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The Importance of Rainscreen Systems

Protecting Your Home From Damaging Moisture

Furring strips are vertical pieces of wood that create a ventilation cavity when placed between the insulation and siding. They are part of an overall rainscreen system preventing moisture from damaging a home.

The Importance of Rainscreen Systems

While we all want a home that is comfortable and beautiful, we also want a solid structure made of durable materials that will last for years to come.  But the durability of our homes is threatened by environmental factors, especially wind, rain, heat, and humidity.  Incorporating a high-performance rainscreen system will help protect your home from the damaging effects of moisture.

What is a rainscreen?

A rainscreen is not actually an individual product, but part of a wall construction system.  Its overall purpose is to protect the wall sheathing from moisture that gets past the siding.   Rainscreen systems typically consist of the following components:

  • Exterior cladding (siding)
  • Ventilation and drainage cavity
  • Insulation
  • House wrap (drainage-plane material)
  • Air barrier
Rainscreen is an wall construction system that prevents moisture from damaging a home's wall sheathing.
Diagram of rainscreen system. Image by Tom Diamond and Garland Industries 

Perhaps the most important component is the ventilation and drainage cavity which provides space between the siding and the house wrap. This space is typically created by applying vertical furring strips (called strapping) over the drainage-plane material. The siding is then nailed to these wood strips.  

Furring strips are vertical pieces of wood that create a ventilation cavity when placed between the insulation and siding.  They are part of an overall rainscreen system preventing moisture from damaging a home.
Furring strips. Image by Ryan McCoon and Habitat for Humanity

Newer rainscreen products, such as Slicker, achieve the same effect by using a three-dimensional matrix with vertical channels.  These products come in a roll and are laid over the entire surface of the wall, providing a continuous space for drainage and drying.  When compared to a product like Slicker, wood strapping is generally less expensive from a material cost but is more expensive to install from a labor standpoint. Other drawbacks of strapping include the creation of hot spots along studs and trapped moisture from wood-to-wood contact, which can lead to reduced air movement and a greater potential for mold.

Slicker rainscreen provides three-dimensional matrix with vertical channels to provide a continuous space for drainage and drying.
The Slicker matrix provides airspace and vertical drainage channels across the entire wall. Image by Benjamin Obdyke/Slicker

Why would you want a rainscreen?

A rainscreen is important because the ventilation cavity promotes residual water drainage and airflow.  Any moisture held in the siding, or that seeps underneath due to wind-driven rain, will diffuse and evaporate.  If there are ventilation openings at the top (as opposed to only a weep holes at the bottom), the rainscreen provides a path for rising air.  According to homebuilder Martin Holladay, research shows that this type of ventilation is a powerful drying mechanism.   Because airflow is promoted, rainscreens have the added benefit of keeping your siding cool which prevents premature failure.

Homebuilder Mark Averill Snyde suggests the airspace provided by a ventilation cavity is especially important to prevent “capillary action.”  He compares this process to a grade-school science experiment during which a stalk of celery is placed into a glass of colored water and the water is observed to move quickly upwards. The same thing can happen to homes without proper ventilation and house wrapping. 

An example of capillary action, where water is drawn quickly upwards. Rainscreens help to prevent this.
An example of capillary action, where water is drawn quickly upwards. Image from Wikipedia.

Isn’t house wrap sufficient?

Some builders and homeowners believe house wrap (such as Tyvek, Typar, and #15 or #30 felt) provides a sufficient barrier.  But for many homes, especially those in wetter climates, it’s not enough.  The primary function of house wrap is to drain water that penetrates the siding through leaky joints or capillary action.  However, house wraps lose their water repellency over time and do very little to reduce air infiltration due to heavy winds.  Once water penetrates the house wrap into a wall, peeling paint and rotten siding often follow.  According to Joseph Lstiburekis from Building Science Corporation, back-priming wood cladding and trim and adding a ventilation cavity reduce the impact of moisture.

In addition to a rainscreen system, other methods to protect your home from water damage include:

While a rainscreen system is important for most homes, it is especially vital in climates that are wet and hot.  Some experts advise rainscreen installations for all houses in areas with an average annual rainfall of 50 inches or more.  Many coastal areas get that much rain each year, so if you’re planning to build a beach home make sure you discuss rainscreens with your contractor.


Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company

V-zone

Laying Concrete in V-Zones

During a hurricane, Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with.  The intense precipitation, flooding, and high winds strip materials from buildings, including siding, roof shingles, doors, and windows.  These airborne debris are a major contributor to home damage and human injury.  Therefore, when building on the coast, it’s imperative that your home is compliant with V-zone building codes.  One building material to be very careful with is concrete.  

V-zone
Large pieces of broken concrete can damage buildings and harm people. Image by Mark Wolfe, courtesy of FEMA

Forceful waters and high velocity winds can cause concrete slabs to hydroplane, flip, or break into large chunks that could damage buildings and injure, even kill, people.  As a result, building codes require such slabs be of frangible concrete.  This means they are designed to break into smaller pieces which will sink rather than travel.  So when constructing driveways, pool decks, and patios, it’s important your contractor follows these guidelines:

  • No reinforcement should be used
  • Slabs should not be thicker than four inches
  • Slabs must remain structurally independent of the building
  • Control joints must be spaced at 4-foot squares to encourage even breaking

When laying cement in V-zone areas, proper control joint spacing and depth are essential.  According to the Portland Cement Association, placing control joints in the concrete surface at strategic locations creates weakened planes allowing the concrete to crack evenly.  Spacing the control joints at 4-foot squares ensures the concrete will break into smaller pieces which will cause less damage during hurricanes.

Control joints may be tooled into the concrete surface at the time of placement or they may be sawed into the hardened concrete.  Regardless, control joints should be cut to a depth of ¼ the slab thickness.

V-zone
Control joint. Image courtesy of Portland Cement Association.

Not only is this control joint approach safer, it also produces a more aesthetically pleasing appearance since the crack forms below the finished concrete surface. This method can reduce the amount of hairline cracks on the surface of the cement.

So, when building your vacation home or remodeling to add a backyard oasis, make sure you only work with licensed contractors who are familiar with V-zone construction and the importance of cement control joints.  If you’d like to learn more about concrete, check out our post about reducing surface cracking.


Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company

Concrete Crack Prevention

Concrete Crack Prevention

Concrete is appreciated by both builders and homeowners for its strength, versatility, and affordability.  But if you’ve ever had a concrete driveway or patio, you know the frustration of discovering cracks where the surface was once smooth and pristine.

Despite its many benefits, given enough time, all concrete will develop cracks.  But there are methods for reducing the extent of cracking.

So why does concrete crack and what can you do about it?

Too Much Water in the Concrete Mix

While water is necessary to create a pourable mix, sometimes too much water is added.  This becomes problematic because the more water added, the more shrinkage occurs as the water evaporates.  Shrinkage causes the concrete to pull apart, creating fissures.

To reduce the amount of cracking, make sure you know the advised water to cement ratio for the grade being poured.  A knowledgeable contractor will recognize that while it may take more effort to pour a stiffer mix,  a lower water to cement ratio results in less cracking and greater durability.  If you’d like to calculate the proper water to cement ratio, the Concrete Network provides helpful information. 

Rapid Drying

While you don’t want a mix that is too wet, you also don’t want to allow the concrete to dry too quickly.  The shrinkage caused by rapid drying results in greater cracking, so it’s important that the cement is cured.  Ask your contractor how he/she intends to cure the cement, as there are a few methods.  The most common is to flood or mist spray the concrete.   When this is done for seven days, the resulting slab will be about 50% stronger than an uncured slab. 

Lack of Control Joints

Control joints are planned cracks that permit concrete to expand and shrink as temperatures change.  According to builder Tim Carter, properly placed control joints allow you to influence where and how your concrete cracks rather than leaving it to chance.   Ask your contractor about the joints he/she intends to cut to ensure they are deep enough, spaced properly, and cut at the right time (typically within 6 to 12 hours of pouring).

Concrete Crack Prevention
Control joints in concrete slab. Image courtesy of ConcreteNetwork.com

Insufficient Subbase and Subgrade Support

Many homeowners assume that concrete is strong enough to support itself but slabs need foundations much like houses do.  According to Matt Clawson, contributor at Houzz.com, driveways that bear heavy loads will require thicker slabs and more reinforcement than backyard patios.   There are a few levels of support that can be used beneath concrete slabs.  The subgrade is compacted soil; the subbase is a layer of gravel that sits on top of the subgrade; and the base course is the layer of material directly underneath the slab or vapor barrier.  

Concrete Crack Prevention
Levels of concrete slab support. Image courtesy of ConcreteNetwork.com

According to the American Concrete Institute, slabs should, at minimum, rest on a uniform and well-compacted subgrade.  However, soil quality must be considered.  If the soil is too wet, doesn’t drain well, or is not easily compacted, then additional support may be needed.  A subbase and base course can provide a more even foundation as well as reduce the amount of groundwater that seeps up into the slab.  Also, depending on how much weight will likely sit on top of the slab, steel rebar or fiber-reinforced concrete may be recommended.

While you cannot prevent all cracks, having a better understanding of the mechanics of concrete will allow you to ask your contractor the right questions.  Experienced professionals should be able to answer your questions and articulate a plan to reduce cracking.

Stay tuned for our next post about laying concrete in zones vulnerable to flooding and high winds! 


Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company

Southern Shores Flat Top Cottages

Flat Top Cottages of Southern Shores

When you think about Outer Banks architecture, you likely imagine pastel-colored beach houses with expansive, wrap-around porches, sitting atop wooden pilings.  But in the mid-20th century, a different type of vacation home was popular.  Known as flat-top cottages, they are characterized by their no-pitch roofs and clean, mid-century modern lines.

Flat Top Cottage Aycock Brown
Flat top cottage in Southern Shores, circa 1955. Photo by Aycock Brown, courtesy of North Carolina Modernist Houses

Frank Stick, an artist and conservationist, is credited with designing the flat-top cottage.  Stick studied at the Chicago Art Institute and his paintings appeared on covers of popular magazines like Field and Stream and the Saturday Evening Post.  In 1929, he and his family settled on Roanoke Island and helped to establish the Wright Brothers National Memorial and the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.  Stick also played a vital role in establishing Cape Hatteras National Seashore as the United State’s first national seashore, which protects significant portions of OBX barrier islands.

Flat-top cottages David Stick and Frank Stick
Frank Stick (right) with son David Stick (left). Image courtesy of North Carolina Modernist Houses

After World War II, Stick turned his attention from painting and philanthropy to architecture.  In 1947, he bought 2,800 acres north of Kitty Hawk, including four miles of Outer Banks oceanfront.  Timber was scarce due to the war, so Stick chose to build with concrete blocks made of local sand.  Inspired by island-style homes in the Florida Keys as well as the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, the home facades and floor plans are clean and simple. The flat roofs feature extended overhangs, which offer shade, while the large windows let in ocean breezes.  Many of the cottages feature local juniper-wood paneling, ceiling beams, and hurricane shutters.

Flat-Top-Green-Marie-Walker
Flat-top cottage. Image by Marie Walker, courtesy of My Outer Banks Home

Stick built 80 of these homes in a community called Southern Shores, which was incorporated as a town in 1979.  Currently, less than half of the original flat tops still exist.  Some were damaged by hurricanes, but most were replaced by multi-story vacation homes as owners’ tastes and needs changed.  The flat top cottages that remain are treasured by their owners as important parts of OBX history and iconic examples of mid-century architecture. 

Each year the Southern Shores Historic Flat Top Cottage Tour takes place in April.  Click the link to purchase tickets.


Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company

 

Build a Custom Home

5 Reasons to Build a Custom Home

There’s something special about walking over the threshold of a home you designed yourself.  Just like Cinderella’s slipper, a custom built home fits your lifestyle and your needs perfectly.  

While there are numerous reasons to purchase a pre-owned home, today’s newly-constructed and built-to-suit homes offer more benefits than ever before.  So these are the top five reasons to build your own custom home:

Design your dream home 

A home built before 1990 is unlikely to reflect the current needs and desires of most home buyers.  Modern trends such as open floor plans, resort-style bathrooms, professional-grade kitchens, and home theatre rooms just don’t exist in most older houses.  So the biggest benefit of building a custom home is your ability to design it to be exactly what you want.  

Open floor plan in custom home
Open floor plan and vaulted ceilings in a custom home built by the Coastal Cottage Company

“Green” products and construction  

Building codes require higher energy efficiency standards than ever before, which translates to lower utility bills and less impact on the environment.  New homes now feature tighter-sealed building envelopes, energy efficient windows, thicker insulation, and better air filtration which can alleviate symptoms of those who have asthma or allergies.  New construction also allows homeowners to take a whole-house approach rather than adding in elements piecemeal, saving significantly more money in the long run.

Lower maintenance and fewer surprises  

We’ve all heard horror stories of older homes that passed inspection but then a year or two later, the roof leaked or the HVAC needed to be replaced.  New construction has fewer of these costly surprises.  Not only are improved construction methods and cutting-edge engineering implemented, but you also get to choose the best building materials and appliances you can afford.  And many of these elements come with warranties and other guarantees, such as 30-year roof warranties.

Reasons to Build a Custom Home

Improved safety

More stringent building codes and advancements in technology mean that new homes tend to be safer. Hard-wired smoke detectors, garage doors with infrared beams, air conditioners with environmentally-friendly coolants, and materials with fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) keep your family healthier and safer.  Safety is especially important when building near the coastline.  Building a custom home allows you to take advantage of the latest innovations in high-wind zone home design and construction.

No renovation costs  

Pre-owned homes can be modified to meet your standards, but each alteration will cost you.  While changing paint colors and cabinet hardware might not be a big deal, removing walls or laying down new hardwood floors definitely are.  For example, the average kitchen renovation costs between $20,000 and $40,000!  So it’s not unusual for a custom home to actually be more economical than an older home that requires extensive renovations and repairs.  

Custom homes offer the latest designs and the safest construction methods, all tailored to your family’s lifestyle.  Why endure the stress and cost of renovations when you can enjoy a home that fits you like a fairytale glass slipper?  

We’d love to talk with you about making that fairytale a reality.  


Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company

Nags Head Cottage Row

Nags Head: Cottage Row

The Outer Banks have been delighting visitors for over 100 years, but Nags Head is the original tourist attraction.  

Perquimans County plantation owner Francis Nixon is credited with starting the summer vacation tradition with his family in 1830.  The idea spread to other families living across the Roanoke Sound who were seeking an escape from the inland heat.1    

At the time, the ocean air was thought to relieve the “yellow chills” brought on by malaria which was prevalent on many plantations.  So when summer arrived, entire households — including livestock — would move to Nags Head.2   Hotels were built for the onslaught of tourists as early as 1838 and by 1850, visitors could walk along a boardwalk, dance under a pavilion, and even enjoy a bowling alley!3 

Boat Arriving in Nags Head with tourists
Image courtesy of the Town of Nags Head

The first oceanfront cottage was built around 1855 by Dr. W.G. Pool of Elizabeth City, who bought 50 acres for $30.  It’s said that Pool then divided the land into lots and sold them to the friends of his wife for one dollar each so she’d have companionship while at the beach!  By 1885, 13 cottages were built.4  

In the early 1900s, self-taught carpenter Stephen J. Twine repaired and enlarged many of the original summer houses.  Then between 1910 and 1935, he built cottages that would come to represent the Nags Head style of architecture.  These homes formed Old Nags Head Beach Cottage Row, which is now a National Historic District.

According Marimar McNaughton, author of the book Outer Banks Architecture, the Nags Head style is a blend of the original Outer Banks structures and the Arts & Crafts bungalow popular in the early 1900s.  The cottages’ timber-framed exteriors were clad in shingles or weatherboard and topped with gabled roofs with dormers. They also featured wrap-around, single-story porches with built-in benches, wooden storm shutters, and breezeways. The porches, windows, and doors were all strategically designed to maximize cross breezes off the ocean.  With these homes, each design element had a purpose.

Nags Head Unpainted Aristocracy
Image courtesy of Our State Magazine, Emily Chaplin, & Chris Council

Only six of the original cottages remain today.  They are rustic, weathered, and practical, yet elegant in their simplicity, inspiring the moniker the “Unpainted Aristocracy.”5  After sheltering generations of families and enduring over 100 years of storms, they melt into the sand and seagrass that surround them, as if they have always been there.   


Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company

Drawer Joints

Kitchen Drawer Joints and Slides

Great kitchens are both beautiful and functional.  But the best kitchens are designed around each homeowner’s unique needs.  Island or no island?  Open shelving or cabinet doors?  Granite or quartz countertops?  Electric ceramic or gas burner stovetop?

With so many options, it’s easy to overlook something as basic as kitchen drawers.  But think about how frequently your drawers are used and how much wear and tear they experience.  Thus, choosing high quality drawer construction is key to designing your dream kitchen.

In a previous post, we discussed the importance of choosing solid cabinetry materials, so we won’t belabor that point.  Instead, let’s focus on another essential element of quality cabinetry construction: drawer joints.

Drawer Joints

There are a variety of joinery techniques and many ways to combine them in order to construct a drawer.  As with most aspects of homebuilding, each technique has its strengths and weaknesses.  According to Bill Hylton, master carpenter and author, the strongest joint needs to be between the front and sides because that area experiences the most impact.  Dan Cary, from Woodworker’s Journal, concurs:  “when suddenly opened, the corner joints are pulled and when closed, the abrupt stop puts several pounds of stress on the joints, especially on the front.”  After years of pushing, pulling, and slamming, your drawers can begin to come apart.

Drawer Joints
Box joint, Image: Startwoodworking.com

Two of the strongest options are box joints and dovetail joints.  A box joint (also called a finger joint) is a corner joint with interlocking pins that are cut at 90 degree angles.  In contrast, a dovetail joint uses wedge-shaped pins.  

Drawer Joints
Dovetail joint, Image: Finewoodworking.com

Both types provide a large area for gluing and the interlocking pins provide a lot of support.  According to Lee Valley Tools, for hundreds of years, dovetailed drawer joints were valued because they provided a form of mechanical lock when glue failed. With today’s much stronger and more durable glues, the joint has become more decorative than functional but is still a favorite of carpenters and homeowners alike.  However, drawers with dovetail joints can be more expensive because, even with the help of modern equipment, more skill is required to construct a finely made dovetail joint.

Drawer Joints
Left: Rabbet, Right: Dado, Image: DIYadvice.com

Another strong option that requires less skill to make (and therefore can be cheaper), is the dado-and-rabbet method of joinery.  A dado is a three-sided slot cut into the surface of a piece of wood.  A rabbet is two-sided and open to the edge or end of the surface into which it is cut. The dado-and-rabbet joint locks together, providing strength and stability, without the intricate cutting required by dovetail drawer joints.

There are many other types of joinery that will help your drawers last.  Ultimately, you want to avoid the simple butt joint, which is the weakest form of joinery, as well as stapled drawer fronts.  Both will likely cause your drawers to split, crack, or fall apart much too soon.  For a fantastic explanation of drawer construction (and lovely illustrations), check out this excerpt from Bill Hylton’s book Chest of Drawers

Drawer Slides

Now that you understand the importance of solid drawer joinery, let’s explore slides which help drawers open and close smoothly. Drawer slides typically are made of stamped metal and operate with plastic or metal ball bearings.

Drawer Joints
Side-mount slides, Image: Rockler.com

When choosing a drawer slide it’s most important to consider load ratings which range from 50-pound to 100-pound capacities.  Drawers that will hold heavier items, such as utensils or dishes, should use slides with higher load ratings.  

You should also consider how far the drawer opens.  According to Elizabeth Beeler from HGTV, quality drawer slide options range from three-quarter-extension slides that allow most of the drawer to be pulled out, to full-extension slides which allow access to the entire drawer. Under-mount slides are more costly than side-mount slides. However, they also tend to warp and sag less, which saves on repairs down the road.

Drawer Joints
Undermount slides, Image: Rockler.com

Make sure the slides you choose are produced from heavy-duty materials that won’t rust over time and have easy-gliding rollers or ball bearings. When testing models, open drawers fully to ensure they move smoothly and quietly, and that they don’t tilt or feel unstable when fully extended.  For more great advice on quality cabinetry, check out HomeStyleChoices.com published by engineer Rob Levesque.

Finally, if you’re seeking a worth-the-investment upgrade, look no further than self-closing drawers.  Sometimes called soft-closing or feather-touch, these slides retract with a gentle push and include shock absorption that prevents drawers from slamming shut.  Not only will this save your eardrums but will also reduce the stress placed on the drawers, increasing their longevity.


Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company 

Cabinet Boxes: Particle Board vs. Plywood

The Coastal Cottage Company’s last post focused on choosing a design for your kitchen cabinets – Shaker, inset, flat, or beadboard.  When building or remodeling, figuring out your style is the fun part.  But as important as style is, cabinets are worthless if they aren’t made of sound materials.  

Particle Board or Plywood?

One of the most important considerations to ensure your kitchen cabinets will survive typical wear and tear is choosing the right material for your cabinet boxes.  Because the box is mostly hidden, folks often don’t worry about its construction.  But much like your skeletal system keeps you upright and stable, the box keeps your cabinets sturdy.  Think about the abuse cabinets endure — they’re weighted down with dishes, their drawers are slammed, and their doors are kicked.  Thus, cabinet boxes must be strong.

Typically, homeowners choose between plywood and particle board.  Each has its own benefits and weaknesses but, generally speaking, plywood is considered the better option.

What’s the difference?

Particle board (sometimes called “furniture board”) is a wood product manufactured from wood chips, sawmill shavings, or sawdust, and a synthetic resin, which is compressed.  In contrast, plywood is made of thin layers of wood veneer, called “plies,” that are glued together with adjacent layers having their wood grain rotated 90 degrees.  This alternation of the grain is called cross-graining and has several important benefits: it reduces the tendency of wood to split when nailed; it reduces expansion and shrinkage; and it makes the strength of the panel consistent across all directions. There are usually an odd number of plies which helps to reduce warping.

Cabinet Boxes: Particle Board vs. Plywood
7-ply spruce plywood. Image from Wikipedia.

But not all plywood is created equal.  Jim Mallery, from Old House Web, recommends the following:

  • The wood should have many thin plies — at least 7-ply for ¾-inch plywood (including the veneer), but you can go as high as 13-ply.
  • When you look along the edge of the plywood, you should not see any voids or gaps in the plies.
  • And if you see any warping in a sheet of plywood, it is not suitable for cabinetry.

According to Kelly Gallagher, of Boston Building Resources, particle board quality depends on the size of the particles, the glue that holds it together, and the density of the board. Smaller particles make the board denser and heavier while polyurethane resin makes it more moisture resistant. One of the best kinds of particle board is medium density fiberboard (MDF), but it can be very heavy, making it difficult to hang large cabinets.

Cabinet Boxes: Particle Board vs. Plywood
Particle board of different densities. Image from Wikipedia.

How do you decide?

The biggest strengths of particle board are its lower price and smoother finish, but plywood tends to be more durable, less susceptible to moisture, and holds glue joints better.  When deciding, consider your budget and even ask your contractor if it’s possible to use both.  For example, choose plywood for areas where there may be more moisture (such as around the sink and next to the dishwasher) or use particle board just for shelves.  Whatever your decision, select the highest quality materials you can afford to ensure your cabinets will last for years to come.


Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company 

Apples to Apples: Comparing Contractor Bids

Building a custom home can be both a rewarding and overwhelming experience.  But this process doesn’t have to be challenging if you’re armed with the right information.  The Coastal Cottage Company is here to help!

In a previous post, we offered advice about the benefits of choosing a design-build contractor.  This post will help you compare “apples to apples” when evaluating multiple contractor bids.  Many folks base their final decision on price, but there are numerous factors that should be considered before signing a contract.  

Comparing Contractor Bids

Communicate Clearly and Consistently.  It’s not uncommon for two different contractors to look at the same project and deliver bids that are quite different. Thus, our first suggestion is to ensure you have provided the exact same information to each builder.  It’s vitally important to be clear and consistent about what you expect to ensure that each of your quotes are based upon the same scope of work.  So do your research and have a specific plan, sketches, and budget to present to each builder.  Otherwise, it will be impossible to compare “apples to apples.”

Evaluate Material Quality.  Builders quote prices using different specs, so if you receive a bid that is quite lower than another, it’s recommended that you dig deeper to determine why.  One way builders underbid each other is to use lower-quality materials.  Every bid should include a list of specific materials and the grade of those materials.  For example, will they be using sheetrock or blueboard and plaster?  Will they lay down sod or just seed and straw?  Everything from support beams and insulation to floor finishes and siding come in different grades, so make sure you know exactly which materials will be used.

Check for Licenses and Insurance. Builders can also underbid one another by using uninsured labor.  This puts the homeowner in jeopardy if anything happens on the premises.  So when comparing bids, make sure that every involved party has liability insurance and there is a workers compensation policy for every person who will be working on the project.  It’s also important to ensure you’re working with only licensed contractors.

Ask About Subcontractors.  Speaking of liability, you should also inquire about the use of subcontractors.  Who will actually be completing the work?  It’s not uncommon for the person making the bid to not be the one completing the project.  So ask about who will be the on-site labor and how frequently the builder will be present.

Assess Workmanship.  You should also scrutinize the reputation and workmanship of the contractors you are comparing.  How long have they been in business?  What do previous clients say about them?  Have they completed projects similar to yours?  Make sure you look through their portfolio of previous projects and check the references of everyone involved.

Get an Itemized List of Costs.  Finally, get a clear breakdown of all proposed charges.  Does the estimate include taxes, permits, and other fees?  Make sure you understand exactly what resources will be needed to complete your project so there will be no surprises later.

Even though price must be considered when building a home, it doesn’t have to be the determining factor in choosing a builder.  Make sure you investigate the backgrounds of the builders you are considering and gather all the necessary information about materials, insurance, subcontractors, and permits.  With all this information, you should be able to compare “apples to apples” and decide upon a builder who is right for you.


Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company

The Benefits of Design-Build

The Outer Banks are consistently rated as one of the most desirable places on the East Coast to vacation. Once you visit, you’ll want to return, so there’s no better time to consider building your very own home away from home.  But with so many options for architects, engineers, builders, and subcontractors, the process can become overwhelming.  Choosing a design-build contractor may be exactly what you need to make your homebuilding experience fun and stress-free.

WHAT IS DESIGN-BUILD?  Design-build is a construction delivery method that provides owners with one contact point for both the design and construction phases of homebuilding.  One company holds the contractual responsibility for the entire process of building, including coordinating subcontractors.

WHY USE A DESIGN-BUILD CONTRACTOR?  In traditional building projects, the owner serves as the middle-man, managing multiple companies and contracts.  Synchronizing schedules, resolving disputes, and coordinating communication can quickly become exhausting and frustrating.  With a design-build contractor, the owner communicates with only one entity.  The designer and builder are on the same team (or are the same person) and handle all aspects of the build.  This not only relieves stress for the homeowner, but also can result in a smoother, more cost-effective construction process.  

Design-Build

When architectural design is completed separately, designers and contractors may not be in sync, or may even disagree, which can result in unforeseen delays and costs.  In contrast, packaging design and construction allows a single team to know the project inside and out, adhering to a defined budget and timeline.  In addition, design-build firms tend to use their own carefully chosen construction crews and subcontractors who they have worked with extensively and, therefore, trust to complete outstanding work.

HOW DO YOU SELECT A DESIGN-BUILD CONTRACTOR?  To limit risks, you’ll benefit from using a qualifications-based selection process.  Rather than choosing a contractor based solely on lowest bid, qualification-based selection involves choosing the company that has the best credentials, expertise, and reputation.  It’s important to hire a licensed and insured company who offers an experienced team and has a satisfied client base.  

On the design side, you want someone whose tastes are compatible with your own.  Ask to see their portfolio of designs and talk with former clients about how responsive and open they were to suggestions.  On the contractor side, you’ll want to ask about the types of jobs they’ve completed, how much work is completed by employees versus subcontractors, and any speciality expertise (such as green building).  To read more tips, click here.

Homebuilding should be a rewarding and exciting experience, not a nightmare of delays, miscommunication, and surprise costs.  Design-build can help alleviate these stressors.  Contact the Coastal Cottage Company to learn more about design-build and custom vacation homes!


Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company

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