Sunday, February 26, 2012

Re-designing a Standard Plan

Every client approaches the design of their new home differently.  This particular client, a canine police officer, was very hands on throughout the entire project and we worked very closely on getting the home plan exactly the way he wanted it.  He began with making changes to the standard Lakeport design.
Sketch for modifying a standard pre-engineered plan for a home kit
He began with looking at the site and actually measuring spaces.  Although he liked the plan itself the actual rooms were too small and because of the location he wanted more outdoor space.  As he is tall we raised the plate height to 9 feet, added square footage and a wrap around porch.
Floor plan is drawn to local building department requirements
As we began the drafting process we reversed the house and put in two garage doors instead of one.
more modifications are done to get the plan exactly the way the client wants it
In the final plan a wall was added to define the entry and pocket doors were used for the den to make this a more public area and to open it into the main living space.
Pacific Modern Homes completes the full structural engineered drawings
And as the floor plan developed the client decided on a more sophisticated roof design to complement the wrap around porch.
Driving around we had a lot of fun sending pictures back and forth to get the pitch of the new roof just right.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Modifying a Standard Pre-Engineered Plan

I actually thought last spring for the first time that I was going to deliver a 100% standard framing package.  Wrong - at the last minute the client decided to extend the garage by four feet to accommodate more storage.

Pacific Modern Homes Westlake Model built four different ways

Above is four different Westlake homes.  First, all plans are reversible at no additional charge.  In the top left home we extended the garage to add more storage.  In the top right plan due to the steep slope we made the garage into a family room and built the garage underneath using a retaining wall at the rear.  Due to a narrow sloped lot and cost restraints a single car garage reduced the width of the house and we omitted the fireplace of this stucco version.  And finally in the lower right home in order to comply with local planning requirements we had to recess the garage.

We can adapt the plans to fit any sloped site - whether up slope or down slope.  And adapting spaces can be quite easy working with the basic structure of the house and we will be happy to help you with cost effective variations.  These modifications will have a nominal charge for drafting and engineering for the changes and a slight adjustment of the basic price of the panelized framing package.

But I cannot stress how important it is to think, measure and dream about these spaces early in the process. As I always remind my clients - paper and pencil are cheap, wood and concrete - not !!!!

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Getting Plans into the Building Department

The house in Angwin is now under construction and I look forward to seeing the progress the next time I get up there.

There are different ways clients choose and develop plans for their new homes.

  • Pacific Modern Homes has pre-engineered designs to choose from.  (I must confess I have never delivered a 100% standard plan without modifications!!)
  • These pre-engineered designs can be modified to meet your personal style or the site.  Common changes include modifying the foundation for a sloped site, roof changes, room sizes or layout.  We will work with you to make changes that are in keeping with the overall design.  Our main concern is any changes that require structural changes.  Kitchen design is something, for example, that the client will design with the cabinet maker - our concern is to make sure though that the kitchen window is in the right place.
  • Sometimes one of the standard plans is not quite the design that fits either the client's dream or the site.  We can help the client create measured schematic drawings for the drafting department, the client can use a home design program to create these drawings or the client can work their own architect to produce the schematic measured drawings.  Our drafting department does an excellent job of producing the construction documents but they do not make any design changes.
  • Finally, we can create a panelized package kit from any fully engineered set of drawings.
The measured schematic drawings for the house in Angwin were drawn by the client's architect.  

The next project I am going to use as an example was for a canine police officer who was very hands on with this project.  He began with the Lakeport floor plan and we began modifying it to meet his special and stylistic needs.
modifying a Pacific Modern Homes Lakeport model
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Thursday, February 16, 2012

What happens when something is wrong with my panelized kit?

Errors happen.  I believe that we all know especially in construction it is never a road without some bumps - but the important thing is how these bumps are handled.

I have had very few problems or field claims in all of the years I have been a representative for Pacific Modern Homes:

  • The first field claim I had to file was for some crushed floor joists from the forklift running over them during the delivery.  The owner purchased new floor joists at the local lumber store and we filed a field claim for the amount.
  • The next problem I had was a missing engineered strong wall.  I always suggest that a job site is secured and especially items such as windows, doors and strong walls be stored in a locked container.  Unfortunately in this case in the delivery photographs the strong wall was clearly there.
  • The third problem we helped a client with was with a window.  Although the Milgard warranty is fantastic and has covered all window problems my clients have had - in this particular case one of the builders stepped on the window breaking the flange that was used to open the window.  Complicating the problem was that it took the client a long time to make the claim and Milgard had changed the model.  PMHI hunted high and low to find a replacement window for the client through their Milgard representative.  Although financially it was the responsibility of the client PMHI did not give up on helping the client!
  • In the instance of the wrong posts mentioned in the letter - the claim was definitely in the grey area.  There was an eleventh hour design change and because of that the posts did not need to be pressure treated - and everyone myself included missed that we did not change the posts back to doug fir.  The client contractually was responsible but we all agreed that it was a misunderstanding.  The contractor kept the PT posts bundled and tarped so that they were in like new condition when he returned them to PMHI.  And the doug fir posts were provided.
The staff at Pacific Modern Homes bends over backwards to not only deliver a fantastic product but also to help solve the problems that inevitably come up.  I have spent hours on the phone with the person who liaises with the trucking company pouring over Google Earth figuring out how to get the truck around a bank of mailboxes or where we could possibly turn the truck around or find pilot cars that were not going to cost an arm and a leg.  The production department has helped advise not only on construction but points out errors in drawings or when creating the specification that either make construction impossible but frequently are just suggestions to build the home more economically.  And I have seen the drafting department stick with a set of drawings to get it through plan check for the client like - well - bulldogs!!

Delivering a home building kit in the rain
Was I happy when this delivery was completed?

I will not sugar coat things and say that there are never problems with construction.  But hopefully working together we can minimize these problems and make the dream of building a custom home enjoyable and rewarding.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Home Framing Package Delivery Time

Servicing Northern California deliveries are frequently a challenge.  We have off loaded packages onto a bobtail and a trailer to reach a site on a narrow winding road.  We have delivered in the pouring rain and on small residential streets.  The drivers are extremely skilled and sometimes I think they could thread a needle with these huge trucks.

But back to the delivery in Angwin.  Due to the demolition of the old house the grading of the road was put off until the day before the delivery. We had three over loaded trailers coming the next day guided up one at a time from St. Helena with a front and rear pilot car.  I was running errands in Santa Rosa with my daughter and because this site was so difficult - my gut said I needed to see the new drive before the trucks started arriving so we headed for Angwin.

The grading contractor was there taking down the fence and throwing a small amount of rip rap in the ditch at the road but he had been instructed to do no other work.  When I described the trucks he agreed that there was absolutely no way they were going to make it up the driveway - and we would not be able to really shuttle from anywhere in the tiny town of Angwin.  Although I believe I was extremely fifteen year old decided as I walked back to the car that she never wanted to see that look on my face again!!

No cell service so as we drove down the hill I first reached PMHI and put the delivery on hold.  And then I called the client to tell him I was delaying the delivery.  He sincerely thought that since the contractor had trailed up a large bulldozer that the delivery trucks could also make it up the drive.  As I told him - these trucks make a concrete truck look like a Tonka toy.

Fortunately the grading contractor was available to work all weekend and we were able to keep the three trailers loaded and with just minor charges the delivery took place the beginning of the next week and went smooth as silk!!
Wall panels arriving at the job site
The smallest of the three loads!!
Unloading the home kit with a Gradeall
The Gradeall unloading some panels
Unloading the roof trusses as part of the framing package
An area to back up and turn has to be available
The french doors are secured on a A frame to protect them from breakage

Delicate items such as large French doors are on an A-Frame

Gently unloaded off the truck and set aside until they are needed
Ideally these items should then be stored in a locked container until needed.
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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Scheduling the Panelized Package Delivery

After the plans are completed Pacific Modern Homes generates a guaranteed quote based on delivery date and specification sheet and on a custom project the contract is generated.  It was at this point the client did attempt to negotiate the price of the package - and it was at this point I would not budge an inch.  I work very hard to insure that my clients are serviced "beyond expectations" and I insure that they get the best and fairest price possible.  Always.

In preparing for the delivery a site visit is performed either in person or via extensive photographs if the site is located remotely.  And requirements to complete the delivery are discussed with the client.  These include getting these enormous trucks to the site and then to the actual building site with an area to unload and then to turn the trucks around to exit.

As this was a difficult and to say the least interesting delivery I will tell you about it in detail tomorrow but our delivery trucks are substantially bigger than a concrete truck !!

we do require an adequate driveway to deliver the home framing it
The road needs to be graded and prepared for the trucks to deliver the home kit
The day before the scheduled delivery
The trucks fully loaded with the pre-engineered wall panels are huge
Five days later
the roof trusses  can be wider than the trailer and require a wide load permit
3 1/2 Feet over the side of the trailer
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Monday, February 13, 2012

Construction Documents and Plan Check

The next step in the process of producing the construction documents to submit to the Napa County building department was to iron out the design.  The client really understood the idea that paper and pencil are cheap - wood and concrete are expensive.  With this in mind we went carefully over every detail of the plan and elevations.

As we were going through this process we also obtained the geologist report required by Napa County for the design of the foundation and researched other code requirements.

When we were certain that the design was exactly what Gerry and his wife wanted for their vineyard home, the fully dimension plans and elevations were ready to go to the drafting department of Pacific Modern Homes.  The preliminary plans were sent verify that everything was correct and Gerry's architect red lined the drawing.

Custom plans for home building kit

The Title 24/Build it Green requirements were completed and coordinated with PMHI by our consultant and along with the Site Plan and Mechanical Plan prepared by the architect we were ready to submit for Plan Check.

I received one e-mail from the architect discussing how we would handle the plan check corrections - - - when I received another e-mail from her that the permit was ready to be issued - - - amazing.  Not one correction from the plan check.

And we were ready to begin construction and delivery of the package.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

First Meetings to Design a Custom Plan

My involvement with Gerry and his home began with a call from his contractor who was himself in first conversations on bidding this project.  Rex and I had worked together on two other structures an a luxury estate in Calistoga in the Napa Valley.  The problem Rex was having with the bid had multiple layers and some simple solutions but the bottom line was that the client was surprised at the overall estimate of cost of building the design.

Rex called and we met for coffee to come up with ideas to reduce the overall cost of the project so that it could move forward.

The problems were common which is why they are worth mentioning:

  • First, Gerry was thinking he was building a rather modest house as he was being told the square footage of living space and was calculating his construction budget per that figure.   But with huge covered porches on three sides of the house the real square footage with the garage of covered area was nearly double the amount of square footage.
  • Next, some of the design elements such as a cut roof and casement windows were very expensive.  There were also code requirements such as the Wildland Fire code that affected this property and he, of course, had not taken these costs into consideration.  Also, the cost of completing the construction documents was high.
  • And finally, the labor cost of conventional on site framing at a remote site in the Napa Valley was quite high.
Last February Rex and I met with Gerry and his architect at the site.  We began with a short discussion on how using a factory build panelized framing package would not only provide higher quality framing but also at a greatly reduced price.  Using precut wall panels was the easiest part of this conversation !!!

Custom Plans are designed for a home framing package
Next, the discussions on how we could reduce costs while maintaining the design integrity of the house.  As this home had beautiful views in all directions and the wonderful Mediterranean climate we all enjoy so much - changing the covered porches and the symmetry of the home were not an option.  But there were many changes that we made that reduced the overall cost.  Two obvious ones were to replace the cut roof in the main living space with an attic truss.  The other being substituting single hung window for the much more expensive casement windows.  The result were the preliminary drawings produced by Gerry's architect. 

We can create a package home from any style or design
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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Beginning Tales from the Trenches

Last month I attended a conference in Las Vegas and realized in one of the lectures how beneficial it would be to have a blog to have the opportunity to explain further what our panelized home packages are and their benefits.  A blog seems like a great opportunity to answer questions and explain what we do. But where to start?

Then I received the following letter from a client and I realized that beginning with talking about this letter and this delivery would be a great beginning.  So stay tuned for a full description of this wonderful home in the Napa Valley !!!

February 8, 2012              

I originally heard of North Coast Packaged Homes and factory framing from my contractor a year ago.  He had put two of their packages together for another client of his in the Napa Valley and felt that it was potentially a good option for my home as it is a high quality product offered at a great savings.  Frankly, I could not afford the home I’m building without the savings offered by North Coast Packaged Homes.
                Ann Zollinger met Rex (my contractor), my architect, and me at the home site last February.  After briefly discussing the benefits of factory framing we immediately started discussing different design options with Ann that would save money on the project while maintaining the overall look and floor plan of the home that we had already designed with our architect.  I was thrilled when I heard PMHI works only with custom home plans.  As a result of this meeting we decided to have the drafting department of PMHI complete our construction drawings and engineering as this was also a substantial savings.
                For the next several weeks, Ann, my architect, and I traded emails and phone calls trying to get the design just right. With very professional and timely interaction between Ann and my architect, we finalized the drawings and went through the plan check in Napa County without a redline correction – an amazing feat I have been told by my Napa County architect. 
                After the plans were finalized, I tried to negotiate the price of this large framing package with Ann.  She would not budge an inch which was very disappointing because I negotiate all of my large purchases.  Although she made it clear to me that PMHI does not negotiate its package prices, she did get me a factory discount that arguably did not apply to me because of the timing of the package delivery.  I was most impressed by the fact that during her first visit to the site, and after a relatively quick view of the plans, she estimated the total cost of the package within 6% of what I finally paid, and that doesn’t exclude the cost of items we added after she first reviewed the plans.
                After finalizing the plans and the price, I thought we were finished because the only task remaining was delivery of the package to the home site.  I was shocked when Ann called the day before the scheduled delivery to tell me she cancelled delivery.  Let’s just say there was a misunderstanding on what grading was to be done before delivery on my rocky, steep, and winding driveway.  After getting over the shock, I was very concerned about additional charges I would incur.  Three fully loaded semi -trucks and trailers were sitting in Sacramento, and the necessary grading could not be completed in fewer than 5 days.  Ann remained calm and persuaded her office and the trucking company to keep the trucks loaded while the grading was completed.  That effort saved me the unloading/reloading fees that I feared.  The entire package was finally delivered to the site with no problems.
 I assumed everything was final because most of my house structure is standing.  My contractor recently discovered that all of the 6 x 6 posts for my wrap around porch and covered patio are pressure treated instead of finish grade Douglas Fir.  That’s approximately 25 posts.  We checked the house plans and confirmed that the contract specified pressure treated posts.  Everyone agrees it was an oversight, but not a PMHI mistake.  PMHI agreed to a return of the pressure treated posts and to reimbursement of the additional costs of the Douglas Fir posts.  I continue to be amazed by and grateful for Ann’s advocacy on my behalf.
I have not seen Ann since she first visited the home site last February.  I anticipate the next time I see her, she will be sitting in a comfortable chair on my wrap around porch with my wife and me. We will be admiring our porch posts as well as the rest of our new home while savoring a glass or two of our estate grown cabernet.  I am indebted to Ann for all her great design input, cost savings ideas, and advocacy.  I hope she will accept a few bottles of our wine as payment of that debt.  Although there were a few hiccups along the way, we could not be happier with the product or the service.  I am recommending Ann and PMHI to everyone I know considering building a new home.

G. S.
Angwin,  CA

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