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ANSWERS TO ESSENTIAL LUXURY HOME BUILDING QUESTIONS

Each custom home that we’ve built in Fairfield County and Westchester County has been a unique experience. Although many of the essential construction processes and materials apply to any custom home, there are always factors that need special consideration. This is the nature of custom luxury home building. It’s taken us years to learn how to anticipate, adjust, and excel at the ever-changing home building landscape. This is why we’re uniquely positioned to help homeowners understand what to expect before and during the home building process. Here are a few of the essential questions that we’ve tackled through the years.

Questions

How much does it cost to build a custom home?
There is a wide range of factors to consider when determining the cost of a custom home. Estimating these types of projects can be a full-time job. For that reason, we don’t provide numbers without having critical pieces of information. Establishing price will require a formal sit-down to discuss your needs and wants for your custom home. The size of the home, materials used, amenities, location, building team requirements, and many more factors all must be considered.

How long does it take to build a custom home?
Each home is different, but the rough timing to build a smaller, 5,000-square-foot custom home is between 10 and 12 months. For waterfront homes in Greenwich, Darien, and Westport, the timing will likely be longer. Permitting, planning, and construction will be more challenging here. The types of materials and additional outbuilding and amenities can also affect the timeline. For example, it will require more time if you’re looking to build an expansive pool house, guesthouse, wine cellar, and/or recording studio. Structural elements, such as large vaulted spaces, and custom features will likely add time.

Having a comprehensive building team in place can help make the job go faster. For large custom home construction projects, it’s ideal to have a homebuilder, architect, engineer, and interior designer in place before beginning the process.

What types of home building restriction can I expect?
Nobody wants to be restricted when building his or her dream home. Creative, resourceful, experienced builders and architects can help homeowners realize their dream by understanding how to work within the regulations and restrictions of certain Fairfield County towns. Greenwich, Westport, New Canaan, Darien, and Fairfield are some of the most desirable locations for custom home building. As a result, the building lots have mostly been carved out, and the population of homes is plentiful. There are very few open lots left in these towns. Teardown home sites, and any newly subdivided land, will likely require creative planning and construction techniques.

Each town is different when it comes to zoning restrictions. Some areas have historic districts with special regulations. Waterfront property has a variety of regulations. And footprint and teardown rules apply in many of the towns’ popular areas. Your homebuilder will guide you through the restrictions when the search areas have been established.

What am I not thinking of that I wish I had before building?
Building a luxury home is a time-consuming endeavor for the homeowner. Although this process can be stressful, there are steps you can take to help things run smoothly. The first step is hiring the right homebuilder. You need someone running the job who is experienced and understands the process, regulations, materials, relationships, etc.

Second is planning. When you take the time to plan ahead, the process will run much smoother. This starts by assembling the right team. Your builder can help guide you through assembling a team. From there the team will map out the entire process in detail, from permitting to handing over the keys.

Third is time management. You’ll need to make a wide variety of choices. If you allocate specific time to manage this part of the project, you’ll find it easier to handle.

The best way to fully understand the process is to set a meeting with your contractor. You’ll be in a good position to start taking steps toward building your dream home.

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.

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.

 

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 TO CHOOSE AND WORK WITH AN ARCHITECT

At Wright Building Company we’ve worked with some of the most talented residential architects in the country. Our Fairfield County, CT location gives us access to seasoned, skilled, and technologically advanced professionals that have the ability to design the most complex and beautiful homes. We’ve had the pleasure of building in a variety of home styles with a range of architects, and have developed valuable relationships along the way.

Archteicts

Homeowners often consider working without an architect as a way to save money. The truth is that architects can actually help you save money in the long run. When it comes to large, complex custom home jobs, or intricate home additions or renovations, architects can help you efficiently move through the process, ensure that the structure is exactly how you want it, and design the spaces appropriately. They know how to look at the big picture as well as the detailed aspects of a home construction job. Most importantly, they have the experience and knowledge to consider factors that homeowners cannot. Homeowners who try to manage the process on their own often see projects spin out of control. Simply put, it takes a professional to manage a project of this magnitude.

Finding a good architect starts with looking toward a trusted source. If you don’t have a personal reference, a good place to start can be with your homebuilder and/or the American Institute of Architects (AIA.) Experienced builders have strong working relations with trusted architects, and can help guide you toward someone who has experience in the type of home you’re looking for. The AIA has a searchable database of pros.

Once you’ve identified a short list, dig deeper and review your candidate’s portfolio of work. Although architects can build in any style, you may find it helpful to look at their previous work to determine if they share your basic aesthetic values. The portfolio can also show you the scale of projects they’ve worked on. If you’re building a waterfront home in Greenwich, CT, for example, it can be nice to know they have experience with waterfront architecture.

Custom home projects can involve significant hands-on interaction between the homeowner and architect. As a result, you’ll want to make sure that you feel comfortable with the individual you choose, and that you have a sense of trust in their ability to guide you through the process. They’ll work closely with you to help establish the full scope of the project, determine your exact needs, and help you plan for future needs. When it’s time to go to work, they will be there along the way, working with the contractor, to help you maximize your construction dollar.

The steps involved in the architectural process can vary between professionals; however, following is a fairly typical experience. Step 1 can start with an outline that details each phase of the project. The schematic design is next and will include preliminary floor plans and rough cost estimates (many revisions will take place from here.) After that is the design. This is where the size and character of the project is defined in more detail, including land gradation, lists of materials and finishes, a description of mechanical systems, etc. Finally, the construction drawings and specs are developed. These will be for the contractor to work from.

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. When you’re making the significant investment in luxury home construction, it’s always a smart decision to use an architect. They will end up saving you money in the long run and can help make your dream home project come to life in ways that you probably can’t even imagine.