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How does my new home stand up? Discussions on foundations, basements, crawlspace, pier or slab foundations. Poured vs cement block foundations. WUI, Wildland Urban Interface and how is protects from wildfires. Do I need fire sprinklers? Engineer stamped plans are reviewed by Landmark Home and Land. What are Engineered lumber materials? Can I repurpose items for my new home?
Interviewer: Hello everyone and welcome to episode 26 of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. I’m here with 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 for, well, 25 years now since 1993, Steve Tuma.
Steve, how are things going?
Steve Landmark: Excellent. Staying busy as always working with people to develop some very cool homes. A lot of our customers are working in areas that are very interesting whether geographically, weather-wise, building restriction-wise, historic areas, whatever it is. So it’s always a fun day taking care of each customer individually.
Interviewer: Yeah. It seems like a – over at Landmark, you like to be challenged and I think that’s part of the fun. So today I would like to utilize my time with Steve going over some aspects of panelized home building that we haven’t had all that much time in the past to go over and some things that I’m sure will pique his interest, some of the questions and inquiries that potential Landmark customers have brought to us. So if you’re ready Steve, let me throw some questions out there I think our audience might be keen on hearing you tackle.
Steve Landmark: Yeah, let’s do it.
Interviewer: Let’s start with the foundations. How do I know as a new home builder, how do I know what type of foundation is best for my home and building site? I mean do I need the basement type of foundation, crawlspace, what – their slabs, piers. It could get very daunting I think with all the choices.
Steve Landmark: Right. Well, there are different situations as to why you would choose one or the other. Sometimes you’ve got restrictions geographically. Sometimes there are situations of what people are used to building in an area, therefor they do it. Other times, you’ve got the flexibility of doing any one of those types of foundations. So how does it work? So let’s just – we’re basically going to review – I think you said basements, crawlspaces.
Steve Landmark: Slabs and then a pier system.
Interviewer: Right, yeah
Steve Landmark: So basements are – as everyone knows, it’s like an area underground. It can be a walkout if you’re on the side of a hill where that basement, instead of just being in enclosed areas, an open area. So if you’re like on a lakefront or on the side of a hill, you can have a drive-under garage or workshop, additional rooms, family room.
Interviewer: That would be kind of cool to have your garage underground.
Steve Landmark: Oh, people have done it and boats, you know – you know, sometimes it’s just recreational toys if you’re by a lake. That’s where you bring the canoe in and picnic tables, whatever it would be.
Steve Landmark: So basements can pretty much go anywhere where the ground conditions allow for it. You’ve got to check water tables, make sure the soils are right, make sure the terrain is right for that. Some people will say, “Well, you never put a basement in California.”
Steve Landmark: Because …
Interviewer: You don’t see many.
Steve Landmark: Well, it depends on where you’re at because if you’re in the areas with mountains, you might have a house that steps out of the side of a hill and in a sense the basement is a walkout basement. Someone might say, “Oh, that’s a three-level home.” Well, in a weird sense, it’s a two-level home with a walkout basement. So those are generally made from cement or block foundations. We can design and engineer them all. So then there’s also the crawlspace which is made like a basement. It’s just not as deep.
Interviewer: A lot of people have crawlspaces, right?
Steve Landmark: Right. They come – crawlspaces, raised foundations, stem wall foundations, whatever it would be, and that basically raises the home above the ground, so that there’s space below the wood floor system of the main living level on the ground.
So you can run plumbing duct work done there and that would work and sometimes people just don’t want basements. Other times they want crawlspaces. Now the example of a changing situation is Florida. A lot of people were building on slabs. But there are areas of small hills, but we’re finding a lot more people want to do a crawlspace in Florida for energy efficiency reasons and different construction costs. So then there’s the slab which is literally just a cement slab put on a flat pat of ground.
Interviewer: Real common here in California.
Steve Landmark: Right.
Interviewer: And it’s a situation where generally it’s considered to be the least expensive and then there are pier situations which you might see in flood areas or hurricane areas where a house is actually lifted above piers, pilings. There’s a variety of different words for the size and how they’re used. So sometimes people will use the pier system to be environmentally-friendly because they’re not disturbing the soil as much.
Steve Landmark: Right.
Interviewer: Other times, you’re in an area where there might be a little bit of water flood situation along a river or whatever and then there are other situations where – you know, we will take South Florida where there are hurricane situations and the piers lift the house above the storm surge. So it’s a – there are different reasons. People probably wouldn’t put a house on 10-foot piers in the Midwest unless they were along a river where there’s flooding or we’ve done some on the East Coast. You can do them in California where people have done them – or I shouldn’t say California but any mountain area.
Steve Landmark: You know, where people have kind of cantilevered a house over some land. So this is a situation where we can work with customers. I’m adding a little bit of complexity to it there by saying, hey, you could use them in different places by – under different conditions. But generally in the Southwest, parts of California, slabs are generally used unless you’re in a hilly area. Then you might get in a crawlspace or basement. In the Midwest, the Plains states, there are basements, crawlspaces, slabs and occasional pier home. On the East Coast, it’s generally basements or crawlspaces and sometimes slabs as you get farther south. In the south, we’ve done everything, the slabs, crawlspaces, basements and piers if along a flood area. The key to it is that we can work with you to find out what is best. So we don’t expect the customer to know hey, I definitely need to do this or that. Most customers have an idea of what they want. We just work with them to find out the situations. For example you take a crawlspace. In some areas, they could be just a couple of feet tall. Other places, they need to be four feet tall or six feet tall. So there’s a lot of work that we would do to make sure that it fits on the topography and works in the requirements for the building department.
Interviewer: Right. So while we’re talking about foundations, how would I know if maybe it’s best used poured cement or – I notice a lot of people building foundations out of cement blocks? I mean what’s better? What’s worse? What is the difference?
Steve Landmark: Well, what’s interesting about it is a lot of the material choice sometimes is just derived by what’s common in the area. Some areas, block is just more prevalent. Other areas, it’s poured. There are benefits of each one. We’ve had customers build on islands and if they’re small little islands and inland lakes, it’s easier to put cement blocks on your boat and get them across than it is to bring a cement truck or hand-mix it.
Steve Landmark: But the reality of most of these is people seem to have a preference or their contractor will have a preference. To us, the end result is pretty much the same. We will design for what makes sense. If you need an engineer-designed, stamped foundation design, we can do that as well. Now that being said, there are different reasons for each one in engineering. But basically it’s kind of what’s done in your community is typically what we do. Now a basement can be poured cement or blocks, so can crawlspaces, so can pier systems. Even slabs, some slabs have stem walls or footers below the grade that will need a poured wall or a block below it. It kind of depends on a variety of situations with the land, what’s common in the area. So someone doesn’t necessarily need to know, hey, I definitely want to go with a black foundation. If they have a preference, that’s fine. But that’s something that we can work through them, with them and the design element.
Interviewer: Right. Now I’m just curious. When using cement block for your foundation, now that block has to be joined together in some fashion, correct?
Steve Landmark: Well, it’s generally mortared together. But you’re bringing up a very strong point because sometimes you’ve seen block walls that are older and the blocks seem to be separate.
Steve Landmark: So that’s why you want to make sure it’s designed right. Some of them are filled every so many courses. There’s rebar in them and reinforcement to hold them together. So block walls can actually be made just as strong as the port cement walls.
Interviewer: Oh, there you go.
Steve Landmark: You know, because of different types of blocks, different types of materials reinforcement and situations like that. Only in extreme situations have I seen engineers say, “Hey, you must use this or this should be done.”
Steve Landmark: But a lot of it really comes down to just cost in your particular area or what’s common practice.
Interviewer: So let’s talk about something that’s rearing its head a lot, sort of the new white elephant in the room. Let’s talk about these wild land urban interface or WUI. Can you go through that with us?
Steve Landmark: Yes. What that is, is basically the interaction of a home and fire. It seems in the last few years we’re hearing about bigger fires, record-breaking fires, more disasters and fires and it’s something where building departments are getting tuned into it. One of the leaders in it is the State of California where they’ve done the wild and urban interface and it’s a pretty in-depth process but in summary, they basically want to make sure that your land is accessible so that you don’t have a bunch of materials that are flammable sitting around your house. You know, just brush, wood piles, whatever it may be. They want to make sure that if there was an emergency situation, that the first responders can get to your house, so they would rather not have big walls of hedges or different things so people couldn’t get through. Then a big portion of it is just the types of materials, class A shingles that are fire-resistant, cement board siding, the way your eaves are enclosed, different details, the types of materials that are used for decks. It’s always interesting to me because people think – and I used to think this until I really, really got into it that people were worried about fire spreading, just that wall of fire going through a neighborhood from house to house to house. But then all of us have seen the news where there’s a house that’s burned and 20 feet away, there’s a house that is unburned.
Steve Landmark: And you sit there and go, “How could this happen?”
Interviewer: Right. It seems weird.
Steve Landmark: So I was checking into this and I was like …
Interviewer: Who has got the tarot cards and doing the voodoo to predict their …?
Steve Landmark: Well, yeah, you’re trying to think that. It’s like is this lucky? Should that guy go buy a lottery ticket now? It’s kind of a situation. But then I heard this thing that just – it was mind-blowing that a burning ember can travel two miles. So when you see those things where there’s a couple of houses that are OK and a couple – you know, one or two houses in the middle that are burned, it’s quite possible that there was a fire a distance and one of these burning embers goes and lands on the unlucky house.
Steve Landmark: Well, if that unlucky house has somewhere for this ember to sit and burn and turn into a fire, like under a roof shingle and a vent and a wood siding, suddenly that individual house burns and the neighboring ones don’t. So it’s not just a wall of fire that you have to worry about. It’s that individual little spark here and there and that’s the reason for having certain types of roof systems. I was talking to someone and they wanted to build a house in Malibu, California and we’re talking about tile roof systems. The old tile roofs would just be tiles laying on top of each other.
Steve Landmark: Well, theoretically, an ember could get in between the tiles, go sit on the wood sheathing of the roof system and start a fire and you wouldn’t even see it until it’s too late. So now a lot of tiles, they get filled in with cement so that the ember can’t kind of lodge in between the tiles and a lot of the – well, the metal roofs are generally resistant. The asphalt class A and class B are resistant where the fire – the embers won’t really catch on top of the roof shingles. So that’s the situation. Now what’s interesting is a lot of other states or municipalities or counties, building departments, are adopting California’s – a lot of places in the Western part of the country are adopting California’s WUI because they’re as prone to fires as any other place.
Interviewer: Right. Let’s – while we’re on the subject of fires, let’s kind of get your answer on this. Why are some building departments now requiring fire sprinklers in new homes? That seems to be something that has been popping up over the last few years a lot.
Steve Landmark: Right. What we noticed a few years ago, five, ten years ago is that some areas were requesting sprinklers and areas where the fire department couldn’t get to right away in the rural areas and then California and other places have adopted it where any new house has to have it even if you’re in a populated area, even if the fire hydrant is right in front of your house and people would say, “Hey, what’s the point of that?” So I did a little research into it, talked to some of the designers and the theory is that if your house caught on fire and the fire department was notified, it could take a few minutes for the fire department to get to your house, get set up and start spraying your house down.
Steve Landmark: In the meanwhile, in that few minutes, the fire is spreading. The theory – and I think it has been proven. So it’s a little more than a theory is that the sprinklers catch the rise of the heat temperature and therefore they’re able to respond quicker.
Interviewer: Oh, OK.
Steve Landmark: So if you had a sprinkler system throughout your house and say something happened. For some reason, your office garbage can catches on fire. That zone would catch the fire or the burning, the smoking garbage can and then put the fire out in a fraction of the time compared to the response time of even the best fire departments.
Interviewer: Right, that makes sense.
Steve Landmark: So what’s interesting is a lot of people would say, “Well, then my carpet is wet or my dress gets wet,” and it’s kind of an interesting reaction and I agree with them. But it’s better than your house being gone.
Interviewer: I think I would put up with a wet carpet over my house being gone.
Steve Landmark: Right. So it’s a situation where that system has to be designed to make sure there’s enough water flow. Make sure there’s by zone. So that if one sprinkler head goes off, it doesn’t set the whole house. So when the codes tighten up like this, there’s a little resistance because it’s – it costs them money to put these in. But I think if you look at the safety situation that happens, whether you’re home or not at home, it’s a pretty good situation to have. So all of California, any new home in California needs them. In other parts of the country, they’re either suggested or they’re mandated.
Interviewer: OK. We’re going to change the subject here from fires to – the word “engineer” or “engineered,” we hear that – we hear you talk a lot about – that word comes up a lot on the show. So I’m going to ask you a few questions about that if you don’t mind. Like what’s the difference between an engineer-stamped plan and regular building plans? I would really like to know that.
Steve Landmark: It’s basically the justification and the calculation for the design. So all of us have seen regular building plans that will say, “Hey, here’s a house. Here’s a certain dimension. Here’s what the floor system is like. Here’s what the roof system is like. Here’s how the walls are framed,” and so on and so forth. It’s generally accepted information. A set of engineer-stamped plans are plans that have the documentations, calculations to show why the foundation walls are strong, why the floor system is strong, why the walls, why the roof systems are designed to withstand the particular situations.
Now if someone is building in a place where there aren’t really any extreme situations, huge snow loads, high wind speeds, earthquakes, expansive soils, the building department won’t always request engineer-stamped plans. But in the case of say a – say Lake Tahoe, Leadville, Colorado where there are huge snow loads, anywhere in Florida because of the hurricanes, almost anywhere in California, pretty much everywhere in California and the West Coast where the earthquake faults are. They want to know that your house is designed properly. So an engineer goes through there and makes sure the materials are of the proper strength and also the connections of the materials. Steve, it’s – like in the case of wood, a two-by-six in an earthquake generally doesn’t snap. It’s the connection where that two-by-six attaches to another component of the home.
Interviewer: Right, right.
Steve Landmark: That’s what breaks. So you need to make sure those connections are right. They’re nailed together right. The sheathing is put on right to give it strength. A lot of people don’t understand it. They think, well, engineering is just taking any set of plans, going to an engineer, having a cup of coffee with them and giving them a few hundred dollars and he stamps the plans. That isn’t necessarily engineering. In our opinion, structural engineering is the actual justification of the design and the stamp is the certification by that particular engineer to make sure that the home’s structure is significant to meet or exceed the design criteria for the code application and the place.
So I want to differentiate something here because a lot of people generally in the southeast say, “Well, this engineer said they will stamp my plans for a couple of hundred bucks. I just have to over and they will do it.” That’s not our opinion of engineering and we’re finding less and less engineers do that because of insurance reasons, liability and the building departments are standing up and saying, “No, we want to know that you calculated this.”
Steve Landmark: So in some cases, you can – we just finished a house that had 126 pages of calculations justifying why a beam is a certain strength, why are connections done a certain way, why a wall needs to be a shear wall. So that’s the key element and this really separates it. There are a lot of plan services online that say, “Hey, just take your plans to an engineer and they will stamp them.” You know, maybe 10 years ago, not in today’s climate. You need to have a set of plans that an engineer – was involved with from the – through the design process to understand what’s going on and there’s likely to be a lot of situations. By the way, engineering can affect the architectural design of your roof or of your house. Your roof system, your walls, the spans, the open areas, the sizes of windows, different details like that. I don’t want to add complexity to it but I – we take it seriously and we want to make sure the house is designed right.
Interviewer: Sure, yeah. OK. Well, while we’re on this word “engineer” and “engineered,” let’s talk about engineered lumber materials. Now run us through that. What exactly are engineered lumber materials?
Steve Landmark: Well, that’s kind of interesting. Let’s take the – a simple two-by-ten. A two-by-ten is a natural material that’s typically pine, some type of pine, Douglas fir, spruce, whatever it may be for whatever part of the country that you are in and that will have a certain strength or design criteria capability. You know, it can span so much and carry so much weight. Well, what has happened over the course of time and building evolution moving forward is they’ve determined that they could create man-made materials of the same size that are stronger.
Interviewer: Oh, OK.
Steve Landmark: What’s interesting about these is in theory, some of these are greener materials because they’re able to take small pieces of wood, bind them together to create one big piece of wood. So you don’t need to cut big trees down to make –
Interviewer: Are they able to use recycled wood and things like that for this process?
Steve Landmark: Sometimes it’s recycled. Sometimes it’s just smaller pieces of wood. So the example is in the old days, if you had a beam that was six inches by twenty inches tall, you had to find a tree that was straight and you could cut that out of. Now they can use small pieces, remnants of wood, bind it together to create a six-by-twenty beam. It’s greener and it’s stronger.
Interviewer: That’s awesome. That’s great.
Steve Landmark: So one of them – the common and easy to understand ones are LVO, which is laminated veneer lumber and it almost looks like a very thick piece of plywood if we were to look at the profile of it. Then there’s glulam which is glue lamination. If you looked at the side one and look like a butcher block. So if someone took a bunch of two-by-sixes and laminated them together, so you end up with those beams. They’re using – they’re a greener process but size for size, they’re stronger. So that’s what engineer –
Interviewer: Wow, that’s a great option. That’s awesome.
Steve Landmark: Right. So instead of having it cut down, a 100-foot tree to get a certain size beam, they can use smaller trees or shavings from other parts of it to create those beams. The key to it is they’re affordable, they’re stronger, they’re greener and they have better performance values.
Interviewer: I’ve seen people do this thing with – I think I know what’s going on now. So there’s this – there are companies that make these faux wood. They’re made out of resin. They’re like a long block and they stick them over wood and it looks like a 100-year-old tree. That’s pretty awesome.
Steve Landmark: Yeah, that’s what’s happening because an engineered piece of wood – say you had a real rustic home. You’re building up in the north woods or in some mountain area and you wanted a big, open space. But you didn’t want an engineered beam. A lot of people are doing the faux wood or they’re taking a simpler home and giving it that rustic design. I think a podcast or two ago, we talked about the finishing materials.
So you could take a very basic home and dress it up and give it that large log home type look without going through the expense of true logs and all the issues with log maintenance. It’s a good little diversion. It’s interesting what can be done with the materials that weren’t available 20 years ago.
Interviewer: Yeah. You’re being environmentally-friendly while you’re creating a pretty cool look in the house.
Steve Landmark: Right, and you’re also making the building processes much more simple.
Interviewer: Well, speaking of building a cool-looking house, I wanted to ask this question in the last podcast and I kind of – just kind of slipped by me. So I will ask it now. Let’s say I’m a guy that’s going to be building a house and I start piecing things together before the walls are even up. I’ve gone out and I bought cabinets and I’ve purchased doors, windows, other items that I’m just building my dream house in my head sort of with all of the elements. How would I use all this stuff sitting in my garage in boxes in my new home? Can Landmark help me kind of put that together?
Steve Landmark: Yes. We actually have a few projects like that right now. Sometimes what happens is people want to control their budgets. So they see liquidation sales or they see a special deal, you know, of places getting rid of a sample cabinet or for some reason they just have a bunch of windows and they want to work it into the design. We can do that. We’re working on a project right now like that in Colorado where this customer has some huge picture windows that he wants to put in the dorm rooms of a chalet. So we work with them and what’s interesting about that is – let’s take windows for example. We’ve got to make sure that they work right because in some cases, they need to be tempered glass. Other times, they could be regular glass.
Steve Landmark: But yes, if you have materials, it will happen. We had one customer. There was a building that was some 1800s bank building that was getting demolished in the Dakotas and somehow they were driving by it and it was an old bank. So they actually bought the walls, the old –
Interviewer: That’s great.
Steve Landmark: And they put it in a – like a little kind of party room in their house.
Interviewer: That’s great.
Steve Landmark: Yeah. So they were able to incorporate that. So we’ve had people say, hey, the husband, he builds his own cabinets. We put them in or they run into some liquidation situation where they’re able to get windows at a fraction of the cost. We’re all up for that. We can go through and do it and a lot of people are doing reclaim materials. Like you just talked about the beams, the full beams. Well, some people will go through and find some old barn wood or something –
Interviewer: Right. That stuff is great.
Steve Landmark: A real custom older look. So we’re able to do things like that. Now in some point, you don’t want to go reclaim insulation or different situations. There might be issues with that. But in general, finishing materials. If there are different wood floors that someone wants to put together or they want to create their own trim from wood off the land. We’ve actually had people do that where they go through and they might have to clear a few trees. Well, they’ve actually milled it and use that material for the inside of their house.
Steve Landmark: So if someone has the desire to do that, I’m all up for it. It’s just really, really cool to see a family go through and really personalize the house, get the house that they want.
Interviewer: Yeah. How fun is that? That’s great.
Steve Landmark: No, it’s amazing. It’s pretty insane what some people come up with and what they put together. So designing the house isn’t just putting the windows so you have a view of the lake or the mountain or the view that you want to take care of. It’s the interior finishes as well and sometimes when there’s a story behind the wood trim or the wood that you made the countertop out of, it’s pretty interesting.
Interviewer: Yeah, that’s good stuff. I love to see the whole repurposing thing going on. It’s really exciting. So we’re about out of time here on the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show and I want to thank all of you for listening in once again. But before we go, as always, I want to give Steve a chance to let people know just how to contact everybody over there at Landmark Home and Land Company.
Steve Landmark: Well, thanks. The quickest and easiest way, you could do it on your smartphone or right on your computer or is at our website, www.lhlc.com. Sometimes people think I’m saying “A” but it’s LHLC, like Landmark Home Land Company. You can look at our website at any time that’s convenient for you. You can also call us at 1-800-830-9788 and Mike will answer the phone. You can review your whole project, talk about the land, talk about the financing, talk about design. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m always available at email@example.com.
We’re also on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, a variety of social platforms that the people can see, look at pictures, get ideas. The most important thing is we are available. We are interested in your project individually to find out what it is that you need and how we can help you put it together. We like taking the time to make sure that every customer is kind of helped individually to make sure that they get the support that they need.
Interviewer: And as always, I want to let everybody know that at Landmark, customer service is what they’re known for, along with building great houses.
Steve Landmark: Oh, yeah, cool ones. Let’s put it together so it’s a – I look at it this way. When you’re coming home from work after a hard day of work, you should pull up to your house and go, “This is cool. I’m glad I did it.” That’s what we want to do. We want to help people get the house that they want.
Interviewer: Fantastic! All right. So for Steve Tuma and myself, thank you for joining us here on the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show and we will see you next time.
Steve Landmark: Well, thank you.
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