As builders and buyers look to continually fight rising costs, making small changes and minor substitutions, as a way of value engineering, can largely impact the final cost of a build. Putting some thought into the final product during the early design phase can save headaches and hassles before changes are required on the backend to meet budget. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

Use simple shapes. Simple shapes have the smallest amount of surface area and allow for the best use of interior space. Avoiding complicated exterior shapes and sticking with square corners provides the best use of materials.  Complicated roof lines, curved walls, and abnormal shapes are more difficult to build, use more material and are less energy-efficient in that a smaller exterior surface area has less exposure to the elements.

Design multi-use space. A creative design with space that can be used in multiple ways is more effective. Minimize hallways and add design features such as alcoves or desks to add use to what would normally be a walk-through area. Combine room functions to create more interest and efficiency. Work to use all spaces efficiently without leaving unused space under stairways, behind walls, etc.

Use two-foot increments. Most building materials are made in multiples of two-foot increments with very few exceptions. Designing the plan to maximize use of these materials with the smallest waste reduces overall cost. Two 8’11” rooms can use more materials than one 8’10” and one 8’12” room when all of the materials will require cutting and waste.

Understand the buyer’s values. Meet early with the buyer to determine what special features are valuable to him or her. Know what phase of business or life the buyer is at. A new startup will have different priorities than an established business with the desire to make a different impression. A young family will have different needs than an older buyer. Knowing what additional design features bring value in the end product will allow you to plan the design that best matches what the customer values.

Whether building a home or office, buyers today are looking for energy-efficient, long-lasting, sustainable, green builds. Designing using ICFs can aid in the overall cost reduction of a project by decreasing build time, providing an easy to use product and creating a more energy-efficient, sustainable building. Contact us to find out more about using ICFs to reduce the cost of your build.

When building a new home or business, it’s essential for contractors to obtain a building permit and post it at the construction site. Without it, the city or town would shut down the project. But what about things like room additions, adding a deck, a bathroom or a new office wing? Do you really need to get a permit to improve your own home or business? The short answer is, yes. Here are 5 very good reasons why …

  1.  Your home or your business is likely your biggest investment. Failing to obtain a permit for an improvement may very well result in a loss in property value if the improvement doesn’t comply with the codes adopted by your city or town.
  2. Your property insurer may refuse to cover work or damages to projects not completed with the required permit(s).
  3. When it comes time to sell your property, an MLS association requires the seller to disclose any improvements or repairs made to a home or business, and whether permits were obtained and inspections were done. That’s because many banks and mortgage lenders will not finance a purchase without proof of permits and inspections. Many realtors have horror stories to tell about a sale falling through because the seller could not produce a permit for work done to a home or business. You could actually be required to tear down an addition or obtain a permit and bring it up to code before anyone can occupy it. Failing to get a permit in the first place could end up costing you a lot of money.
  4. A construction project or improvement done with a permit requires a final inspection. Passing inspection means that your addition or renovation project followed the building codes and meets the minimum standards for safety. That’s important when you sell your property, but it’s also important to you and the safety of your family and friends or employees.
  5. And the best reason of all? It’s the law! Doing work without a permit may be legally subject to removal or other costly remedies.

Another thing to keep in mind is to obtain your permit before starting the project. In some areas, if work begins before the permit is obtained, permit costs increase significantly to serve as a penalty. It may take a little more time and hassle, but we recommend always checking with your local building official before kicking off any project. It’s the wise thing to do.

Climate change is affecting us all with documented increases in severe weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, storm surges and drought. Because of this, there is an industry movement towards building fortified homes capable of standing up to the worst nature has to offer. Your biggest concern as a parent is keeping your family safe, and fortified home construction is a proven way to help ensure their safety.

What exactly is meant by “fortified” in terms of building a new home or reinforcing an older home? Fortified home construction refers to using materials and techniques in combination with one another to make your home stronger and more resilient as a shelter. For example, fortifying a roof using a special type of nail or fastening system, makes it less likely to blow off or collapse in a tornado or in the heavy winds and rains of a hurricane. Fortifying walls, doors and windows with stronger, more resilient materials makes it less likely that occupants will be injured or the home itself damaged by flying debris, breaking glass, driving rain, etc. Engineers have developed and tested materials and building techniques that work together to achieve these goals.

To this end, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) has developed a “Fortified Home” program that uses a unique, systems-based method for creating stronger and more resilient homes. Under the program, there are three levels of fortified home designations available: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Each builds upon the other, so if a homeowner chooses the Gold designation, he also receives the protections afforded by the bronze and silver designations.  Choose the desired level of protection that is right for your budget and work with your builder on achieving those resilience goals.

  • The Bronze Level – Addresses fortifying a home’s roof to protect against water and wind damage.
  • The Silver Level – Goes a step further by fortifying the home’s walls, windows, doors and attached structures.
  • The Gold Level- Ties everything together — roof, to walls and openings, to foundation, to reach the highest level of fortification to protect against extreme weather, fire, and more.

Using fortified building materials and methods is a smart decision in protecting everything that makes your house a home against whatever Mother Nature can throw at you.

Contact a FORTIFIED Wise™- Associate from Fox Blocks to help keep your family safe.

Energy efficiency in commercial and residential buildings can go beyond simply changing out incandescent lighting for LED bulbs. Contractors, architects and engineers are designing and constructing new buildings that are using renewable materials, investing in sustainable HVAC systems, and are improving the building envelope to reduce the amount of energy waste. These buildings are becoming certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

LEED is a green building certification program that is used by building design professionals and contractors around the world. This program is designed to help building owners seek out more environmentally-friendly building materials, construction processes and operations that lowers the amount of wasted resources while using other resources more efficiently. The LEED certification program can be used by architects and engineers to design new construction projects, for renovation projects, and for the retrofitting of green technologies in existing buildings.

Creating sustainable LEED certified buildings from the ground up has been on the rise for decades. In July 2016, there were a total of 81,000 LEED commercial and neighborhood development projects and a total of 245,000 residential LEED units, according to the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Designing a LEED compliant building requires understanding the rating system, requirements, and registration so you can gain the credits needed to reach the desired LEED certification goals.

LEED Building Rating Systems

Before becoming LEED compliant, you must first decide on the type of building project and rating system you are pursing to understand the credits that you can apply for to reach the desired LEED certification. There are 5 different types of LEED certified rating systems:

engineering LEED BD+C:  Building design and construction (BD+C) applies to new construction projects or buildings that are undergoing extensive renovations. This project type also includes Core & Shell projects where the developer will also control the design and construction of the mechanical systems, fire protection systems, plumbing systems and electrical systems.

engineering LEED ID+C:  Interior design and construction (ID+C) are for projects that are seeking interior fit-outs as this includes commercial, hospitality and retail buildings.

engineering LEED O+M:  Operations and management (O+M) are for existing buildings that are not undergoing major construction work. This project type applies where you seek to improve the maintenance and operations of the building to increase efficiency.

engineering LEED ND:  Neighborhood developments (ND) projects apply toward residential, non-residential and mixed used buildings. The buildings can be new development construction projects or redevelopment projects.

engineering LEED Homes:  Residential homes can also be part of the LEED certification process. Single family homes, as well as low-rise and mid-rise multifamily units, can use this project type to seek certification.

Each project type may be further broken down into select buildings, such as schools, retail buildings, warehouses, data centers, hospitality buildings, and healthcare facilities. Once selecting the project type and rating system, you can read the requirements and establish the right project goals that will spur you to obtain the desired LEED credits and certifications.

Understanding LEED Credits, Points, and Prerequisites

When pursuing LEED compliant buildings, you will be given credits, points and prerequisites based on the type of project that is completed that meets LEED standards. The more credits and points the building receives, the higher the rating the building will obtain as this rating will determine the certification level.

 Points:  There are four different certification levels that can be pursued. Buildings that receive 40 to 49 points will become LEED Certified. If the design and construction project earns 50 to 59 points, it has reached the Silver certification level. The Gold certification level requires the project to receive 60 to 79 points. The highest level that can be obtained is the Platinum certification where the building needs 80 or more points.

 A few changes to the point system were introduced during a recent update to LEED requirements. For example, now projects must earn a minimum of four points in the Energy Performance credits. This change will increase first costs, but will positively impact the longstanding rating system that serves as the benchmark for many building and construction initiatives.

 Credits:  You have the option to pursue any type of credits you desire when designing, constructing, renovating, or retrofitting buildings. The type of project you pursue will earn you credits, which will in turn lead to points that go toward certification. The list of credits is made available based on the rating system you have chosen for your building project. Certain credits may be paired with other credits in an integrated process that provides even more benefits. Usually LEED projects far exceed the rating system’s minimum entry points, so getting a certification should be feasible.

Prerequisites:  Prerequisites are the minimum requirements that the building must pursue to reach LEED certification. A building must fulfill each prerequisite even though there are no credits or points awarded upon completion. For example, prerequisites for projects that fall under the LEED BD+C rating system must meet the following minimum requirements: the building must be a permanent location that is on existing land, must fully comply with all project size requirements, and must use reasonable LEED boundaries.

Creating a Viable LEED Plan

Creating the right LEED certification plan at the offset will allow designers, architects and contractors to fully discuss and research the types of goals that can be reached to create a sustainable green building. Suggested steps include:

Analysis and information gathering:  Gather important project and design data that can be used to establish building sustainability and efficiency requirements.

LEED certification rating system selection:  Once you have your LEED goals established, you can use them to decide on the right rating system and project type that matches those goals. Then you can register for certification and understand the minimum requirements that must be achieved.

Perform a goal-setting workshop:  The goal-setting project will allow you, the building owner and the contractor to iron out all the details such as project budget, schedule, owner’s goals, quality, performance measures, and mapping out the LEED project scope.

Create a LEED scorecard:  A scorecard will allow you to see what project goals will lead to LEED credits and points. It can also help you determine additional goals that may be achievable as well as a certification level that is desired.

The project scope and goals will continually change during construction and renovation processes. So you should perform additional data research and meetings to further talk about other benefits and detriments to the project to meet LEED certification.

Perhaps the most important tip about pursing LEED compliant building construction is to work on obtaining one credit at a time versus having multiple projects going on all at once. This process will allow you to focus all your time, energy, manpower and resources on a singular goal so that it is thoroughly completed and meets the desired quality and satisfaction level. Then you can move on to the next LEED credit goal.

This tactic also allows you to gather consistent documentation to perform quality assurance reviews of the project. Once the documentation is gathered, analyzed and finalized, it can be submitted for LEED certification.

Goal of LEED Certification

The purpose of the LEED green building certification program is to encourage designers, architects, builders and building owners to seek out technology and initiatives that adopt green, sustainable construction applications for environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient buildings. By gaining LEED certification and credits, buildings can operate more effectively, lower their energy expenses, and streamline their operations so they use resources in a more holistic manner. Building owners and designers can also market and promote the LEED certification and credits from completed projects as a way to brand their business toward clients and customers.

While many buildings these days are designed with the same basic principles, there are times when exceptions need to be made.

For instance, commercial buildings out west in San Francisco and Los Angeles might require additional considerations to ensure that construction is more resistant to the likes of earthquakes.

On a similar note, buildings that are constructed in areas that are likely to encounter severe weather, whether it’s during the winter months, during the summer months or all year round, are likely to require a construction design that makes such structures more resistant to high winds.

Thankfully, when there are special circumstances, there are also some specialty products available to compliment building design. On that note, here’s a look at 15 building products that are designed to help structures stand up better to earthquakes and high wind:

engineering Lead-Rubber Bearings: Many commercial buildings in areas with the potential for damaging earthquakes are constructed on an isolating base, which essentially puts the entire building on top of springs or bearings so that the building essentially “floats” above the ground. Lead-rubber bearings are one of the most popular products incorporated in these isolating bases, as they are both stiff and strong, thereby able to support a structure vertically. At the same time, they are also very flexible, helping the building to stay intact while the foundation takes all the impact.

engineering Steel: Specifically, we’re talking about structural steal, or steel products like beams and plates. Steel is an ideal solution for solidifying a building, whether it’s to withstand high winds or earthquakes, because it offers good ductility. In other words, when compared to brick and concrete, steel better offers buildings the ability to “bend” without breaking or cracking.

engineering Concrete: Steel isn’t the only material that’s good for holding up in natural disasters. In fact, the most secure buildings feature an array of different materials. Concrete is one of them. Concrete is resistant to wind that can be generated from natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. In fact, when it comes to high winds, it’s usually not the winds themselves that pose a big threat – it’s the debris (i.e. trees) that often gets hurled by the wind that have the big potential to cause damage. Testing has shown that concrete wall systems are better able to resist structural damage when struck by debris. The strongest construction materials are reinforced concrete, which is often best accomplished via insulated concrete forms, or ICFs.

engineering Rocking Frames: A rocking frame is sort of like structural steel on steroids. Specifically, this frame consists of steel frames, cables and fuses – all designed to rock up and down when an earthquake strikes, keeping the frame intact the entire time. Then, after absorbing the impact of the quake, the building will reposition itself thanks to the flexible frame.

engineering Reinforced Glass: Though costly, reinforced glass can be installed in buildings. This type of glass, which is thick and laminated to offer better protection, is able to stand up to winds that reach speeds of up to 250 miles per hour.

engineering Trusses: These products are designed to support the diaphragm, or the heart of, a building. Specifically, they are diagonally-shaped pieces that fit into certain areas of the building’s overall frame.

engineering Shear Walls: Another key component in earthquake-resistant building design, shear walls are vertically applied and designed to stiffen a building to prevent rocking. They’re most common around elevators and stairwells, where walls without any sort of openings exist. While this differs from the rocking frame concept we discussed above, it’s one of the most tried and true ways that buildings have been constructed to withstand quakes in the past.

 engineering Hip Roofs: Hip roofs are those that have their ends and their sides inclined, which make them more aerodynamic and thereby more resistant to damaging winds. Because hip roofs don’t have any sided ends to catch wind, they’re ideal for commercial structures – and homes – in hurricane climates. Though more expensive and generally more complex in construction, these types of roofs can often be the difference between a home enduring extensive damage or not.

engineering Tie-Down Straps: Hip roofs are one thing, but another good idea for buildings in areas of high wind is to acquire and install tie-down straps. These straps are designed to provide enhanced security when it comes to keeping the roof intact. What’s more is that today’s tie-down straps don’t just connect the roof to the support beams, but can also be installed to secure the roof all the way down to the base of the building.

engineering Reinforced Doors: Just as there is reinforced glass to prevent windows from bursting during periods of high winds, there are also reinforced doors that can be purchased and installed on buildings. However, just like the reinforced glass that we talked about earlier, these reinforced doors are also on the expensive side.

engineering Damping Systems: Damping systems integrated into buildings are designed to act as shock absorbers in earthquake situations. That is, when heavy weight is applied to the top of a building and connected to dampers, the severity of vibrations are reduced. Damping systems can either be integrated within the entire building or built on a smaller scale, such as just in the brace system of a commercial structure.

engineering Invisibility Cloak: While this may sound like a product from the fictional world of Harry Potter, it’s actually a fairly new innovative application that can be used to make buildings more resistant to earthquakes. Specifically, this product is designed to make a building immune from the surface waves that earthquakes emit. It’s accomplished by burying special rings below the surface of the building, which in turn work to compress and capture waves from earthquakes, letting them pass through so that no harm is done to the specific building.

engineering Shape Memory Alloys: Recent research between the University of Nevada (Reno) and the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation has discovered that shape memory alloys are materials that are able to endure a heavy amount of strain and not break. The research could mark a significant discovery in the search for more earthquake-resistant building materials, as well as an ability to better reinforce bridges and other structures that could be damaged by quakes.

engineering Solid Pipes: In the event of an earthquake, rigid, solid pipes have a tendency to bend and break, potentially causing more than just structural damage – but water damage as well. That’s why flexible pipes are recommended for buildings in earthquake zones, as these pipes will bend and move with the structure rather than snap off when up against resistance. Not only does this keep pipes secure, but it also can help prevent leakage.

engineering Furniture Straps/Anchors:  A simple, yet effective product – especially in earthquakes where structural damage isn’t the only threat. There’s also the threat of moving heavy objects. Hence, strap heavy furniture to the wall and considering anchoring the likes of bookcases, desks and more to prevent them from tipping and potentially causing even more injury. While heavier furniture might require more robust products, you may even be able to carry out the anchoring of smaller appliances and office furniture yourself.

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