We are blessed to have so many wonderful clients and friends that we have met during the past 9 years of building and remodeling here in the Knoxville area. When I look back at the most successful projects that we’ve had I can firmly say that the majority of those successes are not due wholly to us; in fact I would argue that you, the client, makes all of the difference in the success of a custom home or remodeling project. The projects that seem to drag out and ultimately result in the least end satisfaction for both the client and us are those where we just cannot get on the same page for whatever reason.
Want an example? Meet the Petres http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9f8vlcW-SM and listen to what their favorite parts of working with CBC were. Many of the nice attributes to their project were facilitated by our team, but ultimately we were successful because of how they approached the process. The key factors that they appreciated were our transparency, helpful suggestions, problem-solving, dedication to craftsmanship and their project, level of communication by their project manager, and that we genuinely cared about their project. Can you see how all of these were made possible through the attitudes of the Petres? They did not approach us as adversaries who were out to get them, but as partners in their project who would help them take the ideas and thoughts that they had put on paper with their architect and turn those drawings into an even better reality. When we made suggestions based on our experience they listened, digested it, and trusted us to do what was best for them and their home. Keeping open communication with them was easy because they stayed connected and made themselves readily available via phone, email, etc. We were able to make the project a success as a team.
When hiring a contractor look for one whom you can collaborate with and feel comfortable that they have your best interests at heart. Honesty, integrity and ingenuity are three key traits that you will want in the contractor who you partner with on your project. Also, look in the mirror. Make yourself available and stay connected and involved with what is happening. If you’ve done your due diligence selecting a contractor then you’ve selected a professional in his field; listen to him just as you would your doctor, lawyer or attorney when they give you advice. Give your contractor an opportunity to problem-solve when issues do arise before letting your blood pressure shoot through the roof. In short, treat your contractor as you would want to be treated and 9 times out of 10 he’ll do the same.
Next week you won’t want to miss a look at the video tour of the Petre home transformation. The space and functionality we added to this family’s home have made it a home that they can make many more memories in for years to come.
For any of you following along this is the third post in what is now becoming a series about my friends Jim and Candace who are in the planning process to build their first custom home. If they weren’t 600 miles away we would be the custom home builder of choice for them, but given that fact I have just been getting to help them navigate through the planning process. They started out by asking me how to go about interviewing contractors, what a good process for plans was, and then some questions about building concerns they had on their lot.
The latest from Jim is:
“We’ve had plans drawn up and have had a second version done with a little re-tweaking from the original. Since Candice and I are terrible at visualizing an actual house from squares on paper, would you mind taking a look? Do you have any suggestions for improvements? Anything to consider? One of our concerns is that the outside drawing of the house looks a little plain–not that we’re flashy people, but is there something that you might change? The plans are attached.” – Jim
When I look at Jim’s plans and provide him with feedback, I will primarily focus on four different areas.
- Feasibility – Is there anything in the plan that looks great on paper, but actually will be very difficult or impossible to construct in the field? When working with an architect or designer these types of problems tend to pop up more often if a contractor is not fully involved and giving input during the design process. Having a contractor provide input as to the design feasibility and potential areas of concern during the design process can save a lot of heartache when it comes time to build.
- Functionality – Will the home function for the clients as they intend and can the interior systems be installed properly? This review runs the gamut from door swings and widths to the placement of appliances and light switches. All of the little details of how the home will feel and work for the clients need to be assessed. It’s almost like walking through the home and making sure it works as intended.
- Cost vs. Value – Are there places in the design that if tweaked may provide more end value to the client? These could be items that will cost a little bit more or save a little bit, but the intention is to add value to what has been designed. Maybe there is space to eke out a little more storage, which everyone could use. Maybe the chimney that extends through the roof is unnecessary and the cost savings could be applied elsewhere. Whatever the case may be, a professional contractor has a far better grasp of actual cost than a designer or architect will have.
- Design – Does the home plan look as good as it possibly can on the exterior and interior? This is one of the questions that Jim has asked about his plans, and it is a very common question that new clients who have plans will ask us when they first sit down with me. Many times they just have one area that bothers them and they need a fresh perspective. Another set of trained eyes looking at a new plan can generally help with new ideas.
My recommendation is that if you don’t hire a design/build firm such as ours to plan and build your custom home or remodel your home that you engage with a contractor during the design process to provide insight from a building perspective that very few architects/designers are qualified to give. Your heart and your wallet will thank you when it comes time to build.
If you have you ever thought to yourself, “It sure would be nice to remove that wall.”, then this is one video tour you are sure to be interested in. The owners of this basement rancher purchased the home because it is on the lake, but they knew that the home had many characteristics of these older homes that they would want to change. After living in the home for a number of years, the first things that really started to bother them and bore the need for change were all of the walls in the main living area and the non-functional kitchen. The entry was tiny, the living room and kitchen were completely separated by a full load-bearing wall, the kitchen and dining area were separated by a partial wall, and none of the spaces were particularly useful or inviting. With this as the framework for change, they called on us for our ideas and expertise in making these areas into spaces they could love.
Our first item of business was to determine which walls were loadbearing, how far we could span openings on the load bearing walls, and where the support for those walls would be transferred to. With that knowledge our next step was to determine what was needed for kitchen equipment and then set up the kitchen so that it not only functioned, but also looked fantastic as the centerpiece of the new open-concept living area. Each space still needed to be defined and we were able to do that subtly with beams, the kitchen bar, and furniture placement. The beauty of making this project come together was in the planning stages going through all the possible configurations that might work, and then drilling down to the best possible layout for use and aesthetics. Once we had this we were off to the races! Check out the video tour here and see how we turned closed off boring rooms into a beautiful open living area that the owners could use and love for years to come.
Every project, from the smallest honey-do list to the construction of a custom home, requires a plan for how you get from the start to the finish line. The plan might include what materials will be needed, what tools will be necessary, and who will perform the work. Then there are all of the little details in the overall scheme, including what order should the work be done in, where will the materials come from, and of course how much are we willing to spend on this project.
Many times I am approached by folks who are asking for a cost estimate without having any of the other details worked out. This is a recipe for disaster, but contractor after contractor is willing to throw a number at them of what they think it might cost without having any real parameters to work from. If you are interviewing a contractor who is willing to give you an estimate and proposal without gathering all of the information necessary to actually complete the project, run away…fast!
A properly executed estimate and proposal process requires that the project first be built on paper before the first shovel is stuck in the ground or nail is driven. Details are very important at this point. You want to partner with a contractor who reminds you of one of the detectives from the CSI shows; a person and a company that is always asking questions, clarifying your wants/needs, and digging into a project to make sure no stone is left unturned before it comes time to execution of the project.
At Cook Bros. we have put together our own process to be followed and questions to be answered before any estimating is completed, along with more specifications that must be met during the estimating process. We are unwilling to circumvent our process to develop pricing faster because we know to do so will cause us and our clients’ headaches in the future. We are constantly trying to improve how we plan and estimate projects to streamline the building phase as we see this is the most crucial part of any project.
Check out the video here and see what you should expect from the contractor that you are trusting with remodeling or building your home.
Don’t expect any less; there are contractors out there in every market who are just like us, believing that the “devil is in the details”.
This was a fun project. The Mainor’s were building their first home and enlisted us to help make it happen. As with many folks these past couple years we had to wait a significant amount of time for them to sell their previous home before we could start the project, but once they did it was full steam ahead. When we first met they had a new baby and by the time we started the home they had a second baby on their hands!
Both Ben and Kelly will tell you that they are Dave Ramsey disciples all the way, so we were very conscious in the design and planning stages of the home to make sure we were delivering a top-notch home that they could be proud of for years to come. Low maintenance and low utility costs were very important to them along with the home being budget-friendly. Consequently we incorporated our energy efficiency package into the construction of their home and were able to guarantee their heating and cooling monthly costs to not exceed an average of $76 a month for this home. That certainly made them happy!
Watch what Ben and Kelly had to say about working with us here. We certainly enjoyed partnering with them to build the home that they will raise their young family in and are proud to call them friends.
We’ve all been there. You’re sitting down in a comfortable place in your home or a friend’s home on a cold day, maybe reading a book or having a friendly conversation, and all of the sudden you feel a chill. As you feel the wave of cold air pass over you it’s common to wonder, “where in the world did that come from?” Well, that gush of cold air may have unfortunately been inadvertently designed into the home right from when it was built. This can happen in any home – sixty years old or six months new – if the contractor has continued to stick with the old ‘trusty’ ways of framing from years past.
At Cook Bros we take advantage of major advancments in framing techniques from the past 50 years, as well as training our workforce to leave the old techniques behind.
One common misconception: the more wall studs (2×4’s) you get into an exterior wall, the better your home is built. Not so.The use of more studs than what is necessary to support the surrounding loads is costly and will cost the homeowner money every month. Why? Wall studs are horrible insulation and every wall stud provides an opportunity for an air leak if not sealed properly. An exterior wall that is framed properly will allow for the maximum amount of insulation in the wall cavities with no hot/cold spots. The wall will be easy to air seal at every joint and all joints where studs are attached to the exterior sheathing. In essence, when the wall is complete it will become an airtight assembly that will keep that blast of cold air where it belongs…outside.
If you are interviewing contractors, ask them if they use advanced framing techniques and air-seal their walls. This one question can save you a lot of money on utility bills and will make for a far more comfortable home. Just say no to bundling up in your own home!
If you were to ask me today, “What is the number one source of business for Cook Bros. Construction?”, I’d tell you that by far it is referrals. We are blessed by a constant stream of referrals from clients, realtors, mortgage brokers, vendor and subcontractor partners, and many others. These referrals are the lifeblood of our business, and many of our best and repeat clients have come to us through referrals of friends, family, or business associates.
Realtors are some of the most experienced people connected with real estate, and many times they are on the front line when someone is deciding to buy or build a custom home. Since they are seen as such authority figures when it comes to real estate we feel very proud to call many of the best realtors in the Knoxville, TN area referral partners of ours. These folks know the good, the bad, and the ugly about nearly every contractor, home inspector, and home services provider in town. Thankfully they feel very comfortable in asking our opinion when it comes to all things construction, and when we are a fit to build a custom home or remodel a home their clients are purchasing they refer us without hesitation.
In this video Jeanne tells a real-life story about a client that she worked with and how we were able to help her deliver the home of her client’s dreams. They had looked at homes all over Knoxville searching for the right home at the right price, but just couldn’t seem to find the right combination in any home they looked at. The primary concern in this instance was fitting all of the antique furniture from a 4,000 square foot home into a home half that size, all on one level. Our initial goal is always to make sure we are advising potential clients properly, and this was no exception, as we spent considerable time up front making sure that we could produce the results they were trying to achieve. In the end we designed a custom home plan and built a custom home that met all of the design and living space criteria of the client, while staying within the budget she had set. Jeanne was thrilled and so was our mutual client!
Ok so today’s subject is not very fun, and certainly something that will never make it in a Southern Living Magazine or on the front page of Better Homes and Gardens. You’ve heard the saying that “what you don’t know will hurt you”, right? Well in the world of custom home building and remodeling what you can’t see has the potential to hurt you as well. A properly installed footer or foundation drain will be something that you never see unless you watch as it is installed, but it can make all of the difference in the world when it comes to keeping your home on solid ground and stopping water infiltration in its tracks.
A footer drain is simply a corrugated, slotted drain tile placed directly on top or to the side of the footer and surrounded by a thick layer of gravel. Typically the drain tile is wrapped in some type of fabric “sock” to prevent the tile from filling up with sediment that might filter through the gravel. The drain tile is then positively (gravity) drained away from the foundation and then daylighted. At its core purpose is the need to remove all water that filters to the exterior foundation wall as quickly and efficiently as possible. A wet foundation wall and footers can cause foundation cracks/failure, mold and mild, flooded basements and a whole spectrum of problems.
There are multiple companies in Knoxville that make their living off of homes that have been built without footer drains or whose foundation drains have failed. There are fixes, but they can be very expensive, and they never are as good as the real thing. A footer drain is very inexpensive if installed prior to backfilling a foundation on the front end. Don’t be a statistic; if a foundation drain is not standard equipment for a builder you are interviewing then give him the boot!
Carol and her husband Park came to us with one simple request; gut their old kitchen and make it into a kitchen that they could fall in love with. From the first time I stepped into the home I could tell we had better be on our best behavior because the home was spotless and our only access to the kitchen was traversing all the way across the living room from the front door over nicely finished hardwood floors. We came up with a great plan to expand their storage space in the kitchen and provide enough space to update the appliances, while also keeping the eat-in feature that they loved. We did run into a few unknowns that we had to deal with; a cast iron plumbing vent stack that was hidden in the soffit we removed and a fairly new tile floor that we had hoped to save, but had to replace due to it being installed incorrectly. Despite the couple of setbacks we were able to deliver a kitchen that met all of the initial criteria and allowed Carol and Park to spend very little time without the use of their kitchen. Don’t take my word for it; see for yourself what Carol had to say about her experience with Cook Bros. Construction.
As a custom home builder and remodeler I constantly am bombarded with requests for pictures of our work. My favorite line is that “we really have the construction process down pat, but we are really poor at actually taking pictures of it”. The reality is that we are so concerned with every little detail of every project that we often forget to take the time out when we are done to take some good photos of the finished home or remodel. After we finished construction of one of our latest homes we commissioned a professional to do a virtual tour of our work so that we could itch that picture bug that everyone has. This is a model home that we have for sale and if you are interested in possibly purchasing it or just would like to view it in person for some ideas please contact us and we’d be happy to show it to you. This home is very indicative on the interior and exterior of what standard finishes for Cook Bros. Construction look like. The home features an average heating and cooling cost GUARANTEE of $57/MONTH for 2,511 heated/cooled square feet. I have touched on several of the methods we use to achieve such low energy costs in previous videos, such as radiant barrier roof decking, air sealing wall framing and updated framing techniques among others. In addition to the living space on the main level and second floor the home also has 1,600 square feet of ready to finish basement space created using a Superior Walls foundation that we featured in a previous video post you can watch here. Take a look and see if these pictures are worth a thousand words!