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Unique and difficult building sites and how to design a Kit Home for these beautiful areas. Taking advantage of great views, sun and how Landmark helps you make it happen!
Interviewer: Hello, folks! Thanks for joining us for Episode 40 of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. With me in his usual spot 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. Steve, how are you today?
Steve Tuma: I’m doing great. Another good day as they all are and it was a busy day working on some really, really interesting projects, different types of building sites, different building department concerns, different customer design concern so it has been really cool day.
Interviewer: Whenever we start the show, Steve always is very enthusiastic. And you always start with it has been good day. Not, hopefully it’s a good day. We should get t-shirts made, “Landmark, it’s a good day to build.”
Steve Tuma: Yes, something like that.
Interviewer: That would be great.
Steve Tuma: Well, it’s kind of interesting because we are not doing this because it’s a job. We are doing it because we like it.
Steve Tuma: We have been doing it since 1993. We started the company. And it’s kind of fun so you would jump out of bed every day and say, “Let’s go build a house.”
Interviewer: Oh, that’s nice. That’s a nice way to put it. Cool!
Steve Tuma: What other people are doing on TV shows, we get to do every day.
Interviewer: I want to talk today about building sites, specifically unique building sites. And I want to start with views because if you’re building a house let’s say on a big piece of land, having a great view is an amazing thing. But I think I’ve seen houses where you look at the front door, the front deck of the house and it’s looking the wrong way. And I always think the view is over there, why would you build that way? So, let’s talk about what you can do when you are building to take advantage of a great view?
Steve Tuma: Well, it’s one of the interesting that you bring up because I’ve seen that myself where someone has got this great view and there’s like a mini window or something where there is facing and it’s kind of like strange. And sometimes that might have been some of those building the home for other reasons other than to live in it. So what we are able to do is work with people on the design. So a lot of people think, “Hey, there’s a view. Let’s just put a big window there.”
Steve Tuma: Well, sometimes there’s a little bit more to that. There’s where is the window facing, how are you sitting on the land, the sitting it on the land and it’s not just the big window, it’s what’s around it. So if you have a big porch going across the front of your house and you have a big window, well, the upward view might be limited. So if you are looking at a tall mountain, there might be limitations there. So we might have to design a porch differently or the whole home if you are looking more across like a lake, that upward view may not be as important. So what we like to do is kind of understand what the view is and what they are looking at. Sometimes it’s a city view. Sometimes it’s mountains. Sometimes it’s lake. Sometimes it’s just an open field. Who know what it may be. But also, it’s not just the view. Sometimes people want light in their house. They want ventilation.
Interviewer: Grow some plants kind of thing.
Steve Tuma: Yeah, do that. Just enjoy it. Enjoy the light. There might be a family room where they want it bright. Other times, people want it dark if there’s a home theater situation.
Interviewer: Right. Right.
Steve Tuma: So that’s a key is kind of an understanding of what the goal is of the house, because to properly locate a window doesn’t cost any more than just throwing it some place and finding out later that that it isn’t. So we can work with the families on site planning, the design of the home, the design of windows, design of roof lines and different situations to take advantage of those views. And I don’t want to make it sound like it’s expensive. Sometimes it’s literally just where you’re putting your breakfast room. Sometimes it’s what type of windows are you putting there? Sometimes it’s like a project we are working on right now in Washington State, it’s how high does the house have to be off the ground. They have an interesting piece of land that’s at the bottom of the sand dune, of a dune. Well, if they raise their house 10 feet, they have a monumental view of a very significant mountain.
Steve Tuma: So we are working to figure out, well, does the house have to be raised 9 feet, 10 feet, 11 feet? What do we do with the space below it?
Steve Tuma: So it’s not always a window situation. It’s what’s holding that window in place, what’s around it. And that’s where we are able to help.
Steve Tuma: It’s actually a lot of fun and our customers enjoy it because that view might be the primo thing that they want in a house.
Interviewer: We talk a lot about this just as a society about like environmental impact or carbon footprint, that kind of thing. But let’s say you buy a beautiful piece of land and you want to minimize the impact of the land and you have an idea for your house but you want to know how you can minimize the impact of the environment. Do you guys get into that a lot?
Steve Tuma: Yeah, we can really help that. In some areas, we do green codes to make sure that people are disposing their things properly or using the right material so you don’t impact the land. But generally, the more obvious concern is the actual excavation of it. So let’s just say someone had a home on the side of a hill. You can go in there and dig a full basement. Excavate the side of the hill and put a basement there. But some people are like, “Hey, wait a second. This is a migration route for many deer or animals or like the animals or birds or whatever it is.” So they don’t want to impact the vegetation. We will actually put a house on stilts. So let’s just say you had a house that had 200 linear feet of wall, basically a 200 linear foot of crawl space or stem wall or something like that. If you could put it on piers and instead of 200 linear feet of wall, you end up with say 10 individual posts, you’re not tearing your ground up. So this is more if someone is ecologically-minded. Some place is dictated. Other people just do it. If they are doing an off-grid house, they might do it. But what’s interesting is sometimes people say, “Wow! That sounds expensive.” Well, in a lot of cases, the foundation actually costs less.
Interviewer: Oh, I got it.
Steve Tuma: So it’s not just the ecological footprints. Sometimes it’s the wallet footprint. I guess I just turned a new one, the wallet footprint.
Interviewer: Another t-shirt.
Steve Tuma: Yeah. So it’s a situation there where there are different ways of putting a house on land. Sometimes it’s a slab. Sometimes it’s a basement. Sometimes it’s a crawl space. Sometimes it’s piers. Sometimes it’s cantilevers. So there’s a variety of different ways we can do things to be able to enjoy the land but not impact it. There are some people we have in different areas where wet lands are involved. And they have to have very minimal to no impact of the soils to be able to build where they’re at. So after they get through the governmental processes or go through and say, “We can have so much of a foundation in this land.”
Steve Tuma: So then we have to go through an develop a foundation design that stays within the parameters. So it’s pretty cool. Sometimes people say, “Wow! That sounds expensive.” Well, it takes a little time to design it but it’s not the thing that’s going to break the bank. And usually, when people are building in these areas, it’s just a beautiful place. They want to enjoy it. It’s an heirloom property. They are not building it to sell. They are building it to sit and enjoy with their friends and family. So a little bit of thinking upfront helps us develop a set of plans so that the enjoyment as long as you own the home is much better.
Interviewer: Of course. Yeah. It’s interesting what you said about the animals. People probably do a lot of things with their design of their house and even their landscaping to attract animals to the house which is kind of cool I think.
Steve Tuma: Well, what’s interesting is there had been some skyscrapers that have been built and end up being in the migration routes of ducks. And it’s kind of interesting. You think a duck flying a thousand feet up and see a big tall building in front of it but there’s something in the navigation. You even see it with the wind farms and some of the solar farms where animals are getting hit by blades. So if someone has that concern, there are ways to work around designs so we don’t impact the land as much.
Interviewer: Well, when we were talking about unique pieces of land, unique spots to build a house, a lot of times, I think we are going to find land that doesn’t actually have a flat spot on it. And so, I find a beautiful piece of land and I go, “There’s not one flat place to build a house.” What does Landmark suggest in that sort of situation?
Steve Tuma: Well, what’s happening is more and more people are doing that especially in recreational or vacation properties. So if you are like, “Hey, I’ve always wanted my shelly in Colorado or the Rockies or I want to be by a lake or in a mountain range in the South or whatever it maybe or the mountains in the Northeast.” So they will want to go do it. So in that case, we have to work potentially with a civil engineer or we can work with a customer to design a home that takes advantage of the view. So in general, building on the side of a hill will cost more but sometimes building on the side of the hill is what gives you that view.
Interviewer: Right. Right. Right.
Steve Tuma: Or that particular situation. We built a variety of homes on the islands off of Washington State and all of those are on the sides of hills. Well, you’re building on an island. There’s water there. People want to go down to the water and bring their kayaks in and out. So we are able to come up with designs that take advantage of that. And I talk a lot about the more unique building sites and challenges of those specialized kind of hillsides, mountains, whatever it may be, but that same situation kind of works in the flip side in an inner city lot. If you only have a 30 y a 100 lot, you can only put so much of a house on there as far as a footprint. But people still want different features. They still want to take advantage of the view. Maybe it’s a little view on the backyard. Maybe it’s a view across the street into a park. So we are able to work with people to take advantage of what their land offers whether it is a flat lot in the city, a flat lot in the country or mountain side lot. We can do it. So we understand the different situations of working with a geology reports, geotechnical reports, topographical details, whatever else may be required to make sure that the home is designed properly for the home whether it’s a flat lot or a more complex. And some people depending on the communities that they are building and some of them can get a pretty complex and intricate. Even if you’re building on a flat lot, that local Building Department may request a lot of details. So the bottom line is let us worry about those details. Just find out what you need and we will help you with the house design and then our engineers and designers and myself can work through the intricacies of each building site.
Interviewer: Well, no matter where we build, no matter how beautiful the site is or how unique or whatever, there’s one constant, and that’s the sun. It’s going to play – have a factor in what you’re doing of course. So how do I as an owner/builder building on a unique property, how do I work with the sun to make my home let’s say more energy-efficient to start off with?
Steve Tuma: Well, that’s a really interesting question because more and more people are understanding that concept. If we were here with our grandparents, our great, great, great grandparents that 150 years ago, settlers out here, they would understand that, “Hey, the sun can heat my house in winter but it will also heat the house in summer and maybe I don’t want it to be heated so let’s put some overhangs or let’s orient the house a certain or let’s take advantage of prevailing winds to have windows in certain locations or different types of venting systems to let the heat out naturally.” So some states, energy calculations taken to affect the orientation of the house to the sun but whether or not your state does, we are able to work with you on the design if you choose to have one that’s “organic” or eco-designed. Those are some of the words that are used to go through and get it put together. A lot of people like the natural light. They like the heat that the sun will create so we are able to create some comfortable designs with them but also work to protect from the sun if for some reason they are in a very hot area or very sunny area and they need to work through it. So the sun is an interesting situation. A lot more people are getting into solar design, the photovoltaic as well as the hot water systems. So we are able to help them with allowing enough space whether it’s on the roof system of the house, an ulterior, an extra building or on a piece of land sitting on its own stance on a piece of land. So we are able to go through whether it’s a natural situation or more of the modern day solar systems. We are able to work through it. It’s pretty amazing the technologies and knowledge have excelled in the last 5, 10, 15 years where it makes sense and some states are mandating it. So it’s a pretty cool system where we can work with people for the natural sun and also gathering the power of the sun from solar systems.
Interviewer: Right. Well, the Landmark is so helpful to their customer when it comes from the design aspect moving forward. And what if I in my brain, I have this design idea that I’ve got this beautiful piece of land and I don’t know how to put the two of them together, this design and this site. So how often does that come up for you guys?
Steve Tuma: Well, it’s pretty interesting. A lot of customers have an idea of what they want there. They know that they want this. They know they want this particular type. But sometimes the details, that’s where we jump in to tie it together, to go through them to make sure that the land is used properly, to make sure things are put together. Some people have the capability of completely visualizing a house and a home. Other people need to see it on paper. So if someone can completely visualize or they have their own plans or they’ve sketched their own plan ideas, we can review those. Other times, we work with people where they say, “Steve, I can’t quite tell you. I know what I want but I can’t quite tell you how to do it.” So we will just talk to them and get a general idea. They will say, “Hey, I’ve got a yard and I’ve got a view out the back. This is what’s in the front. We want to do this. I want to have bedrooms, a couple of bedrooms on one side of the house, a couple of bedrooms on the other side or I want a two-story.” And then we can work with them to refine the ideas through a conversation. Sometimes they tell us what they want. Sometimes we find out what they want by them telling you what they don’t want. An amazingly – and sometimes people end up with a house slightly different or completely different than what they initially thought as they are able to work with us to formulate the design idea. We have thousands of plans on our website where people can take a look at it. Use that as an idea bank to start the project. So we’ve had – there’s just as many people that know exactly what they want as there are people that are like, “I kind of know, I just haven’t formulated the idea.” So we can work with all the people to get it put together and fine tune the concepts of what it is that they worked. We then take their idea and kind of formalize it on paper, make sure the codes are put together and make sure things are drawn properly, make sure ceiling heights are right, the wall thicknesses are right, different situations like that and make sure there’s enough space in the wall for the installation, make sure doors are the proper width. If people want something that’s wheelchair-accessible, we can go through and do it. So we can kind of take care of the nitty-gritty. We just kind of help people in the initial phases to get the idea formulated so that it’s what they end up doing. The key to this is part of our design process, part of our service is that we are able to draw plans and then do multiples sets of revisions because there are times where people say this is exactly what they want. We draw it up and then they look at it and say, “You drew what we wanted but I didn’t realize I want a bigger closet. I need another window here. I need this and that.” So that’s the ability to draw the plans, have them reviewed so they are proper and then go through and fine tune it. It really helps the customer understand the process but also create an evolutionary path to end up with the house design that they want. Not all ideas are formulated the first set of plans so we are able to do multiple sets to make sure that it goes through. Then when a customer is done with the plans, you know what the changes, architectural changes, then we get to the finalization stages.
Interviewer: Well, we are talking about unique properties here today. Now, I’m saying, I’m thinking to myself, unique properties oftentimes that means the middle of nowhere or in a very difficult area or something like that. Some people just – I’ve seen this big houses go up in places where it’s like there’s barely any roads going anywhere or building. I would imagine some of these areas have very simple Building Departments or no Building Department at all. Am I allowed to just willy-nilly go into a place without a Building Department or just a small Building Department and just start building?
Steve Tuma: Well, every area will theoretically has building codes as the enforcement from Building Departments. There are places in the US that do not have Building Departments. You literally can go dig a hole, build a house, no one else suspect it and you’re on your own. If it’s in those cases, we are still going to do it right. A lot of the codes are there because of safety issues or kind of make sense things. Yes, some of them are there because I don’t know, someone wants to make people do stuff. But the reality is whether or not there’s a Building Department, we are going to go through and make sure the plans are done right. Other Building Departments are a little simpler to the point where yeah, they’re a Building Department but they aren’t really providing any guidance or they may collect a fee and have a plan checked but it’s always questionable on what they are actually checking. And that’s why we want to make sure that our homes are built properly for those things to make sure there’s proper ventilation, proper egress and window for safety, the hallways are the right size, doors are the right size, overhangs are right, and then there’s also just a lot of make sense stuff, insulating it properly, and different details. And then it goes to the other spectrum sad to say that this spectrum where you’ve got these Building Departments that want to question everything and we have no problem with that either. So tying that into unique building sites, sometimes those unique building sites are very remote places where there is not a Building Department or a less sophisticated Building Department. Other times, those unique building sites are in some of the areas where they have these strictest standards, oceanfront properties especially on the West Coast. Some of the higher-end mountain communities can have some very strict things. So whether you’re out in the middle of nowhere or in the middle of the city, we are able to help people develop the plans accurately for their specific Building Department.
Let me get into something else here. Every once in a while, we will get a call and someone will say, “Well, I bought this set of plans on the internet and they told me that everything is great and it’s going to pass my Building Department and there’s no problem and everything is just peachy keen.” And then we ask them to go read the disclaimers to later find that they might have been engineered or designed for one spot 10 years ago. They are not necessarily specific to the Building Department. They may make claims about that it’s done to a certain code. You know what? It might be right. The issue is every Building Department needs a different level of information. So even if someone has a standardized plan, the chances are that there’s going to be a lot of details that need to be added for their particular situation or the standardized plan is a code-minimum situation. So let’s just say you take a plan from a plan’s service that is based in the Midwest or the South with a – that might have a lower snow load and then you decide that you’re going to go build and tell you’re in Colorado, there’s no way that those plans are going to be accepted. The snow loads are different. The details that they need for sight plans, the structural details are different. So that’s a key element is that we’ve got the design processes to in a sense legitimize plans that a customer may have and make them usable for the Building Departments. That’s one of these funny little fallacies out there that, “Hey you can just go buy a set of plans and turn it in your Building Department.” Maybe you are lucky. But most Building Departments are asking for a lot more details that are typically supplied. So you’ve got to check that out. That’s what we can do. We can help people navigate the Building Department details. We’ve done a lot. We understand the process. We do it every single day. And if for some reason your Building Department is asking for something special, if I don’t have the answer, one of our professionals does and we will get right through it and make it happen. So that’s is one of the key elements is proper design, proper plans for permitting, which also makes it easier to build, easier to pass inspections and then it also ultimately retains the value of your home because the home is built right. That’s a key thing. These are interesting things. We kind of tied unique properties into codes and building plans, energy efficiency. And sometimes people will understand one component but not necessarily understand how that one component affects something else. Like very few people would ever think that their insulation can affect the structure of a home.
Interviewer: Well, yeah. Who would think that?
Steve Tuma: Yeah. People say, “Well, just stick a bunch of insulation on the wall.”
Interviewer: That would be me.
Steve Tuma: That will be warm. Yeah, exactly.
Interviewer: Warm me up.
Steve Tuma: Yeah. But with different design homes and different energy codes, you need different levels of insulation to pass the code properly. And in some cases, that means you’ve got to change roof structures or in the case of solar panels, you’ve got to possibly change the orientation of a roof pitch or go to some alternate location. So these details as far as architectural design, structural concerns, energy code concerns, they all go hand in hand. So it’s kind of like one thing may affect something else. And that’s how we are able to help. So if there’s a situation where it’s kind of a borderline or the customer doesn’t understand, we are able to go through and say, “Hey, wait a second. You are building in Telluride. You are building in Los Angeles. You are building in Upstate New York. Your energy concerns are a lot different than if you are building in Alabama. And how that may affect the roof structure of a home and the design and that’s what we are able to do. And with our knowledge, we are able to help customers move along quicker, make it easier on them and let them have a stronger understanding of what’s going on and why something should be done a certain way. Our customers want to know what’s going on. They enjoy it. They are owner/builders because it’s a passion. They want to do it and we are here to help.
Interviewer: Information and communication, that’s what it takes.
Steve Tuma: That’s it.
Interviewer: Well, there you go. A lot of good information on today’s show. And this has been fun. I’ve been wanting to talk about this for a long time because I look around, I say, “Man! That would be a great place for a house.” But how do you make that happen? So I think we learned a lot today.
Steve Tuma: Yeah.
Interviewer: So that’s going to do it for us today. But before we go, Steve, as is our customary habit, let’s tell the listeners how to get a hold of you guys over at Landmark Home and Land Company.
Steve Tuma: Our website is always available at LHLC.com. That’s basically the initials of Landmark Home and Land Company, LHLC.com. And there are videos, there are different write-ups on details, there are pictures of what we do so someone can get an understanding of how we can help. And we’ve got thousands of available plans on there for people to peruse and use as an idea bank and a place to start if they don’t already know the design. You can always call us at 800-830-9788. And Mike will answer the phone and you can have a discussion with him to review the different detail, understand what’s going on with your project, understand what’s going on with your project, understand how we can help you. We are very proactive in talking to customers and taking care of them, getting them the answers they need. We are a knowledge-base product and a service to help people design and build their homes. You can also email me at Landmark@LHLC.com. Again, that’s Landmark@LHLC.com.
The key to this is that we are proactive. We like what we do. We’ve been doing it since 1993. We have a lot of knowledge. We have a lot of experience. We’ve worked pretty much every building condition in the US, waterfront, deep desert, below sea level, at the highest elevation in the Continental 48, Leadville, Colorado. We build houses in the city, in big cities and small cities and rural areas and hillsides, flat land. So we have an understanding of what’s there. So I think people will find our customer support and knowledge-base is what really, really will help them with the learning curve in the understanding of how to properly proceed with the home package. We consider our relationships with our customers to be very important. And we also enjoy what we do. It’s a good time and we have many customers who come back and build again or their son gets married or daughter gets married and they build a house or retirement home, whether they are upsizing or downsizing, we are able to help. It’s a lot of fun. We enjoy it.
Interviewer: All right. So, another interesting show and make sure that you guys if you haven’t heard, this is Episode 40, there’s a lot of other episodes that are archived on the website. And if you want to go back then you can find some other topics from earlier shows.
So for Steve Tuma and myself, we want to thank you again for listening to the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. Be safe out there, folks. And as I learn to talk again, we will see you next time.
Steve Landmark: Have a great night or a great day whenever you are listening. Thank you.