Design Your Home Right the First Time: A Better Process

Jun 28, 2023 | Custom Home Cost, ICF Custom Homes, Insulated Concrete Forms, Designing a Custom Home in Grand Rapids

In a recent blog post, I shared a horror story. It is a true story, and my heart hurts for the Johnsons.
At the conclusion of the post, I wrote the following:
How could the Johnsons have avoided this result?
·        Assemble a design team first. Architect, builder, and (if required) engineer and interior designer.
·        Be 100% transparent about your budget and your desires.
·        Believe what your builder has to say about costs.
·        Agree on size and complexity limits from day 1

This month I explain why it is to your advantage to add us to your team right at the start.

I cannot stress this enough! Read on to learn why.

Builder or Designer Blog Post

How to Budget for your Custom Home:

It seems to make sense to first create a design, then shop around to various builders to find the best deal.

But 9 out of 10 times this creates a design that will cost more to build than you are willing to spend.

When we begin working with clients, one of our first steps is to understand your goals and desires for the project. It is super easy to make a misstep right at this point. Most of us are not very honest with ourselves. We prefer to think of ourselves as not fussy, and not particular with basic needs. But in reality we have a very hard time turning away from the complex details, high-end finishes, and costly options. Being realistic about your budget, what level of home you want, and how much space you need will prevent future heartaches.
Sometimes clients “find” more money partway through a project, and begin adding to the scope of work, or changing selections. While we can accommodate these changes, it is far less cost and headache to include them from the start. Changes during construction are more costly and often cause delays.

Our Role:

Once we grasp your budget, feature, finish, and size goals for the project; we help you determine a target size. Nobody else can do this. A designer is focused on the size and features you want. You are focused on the features and finishes you want. Our role in this early stage is to focus on the budget, offering valuable feedback to you and your architect as the design progresses.

When the one responsible to price the home and best understands current costs is not part of the conversation, it is easy to end up with the design of your dreams with a price from your nightmares!

Finally, consider how nearly impossible it can be to scale back on size or complexity once an initial drawing has been made. There is significant emotional investment tied up into the design by this time, but bringing the project in budget would require a complete re-working of the prints.

It is far better to set size, complexity, and budget goals right from the start; with input from a West Michigan builder who understands the real costs of ICF, net zero ready, healthy, and durable homes. Yet there are other reasons to work with us right from the start.

Designing a High Performance Home:

Improving the performance of anything can be done by “bolting on” parts. You can get more RAM for your laptop, or add a high flow throttle body to your engine, or put a more efficient furnace in your home. You get the idea. But bolt-ons can only get you so far, their impact is limited. Real performance is a ground-up rethinking of everything. It must happen at the design stage.

In my experience, I believe over half of the performance of a home; whether that be energy efficiency, durability, comfort, etc. is integral to the design. That means as the builder I can only do so much when I have a bad design. Mitigating poor design requires costly materials, and will never accomplish what could be done when starting with a home designed for these things.

A concrete home is not just a stick home with thicker walls. Details matter and thoughtful design and collaborations between disciplines are even MORE important when looking for a performance that far exceeds a code-built home. When a builder is onboard during the design phase, their perspective can identify challenges designers are not even aware of. Assembling a team before design ensures that everyone’s expertise is efficiently incorporated.

Hire a Builder before a Designer - Here's Why:

Preventing heartache, stress, loss of money and time

Let’s face it: it can be overwhelming to interview real estate agents, share ideas with the agent, find a lot, interview designers, share ideas with the designer, give feedback on designs, interview builders, share ideas with builders, etc. It usually is so draining, folks hire the builder after the design is complete.

Beginning with the builder gives you access to their years of experience evaluating property before you purchase. An experienced builder can spot the challenges and concerns of a particular lot, saving you headaches or extra costs down the road.
Furthermore, the builder you hire will have preferred methods, products, etc. to use. He will have suggestions for improvements to the plan. In other words, you will be paying your designer to alter the prints after you hire a builder. And you thought you were finished with design! Finished with the cost. Finished with the time. Finished with critiquing and communicating.

When you start with R-Value Homes as your builder, we guide you through all of these decisions. We help you critique potential property and evaluate prospective designers. Over the years I have assembled a list of designers. I am familiar with the strengths of each, and can narrow the field to those best suited to your project goals, style, personality, etc.

You will avoid the need to communicate the same information multiple times. And you eliminate the frustration of reworking the prints, again.


Leveraging The Team:

I’m generalizing, but here goes: Designers have vast knowledge of products, particularly newer ones; but limited experience with availability, compatibility, and how well products work. Builders have their products and processes that are time-tested and proven to work, but have less awareness of the vast array of options. Put together, a builder and designer can strengthen the other. Wouldn’t you want to have that strength working to your advantage?

On each project the R-Value team takes the time to discuss lessons learned, and incorporate those into our specifications, schedule, process, and a list of 30 guidelines for designers. These guidelines cover not only best practices for building in general, but many are particular to net-zero and/or ICF construction. It should be obvious why having this in your designer’s hands PRIOR to design is a good thing.


Last, but not Least:

Our Stage 1 process results in the creation of preliminary pricing for your home, at a point early enough in the design development to make changes. Waiting until the design is complete to begin work with us (or another builder) resulted in the sad story of the Johnsons. Don’t let that happen to you!


Also in this series:

We are your Custom Home Experts in Michigan

R-Value Homes is proud to build your healthy, energy-efficient custom home in West Michigan. We are ready to deploy our expertise and industry-leading craftsmanship to build your dream home.  Reach out today to tell us about what you’ve got in mind.


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