Monday, June 30, 2008

Building Green

With the price of heating skyrocketing, one of our goals with the new house is to make it as energy efficient as we can, without breaking the bank. So I've started researching the green building programs that are out there.

The Energy Star program is probably the most well known. Run by the Department of Energy, it provides guidelines for building a house that is more energy efficient than average. A more local program is the Green Built Home, sponsored by the Wisconsin Energy Initiative and the Madison Area Builders Association. Energy start provides guidelines for builders to create houses that are built a little better than they are required to build. Green Built Home adds more criteria, and is a little harder to achieve.

The most stringent program is the LEED program, sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council. The LEED program highlights the best projects in the nation (as far as green building is concerned). We've decided to take a stab at LEED certification.

Getting the house certified is a fairly involved process. It has to start at the planning phase, and the checks continue throughout the building process. It pays attention to details with a 136-point rating system that covers everything from design to siting, water usage, material selection, and energy efficiency. The program offers multiple levels: from a basic certification to silver, gold, and platinum based on the number of points scored for a project. So far, there have only been seven houses certified in the state of Wisconsin.

The LEED program is set up, as it probably should be, to penalize big houses. It makes sense: a big house uses more materials, and eats up more energy to heat and cool. And the program doesn't allow you to cheat: all square footage that will be conditioned has to be counted. That means we'll have to count the finished part of the basement and the workshop. The system has a formula to deduct points based on square footage for a given number of bedrooms. For us, that translates into a deduction of 17 point (about 13%).

I filled out an initial checklist just to see if I thought it would be possible to get the house LEED certified. Per our current plans, we should be able to get 72.5 points, with another 18 points possible, depending on budget. To get certified, we'll need 62.5 points, to get a silver rating, we'll need 77.5. I'm hoping to achieve a silver rating. If we do it, we'll have one of the first LEED-certified houses in the Milwaukee area.

In the next post, I'll describe some of the things we plan to do to get the rating.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I Won the Job

It's been a bit over six months, and I finally got a reasonably complete bid put together for the house. It looks like I got the job--so we'll be contracting our own house. It didn't actually take six months to get the bid put together. We spent a bunch of time finishing up the final details on house projects and getting the house ready for sale. We put it on the market, received a good offer after about a month, accepted it, and the buyers backed out. Then we got another good offer, accepted it, and we're hoping to close in August.

We thought about starting construction and trying to time the sale of the existing house with the completion of the new one. This probably would have worked out well two or three years ago. But given the state of the real estate market, we decided to wait until we sold before we started the new one. It means we'll have to rent for a while, but it's safer from a money standpoint.

I got an initial set of quotes from suppliers and subcontractors late last year. From those quotes I was confident we could build the house on budget. I re-started the process of getting quotes about a month ago, and found that lumber prices are way down, but prices for cement, copper, and steel are up. So it's still a go--but it isn't any cheaper to build now than it was six months ago. My bid almost exactly matches our budget (imagine that).

How did my bid compare to those we got from the professionals? It turns out that the bids I got from builders were actually very reasonable. The only way I was able to bring it in on budget was to eliminate some of the labor costs: so right now it looks like I'll be doing the tile work, finish carpentry, structured wiring installation, painting & staining, and maybe wood floor installation. I tried to pick tasks that weren't on the critical path (because any work I do will become the critical path). Megan is doesn't want me to install the floors, but I'd rather spend that 5-7k on something else. The difference between my bid and the bids from contractors can be attributed mainly to the labor costs and a percentage charged by the contractor for profit/project management.

Since it looks like we'll be starting soon, I'll start writing more frequently about the project.