Structural engineering and its benefits for the intended use of the home and the building site. What is done in the structural engineering processes? Can I put a grand piano in my bedroom? Why do homes sink and sag and how to avoid this in your new home. Standard plans and their relationship to structural engineering. Engineering a home plan to the specific building site. What are stamped plans? Geo-technical reports and their importance. The value of customer service in home design and engineering.
Interviewer: Hey everyone and welcome back to another episode of The Panelized Home Show. I’m your host Stephen Savage and with me as always is Steve Tuma, Owner and Founder of the Landmark Home and Land Company, a company which has been helping people build the new home they want where they want since 1993. Steve, how are you my friend?
Steve Landmark: It’s an excellent day. You want to talk about some engineering?
Interviewer: Yeah. I was hoping you might be ready for that. I would like to discuss something we’ve briefly touched on in previous episodes and that is structural engineering and my first question is a very simple one. Why do I need engineering in my new home?
Steve Landmark: Well, it’s a relatively simple answer. It’s just to make sure it stands up and it’s structurally sound. A lot of people go through and they will say, “Well, I put this two by four over here in this other house and it didn’t fail.” Well, maybe that’s true and maybe it just hasn’t failed yet or maybe it’s in the process of failing.
But the key to it is a lot more building departments are getting more sophisticated in enforcing the code and because of the complexity, they want an engineer to review the plans and justify that floor systems are designed right, roof systems are designed right, beams are designed right and the connections between all the components of the house and the foundation down to the ground are out properly built. So it – the house doesn’t sag or crack or can’t resist the forces that are brought against it such as high winds or snow loads or expansive soils or hurricanes, earthquakes or a combination of all of those.
Interviewer: All those fun things. When I think of an engineer, I think most of us think about a huge bridge or infrastructure projects or dams, things like that. But when it comes to building my simple, humble, little home, what exactly does an engineer do in that process?
Steve Landmark: Well, I think the simplest thing that people would understand is it makes sure that the house is solid. All of us have walked through a house where you’re walking through the house and the china cabinet shakes or the floor bounces or you hear different squeaks or an overhang is leaning or you go on the front porch and it’s kind of sloped down.
That’s a result of something not being designed properly. Now if it’s on a 150-year-old home, you could kind of understand he didn’t know things back then. But we’re concerned about maintaining the value of the home and a nice home, a well-built home is representative of a community that will also retain its value.
But fundamentally, it’s just to make sure that it is. A lot of people go through and say, “Well, I just want to build my house. We could put this floor system down. Someone told me we can use this,” and then let’s just say you bring in your 500-gallon fish tank and your grand piano. Suddenly the floor system is not designed to hold something that weighs 3000 pounds in a specific area.
Steve Landmark: So that creates a problem. So the structural engineer would go through and make sure that the house can support the snow loads. You know, if you’re in a desert area, you don’t really have a big snow load. The roof loading would be 15 pounds. You get up in a big mountain area. It could be 100 pounds, 150 pounds of snow that would be on that roof in a square foot.
So what they have to do is make sure that the roof system will support it, the roof sheathing, the rafters or trusses. Going down through any beams or posts or headers that it would be so that it goes through.
Steve, have you ever been in an older home where the door doesn’t close?
Interviewer: I grew up in those houses.
Steve Landmark: That’s because something settled.
Steve Landmark: OK. The header wasn’t the right size. Maybe the ground was soft and the house sank a little bit. It’s avoiding things like that.
Steve Landmark: And that’s what it’s about. So what’s happening is I think a lot of building departments are requesting that homes be engineered so that it could be justified what’s there. So on the process of the engineering is the actual calculations and the design and the details and the specifications of materials, the specifications of connectors. What’s connecting the roof truss to the wall? What’s connecting the wall to the floor? What’s connecting the floor to the foundation? Is the foundation designed properly to support the complete home? That’s the basic essence of it, making sure that it’s a solid structure for what it’s intended – the home is intended to do.
One thing that I want to bring up is a lot of people think engineering is just getting a stamp. That’s a fallacy. People say, “Oh, I will just drop a set of plans on my kitchen table and give an engineer a couple of hundred bucks and he will stamp and –”
Interviewer: You mean not – just not anyone can stamp my plans?
Steve Landmark: Yeah. No. I mean maybe 10 years ago, certain places would accept that. I know that there are companies out there that – there are people that think that that’s the way it is. The reality is proper engineering should be a full set of documentation, the plans, the details and the calculations justifying why the house is designed as it is.
So if they say, “Hey, we need to have a certain LVL beam as a header,” there’s a calculation that justifies why that’s there. It’s also shear wall considerations, making sure that the house can take forces from wind or pushing it, situations where you’ve got a wall. Say you’ve got a wall that’s 20 feet tall in your house. You know, with some big glass in there. Make sure that that can not only hold the weight of the roof but also resist the wind that pushes against it.
There’s a lot of different details. We’ve helped people build a lot of chalets and they might have a 20-foot wall overlooking a beautiful scene in the mountains. Then they go, “I will just get a 20-foot two-by-six, nail it up there.”
Well, no, there’s a lot of forces or sometimes people think, “Hey, I will just make two ten-foot walls and stack them.” They don’t realize that where those two walls join, that’s kind of a hinge. So the wind would push against it and create cracking and drywall, a repeated maintenance issue that you want to believe – or you want to avoid. Sorry about that.
But that’s the point. You want to make sure that it’s done properly and in that process, you will end up with a lot more connectors, upgraded beams, walls being framed in different ways and then the load pass being delineated and that it will also detail out the foundation design.
So it’s a complete thing. I relate it to people. You want to be born with a strong leg, a strong back, a strong neck. That’s what holds you up. That’s what we’re doing with your house is make sure that it’s done right and then make sure it complies with the codes, the building department requirements and the details for your land because – I mentioned this before.
If you took a house and chose to build it somewhere in Iowa and they said, “No, I’m going to go move to the Rockies,” and they said, “No, I want to go build a house in Key West,” “No, I want to go to Los Angeles,” the house may look pretty close the same, but the structure will be different.
Interviewer: So I can’t just take those plans under my arm and go to any state I want.
Steve Landmark: Right. You brought up a perfect point because a lot of people will go online and say, “Hey, I bought these plans and they’re engineered and they told me that they’re engineered for anywhere in California.” I’m like, “Oh, really?” because we have to do site-specific engineering.
Let’s just say you take a place like California or Colorado where there’s low flatlands. There’s also mountains. There’s snow. It’s a different application of the code for each of those situations. So if you – let’s say California. If you were to build a house in the Sierras where they get a big snow load, that’s going to have a little bit different structure than if you took it down to San Diego where there’s an earthquake concern. It doesn’t have the snow load but it still has – it has a larger earthquake concern than in the mountains.
Interviewer: So that’s a different set of issues.
Steve Landmark: It’s the same code applied a different way. One of them is going to be a snow load with earthquake. The other one is going to be more earthquake than if you decided to say, “No, I want to move that same house and build it in Key West.” It’s going to have a high wind and storm surge situation.
So that’s the element. It needs different strengths in different areas and then other places, expansive soils, soils that actually expand and can lift your foundation. It leads to cracking and other issues.
Interviewer: Right, right.
Steve Landmark: So that’s why we’ve got to check different details like that to make sure it’s built right for the condition you’re building in. When I want to delineate, people think that, “Hey, I will just get some engineer. He will stamp the plan.” No. You’re not paying for the stamp. You’re paying for the knowledge and the proper design and the stamping is the engineer’s certification that what he has done is right.
Interviewer: Got it. It makes sense.
Steve Landmark: He’s taking responsibility. It’s not just stamping plans as a lot of people are led to believe.
Interviewer: Right. Now, we’re talking about structural engineering today and I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about geotechnical reports. Explain to me what that is exactly and why is it important to me as a home builder.
Steve Landmark: It’s very important. The simplest way that I like to put it is if you’ve ever walked on say cement, it’s very solid. OK? But if you’ve ever been at the edge of a pond where plants have rotted and died, a typical person could walk to the edge of the water and sink. So the geotechnical report goes through and tells us the strength of the soils.
So it will go through and say, “Hey, you’ve got 1500 or you’ve got 2000. It will tell us the strength,” or they will say, “Hey, there are expansive soils.”
We’ve heard about landslides. We’ve heard about houses sinking. We’ve heard of different situations. So you need a geotechnical engineer to go out and take a boring of the soil. Get the soil conditions. Test it and create a report to say that in this area, you should build this type of a foundation to this strength. Our structural engineers can then go through to size the footers properly, to size the whole foundation design, so that your house doesn’t sink. It’s kind of the relation of – like I said, if you’re building on softer soils, your house can’t sink.
Like I talked about earlier, the front porch that’s leaning. That’s probably because the soil is underneath it. It has settled over time.
Interviewer: You had talked about this on our very first episode a little bit. But I would really like to kind of just for a moment delve in a little bit to the history of Landmark because the information you give on these programs is extensive. It’s pretty amazing.
Just the base of knowledge that you and your company have, I mean it’s – I would be so comfortable calling you up and saying, “Hey, this is what I’m looking for,” and knowing that I’m going to get the right answer.
So just for the sake of our new listeners, give us a little bit of background on Landmark.
Steve Landmark: Well, we started the company in 1993 and grew across – nationwide and then we also do international projects. So we’ve always been really interested in it. This isn’t a job to us where we go there to get a paycheck. This is a passion. It’s something that we enjoy doing. It’s just kind of in our blood type of a situation.
I think with working, we’ve got a great customer base of interesting people that are doing – building their homes for different reasons. Some are retirement. Some are family estate. Some of them are first homes. Some of them are third homes. You know, whatever it may be. Through the process of working with these great people, you just get really involved with the project.
Each of those projects is different. So even though we might have been doing it since 1993, there’s something different about every single home. Where it’s built, why it’s built, the energy codes, the green codes, the structural concerns, the design elements. Is it on a basement? Is it – does the family need something special? Do they have special needs for the design? Is it an ADA design? Are the people super active, where they don’t really want to be in the house? They just want to go there to eat and sleep and then get up and go surf or mountain climb or whatever they do. Are they people who want to stay home and they have big family get-togethers?
That’s the interesting part of it. Through that process, over the time, you have all these different experiences and building in different places. That’s how you see all these different details and how they work. So it’s just passion and experience. It’s really the way to put it. We enjoy it. We enjoy working with our customers and we ask them to let us know if we can ever do anything to help and to go through because you can buy a piece of wood anywhere. You could nail it together and call it a house.
But the way it’s done, you know, affordably, effectively and with clean communication, a good relationship, so they end up with a good house. It really matters. It makes a difference in the end result of the home and not just that. The enjoyment of the process. Building a home can be stressful. It’s stressful because you’re working with the wrong people and you don’t understand what you’re doing.
If you have help, a proper set of plans, a good panelized home package, a support team that if you need something, they’re there when you need them, it becomes enjoyable. It’s really cool. A story, something happened. Between last Thanksgiving and Christmas, we had six customers call us that built with us between 10 and 14 years ago, to say, “We want to do it again,” or “We have a friend,” or “Hey. Now, it’s my son’s turn.”
Interviewer: Oh, that’s great.
Steve Landmark: Or my – you know, when you get that, that’s just cool. It’s like that ultimate pat on the back of, “Hey, good job,” and I guess that just fuels us to go do it and people want to build a good home. They just don’t always know how. They don’t know always know where to get a straight answer. They don’t always know if they will get an answer. Well, in our case, we can go through and justify and help them understand why it makes sense to do something.
Interviewer: It’s customer service. I’ve been through your website. I’ve seen some great videos on there, some really cool animations. But the one thing that really stands out about the website is the customer service, the follow-up, the follow-through, the ability to get on the phone, make a phone call and get – and actually get a person who will help you with the problem that you’re having at that moment. That’s one of the best things I think about, about your company.
Steve Landmark: Great. That’s the key is the customer service support. We do answer your phone call. We do talk directly to you. We do answer your questions, so that you can understand what –
Interviewer: So I’m not talking to somebody in a foreign country when I call the number.
Steve Landmark: No. It’s me or Mike and we can go through and help you through the process and we will take care of it. That’s the key thing because – like you brought up geotechnical report. Some people say, “Why do I want to do that? It’s $1500. I would rather get a bigger fireplace.” I say, “Well, I would rather make sure your house stands up.” You can always add the fireplace.
So when people understand what the geotechnical report or what an engineer-stamped set of plans or what energy calculations are, they’ve learned and then they could then apply it and say, “Yes, that does make sense to do it.”
Steve Landmark: And that’s the key to it is understanding what you’re doing, so that you can go through and effectively build a house. This isn’t just, hey, let’s throw a bunch of wood together. Let’s put a roof on it, put some windows in it. No. This is let’s develop a plan, literally a set of plans for the house. But also a method so that you can go through and build the house that makes sense for you and your family.
Steve Landmark: That’s through proper design, engineering, our support and our custom panelized home delivered to your building site.
Interviewer: Now you mentioned Mike. That’s your brother and you guys are truly one of those – the three words that are getting harder to hear nowadays and that’s “family-owned business,” which I think is great.
Steve Landmark: Well, it’s that and it’s customer service and it’s dedication. We’ve been here since day one. We’re going to be here until we’re not here and that’s the key to it. We don’t hand you off to other people, Steve.
So have you ever been in a situation where it’s like, hey, you talked to rep number one. He hands you to rep number two.
Interviewer: No, I don’t even want to talk about it.
Steve Landmark: Yeah. Then your rep number five who doesn’t even know what’s going on. Well, in our case, Mike would work with you upfront, get you positioned. You know, find out what you need. Then I would work with you throughout the whole project from beginning to end, so that there’s a clean relationship, clean communication and understanding, so that the ball doesn’t get dropped along the way.
That’s the key element is being on the right team to help you through the process. You know, someone that’s going to be there to help you. If you run into a situation, they’re going to help and support you and pull you back up to get it going.
I think that that’s where we really help people and the key to it is design it right, plan it right and then execute it right instead of guessing along the way and tripping along the way. The key is do it right, plan it right and continue on with a logical – a process to building your home.
Interviewer: Great. So once again, these podcasts just go by so fast. It’s ridiculous. Go ahead and give us a rundown of how we can connect with Landmark Home and Land Company.
Steve Landmark: The simple way is just give us a call. Our 800 number is 800-830-9788 and then our website is always up. You can look at it. I think there’s a lot of nice videos. There’s some information on there, some plan selections and that’s at the initials, www.LHLC.com. So it’s L as in landmark, H as in home, L as in land, C as in company, dot com and you can get ideas. Give us a call. Send us a message through the website and we will do all we can to help you move along and enjoy the process.
Interviewer: And there you go. That’s going to do it for this episode of The Panelized Home Show. As always, for Steve Tuma. I’m Stephen Savage and thank you guys for listening. We will