SIP, SIP, Hooray!

SIP, SIP, Hooray!

We have been looking at the fallacies of comparing new homes on the basis of “cost per square foot” because it’s nearly impossible to get an apples-to-apples comparison. Here we look at another apples-to-oranges comparison – building your home using structurally insulated panels as compared with traditional stick-frame construction.

Structural Insulated Panels (SIP) are most often made from two “skins” of oriented strand board (OSB) sandwiching a thick slab of insulating foam. SIPs can be various sizes, from smaller panels that can be set in place by two people, to larger panels set in place with a crane. SIPs are used for roofs and exterior walls to create highly energy-efficient homes that are also stronger and safer than most traditionally built homes.

There are minimal design limitations with SIPs and most existing home designs can be adapted for SIP construction. SIP roof systems create natural design opportunities, such as cathedral and sloped ceilings.

For Example: Design Basics’ Kendrick plan (#8532SUL), adapted for Insulspan® brand SIPs, offers dramatic amenities not found on the conventionally framed Kendrick plan including sloped ceilings for much of the main floor plus a 262 sq. ft. loft overlooking main floor entertaining.

#8532 Kendrick
Kendrick - #8532SUL ML
Kendrick - #8532SUL UL

Energy Efficient. One of the primary ways homes lose energy are air leaks (how “tight” a home is). On a cold winter day, you pay a lot of money to heat the air in your home, only to have most of that “conditioned air” leak out within an hour! Since the air pressure inside your home has to equal the air pressure outside, the warmed air that leaked out gets replaced by cold outside air that leaks in. By their very nature, the panels used in SIP construction create a very tight home with minimal air leakage.

Insulation is designed to minimize the other primary reason for energy loss, conduction, heat transfer through walls, windows, the roof, etc. Fiberglass is the most common insulation material used in homes and can work well, but some wall cavities are challenging to fill completely, particularly around plumbing and electrical. Many traditional insulation products also tend to settle, leaving a gap at the top. Such challenges potentially leave voids that show up in your home as “cold spots.” Also, with conventional framing, the wood studs, typically spaced 16 inches apart, are quite poor insulators. Exterior wall and roof insulation’s effectiveness is measured by R-value. SIP manufacturer Energy Panel Structures reports that a conventional 2x6 framed wall filled with R-19 insulation actually delivers an R-value of 13.7, 80% poorer than a comparable SIP wall, which achieves R-24.7.

Green. Since SIP constructed homes use considerably less energy than traditional construction, SIP homes are inherently environmentally responsible. And because SIP panels are precision cut and delivered to the jobsite, there is considerably less jobsite waste from building your home that ends up in a landfill.

Stronger/Safer. SIP constructed exterior walls and roof panels are fully covered in OSB – on both sides. This makes for an extremely strong wall and roof system, better able to withstand high winds and flying debris. SIP manufacturer Enercept claims that SIP constructed homes are 2-1/2 times stronger than conventional, stick-framed buildings.

The home at right (Greensboro - #2326) was built using Insulspan SIP construction.

Greensboro - #2326
Cost. A SIP constructed exterior wall and roof package will probably cost more than conventional construction for the same home. How much more depends on many factors, including the complexity of the home’s overall design. Partially offsetting the higher initial cost of SIPs are reduced costs for site labor, waste disposal, and a smaller, less expensive HVAC system. There also may be tax credits offered to both the home builder and the homeowner for building with SIPs. Then there’s the ongoing utility savings and you may enjoy lower homeowner insurance premiums. Finally, there is the added resale value of a super energy-efficient home.

What does building your new home with SIPs say about you? That you care about a quieter, healthier home for your family. That building a stronger, more comfortable home were high priorities. That doing your part to protect our environment and being kind to Mother Nature matter. That you wouldn’t settle for less than building an energy-saving home with lower utility bills.

View dozens of homes designed for SIP construction on our website. Design Basics can also adapt our other, stick frame home plans for building with SIPs.

What’s Your Cost Per Square Foot?

What’s Your Cost Per Square Foot?

What's Your Cost Per Square Foot?

For most home builders, asking them, “What’s your cost per square foot?” is a little like asking a mechanic what it’s going to cost to fix the engine in your car before he’s had a chance to look it over. Without knowing more, a price is just a shot in the dark. Do you have a bad spark plug wire or does the entire motor need to be rebuilt?

Why buyers ask builders about the cost per square foot?

  • Everybody uses it. Real estate agents…mortgage loan officers… appraisers…the entire existing home market uses this. But is a used car worth as much as a brand new one?
  • It’s easy to calculate. Price / square footage = cost per square foot (a number for comparison).
  • Affordability. Will the home be within your budget?
  • You want a fair deal. There are so many variables! Cost per square foot seems like a fair way to ensure you’re not getting ripped off.
10 Things You Need to Know Before Comparing Homes on a Cost Per Square Foot Basis

1. Methods used to calculate square footage differ.

Since there is no universal approach to calculating a home’s square footage, the exact same home’s size can be hundreds of square feet different. Was the second story area of a two-story high entry foyer included? Another example—when measured to the outside of the brick, a home may be hundreds of square feet larger than if measured just to its exterior wall framing.

2. What square footage was included?

The basement? Attic spaces? With the foundation, walls, and roof already there, finishing such spaces costs less, lowering the home’s overall cost per square foot if based on “finished” square footage. Porches, decks, patios, and garages aren’t “finished” space but do add expense. Cost per square foot comparison is meaningless if the square footage of these areas is counted differently by various builders.

For Example: The Loganville (#56395) plan at right:

  • The "Bonus Room" over the garage (573 sq ft) - it has floor, walls, and a roof; was it included in the home's reported square feet?
  • The staircase leading up to the second level and down to the lower level, was the square footage counted once, twice, or three times?
  • Was the covered front porch included in the home's square footage?
  • Was the basement square footage included? The full basement, or just the part that is finished?
Loganville - #56395 ML
Loganville - #56395 UL
Loganville - #56395 LL

3. What’s included in the price?

Hardwood flooring or carpet? Full sod and a generous landscaping allowance or just putting down grass seed? Such factors affect price but not the size of your home, raising or lowering the cost per square foot.

4. Land costs and the neighborhood.

Did the cost per square foot quoted include the home site? For a 2,000 square foot home, a $60,000 lot works out to $30 per square foot; a $100,000 lot equates to $50 per square foot! Neighborhood covenants, such as requiring a full masonry front elevation, and community amenities like walking trails and clubhouses are costs that raise building lot prices and cost per square foot.

For Example: If subdivision covenants require a full masonry front elevation as with the Toussaint plan (#42115) below left, the home will cost more than if built with vinyl siding such as the Belafonte plan (#42114) below right, making the stucco and stone Toussaint home more expensive based on cost per square foot.

Toussaint - #42115
Belafonte - #42114

5. Included materials/products differs.

Yay! Your price includes granite countertops, but granite runs about $40-$100+ per square foot based on color and thickness. Quiet dishwashers—something you’ll truly appreciate—cost more than their entry-level counterparts by the same manufacturer. So even using builders’ specification sheets doesn’t provide a true comparison of cost per square foot.

6. Quality workmanship isn’t cheap.

Prices vary among framers, electricians, plumbers, and painters. Do you really want your builder to hire the cheapest? Also, labor rates vary significantly by region. Your brother may have gotten a new home built in Texas for $120 a square foot, but in the northeast, the identical home will cost more.

7. Your choices matter.

Your kitchen selections alone can add to the cost per square foot due to expensive cabinetry, countertops, faucets, flooring, and appliances. Most builders’ pricing includes “allowances” for common selections such as lighting fixtures—but allowances vary by builder. Similarly, fireplaces, crown molding, window treatments, or high-performance insulation increase your cost per square foot.

Beautiful – but your kitchen selections alone could increase your home’s overall cost by $10-$20 per square foot or more.

Strasser - #42420_kitchen

Custom kitchen in the Strasser Pointe (plan #42420FB). Photo by Renee D. Calvin Photography

8. Cost is driven by design.

Pre-drawn home plans might cost $1,000 (about $.50 per square foot for a 2,000 square foot home), whereas custom-drawn plans typically range from $2-$10 or more per square foot. Carpet typically comes in 12’-wide rolls, so a 12’-8” bedroom adds cutting and seaming labor and increases material waste. Dramatic rooflines and entries, artful ceiling details, and numerous foundation jogs increase cost without increasing square footage.

For Example: They share an identical floor plan, but the design on the left (Kinney Farm - #42462) costs less to build than the design on the right (Kinney Haven - #42461), making the Kinney Farm’s cost per square foot lower.

#42462 Kinney Farm
Kinney Haven - #42461

9. The type of home you build impacts cost.

Compared to two-story homes of the same square footage, one-story homes cost more per square foot because they’re wider and/or deeper; one-story homes have more roof, foundation, and may require a bigger homesite.

For Example: Two 2,000 square foot homes below. Due to the size and complexity of the foundation and rooflines, the ranch home on the left (Westcott Manor - #9171) will be more expensive in terms of cost per square foot than the two-story home on the right (Wendling Park - #42473). 

Westcott Manor - #9171
Wendling Park - #42473

10. The total size of the home.

Costs for permits, fees, inspections, and utility hook-ups are unaffected by a home’s size. A smaller home still has a kitchen sink and appliances, just like a larger house. Assuming comparable finishes, smaller homes can have higher costs per square foot.

Larger homes can have a lower cost per square foot because they have more square feet to spread those costs over. 

Moving Forward

Check out your builder.

Couple with BlueprintWe hear horror stories of builders who will quote a price based purely on square feet and then pound the buyer with extras after the job is started. Reputable builders will have a long list of references from happy homeowners. Contact those references! There’s more to consider than lowest price. What’s the cost per square foot of your new home warranty?

Every home builder can give you a detailed and accurate cost per square foot.

“Production” builders build the same plans repeatedly and offer limited personalization, so they can usually quote you a price per square foot. Their fixed standards, limited variables, and economies of scale often enable them to offer the lowest cost per square foot. Semi-custom builders offer a wider variety of home designs, building sites, and finishes. Such builders will typically modify their home plans to suit your needs, too. Their initial price range, such as, “$150 to $200 per square foot depending on what you want,” comes clearer into focus as your design, homesite, and product decisions are made. A custom home builder may never build the same home twice. She doesn’t have historical data for that specific home to look back on as a starting point. Knowing that custom home buyers often have specific products and amenities in mind, providing a cost per square foot before the plans and details are firmed up can lead to disastrous results. 

Do you really want the cheapest?

Even with multiple builders’ cost per square foot info, are you going to automatically take the lowest price per square foot? How do you suppose the builder with the lowest price was able to do it? For that matter, what does having the cheapest cost per square foot say about that builder?

Exercise great caution if using cost per square foot in comparing builders and their homes. There’s always a reason for the cheapest price! 

For more resources on thoughtful design: 

Cover photo: <a href=''>People photo created by pch.vector -</a>

Risk Management Solutions – From Your Home Plan Designer?

Risk Management Solutions – From Your Home Plan Designer?

Yes! Just as you take out an insurance policy on the homes you build to minimize risk, here’s how working with Design Basics, LLC, for your home plan needs can help minimize your risks and uncertainty.

It is expensive and time consuming coming up with new home plans. Recruiting and retaining top-notch design staff is difficult, as is keeping up with seasonal demand for design services. Design Basics helps you minimize these costs and risks by providing great home design services, quickly, at a competitive price.

$1,000 or more is a lot of money for a house plan when I do not know if the home will come in at the cost I need. Design Basics offers Study Sets – the complete set of home plans for estimating purposes (not for construction) at a discounted price, and the price paid for Study Sets is applied to the cost of licensing the plan for construction. And, with our Builder-Centric℠ Preferred Builder Program, you can get up to five (5) different plans per year as Study Sets for just $100* each!

Low Price Guarantee RibbonI can probably get the plans cheaper elsewhere. Our LOW PRICE GUARANTEE means that if you find a better price elsewhere, we will match it. And working directly with Design Basics means the quickest response and most accurate answers to any questions you might have.

What if, for some reason, I cannot use the home plans I purchased from Design Basics? When you purchase home plans directly from Design Basics, you may exchange the home plan* you licensed to build for a different home plan* one time at no charge (other than any incremental increase in plan price of the second plan) at any time within six months of the original home plan purchase.

Any delay in receiving home plans means risking losing a potential client. You can receive most plans ordered the same business day via email, though certain upgrades such as an alternate foundation plan may take up to three (3) business days.

How do I know that I am getting a quality home plan? Design Basics has focused on serving home building professionals and designing homes since 1983. Hundreds of thousands of homes have been built from the plans we offer. And several of America’s “hottest” design trends were introduced by Design Basics! In addition, we are members of the American Institute of Building Designers and the National Association of Home Builders – further assurance of our expertise, professionalism, and commitment to the industry.

I found a home plan that might work…with changes. Your choice – our licensing allows you to modify the plan locally, or Design Basics can customize the plan for you. We have a proven customization process that is designed to please, and we provide no-cost estimates of both the fees and timeframe to complete the customization.

You have a nice design, but I need engineer-stamped (or architect-sealed) home plans in my area. Design Basics’ Dimensional Home Plans are the answer! Sent to you on CAD, these plans are drafted and dimensioned, but without the accompanying notes and structural information – ready for you, your engineer, or architect to finish per your specific needs.

Deciding what new plans to bring into our home portfolio is risky. Design Basics’ Concierge Service is designed to help you minimize such risks. We know what is selling in terms of home design. Based on your goals (e.g., affordability); restrictions (e.g., 40-foot maximum building widths); and target market (multi-generational households); we can specifically recommend designs that improve your odds of success. Upon request, we can even review your existing design portfolio to identify gaps and opportunities we feel could be better addressed through design to help you sell more homes.

The home plans I am using are fine. The cost of relying on the same old home designs may be more than you realize. Today’s new value-engineered plans may be less expensive to build while offering more of the amenities today’s buyers desire. Lost profits from missed sales and fewer resulting referrals can be very expensive.

What if I have questions or do not understand something regarding the home plans I purchased? Design Basics offers free technical support for all of our home plans. Just call with your questions and we will work through issues with you.

Sample Customized Promotional Handout

I want to see if a design gets traction in my market without paying $1,000 or more for the plan up front. Receive the rendered front elevation and black and white floor plan artwork in .jpg format, along with a Promotional License allowing you to use the artwork in your advertising and promotional efforts for just $25 for any of the home plans we offer. Importantly, the rendered presentation artwork is accurate to how the home was originally designed. Photographs can be beautiful and help bring the home to life, but may incorporate a degree of customization, potentially confusing buyers to expect their home will match the photo. Better yet, upgrade to a Customized Promotional Handout (sample shown at left) complete with your logo and contact information!

Reducing risk is Smart Business. Just as there are risks associated with introducing new home plans (time, expense, market reaction), there are parallel risks from doing nothing (higher construction costs, lost sales due to “dated” designs). Tap into our nationwide experience, creative problem solving, and design leadership while minimizing your risk. Contact Design Basics today!

*Applies to these designers only: Design Basics, Carmichael & Dame Designs, Plan Pros, Inc., and Scholz Design.

At Design Basics, we have the tools to help you stand out from other builders:

Contact us today to learn more: 800.947.7526

Surviving a Downturn

Surviving a Downturn

How Veteran Home Builders Survived the Great Recession

They've seen it all, 18% mortgage interest rates in the early 80s; a bottoming out of the market in 1993; the record prolonged upturn that lasted until 2007; the Great Recession of 2008-2013; and, the current "strong demand meets sticker shock" until the COVID-19 pandemic threw everything into confusion for the housing market. How did these veteran builders survive? We asked builders what advice they would give newer contractors who want to make home building their lifetime career:

Bill Kimberley
Kimberley Development, Des Moines, IA

Woman-Centric Matters! Certified LogoThe housing recession was really challenging. Kimberley owned a lot of ground that was purchased by putting 30% down with the balance financed through bank loans. When land values sank, those land loans became non-conforming and banks were being pressured for all real estate loans to be conforming. The banks could have foreclosed on those loans, but Kimberley was never leveraged to the max. Over the years he had built and managed some commercial property with a steady income, had stellar credit, and had never been late on a payment. Kimberley was straightforward with his banks and even had to negotiate a little more aggressively, eventually working everything out.

Mark Kiester
Unique Homes, Des Moines, IA

Kiester’s schooling centered around being a commercial artist, and he has the ability to “see” the finished product in his mind – a definite asset in home building. He spent 16 years in car dealerships prior to getting into home building (10 of those years as general manager of a dealership). That experience managing others really helped him in managing his team at Unique Homes, including his sub-contractors and vendors. One of the reasons for his company’s success – and survival – was participating in 13 of their local Parade of Homes events. The public exposure to his homes always led to additional sales.

Kiester's advice to young builders:

  • Do not leverage yourself too deep.
  • Find another builder willing to mentor you.
  • Remember, you are only as good as the people who work for you!

​Tyrone Leslie
Heritage Homes, Fargo, ND

Woman-Centric Matters! Certified Logo"We were steadfast. We didn’t pull back on our marketing or our standards. In fact, we opened three new model homes and staffed them 6 days a week. You can’t let fear lead you. We got everybody on board, focused on our values, and kept all of our staff."

Chris Jones
C.A. Jones, Inc., Columbia, IL

Jones had always worked with local banks; he knew the bankers and they knew him. They shopped the same stores and ate at the same restaurants. His bankers believed the housing recession wouldn’t last forever. The banks held the collateral, and whatever the collateral produced, they got, which was better for the bank than foreclosing on the lots at a loss. Some of the loans Jones would have to re-write every 3-6 months as opposed to 5-year loans. His personal reputation and dedication to the company’s financial obligations carried them through and they are reaping the benefit today. Still, he would lie in bed at night with thoughts of bankruptcy.

Jones sold off heavy equipment including excavators, bulldozers, and tractors. He borrowed from his personal 401K and had to pay a penalty for early withdrawal when he defaulted on that loan to himself. He had to let many very good employees go and went back to being one of his own construction staff. Jones even did his own marketing by personally hanging flyers in storefronts and on bulletin boards throughout his market. And, Jones placed a large sandwich-board sign in the back of his pickup truck advertising his two developments as he drove around.

Robert Foushee
Robert Foushee Homes, Inc., Independence, MO

Builder-Centric LogoFoushee’s bank was taking in homes being abandoned by other builders in the market and hired him to finish them up so the bank could put them up for sale. The bank also had repossessed some completed homes that needed work and hired Foushee to do the needed repairs. That business, along with 2 to 3 custom homes each year, got him through the downturn. At the onset of the downturn, Foushee was already nervous and early on sold his spec homes and the lots he owned, even taking losses, to get them off his books. Four years later, as the market began to recover, he was able to buy back some of those same lots he had sold, at a significant discount. About that same time, he purchased a 31-lot subdivision for about 25 cents on the dollar, on which he built affordable homes that sold quickly at a reasonable profit.

Frank Morin
Accent Homes, Inc., Gary, IN

"Keep debt low, even in the good times. Maintain a healthy balance sheet. Always be alert to changing conditions. And, don’t wait to cut expenses if the market weakens. Similarly, don’t be too cautious, or the recovery will leave you behind."

Morin brought sales in-house and at the same time, worked harder at reaching out to and personally cultivating relationships with real estate agents who were well-versed at selling new construction. Accent Homes also became more flexible with plan customization, which provided better customer service and led to more sales.

Alex de Parry
Ann Arbor Builders, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI

Michigan was severely hit by the housing recession. De Parry had to make some hard decisions. He sold off some assets, including a SkyTrak crane. His framers formed their own company, and he still uses that company today. De Parry had a subdivision loan that he had to re-negotiate. Fortunately, many of his clients (University of Michigan, doctors, and other professionals) were not as impacted by the economic downturn, and in fact, reasoned that they could (and did!) get a better deal building a custom home at that time. His company also rehabs older commercial buildings; combined with the custom homes, they made it through.

Thank you to these builders for sharing their stories and offering their advice!
Find more Builder Advice by Clicking Here.

Many seasoned builders advise not cutting your marketing during a downturn - how are customers going to know who you are and where to find you? At Design Basics, we have the tools to help you stand out from other builders:

Contact us today to learn more: 800.947.7526

Cover Image: <a href="">Background photo created by mindandi -</a>
Watch Your Language!

Watch Your Language!

Tap into buyers' emotions with solution-based selling.

The numbers are in, and they look good! The home’s width and square footage fit nicely, the exterior style plus design amenities should attract buyers, and the cost estimates suggest you can make a decent profit. You want to get this new plan to market and give the presentation artwork to your marketing person to showcase on your website. Interestingly, how you describe the home online will have a significant impact on its appeal. Take a look at these three approaches:

Approach 1: The Teglia Place is a brand-new 1642 square foot, three-bedroom ranch with two and one-half bathrooms. This exciting design features an open entertaining area with cathedral ceiling, island kitchen, and walk-in pantry. There are two sinks and a five-foot shower in the owner’s suite, and the walk-in closet has a direct connection to the laundry room. The laundry room can also be accessed from the rear foyer entry from the garage, where you’ll also find a bench topped by lockers and drop zone. There’s even the option of foregoing the powder bath to gain large walk-in closets in both secondary bedrooms!
Approach 2: The Teglia Place is a brand-new 1642 square foot, three-bedroom ranch with today’s most-wanted amenities! The home showcases open entertaining under a cathedral ceiling, lots of natural light, and extra kitchen storage with its double-deep island and walk-in pantry. Positioned for maximum privacy, the owner’s suite also offers interesting ceiling detail in the bedroom, two sinks, toilet privacy, and a spacious five-foot shower in the bathroom. Direct access between the walk-in closet and laundry room make quick work of hanging clothes straight out of the dryer. The secondary bedrooms are served by a Jack-and-Jill bathroom with two sinks. Or, opt for a centralized hall bathroom and you can have walk-in closets for both secondary bedrooms. No detail was overlooked in this home, as evidenced by the rear foyer entry from the garage with bench and lockers plus handy drop zone!

Approach 3: The Teglia Place is a brand-new 1642 square foot, three-bedroom ranch with great livability! Too often we arrive home and everything we’re carrying ends up on the kitchen island. Imagine entering in from the garage and being greeted by a drop zone cabinet to corral clutter, plus a bench and cubbies or lockers to organize coats, backpacks, and everything needed for school tomorrow. A cathedral ceiling dramatically unifies the open socializing area for memorable entertaining, and in the kitchen, back-to-back base island cabinets provide extra storage right where you need it making it easy to find what you’re looking for. Re-live daily the simple joys of an over-sized shower you experienced at that resort in your new owner’s bathroom. Tired of carrying overflowing laundry baskets around? What could be more convenient than a direct connection with the laundry room so that in just a couple steps you’re hanging clothes up straight out of the dryer? Finally, consider which you would prefer: a private Jack-and-Jill bathroom with two sinks for the secondary bedrooms and separate powder bath for guests; or a centralized hall bathroom and large walk-in closets for the secondary bedrooms providing room for everything!

Approach 1 is Joe Friday’s “Just the facts, ma’am.” Efficient, rational, and informative, yet uninspiring, “the walk-in closet has a direct connection to the laundry room.”

Approach 2 is better because it evolves facts into features and benefits, “direct access between the walk-in closet and laundry room making quick work of hanging clothes straight out of the dryer.”

Approach 3 better engages the reader by using a solutions-based approach, “Tired of carrying overflowing laundry baskets around? What could be more convenient than a direct connection with the laundry room so that in just a couple steps you’re hanging clothes up straight out of the dryer?”

Just like buyer expectations, new home marketing, continues to evolve. Thirty years ago, builders could get away with simply listing the home’s amenities. Then the world caught on to selling features and their benefits. But we can, and must, do better – focusing on people’s needs and solving problems.

At Design Basics, we have the tools to help you stand out from other builders:

Contact us today to learn more: 800.947.7526

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