Saturday, April 24, 2010

What Is An "Owner-Builder"?

An Owner-builder (O-B) is an individual who chooses to act as the General Contractor (GC) in managing the construction of his or her own home. Most consumers hire a General Contractor to manage the home building process. There are many obvious benefits to hiring a skilled professional who has the experience, connections and tools to ensure your project is completed right and on time.

There are also many benefits to taking on the role of the General Contractor, from considerable cost savings, to enjoying extensive control over how the home is built and the products and materials used. Going the route of Owner-Builder is not a decision that one should make lightly. Let's take a look at the both the benefits and the challenges of being an Owner-Builder.

Why Do People Become Owner-Builders?

"Money" Is The Biggest Motivator

Though there are a number of benefits that drive more and more people each year to become O-Bs, the number one factor continues to be cost savings. Those savings equal instant equity for the owner, and a bigger return when they go to sell.

There are two ways that an O-B can save money. The first is in "cold sweat" equity. These savings don't require any physical labor on the part of the owner-builder. By acting as the project's manager and overseeing the building process, as well as performing additional duties such as materials buyer and cost controller, it's not uncommon to save as much as 25% or more of the home construction cost.

The second is traditional sweat equity, where the O-B performs little, moderate or large quantities of the actual construction work themselves. Normally, various subcontractors perform this work when and where their services are needed. Taking on more of the work has the potential to provide even greater savings. It also requires that you possess construction-related experience or skill, can offer greater time commitment, and are willing to assume the increased risk of not hiring professional subcontractors to perform this work for you.


The second major benefit in becoming an O-B is the luxury of having complete control of the project. O-Bs who work hard and plan properly are often able to include upgrades and efficiencies at lower costs. Because you are able to focus on your priorities- you'll put greater effort and realize better success in those areas most important to you. O-Bs drive the process and are able to exercise a range of choices beyond what is possible when working with a GC. When hiring a GC, it's important that you don't hire someone who may cut corners in areas that are important to you, or resists your requests because they are comfortable with their way of doing things. Owner-Builders essentially hire themselves, which ensures that the home is built the way they want it?


Although this is surely the last reason that most will decide to become an O-B, it's often the most rewarding when the job is done. Building a home can be a long, complex, stressful, and all-consuming process. For O-Bs, the satisfaction derived from successfully completing such a large-scale project is huge. Once your home is completed, you'll remember the hard work, thoughtful choices and attention to detail you were able to personally contribute and enjoy the fruits of your labors for years to come. For many, this feeling of pride and satisfaction can be the most powerful part of the Owner-Builder experience.

What It Takes To Succeed As An Owner Builder

You may ask yourself why so many people decide to pay a General Contractor such a large percentage of the overall cost of construction when they can manage the project themselves and reap such substantial savings. The answer is simple. Managing the construction of a home successfully is no small task. In fact, lenders will often refuse to finance construction projects unless there is an experience General Contractor (GC) or Building Manager involved to ensure that the project is completed successfully, on time, and on budget. GCs play the single most important role in the homebuilding process. Managing large projects take considerable skill and experience, which is why selecting the right GC may be the single most important decision you'll make. This is an important factor for you to consider as you contemplate becoming an Owner Builder for your project. If you want to ensure that your project goes smoothly and quality is maintained while realizing maximum cost savings at every point, you will be required to bring a considerable amount of time, effort and skill to the project. Are you the right person for the job?

Here are the ten leading qualifications of successful owner-builders from The Owner-Builder Book: How You Can Save More Than $100,000 in the Construction of Your Custom Home, By Mark A. Smith:

1.0 You come to the job each day prepared to fire people if needed. This consists of being clear about what you expect and holding subcontractors accountable for it. You are writing the check, you are in power. You stage your payments so that you can pay for performance to date and release the sub if necessary. You can put your foot down if needed.

2.0 You are somewhat familiar with construction. You have interest in the subject of building and some aptitude, and are willing to learn. You talk the talk of the business. This can be learned from building shows on television, from builder magazines to which you can subscribe, from interviewing subs, and from observing building projects, among other places. Even though you may not perform a given trade, you can talk about it knowledgeably. However, overemphasis on building knowledge can interfere with the exercise of good planning and management, your principal tools.

3.0 You communicate well. You make clear your expectations, and make certain they are understood. You can talk to all kinds of people. You can win loyalty and build relationships with the team. You are capable of making endless phone calls to check on things.

4.0 You pay patient attention to detail. Winston Churchill, who liked to lay brick on his English country estate and was a competent oil painter, said, "Genius is the capacity for taking infinite pains." The tiny details done right add up to a distinctly superior house. The O-B must be prepared to take the time to see that things are done right.

5.0 You have job flexibility. Either you or your spouse need to spend four hours a day or more on-site during construction. Many construction lenders interview their applicants about the circumstances of their employment to ensure this flexibility.

6.0 You have determination and problem solving ability. You don't lie down at the appearance of the first knotty problem. There are several every week during construction. You will stick with them until they are solved.

7.0 You are financially motivated. Parkinson's Law is that work expands to fill the time allotted to it. A corollary is that a construction budget expands to the borrowing limit of the owner. If your limit is low, you will be more ingenious in finding ways to meet it.

8.0 You are organized. If not in general, at least for this project, you are organized to a fault. You will tend to the agreements, paperwork, schedules and budgets tirelessly.

9.0 You are a good shopper. You can tell differences in quality, can find bargains, and won't overspend on anything.

10.0 You are a good student. You watch well and learn quickly. You can get answers to your questions.

As you as trying to determine if you have the time, energy and skills required- make a list of the areas where you think you are lacking, and see if you are able to locate support and assistance to help you fill the gaps. Maybe you have a friend or relative who is a great negotiator who can aid in getting low bids from subcontractors or better prices from material suppliers. Do you have contacts with construction experience that you can lean on? Maybe you know someone with an authoritative demeanor who will give you confidence when walking the jobsite to inspect work? There is also a fast growing service industry built around helping consumers succeed as Owner-Builders. These companies specialize in everything from helping you plan the project, secure financing, facilitate the selection and ordering of materials, to complete onsite consulting. There is also a good amount of media and resources widely available focused on Owner-Building - from Books and Magazines to software products and websites. Knowing your personal strengths and weaknesses can help you determine where you will need help, and what type of resources and services you will required. It's better to over-estimate the amount of help you'll need than to find yourself lacking in areas that may cause you problems. Managing is all about keeping a number of individual elements on track. There are pitfalls to avoid, and money to be saved by keeping things on schedule.

When You've Made The Decision To Be An Owner-Builder

If you've made the decided that you want to build your home as an O-B, you should be prepared to immerse yourself in as much learning and planning as possible. Preparation is key. You want to be sure that you're prepared to drive and manage the project effectively, and that all your goals are met along the way.

Again, from By Mark A. Smith, the Author of The Owner-Builder Book: How You Can Save More Than $100,000 in the Construction of Your Custom Home, here are the "The Ten Commandments of Being an Owner-Builder":

1.0 1,000 hours of planning. There are 2,000 hours in a work year, and it takes about 6 months of careful planning to build your own house. Our studies indicate that if you short yourself on the planning, you will save less money and take longer to build.

2.0 Written list of features. Once you start construction, you will be tempted to make many changes to your original plan if you have not thought through your design carefully. A written list of room-by-room specifications ensures good design and saves money.

3.0 Spreadsheet budget and expense tracking. Putting all your costs estimates onto a computer spreadsheet has the magical effect of producing project savings. You can see what you've spent and what cost projections for the future are. You can take advantage of bargains and limit damage from overruns.

4.0 Written schedule. Very few general contractors and a minority of owner-builders commit their project schedule to paper. Those that do invariably finish their projects smoother and faster.

5.0 Three bids from subcontractor and suppliers for each item. It takes time to get bids from subcontractors (subs) and compare them on paper. The effort results in an improved plan and tighter estimates of cost. Sometimes you find big bargains by looking for just one more bidder.

6.0 Signed agreements and lien releases. Many owner-builders have expressed regrets that they didn't get agreements in writing. A signed agreement can be your best defense in the event of a dispute. Signed lien releases, available from your lender, prohibit subs and suppliers from placing a lien on the new house.

7.0 Buy materials directly. Most subs like to provide their own materials, but experienced owner-builders know that it costs more that way. Buy your materials separate from labor and avoid unwanted overhead charges. When you search for materials you find bargains, too.

8.0 Constant communication with subs. One of the biggest problems with owner-building is that some subcontractors won't show up as promised. The remedy is to communicate early and often with your chosen subs.

9.0 Be on-site. Owner-building can be very profitable but demanding and is not something to be done on evenings and weekends. You or your spouse needs to be on-site during construction to ensure that all possible steps are taken to get you a well built home at a savings.

10.0 Run a clean, organized job. It actually saves money to have a clean construction site where tools and materials aren't trampled and lost. By keeping the site clean, you will end up with a house that is satisfyingly clean and healthy to live in.

Overseeing Work

As an O-B, you are the project's quality control manager. It will be important that you know how to schedule work at a pace that ensures completion and how to check work to see that it is being done properly. You do not want to micromanage. All trade contractors must be allowed to go ahead with the work they have contracted to perform without undue interference. Naturally, if they are not performing the job according to the plan specifications or other agreements, it is your responsibility to step in and get things on track. However, be careful not to take the time of the subcontractors and their crews unnecessarily by failure to have the material on-site in the proper quantities, or by asking too many questions to satisfy your own curiosity. Getting basic questions answered before work begins is in everybody's best interest.

It is good practice to always work directly with the contractor rather than with one of his or her crew. Make sure that all of the preliminary work has been completed before scheduling a trade contractor to begin his job. Failure to check this measure in many cases will justify extra payment for lost time.

Hiring Subcontractors

A critical responsibility for you as an O-B is assembling and managing subcontractors (carpenters, masons, electricians, plumbers, etc.). Your job is to interview prospective candidates, get bids, hire your choices, and schedule/manage/coordinate the work.

Next month's edition of Building Your Dream Home will focus on selecting General Contractors, and Subcontractors. We'll go into strategies for locating and interviewing the right talent, as well as tips for the bidding and hiring process.

Where Hard Work Pays Off

If you find that you have the required skills, time, motivation and resources needed to be an Owner Builder - it's a great opportunity to see your own hard work pay off, both in getting the home you want and in the money you save. Though not for everyone, it can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those who are up to the challenge.

Building Your Dream Home: Take Advantage of Additional Space in the Pre-Planning Stage

Adequate Wiring

You're probably not even thinking about putting in lights or a stereo system in that huge unfinished attic space right now. But if someday that space will become a media center with all the latest technology (computer, big-screen TV, sound system-the works), then including wiring runs for these and other electronic components will be much easier and less costly at the building stage than waiting until you're ready to make the move. You may not know exactly what you want in this space, but installing the best rough-in electrical wiring before walls are finished will allow you to make final decisions later with more confidence. If you can afford it and think you'll need it, consider fiber-optic systems. And don't forget about phone cabling and coax for media equipment. Your electrician can help you make the right choices-and will appreciate the foresight you exhibited at the building stage.

Rough-in Plumbing

A future wet bar, mini-kitchen, or bath in your finished bonus space demand that you include appropriate rough-in plumbing for the unfinished space when it is installed for the rest of the home. Sure, doing it when you build will add a bit to the cost, but trying to rig together something later will only create headaches and add significant dollars. The best plan is to coordinate your plumbing runs for bonus spaces with those in the finished part of your house-clustering bathrooms together, for instance. The plumbing subcontractor for your building project can help you decide what and how much you need to install.

Natural Light
Attic space can be easily changed into an art studio by employing pre-planned electrical and insulation components

If your basement or attic will only be used for storage space, you probably won't mind if it has ambient light from natural sources. However, if you are planning to use the space for future livability, including some operable windows in the attic, bonus spaces, and basement when you build will eliminate the need to rework some of the structural components in these areas. If your future space is an attic, consider skylights, which are easily incorporated into the roof's construction. Doors accessing the outside are a similar consideration. You might like to have a patio outside the den you're planning for the bonus room. Mitigate the need for cutting into siding and studs later by installing that patio door now. At the very least, insist on appropriate bracing for windows and doors where you will want them in the future.


Heating and cooling ducts are going to be installed throughout your home before the interior finishes are completed. This is the opportune time to plan duct runs to future spaces as well. While you may not want to actually heat and cool a bonus space until it is developed, you will want all the necessary duct work in place when you build so you don't have to contend with new duct runs later on. The duct work can be capped off to the bonus area until it is actually needed.


If your bonus space happens to be a basement or part of a basement that will be made into livable space someday, be sure that adequate waterproofing is part of the plan when the foundation is laid. While it can be applied after the home is built, it will require digging trenches in your lawn around the house and will destroy any landscaping that you've cultivated. Remember, waterproofing protects your basement and is a good idea even if you're not planning livable space there.

Design Elements

You may not be sure how you would like to use your bonus space or even how you want to decorate the space when it is finished. But if you think you'll want to use some of the same elements you're using in the finished areas of your home, you'd be wise to purchase enough for the bonus room at the same time. By the time you are ready to develop your bonus space, those same elements may not be available-or at least not in the same dye lots as those you have already acquired. Carpeting and window coverings are prime examples.

Go for the extra expense and get what you need now-you don't have to install it right away and can temporarily store it in that unfinished space until you're ready to use it.

Remember that even if you never take advantage of the planning you have done to render a bonus space usable in the future, installing these extra elements at the building stage adds little to the overall building cost and, yet, greatly increases your home's resale value.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Plumbing: Types of Water Pipes and Water Heaters for Your New Home

Building Houses

For many decades water pipe was made of iron-with its rust problems and limited life. Leaks in walls of older houses were commonplace. Then came copper pipe which, while more expensive, offered such great advantages that iron pipe became a thing of the past. Today we have several types of plastic pipe that are less expensive and potentially longer lasting than copper.

In this article we look at these different types of water pipes, their pros and cons, and at the two different kinds of drain pipes. Taps and faucets are generally a matter of personal preference and cost except for exterior hose bibbs where a common arrangement is anything but user-friendly.

Plumbing plans are fairly simple and straightforward unless you want something unusual like circulating hot water. There's no excuse for a layout that brings you a sudden change in shower water temperature when someone washes their hands or flushes a toilet. If you can check this in the model house, it's a good idea. You should also check that outside hose bibbs are convenient and not located where growing plants will make them hard to get to.

Types of Water Pipe

While copper has been the most commonly used pipe inside new houses, several types of plastics are becoming more popular. There has been a reluctance by the plumbing industry to make the change but now three types of plastic pipes have been approved by several building code groups, most notably the Council of American Building Officials (CABO) whose codes are the basis for many state codes. Note, however, that a few states are slow to agree to let plastic piping be used in homes. But this is changing. You'll need to check your own state codes.

The main argument against plastic pipes is that they haven't been in use long enough to ensure that they won't cause trouble in the future -- the old chicken-and-egg riddle. And, in fact, there was a serious problem with polybutylene (PB) connectors that resulted in numerous lawsuits because of damage that was done to homes by leaky PB joints. There is a consensus that these problems have been solved. Cross-linked polyethylene has been available for many years but the reluctance to use it has held back its more widespread acceptance. This is changing.


Copper is the material of choice by most plumbing subcontractors even though installing copper pipe takes more skill than plastic. Copper isn't without its problems, however. In southern California there have been reports of pin hole leaks in copper pipe presumably due to chemicals in the water. California is now starting to allow plastic piping inside residences.

Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride (CPVC)

CPVC is similar to PVC, the white plastic pipe used in lawn irrigation systems. Unlike PVC, CPVC doesn't soften when used for hot water. CPVC is 15 to 25 percent less expensive than copper. The installation times for CPVC and PVC are similar when done by an experienced installer.

Polybutylene (PB) and Cross-Linked Polyethylene (PEX)

Polybutylene and cross-linked polyethylene pipes are similar in that they are flexible plastics, they come in rolls, and require special fittings that are neither soldered nor cemented but are mechanical in nature. These fittings must be approved by local building officials.

The flexibility of polybutylene and cross-linked polyethylene tubes and pipes makes it possible to use them in a different way that has definite advantages, both during installation and later when in use in the home. The main water line coming into the house feeds a manifold with multiple outputs. Each output connects to an uncut piece of pipe that goes to a single outlet: a faucet, dishwasher, toilet, tub, shower, or washing machine. Joints, elbows, and couplings are not needed.

This results in lower installation times than needed for copper and a lower cost both in material and labor. Special tools and skills are needed for installation. (WIRSBO, a manufacturer of PEX, offers a twenty- five year warranty if the installation is done by a trained plumber, one year if you do it yourself.)

Because there is only one faucet per line coming from the manifold, turning on a second faucet has little impact on the flow to one already running. Thus, if you are taking a shower and someone turns on a faucet someplace else, there will be very little impact on either the amount or the temperature of your shower water.

Both PB and PEX are approved for hot as well as cold water.

Water Heaters

Be sure the water heater is suitable for your family. The tendency for builders is to use the smallest (and least expensive) heater allowed by code.When you want hot water quickly you have two options: re-circulating hot water or an auxiliary hot water tank.

Re-circulating Hot Water

You are already acquainted with re-circulating hot water-or did you ever wonder how you got the hot water so fast in your hotel room? The process involves doubling the amount of hot water pipe in the house. One pipe carries hot water from the heater to the faucets and the other carries the unused water back to the heater. A small pump keeps hot water circulating through the system. Both directions of pipe must be insulated if they are copper. The plastic in PB and PEX offers a certain amount of insulation in itself and additional may not be needed. WIRSBO says it's not necessary with their PEX. Check with the manufacturer of your piping and with your local building officials if you consider re-circulating hot water.

There's an initial cost for putting the system into place and an ongoing cost for the electricity to run it. Both costs are small, particularly when you put a timer on the system so that it doesn't run while you sleep.

You make up at least a part of the ongoing cost since you no longer have to waste water by running it until it gets hot. If your builder will consider having it installed, find out how much it will cost and you decide if it's worthwhile for you. PB and PEX piping are attractive in re-circulating hot water systems because they are easy to install, they don't have the potential noise problems of copper and the plastic pipe itself acts as an insulator.

Auxiliary Hot Water

Small heaters that mount under a vanity counter can provide hot water immediately. If you want one for a shower or tub, the heater will need to be bigger than one that furnishes water to the basins only. As with other hot water heaters, you'll need gas or electricity brought to the heater's location. The feasibility of doing this and the cost will depend on how big the heater is and on the impact it may have on the rest of the house design.

Water Pipes in Outside Walls

A good house design will minimize runs of water pipe in the outside walls because of the danger of freezing although for kitchen and vanity sinks short runs of pipe are often located there.

Outside walls in today's new houses are usually well-insulated. When water pipes are run in these walls, it is important that the pipes be kept toward the inside of the walls rather than the outside. Also, the wall insulation must be installed so that most of it is between the pipes and the outside wall and little or none is between the pipes and the inside wall. Plumbers and insulation installers understand this and normally install it this way. However, it doesn't hurt to check.

Nail Plates

Pipes running through studs or plates are always in danger of being punctured by wallboard fasteners-nails or screws that are 1 1/4- to 1 5/8-inches long and are driven into studs behind the wallboard. When the wallboard goes up, the installer can't see where the pipes are. Plumbers are supposed to put pieces of galvanized sheet metal, called "nail plates" or "safety plates", on the outside of the stud or plate to prevent the wallboard installer from putting a nail or screw there and inadvertently punching a hole in the pipe. The builder or his construction supervisor should check that nail plates are in place properly before the wallboard is installed, but they are sometimes missed.

Besides the obvious problem when an immediate leak occurs, improperly placed or missing nail plates can result in subtle problems that may not be seen for several years. Small leaks in drain lines are not always self evident and the dampness may be contained inside walls where it can rot the wood without being seen. There is also the possibility that a wallboard screw will penetrate a water or drain pipe but the screw itself plugs the hole until it rusts out a few years later. If you can, double check that nail plates are in place to protect all pipes before the wallboard is installed. The builder's warranty for things like this lasts only one or two years.

Noisy Pipes

You can reduce water and drain pipe noise by paying attention to how the pipes are installed. As an experiment when you visit model homes, have your spouse turn on a faucet in one end of the house and see if you can hear the running water in the other. Some houses are significantly better than others in this respect.

Water running through a pipe is noisier when the pipe touches wood because the wood can act as a sounding board. Pipes should be kept away from joists and studs. Plastic piping used in water distribution systems has additional advantages here. First, most noise originates where the direction of flow changes abruptly and this doesn't happen with plastic in normal installations. And, copper will carry noise along the pipe more readily than will plastic.

Drain water falling from the second floor of a house makes noticeably more noise in plastic than in iron pipes. If iron pipes are wrapped with insulation, the noise from the second-floor drain pipes will be just about eliminated. However, iron pipe rusts, so check its expected life in your area before having it installed. For either iron or plastic, wrapping with fiberglass insulation will help deaden the noise.

Hose Bibbs

You'll want hose bibbs on the outside of your house. Most builders put in two: one in front and one in back. For most of us this isn't enough. If you have an RV pad, you should have a hose bibb there. In any case, an additional hose bibb on at least one side of the house is useful.

If you need hot water to wash your car, have a bibb installed in the garage, connected to both hot and cold water. Be sure you take a hard look at the type of faucet that is used. The common faucet used for mixing hot and cold water restricts the amount of water that can be passed. This is no good when a high volume of water at full pressure is needed.

Make it known, either in writing or on a drawing, where you want the hose bibbs. Allow the plumber some freedom to minimize the cost of putting them in place, but be sure your wants are known.

In areas where there is danger of water freezing in hose bibbs, plumbing codes require a means of draining the water from the bibbs in the winter. Two methods are permitted in the codes: a regular hose bibb with a stop-and-waste valve or a frost-proof hose bibb.

Stop-and-Waste Valves

Stop-and-waste valves are installed in an accessible heated location where there is no danger of freezing. The "stop" part is simply a turn-off valve. The "waste" part is a plug on the valve which can be removed to allow water to drain.

he hose bibb is connected to the stop-and-waste valve with pipe that may be exposed to freezing conditions. In the autumn the home user must:

1.0 Turn off the water at the stop-and-waste valve.

2.0 Open the hose bibb and take care of any hoses which may be connected.

3.0 If the bibb and pipe don't drain by themselves, the waste plug must be removed to let the water out.

In the spring the above process must be reversed.

Unfortunately, not all plumbers follow the code carefully and not all inspectors see that they do. In far too many cases the stop-and-waste valve is placed where it is not readily accessible, making it virtually useless. If your builder or plumber insists that frost-proof hose bibbs are not a good idea, then you should insist that he put the stop-and-waste valves where you can get to them easily and that pipes drain by simply opening the bibb.

Frost-Proof Hose Bibbs

The frost-proof bibb includes a piece of copper pipe as a part of the bibb itself. This pipe extends the valve part of the bibb back into a part of the house that is heated and where there is no danger of freezing. When it is turned off, water drains from the exposed part of the hose bibb and no damage occurs.

There is a precaution, however. Sometimes hoses with closed nozzles are left connected so that the water cannot drain. This has happened often enough that plumbers in some localities have an aversion to using these bibbs at all. Properly used, they effectively eliminate problems with freezing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Water Heaters and Water Pipes: Plumbing for Your New Dream Home

Building Houses

The correct plumbing of your home is an important process during construction. Most of us have used a plunger to clear a blocked toilet or maybe we have replaced a worn out washer in a faucet. Unless you have lived in a home with plumbing problems, most people take their plumbing system for granted. The plumbing system performs the dual tasks of supplying water to the house and removing liquid waste. It is important to find a good plumber to handle the installation of your plumbing system. Mistakes or oversights can be costly down the road or during construction if leaks develop.

The plumbing that will be installed in your house is made up of the drain waste vent system and the water supply system. The drain waste vent system transports all of the used water from toilets, sinks, and showers to the septic system or sewer. Most new construction uses PVC or ABS plastic pipe that is sealed with glue. Older homes generally use iron pipe. Some newer homes will still use iron piping to avoid the noise of draining water that is present with plastic pipes. The main components used in the drain waste vent system are the soil stack, vent, and trap. The soil stack connects your home to the sewer system. It is a vertical set of pipes that connects to the piping in the home typically in the foundation floor or wall. The top of the stack is your vent. This will extend vertically out through the roof to allow gases to escape outside, plus this wil also aid in draining by allowing air inward. You should periodically make sure the vent is unobstructed. A plugged vent will trap dangerous gases, and without the inward flow of air, could cause sinks to fill while other fixtures drain. A trap should be installed on all drains in the house. This is a U-shaped pipe that is installed below each drain to trap a small amount of water that prevents sewer gases from seeping back up through the drains into your home.

Your home's water supply system can come from two different sources: a private well operated by you or from a public water system operated by your city or county. In a private well system, a pump fills a pressure tank where it is stored for your use. When the tank is depleted, the pump will activate to refill the water. Using a public water system requires a water supply line that is connected to the water main and a water meter. The meter is typically the dividing point between the city-owned line and your home's line. Both systems typically use a 1/2" copper pipe that enters through the foundation floor or wall. Water supply lines are made of copper, CPVC plastic or possibly galvanized steel. Cold water pipes branch out from the main water line, while hot water will originate from your water heater. There are typically several cutoff valves in the system: near the water meter that the city can use to shut service off to the home, before and after the water heater, near the feeds for any outside faucets, under most sinks and toilets, and near most of your water-based appliances like refrigerators, washers and dishwashers. Any of these valves can be shut off in case of an emergency or to conduct repairs in the portion of the system behind the cutoff valve. You'll need to be familiar with your plumbing system if you plan to attempt any repairs yourself.

A small leak in a pipefitting or incorrect holes in the joists or studs can to lead damaged materials and a delay in construction. That is why it is extremely important that the right plumber does the installation of the plumbing in your new home. When looking for a plumber, or talking to your contractor about the plumber they plan on using, you will want a licensed plumber who has experience with the installation of plumbing in a new home. You do not want a standard "family" plumber who specializes in fixing leaks. The plumber you use needs to understand the residential design system and know the current building codes for your area. If you plan on being your own builder, the best source for contacting this type of plumber is an experienced contractor. A contractor will try to use reliable subcontractors, especially when it comes to plumbing. Mistakes, such as a joint left unsoldered, can easily destroy thousands of dollars worth of walls or hardwood floors and complicate construction with insurance claims and lost time. If you plan on using a contractor to build your home, it does not hurt to make sure the plumber meets licensing, workers compensation and liability insurance requirements.

Thoughts about the plumbing system for your future home might not enter your mind while searching through our collection of plans to find your dream home. If they do, they will probably be thoughts of what this fixture or that whirlpool tub should look like. The basics of the system will be handled by your general contractor or by the plumbing subcontractor you hire. Since stock home plans do not show the exact schematic of the plumbing system, both because of local building code requirements and the layout of the lot you are building on, it is important to have a basic understanding of plumbing systems and even more important to find a quality plumber who can implement a trouble-free plumbing system.

Roofing: Asphalt Shingles, Wood and Metal Shingles for Your New Dream Home

Building Houses

The type of roofing material used will depend on the style of home you are building, the slope of the roof, and local building restrictions. The following is a list of the roofing materials that are most commonly used in the construction of today's homes:

Asphalt Shingles

This is the most common type of roofing material used today. This type of shingle is divided into two different categories, organic or fiberglass (non-organic). Organic shingles are manufactured with a cellulose fiber base made from recycled paper and wood fibers, which is then saturated with asphalt. Then a mineral coating is applied to resist weathering. Fiberglass shingles are produced in a similar fashion but the core is made up of fiberglass. This tends to provide more flexibility and added strength over the organic. Dimensional shingles are a variation of organic or fiberglass shingles. They are similar to the standard organic or fiberglass shingle, however, the cores are much thicker. The additional layers of material can be sculpted to provide different shadow lines to give the roof a more custom look.

Asphalt shingles are manufactured in a wide variety of colors and are rated by their projected lifespan. This is typically 20-30 years for the standard organic or fiberglass, while dimensional shingles can have a life expectancy up to 40 years. The majority of manufacturer's will only warranty their materials for the specified life spans if their certified roofers install them.

Wood Shingles

The majority of wood shingles comes from Western red cedar. The reason this type of wood is used most often is its resistance to decay. The wood shingles are classified and sold as either number 1, 2, or 3. 1 is what is used and recommended for roofing because it is cut from knot free heartwood. 2 is generally used for siding and comes from less resistant sapwood. This type of shingle comes in a few different sizes, 16 inch, 18 inch, and 24 inch, and is tapered.

Wood Shakes

Like shingles this type of roofing material is taken from cedar. The difference is that shakes are either sawn again or split by hand. A resawn shake has one side that is left with a natural irregular look and one side that is cut thinner to give the tapered shape. Hand split shakes are tapered as well but typically have more natural, textured look. Shakes are separated by weight, which are classified as either heavy or medium and are sold in lengths of 18 inch or 24 inch.

Clay and Concrete Shingles

This style of roofing is usually associated with the Spanish-mission tiles. The most common shape of this style of roofing material is the traditional barrel shape, but you will also find clay and concrete tile that is flat or tapered to give a wood shake or slate appearance. The life span can be between 50-100 years, but this type of material performs best in warm dryer climates. Tile tends to absorb water, so this can be a problem in moist or cold climates where the tile could be damaged due to the freeze/thaw cycle. Concrete and clay tiles are heavy so it is often necessary to increase roof support for the added weight.


Roofs constructed using metal shingles have been around for years. Today's advances have made it available in many different colors, shapes and styles. Metal shingles will typically be interlocking and can be made up of aluminum, copper or stainless steel. This type of roofing is lightweight and doesn't crack, split, rot or burn and will typically last over 50 years. Metal can also be used on many different styles and both steep and flat roofs.


This is one of the oldest roofing materials found U.S. and is mainly used in the northeast. Slate is a hard rock that can be split into thin slabs, which can vary between 1/4 inch to 1 inch. Slate is extremely durable and can last 100 years or more. This type of roofing material is very heavy so it requires the roof be built specially to handle the added weight, and can be difficult to install properly, so it can be a problem finding a qualified roofer.

The roofing materials discussed above can vary in material and installation cost. The following table shows the cost breakdown by material. The costs given are based on 100 square feet of roof and are approximate figures. Costs may vary in your area.



Asphalt Shingles

$25 to $30


Wood Shakes



Wood Shingles



Clay or Concrete









Source: 2002

Choosing the roofing material for your new home is a major decision that many new homebuilders overlook, and assume their builder is going to install the best material to meet their needs. It is a good idea to know what options might be available depending on your style and cost requirements. A helpful resource to reference during your roof selection is The Essential Guide to Roofing which identifies everything from the basics to the most advanced techniques in roofing.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

tips on choosing an apartment

5 Tips for Choosing Apartment Renters Insurance

Property and Liability Insurance Coverage are Important for a Renter

Choosing apartment renters insurance is important to safeguard the renter's belongings as well as their liability if someone is injured at their home.

When renting an apartment, it’s important to find apartment renters insurance. Just like car insurance, coverage on a home, even if it's just an apartment, is necessary to protect the renter. Insurance for a dwelling, be it an apartment, condo, or house, is key to protecting the renter's possessions as well as protecting the renter against liability if someone is injured in their home.

Tip 1: Decide What Coverage Is Needed

Deciding what coverage is needed is the first step. Renters need to determine an estimate of the value of their possessions inside the apartment. This includes furniture; electronics like televisions, computers, stereos, MP3 players, etc.; clothing; jewelry; and other valuables. An estimate is needed to ensure the property is covered in case of theft or fire.

Tip 2: Find Out if Flood Insurance Is Needed

Flood insurance is necessary in areas that are prone to flooding if the renter expects the insurance company to pay in case of loss from the effects of a flood. Insurance agents and insurance companies have maps marked with where floodplains are prevalent. This type of insurance is important to have where heavy rains cause damage from water seepage in basements as well as possible actual flooding.

Tip 3: Choose Enough Liability Insurance

Another part of apartment renters insurance coverage is liability insurance to protect the renter in case a visitor is injured while at the renter's apartment.

Tip 4: Get Several Quotes

Contacting the insurance agent where the renter already has automobile insurance coverage is a good place to start. Often individuals receive a discount when buying a second type of insurance with the same insurance company. Getting a quote for rates and coverage with the existing insurance company as well as quotes from two or more other insurance companies is a smart move. To save time, it may be wise to check online for price comparisons and coverage.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dream Home

9 Easy Steps to Buy Your Dream Home

The Union Budget 2008-09 has brought in cheer for the tax payers, particularly due to increase in the tax slab. Now many more will be able to convert their dreams of owning a home into reality. Let's explore how this can be made possible along with various other facets of owning a home.

The sojourn begins!

The journey from applying for a loan to getting one is the most important part of reaching the goal, your dream house. The exercise begins with the property selection, moves on to bank selection and passing through many more procedures reaches the destination. We have made an attempt to simplify the journey so that it becomes a rewarding experience.

1. Identify the property

There is no dearth of options in the real estate market where builders are in a cut-throat competition to woo buyers. It is extremely necessary to do a check on the reputation of the builder associated with the project. Irrespective of whether you are investing in a resale property, a ready-to-move-in flat or an under-construction project, make sure that the title deeds relating to the property are in place.

Check if the property is available only on a power of attorney or pugree basis as funds for such properties may be a problem. Banks are known to reserve the best of deals for loan seekers who have already identified the property they wish to purchase. The advantage of this is that your chosen lender will not only have approved your credit but also the property. This will ensure that there are no surprises later.

2. How much loan are you entitled for?

While budget considerations always dominate your decision of buying a property, it is also good to have an idea of the extent of finance banks may offer. The loan amount sanctioned depends on three important factors:

~ Your income
~ Repayment history and
~ The cost of the property

Based on a broad and general set of calculations, you can get up to 3.5-4 times your annual gross income as home loan. Irrespective of the basis of calculation, the loan eligibility for a longer tenure loan will be much higher.

3. Never choose a lender till the property is identified

While most banks will provide finance for ready-to-move-in properties, some banks do not readily finance a property which is being self-constructed or a property under construction. Also, if the property is very old or is being developed by a relatively unknown builder, the bank might have an issue with providing a property loan.

Take a sanction for the loan only after identifying the property. Banks are known to reserve the best deals for immediate disbursement cases.

4. How the banks look at your loan eligibility

Banks have different ways to calculate your loan eligibility.

If loan eligibility based on your income is likely to be an issue, then talk to several banks to find out which bank can give you the maximum amount. It may so happen that based on your own income, as well as your spouse's, you may still not be eligible to get the amount of loan that you require. Then you must seek a bank that allows you to club the incomes of your other close relatives (parents, siblings, children etc) to increase your loan eligibility.

You can use calculators available on various sites for calculating your eligibility like home loan eligibility.

Also preliminary enquiries with a couple of banks will give you a rough idea of your loan eligibility based on your income. The lender also restricts your loan amount to around 85-90 per cent of the cost of the property (even though the loan eligibility based on your income may be higher). Of course most lenders include the stamp duty and registration charges in the cost of the property while calculating this 85-90 per cent loan eligibility.

Valuation of real estate is still in its infancy in India. In many cases, the valuer determines the value of the property at an amount that is lower than the documented cost of the property and this would result in the loan amount being lower. Your bank will only fund a certain percentage of the cost or valuation of the property, whichever is lower.

So a good idea would be to buy a property from a reputed builder where such problems normally don't arise. For other cases it might be a good idea to agree to pay a small fee to the bank to do a valuation before hand to ensure that you do not land up with a surprise later.

5. Loan eligibility calculation

The ability to repay a housing loan is based on your income and expenditure pattern. In case your monthly income is Rs 10,000 and your monthly expense is Rs 8,000, then Rs 2,000 can be considered as the sum you can pay as a home loan EMI (equated monthly installment).

A working example will give you an idea of how you can calculate your loan eligibility.

At an interest rate of 9 per cent, the monthly installment of an Rs 1 lakh loan for a 20-year loan is Rs 900. Banks calculate the loan eligibility based on a simple formula:

Home loan eligibility in lakhs is equal to the amount determined by the bank as available for loan repayment divided by loan installment per lakh for the selected tenure.


Loan eligibility = Rs 2, 000/900 x 1 lakh = Rs 2.2 lakh

Larger your repayment capability, the higher will be your loan eligibility.

6. Fixed or floating interest rates

Banks offer home loans on fixed or floating interest rates. Irrespective of the option you have chosen; remember this is not a one-time decision.

Though banks claim to offer 'fixed rate loans', most of these are accompanied by a reset clause, that is, banks have the right to change the rate of interest after a specified time period. Only a few banks offer genuine fixed rates that remain fixed throughout the tenure of the loan, no matter what.

Floating rate loans are linked to banks' benchmark rate, so interest rates on these loans fluctuate with the benchmark rates. If benchmark rates increase your loating home loan interest rate also increases and vice versa. Floating rate loans are, however, at least 2.5 per cent cheaper than a comparative tenure fixed rate housing loan.

There is safety in numbers, though. Over 90 per cent of the home loan consumers opt for floating rate loans. If you go in for a floating rate home loan, you also get the benefit of reducing interest rates as (not if) and when the interest rate cycle turns and commences on its downward journey. Even if the interest rates rise, in the interim as long as they do not rise above the 2.5 per cent differential; you are still a net gainer. Remember there is a gap of 2.5 per cent between floating and fixed rate home loans as mentioned earlier.

We advise you to go in for a transparent floating rate loan unless, you want to play it completely safe and are willing to pay the premium (in terms of high interest rates) for such safety. In any case, signing a fixed rate loan, that is not a genuine fixed rate loan makes no sense, whatsoever.

One thing to watch out for is the bank not reducing the floating rate applicable to you even though it is giving loans to new consumers at a lower rate. The only safeguard against this is to keep checking the market and if such a situation arises you should threaten to (and should actually) change your lender unless your lender actually gives the benefit of the reduced rates to you.

7. Keep checking around

Be a vigilant consumer even if you have opted for a fixed rate of interest. As a matter of practice, assess how the markets have moved in a six-month period and consider the costs and benefits of changing your decision.

Go window-shopping, then bargain and bargain. Bargain for some more then till you are sure that you have got the best deal.

You should shortlist four or five banks and get the short listed banks to compete for your loan. The cost of your loan depends a lot on your ability to negotiate. Interest rates offered by banks take your income and repayment profile into consideration. Apart from interest rates, also check various charges like processing fees, pre-payment charges, legal fees, valuation fees and other hidden costs.

8. Getting your sanction letter

Once your application is accepted, your interpersonal communication with your bank begins which entails your assessment regarding loan repayment capacity.

The next step is your credit appraisal and sanction of the loan. If all goes well, your loan is sanctioned. If the bank is not convinced about your credentials, your application may get rejected. The sanction letter is an important piece of document.

The bank will give you an offer letter informing you of the following; loan amount, interest rate (fixed or floating) tenure, repayment mode and the general terms and conditions. You will be asked to sign on, on a copy of this letter as your acceptance.

The moment of reckoning has finally come! You receive your home loan cheque.

9. The sojourn is not over yet

In insurance parlance, an insurance policy which covers a home loan is known as 'loan cover term assurance policy'. This policy covers the home loan amount taken in case of an unfortunate event such as untimely demise of the borrower. The cover on such a policy keeps reducing with the amount of EMIs paid. So, the loan amount covered reduces with the loan amount outstanding.

Lenders nowadays offer home loans bundled with insurance companies. Some lenders also offer insurance policies and the amount payable towards the same is a part of the loan as well as the loan EMI. Though insurance-cum-home loan tie-up offers convenience to the borrower, most insurance companies offer single premium or the 'limited premium paying term' plan to home loan seekers. This may prove to be a costly affair in the long run.

Limited premium payments (LPP) are not favourable on one more count? It has been observed that home loan borrowers pay-off the home loan well within the tenure because with time their repayment capacity also increases.

A lot of individuals are also under the illusion that if they are sufficiently covered, they don't need to insure themselves further just to cover the loan amount. But they should understand is that the current life insurance cover was actually meant to serve a different purpose like retirement or financial needs of the family in their absence.

In case of an eventuality, the survivors will find it difficult to payoff the outstanding home loan amount. And it wouldn't hurt your housing finance company to sell the property to recover the dues in case of a loan payment default. This alone makes a case for individuals to consider buying a term plan/loan cover term assurance.

As housing loan durations are long, it would be prudent to take such a cover. So go ahead and follow your dream...