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Budgeting your new Kit Home! What if a building department asks for more information than they initially requested. Do building departments need HVAC, electrical, plumbing and gas piping design? How is a foundation designed?
Interviewer: Hello everyone and welcome to Episode 38 of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. With me in the studio is the President and Founder of Landmark Home and Land Company, a company which has been helping people build their new homes where they want exactly as they want across the nation and worldwide since 1993, and that man is Mr. Steve Tuma. Steve, how are you doing, amigo?
Steve Tuma: Doing well. Staying busy as always. Having a good time helping customers get through permitting processes, design issues, interesting land situations so …
Interviewer: All the usual stuff.
Steve Tuma: Yeah, keeping on our toes and we are having some fun.
Interviewer: Good. I thought today, we might get back to something we like to do every third or fourth episode or so is look at some interesting inquiries and questions from customers that we received. So why don’t we just get right into it?
Steve Tuma: Yeah. Throw some questions at me.
Interviewer: I thoroughly throw you for a loop there.
Steve Tuma: Yeah, I thought you were going to say more and then you leave me hanging. It’s like OK.
Interviewer: I just like to keep you on your toes like you just said. So let’s talk about – let’s talk about quotes for a sec. Now, how do customers know if a quote for let’s say, a heating or an air conditioning system that they are having installed, how do they know that the quote they are getting is correct and they are done right and equally, apples to apples? How do I know the quote I get for a system such as that is good for a properly designed house?
Steve Tuma: Well, that’s an interesting situation because it’s not just like heating and air conditioning system. It could be your foundation, your electric, your roof. And what we always suggest is make sure that you’ve got an accurate set of plans to go through and get quotes. Now initially, you might work off of just rough concepts and get rough ideas to make sure that a house is going to fit in your general budget, kind of a target situation. But when you are actually going through and getting the quotes that you need to actually go through and execute the building processes, it’s good to have a good set of plans. The reason being is the set of plans is a communication tool. We could draw the house up that you want and then you could use those plans for permit applications so the Building Department knows what you want to build. But also, the contractors know what’s to be built so that you don’t end up in a situation where sometimes people work in other ways and say, “Hey, I bought these plans but do this change. Do this 2000-square-foot home but make the garage bigger.” What does make the garage bigger mean? Is it a foot bigger? Is it 10 feet? Is it 10-car garage instead of 2-car? So it gets rid of the nebulous ideas and miscommunications so that contractors can do their jobs. And that way, it’s very clear as to what is to be estimated and then you could verify that the estimate comes back accurately. It also limits the errors. And sometimes people taking advantage of the situation where they say, “Well, I didn’t know you wanted that.” Well, in this case, it’s right on the plans. It would show, “Hey, you want cement board siding or you’re going to need a foundation for a 1200-sqaure-foot ranch with a 3-car garage.” It would be very accurate. Now in some cases, there are technical sides to this. So you brought up the heating and air conditioning systems, sometimes people work off of rules of thumb. And someone might say, “Well, I’ve been in the heating business for 30 years and this is how we do this.” Well, that’s great. But 30 years ago, homes weren’t insulated as well. Windows weren’t as good. The understanding of energy efficiency wasn’t there. So then what ends up happening is you use a rule of thumb from 30 years ago and apply it to a new home today, new building methods, new insulations, you might be over-sizing the heating and cooling systems.
Steve Tuma: So you are paying too much but then the heat system isn’t able to do its job right. It’s turning on and off a lot and possibly using more energy. So what we suggest in those cases is have the manuals as D & J developed so it’s very clear what needs to be done, where the duct works is at, where the cold air returns or at, the sizing for the system, so that then you can go through and get a quote that it’s apples to apples as you’re going to get it because theoretically, someone could go through and say, “Hey, your house needs 80,000 BTUs,” and other guy could say a hundred. Another contractor could say 120,000. And sometimes people are trained to think, “Well, the lowest cost is right.” Well, maybe it isn’t because maybe you are missing a return. Maybe it’s not big enough. Maybe the furnace is too big and therefore your energy costs are going to be larger over the course of the home ownership. So what I’m basically getting at is just develop a – we can work to develop an accurate set of plans so that people can go through and work with their contractors so that everyone understands what’s need to be done but it’s also very clear to the Building Department so it will be easier for permitting and the follow-up inspection processes. So it’s basically, make sure that the information is there. We are fully capable of doing the complete architectural design, structural design, energy codes, greed codes, electrical engineering, plumbing, gas line engineering and design, complete HVAC design. I think I already said electrical engineering as well or just regular design. So we are able to go through and put these details together so that our customer or owner/builder customer or contractor customer, understands what the house is to be made of, how it’s going to be built. So therefore, they can schedule their project better but they can also budget it better. I’ve heard many times that housing projects go over budget and sometimes I got to question things like that. Is it that it went over budget or was it never budgeted right or did people do changes when someone says, “Hey, you need this type of a furnace,” later to find out they need something different to do the job properly.
So we can all have a little bit of control in the budget and scheduling of a house if we do what I call as do the homework upfront. Work this all out in paper. What’s the design of the home? What’s the electrical system? What’s the furnace? What kind of siding are you putting on? What kind of roofing are you putting on? How many windows do you need and what size and what energy efficiency? So if someone wants to get into those details, we are completely set up and able to help them through. Other customers are very knowledgeable on it already and they are able to sort it out. But that’s what we see is develop your road map upfront for your building process by working with this for the plans. And then the execution of actually building or obtaining permits, getting inspections approved, and building will be much easier and also more enjoyable.
Interviewer: Yeah. And also, it sounds to me and we go through this a lot, we talk about this a lot on the podcast but starting off right makes all the communication down the line much easier.
Steve Tuma: Yeah. I kind of relate to a road trip. Do you have a general idea saying, “Hey, I want to drive from point A to point B,” or do you just get in your car at point A and go down the road and see where you end up?
Interviewer: Right. Right.
Steve Tuma: Not to say that a road trip just going to random road, having a good time can be bad but I don’t know that you want to do that with your house.
Interviewer: Yeah, spontaneity and home building doesn’t sound like a good idea.
Steve Tuma: Yeah, it’s interesting. Every once in a while, we get people in different industries where real time is important in their industry. Well, you don’t want a real-time engineer your house or design your house. You want to do it before and then build it. It’s not something we are in the middle of pouring the foundation you want to determine where it is or how tall your basement is. You want to do all that stuff upfront.
Interviewer: And what if a Building Department asked me for information which is beyond something I’ve initially requested or expected to put together?
Steve Tuma: That’s interesting because the idea of what if, it’s more like when they do. Building Departments are interesting. Some of them are less sophisticated. Some areas don’t have Building Departments. You can just go dig a hole and start building. Others are very simple. They will say, “Hey, just get me some plans.” And others will be detailed. You could have 10, 20 pages of details that they request. And we can help with all of those. The key to it is as we work nationwide and internationally, we’ve been exposed to a large variety of interesting quirks from Building Departments, special request, building site conditions that need further details. So if a Building Department says, “Hey, we need these 30 items on a plan,” and then somehow you find out that they really need to add another 10, chances are we’ve seen it before. We are fully capable of doing that. It’s part of our service to go through and just help our customers get through the permitting process by developing a set of plans.
Steve Tuma: And a key thing to that is we do make contact with the Building Department to see what they need and some of them are a little better at communicating than others but to find out what they need so that our initial plans are as complete as possible so that when you turn in, you could be confident you got a solid set of plans.
Steve Tuma: In some areas, parts of Colorado, California, Florida, and other places, it’s very common for Building Departments to have checklist items. So they will take the initial plan submittal and then review it and then come back with the checklist items of further details they need as they get into because Building Departments although they may supply a list, they always reserve the right to ask any question that they want. And that’s a thing to what we’ve been doing since 1993. We’ve got a lot of experience in variety of different Building Departments, varieties of building conditions, all types of home designs so that we are able to go through and supply the information. That’s the key element is we are the resource that makes your designing engineering permitting process I think the one-stop shop. It just makes it easier for our customers.
Interviewer: Now, I’ve heard that some Building Departments will ask for things like electrical and plumbing and gas pipe engineering. What is that process?
Steve Tuma: Well, it’s interesting because most Building Departments just want an electrical layout so they want to know where the sockets are, the lights are, or things to code, is there proper ventilation, smoke and carbon dioxide detectors, monoxide detectors. They want to make sure that those items are on the plans. But we are seeing more and more Building Departments ask for actual electrical engineering because what they are finding is sometimes people aren’t putting in. They might know, “Hey, you need to have so many sockets here or you need to have this,” but they are not really doing the Amperage calculation. And if you look at today’s homes, there could be multiple TVs, a couple of kitchens. One customer had a home, Mark Wielder, with electric vehicles. A lot of people are requesting the electrical connections in their garage to plug their electric car in. So suddenly, your home needs a lot more “juice” to run. So what the engineering process is, they are just asking for verification that does your house really need the power that’s there or does it need more for what it’s designed? The same thing with plumbing and the gas sizing, they want to make sure that someone is not out there using a rule of thumb on, “Oh, we just need this type of gas pipe.” They want to know that that gas pipe and the plumbing is sized properly. If you look at a situation where someone may have a gas barbecue, they may have a gas hot tub, they may have a couple of dryers in their home, a gas stove, a gas fireplace, suddenly, it might need a bigger pipe to get all that information.
So what it is, is it’s a verification upfront to make sure it’s designed right so that you don’t put it in and then the inspector comes down and questions it. It’s very easy for us to do. It’s part of what we supply if someone needs that level of detail for their Building Department. So we are able to do something from the simple electrical layout to full electrical engineering. And the same for the plumbing and gas pipe sizing to make sure that all those layouts are proper so it’s clear as to what needs to be done. More and more Building Departments are asking for it. I’ve asked the Building Department, “Hey, why is this change coming through?” And they’ve said, “Because people’s usage is more and the contractors aren’t always following through.” They are working with rules of thumb from 10, 20 years ago but people’s gas usage maybe more especially in areas where they are trying to restrict the electric usage because of the cost or then environmental components of it.
Interviewer: Right. Some things some – one potential customer asked about civil engineers and when they might need one. I mean does that have to do with what grading and drainage plan or is it that it come down to driveway access? When do I need a civil engineer? And do I?
Steve Tuma: Well, it goes area by area. It’s theoretically anyone could use one. It’s more of is there a Building Department requirement or does your land kind of dictate it?
Interviewer: Are they easy to find civil engineers?
Steve Tuma: Civil engineers are around and they can be pretty valuable. Now, let me paint a picture here. If you’re building on a very flat piece of land and you can walk up to it. You know where the driveway is going to come in. You know where the house is going to go. It’s easy to put your front door. Make sure that you can easily get into your driveway from the road to your driveway into your garage.
Steve Tuma: Flat piece of land, it’s kind of a no-brainer. You can kind of put it together. But let’s just take that same house and put it on the side of a hill.
Steve Tuma: So let’s just say that your lot at the road was a base elevation of what we will call zero feet. But then your driveway went up, curved around the big oak tree and it went up a hill but your front door was 20 feet above that road. OK. How do you access that? Now, people say, “Well, you just say put a driveway in.” Well, in a lot of places, there are restrictions on how steep your driveway can be. You can’t really just have a driveway that goes up a 45-degree angle.
Steve Tuma: The Building Departments don’t want it. And restricted areas or more challenging lots, a lot of the Building Departments will request that you can actually have easy access for the Fire Department.
Interviewer: Yeah, that makes sense.
Steve Tuma: A turnaround, an access or things like that. But then there’s also the situation of how do you actually get up to your house and go into front door, make sure that your access to get in the driveway and everything works out. So that’s where the grading plan comes in if they have to recontour the land or possibly just make little adjustments here and there to make it usable. More and more places are asking for drainage plans. Parts of Texas, areas you generally see drainage – you hear about floods in the news and towards bigger towns, they will ask for design like that. A lot of people say, “Hey, what’s the big deal? The water is going to go downhill.” Well, what they don’t want to do is have the water from your property flood your neighbors out.
Steve Tuma: Or overload any county or city drainage systems. So what they want to do is have control about it. This isn’t something really to be worried about. You get a civil engineer. You sort it out. Sometimes people say, “Well, I’d rather not spend the money on a civil engineer. I’d rather have a nicer kitchen.” And I say, “Well, that’s true and I understand that point. But the thing is, it’s nice to know that your house will sit on the lot properly.” So if you have a simpler lot in an area where the Building Departments aren’t extremely sophisticated, you generally don’t need it. If you’re on the side of a hill where there could be big water runoff issues or just challenges accessing the site, you will likely need that grading and drainage plan and it works out. In some cases, it just makes sense to have it because if someone had say, a 3-level home that crawled down the side of a hill, you are able to go through and know the different elevations of the first floor or the second floor or the third floor to make sure the foundation is designed properly to make sure any step downs in the home are put together. So this can get pretty deep but overall, we can find out if your Building Department requires a grading plan. I would say if you are in mountain area in California and Colorado, it’s very likely that you will need it. But don’t be scared by it. We know how to work with the people we can interface directly with the civil engineers and go back and forth to make sure that the design is put together properly.
Interviewer: Is that a licensing thing? I mean does it have to be a civil engineer who does things like let’s say drainage plans like I’ve already got a contractor doing something. Is it something another department can handle?
Steve Tuma: Well, that really comes down to the Building Department. Building Departments may say, “Hey, just get me topographical details,” which means anyone that can figure out topographical details can supply them. Some Building Departments want them to be a licensed civil engineer.
Steve Tuma: It just really comes down to in theory, the license person is going to have more accurate information, complete details that will make it easier to get through. Now, that being said, we’ve had a lot of customers that go through the transit or other measuring systems and say, “Hey, Steve, there’s a drop-off from here to here of this much. Here’s the elevation.” Because that equipment is available and we do have a lot of very knowledgeable customers that understand and are able to do it. One interesting kind of war story is we have had Building Departments where the lot is perfectly flat, they want a civil engineer to say the lot is perfectly flat. And then the proposed site is still perfectly flat. They want a civil engineer to document it.
Interviewer: Oh, got it.
Steve Tuma: They want to make sure that you are not changing it and that you are not doing anything to flat out your neighbor’s property.
Interviewer: That wouldn’t be a good thing. It’s not – that’s some fence you can’t divide I guess.
Steve Tuma: Right. It’s, “Oh, get rid of the fence. Just flood the neighbor out.” That’s a way to take care of neighborly relations.
Interviewer: There you go.
Steve Tuma: But the bottom line on this is that I’m kind of telling some stories here of the more extreme situations. Not everyone is going to run into that. These are more situations like I say in mountain areas or areas on the West Coast, beach communities, different situations like that. But we want to point out that the bottom line I think of the conversation here is that if someone has got a unique or challenging piece of land, we are very capable of working with this and making sure that the house sits on the land properly, the foundation is designed properly to make sure that everything works. You don’t want to build a house and then find out your first floor staircase is 10 feet above the ground. You got to parachute down or something.
Steve Tuma: You would like to know that upfront so you could do some grading work or do something with the deck or other system to get it into the house. And like I say, sometimes our customers have the information. They can provide it to us. Other times, they need to get a civil engineer. But it sounds more intimidating than it is. And we are always available to help people through what I call the “more interesting situations.”
Interviewer: Right. You’ve touched upon foundation design. Who actually does the foundation design of let’s say, I’m putting up a panelized home, who would be doing that?
Steve Tuma: We do that. We do that as part of our architectural drafting service and then in the final set of plans. Foundation design can vary significantly depending on where you’re building. If you are building on a simpler lot where there are known soil conditions, the foundation design is a little simpler. If you are in an area going down the sides of hills or varied soils or expansive soils or weak soils or hydrostatic situations, you might need to have a fully engineered foundation to make sure that it’s strong enough to do it. The foundation basically holds the house up. But what’s holding the house up is the dirt below it. And not all dirt has the same strength. Some people have actually built on granite rocks. I guess that’s a duplicate word but they built on granite. And that generally holds 14, 15000 pounds per square foot. It’s not a problem. Other people, they will go find a typical piece of land that’s 2,000 pounds strength and others, you end up with 1,000.
Steve Tuma: So all of those need different foundation designs to support the home properly. And that’s the key element that we have to look at and make sure that it’s taken care of properly. So we can help that. And it’s not just the size of the footers. It’s, does the foundation step up the side of a hill? Is there a low impact foundation, kind of something on stilts? Are you building in Florida or hurricane or any flood zone areas where your home would be on stilts? We can work with those designs as well. So basements, crawl space, slabs, homes on stilts or piers, or homes with combinations of those. Well, we can do it all. It’s part of what we do every day.
Interviewer: So here’s an inquiry by a potential Landmark customer. They say they entertain and cook a lot and they want to know how they can detail their kitchen and bathrooms so it’s exactly the way they want it. What would you say to address that?
Steve Tuma: Well, that’s something that we do. What we do is we would work on the overall architectural design of the home. So let’s just say someone ends up with a kitchen that’s 12 feet by 16 feet on a corner overlooking a yard, we could go through and do a preliminary layout, showing where the windows are or doors, walls, and where the stove might be, refrigerator, sink, and details like that. But the actual cabinetry, people would take our plans to that cabinet designer, big buck store or wherever it is, and then they can go through and detail out as much as they’d like and what they need because some people just want a simple kitchen. Other people are gourmet cooks and they want everything done very detailed so that they can enjoy their cooking experience. So what we are able to do is get them the plans with the dimensions so they could work with their kitchen designers or the bathroom vanity designers, wet bars, different cabinets for offices. A lot more people are filling out their man caves. The garages are becoming big toy boxes. People have these working on bikes or cars or boats or whatever it may be or artist workshops. So we are able to supply the details so then they can work with the cabinet designers to get those areas designed exactly the way they want it.
Interviewer: That’s going to be one of the more fun parts of your job is when people call you and they have kind of something in their head. They want a specialty kitchen like you said. Somebody is a gourmet cook or somebody wants to do a YouTube channel show and needs their kitchen a certain way so they can do their cooking show on YouTube. And I would imagine you have to be pretty involved in all of that.
Steve Tuma: Well, we are. That’s actually why customers come to us. They are not just coming saying, “Hey, get me a house. I need a place for my family, my dog, and my car.” It’s an environment for them. It’s a living experience.
Interviewer: Right, of course.
Steve Tuma: So whether it’s a kitchen or a space in the garage for a car lift for the antique car or whatever it is, that is kind of the front thing. And that’s why people come to us at Landmark is people want more bang for the buck and they want to get what they want. They don’t want to work somewhere and someone says, “Hey, you got to buy this house. No changes or changes are expensive.” We look at it and say, “Let’s just design the house you want. The end result is the cost is very affordable and you get what you want and you are able to see the quality of it.” We’ve had people – we’ve had a variety of our customers where they have old cars. So they will actually come in and say, “I have a lift where I want to put two TR7s in them.” Or, “Hey, I have a big car and a little car.” Or, “Hey, I kind of want a lift for working on the car.” Other people have it for storage. So sometimes you’ve got to look at these things and say, “Well, let’s get that in there.” But a lot of people think, “Well, that’s easy. Just make a taller wall.” Well, it’s kind of true but it can affect your ceiling design as well. It can affect where you put a door, where you put electric sockets, how you do lighting plans and different details. So it’s kind of one of these fun things to work with our customers to see what it is that they need and then what are the resource for them to figure out how to get it done. But we also work with them so they understand what it is. Our customers want to know what’s going on.
Interviewer: Well, why wouldn’t they? It’s a big step building a house. It’s especially – it seems a little more daunting than you’re going out to buy a prebuilt house in some neighborhood as opposed to putting up your own house. I mean a lot of people, that has got to seem a little daunting so I’m sure that they are happy when they get to talk to you on the phone and you guys are knowledgeable and you can help them through every step.
Steve Tuma: Well, what it is, is become a resource to them, an easily accessible and knowledgeable resource. So if they have ideas or questions, sometimes people go to friends or the internet and what you find out is if you ask five people, you get seven answers.
Steve Tuma: So what we are able to do is provide an answer and justify why it works for their particular situation so that they do it. It reduces stress and makes it easier for the people and they understand what’s going on. So they understand why something is done a certain way. And then if for some reason they want something different, we work with it and figure it out. So we are not here to tell someone how to build their house. We are here to help them get what they want.
Interviewer: The internet is full of misinformation.
Steve Tuma: Yeah, I joke about it that everyone has got an internet PhD after reading something for 5 minutes.
Interviewer: I was getting these weird pains and I found out you could either have – I either have diphtheria, malaria, or the mange. I haven’t figured out that.
Steve Tuma: Or all three, just look at a different place.
Interviewer: Right. Well, that’s going to do it for us for this episode. Another great show, Steve. Thanks so much for filling us with so much information. But before we go, I’m going to give you a chance to let our listeners know how to get a hold of you guys over tat Landmark Home and Land Company and where they can find out more.
Steve Tuma: Well, we’ve got our webpage at LHLC.com. That’s basically L as in Landmark, H as in Home, L as in Land, C as in Company dot com, so LHLC.com. There’s a variety of information, articles, videos, these podcasts are there, and you can see it. You are also always welcome to call, 800-830-9788. Mike will be there and he can talk to you, get your preliminary ideas together, answer the questions that you need. And then once you get to a point, I would get involved for the final design details and getting the plans going and all the engineering. So that’s the way.
We are also on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and you can also email. You can email me, Landmark@LHLC.com. I’ll say it again, Landmark@LHLC.com. We are very responsive. We answer our phone. If for some reason you do get our voicemail, we will get back with you right away. There’s no big crazy voicemails of push this, push that, and take 20 minutes to get through. We are very responsive. We enjoy what we do so we want to help you out to make sure you get the right house.
Interviewer: OK. Well, great. And Steve just brought up something that I just want to reiterate. All of these podcasts that we do, this is Episode 38 by the way, they are all archived over at the website at LHLC.com. So for Steve Tuma and myself, thanks once again for listening to the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. Be safe out there and we will see you next time.
Steve Landmark: Thank you.