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Justin Hollender

4 Alarming Trends Local Spokane Builders Are Getting Away With

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Homes are the single largest investments families across The United States make on a daily basis. However, to some builders, maximizing their profits are the driving force behind their motivation. This odd but scary fact is amplified when savvy clients do their due diligence, ask the right question and use common sense to avoid shady, cheap builders and choose a builder like True Built Home instead to build their future investment and the place they call home. So, where are some builders cutting corners to make higher margins on your hard-earned money?

  1. Rebar in the foundation

    Rebar in the foundation

    It might shock you to know that some very high profile on your lot builders in the Spokane area do not use rebar, for foundations that are 4 ft or shorter on their single story (Ramblers) homes in much of Eastern Washington. As one Spokane County plans examiner said, “I would not recommend that”, and neither do we. Typically, not using rebar can save a builder between $1,800-3,000 per home. Much of this is due to the seismic activity, or tectonic plates, large-scale movement of plates below the surface of the earth. In layman’s terms, we haven’t had many earthquakes so you don’t have to use rebar. However, even if the earth doesn’t move, load on a house, say in a corner, can put added force on a foundation causing cracks, sagging, and costly repairs in the future. ON BRAND NEW HOMES! Actually, cracks in concrete is natural and is to be anticipated. That’s where rebar comes in. The steel reinforces the concrete, holding it together, instead of it simply falling away. One of our foundation crew here in Spokane simply said, “I will never do a foundation for builder “X” because I don’t want the liability in the future”.

    • When visiting with a builder, you need to request actual proof that their foundation plans call out rebar in both the footing and stem walls.

     

  2. The frost line

    What is a frost line? Here is a link for Spokane City and County. Essentially, due to the freezing conditions in Eastern Washington, code requires that a minimum of 24 inches in depth be cut before you can pour a foundation, unless otherwise stipulated (such as flood areas). The frost line – also known as frost depth or freezing depth – is most commonly the depth to which groundwater in the soil is expected to freeze. When water freezes under the ground it causes “Frost Heave”.Frost heaveThe diagram above warrants your attention, especially when a builder sets the start of the foundation right at the minimum requirement. Combine that with a lack of enough or any rebar in a foundation and you can understand why we said, “alarming” in our article.

    True Built Home in the Spokane area uses a 6″ x 12″ footing, steel-reinforced, with a 22-24″ stem wall. In total, your foundation wall will be 28-30″ in height (requiring that the excavation be dug normally 4-6″ inches deeper) compared to the builder who only has a combined total wall height of 24″, or the bare minimum. 24″ wall, no rebar, sleepless nights and the potential of costly repairs in the future should alarm you.

     

  3. Heating and cooling your home

    Sometime back, Washington adjusted the energy codes for all counties. As a result, they raised the bar for the efficiency of hot water tanks and heating/cooling (HVAC) of homes. In a nutshell, a builder is awarded credits for several different methods he chooses to reach the code in order to be issued a building permit. For example, the type of hot water tank, the thickness of insulation, heel trusses, HVAC products, and many others. So, the builder chooses how to achieve that method. When the code changed sometime back, we wrote an article about it. You can reference it here.

    Here’s the rub: 1 ductless unit will get the builder the same amount of credits as a full heat pump furnace package! So, why do some builders use an inferior approach to heating and cooling the entire home? Because it saves the builder thousands of dollars. Sure, if your home is 1,500 sq. ft. or smaller, these are great units and that’s what we use for our smaller homes. However, if you have a 2,000 sq. ft. two-story or rambler home and you want cooling in say the back-half of the home, or upstairs, be prepared to shell out thousands of dollars for an additional second or even a third ductless unit. True Built Home uses heat pumps and full furnaces in every branch in all homes 1,500 sq. ft. and above. On our ramblers, we run the venting in the ceilings of rooms. This keeps construction debris from accumulating, having the plenum in the attic allows for additional insulation value and not hanging it under the joist in the foundation crawlspace avoids any dampness due to flooding or bad weather.

     

  4. Engineering

    Every home that True Built Home builds has been engineered. What does that mean, and how do some builders say they do, but they are just bending words? Most homes built today have engineered scissors trusses. So, the factory, vendor, or supplier who builds those trusses sends a stamped set of plans of your truss package that have been engineered by the company who supplied the trusses. This applies to the floor system, or floor joist. They are required to create a plan of the joist and stamp the plan as engineered. However, what about the interior and exterior walls? What about the load on window and door headers? Some counties do not require it. As a result, a builder with a slick marketing machine can say tongue-in-cheek, “Our homes are engineered”, because the trusses and the joist are but, the final third of the home is not. In effect, they are saving themselves around $1,500-1,600 on a 2,500 sq.ft home. So, while they may be giving you triple pane windows (about $200 more for an entire home), they are holding back on what we consider causing sleepless nights as a builder and for a client.

    When homes are cheaper, there is a reason. If say, the homes are similar in price, but lacking critical items, such as rebar, engineering, or efficient means of heating and cooling your home, then why choose an inferior and fearful product for you and or your family? What would say happen if years after you built with builder “X” and it was reported that their homes are failing, and you wanted to sell it? It would be like what happened when the Louisiana Pacific siding failure happened and people with their siding packages were stuck trying to sell their home at a reduced price, or never selling the home, dealing with warranty, paperwork, scheduling, etc. As one person said, “the cheapest person always pays the most”.

    True Built Home has always built homes with the concept that we would live in our homes, worry free. Do your research. Be savvy. Ask hard questions and obtain proof. When you do, True Built Home will rise to the top of your home building choices.

Don’t fall for cheap home builders

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Solar Tiles for Roofing – Wave of the Future, or is the Price Higher Than The Sun?

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First, if you are reading this you likely have an interest in roof tile solar energy, or you just crave all things solar. I, on the other hand, often force myself to write blog posts because I want to learn all I can about a particular subject, or for that matter learn to intelligently pronounce certain words within an industry, like photo-voltaic! Although fascinated with solar generated power, I am always “on the job training” all the time within this space. My goal is always to attempt to take complicated things and simplify them for myself and others. Let’s see what we can learn.

True Built Home started getting requests several months ago when news of solar tiles from a company named Solar City was bought out or purchased by Elon Musk’s company Tesla. Interestingly my perspective was, “I like the way those big solar panels appear on rooftops”. However, much to my surprise others felt differently: unsightly, ugly, even dangerous if a gale force wind comes along.
In a statement in October 2016, Mr. Musk said this, “I think there’s quite a radical difference between having solar panels on your roof that actually make your house look better versus ones that do not, I think it’s going to be a night-and-day difference”. Well, that has been addressed and it appears to be the wave of the future for new roofs and roof replacements. But, here’s the rub: cost.

It has been written and repeated over the internet in news articles, company releases, blog posts, and more, that these new roof tiles will cost less than a typical 30 yr. architectural roof product. Let’s just say that typically a roof for a 2,100-2,500 square foot home with a standard two-car garage costs about 10k to install. From what we have likely all read, this seems to be repeated about the cost, “Our roof costs less than an equivalent roof, with projected savings from your utility bill.” It’s important to notice the “with” in that statement. The Tesla folks are projecting future savings into the cost equivalent of having the new tiles placed – based upon your monthly electric bill cost. That may present a problem for many of us here in the Pacific NW, because we often have the cheapest rates in the country. I am not sure what cost per KW that they are using for their projections, so costs will vary quite a bit. Now since I have done my research, perhaps you can help: I have not found an actual cost associated with those tiles. If I had to figure it out, it would take me some time to do so. Are the tiles 30 or 50-year life? What will be the cost of installation be? Will someone need to be certified by Tesla to guarantee the product against future failure or problems? Can we afford it, and does it make sense for our PNW customers?

We are eager to install this type of roof, but as of May 2017 we still do not have a cost that we can use to compare with what a traditional roof costs. I do know that a regular panel solar roof can run around 20-30k depending on what you want to accomplish in your home. From my perspective, that is at least 3 to 4-times the cost of our typical conventional roof tile. So, what typically might cost 5% of a new home, now we are looking at significantly more.

With an estimated 4-5 million new home roofs being installed annually, Mr. Musk and Tesla want to tap into that market in a big way. Will they? The wave of the future is here, but will the cost of buying, installing, etc. be too costly for us to ride?

Hear what Mr. Musk has to say about roof tiles

This is a link to a local company that covers both Washington and Oregon, but I don’t think anyone as of May 2017 knows the cost of these solar tiles yet.