Interesting and common questions. Benefits of different foundation types. Designing your kitchen and bathrooms. How are panelized home kits priced. Energy calculations and building permits. Lot coverage and setbacks. Siding for my custom panelized home.
Interviewer: Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. With me as always 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, Steve Tuma. How are you doing, amigo?
Steve Landmark: Doing excellent. How are you doing today?
Interviewer: I’m great. So in the last couple of episodes, we’ve been doing this thing where you’ve been asking general questions from customers and prospective customers of Landmark’s coming to you through the website and I thought we would continue that. It just seems to be a good format for us to go with and it gets right to the people. If you’re good with that, I would like to kind of continue with this episode.
Steve Landmark: Yeah, I think that makes sense. It will be informative for people. You know, get them maybe a step ahead, maybe two steps ahead if we give them some basic questions and some basic answers that are common for people in pretty much any project no matter what state you’re building in or if you’re building on a hill or flat land or whatever the building site may be. There are some basic questions that I think we can answer.
Interviewer: Good. Yeah, it’s very American to go right to the people. So we’re going to start off here with a question from a customer that’s asking Landmark, “What are the benefits of the different foundation types, basement, crawlspace, slab, piers?” Can you answer that?
Steve Landmark: Yes. They each have their benefits and sometimes it’s just a regional acceptance of it. So basements are very common in the Midwest because there aren’t really – you know, the ground, you can dig into it. It’s usable. It’s very common. Sometimes it’s tornado shelters. It’s also something where a basement is a very affordable space to finish out. You know, say if you were on a hill, like a walkout to a lake or just a walkout to the backyard. You could finish that basement for relatively little money and then double the size of your home. Crawlspaces are more maybe if there’s a limitation as to why you can’t go down deep or some people just don’t like basements. A slab is basically a cement slab just laid right on top of the ground. That’s something more in Southwest California where that’s more common.
Now any of these foundations can go anywhere in the country. It’s just what’s more typical and then piers are unique. So I’m kind of summarizing each one. We will get on some details. But piers generally go in an area with floods. But what’s interesting about piers is we are getting people that want to have low environmental impact foundations.
Steve Landmark: So they don’t want to tear the side of a hill up or whatever it might be in. They would just use piers because they’re in a smaller home. It’s easier to put in. Some people can actually just put piers in and not have to go through the whole cost of the foundation. But that’s the basic summary on it. But let’s go through them again.
So basically, a basement would be if you want the living space underground and sometimes exposed for like a walkout situation. If you grew up with a basement, you’re probably going to want a basement. Some people use basements just for storage. Other people, it’s for man caves, workshops, drive-under garages, whatever it might be.
You can put your mechanicals down there, plumbing. All your plumbing will be down there, your heating systems, water tanks, different things like that, to keep them out of the house if you want. The crawlspace will lift the house above the ground but it won’t create a living space like a basement would be. So sometimes people like the crawlspaces, so that they can go underneath. You know, if they need to do some maintenance or little storage areas. They can have a crawlspace to lift the house above the ground, but also still have the footers from the crawlspace. It will go deep enough to go below the frost lines in the areas. Slabs are typically done. They’re generally the least expensive way to build. The plumbing and details can go under the slabs. So if you have an issue with a pipe, it could be a little bit of a problem and break through the cement. But it’s considered to be more affordable and generally slabs are done in areas where you don’t have a very deep frost line because at a certain point, if you have to make the footer go down so much, it means we will just do a crawlspace. Like we said, piers are to lift the house above the ground like in a flood area, by a river where it might flood and Florida, you know, for hurricanes, so that the water surge can go underneath the house. Now we’ve done houses and piers in New York in different areas where there are different flood situations. So we can design each of these foundations. We can engineer each of these foundations and we can also work with you to make sure that the foundation type is right. So if you’re not sure, you can give us a call or email and just ask us. Say, “Hey, I’m considering this. In my specific situation, what makes sense?” So we could take the general concepts that we spoke about and then go through and figure out how does it apply because a lot of people say, “Hey, I’ve never built a house in a …” Just people don’t build houses on basements in California.
Steve Landmark: And I could sit there and say we’ve done them. Imagine a house going down the side of a hill where it’s indented into the bill. So you’ve got like a three-level home. The middle level being the main level, the upper level and the lower level kind of a lookout basement. So there are situations where sometimes you follow the norm for the area and then there are situations where you can adjust it. Like I mentioned with the pier foundation, a lot of those people are doing those just for the low environmental impact. It’s pretty interesting. So there is flexibility. The bottom line is we can help with the design and understanding for each particular project.
Interviewer: Well, I would imagine that Landmark would be there to – let’s say I did want a basement and I wanted in California. But maybe there’s too much granite underneath the lot that I’ve built. So I would imagine Landmark could be there to advise me on things like that as well.
Steve Landmark: Right. Depending upon the conditions. Like if you’re building on a granite, just a flat, granite slab, that might be a little bit expensive and hard. But if you’re on the side of a hill, there might be an area in your lot where it’s more affordable or easier to work with. But either way, we can work with that to sort out what situation makes the most sense for your particular need. That’s the key to it. We could use these general guidelines. But at some point, we have to refine it down to what makes sense for you.
Interviewer: So you would let me know if dynamiting is not a cost-effective way to go.
Steve Landmark: Right. People have done it. But it gets expensive. Usually on projects like that, there’s just a pre-mold view or something that just has to be taken advantage of or sometimes if people don’t get geotechnical reports, it’s kind of a little bit of a surprise. So we suggest in areas that might be a little trickier to get a geotechnical report to avoid surprises in the ground.
Interviewer: I like the idea about piers even not in hurricane zones or high flood zones, which is because of the lower environmental impact. I think we’re probably going to be seeing more and more of that in the future.
Steve Landmark: Well, a lot of that is happening because some people are building in very interesting areas around wetlands, around the sides of hills or sometimes it’s just an affordability factor because the wetland areas, there are government regulations. So you can do certain things. You can affect a certain part of the area. So with a pier system, you can span the house over some ground conditions and then avoid impacting the ground. But a lot of people are also going through – say it’s a situation where someone wants to do a mini home, a tiny home or smaller home. You don’t have to go excavate a big hole. You can just put a pier and kind of like a deck. It’s a little different but it’s the same concept. Like a deck and then build a house on top of it.
So if someone really wants to control cost and do a lot of work themselves, those opportunities are there. So it’s a multifaceted answer. It’s not just an if-then-do-this. It’s kind of a, “Hey, what do you mean? What are your goals?”
Steve Landmark: And that’s I think where we can help you come up with the right design.
Interviewer: Yeah. There are so many variations. It just seems like Landmark would be one way to go to get all of the answers because most people, when they’re especially building their first home, there are so many variables. It would be nice to have somebody like Landmark on the other end of the phone to kind of talk you through that stuff.
Steve Landmark: Well, that’s where we’re helpful. I was talking to someone and they jokingly said, “Steve, I got my internet PhD.” You can go online and get every opinion that you want to hear. You can find it. But after looking at all these ideas, watching TV shows, how do you really know what impacts – you know, how it works with you?
Steve Landmark: That’s the point that we can do to help.
Interviewer: So here’s another letter. Dear Landmark, I’ve heard about organic design. What is organic design and can I incorporate it into my new home?
Steve Landmark: This is a really interesting one because it’s becoming more and more prevalent. Organic design is basically just working with nature. You know, taking advantage of the sun in winter and kind of blacking the sun out in the summer, taking advantage of breeze, using sustainable materials, using materials that aren’t going to poison the air in your house, details like that. Frank Lloyd Wright was kind of the godfather of organic design. But it’s kind of interesting. If you look at this Steve, if your great, great, great-grandparents came over here from Europe or wherever they would have come from, they’re probably farmers. So they would know that they, we need to have overhangs to keep the summer sun out. We need to put certain trees around the house to stop a breeze. We need to know that we’ve got tall windows. You notice that on old homes. There’s a lot of tall windows. So the heat can escape out of the top.
Interviewer: Oh, right.
Steve Landmark: So there’s a lot of elements in the design, how the house faces, where they put it on hills. Well, that’s what’s kind of working with nature to keep your house cool and warm because back then, they didn’t have the convenience of pushing a button and the air conditioning or the heat coming on.
They didn’t have all the modern toys. So what’s interesting is back then, it was a – they would just – being farmers, they would have their 10, 20, 100, 200 acres and then they would farm and put the house. Well, as America grew, suddenly subdivisions happened and technology grows. So there’s water at houses. There’s electric. There’s gas pipes. But suddenly you’re buying a lot that’s 100 – by 100 and it’s along a road. So you can’t choose the orientation of the house. The way the subdivision is laid out, your house will face the road most likely. So you can’t angle the house easily to take advantage of the sun. You may not be able to have the right overhangs to black or let sun in and all these other details. Then as it became, it’s like, “Hey, why deal with the breeze? Let me just push this button, use some electricity and get the air conditioning going.” So suddenly we got away from that. Well now as we’re kind of history repeating itself, we’re like, “Hey, let’s control our energy use. With the proper design, we can have a more comfortable home and more affordable utility bills.” It’s kind of interesting. It’s a neat concept that people are catching on to. Generally we need to know about it or if you want to be involved with organic design at the beginning stages because it’s not just the floor plan. It’s where it’s going around the house. Where is the house? Are you doing this in Florida? Are you doing it in Alaska? Are you doing it in Illinois, Colorado? Where are you? Then what is your land like? Is there a good view? Is there a certain orientation you wanted?
So it can be pretty in-depth. But we’re fully prepared to work with you through that process.
Interviewer: Now, I had a question because we’re talking about incorporating different things into different designs and Landmark offers a whole lot of designs. I don’t want to call them templates. But it’s more like – it just seems like there’s a flexibility with each of the Landmark designs. So let’s say I pick a set of plans from Landmark. Am I able to design my own kitchen and bathroom layouts if the design is not exactly what I’m looking for?
Steve Landmark: Yes, we can actually work on every component of the house. You know, a family room, a TV room, a gaming room, a garage, a basement play area, a craft room. But kitchens and bathrooms are the ones that are most commonly dealt with. So what our designers do, we would draw the complete set of house plans up. You know, show a suggested kitchen layout, bathroom layout with the dimensions. Now we don’t supply cabinets and countertops. But you could take those – our plans directly to your kitchen and cabinet supplier and then they can go lay everything out. So if you want a rack for trays, if you want a wine holder, if you want a bread box, you can design all of that in. So it’s truly your kitchen, the way it works.
Steve Landmark: What’s interesting about that Steve, a lot of people don’t think about this, but there are kitchens for right-handed people and there are kitchens for left-handed people.
Interviewer: Oh, yeah, I’ve heard about that.
Steve Landmark: Yeah. So if you had a dishwasher in your house, generally your dishwasher would be – if you’re right-handed, your dishwasher would be to the right side of your sink. You could rinse in the sink and with your right hand easily put them into the dishwasher. If you were left-handed and your dishwasher is to the right, it’s kind of just an awkward movement. I guess you would get used to it. So those are the things that we can work out. That’s also the same case with laundry rooms Steve because if someone has got a family, they might want a folding table, a wash tub and other details to make it easier. So we can completely design the home. But you’re right. That’s a good question because those are the areas where people seem to spend a lot more time really detailing them out.
Interviewer: If somebody is looking for some just cost-effectiveness or just a price point for a certain customer, what’s the most affordable design that that customer should look for?
Steve Landmark: The most affordable way to build is four 90-degree corners. So if it’s a ranch home, make it 24 to 28 deep and then as long as you need to make it. That in general is the way to go. If it’s a two-story, you would just stack the boxes on top. The reason being is corners cost a lot. If you have a corner and a wall, you’ve probably got a ridge or a valley in your house design. That corner is going to be in your foundation, your drywall, your siding, the framing. It’s going to carry up to the roofing. It just takes a lot more time to do that.
Steve Landmark: Now that being said, sometimes simple is more. You can still take a very simple structural design and dress it up to make it look like a million bucks. So if someone says, “Hey, I want to control my cost, but I still want a house that I want to be proud of,” we could do that. You could put a porch across the front or a little decorative dormer, maybe a small bump out. You know, just little details that can be done. So in general, the less corners in the house, the more affordable it’s going to be. Now, that being said, if you just have to have a house with 30 corners on and an extreme roof pitch, we can still help you with that. But a lot of people are just really interested in building a house that they believe is sensible and controlling the cost. Sometimes empty nesters, first-time home builders or home buyers, and then other times with – maybe relatives are moving in for whatever reason. The parents or grandparents are moving in. So they’ve got to stretch the money. Now these homes can be just as energy-efficient. They can be just as fun. You can still design them the way you want them to be. We can still put luxury features. You can still design your kitchen. So you get to go through the whole process. It’s just the bottom line cost is controlled.
Interviewer: Here’s a simple question. Dear Landmark, I’m wondering, is square foot pricing accurate?
Steve Landmark: No. No, that’s one of the most interesting things that we hear. People call up and say, “What’s the square foot price of it?” and then I remember someone telling me way back, a good friend Don. He said, “Steve, square foot pricing is kind of like calling a grocery store and asking how much dinner is.” So you might be able to use it as a guideline but it can be very deceptive. First of all, people count square feet in a house much different. It doesn’t include porches. It doesn’t include garages. It doesn’t include basements. So typically when people are doing square foot pricing, they might want to understand the building process a little more because not every square foot of a house is the same. So if you had a big, open living room, that’s what I will call a simpler square foot. If you have a very intricate kitchen with upper cabinets, lower cabinets, granite countertops, a square foot in that room is going to cost more.
Interviewer: Right, got it.
Steve Landmark: And then the simplest relation that I think people can see just in their mind is if you add the all-American ranch. You know, just a boxy home like we discussed just a little while ago, a thousand square feet, four corners and a 6/12 roof pitch. That thousand square feet is going to be some of the most affordable square footage out there. But if you took that same design, put 10-foot ceilings in it and a 12/12 roof pitch, a steep roof pitch with some dormers, the square footage is the same. The walls are taller. The roof is more complex. So of course per square foot, it’s going to cost more. So that’s why it’s very deceptive to go through and say, “Hey, what’s the square foot of a house?” because there’s just so many variations that it’s not an accurate representation. You know, like we talked about foundations. It’s also where are you building it. Are you building it on the side of a hill in California? Are you building it on a flat slab in Iowa? That will vary tremendously. So I would ask people to look a little deeper, to see what’s included in what you’re paying for. That’s the important part, not some low quote of, “Hey, this is how much a square foot.” You need to know the cost for what you’re building.
Steve Landmark: Not some guess that someone is just throwing out.
Interviewer: Especially when you’re tweaking your own design, things like that. It seems like it’s just kind of voodoo logic if you’re trying to get like a square foot pricing. It doesn’t seem like the way to go to me.
Steve Landmark: Like I say Steve, it’s calling a grocery store and saying, “How much is dinner?”
Steve Landmark: Or how much is a bag of groceries? What are you filling it with? Day old bread or Chateaubriand?
Steve Landmark: It’s the same bag, different cost. It’s the same concept.
Interviewer: Right. I want to go over a couple of things that we slightly hit on, on previous episodes. But they’ve just been in my mind and things I wanted to see if we could cover a little more extensively. I would like to know why living here in California, I hear a lot about energy calculations. Tell me why energy calculations are so important.
Steve Landmark: Energy calculations are theoretical calculations to show the heat or cool transfer performance of your home. The reason for that is you want to make sure your house is energy-efficient. So your energy bills aren’t high, but also to make sure that you’re comfortable. So those theoretical calculations will go through and say, “Hey, you need an R-48 ceiling, insulation in the ceiling. You need so much in the walls. You need windows of a certain performance value. You need your foundation to be insulated a certain way, certain types of water heating systems, certain efficiencies in the heating and cooling systems.” So that’s the theoretical calculation to say, hey, this house will conform with the code requirements. You mentioned California. California is one of the leaders in making homes more and more energy-efficient every year. A couple of years ago, they tightened their guidelines by 30 percent. That’s a pretty big belt-tightening. But when you look at the people’s energy efficiency, it has gone way up and their energy bills have dropped. It’s important. But there’s something to this. I mentioned it’s a theoretical calculation. That means that this plan has to be followed and it’s not just that you say, “Hey, I’ve got R-48 insulation in the roof.” It’s the proper installation of the insulation, the proper installation of the windows and other details so that they can do their job properly. The great situation is – that I’m going to review is duct work, metal duct working. Sometimes those can leak 10 to 25 percent if they’re not installed by a conscientious installer. Just because someone has been doing it for 30 years doesn’t mean they’ve been doing it right for 30 years, especially as technology and practices have improved. So you can say that hey, I’ve got a 98 percent efficient furnace. But if the duct work is leaking 25 percent in your heated or cooled air, you’re not doing anything. You’re wasting that money. So it’s the proper installation of the heating system, the cooling system, the hot water system, the windows, the siding, insulation, the right types of doors, details like that, that’s there. So it’s the installation which is equally as important and that’s why people like building their own home with us because they get to specify it and they get to see that it’s installed right. That’s a key point to it. So I kind of gave two answers there, the understanding of the energy calculations but also making sure that the theoretical energy calculations are brought to life by the proper installation of the recommendations.
Interviewer: Speaking of going over things twice, we have a three-part question. We will handle them one at a time. But the question is, “Dear Landmark, I have a three-tiered question. First of all, how do I find out about building permits? Second, what is lot coverage? The last part of my question, what are building setbacks?” So let’s go and start with building permits there.
Steve Landmark: Well, those are all kind of intertwined. Building permits are basically – well, there actually are some parts of the country where you don’t need building permits. They’re just not populated. The counties don’t have funding for it. But in general, building permits would be issued by your city or your county, sometimes townships in certain areas. But they will generally have a guideline and you could call them or talk to them or go in the office and find out what they need. They will generally have a list saying, “We need these items.” They will tell you if you need – what type of architectural plans, if you need structural engineering, if you need energy calculations, site plans and other details. So in the simplest form, some of these, you just need architectural plans. You know, the floor elevations, the sides of the house and the floor plans. In the more sophisticated areas, you might need engineered plans, stamped by a structural engineer, site plans, energy calculations, noise of pavement, landscaping plans, site plans and just a variety of other details to submit for permits. So the best thing to do is find out who controls the permit issuance. Like I say, it’s either the city or the county or the township and they can usually provide the information. Sometimes it’s right on a website and they will give details of exactly what is required. Now sometimes this can be a little tricky. So if someone interested, maybe they want to make contact with them and get details. But if they need a little help sorting some of this out, they can give us a call and I will have our contact information at the end of the show. But they can give us a call and find out. You know, we can guide them through the process because sometimes building departments will say, “I need engineering.” Well, that’s kind of an open-ended answer. Engineering of what? Do they need civil engineering to find out grading plans and drainage plans or do they need structural engineering? So those are little things we can work through. We know the language. So we can work through. So if you contact your building department and it still throws you for a little loop, we will help out and work through the process. I think the second one was lot coverage.
Interviewer: Right, lot coverage. What is lot coverage? Explain that.
Steve Landmark: The concept being is that they don’t want your house taking the full lot. They want to have certain green areas or driveway areas or areas so that houses aren’t literally right next to each other. So a common number is to say that your lot coverage can’t be say over 35 percent of the lot. So if you have a 10,000-square-foot lot, 35 percent would be 3500 square feet that you can cover.
Interviewer: Got it.
Steve Landmark: Now the interesting thing – and this is where we come in – is what do they consider lot coverage. Is it the footprint of the house? Is it the overhangs of the house? Is it the driveway and the sidewalks? Those would include your garage. So there could be little tricks there and this is extremely important because you tied into what are building setbacks, which I think was the next one. The setback is if you have a – say a 50 by 100 lot and your front setback is 20 feet, 5 feet on each side and 20 in the back. So on your 50 by 100 on sides, you’ve got 5 on each side, that’s 10. So you got 40 feet wide to build in. Then of the 100, you’ve got 20 in the front, 20 in the back, 40. You’ve then got 60 left over. So you’ve got a 40 by 60 pad that – or building area that you can work within. Now if you’ve got a big acreage in a rural area, the setbacks will give you a lot more options on where you can put it. But those – you have to consider those. Now it can get a little detailed but that’s what we can help with. So if someone says, “Hey, there’s this lot coverage situation. Here are the setbacks. How do we work it?” we could find out the details of how lot coverage is interpreted. Another thing I want to bring up is some areas – it’s kind of interesting –have height restrictions.
Steve Landmark: OK. So in Colorado, along the – in the mountains, also along the ocean, you will have it because they don’t want people blocking everyone else’s view. So they want to know that a house isn’t over 25 feet or 30 feet or 35 feet tall and they may have different ways of calculating the height. So it’s not just go to the front of the house and measure it from the ground up. They can have different points from where you measure and different ways of measuring to develop an average, say if you’re on a sloped lot. That again is what we can do. We’re working on a project in Northern California where he’s affected by lot coverage, setbacks and height restrictions on a sloped lot. It’s getting to be pretty interesting on how we’re making this house come together. So it takes a little bit of work. This is again doing your homework upfront.
Interviewer: So this is – I saved this question for last because this is something I’ve been very curious about. This customer wants to know, “What kind of siding can I put on a panelized home?” I’ve been wondering about that myself because it seems to me you can build a house and you have a certain idea of what you would like, bricks, stone, log, cement. What are my limitations as far as siding for a panelized home?
Steve Landmark: There really aren’t limitations. It’s much like a stick-built home. If you want to do all brick, stone, cement, log, vinyl, whatever it is that works or any combination of those, we can design it in. So there really isn’t a limitation and that’s a nice thing because some people will actually go through and do combinations. They might do like a stone ledge or brick ledge. Let’s go back to that simple ranch home. Maybe the first four feet is a brick or stone and then above that is a cement board or some people – suddenly if you took that same home and put it in the woods, maybe you would like a stone base like along the foundation and then log siding.
So there’s a variety of different sidings, shingles. There’s a lot of vinyl and different things that you could put on to a home, to really dress it up and give it that look. So the limitation is pretty much endless. It’s what do you want to put on there and what works within your budget. But it is important to get an idea of the siding. I will tell you the reason why. If you only use real brick or real stone, they weigh a lot. So they have to be supported by the foundation. If you’re going to put the fake stone on – and some of those are looking pretty good, right? They’ve really improved those. Those don’t weigh as much as a real brick. So you don’t have to have the footer system and the foundation. So there are cost savings there. That’s pretty interesting.
Interviewer: There’s so much to go over. We never seem to have enough time on this podcast to get everything in. Before we go, once again Steve, give us a rundown on how we can connect with Landmark Home and Land Company. How do we get a hold of you guys?
Steve Landmark: Well, it’s very simple. We’ve got our website at www.lhlc.com. That’s kind of the initials of Landmark Home Land Company. It’s actually Landmark Home and Land Company. But we just have the initials www.lhlc.com and you can email Mike. He can help you, firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m available at email@example.com and then our 800 number is 800-830-9788 and we’re available. We like to talk to people and see what we can do to help and some people, it’s easy to email, some it’s to call, some it’s to submit an inquiry through the webpage. So whatever is easy, just get in touch with us and we will do everything we can to help you out.
Interviewer: Yeah. I would really recommend the website. Definitely check it out. There’s so much information on there. I think it’s really worth going over thoroughly because there’s just so much there that you can find out about on the Landmark Home and Land Company website. So that’s going to do it for this episode of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show for Steve Tuma and myself. Thank you guys for listening and we will see you next time.
Steve Landmark: Thank you. Have a great day.