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Permitting and building departments. Working with tough building departments. How to obtain permits when codes are changing and tightening up. Design and code impact when building in different building conditions. The value of unified plan sets where all the information is uniform and matches. Green and energy codes and sun analysis to make your home more comfortable and enjoyable.
Interviewer: Hey everybody and welcome to another episode of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. As always, I’m your host Stephen Savage and with me is the President and Founder of Landmark Home and Land Company, a company which has been helping people build the new home that they want where they want it since 1993 and that is my good friend Steve Tuma. Steve, how are you doing?
Steve Landmark: Excellent. It’s another great day.
Interviewer: So I’ve been kind of going over what I wanted to run by you in this episode and I think I would really like to start here talking about permitting processes.
Now I’ve been hearing that building departments are tightening up not just in California where I live but really across the nation. Tougher regulations, more stringent codes, et cetera. I’m kind of wondering, how can Landmark Home and Land Company help me deal with these tougher regulations?
Steve Landmark: Well, basically, we do it every day and we’ve been doing it every day since 1993. So through that, we get experience. We have an understanding of the code and we understand the processes that are necessary to achieve all the code requirements. So a lot of people think the code is something there that someone put there to hassle you. But most of these are there for safety reasons.
You want to make sure that the beams are sized right. So roofs don’t sag or floor systems don’t sag. You want to make sure windows are the right size, so that you can get out of them in case of an emergency. Now in some areas, they’re asking for sprinkler systems just because a sprinkler system will put a fire out very quickly in relation to the time that it takes a fire department to come through.
So yes, building codes are tightening up and not just the code but the enforcement by the building departments. That’s the interesting thing because they do get complex and building departments are learning how to enforce the codes better. It’s not always just a money grab that some people think. Sometimes it’s just there to enforce it because some builders don’t know what it is.
So what we do is we develop a set of plans that’s complete and detailed to the building department requirements. The customer turns them in and works to obtain it. So the tighter requirements aren’t a big deal. We’ve worked all over the country. Some jurisdictions are lenient. Some are extremely tight.
So we combine all that experience over –since 1993 and we end up with a knowledge base where we’re able to take care of it. Whether you’re building in a city, if you’re building on an ocean say Key West or along the East Coast where there are hurricanes. If you’re going into Colorado with high snow loads or expansive soils and high wind conditions or if you’re going say in the West Coast, specifically California with earthquakes.
California is unique. You know, it has got beaches. It has got mountains. It has got deserts. So there’s a whole blend of opportunity to design a house properly there and I think that that’s an extremely important part that people don’t understand is the codes are there to make sure that your house is safe and usable and not just that. It maintains its value.
All of us have driven through communities where there are houses that are a little dilapidated. You know, maybe they just weren’t built right.
Steve Landmark: And that’s why they’re falling apart and where better built communities retain their value.
Interviewer: You guys have built in every state and the experience you’ve had seems to me like that’s something that as a new customer, I would find extremely gratifying to know that somebody on the other end of the phone to – is there to walk me through some of these processes.
Like for instance, let’s say I’m a first-time home builder. I mean how do I even know? Where do I go to find out what the regulations and codes are that I need to adhere to?
Steve Landmark: Well, generally, your building department will provide that information. Now some of them are better at communicating it than others. Some of them will just say, “Hey, just bring your plans in and we will tell you what’s wrong,” and others will have a detailed list.
So either way, we have the experience and we think it’s a good idea for you to preview what the building department needs. But some of the technical parts were probably suited to go through and help you refine the details, so that we can develop a set of plans so that the plans are complete and easy to obtain permits in and then easy to build.
So generally, what we do is someone would go through and say, “Hey, I’ve got a family and I want to build this 2000-square-foot ranch on a basement, a walk-out basement in the mountains in Southern California. I want to have a couple of car garage and I want to build next spring.”
So we could work with them to take that concept, review the building department details. Make sure the first set of plans is properly done so that the essential elements at that point are covered. Then we go through and develop the set of plans.
So a lot of this is basically just our knowledge and applying it for what the customer wants to design, so that they can build it. But also make sure that it fits in the guidelines. It’s just knowledge experience and then the right attitude to do it properly.
Interviewer: Right. I’ve heard you talk in the past about unified plans. Can you just go over that phrase for me and tell me exactly what that is?
Steve Landmark: Yeah, it’s kind of a word that I created. I was trying to – well, I didn’t create the word. I created the use for plans.
Steve Landmark: But a lot of people are of this idea that, “Oh, OK, I’ve got a friend. He has got a CAD program and 30 years ago in high school, he won an award. You know, he will draw this plan up and then we will just go take that to the building department to get permits.”
Interviewer: Does that happen a lot for you?
Steve Landmark: Every once in a while it happens and it’s well intentioned and – but a lot of the details, that could be a good starting point. But there’s a certain point that their codes – unless people have really kept up with the codes and good design practices, that they need to be fine-tuned. So then you go to the building department and they say, “Hey, we need energy codes. We need structural engineering. Where’s your site plan? Where’s your plumbing layout? Where’s your electrical riser diagram?” You’re kind of like, “Wow!”
So the concept with the unified plans is you need to make sure that all those details match. So the simplest thing that I know how to relate it to is like an energy code. A lot of people say, “Well, I’m going to go do this. I’m going to put R-21 insulation on my wall,” and I’m like, “Well, that’s pretty nice.”
But the energy codes look at the value of the overall home. So if you have an R-21 wall and an R-21 roof, someone might say, “Hey, he goes through the roof. Let’s beef up the roof and the insulation.”
So the calculations will show, hey, let’s put an R-38 insulation in the roof, an R-21 in the wall. Let’s have windows that have a certain performance value. Let’s make sure the hot water heating is a certain energy-efficient method and then the heating and cooling of the home is energy-efficient. The unified part of that is let’s make sure all of this fits.
Steve Landmark: So if someone says, “Hey, you need an R-38 insulation in the roof,” let’s make sure they’re spaced for the R-28 insulation. Little details like that. It’s kind of funny.
Steve Landmark: But people don’t think of it. We do stuff like that. So the unified is make sure that the architectural plans – generally the layout, where the bedrooms are, where the windows are, what the house looks like. That matches the energy codes. That also matches the structural concerns. We get a lot of plans from different places where they’re nice drawings. But the house won’t stand up or their energy efficiency won’t work and people don’t realize this, that sometimes there are standard plans that they could buy in certain places that look good. They look good to them. But when looked at with a trained eye, the information isn’t accurate.
So I kind of jokingly tell people it’s kind of like going to a shoe store saying, “Give me a shoe,” instead of saying, “Hey, I need a size 10 running shoe,” or “Hey, I need a size 10 dress shoe to go to work.”
So we want to make sure that the intent of the home matches what you want to live in. But it also works for the codes, for the energy efficiency, for the structural concerns, your site plan, electrical layouts, plumbing layouts, mechanical layouts and details like that because not all plans are the same. Our plans are complete. We make sure that the insulation matches. We make sure if there are electrical layouts or it’s uniform for us. We make sure if their structural details – that the plans actually work and the architectural plan as well.
We’ve actually seen plans where people put different size beams in places, so the head room isn’t right. So you go down the stair and yeah, there’s a nice beam and then you hit your head on it. No one has paid attention to that. We do want to make sure that it gets approved, built. But it’s also a sensible home.
So the unification is tying the architectural, the structural, the site plan, the energy efficiency, the plumbing, electric, heat, green codes and all details, so that the information is uniform and unified across all plan sets. So that if you look at the cross-section of the architectural plan, it will show the right insulation, so that there aren’t problems on the building side.
It will also show the right size beam and other details. So some – so you don’t end up in a situation where someone says, “Hey, there’s conflicting information. In the architectural plan, this is shown. The structural plan, that’s shown. The energy codes show something different. What am I supposed to do?”
So the clean communication and the unified plans is what makes it easier for someone to know what they’re building. It’s easier to communicate with the contractor and it’s also easier for the building department to understand and approve the plans.
Interviewer: Now you brought up briefly green codes. I live in California. That’s something I hear a lot. They always talk about building and green codes and it seems like maybe California is more stringent than other places. But explain green codes and how they change from state to state. What are they exactly?
Steve Landmark: Well, California kind of leads it. Some states don’t have it. Other states are thinking about it. It’s basically going through and making sure that you’re doing something sustainable. You know, make sure that you’re not building an energy-efficient home and then put – bringing an exotic wood for your front door.
You know, making sure that you’re not putting materials in there that off gas too much. You’ve probably gone and you’ve gone in our trailer or something and it just got a smell. That kind of gets to you and gives you a headache. That’s sometimes off-gassing.
Also other stuff that seems kind of common sense but people don’t take care of it. It’s like hey, this house is in the process of building. There’s going to be a certain amount of waste. Make sure it’s properly disposed.
So it’s just making sure that it’s “green” and that green washing, so it sounds good. But making sure that it’s actually done properly and that’s some of the key elements in some of these building department requirements.
Green codes are just going to start. California started them. It will eventually roll across the country. The bigger part is energy codes because that’s where people can see it in their pocketbook. They can say, “Hey, my friend in his old home is spending 500 a month for utilities. I’m spending a fraction of it.”
That’s the key element. So we can go through and do the theoretical calculations to show that hey, you should have a certain amount of insulation on your foundation and your floor or your walls. Your windows should have a certain performance factor. Your furnace and air conditioning system should be a certain way. Your hot water heating system should be a certain way, even down to light switches, occupancy switches.
In some cases, you have to walk in a room. You turn the light on. But when you leave, it senses and it turns off.
Steve Landmark: So it’s doing all these little things. I’ve been guilty of that. You leave a light on. You walk to the other side of the house. You get wrapped up. Suddenly you got two lights on when you don’t need them.
So that’s an energy efficiency type of a concept that gets into it. That’s something that people understand, but they don’t always pay attention to and it’s something that your – you know, your monthly utility bills, that’s a recurring bill.
Steve Landmark: As long as you live in the house.
Interviewer: You brought up an interesting point. This is kind of a new age, all the – you know, it’s the digital age now and I’m sure that has had an effect on home building. I mean people now have things in their houses that automatically turn off, turn on. That you – since 1993, when you first started, those things didn’t exist. How prepared is Landmark now to move into this new world or have you guys been setting trends already?
Steve Landmark: Oh, we’ve been working on it for a while. It’s one of our understandings. Not all customers understand it. But we will gladly talk to them about it. Some of these houses and the design, I kind of look at it as organic design. You know, take advantage of the sun, the breeze, the wind. You know, natural things that are out there, so that your mechanical heating and cooling systems aren’t fighting them.
That’s very important and we’re getting involved with more and more customers that choose to do that. So I think what’s happening is people are more conscious of that. You know, your electric bill gets expensive. Your gas bill, your – the fuel costs in our life are getting to be more and more expensive as a percentage of people’s income.
So if you can control that and stay warm, it makes sense. It also helps the resale value of your home.
Interviewer: Ah, there you go.
Steve Landmark: So how deeply will get into it? We’ve got a couple of projects right now where we’re actually doing – we’re drawing the house plan up, setting it on to land and then doing sun analysis of it to see how the sun will affect it.
Interviewer: It’s great.
Steve Landmark: So the concept being that – and this can even get done in your landscaping plan, Steve. If you’ve got deciduous trees that lose leaves in winter, the sun can come through and heat your house. Well, in summer, the leaves grow. The sun doesn’t get through. It helps keep the house cool.
So in some of these places, we’ve got to work on orienting the house, so that the sun helps when it’s requested and the sun gets blocked at certain times when we want to control the cooling cost. So this can get into the design of the home, where the windows are placed, the types of insulation, eaves, you know, protecting the sun from coming in.
The selection of the piece of land and it can go on and on and on. The key to that is not just designing it right, but making sure it’s built right. So you’ve got to have someone that understands it.
Interviewer: To me, I listen to you talk and you’re such a – your knowledge and the information that you have in your brain is just so vast that I would feel so comfortable calling Landmark because to be honest with you, this just – it seems so daunting and to have somebody a phone call away to help you out, I mean I just commend you guys on that. It’s amazing.
Steve Landmark: Yeah. Well, thanks. We understand why it’s daunting. But to us, it’s everyday work. It’s what we do. So if you’re building your first home or your fifth home or even your tenth or fifteenth home, there’s still something new to be learned because times change. The codes change. You know, people’s understanding of the situation and I think that that’s where we can – that’s where we can help and to model these details out upfront. So that someone has got a realistic and usable set of plans to obtain their permits and follow through and build a home.
Also we’re a knowledge base where we can help people through the process. So if they need help, they don’t have to spend hours searching for an answer. They can get an answer that makes sense. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. There’s a lot of shows that sell advertising and they feel they need to say something. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it isn’t.
The reality is we’re in the business of helping people build their house successfully and move into it and enjoy it. That I think is a big difference. You know, what’s the end result of all these things? That’s what we want to do is help you design a home that’s sensible for you to build on your land and also takes care of your family’s needs.
Interviewer: You know, this Panelized Home Show podcasts go by so fast. It seems like we just sat down and started talking. Before we say good-bye for this episode, give us a rundown of the website and contact information, phone number and all that stuff.
Steve Landmark: Well, we can be contacted multiple ways. The easiest is pick up the phone and just give us a call. It’s 800-830-9788 and then our website, it’s always available. You can review it. There are videos. These podcasts will be on there and then just written details and some pictures. It’s www.LHLC.com. So it’s L as in landmark, H as in home, L as in land, C as in company, dot com.
There’s a wealth of information there. You could send us a message through there. Call us and we will spend the time to understand what you need, so that we can both make sure we’re the right fit, so we can move forward and help you get the right house.
Interviewer: I understand there’s also a lot of cool videos on the website too. That can be very helpful.
Steve Landmark: Oh, yeah. We’ve got some animations there that explain the processes. You can get the little minute, minute, 15-second kind of rundown on different things. You know, building in different markets, build – you know, different situations on designing your home and going from there. So we try to make it action-packed so that people can look at it and say, “Hey, this makes sense. Let’s give a call.” If it doesn’t, that’s fine. But I think there’s a certain customer base that understands, knowing that their house is designed right will also get built right and ultimately at the right price.
Interviewer: As usual, it has been fun and that’s going to do it for us on the Panelized Home Show and for Steve Tuma. I’m your host Stephen Savage and we will catch you next time.