New home design processes from picking a plan to turning them into plans for permits and building. What are “engineered plans” and do I need them? Landmark reviews building department permit requirements. Delivery of a panelized home.
Interviewer: Hello everyone. Welcome to episode 31 of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. With me again 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, Mr. Steve Tuma. Steve, how are you doing?
Steve Landmark: I’m doing great. It’s a great day as always and staying busy helping people design some cool houses in cool places. It’s pretty fun.
Interviewer: I thought today we might do one of our step-by-step conversations. People seem to enjoy that a lot and talk about how a customer – well, let’s say get his or her new home plans from the idea, which is often just a vision in someone’s head to an actual on-the-page set of plans. So if you’re up for that, can we talk about how my new panelized home actually gets put together? Can you go over the steps involved in all of that?
Steve Landmark: Yeah. We can talk about the details and the planning, the delivery, the whole kind of process, the – well, I think the main essential points are the plans, the architectural plans, how we work with the customers, then the permitting plans and then the delivery of the package. Those are the essential points where customers are always kind of wondering about. So do you have some scenarios to go over?
Interviewer: Let’s start with say putting my idea into an actually working plan and how Landmark can get me there. While we’re at it, Landmark has a huge selection of prepared plans that your customers can choose from by going over to your website and checking it out. I mean there’s a lot of them. So let’s go over the process of picking one of those. So let’s say I go on to your website. I see a house that I might like to build. Where do I go from there?
Steve Landmark: Well, what’s interesting is we can actually start from zero if someone wants to sketch something up on a piece of paper and send it to us. We can do it that way. We can work with the plans that we have on our website. We have thousands of them. Sometimes people have their own plans. So basically, you’re asking about the selection. So how do you pick your plan?
Interviewer: Right. And like you said, there’s a lot – like on your website, there are thousands of them, right?
Steve Landmark: Yeah. What I found is customers generally have an idea of what they want. They might not know every detail but they know that they want a three-bedroom ranch, about 1800 square feet and a basement, with a two-car attached garage or they want a two-story or maybe they’re in the mountains somewhere, a rustic area, and they want more of a chalet type of a design. So we’re able to work with them if they haven’t figured out a plan that they like. We’re able to work with them to fine-tune a plan that may work because customers are generally looking at the, “Hey, I need 1800 square feet, three-bedroom, two-bath, two-car garage.” We’re looking at the, “Hey, how do we target it in their price range? How do we make it work for the building department? How do we make it work in the building site requirements, different setbacks or requirements there?” So we kind of put a little bit of help on there to make sure that the project moves in a positive fashion. But I think to answer your question, most people have a pretty strong understanding as to what they want. They just haven’t seen an exact and that’s how we’re able to work with them on the planning process and making a design that suits your specific needs.
So someone could go through and say, “I want a three-bedroom, two-bath ranch home.” Well, that can mean a lot of different layouts. Are all the bedrooms on one side? Is there a master suite? Is it a great room? Is there a formal dining room? You know, different details. Do they want a porch? So what we’re able to do is talk to them about details. You know, maybe based off of a plan we have on our website or a brand new concept so that we can draw it up and that’s what I call getting the design together and getting a starting point, getting it on – getting our designers there to put it on the CAD system so that there’s an actual we could send to them so that it’s very clear what this house looks like.
Steve Landmark: What’s nice about it is with our processes, we can make revisions. So there are times where people say, “Hey, I want a 15 by 15 master bedroom.” But then they see it and they’re like, “Hey, wait a second. I like that. But I want a patio door going out to a back deck, add a window here, add a window there.” So once you see the actual drawn-up set of plans, we’re able to make adjustments to go through to fine-tune the design. So it’s exactly the way our customers want it.
Steve Landmark: That’s a key element. Build a house you want.
Interviewer: Well, that – so let’s go back and just be clear about this. So let’s say I go on to the Landmark website. I have an idea in my mind. Do you kind of – are you guys able to kind of lead me to – I say, “Oh, Steve, I want a ranch style house. You know, this number of bedrooms with a great room or a big main room with a big fireplace,” and you can kind of lead me to a set of plans that’s already there that we can adapt. Is that how it works?
Steve Landmark: It works that way. But a lot of our customers actually spend the time to go through the website to look at a plan and they will say, “Hey, I like this particular plan,” and then we fine-tune it. Customers are pretty good at searching the website. But if someone does need that help, we’re more than glad to help them and search something out and work with them. We have worked with people that have had vision impairments or different impairments where they’re not able to use a computer as well but they’re able to talk or email or do whatever it would be. So we will do whatever we can do help a customer do it because it’s – every customer has a different perspective in a sense. They know the three-bedroom, two-bath. Other people say, “This is what I want it to look like. Can you make a floor plan?” So we can kind of approach it in a way that’s comfortable for the customer.
Interviewer: But you would say probably the vast majority of people have a pretty good idea of what they want before they come to you. I would imagine people have been doing some research before they call.
Steve Landmark: Right. They have a pretty good idea and the general ideas and then we kind of work with them to fine-tune it. So the house design ends up being exactly the way they want it.
Interviewer: Right. You know, we’ve talked a lot in the show about engineered plans. But do engineers actually review my plans when I’m in the – from phase one all the way through it or do they look at the end product? What does that involve?
Steve Landmark: Well, it’s interesting because engineered plans can mean a lot. It’s kind of a vague word. So we do have engineers that review the plans, look at them, make sure that things work out and then there’s also some people or building departments that require engineered stamped plans. There’s a difference there. So an engineer reviewing it would go through and make sure the floor system is of the right sized members, the right types of materials. The wall studs are proper, the roof truss layout is right. They gave it a review. Make sure it works. Get everything prepared and then we give the plans to the customer to submit to the building department. So it’s the level of documentation I would say. So engineer stamped plans generally have a lot more details on connections, nailing patterns and calculations just defying why a structure is designed a certain way. So yes, with us, an engineer always looks at the plans or someone with a structural background that reviews the plans to make sure that everything is fine and – but if they need an engineer-stamped plan, we’ve got engineers licensed in all 50 states and a few foreign countries, so that we can go through and develop the actual calculation. So pretty much anything that someone would need for a typical residential building department, we’re able to supply the building plan set for them.
Interviewer: Now what about fitting my design to my property? I mean do you take into consideration things like setbacks, topography, et cetera when I – when you’re helping me through the design process?
Steve Landmark: Oh, definitely because we want to check a few details upfront to make sure that things will work out. So we’ve kind of discussed building setbacks in other times. If you have a 50-foot wide lot with five-foot setback to each side, that gives you 40 feet to build. It’s not likely you’re going to build a 60-foot house on that type of thing. So we want to just kind of check a few things out. You know, talk to the customer. Is their lot flat? Is there a slope? Is it the side of a cliff? Is it a beachfront? Is it – you know, what is it? Is it on a farmland? What is it? So that we can kind of work their plans for the situation that they’re at. That’s very important because sometimes setbacks can vary. Your zoning will say one thing but then your homeowner’s association might be more restrictive. Topography, this is a real funny one but that topography is basically the lay of the land. Is it sloped? Is it flat? Is it – so you go to someone that lives in the Rockies and you have a slight slope to the land and they would call it flat. But someone in Iowa would say that’s a hill.
Steve Landmark: You know, so we’ve got to work to make sure that we’re designing the house right and a lot of people will say, “Well, how does it really matter?” Well, it matters on kind of simple things like getting your car into your driveway, making sure your door is good on the land. If you have a basement, can you add a walkout basement or a lookout basement? So understanding that allows us to fit the house to the land and the important thing about that is that controls your cost because you don’t want to go out there and plan a slab on the side of a cliff.
Steve Landmark: It’s just not going to work. So we’ve – that’s a very important part of the planning to make sure that someone could properly schedule and budget their project.
Interviewer: So we were talking about local building departments in an earlier episode. But I would like to kind of go back to that because we’re talking about adapting plans and changing plans around to suit our needs. How can I be sure that my plans will comply with my local building department? I mean I might – it seems like it might get overwhelming on the face of it. Do you deal directly with building departments?
Steve Landmark: Yes, we do. We work very directly. We communicate with them. We find out exactly what we need and then we put the details together to supply them. The key to that is exactly what you said. You asked if we do it. Yeah, we will call and find out what the building department needs or look at their website and get the information to go forward.
Interviewer: That’s what I was wondering. Would Landmark actually – do you guys actually – are you able to make those connections if need be to help us through that process?
Steve Landmark: Yes, and that’s the key. We kind of speak the same language as building departments. We can understand things. Some building departments know how to communicate better than others.
Steve Landmark: Others just don’t communicate and in some places, there aren’t building departments. You get in certain areas where the population is slow. There just aren’t building departments. So people are like, “Hey, what’s my snow load in this area of Montana?” and we figure it out. You call the building department. You find out there isn’t one there. So that’s what we’re able to do with our engineers and support system is to be able to go through and look at what your building department requires or should require and supply the information. Now someone might say, “Well, aren’t the building codes the same?” Well, yes, the codes are the same but they’re applied differently and interpreted differently by different building departments. Every once in a while, you get a building department that has their own little quirk. They just need to see this and need to see that. No other building departments ever asked for it. But they think it’s important. So that’s not a problem. We work to provide the information. That’s a key thing to know that your plans are properly done so they’re approved properly. But also when the inspections happen, that you will pass the inspection as long as you follow the plans. So that’s what we want to do is go through and get this taken care of. We would rather do all the work upfront when it’s on paper than to have to change the house after it’s framed up.
Interviewer: So I’m assuming that even if they have odd or special requests, Landmark can be there to walk – help us walk through that process because I’m sure there’s – you know, every area has its own little – like you said, its own little quirks.
Steve Landmark: Right. We’ve been doing this 25 years and we think we’ve seen all the odd and quirky little requests and every once in a while, there’s a building department that has an even odder one. But we’ve gotten through every single one of them. We’ve helped every single customer. They’ve obtained permits and the project moves on. A lot of times the building department isn’t very clear in communicating. So we’re able to go through and clarify so that we can develop the plans that provide – we provide to the customer so they can get it to the building plan checker to have a successful plan review. Most building departments are very cooperative. Every once in a while, you run into one that’s not as cooperative, but we’ve been able to get through every single one so far and big, large, populated areas, remote areas, anything. So it’s not a problem with Landmark. We can do it.
Interviewer: Like you’re telling me there are some government entities that may be not real clear with their communication. It’s shocking.
Steve Landmark: Isn’t that an odd one? Wouldn’t that be strange?
Interviewer: So let’s talk about the – after the plans are done, does Landmark provide me with paper copies of my plans or my permit applications or is that just simply digital copies? How does that work?
Steve Landmark: Well, more building departments are becoming more sophisticated. So we can supply whatever the building department needs. Some want paper copy. Some want digital. Now some want both. Sometimes they want digital in two formats. Sometimes they want paper in two formats.
Steve Landmark: So we look at their requirements and we supply the plans to the specification. That’s all part of our service and we don’t go charging extra because they need three sets of plans instead of two or whatever. We just – that’s just part of what we supply is make it easy for the customer.
Interviewer: Yeah, that’s pretty nice. Now I’ve heard that building departments sometimes do request files for electronic submission and so you’re saying Landmark can help take care of all of that.
Steve Landmark: Yeah. We can send the PDF files out to you and have them labeled so you know what they are and then the customer can – sometimes building departments ask for them just to be submitted to a website. Other times, it’s a thumb drive or DVD. But whatever it is, we can get the files so that the customer can submit. Now the customer will actually go to the building department and if they need to do permanent paperwork or whatever, they will either do that on the website or physically at the building department.
Interviewer: Now a friend of mine was building a new home a few years back and he was sent a building department checklist. How do you deal with a situation like that?
Steve Landmark: Well, the checklist is interesting because a building department may have a list of what’s required to obtain permits and you could supply all those items. But they may have further questions or request clarification. So generally what that is, is a list of items that they provide to you in writing. You could just send that to us and we will go through and take care of the – that ends up pertaining to the building permit. So they might come back and ask for details on drainage. If that’s the situation, you might have to get a local civil engineer to do that. They may ask just for additional structural details or energy calculation things or whatever it is just because they’re asking for further, deeper details. We always supply what they request and what is typical. But at times, they do it and in some states, in building departments, it’s extremely common. You go into parts of Colorado or most of Colorado, all of California, it’s extremely common to get checklist items. But that’s just part of our service is taking care of all of those until the customer gets the permit. We don’t charge extra because a building department decides to add to their original list or they ask kind of curveball questions. It’s just part of our job to get the customer taken care of.
Interviewer: OK. So let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of this thing with panelized home building. So once we have all of the permits in order and cleared and – how does a new panelized home actually get delivered to my site? What does that look like?
Steve Landmark: It’s actually pretty simple. We deliver them on flatbed trucks just like you see on the highway every day. You know, a 53-foot flatbed with a tractor truck in front of it. Wall panels are stacked like pancakes, bundled up and eight to ten wall panels and trusses are banded together and stacked up and loose materials like OSB, different joists and rafters would be bundled together. So it’s put together on a semi-truck and delivered right to the site and then the customer would get a – we suggest equipment. People have manually unloaded trucks but it’s – I’ve done it. It’s a workout. If you ever want to look like Hercules after a day or lose 20 pounds, unload it. So we always tell people it’s safer and faster to use like a forklift or an extended reach forklift to unload the panels and then they’re all labeled. So you will know where they need to go around the house. We supply assembly plans. So you will be able to see hey, bundle one has these walls there for the back of the house, so you can bring them to the back of the house and get going. So we schedule our deliveries. We got a great delivery record and we work along and people can inventory the items, take a look at everything and move on to get the home built. But the delivery – let me throw something else in here. It’s not just the delivery of hey, make sure the truck shows up. We’re always there if a customer needs help saying, “Hey, what about this?” or “Hey, what does this truss look like?” or “Hey, my framer has got a little question.” We’re always available to support the product and our customer’s project as well.
Interviewer: So let’s talk about the – again, back to the nuts and bolts. So obviously I’ve got to provide a foundation. I’ve got to have that poured and installed and the building site needs to be prepared. How do I then coordinate the delivery of my house to my site?
Steve Landmark: Oh, that’s very simple. After you get permits, we place the home in production. Generally we deliver in right about four weeks. So we would target a four-week delivery date. Now that’s just a target. That can adjust. Sometimes weather happens, scheduling issues or some people have little more complex sites where they need more time. So a couple of weeks into that process, we would communicate with a customer and say, “Hey, are you still looking at that one date or do we need to push it back?” A lot of customers, because of weather and we’re very fast at delivering, they will ask us to hold it back. So we don’t just show up with a truck and say, “Hey, surprise!” It’s all predetermined. Everyone knows it’s showing up and when it’s showing up and where it’s showing up. Ultimately, you want your foundation to be done – the foundation crew leave. Our trucks show up. Your framing crew unloads the truck, starts framing the house. It’s just a cleaner, smoother operation.
Interviewer: Like you said, basically you have a big, flatbed semi-truck, right?
Steve Landmark: Right.
Interviewer: Is it just one truck or a couple of trucks? I guess that would depend on how big my house is that I’m building.
Steve Landmark: Right. It depends on how big and the design of the home. But yeah, it’s – generally most homes are on one or two trucks. Every once in a while, you get one that’s in the three and four trucks, if it’s a very large complex home. But most homes are one to two trucks.
Interviewer: And aside from – you had said having a forklift there. How else would I prepare for delivery? Any other special equipment I would need to provide – you know, just to – not just unload. But any other part of the process that I would need to be prepared for?
Steve Landmark: Yes. You should try to get fork extensions on the forklift that it’s easier to balance the wall panels with that. You know, a crew, a couple of guys to help kind of guide things and move it along and that’s about it.
Interviewer: I’ve seen pictures of your – of Landmark Home and Land Company’s homes in process and – in progress and I’ve seen pictures of cranes. Is that often used or is that something that you don’t need a lot or …?
Steve Landmark: Cranes are kind of interesting. They cost a lot more. Generally the cost of a crane for one day is what a forklift would be for a week. So the forklift is available. Generally cranes are only used if they happen to own one or they have a friend that’s giving them like a friend deal or there’s something with the site where there’s some access issue where they need the reach and swing of a crane.
Interviewer: Got you.
Steve Landmark: But I would say 98 percent of people do it with a forklift.
Interviewer: Right. Well, fantastic. We’re just about out of time here for this episode of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show and I want to thank you all for listening in once again. But before we go, I want to give Steve a chance to let people know how to get in touch with Landmark.
Steve Landmark: Well, the best way is you could – we talked about plans earlier today. Look at our website at www.lhlc.com. It’s kind of the initials of Landmark Home Land Company www.lhlc.com. You can look at our website there. We’re also on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook. You can also just email us. I’m email@example.com. You can also call us at 1-800-830-9788 and Mike will answer the phone. That’s the key to this. We’re very responsive. We answer the phone. If for some reason on the rare chance you get our voicemail, we will call you back right away. We are proactive. We take care of our customers and we enjoy doing so.
Interviewer: I would encourage all of our listeners to go to the website. Again that’s www.lhlc.com and check out all the great information there and we’re using the “www” less and less in the world now. So I got to get used to that too, www.lhlc.com, and there are some very informative videos as well as a bevy of other great information.
So for Steve Tuma and myself, thank you again for joining us on the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show and we will see you next time.
Steve Landmark: Well, thank you.