OUR RECENT CUSTOM HOME AND RENOVATION PROJECTS

We just wrapped up a productive peak homebuilding season in Fairfield and Westchester Counties. Among other projects, we finished a really interesting custom home in Wilton. And we’re slated to move into the colder months with a couple of notable renovation projects. 

barkahamsted-house

We wrapped up the Wilton project in late summer. The homeowners are in and loving their new home. This proved to be an exciting endeavor. The home was modern with exquisite detailing throughout the interior and exterior, and the lot was in a nice wooded, private location.

On the roster now are a full gut renovation in Litchfield County and a structural repair and renovation in Easton. The Litchfield County home is in Barkhamsted on a wooded 2-acre lot. This is another modern and required taking the entire interior down to the studs. When complete, this will essentially be a new home with only the foundation, basic frame, and utilities saved, which were all in good condition.

On the exterior of the Litchfield County home we removed the roof and installed a Grace roofing system. This advanced rubberized asphalt formulation enables a watertight bond, with the roof deck acting as a barrier for both water and ice. The roof finish will be either metal or traditional asphalt. The home has a 1,000-square-foot deck.

The interior will be rebuilt with intriguing lines and a variety of eye-catching features. Most notably, we are installing two new staircases, both of which will make a statement. In addition, the interior is getting spray foam insulation that will help seal the house and provide optimal energy efficiency. Other interior details will include built-in, pull-out storage units and the latest modern finishes and fixtures.

We’re also working on a traditional-style home renovation in Easton, CT. This project requires some major structural repair and reworking of existing interior space. It’s the type of project that gets to the core of Wright Building Company’s experience and value. When it comes to structural elements, it becomes a job for a true professional. This is why, although this is a smaller project for us, we’re proud to lend our expertise. We’re applying the same skills that we’ve honed on large custom homebuilding jobs throughout towns like Westport, Greenwich, and Darien.

The Easton home is an interesting project. Large portions of the frame have been ravaged by termites, compromising the integrity of the structure. We will be replacing multiple headers and framing as well as reworking and rebuilding some of the interior spaces. We estimate this to be about a three-month project.

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed over these past few months is seeing our Architect and industry friends and colleagues across Fairfield County. Judy and I have been out and about. I often think about how lucky we are to be part of such a wonderful homebuilding community. We’re looking forward to the next round of building jobs soon.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CARPENTER AND A CONTRACTOR

Building a custom luxury home is a monumental task. Any home construction project consists of several moving parts, but custom luxury home building in Fairfield, Darien, Westport, and Greenwich is a different ballgame altogether. When you’re searching for a homebuilder, it’s important to know the difference between a contractor, also known as a general contractor, and a carpenter. Choosing the right professional to manage your new home, addition, or renovation project can mean the difference between a smooth ride and a complete disaster.

chris

The first thing to understand is that building a custom home requires significant management skills and experience. This includes planning, estimating, subcontractor management, process, material ordering, code and permit process, etc. A carpenter is someone who builds with wood. The good ones are skilled at construction and are typically subcontractors for the general contractor. The contractor is the manager of the project and is responsible for running the entire operation from start to finish.

Choosing the wrong type of professional to build your custom home can lead to serious problems. Carpenters have been known to take on larger, more complex projects than they’re qualified for. They always start with good intentions, but once they dive into the complexities of building from the ground up things can get out of hand fast. When this happens, the schedule can suffer severely. More important, the home can be built in an unsafe manner, and the budget can be exceeded at great lengths. We’ve taken over several large home construction projects in Fairfield County that were improperly managed. The result every time is work that needs to be redone. This comes at a significant additional cost to the homeowner.

The biggest challenge with custom home building is the sheer volume of responsibilities. It starts with estimating. The estimation process is highly complex because it requires accounting for virtually every element that goes into the construction of a custom home. This includes all of the building materials, technology, and subcontracting for plumbing, HVAC, electric, landscaping, pavement, fencing, masonry, pool, etc. It also includes knowledge of permitting, code requirements, engineering, etc. From there qualified subcontractors need to be hired, and the entire process needs to be managed along the way.

The contractor not only needs to be knowledgeable of the process, but they also need to be professionals who are good at communication, organization, and technology. There are a lot of very talented carpenters in Fairfield County, but a contractor with all of these skills can be hard to find.

Contractor for Home Renovations and Additions
Building home additions and renovations in Greenwich, Westport, and surrounding Fairfield County can sometimes be like building an entire custom home. Many of the same processes and materials are often required. We’ve seen small renovations turn into full-scale home rebuilds. A good contractor will always help you consider how the rest of the home will be affected by any new work.

When you’re ready to start a home construction project, always look for a homebuilder that is a qualified subcontractor. Choosing the right professional in this instance can make a world of difference.

WHAT TIME OF YEAR IS TOO LATE TO BUILD A SWIMMING POOL?

Nobody wants the summer to wind down, but just because the colder weather is approaching doesn’t mean it’s too late to build a pool. Late summer is actually a good time in CT to build. Fairfield County summers can stretch into late September, and several of our clients enjoy their heated pools and outdoor spas into November, depending on the weather.

Pool Timing

How late is too late to build? It’s not ideal to build a pool in winter, but it can be done. Just as with home construction, we build pools year round, despite the cold and harsh CT winters. Of course winter is not nearly as popular for pool building as the other seasons, but it is possible to accomplish if your timeline calls for it. The key is to incorporate the right process and materials. Ideally you want to take the winter to plan your pool and perhaps start the process with the idea of breaking ground when the soil is not frozen and there will be no issue with concrete curing.

The length of time required to build an in-ground, gunite pool is typically six to eight weeks, including permitting, drafting and plan approvals, construction, gunite cure time, and basic masonry surround. It will likely take more time if you’re planning extensive landscaping, masonry work, dramatic changes to grade, blasting, or pool house construction.

As builders in Fairfield and Westchester counties, we’re no strangers to difficult terrain. We’ve come across severe building challenges, most of which were overcome with diligent planning and engineering. There can be heavy ledge in Greenwich, Westport, Darien, and most other area towns. If this is the case, we need to blast the pool site. Depending on the extent of the ledge, this can make the project considerably more expensive.

Another typical building challenge that we’ve seen is sloping property. In some cases, heavy excavation and outside fill can help reduce the slope. For more extensive cases, retaining walls can be built to carve out a level section for the pool. With creative design and attractive masonry, a natural stone retaining wall can play into the layout in an appealing way. Spas can also be built into the slope to create a tiered approach.

If you’re planning to build a pool, talk with your builder in detail about your plans for the site, and make sure to inform them of all the amenities you would like to include. Although it can be an investment in time and capital, the lifestyle payoff can be significant.

COMMON HOMEBUILDER CODE VIOLATIONS AND WHY WE ALWAYS BUILD TO COMPLIANCE

About 45% of residential home construction inspections result in a code violation, according to a survey done by the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). This was a fairly surprising figure to me. There are probably hundreds of home builders and contractors in Fairfield and Westchester County, and it’s likely that a fair amount of them are not qualified to build homes, particularly luxury homes. They simply don’t have the experience, or they do not employ the appropriate measures to undertake complex home construction projects.

Code

Building a luxury home is an extremely complex undertaking that requires in-depth knowledge of a wide range of construction processes, regulations, and materials. The planning phase alone for a 12,000-square-foot home, like the ones we’ve built in Greenwich, Westchester, and Darien, requires months of working and reworking. And when you consider building on the waterfront, the complexity can be staggering to new builders.

The top violation, according to the study, was missing documentation such as the engineer’s foundation letter, structural plans, HVAC plans, etc. Most builders get into the business because they like working with their hands and being outside. This is understandable, but the reality is that luxury home construction projects require a lot of desk time and paperwork. As a result, residential contractors need to be extremely diligent and organized. They also need to have a propensity for strategic planning, assessment, and estimating. Most important, they need to know how the entire home gets built — including engineering requirements, site assessments, foundation, complex framing and load requirements, trade management, code requirements, etc.

Achieving this goal takes determination, commitment, and experience. Unfortunately, a lot of builders get into the trade with little or no experience, thinking they can do it all. I’ve seen this happen, and the results can lead to real problems.

Several of the violations involve structural elements, including improperly placed anchor bolts, braced wall errors, weakened joists and beams, and deck ledgers and braces. This is when we can all be thankful that we have thorough building code requirements. These types of errors gone unchecked can lead to major structural issues that have the potential to cost large sums of money down the line for the homeowner — or, worse, the next owner. And let’s not forget about the safety issue. Collapsing decks are too common, and can result in people getting seriously injured and worse.

The next set of violations is related even more directly to safety. They include stair rise/run errors, improper stair handrails and guardrail heights and sturdiness, and missing or inadequate fire blocking. Homeowners often take these safety measures for granted, but building a safe home is critical to the delivery of the end product. We are responsible not only for the comfort of our clients, but also for ensuring the home is safe for years to come.

The last two code violations, according to the study, were air-barrier gaps, and exposed kraft-faced insulation. These can also lead to safety issues. The bottom line is that when you hire a homebuilder, you need to be confident that they understand how to build a luxury home properly. The vetting process should go well beyond the review of their portfolio. Most of the time, the best builders have been in the business for years.

 

WHAT’S NOW IN LUXURY HOME CONSTRUCTION

As with most industries, the home construction business is ever evolving. I’ve seen it firsthand throughout the years that I’ve been building luxury homes in Fairfield County. Trends and tastes have a big impact on finishes and styles, while factors like efficiency and convenience affect building technology and materials. We see these changes across new custom home construction, additions, and remodeling jobs.

Plans

So what’s happening right now in home construction? What are homeowners looking for, and what types of amenities, materials, and finishes are we using when we build or renovate a home in Greenwich, Westport, Rye, or North Caste? In short, we’re still seeing demand for some of the bigger trends and amenities that started taking off a few years ago; however, we’re improving upon them.

The kitchen and bathroom are still king; however, the white, bright kitchen is prevalent. White cabinets are very popular. Lighter marble and stone countertops have replaced darker stone. Larger, waterfall and furniture-style islands are popular and create a communal workspace in the most popular room in the house. Kitchen lighting and whole-house lighting are getting a lot of attention as high efficiency becomes more widespread. We’re also seeing a lot of interesting and creative lighting fixtures, particularly in the kitchen.

Although there is always a demand for large square footage, we are seeing this trail off a bit in Fairfield County and Westchester County. More and more homeowners are looking to apply high-end construction, materials, finishes, and amenities to homes with smaller footprints.

Technology is playing a larger role. Although subtler than we may see in the near future, automation and innovation certainly can be found in today’s homes, and the appliances are state-of-the-art. For example, we’ve installed windows with impressive automatic shades with multiple shade settings. And there is more automation for lighting, garage and house doors, and alarm and entertainment systems. This is helping make things more convenient and reducing energy consumption.

When it comes to amenities, we are building a lot of the same types of spaces that we always have. Some things just don’t go out of style. There is still plenty of demand for a finished lower level, spacious pool and pool house, media rooms/home theaters, tennis and basketball courts, wine cellars, and bowling alleys. We’ve also installed rock walls and zip lines. The homes that we build are made for relaxing and enjoying with the family after the stress of a workday. Fun spaces and amenities help make the home a true retreat.

On the material and mechanical side, there is efficiency everywhere — particularly in the construction process. We build homes that are virtually airtight today, making them very energy efficient. And the HVAC systems, windows and doors, insulation, and appliances are super efficient, even compared to just a few years ago. Although luxury homes are less likely to incorporate solar, we do see it more today.

Tastes range fairly dramatically, but we are seeing more modern finishes being used in tandem with classic, timeless materials. The majority of home exteriors, however, in towns like New Canaan, Darien, Fairfield, and Greenwich have maintained the traditional Fairfield County look. On the flip side, we have seen a bit of an upswing in demand for modern architecture.

All in all, we always move and evolve with the times. We let the homeowners dictate the general direction, but because we’re in the business every day we can also help steer them in directions they may not have been aware of. The finished product is always a result of hard work and collaboration. We’re looking forward to seeing what the next 30 years brings.

BUILDING HIGH-TECH HOMES FOR THE FUTURE

Technology is everywhere these days. In our Fairfield County, CT office we’re using advanced software to provide more accurate estimates, we communicate and share critical building documents and information via our phones and tablets, and with our Architects we can deliver virtual, 3-D renderings to aid in the home building process.

Future Proof

Technology has become just as pervasive inside the home. We’re incorporating highly advanced technology into the new homes that we build, as well as into large renovation projects. These jobs are getting the latest automation, entertainment, and efficiency equipment. And the building materials that we’re using are state-of-the-art. It’s impressive to see how far home building has come.

Incorporating the latest advancements during construction is not only smart for meeting today’s homeowner sensibilities, but it’s also a great way to future-proof homes. Although some of the latest high-tech equipment could be considered a novelty, before long homeowners will come to expect them. Building with the future in mind can help make the home more livable as families grow, and can help maximize resale value.

Automation, or “smart home” technology, is in virtually every room of the house. Today’s innovations can help you automate your lighting, alarm, thermostat, appliances, and much more. And a central hub, and/or your smart device, can operate the entire system. Building a new home is a great time to install this type of equipment; however, a lot of smart home tech is flexible and can be retrofitted during a renovation or addition.

Entertainment and computing have gone extremely high-tech. When it comes to outfitting an advanced entertainment suite, the sky is the limit. Quality wiring can provide optimal internet speed and TV picture quality. A few examples would be prewiring the living space with dual jacks with coax and a Cat 5e cable at every coax location. For optimal picture quality and reduced interference, use tri- or quad-shield RG6 coax cables with a 77 percent high-density braid or higher.

Technology can play a major role in energy efficiency and environmental impact. The goal is to use less power, keep hot and cool air in, and use materials that are sustainable and non-polluting. To help achieve maximum efficiency, we encourage the use of the latest insulation and window technology, solar power, and the latest appliances. And we’re incorporating, when possible, materials such as low- or no-VOC products and recycled lumber. Water usage is also a consideration. Low-flow appliances and tankless water heaters use considerably less water.

Building in this era is exciting. Technology is doing so much to make our home lives more comfortable, cost effective, and entertaining. More importantly, advancements are helping to reduce the burdens and pollutants that threaten to damage our environment.

UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PAINT AND STAIN

Once homeowners have made the decision to build a new home in Fairfield County or take on a large renovation project, the decisions start to pile up. They often find solace in connecting with a qualified contractor that can help guide them through the process and help make choices easier. One of the decisions they’ll be faced with is paint color and the type of exterior finish to choose.

Paint Stain

The two most popular options for covering wood siding are traditional paint and solid stain. The primary type of traditional paint found on Fairfield County, CT home construction sites, as well as with do-it-yourselfers, is latex. In fact, over 75 percent of paint sold today is latex. Because this type of paint is water-soluble, it is much easier to manage and clean up after. More important, it has several durability and aesthetic benefits Latex paint has better color retention and chalk resistance. And because high-quality latex paint is made with 100 percent acrylic binders, they do not crack and weather as easily as oil-based options do.

Through the years, stain has become more popular for exterior siding. Although semi-transparent stains exist, and are used for certain applications, solid stain includes more pigment and thus will protect the wood better. Solid stains are used more often for home exteriors because of their durability. The main reason for using semi-transparent is typically aesthetic. The transparency allows for more of the wood grain to show through.

Stain soaks into the wood more. As a result, the wood grain and minor, natural imperfections of the siding will show through in contrast to paint. This can provide a more natural aesthetic that some CT residents are looking for. Another appealing benefit is the way stain weathers. It does not crack and peel like paint does. For this reason, it can be easier to prep and refinish when it comes time for a fresh coat. The major downside is that it does not last as long as paint and thus will need to be reapplied more often. Solid stains come in latex and oil-based varieties.

If you’re adding onto an existing structure, or building a renovation that has resulted in the removal and replacement of siding, this can be a good time to repaint the entire house. When repainting, you have the option to change finishes. The key is to prep the surface thoroughly to remove any dirt and mildew, and scrape and sand off the cracked or flaking finish. If the home is older, and there are multiple layers of paint, it may be worth considering sand-blasting the exterior to start with a new, clean finish.

Choosing between stain and paint typically comes down to aesthetics and longevity. Either way, a good thorough job will help protect your home’s finish for several years.

CONSIDERATIONS WHEN ADDING A SECOND LEVEL

Building a new home in Fairfield County or Westchester County starts with finding land. This can pose a challenge due to the lack of available vacant building lots. As a result, home building clients often find that tearing down, or adding to an existing structure, is a more feasible option. Although it can be rare in lower Fairfield County, sometimes the existing structure on the perfect lot is single level. This means adding a second story.

Second Level

Another scenario that we’ve seen is the addition of a third level to a two-story home. Either project requires significant engineering, construction, and architectural consideration. The right homebuilder can guide you through the process to ensure the project is done right.

The first step should be for the contractor to bring in a structural engineer to ensure the foundation and first level are sufficient to support the additional weight of multiple new bedrooms and bathrooms. If you’re considering expanding the attic space to create the new level, this too requires structural investigation because finished living space will be carrying more weight than attic space.

The next thing for your builder to look into will be code requirements. Wilton’s regulations may be different from New Canaan’s, for example, so be prepared to have your contractor thoroughly investigate the limitations, if any, on square footage, footprint regulations, setbacks, etc. And standard code may dictate requirements for insulation R-value, staircase dimensions, etc.

When you’re adding a second level, there’s a good chance it will affect the functionality of the lower floor. You’ll need to add a staircase, which will require reworking an existing part of the downstairs to accommodate. Existing chimneys may need to be removed if they are running though planned living space. You may also need to figure out how to work an existing chimney into the new space above.

Dealing with exterior elements can often be a challenge. If the existing home is relatively old, it may be difficult to find matching windows and siding. In this case, you’ll need to choose a similar style, create a contrast with different materials, or start over. You’ll want to start working with your contractor early in the process to address these issues. A good contractor, with experience in remodeling and addition work, will provide suggestions and options to make the decisions easier.

When it comes to the exterior, you’ll also want to step back and look at the bigger picture to envision how the exterior lines will work with the new addition. This is where an architect can really help. The entire look of the home’s exterior will be affected by this change. When this happens, it’s typical to add features, such as a porch or front entry, to create symmetry in design. In addition, you’ll likely want to carry certain upgrades from the new addition to the existing exterior, such as more detailed trim, copper flashing, stone work, and shutters.

All told, there are numerous considerations when undertaking this type of project, and almost every trade will need to be involved, including electrical and pluming. The end result, however, can be very satisfying. By reworking an existing home, you’re able to take full advantage of a great piece of land. And in our experience, these types of projects always result in homes with an incredible amount of character.

HOW HOMEOWNERS CHOOSE A REMODELING COMPANY

In Fairfield County, CT there are a lot of builders that offer custom construction and remodeling services, and maybe even more that focus solely on renovations. Although the pool of competition for quality, experienced builders is relatively small, it can be difficult to differentiate between them without certain information. As a result, homeowners rely on a variety of factors to help them decide whom to choose. According to a new survey by Contractor Nation, the following factors can help you choose a remodeling company.

Reviews

The survey polled 1,729 homeowners who have all hired a remodeler in the past five years. It wasn’t a surprise that the majority of respondents started their search by getting a personal referral. 42 percent asked a friend or relative, and 28 percent asked a contractor they know. The search doesn’t end there, however. Once they have one or more potential candidates, they will then dig deeper. 46 percent go online to look at reviews or view the contractor’s websites. They want to see photographs of work as well as testimonials from past clients.

When asked “Which source of information about contractors do you trust the most?” 66 percent said “friends,” but the remainder all pointed to online sources including reviews on Google, Angie’s List, and the builder’s website, among others. It’s interesting but not surprising to see that the younger responders were more likely to trust online reviews. In fact, when asked “If you were unable to find any online reviews for a contractor, how likely were you to contact the contractor?” 41 percent said either very unlikely or unlikely.

In regards to photography, it was very important to respondents that remodeling contractors have high-quality photography of their work. In addition, they wanted to see projects through their lifecycle, including before shots. Also, respondents were more likely to hire builders with experience that was relevant to their specific renovation or addition, such as a kitchen remodel. For this reason, it’s important to show a range of work featuring multiple rooms and job types.

The survey goes on to report that poor online visibility or poor reviews of a contractor would make the respondents avoid that contractor. Furthermore, factors such as testimonials from other clients, examples of work, and guarantees and warranties all gave respondents confidence that the contractor would do a good job.

At Wright Building Company, we’re not surprised to see these results, but it’s valuable to know that the efforts we take are not without merit. Although nothing will likely replace the importance of personal referrals, the impact and value of the Internet continues to show its power as a tool for influencing buying decisions.

PLASTIC VS. COPPER PLUMBING

Home construction is constantly evolving. It seems that each year, particularly on luxury home construction jobs, we see new materials, processes, and technology. One of the most prevalent materials to make its way onto the building site is PEX tubing for plumbing. “PEX” is the standard abbreviation for cross-linked polyethylene. In home construction this colorful plastic tubing is primarily used in place of copper in plumbing applications, as well as for radiant heating.

Pex

There are many reasons a home builder would employ PEX, but is it better than copper? Here are a few reasons that make it a smart choice.

The overall benefits of PEX outweigh the benefits of copper. As a result, it makes sense for homebuilders and homeowners to choose the product. That’s why we think PEX will eventually overtake copper as the primary choice for residential plumbing.

The benefits start with the cost. PEX tubing can be as much as one-third the cost of copper. That’s a significant savings when you’re considering plumbing an entire luxury home. When the material was first being used, there was an investment required to buy the installation equipment. Most experienced plumbers, however, are now well equipped to deal with PEX on a daily basis.

Unlike the rigid nature of copper, PEX is flexible. This makes it significantly faster and easier to install. Making connections with PEX is done with a special tool that makes short work of the job. In comparison, copper requires soldering for connections. Not only does the flexible nature of PEX save time, but it also allows plumbing professionals to run pipes in places they may not have been able to do so before. This can make retrofitting on a renovation job much easier, and can sometimes simplify the design process for architects and builders. The flexibility of the material also allows plumbers, in some cases, to run pipe straight from a distribution point to an outlook fixture without the need for cutting or splicing.

One of the other major benefits to PEX is durability. PEX will not corrode in acidic water conditions the way that copper will. In addition, PEX is much more resistant to bursting during freezing conditions. The material will, however, eventually burst if the freezing conditions are extreme enough.

PEX has been used in other countries for years. Although it has been a relatively slow build toward the inevitable in the United States, it looks like this will be the obvious choice to replace copper. As homebuilders, we’re used to seeing building materials evolve. This is one way that we constantly improve the end result.