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BUILDING A NEW HOME IN COLORADO: Making the Most of Your Budget When Choosing Mechanical Systems

Pearl Renovation Kitchen

This is a the 5th part of our 5 part series on making the most of your budget when building a new home in Colorado. Start at part 1 here. To make sure you don’t miss our next post – sign up for email updates here

The last two areas that we’ll consider in terms of where you need to allocate your spending are the mechanical systems and site considerations. Obviously, there is a lot more to consider in terms of interior design but these areas that we’ve been discussing are part of the overall structure design and, therefore, are some of the areas where you can do the most to mitigate risk and maximize value for your dollar.

Mechanical Systems

Here we’re looking at your HVAC system, the plumbing and electric, and your A/V technology. Although it might not seem like the latter belongs here, if you want something that is state of the art, it needs to be considered at the same time as you are planning the overall structure of your home.

Heating and ventilation

This is tied directly into the thermal envelope and the R values of the walls… the solar gain and the heat loss. This is another component that is highly dependent on the quality of the installation. Choices include a forced air furnace with vents or radiant heat (floor or wall, driven by a boiler).

Systems will have different efficiency levels, all of which are based on how much of the money you are spending on energy actually goes toward heating your home. For example, the standard efficiency of a forced air furnace is 90%. However, forced air, if installed improperly, can lose a lot of energy because of gaps in the piping allowing air to escape.

Radiant heat is more labor intensive and the equipment is more expensive. It can be from 90% more expensive than forced air, up to 2.5 to 3 times as much. Colorado is natural gas so you don’t get as much of a jump in efficiency as you would with an electric system.

Radiant heat is especially known for comfort, in particular, floor systems. It is always working so that you are always comfortable. Because it’s always on, the system gets less wear. Long-term maintenance costs are often lower than on forced air, which has to work harder.

Another important consideration in terms of cost-benefit has to do with how you incorporate air conditioning. With forced heat, air conditioning is part of the same system. With radiant heat, you need a separate system for cooling.

Plumbing

How water is supplied and waste is gotten rid of is also something that needs to be considered. With regard to heating your water, there are systems with and without tanks. Tanked water heaters have gotten far more efficient than they were in the past. That being said, people often prefer tankless because you can shower as long as you like and never run out of hot water.

However, tankless are also way more expensive. It takes 5 years for your investment to pay off. If you are making renovations, converting from a tank system to a tankless system takes a whopping 27 years to pay off, due to the use of natural gas in Colorado. One option to consider is placing smaller ones at different places throughout the house so that it takes less time to get to the shower. There are also recirculation pumps that move water throughout the system constantly and make the delivery more cost-effective than multiple tanks.

If you have a radiant heat system, you can use that in conjunction with your plumbing system to heat water and save on equipment costs.

Pipes are another place you have choices. Copper can break if the water freezes since it does not expand with the ice. You can end up with leaks if you’re away and the heat isn’t on. PEX plastic pipes are quieter, retain heat longer and are less prone to breaking from freezing. They are more flexible so can be bent around the corner which means less fittings and, therefore, less breaks and failures.

The plumber’s choice is PVC plastic pipes. They are quieter than AVS plastic. At one time, AVS was cheaper but now they are pretty much the same. Petroleum is used in the manufacturing of AVS pipes so the cost fluctuates with the price of oil.

Electrical

Electrical codes keep getting stricter. There are more and more safety precautions such as putting breakers into a box, installing ground fault interrupted outlets in wet areas such as kitchens and bathrooms. Half a dozen years ago, they were open ground. Arc fault detects open neutral. Hot, ground, neutral. When you lose the neutral wire, it’s detected. It happens in areas such as bedrooms and living rooms when a lamp is plugged in around furniture that’s pushed up against it. When you lose the neutral wire, you have the potential for a spark which can lead to a fire. Bigger electrical panels means increased costs.

You legally have to have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

You have choices when it comes to lighting as well. Do you want incandescent which are inefficient and burn out? Or fluorescent which are more efficient but cost more? At the higher end, you have LED, halogen, and xenon. As you go up in cost, the light quality also increases. Unlike LED, with halogen and xenon, you are heating an inert gas so there is heat output. Of course, you also need to consider the aesthetic you’re looking for, and then consider your options relative to cost.

If you are in the Denver area and ready to get started, feel free to give me a call. We’re happy to come out and give you a consultation so we can better answer what “it depends” means for your specific situation.

BUILDING A NEW HOME IN COLORADO: What Do You Need to Consider With Regard to the Thermal Envelope?

Custom Home Construction

This is a the 4rd part of our 5 part series on making the most of your budget when building a new home in Colorado. Start at part 1 here. To make sure you don’t miss the next part in this series – sign up for email updates here.  

The thermal envelope relates to the insulation, windows, exterior doors, and garage doors of your home. From the ground up, it refers to the elements used to keep cold air out and hot air in or vice versa, depending on the season.

Insulation

Your most common choices for insulation are traditional fiberglass batt, blown-in insulation (fiberglass, cellulose, or other materials), and spray foam (chemical based foam that expands). In looking at the different choices, you want to consider cost, installation, and R value (how effective it is).

Fiberglass batt is a very viable product. The downside with this one is the installation, and it is often installed incorrectly. It’s important to take care that it is not over-compressed. If there is no air around it, it won’t work properly. Installing it the right way takes a lot of time and effort, however, with the right installation it is a great product and is the most cost effective option.

Blown-in insulation eliminates the compression problem. This method of installation makes it easy to get it back and around into small nooks and crannies, such as behind electrical outlets. However, proper installation is still key in terms of ensuring that it works properly. Correct installation of any of these products is better than poor installation of a superior (and more expensive) option.

Spray foam is far and away the most expensive, however, it also gives the highest R value. Many times it is used in conjunction with other types of insulation. Because it expands, it will reduce air leakage. It also seals up really well.

Windows

With your windows, you have a choice of aluminum (obsolete), fiberglass, wood (which can be clad in aluminum or fiberglass), and vinyl.

Vinyl windows had gotten a bad rap back in the 80s when they were not as well made. Now, however, they have become a viable choice. Because they are not very conductive, they are quite energy efficient. Due to their flexibility, they come with far less required maintenance than wood.

Wood windows are definitely the most elegant option. They offer more in the way of configuration possibilities such as single hung, double hung, awning, and casement. The downside is that they are more expensive and labor intensive. Although manufacturers are working on making them more energy efficient, vinyl is still more so.

When you consider the dry climate in Colorado as well as the altitude, this has the effect of taking the moisture out of wood causing it to shrink and then later expand. Paint doesn’t stick to it and you get cracks at the joints with staining. However, you can clad it in aluminum or fiberglass on the outside to get around that.

Fiberglass windows offer less options than wood or vinyl. They are more expensive than vinyl but are comparable with respect to maintenance and efficiency. They basically came into use because of the initial failure of vinyl when it first came on the market.

Exterior Doors

These come in either composites or in real wood. Real wood will require more maintenance. The energy value of doors comes from their construction. Basically, it’s the aesthetics that are important. Note that doors themselves aren’t good at keeping water out. The key is how they are made and how they are installed to make them as efficient as possible.Note that doors themselves aren’t good at keeping water out. The key is how they are made and how they are installed to make them as efficient as possible.

Garage Doors

These can be aluminum, steel, composite, or real wood, although aluminum is less often used as compared to steel. Garage doors are an area where a lot of heat can be lost.

Wood is really expensive and requires a lot of maintenance but you have a lot more options with respect to style. Composites used to be more popular but they’re expensive to make so there aren’t many on the market. They offer the solid feel of wood but with lower cost and maintenance of the door itself. They’re heavy though, so there is more maintenance on the tracks and wheels– the openers have to work harder.

With steel, the look of them can be the con. They are perceived as being a lesser option and they don’t offer you as much in the way of styles. Typically they are pressed so it’s hard to get much in the way of reliefs and details. However, they are very light and therefore easier on the equipment. They are almost always sold with an option for insulation.

In the next post in our series we’ll discuss what you need to consider when it comes to the mechanical systems of your new home build. Come back soon or sign up to receive updates here.

BUILDING A NEW HOME IN COLORADO: What Do You Need to Consider When It Comes to the Exterior?

Quitman 2(A10)This is a the 3rd part of our 5 part series on making the most of your budget when building a new home in Colorado. Read Part 1 or Part 2. To make sure you don’t miss the next part in this series – sign up for email updates here.  

In discussing how best to allocate your money when planning a new home build, last time we looked at some of the particular considerations with regard to the structure. This time, we’ll review the things to keep in mind when deciding on the exterior.

This area includes such options such as stucco, siding, stone, brick, as well as the finished roof. There are a lot of choices and these are greatly dictated by your personal style and taste. While the style you’re looking to create can drive the components, within those you have choices. The exterior is basically seen as the shell of the house that protects it from the elements and you can choose from siding, stucco, stone (veneer) or brick.

If you look at some of the basic differences, stucco is naturally porous so you need to put something behind it to keep moisture from entering. Siding is generally the cheapest, followed by stucco and then stone and finally brick. These last two, however, can be interchanged, depending on the type chosen.

Siding comes in many different varieties. There is cementitious siding, hardboard (pressboard– sawdust mixed with glue– not really wood), manufactured wood product (more wood content than pressboard), and wood.

Hardboard is the most cost effective but it’s not as durable as the others. When it is exposed to water, and the paint and caulk has aged, it is prone to deterioration.

Manufactured wood is easier to work with; it’s also about the same price and is more durable and stable than a hardboard product. It eliminates expansion better than wood and the paint will last longer.

Cementitious siding doesn’t expand or contract as much as wood products but it can be hard to work with. There are lots of nuances to it, it can be brittle and installers don’t like working with it.

Real wood always, of course, has an allure to it. There’s no doubt that it offers more of a feeling of warmth and romance. However, it is also the hardest to maintain– it expands, contracts, needs to be painted more frequently, and it’s the most expensive of the previously discussed siding options.

When it comes to stone and brick veneers, you have to factor in weight. Full brick is more expensive. Stone can be real or manufactured. If it’s real, the cost is driven by what is available regionally and therefore if there is shipping involved. Real stone is heavier than manufactured stone, so the foundation must be designed with that in mind. Manufactured stone is lighter and there is more flexibility with how it’s applied to the wall. But it can be more difficult to make it look realistic.

So, in order to decide which exterior is right for you, you need to consider the climate, the cost and, of course, your taste. In addition, within each of these categories, you’ll have choices in terms of manufacturers, which can also make a difference as to the associated value and risk.

If you are in the Denver area and ready to get started, feel free to give me a call. We’re happy to come out and give you a consultation so we can better answer what “it depends” means for your specific situation.

In the next post in our series we’ll discuss what you need to consider when it comes to the thermal envelope of your new home build. Come back soon or sign up to receive updates here.

BUILDING A NEW HOME IN COLORADO: What Do You Need to Consider When It Comes to the Structure?

Stuart 1-1

This is the 2nd part of our 5 part series on making the most of your budget when building a new home in Colorado. Read part 1 here. To make sure you don’t miss the next part in this series – sign up for email updates here

In this installment of our series, we’re going to talk about the structure of your house, meaning the foundation, framing, and roof structure. The first key to minimizing risks when it comes to a new home build and its structure is hiring the right professionals– structural engineer, geotechnical engineer, and surveyor– who will analyze your lot and the soil composition. They will then basically write a recipe that will dictate your ideal foundation and structure design. This team will help you to come up with the right solution for your particular issues, enabling you to figure out where the cost vs. value lies for this area of the build.

For example, in Colorado, we have a lot of clay soil, which can be expansive. As it does so, it can cause the house to literally tear apart in extreme situations. The foundation, therefore, must be properly designed to accommodate potential soil movement in order to mitigate risks inherent with clay soils or other potential environmental hazards .

Basements are another key issue to think about with regard to the composition of your soil. You can choose between a structural floor in your basement or a slab on grade. Although the structural floor generally carries the perception of being better, it doesn’t sit right on the soil and, as such, creates a crawlspace which can lead to problems with mold or air issues if not properly constructed. It is also far more expensive than slab on grade. But slab on grade can move or crack and become uneven if it is put on top of the wrong soil types.

When it comes to the framing of the house, it will likely be wood framed. However, your design team needs to be involved to consider the frame as compared to the thermal envelope. For example, thicker framed walls will allow for more insulation to give you a better thermal envelope. With respect to joist spacing, increased joist spacing typically means less wood which means a lower cost but this also comes with more deflection. So again, this is an area where risk has to be compared with the cost of the potential benefits.

As you can see just by looking at this first area of the house’s structure, there are a lot of considerations to be taken into account to answer the question of where to best allocate your spending. So the most important piece right from the get-go is having the right team in place to give you professional advice for your specific situation and the ideal solution. This is the only way you can be sure that you are aware of most of the risk and that that risk is being managed as effectively as possible.

In the next post in our series we’ll discuss what you need to consider when it comes to the exterior of your new home build. Come back soon or sign up to receive updates here.

Building a New Home in Colorado: Making the Most of Your Money

Quitman 3(B1)

This is a 5 part series on making the most of your budget when building a new home in Colorado. Don’t miss the next part in this series – sign up for email updates here!

Part 2 – What Do You Need to Consider When It Comes to the Structure?

Part 3 – What Do You Need to Consider When It Comes to the Exterior?

A common question when it comes to planning a new home build is where to focus your spending. Are there areas that one can spend more money on in order to lessen the amount of repairs as well as the likelihood of problems in general? Are there areas that one can spend more money on in order to lessen the amount of repairs as well as the likelihood of problems in general?

As much as I’d love to give you a top ten list, the reality is, it always depends. And it depends on a number of factors, such as the specific site you are building on, the type of house design you are constructing, the soil conditions of your lot, municipal codes, and much more.

Even the climate has a part to play in these decisions. Add the fact that each family can have their own particular requirements and preferences, and the equation gets even trickier. Unfortunately, there is no one place that you can say additional spending will make a difference for each and every situation.

The truth is, building a home always comes with risks. Always. There’s no way that you can mitigate all of it, but there’s a lot you can do to ensure that you understand where the risk is and decide what is acceptable. As the risks are dependent on the things I’ve already mentioned, so too are the solutions.

Your new home construction project can be broken down into a few basic areas. These areas include: structure, exterior, thermal envelope, mechanical systems, and site considerations. Within each of these, you will need to make decisions as to where you should allocate your finances. And, again, within each of these there is an element of “it depends.”

Of course, your budget will include other areas such as the interior finishing and design. But these areas listed above are the ones that you can use to reduce risk, as well as lower the chance that your build will fail or that you’ll need to spend a lot on repairs in the near future.

In the following articles to come, I’ll break down some of the key considerations within each of these broad areas. While I can’t answer the question of where you should focus your money without actually discussing your exact situation, I can at least advise you on some of the things you need to think about.

If you are in the Denver area and ready to get started, feel free to give me a call. We’re happy to come out and give you a consultation so we can better answer what “it depends” means for your specific situation.

In the next post in our series I’ll discuss what you need to consider when it comes to the structure of your new home build. Check back soon, sign up to receive updates via email or follow us on Facebook.