not overlook the value of a good builder or design. See ‘How to Choose a Builder ’ and ‘Tips on How to Design your Dream Home’ for more information.

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